Lesley participated in Fluxus ‘Happenings’ in Germany in 1981, where she met Nam June Paik and Josef Beuys at the Düsseldorf Academy. She trained in Pantomime with Caco and improvised music with Christian Bollman. Moving to London, Lesley co-founded Brixton Art Gallery, curating the Performance Art Festival ‘Bartok in Brixton’ there in 1983. With David Medalla's 'Octetto Ironico', she performed the ‘A to Z of Synoptic Realism’. In 1988 Lesley received British Council funding to showcase filmmakers and performance artists in Germany.
She studied acting, including ‘Commedia dell’Arte’ with Barry Grantham, and clowning with Vivian Gladwell. After media courses with BFI and C4 she worked as a location manager in Europe, then joined the BBC in 1990, working as assistant producer on BBC2’s ‘Open Space' series. Lesley’s photos have been published and exhibited, including at the National Portrait Gallery in 1993. As a cast member with Bubble Theatre, she produced her first marionette in 1999 - the latest was commissioned for TV.
Lesley Butler opened the magical shop Puppet Planet back in 2003. As well as selling puppets from around the world, she entertains as clown, storyteller and Punch & Judy ‘professor’ at schools, fairs, fêtes and festivals. Invited to give a breakfast talk at Slade School of Fine Art in 2006 in a series with Alan Rickman and Alexei Sayle, Lesley’s demonstration of Wayang Golek inspired a Bruce McLean artwork! Lesley really appreciates puppetry’s power to communicate, with oneself and others, and has recently been commissioned to develop workshops for students at the University of the Arts London, Camberwell and Wimbledon.
A natural extension of Lesley’s interest in object animation is her found object sculptures. She’s given art gallery talks introducing puppet making as sculpture and creative expression. Making and performing can go hand in hand, so to speak - Lesley finds puppetry particularly valuable when providing workshops for excluded teenagers and autistic children. She also puppeteers for Ads and music videos including ‘Asda’ and ‘Marina and the Diamonds’. Lesley’s puppetry-on-radio ‘appearances’ include BBC Radio being featured by Jo Good in 2019. Mr Punch accompanied her to another radio interview, this time with Su Pollard, who commented: "That's the best swazzle I've ever heard - honest to God it's brilliant Lesley!”
Not to be overlooked are the 2 children Lesley ‘produced’ in 1994 and 1998, who've been bringing her up as best they can… funded training includes mask work with Trestle Theatre and carving with John Roberts. Since receiving an arts council bursary in 2012 and presenting a talk at The Big Grin Symposium in 2013, Lesley’s contribution ‘Beyond Survival - Cultivating Heritage’ about puppetry in India was published in the UNIMA book ‘Tracing Past and Present’ in 2016.
Lesley’s puppet film 'Pinocchio' from 2009 was chosen to screen at film festivals in the U.S. and U.K. and forms the first part of a trilogy subverting stereotypes which now includes ‘Punch & Judy’ and ‘Pandora’. Dedicated to developing the healing power of the imagination, Lesley has trained as a clinical hypnotherapist. She’s now training in Marshall Rosenberg’s NVC (non-violent communication), which incorporates puppets’ expressive potential to represent different aspects of human nature.
Here are some 2-minute films made about Lesley in Puppet Planet:
Visit Lesley's website here.