Founded by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones (with Jill Joubert and Jon Weinberg) in 1981, the Handspring Puppet Company continues to explore, innovate and push the boundaries of puppetry and contemporary performance. Deeply inspired by traditional puppetry – such as the Bunraku puppeteers of Japan and the Bamana puppeteers of Mali – Handspring fuses ancient craft, technical innovation and modern dramatic themes. Over four decades, the company has collaborated with world-renowned artists, directors, musicians, actors and theatre groups performing in 295 cities in 30 countries.Where we have performed
In the early 1980s, Handspring set out to create original South African plays for children, touring schools across southern Africa. In 1985, we shifted to producing puppet plays for adults. And these plays began to explore political and social themes – particularly sensitive at the time in apartheid South Africa. In Episodes of an Easter Rising, two middle-aged, White lesbian lovers encounter a Black, wounded freedom fighter on their isolated farm. This production brought together themes never seen before in South African theatre: humanity in the context of queer and political issues. Our puppets were breaking boundaries that hadn’t yet been crossed in human theatre.
Arguably, Handspring’s nine, life-size horses commissioned by the National Theatre in London for War Horse in 2006 established the company as one of the world’s most important puppet companies. And in 2021, Little Amal captured global attention in an unprecedented public performances piece across Europe. But from its early days, several key principles informed the work that was to develop over the coming decades:
A puppet lives and breathes only because the puppeteer, its manipulator, takes great care – for however long the performance lasts and at every moment during that performance – to make the puppet appear to be alive. We realised that attention to breath had been neglected in the puppetry tradition, and when we introduced it, we found a way to completely capture our audiences’ attention and engage them with what the puppet appears to be feeling and thinking. In noticing the tiny in-breath and out-breath of the puppet, the audience enters into an empathetic relationship with the object that is being brought to life.
Handspring productions, such as The Chimp Project and Tall Horse, featured animals as central characters in a drama, and audiences responded with huge empathy. War Horse went on to perform to children and adults in 100 cities around the world, with a live audience in excess of 8 million people. Perhaps the process of bringing an animal to life, in its own right, is better seen than explained:
Since 2010, we’ve been involved in an annual puppet parade and outdoor performance in the rural town of Barrydale, South Africa. Here puppetry became the motivator for thinking about contemporary life in the town, and for reimagining its past. Young people, with the facilitation of Net Vir Pret (a local NGO), became engaged with animal studies, ecology, race, history and theatre production in preparation for each year’s show. Consequently, many have gone on to study at the University of the Western Cape, the first in their families to do so. What this experience taught us, apart from the impact that art can have on communities’ and individuals’ well-being, was that theatre does not need to be in a theatre. Here, the groundwork for Little Amal took shape.
Aberystwyth, Adelaide, Alberton, Albuquerque, Amanzimtoti, Amiens, Amsterdam, Angoulême, Annency, Ann Arbor, Antwerp, Apeldoorn, Appleton, Athens, Atlanta, Auckland, Austin, Avignon, Baltimore, Basel, Beijing, Belville, Benoni, Berkeley, Berlin, Besançon, Birmingham (UK), Birmingham (USA), Bloemfontein, Bochum, Bogotá, Boise, Boksburg, Boston, Bothasig, Bourg-en-Bresse, Bradford, Braunschweig, Breda, Brighton, Brisbane, Bristol, Brno, Brooklyn, Brussels, Budapest, Buffalo, Caen, Calgary, Cambridge, Canterbury, Cape Town, Cardiff, Cardiff Bay, Châlons, Chambéry, Chapel Hill, Charleville-Mézières, Charlotte, Chicago, Chingqing, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus, Copenhagen, Costa Mesa, Coventry, Crown Mines, Dallas, Darling, Dayton, Denver, Des Moines, Detroit, Dijon, Dublin, Durban, Durban North, Durham, Düsseldorf, East Lansing, East London, Edinburgh, Edmonton, Ellwangen, Empangeni, Erlangen, Estcourt, Exeter, Fayetteville, Florence, Fort Lauderdale, Fort Myers, Frankfurt, Fribourg, Gaborone, Gberqha (formerly Port Elizabeth), George, Germiston, Giessen, Gillitts, Girona, Glasgow, Göteborg, Granada, Greenville, Groningen, Guangzhou, Gütersloh, Gwangju, Hamburg, Hannover, Hanover (USA), Hartford, Heerlan, Heidelberg, Heilongjiang, Hershey, Hillary, Hong Kong, Houston, Irene, Jacksonville, Jerusalem, Johannesburg, Kansas City, Kassel, Kempton Park, Kimberley, King William’s Town, Klerksdorp, Knysna, Kokstad, Kristiansand, Kroonstad, Krugersdorp, Ladysmith, Lannion, Las Palmas, Las Vegas, Leeds, Leicester, Lisbon, Liverpool, London, Los Angeles, Louisville, Ludwigsburg, Luxembourg, Lyon, Madison, Magaliesburg, Makanda, Malaga, Mandini, Marseilles, Margate, Mbabane, Miami, Milwaukee, Mochudi, Melbourne, Memphis, Milton Keynes, Minneapolis, Mistelbach, Morningside, Muizenberg, Mulhouse, Munich, Nanjing, Nantes, Nashville, Napoli, Neuchâtel, New Orleans, New York, Nîmes, Northdene, Northampton, Nottingham, Nuremburg, Omaha, Orlando, Otse, Ottawa, Oudtshoorn, Oxford, Palermo, Palm Beach, Paris, Parow, Parys, Perth, Philadelphia, Pietermaritzburg, Pinetown, Pittsburgh, Plymouth, Polverigi, Portland, Port Shepstone, Potsdam, Prague, Pretoria, Pretoria West, Providence, Queenstown, Quimper, Randers, Randburg, Randfontein, Reggio Emilia, Reklinghausen, Remscheid, Richmond, Risidale, Rochester, Rome, Rotterdam, Rungis, Saint-Brieuc, Saint-Denis, St. Louis, St. Pölten, Salamanca, Salford, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, São Paulo, Sasolburg, Schenectady, Seattle, Segovia, Sevilla, Shanghai, Shijizhuang, Shizuoka, Singapore, Sinoville, Sioux Falls, Sochaux, Southampton, Soweto, Spokane, Spoleto, Springfield, Springs, Stavanger, Stellenbosch, Stockholm, Stoke-on-Trent, Strasbourg, Stutterheim, Stuttgart, Sunderland, Sydney, Syracuse, Taipei, Tampa, Tarbes, Tempe, Tiangin, Tokyo, Toledo, Toulouse, Toronto, Truro, Tzaneen, Uitenage, Umtata, Vancouver, Vannes, Venice, Vereeniging, Versailles, Vichy, Vienna, Vitoria, Xi’an, Warner Beach, Washington, Weimar, Welkom (Matiabeng), Wellington (New Zealand), Wellington (South Africa), Westville, Wiesbaden, Williamstown, Winnipeg, Woking, Wroclaw, Zagreb, Zurich