Spotlight on … Stephen Foster

Stephen has very little recollection of attending puppet theatre performances when he was growing up, a handful perhaps but nothing really memorable. His interest with puppets began, as far as he can remember, with the Henson films “The Labyrinth” and “The Dark Crystal”. He would watch most things he could find made by Henson as well as any “creature feature” that cropped up on tv. The local library had only a few books on puppets, but none of them were really that interesting to him. He would skip past most of the photos of theatre puppets and just study the technical drawings about making moulds and mechanisms. 

On leaving school Stephen attended a puppet theatre course at a college not too far from his home. On that course he met John Blundall, who became a close friend and mentor for many years and together they went on to form The World Through Wooden Eyes, under which name he still works. Within the first couple of months of the course, after years of interest in film and television puppets and none whatsoever in the puppet theatre, Stephen’s views were changed after seeing some remarkable pieces of work.

These included film of the Bunraku, Noh masks, Chinese glove puppet performances by Yang Feng and Li Tien Lu, Sergie Obraztsov’s “Don Juan” and the wonderful marionettes of Kinosuke Takeda. With the addition of John Blundall himself, as he learned more about his work and background, they came to represent a standard in craftsmanship, performance skill and creativity he continues to hold in the highest regard. So much so that he learned how to carve Noh masks and puppets in the style of the Bunraku and continue to study and enjoy these works of art.

Stephen has always considered himself more as a maker than a performer. It is the role in which he feels most comfortable. The idea of being a performer was never one that he had entertained, but over the years he has become more at ease with it. He still has no desire to perform vocally, which has led to a great interest in many forms of non-vocal performance, like ballet and mime. Music also plays an important part in supporting this way of working and searching for the perfect piece of music to suit the mood he wants to convey is something he gets a lot of fun from.

As well as his work in the puppet theatre he also creates paper sculptures which sometimes cross into the theatre side of his work as well as being a very useful craft to use in workshops with children and adults. His current project will be some automata, something he has wanted to make for years but never has.

Stephen’s involvement with the puppet theatre world has given him the opportunity to travel, finding himself outside Obraztsov’s theatre in Moscow watching the mechanical clock, trying to picture the scene some five decades before when his mentor stood on the same spot while visiting his. Travelling across Japan, a country which has come to mean so much to Stephen, meeting remarkable craftsmen and performers is another trip which would not have happened had he not entered into the world of the puppet theatre and one he hopes to repeat soon.

The World Through Wooden Eyes