The University of Newcastle, Australia

New puppet theatre launches following humanities startup workshop

Monday, 18 September 2017

A potential business idea pitched at the recent Humanities Startup Workshop held by the Centre for 21st Century Humanities has been launched as mobile puppet theatre. Frank’s Fantastic Fairytale Theatre is the brainchild of a group of ten people from Maitland who range in age from 19-74.

Frank Oakes attended the Humanities Startup Workshop in June, which provided inspiration, advice and practical assistance to develop fledging humanities businesses. After two days of intensive workshopping, the startups pitched their ideas to a panel of judges, with the top three ideas awarded seed funding for the next stage of development. Frank’s pitch for the Fairytale Theatre was one of those winning startups and is now playing to the children of the Hunter region.

Frank has always had an interest in puppets but spent 30 years practicing law, a career that didn’t leave much time to pursue his interest.

“I remember seeing a Punch and Judy show as a preschooler and it was then that my fascination with puppets began,” Frank said. “Over the years I went for a couple of jobs as a puppeteer but they all said I should have something to fall back on so I worked first as a teacher then I did my law degree. Now that I’m retired it’s been great to be able to pursue my puppeteering passion alongside my colleagues in the theatre.”

It was a conversation with theatre colleague Helen Hopcroft, who also pitched a winning startup idea at a previous Humanities Startup workshop in 2016, which convinced Frank to attend this year’s workshop.

“Frank's is about retelling traditional fairy tales in new ways for contemporary audiences. Many people I've spoken to remember encountering puppet theatres with delight during their childhoods, and so we want to give this sense of wonder to Hunter Valley children,” Helen said.

Director of the Centre for 21st Century Humanities, Professor Hugh Craig says it’s encouraging to see the theatre to come life as a result of the startup workshop.

“Our aim in offering the startup workshops is to foster community engagement and create links between industry and the local humanities community. The workshop brings together business experts with humanities entrepreneurs like Helen and Frank so that they can learn how to develop their ideas into successful business ventures,” Professor Craig said.

Frank and Helen, along with 8 others have been busy writing scripts and creating everything needed for the theatre in time for their recent debut performance at the opening of a new toy store in Rutherford.

“It was excellent to see the fruits of our labour being enjoyed by the children. Everything from the theatre, to the puppets and their costumes are handmade,” Helen said. “The theatre is portable, with eighteenth century style costumes, and an aesthetic that is based on the Queen’s Theatre in Versailles,” she concluded.

Frank says the Fairytale Theatre is a revival of a forgotten form of entertainment, with his research showing the last puppet show advertised in the Maitland Mercury was in the 1850’s.

“We’re only the second puppet theatre in Maitland in 160 years. If you think of it as a form of entertainment it’s one that is not that common and yet it’s been around since Roman times. I find that quite interesting historically,” Frank said.

The first series of performances are all fairy tale themed, with Rumpelstiltskin, Rapunzel and The Three Little Pigs currently in production. This will expand in to include more experimental approaches to genres such as rock musicals, satire, drama and poetry aimed at a more adult audience.

“The aim of the theatre is to celebrate puppetry as an expressive and experimental art form in Maitland and the Hunter Valley. Our primary audiences will be children and performances will take place in locations and at community events around Maitland, and eventually in schools,” Helen said.

For more information about Frank’s Fantastic Fairytale Theatre please see their Facebook page.