Get set to experience the power of non-verbal expression

Image courtesy of Bettina Frenzel and the Editta Braun Theatre Company.

Last week the Traverse Theatre hosted the launch party for the ‘Manipulate’ festival for visual theatre. Set to run between the 29th January – 6th February 2016, this will be the 9th year of the festival organised by Puppet Animation Scotland and and hosted within the Traverse Theatre. Consisting of a combination of puppetry, physical theatre and animation, this festival is rare in exhibiting such a highly specialised and rather overlooked medium of expression.

“Visual theatre takes away the words so the audience brings their own experiences into the piece, so each person has a unique experience of what they see”, explains performer Andrew Simpson, who is currently devising a piece with Jenny Lynn. The piece is based on Lynn’s grandmother’s experiences during the Second World War and will involve a wide variety of mediums from physical theatre to some puppetry and even singing. Lynn suggests it is an ‘audience inclusive experience’, which will take them on the journey of the title character Winnie Hooper. It is hard to imagine how this will work without the use of spoken communication, being one of the key elements of human communication.

However, as seen through the quirky show presented at the launch, spoken word is not always necessary to generate an emotional response. The performance consisted of a shoe brush, a baby’s doll with a stick on its head, a ping pong ball and a child’s sound producing toy; all being utilised by one man. At first the performance seems bizarre, yet somehow the man’s skill is so good that he manages to persuade a crowd of thirty adults that the shoe brush was in fact a little dog. He managed, even, to make the audience laugh intermittently, all without opening his mouth. This short launch performance demonstrates how much one can communicate without using language at all. As Simpson suggested, the performance was truly a ‘dialogue between performer and audience’ where each onlooker is allowed to interpret what they see in a variety of different ways.

This does not only create a fascinating niche for theatre and performance, but it is also a great way to be able to communicate with an international, non-English speaking audience. For instance, Laura Wooff – organiser of the ‘Emergent Theatre Conference’ which is set to feature in the upcoming festival – plans on using visual art as a vehicle to create international collaborations throughout Europe. She hopes to involve students who have just graduated from various theatre and art colleges and are searching for contacts. Wooff, suggests there is a ‘gap in the market’ for students who have just graduated and need to find work. The beauty of the visual theatre aspect of this festival is that there is no language barrier, so art can be communicated to any audience of any nationality. This aspect of visual theatre seems to highlight its importance as an emerging art form, which is rapidly increasing in popularity.

‘Manipulate’ festival includes a multitude of unique and interesting acts from a silent production of William Shakespeare’s ‘Macbeth’ to an act called ‘Close Up’ consisting of a pianist and five dancers who perform to the music she plays. This festival proves to be one which may challenge widespread ideas of conventional theatre and may even bring more attention to the medium of visual theatre as a popular form of art.

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