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The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre

2 February 2012 Katie Moritz

'Hopefully by the cunning trickery of cereal packet manipulation we can fool you into thinking you’re watching a real film with the tenderness and extremity of live animation!'

I would like to tell you about one of my favourite theatre companies that I have previously travelled all the way to Dorset to see! Paper Cinema is a wonderful combination of puppetry, toy theatre, live animation, entrancing music, intrigue and complete absorption in a magical little world that is projected on a massive scale in front of your eyes. Enough to make a banker, I overheard at an event at the Tate Britain say, ‘I don’t mean to be slushy or anything, but you know, things like that make you glad to be alive!’ Intrigued now? I met Nic Rawling, the man who brought this wonderful medium to life and he told us more about The Odyssey at Battersea Arts Centre and some other musings:
 
London Calling: How would you explain the Paper Cinema to someone coming for the first time?
Nic Rawling: There is a great singer and songwriter called Jed Milroy, who came in Berlin and said, ‘I've just seen the Paper Cinema and it's just like being in a small village where TV hasn’t been invented and this is your entertainment - you all sit around as a community and have a film made for you!” The Odyssey is our first feature film. Everything is created live, all the music, sound effects and action. Hopefully by the cunning trickery of cereal packet manipulation we can fool you into thinking you’re watching a real film with the tenderness and extremity of live animation!
 
We coined the term live animation because we couldn’t work out what it would be. It's puppetry or animation; there are definitely sides of both. Animation is movement and grace. There is certainly the language of film, like panning, zooming in shots and jump cuts. We call it live animation because it's puppetry, there are certainly a lot of them, but it kind of seems to be something else as well.
 
LC: Can you tell us a bit about the music in the show?
NR: I always say that the Paper Cinema is about the music as well as the image. They work concurrently; we all feed off each other. The image wouldn't be the same without the music. I think words are given too much precedence when images and music are individual emotive art forms in themselves. Music is integral to what the Paper Cinema is.
 
LC: What inspires you, where do you get your ideas?
NR: I loved Hugo, the Martin Scorsese film, which touches on George Mêlée. In developing the Paper Cinema I have found myself looking backwards. We've used Pepé’s ghost previously! I love these more elaborate theatre techniques used in the height of the Victorian era; we have some nods to that. In fact, I used to have a big paper moon that I stuck my head in, with the white face, as a nod to George Mêlée in ‘A Voyage to the Moon’! I did this before the Mighty Boosh’s moon!
 
LC: How did you bring the epic ‘The Odyssey’ to the Paper Cinema stage?
NR: Two years hard work! One of the things that can be levelled at the Paper Cinema is that it's just nice music and nice images and you can let the story go by, so it was a challenge to pick up a good piece of narration, a good story. The Odyssey is a cornerstone of literature, an aural tale told a thousand centuries before Homer wrote it down reputedly. So we decided to do it without any words, so that's good!
 
I did a research trip to Greece and soaked up some of the atmosphere. I worked with Deborah Pearson and Clare Foster on the adaption. The horrible thing about adaptions is what you have to cut out; we had to reduce and reduce! I took every opportunity I had to work, a bit of funding from the Arts Council or from the Battersea Arts Centre. Late nights, gruelling away and hoping everything fits together. In those two years we made The Rock Charmer, something for Inside Out, the Bournemouth show; there has been a lot on the plate. It’s really nice to be finally here, it's nearly done! There’s a lot missing, I've got countless drawings, everything that is mentioned has a squiggle drawing attached to it that won't get touched. There are about four hundred puppets! You should see the out-cuts, we will definitely have a rich DVD of extras and everything lives in seven sketchbooks!
 
LC: How did Paper Cinema come to be?
NR: I studied fine art and after a few years of studying I realised I needed some time in the real world so I became a gardener and did other jobs. Then I collaborated with Chris Reed from Little Boat. I worked up something for them, which would either be a puppet show or a paper theatre and then I added the video element. This meant we could play it in a bigger area. Then Imogen Charleston, our main puppeteer, came on board. We learnt all the aspects of the language of the Paper Cinema. Then we played at the Battersea Arts Centre and they asked ‘Have you thought about doing this without the band?” They commissioned us to do what became King Pest and The Masquerade of the Red Death and we made the Night Flyer in conjunction with them.
 
I guess we are always trying to find new techniques but this time we have really exploded with kit! Rather than one musician we have three, there are live sound effects, I've got myself a nice new piece of analogue kit and a VJ mixing desk. We are merging four camera sources, incorporating editing and cross fading aspects of the Paper Cinema.
 
LC: What has been your most favourite projection surface?
NR: The Rock Charmer was definitely the biggest - a hundred foot high sea cliff during bat mating season with bats flying in and out of the image - that was pretty damn cool! On a bed sheet tied to a piece of string, tied to two cherry trees outside Shakespeare and Co in Paris, facing Notre Dame, with the literary glitterati standing out there. And playing in my local pub in Dorset, I must say.
 
We have played some crazy places, outside on churches in the late evenings in Portugal, in an abandoned town, in an abandoned club in the East End and in Shunt. Playing in the Tate Britain was good, since I studied fine art then being next to the John Martins! The nice thing is that the Paper Cinema is so portable you can do it anywhere.
 
LC: What advice would you give budding animators and puppeteers?
NR: God! 'Always know where your towel is', the first law of intergalactic hitchhiking! Second law is 'don't panic', I think that's pretty good. Follow your heart; follow your dreams, if you can afford to do it. I decided to take the jump on this and not have a proper job. Work was drying up as a designer so I thought maybe this is the time and then I got the commission for the Master of the Red Death at Battersea Arts Centre. Er, good luck I guess! But, don't do what I do! Paper Cinema, that's my idea, get off!
 
LC: What's coming up next for Paper Cinema?
NR: Hopefully off the back of this we will be touring the UK in autumn. We've got one gig in 2013 in Edinburgh and Glasgow and possibly Norwich with the Puppet Animation Festival and there is the possibility of heading into Asia. We just want to travel around; I've spent two years making this, so we want to make it live. There's the possibility of maybe filming some stuff and making a graphic novel. I'd love to get the soundtrack recorded and to look into making some prints of all these drawings that flash by everyone's eyes. Next month we will think about the next thing were going to make. It will be very much our own narrative and our own way of doing it. Now we've tackled adaptions it's about time we wrote something again, something like The Night Flyer, something that is our own passion. Hopefully we will pick up some new stuff and adapt the media of the Paper Cinema, if we master the challenge of a narrative. I hope we have, you'll have to come and see and find out!
 
Paper Cinema are Nic Rawling, Quinta, Irena Stratieva, Ed Dowie and Chris Littleboat.
The Paper Cinema's Odyssey is on at Battersea Arts Centre from the 2nd - 25th February. You can book tickets for the Odyssey at BAC here.
Watch a sneak preview of the show here
.

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