Punch in Poland

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Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 06 Nov 2014, 21:19

After quite a lay-off, I recently got asked to do some shows in a small primary and kindergarten in a local village.

I hadn't realised until a few days before that one of the gigs was a kindergarten, so it was time to brush up/off my Polish "skills".

I was amazed when I was showing the kids a slapstick and the headmistress volunteered her behind for the demonstration!

To be honest, I was a little wary, especially with the kindergarten, because I don't usually play to such young crowds (usually teens and older primary- upto 12 in Poland), but it seemed to go rather well.

http://www.zsp.gietrzwald.prothost.pl/i ... id_akt=392

In such cases, the kids don't usually have a wide vocabulary in English, so I either drop the odd word in here and there, or repeat phrases in English and Polish "Dzien dobry, Pan Punch! Hello, Mr Punch!"

Does anyone else have experience of non-English audiences or Young Learners of English? I'd be interested in your experiences, views and any advice.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Chris » 08 Nov 2014, 17:30

I've always thought that a good Punch show can be enjoyed regardless of the language
providing that either the performer or some of the audience have a smattering of the other's language. A few shared key words and a basic dialogue can be achieved.

Puppet acting generally should be more movement than dialogue. A good puppet script does not rely heavily on speech but on action and visual attributes (modelling, costume, scenery, tableau). The puppet, lacking facial animation, does not communicate well vocally. This can be seen in the opera presentations of the Saltzburg Marionettes - exquisitely carved and costumed and very well manipulated - and pretty boring to watch.

Despite what the Payne-Collierites may believe Punch did not arrive in Britain with a script, songbook and set of Cruikshank costume designs. Punch arrived as a jobbing comedian in the repertory of the Italian marionette troupes. When he became a glove puppet out of expediency it was so that one man could manipulate the show, and push it around the streets and across the country. The whole design of the familiar upright booth with small proscenium opening, and the pattern of a drama limited to a series of exchanges between two characters at a time, is to serve the twin needs of portability and solo performance. The show as it has been passed down to us evolved over a couple of hundred years by showmen working in the streets. Their verbal interchange with their audience had to be bold and limited - because they were shouting to be heard in a very noisy environment and there would be no appetite among the onlookers for long speeches anyway. The showmen found the formula that worked was exaggerated action and frequent changes of character, novelty and surprise. Shrill squawking, wooden head, slapstick, crocodile jaws and snapping dog percussion offered sounds which carried above the bustling hubbub of the streets and was more telling than long speeches. Most of Punch's dialogue can be understood as rhythmic chanting to accompany the action rather than dialogue which needs to be understood. "That's the way to do it", "kissy-kissy-kissy", "walky-walky-walky", "What a pity- what a pity" and "root -i-toot-i-toot" do not really need to be translated.

In fact a "translated" show might not work very well. What would work, and is probably the best solution, is to perform the show in English but have a front of booth native speaker to react and respond to the puppets, and make the occasional translation - much as the showman/bottler of old would clarify Punch's swazzling.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 09 Nov 2014, 11:53

Thank you Chris.

When I first started doing them we did try the native speaker but it turned into a translation and slowed things down a lot. As you say, sometimes a show in English works just as well despite the difference in language.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Chris » 09 Nov 2014, 16:17

we did try the native speaker but it turned into a translation and slowed things down a lot

So why was that Trev?

Obviously the person concerned hadn't learned their script properly and rehearsed sufficiently.
A person out front is just as much an actor as any of the puppets, and their part must be scripted and rehearsed accordingly. In that way there would be no danger of it turning into a translation.

If it wasn't scripted and rehearsed then you have only yourself to blame.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 09 Nov 2014, 21:56

Yes, you're absolutely right, Chris.

It was 14 years ago and I was in a totally new (and variable) situation and made a lot of mistakes. I learned a bit (a lot!) from it and made some decisions which, generally, seem to have been the right ones, although not all, of course.

I've managed to create a show in basic Polish and for other groups, specifically ones where the teachers want them to hear English (many Polish schools teach foreign languages from primary) I provide different levels of English.

I've also dabbled with the approach of saying a phrase in Polish and repeating it in English (or vice versa) either with the same character or a different one. That seems to work better for groups which have a very basic level of English (if any).

It very much depends on what the schools or clients want.

I've read some of the debates about working in translation (or not) with interest and I still feel it is useful to ask advice occasionally. The teachers sometimes have some good comments as well. Being in a position which, I suspect, is a little bit different to many others, I like to try and pick up some ideas or experiences. Gets a bit lonely out here.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Chris » 09 Nov 2014, 22:45

Perhaps you should be asking the question: "What makes you think Punch is a good medium for teaching the English language?" While I am sure puppets can be an excellent medium for the purpose I am also sure that you could hardly choose a worse vehicle than Punch and Judy.For the reasons I mentioned in my previous posting the dialogue in P&J is limited, largely irrelevant, and certainly subservient to the action, and the main character's voice is distorted! Surely you could devise a puppet format to be far more effective?

I feel that to use Punch for language instruction is inappropriate. Of course you could do as one other Prof using Punch inappropriately did, ditch the the swazzle!
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 09 Nov 2014, 23:42

I seem to have given you the wrong idea, Chris.

I don't use it as "language instruction" in the sense of teaching English.

I am usually asked by teachers who want to expose their students to some British culture and to let them hear something in English. Obviously, being a puppet show it has other appeals. It is also helps that the dialogue is simple and lower levels learners can catch a few words and feel "empowered" in that they can understand something.

Sometimes a school director asks if it is in Polish because they are worried about whether the children will understand it. Many directors/teachers don't speak English and have never seen the show. They usually hear of me by recommendation (I don't actively pursue puppet work much these days). Whatever the reason, I get asked back now and again and have been asked to help out with English-based projects (so I must be doing something right).

I don't consider these shows primarily as English teaching but if this is part of the reason I am being booked it would not do to ignore it. They get a Punch and Judy show. I don't do grammar exercises in the middle.

A different puppet play would be a good idea, especially if I were to work on ELT-based shows. I'm too busy at present to think about it but it could be worth keeping in mind for the future.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Chris » 10 Nov 2014, 00:53

I seem to have given you the wrong idea, Chris.

I don't use it as "language instruction" in the sense of teaching English.


So sorry, I thought you wrote...

the teachers want them to hear English (many Polish schools teach foreign languages from primary) I provide different levels of English.


I think I understand now, you are aiding the children in their learning English but not in the sense of teaching them English.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 10 Nov 2014, 20:37

Yes Chris, I think that is a good summing up.

Thanks for your views and ideas. :)
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Professor Joe » 11 Nov 2014, 23:02

No it doesn't work in any other language ... https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mArYKiYQ2NU
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Chris » 12 Nov 2014, 00:10

Don't confuse things Joe, It's not Punch that works in Spanish, it's Rod's genius that works in Spanish. He hasn't translated his Punch show into Spanish, but he has created a special comic dialogue with his festival audience introducing the Inglaise Puppet Show.
But actually I reckon the best bit isn't the clip you show, its his warm up front of booth, which is absolutely wonderful, and then there's the bit with the clown at the start which I love.
But Rod is definitely one of my favourite performers with Punch. (I worded that carefully - there are better Punch Shows, but few more entertaining puppet shows.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HBsHvyPnHlY
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Professor Joe » 12 Nov 2014, 22:10

You're right there Chris, that is true. I just personally think that Punch could work in any language, maybe not a fully traditional Punch show, but a show with the essence of Punch. And we as performers puppeteers and ultimately story tellers tell our own versions of that story (some more similar than others)

Trevek, I believe that you should use your polish language skills to tell the story, you obviously speak Polish to a degree to be able to live there, so there must be some great puns that would only work in Polish, just as we have in English. There must be topical gags that only work in Poland.
Chris is right, it shouldn't just be about what you say, the action moves the story along we shouldn't get bogged down with a show being wordy. And that's where I think you're coming from Chris, that it is probably more important to focus on the puppetry side of the show that on the actual dialogue. But it's a fine balance that I believe Rod possesses, that I think Trevek, you should use as inspiration. You can find the essence of Punch in Poland and the essence of Poland in Punch.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 12 Nov 2014, 22:34

Thanks Joe.

Actually, my Polish isn't great so the more sophisticated puns are beyond me. It's also hard to swazzle in Polish because the language is full of crazy sound clusters. Imagine trying to say "Szczecin" "ShCh-e-ch-een" :-) I can do it but have almost choked on more than one occasion :D I must admit that singing with a swazzle in Polish has been well received on occasion :-)

The problem with younger Polish kids is that they can find it hard to understand a non-native speaker of Polish because they are taught the language very precisely in school. It's actually easier to do it for adults because they find the obvious mistakes in my Polish quite amusing. Kids just don't understand it. better people than me have had problems with it.

I do have a Polish version of "kissy-kissy-kissy", which is "Buzi-buzi-buzi" ("zi" is like "si" in "vision") and I sometimes have Punch shout "Nie prawda!" (it's not true) to which the kids often shout back "Prawda!", (it's true).

Devil: "Pan Punch, uderzył Judy!" (Mr Punch, you hit Judy)
Punch: Nie prawda!
(Kids: Prawda!)
Devil: I jadłes kiełbaski! (and you ate the sausages)
Punch: Nie prawda
Devil: Prawda
Kids NIE PRAWDA!

There are a few good local jokes. They seem to enjoy me talking about Polish food in English, for some reason. I also have the odd dig at the bad roads or the politicians (when I'm with adults). I used to have the devil ask "Who am I?" only to shout "No, I'm not Roman Giertych!" (an ultra catholic right-wing politician). It got laughs until someone pointed out that a lot of his support came from the kind of villages I was playing in!

The vid is indeed inspiring. I'll show it to some of my Spanish teaching colleagues.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Chris » 12 Nov 2014, 23:33

Joe, while appreciating your opinion, I must repeat that Punch only needs translating if it depends upon language - and a good Punch show should not depend on language. That is its essence.
Rod was performing to an international puppet festival audience and he had written a special show based on his limited Spanish, the fact that he was English and that he was presenting a traditional English puppet show. He set up this scenario with a brilliant frontcloth build up - and then referenced this in the show proper. He had a knowing audience and a somewhat specialised one.

This is quite different to Trevek's situation, to the audiences he works to and to the situation I was discussing.
It sounds fine for you to say " You can find the essence of Punch in Poland and the essence of Poland in Punch." but it really is a bit patronising. Poland doesn't need Punch - they have a far longer and stronger tradition of puppetry than we have in Britain and they have their own puppet heroes. I would have thought that if Trev wants to perform in Polish, whether for entertainment or education, he would be better employing the wealth of material in their rich national traditon. Then he can keep Punch performed in the swazzle language as illustration of our British tradition.
Anyway, if the foreigners have difficulty understanding the show in English the answer is simple, turn the volume up on the amplifier.

Actually when writing above I wondered just how well puppetry was faring in Poland today. Perhaps Trev will tell us? My experience dates back to the Iron Curtain days when the performing arts were very well supported under the communist system. While Eric and I were running the Harlequin Puppet Theatre here with 3 or 4 puppeteers our friend Henrik Ryl in Poland who directed the Arlekin Puppet Theatre in Lodz had about 20 puppet manipulaters and a similar number of dedicated puppet makers and scene painters.
But I know that puppetry and ballet along with other performing arts are nowhere near as secure in Russia today as they were in the 1960s, and this may well be true of the whole of that part of the world once making up the Soviet block.

Sorry I've veered off topic. To bring it back - One Punch man who, I believe, did perform Punch in a variety of languages, was Percy Press (II). He was a linguist and attended several international puppet festivals taking Punch along. I never saw any of these performances but his show in English wasn't a patch on his father's show (who was brilliant). And Percy Press senior when working abroad worked in English.

Tony Clarke has worked several International festivals representing Britain with Punch. I'm not sure whether he worked in English or the local tongue.
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Re: Punch in Poland

Postby Trevek » 13 Nov 2014, 16:13

Sadly Chris, I think the state of Polish puppetry has declined in recent years.

As to the technical level of the puppeteers, I am not really able to make a comparison but the shows I have seen are very much actor based rather than puppetry based. A few years ago a friend of mine who worked in theatre management told me that for financial reasons the puppetry world had moved more into children's theatre. Coupled with this, many people who were not able to get into acting school went to puppetry school and then worked as "live" actors in children's shows. How accurate this was, I don't know but the shows I have seen at the local puppet theatre were predominantly actor-based or with the puppeteer swapping between playing the character and manipulating the puppet. As you can see on the website, there are some more heavily puppetry based pieces and some wonderful figures. http://www.teatrlalek.olsztyn.pl/galeri ... ;18,0.html

Indeed, in the theatre foyer there are displays of wonderful figures which, sadly, seem to be more reminiscent of the past than representing the present. In the old days the theatre (and cinema) used to travel around to different villages and do shows but I don't think this happens anymore.

There are still major theatres in places like Krakow, Lodz and Warsaw but as to the level of their work, I can't say because I haven't seen them. The puppetry school at Bialystok is still going and has had guest teachers like Dan Bishop. Indeed, I once met an Italian Pulcinella player who had learned swazzle from Dan whilst studying there.

So, I suppose, what I am aware of is that whilst there is a long tradition of puppetry, it is certainly not widely visible where I am. True, the theatre is often full with school trips and has an annual festival but apart from this there is little variety at any other time of the year. Even on major holidays there is not much evidence of it. On TV, it is similar to Britain, sub-muppet-style entities or the occasional animatronic piece. I know of one other puppeteer in town who does private work (he was once at the theatre). I think he and I are the only "visiting" puppeteers who go to village schools etc (and he says it is hard to get a lot of work).

Even in the toy shops, there are not a lot of toy puppets, at least not to the extent one might see in German shops. Most of those that can be found are the international brands of animal puppets and some German Kasperl-style figures.

As to having their own heroes and characters, I am unaware of them. Indeed, I seem to know more than many of the Poles I meet. I did once do some research into szopka puppetry and even did a village carolling performance in the style (or, at least, in homage to it) but I have never seen a real one. I have seen film of a show which a musician/performer did in East Poland but even that was not exactly in the original style. I once met and talked with an old szopka player but he was in his '90's at the time and wasn't performing anymore. He did have a flash where he began reciting a section of his play. I must get the video transferred sometime as it is really quite moving.

Many Poles I speak to know little if anything about traditional puppets. In fact, they are often surprised when I tell them about neighbouring countries having traditions because they are unaware of any national puppet figures. Even last week when I was talking about Punch, Kasperl, etc a teacher commented "We have nothing like that".

Obviously, in a more cosmopolitan place like Krakow, there might be more awareness but it is nothing like Prague, where you can buy puppets and carved heads from local market. Having spoken to local people, teachers, academics, culture activists, performers etc, it is hard to find much information on it in the local environment. occasionally an older person might nod when I mention Kasperl (or even more rarely, Pietruszka). Some of it is possibly because of the population shifts after WW2 and the old culture s moving away of dying out. This was something we often encountered with the carolling masks and puppets I was involved with a few years ago.
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