The Centre was founded in 1981 at The Garret, 39B Otago Street, Glasgow by professional puppeteer and mask-maker, Malcolm Yates Knight. Between 1981 and 1984, in collaboration with the Scottish Puppet Festival Association, the Centre played a coordinating role in organising festivals.
In 1985 the Centre was incorporated as a Limited Liability Company with no share capital no. 94166 and then in 1985 was recognised as a Charity registered in Scotland no. SCO 14379 by the Inland Revenue.
Our vision at that time included the longer-term aim of establishing a 250 seat theatre, interactive museum, and alternative education institute. Funding during this period came from The Manpower Services Commission, Glasgow District Council, The Scottish Arts Council, and the Carnegie UK Trust.
In September 1989, SMPC moved to its current site at Balcarres Avenue with the support of a 99-Year Lease from Glasgow District Council. The lease took 18 months to negotiate, during which time the originally wind and watertight former Glasgow District Council cleansing department was severely vandalised and stripped out. See photographs below.
The new base was renovated from its dilapidated state into an 80-seat studio theatre, cafe, exhibition space, production & design workshops, stores and office complex with visitor accommodation. In November 1989, just 8 weeks after moving in, the new building hosted the Soviet-British UNIMA Conference funded by New Beginnings Ltd. During 1990 Glasgow was the European City of Culture, and the new Centre launched a year-round programme of events, exhibitions, training courses and workshops from England, Europe, Russia and India.
In December 1990, at a special symposium in Bilbao, the International Federation of Centres for Puppetry Arts was formed, and Malcolm Knight was elected as its first President (to network the 16 key centres from Venezuela to Moscow).
In 1991, the Centre became part of an official Twinning Exchange with the Rostov-on-Don State Puppet Theatre who performed ‘The Gingerbread Boy’ and ‘Teremok’ in Glasgow, while Malcolm Knight and Mike Gonzalez produced an adaptation of ‘One Hundred Years of Solitude’ with rod puppets in Rostov.
During the 1990s, SMPC continued to maintain a year-round programme of Saturday shows, international masterclasses, and workshops for schools and community organisations. Visiting companies have included Taccedin Diker (Turkey), The Krishnaleela Tour (India), Yiannis Dayakos (Greece), The Oregon Puppet Theatre (USA), Eugenios Spatharis (Greece), Baul Teatro (Mexico) and Asep Sunandar Sunarya (Java). Mask workshops have included Adriano Lurissevitch (Italy); Ninian Kinnier-Wilson, Sally Brookes, Phil Clarke, Dr. David Griffiths (England); Nohzin Suzuki (Japan); and I Nyoman Wenten (Bali).
Between 1995 – 2004 Malcolm Knight forged a new educational partnership with Anniesland College in Glasgow. He wrote and implemented a two year Higher National Diploma foundation training programme in Puppet Theatre Arts. The Centre acted as a Field Centre for this teaching and seventy students graduated from the programme over the nine years that the course ran. The Course attracted students from Italy, Germany, Belgium, Denmark and Norway and the UK. The age range for the course extended from 17-80 years.
During this time the Centre maintained close links with The University of Glasgow Department of Theatre, Film and Television Studies and The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama.
The Centre is now widely recognised as a major U.K. research training and demonstration resource in the developing field of masks, puppets and performing objects. It
The Centre has also acquired significant Documentation and Collection resources over the past twenty years including The Miles Lee International Collection of Puppets and Marionettes (1986); the Magic of Masks and Puppets Collection Touring Exhibition, and The Caricature Theatre Collection from Wales donated by Jane Phillips (2001). The Reference Library and Audio-Visual Archive has been created by Malcolm Knight and is fully equipped with a fast broadband system to facilitate research and links to parallel sites.
In 2005 we launched a new world-wide book service focussing on newly published works for puppeteers, puppet centres and puppet enthusiasts called Personae – Mask and Puppet Books. This service was previously available from Ray DaSilva Puppet Books. It has now been extended to include secondhand and antiquarian books and may be found in our Shop.
The Centre is now moving forward with a Phase 2 development to establish a larger theatre of 107 seats in the converted store areas that will be suitable for medium-scale touring product – masks, puppets, mime, physical theatre, dance, film and television making – as well as available for rehearsals and hire. (See Site Development).