Dr Sue Buckmaster is the Artistic Director of Theatre-Rites, a puppetry expert and the fifth generation of theatre practitioners in her family.
In 1996 Sue co-directed the company’s first production Houseworks with founder Penny Bernand. Houseworks was the UK’s first site-specific production created for the under 5’s and was considered by the Guardian’s Lyn Gardner as one of her desert island theatrical experiences. Since 1996 Sue has created 12 site-specific productions and 15 theatre productions for Theatre-Rites. Most recently she directed Zoe’s Peculiar Journey Through Time for the Burgtheater Vienna in 2021 and in 2023 she will adapt this production for UK audiences.
Sue has an MA in Contemporary Theatre Practice from Essex University, which included a thesis on the Psychoanalytical Study of the Power of the Puppet. In 2018 the University of Essex awarded her an honorary doctorate in recognition of her inspiring leadership in theatre direction and puppetry
Sue has many years of experience as a director, puppetry specialist, dramaturg and teacher. She has worked with a wide variety of companies outside of Theatre-Rites including as Puppetry Director on The Caucasian Chalk Circle (dir Simon McBurney, National Theatre), Pinocchio (dir Marcello Magni Lyric Hammersmith) and Peter Pan (dir Ben Harrison, Three Sixty Entertainment).
As part of Theatre-Rites’ Consultancy programme Sue has directed Chotto Desh and Chotto Xenos for the Akram Khan Company and provided dramaturgy to a number of artists including Joss Arnot Dance, Denada Dance, Sonia Sarbi, Laura Vanhulle and Anders Duckworth.
Sue’s work regularly involves cross-artform collaborations. With Theatre-Rites she has worked with actors, dancers, puppeteers, sculptors, animators, choreographers, Iranian daf drummers, world jazz percussionists, composers, djs, beatboxers and magicians – to name but a few.
Sue is an Advisor to Sadler’s Wells, Polka Theatre and Schauspielhaus Bochum, Germany.
Where do you start when creating a new puppet?
I like to explore what its materiality is. What does it need to present, what actions do I want it to make and how does it need to transform. For me, puppets that don’t transform in some way are just poor imitations of actors and you might as well use actors. However, if you want to explore how they can be taken apart and reconstructed to symbolise our human robustness, then an actor can’t do that.
For example we are currently making a show called Something in the Air which includes a child puppet which is made out of an inflatable. This material allows us to explore how their ego literally grows or deflates according to their external pressures.
Why use puppets? Can’t actors tell the story better?
Actors can tell stories very directly, puppets can present them in a more metaphorical way. In The Broke ‘N’ Beat Collective the stories were quite hard hitting. The transformation that occurs in the story can be shown by a literal transformation in the object that the puppet is made of: for example, if a girl tends to cut herself, we explored what would happen if the girl was actually made of paper. In one way it creates magical realism and protects us from the grueling reality of the subject. On the other hand, the cutting literally destroys the paper-girl, so the impact is very direct.