For the latest Have You Met interview we go down a slightly different avenue of the entertainment world and talk to puppeteer Matt Hutchinson. Make sure to have a little read and learn about his journey and what it takes to be a puppeteer…
So Tell us, What’s your name, where you come from and where do you live now?
My name is Matt, I’m from south east London – which is also where I live now.
Tell us what you do/ who you are?
I’m a performer, designer, maker and director of puppets and puppetry.
A lot of my work is theatre and live performance, but I also work in tv, digital media, film and also as a teacher.
So what’s a typical day in the life of Matt like?
I don’t have typical days – it varies hugely on what I’m working on.
If I’m filming I’ll be on set at a very early hour and work until quite late. If I’m working for theatre, I might be in rehearsal rooms working with the cast or the creative team (depending if I’m “in it” or working “on it”), or I might be building and designing in a workshop. A common theme here is lack of exposure to sunlight and fresh air.
What was your journey like to get to be a puppeteer?
I never intentionally set out to be a puppeteer. It was almost like fate. I used to play with them as a child all the time, never considering this was a viable career option. Originally I set out to be an actor, and then decided I needed something creatively fulfilling, and then thought about set and costume design, but again thought this too limiting. There were puppets in my portfolio though and I had previously done some puppetry as a performer. It was only in flicking through prospectuses to train in set and costume design that I discovered Central School of Speech and Drama had a puppetry degree. To me it was like I had found my calling; a voice inside my head saying “you idiot, of course you should be doing this!”
When you meet new people and you say you are a puppeteer what are people’s reactions?
There’s a few… See below:
-“that’s so cool! I want your life”
– “so, like children’s parties?” This is followed by a bad mime of a glove puppet
– “so, what exactly do you do?” Followed by puzzled look
– “that’s….interesting” followed by bemused expression
– “ooh, do you know ______?” More often than not I do, it’s a very close knit industry!
What did 5 year old Matt want to be when he grew up?
I can’t actually recall, I just remember being a child who loved doing and learning things. I’ve always been very creative but have had a real thirst for knowledge and acquiring skills. Going to school for me was the best thing ever, for me and my mum who I think I had exhausted by this point, always being a child who had to be “doing!”
Do you need an agent for your line or work or is it more about connections and word of mouth?
This is a difficult one to answer. Some people have agents, some don’t. It also depends on the line of work you’re talking about here.
Puppetry in theatre has diluted a lot and so there are a lot of actors who now puppeteer too, as these have agents, they usually get a lot of work. I know very few “purist” puppeteers who have agents.
I find a lot of work is word of mouth, but more often than not recommendation or requests from people asking you to come in and be seen, based upon what they know you can do, your personality and character and also sometimes your physicality.
I’m often asked to recommend people for work. I always ask what it’s for, who is already attached to the project and the nature of the work. There are many different types of puppeteer, just like there are singer, actor or dancer.
What is the audition process like for someone in your line of work?
Again, hard to say. It really depends on the type of production and the type of role you’re talking about.
For theatre, usually it involves a few elements, one of which will be testing your animation and manipulation skills, either on objects or finished puppets, and more often than not it involves working as a group or with someone else to see your collaborative skill. Depending on the show you may also have do a variety of other things as well.
For Tv, usually you are seen separately, will have been sent sides to prepare if it’s a speaking role and you’ll do an audition on camera with puppet. At further stages, you may be called back to work in groups with others being considered for the same role or other roles for the production.
What do you love about the city you live in?
London is a really thriving city. There’s always something happening or something going on. There’s also a really great mix of people and cultures. Essentially for me it’s like a cluster of little pockets or areas, each with its own character.
Professionally, I love London because of its wealth of resources and the fact it has such a great arts scene.
What do you like to do outside of your industry, what do you do for escapism ?
I’m a gym bunny, I find it very meditative and a great way to keep in touch and aware of my body (also keeps me conditioned for work). Otherwise I love to read, draw, go to the cinema, go for walks, check out an exhibition, travelling or just spending time with good company. I love trying new things and learning so I’m usually signed up to some kind of evening class or online learning scheme!
What is ‘success’ to you?
For me it’s being someone people want to work with. Also, creating work that has an impact and that people refer to as inspirational.
Where would you like to be in 5 years time?
Well I graduated 5/6 years ago and where I’ve ended up today is not at all what I thought would happen, so it’s hard to judge where I will be in the next five years! In saying that, there are certain things I want to look at achieving, certain collaborations or explorations, so I hope I’ve made steps to go about achieving these. Maybe I’ll have made my millions, retired before I hit 30 and be on a beach somewhere, I’m not ruling this out as an option either.
Finally any words of wisdom for aspiring performers?
I’ve read a few of these, so I’m not going to say keep following your dreams, trying hard or practicing. Instead, consider this:
It sounds odd to say it, but have a life outside the rehearsal room or studio floor. The people I most enjoy working with are well rounded people, have other interests and hobbies. I say this for two reasons: firstly, working can be tough and intense, it pays to have time to switch your brain off. ( Jamie here, I couldn’t agree with this more )
Secondly, these people may not be technically flawless but they bring a passion, well developed broader skill set and a knowledge that can all be applied to the necessary action. Also, they are much more fun to have tea with during breaks!
Play to your strengths, know what you are good at; accept your weaknesses and look at how you can improve them or make them work for you.
Be honest with yourself, who you are and what you like and pay attention to life’s stage directions.
Upcoming work by Matt: You can also see his work at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury in the production Watership Down from June 16th till July 23rd, where he is designing, making and directing puppets within the production.
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