The Little Black Fish – final days of rehearsal and performance

Busy, busy, busy….are the three words to describe the last couple of weeks of our Little Black Fish process.

The final rehearsals involved tweaking the ending of the performance and adding further material into already created sections to give the little old lady a narrative throughout the performance that would draw the audience in and allow them to relate to the story.

The rehearsal in the Starlight Tent at the Hay Festival gave us the opportunity to further tweak our created material and identify any areas that we would need to further consider in regards to the space that we performing in.

The preview performance at the Hereford College of Arts on 24th May, gave us the opportunity to identify any areas that we would need to develop in the remaining rehearsal time available to us, before the premier of the Little Black Fish. Feedback from Performing Arts and Music students and staff was useful and allowed the performers to be aware of points within the performance that the audience may react to.

During the Hay Festival performance the show started off with a child from the member of audience being so involved in the performance from the outset that he got off his chair to help the little old lady puppet reach for the ball of wool that represented the little black fish. A very beautiful moment.

Realising the importance the story of the little black fish holds in publisher Delaram’ s life and seeing her and her team from Tiny Owl publishing company being moved by the performance meant the world to the performers, Purvin (Aritistic Director from The Fetch) and myself.

After the performance we were thrilled to help Tiny Owl Publishing  with the 50th Birthday Celebration for ‘the little black fish’ book. 50 years since it was first published. The children at the Festival got to walk around and follow the puppets and everyone enjoyed a fantastic slice of cake.

A fantastic project that has involved so many people from various disciplines come together



Little Black Fish Rehearsal Day 6

Hereford College of Arts students from the Contemporary Design Craft course with the support from Purvin, Artistic Director from The Fetch have completed two big puppets for our performance at the Hay Festival.

Jess (CDC student) has developed the head of the little old lady puppet, who will be representing the old fish of the little black fish story. Here Purvin is showing Jess the next steps that are needed in the making of her puppet.

The crab and the pelican were operated today by Performing Arts student Tommy Ryan. In this process the costume ideas developed…the puppeteers and performers will be dressed in shipmen outfits from the past.

Spending the morning experimenting and exploring allowed us to find movements for the puppets and develop ideas. Wool is going to play a big role throughout the entire telling of the story. Improvising with the wool has allowed us to develop the little old ladies background story. (The lady puppet in the photo below is a stand-in for now until Jess has completed her puppet).

She wakes to find herself in the midst of wool balls. She is unsure where she is, but soon sees stories in the balls of wool and chooses to tell the story of the black wool ball…that obviously represents the story of the little black fish.

Narration will take place throughout the performance, however where and at what points will be decided and developed throughout the rehearsals in May.

The opening scene was worked on and narration points were identified. It was a joy to welcome four Hereford College of Arts BA(hons) Popular Music students into the process, who straight away created melodies and sound scapes to the opening scene we had been working on. It is always fascinating to me how sound adds so much to the telling of a story.

The music students were then also introduced to the crab and pelican and sound and music ideas were improvised with and discussed and work on these will continue throughout the process. The creation of the sound is a two way conversation between puppeteer who is responding to the sound and the musicians responding to the actions of the puppeteer. Very organic way of working.

Working with Purvin is a joy and his creativity and attention to detail is inspiring. I very much look forward to commencing our rehearsal phase…I just have to wait a few weeks. In the meantime I will be busy sourcing furniture items needed for the set and more wool! (if you have any spare wool that is keen to perform at the Hay Festival please do get in touch!)

Until the next time.

The little Black Fish Project Day 5 – First character complete

The ‘Beast from the East’ and storm Emma meant that my Friday was an unusual one. Instead of going into College and teaching my Performing Arts degree students I was stuck at home – literally snowed in.

I managed to get several administrative tasks done in connection with the Little Black Fish project and I realised that I am communicating with well over 20 people to make this project come together, from the Tiny Owl Publishing Company, to the Hay Festival, to the Fetch Theatre company, to communicating with at least 4 Course Leaders from various courses, as well as the Marketing team at Hereford College of Arts, to the individual students who are involved in the project and who are currently making the various characters for our performance.

Looking at the character list and who is making which character ‘the neighbour fish’ is one character that has currently not been allocated to anyone. The neighbour fish was envisaged by Purvin and myself as a wool ball that is in the process of being knitted into a black sock. This would make the unfinished sock still have the 3 or 4 knitting needles stuck in it. Given that the neighbour fish isn’t a particularly pleasant character we thought that the knitting needles could make the little black unfinished sock look quite fierce.

My mother is great at knitting socks and currently visiting me from Germany. With the snow also having her stuck in the house what better way of spending your time than knitting a sock?

Sadly I only found a small ball of wool in the house, so I contacted my lovely neighbour and found that she indeed did have some wool available.




A quick visit (after spending a good half an hour wrapping up warm and finding a method of transportation) meant that the work on the ‘neighbour fish’ could begin.




A couple of hours later…here is the first complete character for the Little Black Fish performance.

The little Black Fish Day 4

Today’s task: Making puppets at the Fetch workshop in Leominster.

Due to the snow warnings, today has started later than expected. We have, however, managed to get to the workshop in Leominster and a group of Hereford College of Arts BA(hons) degree Contemporary Design Craft and Performing Arts students have continued the work on the giant puppets that we are creating – a crab and a pelican.

Jess has also started creating the face of the ‘little old lady’ puppet who will be imagining and telling the story of the ‘Little Black Fish‘ throughout the performance.


The day was incredibly productive with the crab now having 8 legs and the pelican having a head and a couple of feet.

We are having to work quick and think on our feet using materials available that are light, so that our giant puppets don’t end up weighing a ton.

We have left the workshop with the glue on our hands that just can’t be scrubbed off and smiles on our faces with the knowledge that our creatures are taking shape.


The Little Black Fish Day 3

Today’s production meeting has been super productive. In preparation for the meeting BA(Hons) Performing Arts student Andy Sims had worked through ‘The Little Black Fish’ story and created a draft script that we can work from once rehearsals begin in April.

We also used the script to determine the characters that will need to be created in preparation for our 4-5 week rehearsals.

We discussed how the puppetry will tell the story and how the various characters will come to life and transform throughout. Set design ideas were discussed and a clear list of things we need established.

Set sketch
Set sketch by Purvin

The Little Black Fish Project Day 2

I was very excited to visit The Fetch’s workshop today with a handful of Hereford College of Arts students.

We spent the first 35 minutes or discussing the two characters that we wanted to work on – a crab and a pelican that are to be created into two very large puppets. Purvin made some quick sketches as a result of the conversation and some pictures of the animals were looked at. Then back to the workshop to commence the task for the students and back to College for me.

A few hours later I returned to the workshop to find these having been made:

…how very exciting is that.

Both the pelican and the crab now have a body structure.

I was struck by how much could be created and made in just a few hours. The students I met on my return to the workshop were equally excited about their creation and very keen to return next week to continue to work on their ‘beasts’.


The Little Black Fish Project Day 1

Today Hereford College of Arts BA(Hons) degree students from Performing Arts, Textiles and Contemporary Design Craft Design came together to be introduced and guided by Andrew Purvin (Artistic Director of the Fetch Theatre Company) to three different forms of puppetry:

  • Bunraku (a form of Japanese puppetry)
  • Shadow puppetry and
  • Object puppetry

Throughout the day the students got to operate and play with all three types of puppets to understand how to bring the various puppets to life.

The workshop formed a very important part of the project, as Contemporary Design Craft  and Textile students will be creating puppets for the rehearsal and performance of ‘The Little Black Fish’ and therefore need to have an understanding of how puppets work, as this will inform their design decisions.

Tom bringing puppet to life


All students created short puppetry performances in groups that were shared with their peers at the end of the day using all three forms of puppetry.

20180216_143834Playing and experimenting with the puppets

A fantastic first day that has inspired some students to take up the challenge to make puppets for the performance of The Little Black Fish that will be presented at the Hay Festival.


I am now looking forward to having more in-depth meetings with Purvin, James Smith (CDC) and Claire Andreson (Textiles) to see how we can shape this story into a performance.