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An interview with Jo Feijó

Jo Feijó is a freelance designer, puppet maker, dancer and performer from Lisbon, Portugal based in the North East of England. Jo is one of our 'North East Making Assistant Placement' holders and under the direction of Andrew Kim of Thingumajig Theatre is one of the four lead artists creating Tyne Rising. Read on below to find out about Jo's work and involvement in the project...

Jo with their puppet completed in Judith Hope's 'Winged Creatures' masterclass, Moving Parts 2019

Jo Feijó (he/they) is a Portuguese theatre maker working with all things puppetry and visual theatre. An East 15 graduate, Jo works across building, performing and devising, both working freelance for other companies and developing his own work. Her most recent works include Charlie Comet (Nottingham Puppet Festival), Happy Prince, (Packpack Theatre) and the UNIMA European creation project.

In 2019, Jo received the Making Bursary from Newcastle Puppetry Festival and is chuffed to return this year for some more amazing puppet building times!

Laura Firby, our 2021 Events Producer Intern, caught up with Jo to find out about their work and their journey into puppetry...

Can you cast your mind back and tell us what some of your earliest interests in puppetry were? What sparked your curiosity and inspired you to find out more?

I think what first drew me to puppetry was the fun of it. The puppet is pretty much a very technical toy, and that really spoke to me. I think I have always been a particularly serious person and a particularly serious performer, finding puppetry felt bit like a second childhood. As a kid I was always trying to be taken seriously so I don’t think I felt really connected to puppetry. I was also not very good at understanding social code so I couldn’t yet appreciate the lovely way in which puppets absolutely destroy our social expectation. I guess as a child I didn’t connect to puppets because they represented a childishness I was trying to run away from. As and adult I love puppets because they allow me space to be silly, unserious and as socially destabilising as I want.

Auguste, The Fisherman | By Jo Feijó

Tell us a little bit about your process. How do your visions come to life? Is it an experimental journey or do you have tried and tested methods you stick strictly to?

The methods I use depends entirely on what I’m doing, who it’s for and what is expected. In my solo work I take a more experimental approach, I often work from one impulse, one basic idea and try to see what i can make and what kind of characters come out. Recently I’ve found myself fascinated with body puppetry and the possibilities of puppet/body interaction, exploring how different characters/scenes can come from an arm, belly or chin.

If I’m working for other companies then I have a more tested method and tend to work with more traditional puppetry materials. This is because the puppet has to fit the story, design and context rather than the other way around. For this i usually create sketches and prototypes I can take into rehearsals. Then, upon seeing how the puppet reads and how the puppeteer relates to it, I’ll go back to the drawing board, adjust and from that, build the final puppet.

Jo at the drawing board designing a puppet

You have worked on some very interesting projects but is their anything that stands out in your mind as a highlight?

I think my favourite projects are always the ones that are driven by the trust in the process, the shows that remain a bit wild until the day they are performed. Companies I’ve worked for I’d like to highlight are Handmade Parade in Hebden Bridge and Life and Limb Puppets here in Newcastle.

The Handmade Parade (started by Tyne Rising lead builder Andrew Kim!) is an event where once a year, the people of Hebden Bridge gather and with the help of some contracted and some volunteer builders, create a beautiful parade to dress the streets with celebration and colour. As for Life and Limb puppets, they have a special place in my heart as they were the company that initially welcomed me into the world of professional puppetry, and as a new builder, allowed me to learn on the job, a privilege not many get.

Merwin Tutch | By Jo Feijó

You were awarded the Making Bursary from Newcastle Puppetry Festival 2019, what was this experience like?

Being the bursary recipient for the last edition of the festival was absolutely paramount in my growth as a puppet builder. Up until then I had been mostly self taught which meant that, no matter how good of a sculptor I might be, I had very limited knowledge of the different kinds of sculpting materials, glues, foams and clays that puppetry required. My only work had been for clay sculpture, which due to its weight and fragility, does not a good puppet make.

Doing Judith Hope’s 'Winged Creatures' masterclass was really important in building my puppetry-specific knowledge of mechanisms, equipment, material as well as providing a really great environment to meet some people from all over, some of which I’ve connected with after to talk shows, career and general puppetry insanity!

Having been all around Europe discovering and working in the puppet world what do you think makes Moving Parts Arts' Newcastle Puppetry Festival special and unique?

For me Newcastle Puppetry Festival is a really unique moment because, for lack of better words, it happens on my home turf. From the festival team to the bar staff, lots of the people are my friends and colleagues, people that I have seen grow and develop. This festival is the time of year we all come together to bloom our work to the audience, and, in contrast, run around sweatily making sure everything works. I also think this festival is really committed to showcasing variety in what it hosts. The program, which has featured some of my favourite puppetry ever, really works hard to show everything from marionettes to sock puppets, from the dark and surreal to the cute and colourful.

'Charlie' from Charlie Comet and the Magic in the Attic, by Jo Feijó for Nottingham Puppet Festival

You are working along side Andrew Kim on the ‘Tyne Rising’ creative team. What can you tell us about this piece? What are you excited about working on, is this project different to pieces you’ve worked on before?

It’s going to be a completely different set-up from previous years and a totally different show from what audiences are used to seeing. I love that for this year the festival has been really condensed and is working with the community to create something that is meaningful to its time and place. I am also very excited for very big jellyfish but that’s all I’ll say.

Jo working on 'Tyne Rising' in the Northern Stage workshop

For more of Jo's work, follow them on Facebook, Instagram and check out their website.

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