In the second of our new, regular series of interviews with members of the Central community, we talk with alumnus Toby Olié, a graduate of BA (Hons) Theatre Practice - Puppetry, about his career in theatre. Toby has worked on West End Productions such as War Horse and has recently set up the production company Gyre & Gimble with his business partner.
Q: Tell us a little about yourself – where you’re from, what you’re working on at the moment…
I’m a director, designer and performer of puppetry based in London, I am currently creating effects for a new production at Birmingham Royal Ballet based on Shakespeare’s The Tempest and about to start rehearsals for Michael Morpurgo’s Running Wild at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre for which I have co-designed and directed the puppetry.
Q: Tell us about the moment you decided that you wanted to become a puppeteer. What led you to that choice?
Watching an unhealthy amount of Sesame Street as a child definitely lead me to puppetry, that and the fact I was always making things from cereal packets and toilet rolls as a child meant that perhaps a career in puppetry found me!
Q: How did you choose that studying puppetry was the path you wanted to go down?
Throughout school, I had very understanding art and drama teachers who would always try and weave my passion for puppetry into my work. For me, puppetry was the epitome of the meeting point between design and performance - two elements which I was very passionate about, so in my final years of school when I saw Julie Taymor’s staging of The Lion King in the West End I knew I’d found the kind of work I wanted to create.
Q: What research did you do and how did you choose Central?
I was initially looking at courses in Theatre Design, but nothing really felt practical enough for my tastes. The few courses in the UK that had puppetry modules were a draw but in the end, I discovered Central’s three-year Puppetry BA by searching for ‘Puppetry Courses UK’ in a moment of abandon. In the end, it was the University I applied for as I knew it was the place for me.
Q: How does your time at Central impact your working life now?
The process of collaboration was a huge learning curve for me at Central, one that I still refer to today. An excellent piece of theatre features all of the creative strands working together to form and serve the production and Central provided the support and means to experience the process (be that succeeding or failing!) alongside other students, or to witness it in action on professional placements.
Q: What do you think is the single most important thing you learnt (if you can choose one!)?
‘Less is more’ don’t give/show your audience everything, invite them into the story/action. All theatre is a suspension of the audience’s disbelief, they need to invest in what they’re watching and believe it is real, and puppetry (when done well) can create that investment at an alarming speed, even from those who wouldn’t necessarily say it was their type of thing.
Q: What is the best thing about your job?
That it very rarely feels like work, I am grateful every day that I get to make and living from my greatest passion and work with similarly creative and passionate people in the process.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
My business partner Finn Caldwell and I are creating our own productions as our company Gyre & Gimble, the first of which was The Elephantom at the National Theatre, which we are hoping to tour very soon. The second is a piece based on the urban myth of the Hartlepool Monkey, an anarchic, comic fable that explores xenophobia and our abilities to overcome prejudice -that stars a chimpanzee!!
Q: What advice do you have for any young puppeteers?
See as much work by other Artists as possible, develop your own tastes and preferences as you can begin to forge your own creative identity and decipher which avenues in the art form to go down and who to contact about work experience or apprenticeships.
For me, puppetry was the epitome of the meeting point between design and performance - two elements which I was very passionate about