Alex Carter: puppets at little angel theatre

5 Feb

Everyone on Islington Faces Blog has a story. For 50 years the Little Angel Theatre has put on stunning puppet shows with marionettes as well as shadow puppets, rod puppets, glove puppets and table puppets. No wonder that as an Islington school boy Alex Carter detoured past the Little Angel Theatre* most days – but even he never guessed that one day he’d be Front of House Manager at the famous puppet theatre.  Interview by Nicola Baird

Alex Carter, Front of House Manager, with Gerda from the Snow Queen. Alex Carter: “People think puppets are only for children, but that’s not the case. As the founder John Wright said: ‘this is a puppet theatre, children are welcome,” so if a show’s for 4+ then it means 4 years to adult.”

Alex Carter, Front of House Manager, with Gerda from the Snow Queen. Alex Carter: “People think puppets are only for children, but that’s not the case. As the founder John Wright said: ‘this is a puppet theatre, children are welcome,” so if a show’s for 4+ then it means 4 years to adult.”

“I’ve spent my life in Islington,” says Alex Carter, 41, happily.

“I went to Canonbury Primary School and then Islington Green, for secondary, so always walked past the puppet theatre. I went to a show when I was at primary and I loved the atmosphere. When I came to work here and was. And now I’ve worked here for 10 years and live round the corner. I don’t have to commute and if there is a big snowy day I’m the only one who can get here!”

Alex was at Islington Green – now COLAI, City of London Academy Islington – during the trendy years. His elder sister, Petronella, who was a good friend of the Little Angel Theatre’s founders’ daughter, went there too… “Their year sang on the Pink Floyd song, The Wall*. The class was sneaked out of school without permission,” remembers Alex taking a short break from dealing with over-the-phone ticket sales. Technical manager, David Duffy, is sorting lights for Dogs Don’t do Ballet, while the workshop is a hive of activity as puppets are made, repaired and pampered.

Little Angel Theatre ready for the audience of Dogs Don’t do Ballet, based on a book by Anna Kemp. The music is composed and performed by Front of House Manager Alex Carter.

Little Angel Theatre ready for the audience of Dogs Don’t do Ballet, based on the book by Anna Kemp. The music is arranged and performed by Front of House Manager Alex Carter.

Alex’s special skill is music: he’s a skilled composer and has taught himself to play 12 instruments – the piano, guitar and mandolin are his favourites and he’s often called in to help with the shows, or to repair broken strings – a task helped by having the Islington Music shop on the other side of Cross Street which stocks all sorts of instruments and instrumental spares.

Are we nearly there yet? Just down this alley there's a puppet theatre.

Are we nearly there yet? Just down this alley there’s a puppet theatre.

DIY musician tips
“To get good on an instrument you need to fall in love with it, play it and be really patient,” Alex advises.

“You need to say to yourself ‘OK I’m not very good at this but in four months time I’ll be better and in a year even better.’ Usually people who teach themselves guitar end up using just their thumb and finger and on the piano may only use their three middle fingers, so become friends with people who are musicians so you can get some advice and help with technique. I had a few piano lessons at school so I knew the finger positioning.”

As Little Angel Theatre runs puppetry courses Alex has also learnt the craft of puppetry. “I’m quite good with marionettes (puppets on a string),” he says showing me Gerda in action (see photo above), “it helps to be a musician because it’s all about timing.”

In 1961 South African John Wright decided London needed its own marionette* (string puppet) theatre. The spot they choose was an old temperance hall damaged during World War Two when St Mary’s church, Upper Street was hit by a bomb causing roof debris to crash on to its neighbours.

In 1961 South African John Wright decided London needed its own marionette* (string puppet) theatre. The spot they choose was an old temperance hall damaged during World War Two when St Mary’s church, Upper Street was hit by a bomb causing roof debris to crash on to its neighbours. Fifty years on Little Angel Theatre looks very chic, tucked just behind Upper Street.

Puppet man
Alex’s job means he knows a lot of people in Islington. “We do 10 shows a week and if they sell out we’ll have 1,000 people a week here; at Christmas it’s double that. It means a lot of people buy tickets from me – I’ll be walking down the street and hear the kids going ‘Look there’s the puppet man’. I really like that! This job has helped put me back in contact with lots of people who I knew growing up and now have their own kids.”

Front of House Managers also need to be super-organised and suitably diplomatic.

“The volunteers and I have to deal with all the seating, and make sure the adults are towards the walls, so that children are sitting behind each other. I’ve had to stop dads fighting each other because their kid’s view was blocked!”

Audience feedback. Many visitors (young and old) are inspired to join the puppetry classes Little Angel theatre runs, see www.littleangeltheatre.com

Audience feedback. Many visitors (young and old) are inspired to join the puppetry classes Little Angel theatre runs, see http://www.littleangeltheatre.com

He also has to calm down over-excited younger members of the audience.

After the show it’s very tempting for a child to want to raid the stage. They do it so quickly that their parents can’t always stop them. It’s funny, but not if something gets broken. It always makes me think of football fans running on to a pitch after the game,” adds Alex.

First aid skills aren’t only if a child faints or hurt themselves on the way to the theatre – Alex may also have to rush damaged puppets to the workshop mid performance for emergency repairs.

On one memorable performance of The Tempest Alex managed to restring a cello – an instrument he’d never played – after the cellist broke two strings mid show. “I just kept thinking, ‘it’s two minutes before it’s needed… just pretend it’s a violin, because I know how to restring that’.”

Little Angel Theatre is an Islington gem, and as Alex Carter makes clear it’s a treasure that shouldn’t just be enjoyed by children. Do go and have a look at what’s on next, or maybe even discover your inner puppet maker at one of the theatre’s courses.

Enjoy a show at Little Angel Theatre, see what’s coming up at www.littleangeltheatre.com, tel: 020 7226 1787

Words*

  • Little Angel Theatre is the new name – it was first known as the Angel Marionette Theatre. A marionette is a puppet with long strings. See more about the history on www.littleangeltheatre.com. Founder Lyndie Wright is still involved.
  • More about Islington Green and Pink Floyd’s The Wall here.

Over to you

If you’d like to feature on this blog, or make a suggestion about anyone who grew up, lives or works in Islington please let me know, via nicolabaird.green@gmail.com. Thank you. 

If you liked this interview please SHARE on twitter or Facebook. Even better follow islingtonfacesblog.com (see menu top right).

This blog is inspired by Spitalfields Life written by the Gentle Author.

If you enjoyed this post you might like to look at the A-Z list of posts, or the A-Z of jobs to find friends, neighbours and inspiration. Thanks for stopping by. Nicola

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