An Interview with Puppeteer and Visual Artist, Peter Morton

Peter Morton (known to some as ‘Puppet Pete’) graduated from the University of Kent in 2014, and ever since then he’s been working on his own theatre and puppetry company, Knuckle and Joint, alongside Rebecca O’Brian. Having toured both nationally and internationally with various shows and producing a sell-out Edinburgh fringe show, Knuckle and Joint are moving from success to success in Canterbury and beyond.

As a visual artist, performer and puppeteer, Peter has kindled all manner of imaginings into being. His work has ranged from creating ginormous exotic Lyma birds to playing the role of Sam the shoemaker in a tale of the most delightful and mysterious of elves. 

Co-creating A Heart at Sea with Avi Simmons, Peter has performed at local festivals including Wise Words festival, using haunting live music to tell the story of a young Boy who bottles up his heart and throws it into the sea. With original song-writing set to breath-taking visuals, the show is centred around a beautifully carved wooden chest that holds the secrets to the story. But what’s Peter’s secret to all of this magical puppetry malarkey?

We catch up with him to find out more…

What projects are you working on in Canterbury at the moment?

I’m working on the Three Half Pints new show, The Three Musketeers, which I’m doing for their national tour this year, as well as Wise Words festival. I’m designing and building their set for them. I’m also working on Heart at Sea with my new company, Half A String. We have a final development period this April and then we are going out on tour with dates up until June.

Stars of CBeebies Spot Bots in their new show, The Three Musketeers

Another new show that we’re working on is Muzzle, which we’ll be bringing to bOing! festival, which is based at The Gulbenkian. It’ll feature a giant staffy dog, and it’s going to be 7ft — a quite bulky and realistic puppet, made of wood and plates. It’s going to have three puppeteers on it and it’s a walkabout show which means that the audience can interact with it and play fetch(!) and things, which should be good fun.

As well as these projects, I’m also working with the Gulbenkian Theatre on their NT Connections play Zero for the Young Dudes. I’m working with the young people as a designer and it’s been great working with them and sharing ideas.

Is there anybody who inspires you professionally?

Ai Wei Wei’s exhibition was amazing. He’s a Chinese artist; his work is always quite political, but it’s also very visual and well made. As objects, his art is always very beautiful, which I think is important. You can have the best will in the world and make art that means a lot and something that challenges something, but actually if the form is not well produced, those ideas can be lost. There’s also the HandSpring puppetry company, best known for the horses in War Horse. which I get a lot of influence with my puppetry work from. They’re always a reference for design and function of the puppets I make.

What is your favourite thing about working with puppets?

It’s that visual movement which I really like. That moment when it comes alive is really gratifying. It might be something to do with the fact that you get to make something that comes alive — building static objects is fun, but a moving one? That’s a whole other thing entirely. In performance, the audience is focussed on the puppets instead of it just being focussed on me. The focus is elsewhere…which is nice.

I really like the Heart At Sea; that’s been really fun to do because I’ve been able to build what I wanted to build. As well as building the puppets I was able to build a set that performs alongside them. Scenes flip up and change out of this chest that transforms into different locations. It provokes the same problems and challenges of movement which is fun to overcome. I built the visuals and Avi the music and it was nice coming to rehearsals and combining it together.

Oh, I also got to build a pigeon lately, which I really enjoyed.

Do you feel as if there are a lot of creative opportunities in Kent at the moment?

There are a lot of opportunities with The Gulbenkian and the Marlowe. I recently worked on Stacked, which involved a huge camel puppet that I worked on with the kids. Wise Words have obviously been hugely supportive as well; I performed Heart at Sea at the festival last year. I do a lot of work at the Gulbenkian Theatre. They have been so supportive of the projects I have done in the recently years. Forming relationships with venues and artists around the area is what makes it worth staying in Kent. There’s a lot of support to show work in Canterbury, even in terms of scratching the show; we did a preview night at the Jolly Sailor which was actually really helpful, and plenty of local artists came.

Peter’s new company Half a String will be showcasing  Heart At Sea at the Autism festival at the University of Kent, having been awarded funding from the Arts Council England. It will also feature at this year’s Wise Words festival, and at The Gulbenkian in June. 

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