When we started working with puppets all the way back in 2009, I never thought we would end up setting up a company. Myself and the other Apples are predominantly performer-trained and it wasn’t until we went on a placement to Prague together that we started working with puppetry. It was on our return to the UK that we decided to combine our physical training from England with our puppetry training from Prague and Smoking Apples was born.
We’re often asked to speak to younger companies and advise on how to set up a company and how we did it. I’d like to tell you an exciting story of us coming together and having a momentus epiphany that resulted in us working together but it was actually all very underwhelming! We didn’t really think about it carefully at all, we just started working together because we all have a common interest, to explore puppetry and theatre. The first thing I would say is that as much as possible with a company, you should always try to make the work that you want to make. That is the glue that holds you together, the egg in the beautiful cake that is creating. When it’s 3am and you’re spray painting that final prop or fixing that hand that has broken a thousand times already, this is the fire that keeps you warm. It’s not always easy making the work that you want to make and often, with me, I have moments that I think, this is NOT what I want to make at all (cue multiple moments of self doubt when making a show about Trawler Fishing!) but ultimately, if you’re passionate about what you’re doing, this will help get you through the hardest parts of running your own company.
My second piece of advice, is be kind to each other! This is really important across the board when running a theatre company but it especially important in puppetry. Puppetry requires a really specific relationship both onstage and in rehearsals, particularly with the type that we do which often needs more than one person on one puppet so for us, it’s particularly important to not be at war with each other. It’s also very physically demanding so when I say kind, I don’t always means compliments and cuddles, a good warm up and some positivity can go just as far. Remember also that you are on the same team and all want to achieve the same thing! I am a notorious cow in rehearsals when things are tough (no one is perfect) and often the tussles and tumbles make for the best creativity BUT you need the people around you to make the work so try and take care of them.
My last piece of advice is to make friends with some great venues and get them on your side. In our experience, venues are so willing to help if they can and a lot of them run schemes to help younger companies establish themselves and make new work. Don’t expect venues to hand you things on a plate but do approach them, find out more about them and build up a relationship. It’s really important when approaching venues to make sure you know the work that they programme. You might really love a venue and see shows there all the time but if your work doesn’t suit them, it’s unlikely they’ll be in a position to help. Amongst others, we’ve been hugely privileged to work alongside the Little Angel Theatre for the past two years, developing our previous show CELL and our new show, In Our Hands with their support. We’re really delighted to be performing the latter as part of Suspense Puppetry Festival which is run by the Little Angel.
Suspense Puppetry Festival is run by the Little Angel Theatre and is on from the 29 October – 8 November. In Our Hands as part of Suspense London Puppetry Festival at the Little Angel Theatre, 6 – 8 November.