Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

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Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Chris Richard » 24 Nov 2010, 06:23

Traditionally Punch and Judy shows have stuck close to the same basic plot and characters that were in the show first published in the early 19th century. But within that format there has been considerable variety among the shows of different Punch performers.

It's a somewhat unusual entertainment in that one is not expected to adhere strictly to an established script in the manner of most conventional plays, but neither is one required to create and entirely original and unique performance as would be expected of a standup comedian.

With that understanding, my topic for discussion is this: how is the borrowing/stealing of lines or business from the shows of other contemporary, living, working Punch performers viewed by others within the P&J community?

There are, I'm quite sure, more than one performer using a Health and Safety Inspector wearing a fluorescent yellow vest. Somebody was first. Somebody else copied. Likewise in an earlier time one P&J prof made a crocodile puppet and introduced it to his show. All others are copies. The character of the crocodile did not spontaneously and independently appear all over the country.

Today many respected, professional magicians frown upon the use of another persons routines without permission and/or the purchase of the rights to perform that routine. Comedians feel the same way.

If I saw a bit I liked in a Punch and Judy performance, would putting it in my own show be right, wrong or a gray area? Would it matter if generally we performed in different cities or countries or continents?

Can Punch and Judy performers identify particular bits or lines and say that is a Bryan Clarke line or a Geoff Felix line or a Glyn Edwards or Richard Coombs or Tony James line. Do P&J professors gossip about how Prof. Underbelly stole that piece of business from Prof. Goodyshoes and isn't it a scandal?

You don't have to name names or give examples.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Trevek » 24 Nov 2010, 10:05

That's an interesting question, Chris.
I remember once seeing a show and thinking "Blimey, the first part of this show is almost exactly the same as mine!" despite the fact that I had never seen the performer before (and he certainly had never seen mine and had been doing his show a lot longer than me). The same stock bits just get reworked in so many ways that eventually you'll find yours somewhere else.

I can't really answer your question about the Punch community as I'm not really a part of it, being a bit of a pioneer in the wilderness, where I am.

I don't know about wholesale 'lifting', but I personally will admit to allowing myself to be 'heavily influenced' occasionally (and will openly admit the fact). Just recently I saw a Pulcinella show and spent a lot of the show wondering whether it was possible to add certain features from that show into my own. I've also included things that have influenced me theatrically over the years, so Punch and Judy do a little dance, which is actually a Lithuanian folk dance (but I doubt 99% of my audience would realise that), likewise, my Devil has been known to spout lines from Polish carolling traditions before now.

I think the difference between blatant 'swiping' and 'being influenced' is how much you take the essence of a piece/line and adapt it to your own show, so you're not just doing someone else's show like a script.

OK, that'll probably take the flames off you... I've got my asbestos suit on.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Richard Coombs » 24 Nov 2010, 10:08

I am a self confessed "magpie" for lines and bits of biz that work well. And I have a suspicion that a good many performers are the same. The main reason being I guess that when you see something nice , its very hard not to want to give it a go yourself.

However , as Trevek said , I do try to change and tweak whatever Im pinching to fit my own style ..
Some things stay , others are around for only a few weeks , some things haven't lasted more than a few performances , because they felt 'wrong' for the flow of that part of the show.

Clive Chandler said something to me at the PJF Festival in Lincoln this year , which struck me as profound.
He said most peoples shows ( including his own ) are like snowballs rolling down a hill : they pick up bits along the way , and can if unchecked , get bigger and bigger.
Which is why some folk turn in 45 minute , almost unwatchable shows.
The Trick is to cast off the dead weight of stuff you no longer need to allow room for the fresh stuff.

I think its slightly more complex than that , in that you only really have space for so much material in any show , and what you choose to use is plucked out of a much bigger 'reserve' of stuff which you are constantly updating. Some of this stuff is genuinely 'your own' , some is stolen , some is reconstituted from stuff you've seen , but wanted to 'change' before using

To continue with Clives 'Snowball' analogy ( and with snow on the way here in the Uk why not ) -The driving narrative of the show is the 'packed ice' at the core the snowball ... it it always there , and without it there is no show - the fluffy outer snow , is what makes the show 'yours' .

The performers I enjoy watching are the ones where this outer layer is in a slow , but constant state of gentle change - you always get a good show , but its never quite the same as the last time you saw it.


Now that isnt to say it not the same twice - when you are performing in tandem with someone at a festival you will see that ( apart from crowd driven ad libs ) they will do roughly the same show 3 times in a day --- BUT its not quite the same show they did a Year earlier , or the same one they will be doing next Year.

To keep this creativity 'fuelled' it is inevitable that some bits will have come from stuff you have seen others perform. And I see nothing wrong with that. I would be flattered if I saw somebody else doing a bit of biz that I had 'invented'.

Of course the other thing is , sometimes you think you have come up with something nobody else has done , only to be told by someone ( usually Geoff Felix) that " Prof 'so-and-so' was famous for doing something very similar just after the War" There is very little New Under the Sun.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Trevek » 24 Nov 2010, 10:19

Funny thing, Richard, but just as I was reading the final bit of your post I was handed a package which contained Byrom's "Punch, Polchinelle and Pulcinella" and suffered a similar situation as you describe...

A few years ago I saw a cream syringe for use on cakes. I wondered whether this might of use to my Doctor, and indeed it has been, to Mr Punch's chagrin. Although I suspect I'm not the only person with such a crude mind I've never seen anyone else using one. Well, I open my new copy of Byrom to see... a French Polchinelle show illustrated with a doctor carrying a syringe.

Don't such things really needle you?
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Richard Coombs » 24 Nov 2010, 11:04

I stopped and stated again , as I find really long Posts difficult to read and digest on here, and that last one was getting to be a Novel.

This topic has reverberations with some of the recent threads from American puppeteers about wanting to change things , or do things differently within a Punch and Judy Show ... so I feel some extra explanation is necessary to accompany my 'novel' .

It seems clear to me that this Board has ( broadly speaking) three types of participants - Folk who regularly Perform Punch and Judy , those just starting to dip their toes in the water , ( or who are building shows in preparation to do so ), and Theorists.

Now the Theorists will have a Field Day with anyone even suggesting that new bits of business or characters can be 'added' to the sacred Cruikshank illustrated show. ( OK so Im pulling their legs a bit here , but most will understand what I mean - Mr Sommerville and CvdC do Im sure )

Looking at the "Punch and Judy Show" as an art form or bit of History , is a bit like looking at any one persons show - and again I will revert to the "Snowball Analogy" :

There has always, always been the Packed Ice 'Core' that holds the snowball together and makes it what it is - defines it , drives it, moves it along , keeps it rolling down the Years and successive Generations, Decades and Centuries.

Then there is the outer fluffy snow that rolls along with it , some falls off , some gets added.

You can play around with the fluffy snow ...but if you are wise then you leave the Packed Ice alone .

That for me is what makes some of the recent postings farcical for this forum ..if you really want to smash apart the 'core-ice' then why bother wanting a snowball at all ?

And it is a BIG snowball , the sort you could build a Snowmans body with ..you would need a big ice pick to destroy it ..... some folk here seem to think its just throwing snowball you could crush with one hand- and they are trying to crush a snowman in one hand ; and are asking us to watch them try ! ( Im afraid the folly of some discussions lately seem as absurd to me as that image , so I quite understand our webmasters recent frustration )
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Richard Coombs » 24 Nov 2010, 11:36

To pick another question posed by the original post :

The crocodile is an interesting point . He is a bit of fluffy snow that got rolled onto the ball ...but now has melded into the Pack Ice and is solidly part of the 'Core' ..... who would dream of doing a Punch and Judy show now without a Crocodile ..unthinkable.

But it takes time and pressure for fluffy snow to get fixed to the core ..more than any one performer can do alone ..it needs to be taken up by the majority , and over a generation or two , to really last.

So how did it happen ?

Im no Punch Historian , but I suspect the truth is made up of all the little strands of rumour and folklore:
To me it makes perfect sense that there were a good many shows sporting a St Georges Dragon puppet right from the very start . St George and the Dragon pre dates Punch , both as a play for actors and puppets ( marrionettes and glove puppets ) .

I also believe street Punch performers would always have used whatever was in their 'arsenal' to do a good a show ( and earn money)
Just because Cruikshank didnt draw a Dragon in the show he saw , doesnt mean that one or two performers from around that time were not using one.... it just means the puppeteer he saw didnt own , or use that puppet.
He did have a Blind Man ..how many others at that time had that puppet ?
If I were a betting man I would bet that not many did , But Picini just happened to have one
( and some historians say it could have been a "Jew" or "Shylock" puppet that he chose to use as a Blind Man ) ...

But even with the publicity of Cruikshank drawing it , the 'Blind Man' was only ever a bit of "fluffy snow" that rolled along for a while , but very quickly fell off the snowball.
I would be more inclined to believe that more street performers had Dragons than ever owned a Blind Man - What would have happened if Cruikshank had drawn a Dragon ? I suspect that puppet makers would have been turning them out by the dozen to meet the new demand !

Two events turned the dragon from an occasional puppet ( fluffy snow ) into a mainstay of Punch and Judy ( core ice) -
In 1903 London Zoo got its first Crocodiles , and fascinated children and London Society alike got 'crocodile obsessed' Can you image what it must have been like to see a live crocodile up close and personal for the very first time , staring into those huge jaws , and seeing all those sharp teeth ?
It would be like us today actually discovering a live Tyrannasaurus Rex

In 1904 J.M Barries "Peter Pan" was published...coincidence ? I think not.

Now ask yourself this ...if you were a Punch performer at the time , and you had a Dragon puppet that you hadnt used in a while , collecting dust in the attic say , ...what would you have done ?

And if you hadnt done it , but then saw a rival show that had - would you give two hoots about copying someone elses idea ?
No you would get out your Dragon and call it one of those new fangled , hugely popular beasts that everyone was talking about - a Crocodile !

And if you didnt have one , you would contact the Geoff Felix , Brian Clarke , or CvdC of the day and order one at any cost , and as soon as their fingers could carve 'em.

Food for thought .

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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Chris » 24 Nov 2010, 12:02

Mr Sommerville would prefer his own spelling, Somerville, and with some 200 Punch shows a year on top of his marionette shows he reckons he is more than a theorist.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Richard Coombs » 24 Nov 2010, 12:07

Apologies for the miss spell Chris ..and no in no way way I sugessesting you were a Theorist , I was saying that you and CvdC seem to have the same approach to Theory without substance.

Anyhow with 3 megga long postings in one day , Ive just done enough 'theorising' myself to last me a Year , so I will shut up now :-)
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Chris » 24 Nov 2010, 12:15

Fair enough Richard - if I had really been bothered I would have played rough -given you an "e" in Coombs!

Chris R. Re swiping. There is no copyright in ideas. If you exactly reproduce another's show, or part of a show then you are a thief. If you are inspired and influenced by another's show and rework and create your own thing based upon the inspiration that is the way we learn and grow. Shakespeare borrowed a great deal, and we are the richer for it.
If you borrow something that is particularly distinctive and current then even if you are intending to rework it it is good manners to seek the permission of the originator.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby CvdC » 25 Nov 2010, 00:36

"Theory without substance"???
I wouldn't think such theories would have as much chance as a snow ball in hell on this board.
But occasionally snowballs may pick up pieces of branch and so as they roll towards a fragile ski chalet they will contain solid material. And when they landed on the roof of said chalet they would still make quite a crash don't you think. But then again I have never rolled a snow ball. I have seen them in cartoons with legs and arms poking out.
I gather that eventually they melt in the sun unless you keep the temperature low. Were you thinking of refrigerator sized snowballs?

On this topic however it is amazing just how little variation there is between the shows. Look at all the different stories there are for Polchinelle and Pulccinella, whereas poor old Punch has to do the same old stuff year in year out.
BTW I always thought the Blindman may have been a monk and in Catholic countries it was used to make fun of clerics and was repurposed by Piccini for a more secular London audience.
I was thinking one could write a paper on 101 ways to throw a baby out the window. The art of Punch seems to work within a tradition, but to do so inventively(or through creative adoption).


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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Trevek » 25 Nov 2010, 09:36

CvdC wrote:On this topic however it is amazing just how little variation there is between the shows. Look at all the different stories there are for Polchinelle and Pulccinella, whereas poor old Punch has to do the same old stuff year in year out.


Strangely enough, although there are/were a number of texts for Pulcinella, the shows I've seen by different performers were very similar. One young player even did a body count. I asked him if this was a particularly well-known routine in his tradition. He replied, "Oh, I picked that one up from a workshop with Dan Bishop. He showed me how to make a swazzle, too. The old guys in Italy don't want to show you how to make the pivetta."
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Chris » 25 Nov 2010, 12:09

I think the blindman was a blind man. I see no reason to try and make him a monk or give him any symbolic quality. Blind people would be a common sight on the streets of London, and were doubtless teased and tormented and were sometimes a figure of fun. Literature shows us that all forms of disability were treated far less kindly in days gone by. Similarly one-legged and wooden -legged people were also a common sight in those days - and on the marionette stage a wooden-legged sailor was a popular character

With regard to the single story-line of the Punch shop, and the multiplicity of the adventures of Pulcinella, Polichinelle, Petrushka et al: I have always thought this was the strength of Punch, why we have a Punch & Judy show rather than Punch as a character in a puppet show. Surely that is why Punch has survived to be a National icon. Surely that is why today's Pulcinella shows and Petrushka shows all look like Punch and Judy shows.

As for the snowball that turns into a crocodile, which I was reminded of by this morning's Radio 4 programme "In Our Time" with Melvyn Bragg and his guests getting every last drop of ambiguity from a discussion of metaphore, well I don't buy the Peter Pan theory. I think I believe, or at least prefer to believe, Michael Byrom's Georges Sandes' green slipper explanation of the croc's origin.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Miraiker » 25 Nov 2010, 18:29

Richard said
I would be flattered if I saw somebody else doing a bit of biz that I had 'invented'.


I'm glad you said that Richard because last Friday I adapted one of your lines that had really made me chuckle when I watched your show at the May Fayre two years ago.
You were having a bit of trouble getting your Joey to dip his bubble blower into the bubble mixture.
Joey said "Oh I wish I was a marionette. - That's a puppeteers joke. There aren't many puppeteer jokes, and most of them are here today."
So on Friday I was performing with a large bunch of magicians for Children in Need. So I included in my show two magicians competing. One did a sawing in half routine while the other used a chick pan to produce a cake. When asked what sort of cake it was he said "it's a sponge cake of course. - That's a magician's joke. There aren't many magician jokes, and most of them are here today."
Thank you Richard. I hope you're flattered and the cheque's in the post.
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby CvdC » 25 Nov 2010, 22:32

With jokes like that you'd want to move on pretty quickly. Which I guess only serves to illustrate Richard's point that a good show ought to be brisk and not overloaded with too many extraneous routines and complex dialogue.
I listened to that discussion on metaphor Chris. "A metaphor gives a body to the abstract" But what is the difference between a metaphor and an analogy? Given a metaphor is an analogous comparison.
And I note that one of the speakers pointed out that it is very easy to fall into the trap of arguing with the metaphor rather than that which is being "metamorphised". So ought we now discuss the adhesive qualities of compressed snow in rotational kinetic motion propelled by gravitational force?
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Re: Tradition, originality, and swiping bits

Postby Chris » 26 Nov 2010, 00:42

But what is the difference between a metaphor and an analogy?

An analogy compares things in a logical argument: The world could be compared to a stage in that it is platform on which we play out our lives.
A metaphore implies the comparison: All the world's a stage and all the men and women merely players.
Then of course there is the straightforward simile: The world is like a stage.

So ought we now discuss the adhesive qualities of compressed snow......

No.
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