Soledad Zárate - String Theatre
Soledad Zárate's puppetry career started at the Puppet Theatre Barge, a floating puppet theatre on a converted barge in London, where she trained in the summer of 2007. The teaching was informal, all very hands-on, and puppetry was only one part of the experience. The rest of the time, they were getting the boat ready for travelling, moving it, setting up for the shows and sharing the space with other puppeteers. Her main teachers were the founders of the theatre, Juliet Rogers and Gren Middleton, and their family, but she also learned from other puppeteers (Athena Maschi, Amy Rowe, Sarah Fitzpatrick).
A few years later, in 2010, she co-founded String Theatre with Stan Middleton. It happened without much planning. At the end of her traineeship, she had presented a shadow piece based on the old French film The Red Balloon (by Albert Lamorisse) and Stan thought that the story would make a good marionette show. They decided to make the show together. Nine months later, they were performing it at Ishara Puppet Festival (Delhi, India) and then embarked on a two-month tour of India, where they did 48 shows in seven different cities, travelling by train with approximately 120 kilos of luggage, transporting marionettes, sets and a puppet theatre with a bridge!
There was really no looking back after that. It was a bit of a rollercoaster.
Soledad kept working regularly as a puppeteer for the Puppet Theatre Barge but at the same time making new work for String Theatre, most of it with Stan, but some of it on her own.
String Theatre has now five productions: The Red Balloon, The Insect Circus, The Water Babies, The Crow’s Tale, and A Water Journey. They tour these in theatres and festivals across the UK and internationally.
Soledad has found that touring with long-string marionettes is not easy because the set-up times are incredibly long and the work is physically very demanding.
As this is a very small company, often two members of the team are in charge of everything while on tour. She imagines this being the reality of many other puppeteers and feels that the enterprise would not have been possible without the work and support of other puppeteers (Elizabeth Barron, Sarah Fitzpatrick, Grace McLoughlin and Bori Mező).
During the pandemic, Soledad experimented within puppetry by going a bit out of her comfort zone. She took part in trainings and residencies, and travelled abroad to meet other puppeteers and see how they worked. Amongst these different activities, she made a marionette with Stephen Mottram, following his marionette design and Bernd Ogrodnik’s control, and included it in her newest production, A Water Journey. She also attended the Virtual Puppetry Residency, an online puppetry program administered by Pittsburgh Center for Arts and Media (USA), where she started developing a new project entitled The Travelling Doll.
One month was spent working at Casa Taller de Marionetas de Pepe Otal, in Barcelona, a real community hub for puppeteers, mainly, but not only, working with strings. She now has a project in Spain of finding a working and performance space for puppeteers.
Soledad says that London is home to her, but she has moved quite a bit in her life, having been born in Argentina and grown up in Italy, so moving places feels natural to her.
She would like to combine touring with a theatre base, which is a place to perform but also to work collaboratively with other puppeteers.