Beverley Puppet Festival was the brainchild of puppeteer Anna Ingleby, whose vision to bring puppetry to her home town of Beverley led to the first festival being launched in 2005. At the time, Beverley had no established theatre or cinema and the festival sought to bring some creative colour to residents and visitors alike.
Anna takes up the story. "So why puppets? I think comedian and ventriloquist, Nina Conti, sums it up perfectly, simply: '[because] puppets can say things humans can't.' Puppet Theatre creates magic though its mix of so many artistic disciplines – it’s great how it draws people in on so many different levels... I wanted to introduce people to the broadest diversity of puppetry styles, to stimulate creative and critical thinking, to draw people into other worlds, to think outside the box and to target audiences of all ages, not just children... One could say: ‘to bring out the adult within the child and the child within the adult...’ "
SO WHY PUPPETS? ...PUPPETS CAN SAY THINGS HUMANS CAN'T.
– Nina Conti, comedian and ventriloquist
From 2006 the festival grew as a biennial festival, primarily through the goodwill of our funders and partners, not least Beverley Arts Trust which formed our original committee from the second festival of 2006 until 2016. Later, as the town’s offering of venues improved with the opening of East Riding Theatre and Parkway Cinema, our popularity increased and more partners came on board - though over the years it’s often been crazy when we have struggled to fit shows into pop-up theatre venues, or found ourselves dealing with irate drivers as (what they imagined were real) gorillas blocked the road.
Over the years Beverley Puppet Festival has become increasingly important as a networking and showcasing opportunity for the puppetry sector. It is one of several festivals in the UK; not necessarily the largest in terms of its venues or geographical reach, but one which has up to now focused predominantly on showcasing British companies with a select few international acts invited each year. Importantly it allows the public, the puppeteers and promoters the opportunity to see lots of shows in one weekend and all in one beautiful location - Beverley! Our free outdoor street acts have increased in both number and scale over the years, drawing in bigger and bigger audiences, as have our indoor ticketed shows. In 2018 audience members (both indoor and outdoor) were estimated at over 13,000.
Beverley Puppet Festival also has a long history of educational outreach projects. In the early days we worked with artists in three different local schools, resulting in a collaborative showcase and sometimes a town procession at the start of the festival. Since then we’ve also worked with adult service users at Miller’s Day Centre – producing a shadow theatre installation at Beverley Minster (2014) and a big plastazote “Dinodragonaurus” to interact with festival goers in the Friary Gardens (2018). In 2016, residents and family members of the Old Schoolhouse Care Home produced a shadow film which was shown during the festival. In 2020 for our online festival we embarked on a remote pilot project to bring our festival to care homes in the town and give residents the chance to express themselves creatively.
In 2020, the Covid-19 pandemic led to us producing our first online festival ever – which we saw as an opportunity to spread our net, develop our audiences everywhere and get even more people involved. It also meant that instead of one weekend we could spread our activities over two months and created a lasting resource on which we can build for future festivals.
Beverley Puppet Festival began as a two-day weekend event in May 2005 held at Beverley Friary with just five puppet companies. The festival was partially launched to raise money for the Indonesian tsunami relief and founder, Anna Ingleby was supported by John Turner of Toll Gavel United Church who organised the volunteers. By the time the festival actually took place, the relief fund had closed so instead, over £1000 raised was donated to Christian Aid to support Aids relief in Africa. Everyone performed for free, and East Riding of Yorkshire Council granted £250 towards the cost of printing flyers.
The festival proved to involve a mountain of work for Anna Ingleby to sustain alongside operating her own puppet company of Indigo Moon Theatre, so, from 2006 onwards, the festival became a biennial event, now funded by Arts Council England and East Riding of Yorkshire Council and sporting what have become its signature purple and yellow posters and flyers. From 2006 to 2018 the festival had the dedicated support of Beverley Arts Trust – a local voluntary group which was originally formed to save Beverley Playhouse.
Beverley Puppet Festival employed ten puppet companies on a professional basis in 2006, a number that had grown to over 30 by 2018. Our archive of previous festival brochures, photos and videos can be found here. 2015 saw the 2014 Beverley Puppet Festival honoured as “Best Small Tourism Event” at the Remarkable Hull and East Yorkshire Tourism Awards, and it has remained a finalist after every festival since then.
Over time the festival grew beyond the Friary into town centre venues such as (in its earlier years) Beverley Memorial Hall, the Flemingate Leisure Centre and Armstrongs Social Club. It also spilled into the streets with free outdoor acts, growing year on year. 2008 saw puppet theatre shows for adults entering the lineup for the first time. In 2016 East Riding Theatre became the main evening hub, as well as the first proper theatre to host indoor shows. Under normal circumstances the other current partner venues would be Beverley Masonic Hall and Toll Gavel Church Hall. Over the years the Friary Gardens also grew from being just a quiet sun trap, to a bustling festival hub where most of the outdoor free town centre street acts also perform. Other long standing partners who contributed to this success are Larry Knee’s Traditional Marquee company and Chris Broadwell’s technical team.
Beverley Town Council has often supported the festival over the years, as has, for the first time in 2020, Molescroft Parish Council. Other partners have been Beverley Minster, local schools, Millers Day Centre, the Old School House Care Home, Parkway Cinema and the Flemingate Centre. A new collaboration for 2020 would have been the Monk’s Walk pub, which the festival looks forward to working with in what we hope will be a coronavirus-free future.
Throughout the early editions of the festivals, Anna was particularly supported by Megan Browne, then a member of Beverley Arts Trust, as well as other committee members such as Carol Hancock, Pete & Cath Rolinson, John Knight, Juliet Molteno, Barbara English, Cally Barker, Martin Cox, Margaret Pinder and several others who joined the festival team as the years went on. Locals will also recognise familiar faces such as Gordon Meredith and Maisie Reynolds among the growing army of volunteers at each festival. Frances Allison & Matt Wood were also important team members in 2018. From 2014 – 2016 Bev Richmond played a key role as festival coordinator in building the visibility and scope of the festival, also as PR Officer in 2018, as did Kerrin Tatman, assistant to the Artistic Director 2014 - 2016, who was promoted to Co-Artistic Director in 2018 after founding his own puppet festival Moving Parts: Newcastle Puppetry Festival in 2017.
The Beverley Puppet Festival has always managed to be more than the sum of its not inconsiderable parts – and could not have become what it is today without the support of all those mentioned and many more – not least all the artists who have ever performed – including a select few from overseas – and of course our audiences! We send a huge thank you to all!
Founder & Co-Artistic Director, April 2020
Image credits: Header image by Scott Wigglesworth; Team photo taken by Nigel Walker; 'Dolly the Giraffe by VIP Puppets' taken by Scott Wigglesworth