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Finn Caldwell brings puppetry to life at NIDA

International guest artist Finn Caldwell has been working with NIDA students to bring a puppet to life for Ex Machina.

Ex Machina

Photo: Finn Caldwell and students bring puppetry to life in Ex Machina (photo: Patrick Boland)

International guest artist Finn Caldwell has been working with NIDA Design and Properties and Objects students to create and build Ex Machina, with a puppet as the central character. The director, designer and artist brings his extensive experience of theatrical puppetry on War Horse, Alice’s Adventures Underground, Groundhog Day and Dr Seuss’s The Lorax to work alongside student designers and actors to build the piece from the ground up.

The piece explores artificial intelligence in a science fiction setting, and involves the creation of a life-size puppet, soundscapes and video projection. It is driven by Caldwell’s passion for visual language, and puppetry that is based on the traditional Japanese art form of Bunraku.

‘This type of puppetry is now really prevalent in Western theatre - sometimes called contact puppetry. There are no strings or rods with the actors on stage performing with it,’ explained Caldwell.

‘I’m keen on theatre where the narrative comes from the visuals and where the puppet is a central driving force, that carries the dramatic intention.’

This production of Ex Machina also explores Finn Caldwell’s other love, science fiction. ‘I’ve always felt science fiction is underrepresented on stage - I don’t think it is taken seriously,’ he said. ‘This type of science fiction asks questions about humanity and looks at what makes us human. It places humans in unusual situations and explores what that feels like for them.’

Ex Machina is also about artificial intelligence and, as Caldwell says, ‘not if it happens but when it happens. It’s about a child of humanity, a new living evolved creature that has come from us, and also has an enormous amount to teach us. It raises interesting questions about how we would interact with a new life form, and how our input into its existence might be reflected back to us, like a mirror. It might tell us how our brains work or what it means to be conscious and that feels really exciting.’

Caldwell says that for the students learning how to operate the puppet is a bit like learning a musical instrument. ‘As the students here at NIDA are finding out, there’s a great level of craft and technique and instinct and artistry. You have to train and master the object and that takes hours and hours.’ The piece also includes dream sequences directed by Gavin Robbins, NIDA’s Head of Movement

Eight students, including BFA Acting and VET Diploma of Musical Theatre students, perform the piece, with MFA Design and BFA Properties and Objects students working intensively to bring the puppet to life.

Caldwell says the performance is structured like a brain. ‘The compound that the whole show is in is like a brain. It forms a scene and then it reforms into another scene so it is both structured and also fluid.’

Ex Machina is playing as part of our Student Productions June 2018 season.

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