Mask and Puppet Theatre is a synthesis point for all art forms in microcosm. The Centre has always encouraged cross-artform collaborations and intercultural exchanges where many different creative skills and mediums can come together to create something new. Similarly, it has always been a place where artists from different disciplines can meet to share ideas and exchange skills.
The nucleus of the Centre lies in its hands-on workshops, creative spaces and museum and documentation resources. It is a dedicated space and a point of concentration for independent learning, development of skills and experimentation. It is equally a point of dispersion for visiting companies, outreach work and community links and development.
The Centre functions as a building-based arts centre with its own studio theatre, library and multimedia room, display gallery, cafe, mask studio, carving workshop, training workshop, Grant Mason FX workshop, stores, office complex, car park and grounds.
The current studio theatre hosts 80 seats and is 4.8m wide by 11m long. The stage is 4m wide by 4m deep and consists of two raised platforms 300mm high. The platforms may be removed if flat floor space is required. Floor to ceiling height is 3m. The proscenium consists of two burgundy flats on either side of the stage and black tabs and black curtains around the stage area.
The theatre is equipped with stage lighting linked to 8-way dimmer and Rank Strand Micro Board. It is also fitted with exhibition ceiling lights and tracking. The entire space may be blacked out. A digital projector is mounted on the ceiling and there is a roll-down electric cinema screen. The rear of the stage stores various small puppet stages, shadow screens and fit-ups including a Punch & Judy booth. The control room houses various generations of stage sound and light equipment plus related tools and equipment.
There is an induction loop for the hard of hearing and a fire exit leads directly outside from the theatre space
The theatre seating was donated by Queenspark Baptist Church and they comprise individual chairs with comfortable padded chairs. The rear seating comprises four old wooden church pews.
Our cafe at SMPC is a warm and welcoming space bursting with magical masks and puppets from around the world. We have tables and chairs to accommodate forty people. The windows are adorned with colourful shadow puppets from India, Greece & Turkey, Java and Bali, and there are cabinets surrounding the cafe which house Javanese Wayang Golek puppets, Chinese Puppets, as well as UK work by puppeteers' Miles Lee, Ken Barnard and John Blundall.
From our bright and colourful kitchen counter, we serve light refreshments, snacks, tea & coffee, various juices and birthday party food and party bags. Soup and/or sandwiches may be available on Saturday lunchtimes; home baking is available on special occasions.
Colour-in and cut-out masks and puppets are available to buy and make in the cafe for visiting families before and after shows.
Older than the wheel, the bow or the harpoon masks and puppets have always relied in equal measure upon craft and performance. In order to move freely between workshops and theatre we have located our production and design workshops on one dedicated site.
The combination of mask studio, carving workshop & wood store, teaching and training workshop, film and FX studio provide the engine for the development of the design and craft skills required to do the work.
The mask studio contains a large specialist mask library, as well as a desk and various workbenches and surfaces. It has a Swedish carving bench and an all-in-one woodworking machine called the Shopfitter from the USA. The Commedia mask matrices and lasts are housed here together with all the materials, leather dyes and tools for mask-making in leather. Antique puppets also hang from the ceiling.
The carving room is a dedicated woodworking space for adults with two large benches and all manner of woodworking equipment: lathe, band-saws, belt sanders, drill presses, sharpening equipment and associated wood store. It is also equipped with carving vices (scopas chops) and chisels, gouges and knives from English, Italian, Swiss, Austrian, Chinese and Japanese traditions. This is the space where the tricks of the trade in design and construction can be learned and where the skill-set can be acquired to make your own puppets and masks.
There is room to accommodate 12 working adults in this space.
This space is large enough to accommodate a class of 30 children and their teachers and carers. It can also be used for birthday party workshops with young people, parents and grandparents. It is a specially customized space housing a wide range of arts & crafts materials and recyclables. The workshop has also been used to make paper & felt, giant carnival heads, Italian mask-making in leather and Japanese Noh mask carving. It is equipped with various glue and paint stations. There is also a Textile Design and Weaving cupboard which houses a significant collection of books and craft-related materials.
Film FX Studio
An established film and television FX creator, Grant Mason is an artist-in-residence based at SMPC. He first met Malcolm Knight while still at school when the Centre was located in The Garret. Thereafter he went to Hamilton College and on the strength of his portfolio was offered a job with Image Animation at Pinewood Studios. Through this apprenticeship, he became a master mould-maker and professional sculptor. Over the years he has become Mr Special Effects to the Scottish film and television industry.
He was the creator of Baby Dawn for the cult film Trainspotting (1996), having already worked for Danny Boyle on Shallow Grave (1994). He has also worked with the BBC Comedy Unit Still Game and was the maker of Morag The Highland Cow for BBC Children's series of Fully Booked. Grant's work ranges across life-casting, caricature, science fiction, creatures and monsters. He also creates cuts, bruises, scars and prosthetic effects. He was awarded a BAFTA for his work on a Polish animation film of Peter and The Wolf and travels regularly there both in work and social capacity.
The Library and Audio-Visual Resource at SMPC is the most extensive of its kind in the UK.
The mask library has been compiled by Dr Malcolm Knight over a period of 45 years and contains sections on tribal, Greek/Roman, Medieval, Commedia dell Arte, Noh, Bugaku, Korean, European folk traditions, Latin American carnivals, Twentieth Century Art Movements and Contemporary Physical Theatre. It is housed in the Mask Studio of the Centre rather than in the main library.
The puppet library has also been compiled by Dr Malcolm Knight but with the sustained practical advice and support of RayDa Silva Books. This is housed in the Seminar Room of the Main Building and contains over 6000 volumes on history, theory, other cultures, Asian puppetry, biographies of puppet masters, puppet companies by country, puppet directories and encyclopaedias, monographs from Poland, and puppetry journals from around the world. It also contains special sections on Punch & Judy and the European folk heroes, Toy Theatres, Ventriloquism, Puppets in Education and Therapy, Shadow Theatre and Gigantes/Giant figures.
The audiovisual collection includes the Henson master series on Obratztsov, Jim Henson and Albrecht Roser. There is another video series on the Saltzburg Marionette Theatre introduced by Peter Ustinov and a collection of films on Trnka and Svankmaier. Others include the films of Lotte Reiniger, Guignol in performance, Commedia dell’Arte performed by puppets (including Salvatore Gatto’s Pulcinella e il cane). There is also a collection on Japanese Bunraku, Noh and Kabuki plus Vietnamese Water Puppets, Javanese Wayang and Kathakali. Also Barnard on Barnard and other films by the British Puppet & Model Theatre Guild plus the 1980 Washington Puppet Festival and the splendid Dutch film from the Netherlands Poppenspiel Institut entitled Moving Objects.
Our reference library is organised into the following categories:
International Directories of Puppetry & the latest UNIMA & Czech Encyclopedias
Volumes dealing with Puppets country by country
Large format publications such as Sicilian Marionettes & The Dwiggins Marionettes
Key volumes by written by puppeteers including Obraztsov’s My Profession, Baird’s On The Art of The Puppet, and Lee’s Puppet Theatre Production and Manipulation
Books on all aspects of Punch & Judy and his cousins: Guignol, Kaspar, Policinelle, Pulcinella, Petrushka, Vitez Laszlo
Books on all aspects of Toy Theatre, Paper Theatre and Juvenile Drama including the John Neill Collection
Volumes on puppets in Asia: India, Burma, Thailand, China, Japan, Korea,Vietnam and Indonesia.
Books on Puppets in education and therapy
Puppet theatre magazines from around the world
The Centre has an extensive collection of theatre, folk, and ethnographic materials including books and articles in other languages; and video footage of Commedia, Noh, Topeng, Kathakali, Carnival and related forms.
Our studio theatre, cafe and workshop studios are available for private hire. Please send facility hire enquiries to Sarah Lee at with details of your needs, numbers and detailed description of use.