Stephen has little recollection of attending puppet theatre performances when he was growing up; a handful perhaps but nothing memorable. His interest with puppets began with the Henson films Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal. He would watch most things he could find made by Henson, as well as any 'creature feature' that cropped up on TV. The local library had a few books on puppets, but none of them were really that interesting to him. He would skip past most of the photos of theatre puppets and just study the technical drawings about making moulds and mechanisms.
On leaving school Stephen attended a puppet theatre course at a college not far from his home. There he met John Blundall, who became a close friend and mentor for many years and together they went on to form The World Through Wooden Eyes. Within the first couple of months of the course, his views were changed after seeing some remarkable pieces of work. These included film of the Bunraku, Noh masks, Chinese glove puppet performances by Yang Feng and Li Tien Lu, Sergie Obraztsov’s “Don Juan” and the wonderful marionettes of Kinosuke Takeda.
Influenced by working with John Blundall, Stephen learned more about his craft. They came to represent a standard in craftsmanship, performance, skill and creativity which he continues to hold in the highest regard; so much so that he learned to carve Noh masks and puppets in Bunraku style. He continues to study and enjoy these works of art.
Stephen feels more comfortable as a maker than a performer - it's the more natural role for him, although over the years he has become at ease with performing.
He still has no desire to perform vocally, which has led to a great interest in many forms of non-verbal performance, such as ballet and mime. Music also plays an important part in supporting this way of working, and searching for the perfect piece of music to suit the mood he wants to convey is something he gets a lot of fun from.
Beyond his work in the puppet theatre, he also creates paper sculptures which sometimes cross into the theatre side of his work, as well as being a very useful craft to use in workshops with children and adults.
His latest project will be creating some automata, something he has wanted to do for years but never has. Stephen's involvement with the puppet theatre world has given him the opportunity to travel widely. One of his most memorable moments was finding himself outside Obraztsov’s Theatre in Moscow watching the mechanical clock, and trying to picture the scene some five decades before when his mentor, the great Soviet puppeteer, stood on the same spot while visiting.
Japan is a country which has come to mean so much to Stephen. His travel there allowed him to meet remarkable craftsmen and performers, and it was another trip which would never have happened had he not entered into the world of the puppet theatre. It's definitely one he hopes to repeat soon.
The World Through Wooden Eyes