We Can Stay All Day will be performed as part of the Ausform Performance Platform 19th November 2011, The Cube.

We Can Stay All Day


Written in The Roundhouse Café,

Dartington, Devon at 1:48pm



“We Can Stay All Day” is work in progress at the moment. it is a shadow-puppet short, conceived specially for Ausform with its experimental atmosphere. And  thankfully, its all going rather well, despite the usual trials and tribulations of wrestling with new methods of creating artwork.


Allow me to introduce it, no doubt in a rambling kind of way…


The seed was sown in 2007, when we performed a series of short shadow-puppetry sketches, performed alongside a band – Bert Miller and The Animal Folk – who sing songs exclusively about animals. The puppets no longer exist, because in those days (so long ago they seem!) we were making all of the puppets out of cardboard. A tip for anyone interested in shadow-puppetry: cardboard, brilliant a material as it is (perhaps it is my favourite material of all) cannot take too much abuse. A fine example is a shadow-puppet I made of two rats – one female, presenting her rear and a male shown mounting her in glorious detail. I was careful not to overwork these puppets, but anyone else who got a hold of them could barely resist a frantic performance of thrusting and humping. They didn’t last long. The problem with shadow-puppets is that they are fragile at the best of times. They are almost always 2-Dimensional, and their joints are subjected to all manner of enthusiastic puppeting, and cardboard is only strong when it is expansive and evenly stressed.


But returning to the seed. I had designed a nice puppet of a baby orangutan. I warmed to this puppet  greatly – perhaps because I had literally donated clumps of my own hair to giving it the right fur effect. It was simple enough, and most of its articulation was in its finger, which it used to stroke the dead body of its mother. It has stayed in my memory, and I wanted to have another go at some animal puppets. Our previous show, Clockwork, had over 200 puppets, almost all of its characters being human. Now humans are necessary sometimes, but frankly, I don’t enjoy their forms half so much as other animals (or monsters). The human form is particularly challenging to get right, in my opinion – perhaps that is why human life-drawing is so fundamental to the student of art.


The memory of the baby orangutan puppet led me to thinking about the enclosure at Paignton Zoo, where people watch the orangutan family through glass. As it happens, I am deeply interested in ‘the zoo’ as a medium for art, and the exploration of human nature. But perhaps rather than elaborate on that I will suggest where, if you want, you can read a bit more about my feelings and ambitions relating to zoos.


In this case, we saw an opportunity to generate shadow-puppetry material from a totally unpredictable source –  random and genuine recordings of people and animals, being totally themselves, at the zoo – which would then be the source for what our puppets should ‘be’ and ‘do‘ and ‘say.’


Our first two days of recording went well, but on the third, disaster struck and the memory card corrupted in the recorder. We were back to square one! This is why we almost religiously avoid technology – it is so unforgiving when it goes wrong! Perhaps I am finally growing into a grounded adult: whereas in the past I I would have responded with such despair at the loss of irreplaceable work that a disgusting display of self-pity would have been inflicted miserably upon my loved ones, in this case I was fairly willing to accept the loss. After all, if it went well the first time, then it should go well if we went again, albeit differently. And it did. Anyway, despair makes the artist lose time and gain nothing. So, onward…


 I have edited the material down to about an hour of quality recordings, and we have another day of recording still to do. The show will be, after all, only about 20 minutes, so we’re pretty spoiled for choice. To give an idea, we have some lovely animal noises (including a pig snoring), but we also have a lot of sounds of people viewing the animals, and we have interviewed a few kids as well. We will also be using the sounds to build a ‘Sounds of The Zoo” special-feature for Soundart Radio, which will utilise most of the recording that doesn’t make it to our show.


At the point of writing, we are at the point of exploring exactly how we will represent our favourite bits in shadow-puppet form, and what we would like to strive to achieve in our final recording day (we have learned now, from experience, which parts of the zoo are the most successful for getting clear and priceless recordings.)


We are also exploring some interesting new ways of presenting our puppets. The two main challenges that effect our decisions about set/screen-building are; trying to make a portable show that two puppeteers can operate alone (before we have used as many as 6 puppeteers), and a seriously restricted budget. Light, cheap, simple, and of course for your benefit dear audience, aesthetically wonderful! Sometimes its when a challenge presents itself that you are forced to think outside the box, and the most original ideas are formed. Ausform is, after all, all about trying new things and experimenting.


Here comes that lovely material again: cardboard. Amongst its many sublime qualities (I think I may write an Ode to Cardboard one day), it’s bloody well free! And Vicky and I have talked in the recent past about the idea of creating  sets and even little ‘worlds’ out of cardboard; we built a huge cardboard ape-god maquette for WOMAD 2011 (see our Education website page), and I even spend some time made of cardboard (see The Boxman Diaries page). So, in a nutshell, we are considering how we can use cardboard to build a series of screens which are individually prepared for specific displays of puppetry.  We are hoping, at the moment, to bring in the idea of the zoo as a landscape which one walks around, from one exhibit to another.  Exactly how this will manifest itself is still currently work in progress, and we are very willing to hear suggestions from anyone who might have a flash of inspiration on the matter. But then, perhaps you have no idea what I’m talking about.



So, that’s where we’re at, as-of the end of October. Time’s ticking, but we’re confident that we’re on track. We’re excited and looking forward to it. Come along on the 19th of November – we promise you a treat!


Charlie and Vicky, The Clockwork Moth

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