De wereld van het poppenspel about

To squeeze stories out of objects.

By Marla Kleine

To squeeze stories out of objects. The search for the orphans among objects, lying in gutters, on sidewalks or dusty and forgotten in attics. Happy those among the objects who are chosen to audition. And who eventually acquire their “5 minutes of fame” in a performance by TAMTAM Objektentheater.

So we are talking about the actors that Gérard Schiphorst and Marije van der Sande, the permanent core of TAMTAM Objektentheater have been working with for almost 4 decades. Once started as puppeteers, playing the show Lang zal ik leven for a young audience in the Rotunda of the Stadsschouwburg, among other places. Reasonably “normal,” in other words. Until Schiphorst and Van der Sande saw a performance by Puppetmongers Powell, Brick Bros Circus. Schiphorst: “This Canadian group played everything with bricks, which may or may not have been fitted with attributes. With small changes, the bricks became different figures all the time. After this performance, it never worked out. Soon our youth performances became textless. We wanted to make images so clear that they told the story itself. That the audience could form their own images.’

They took workshops at the former puppetry center with Moniek Toebosch, among others. ‘There we learned that a performance  can be based on a scenario. And that the image can be very powerful. Those ingredients should form a balanced basis for a performance. Our way of producing became more film-like.’

Found material as a starting point.
Essential to TAMTAM’s performances is material research. And there is a lot of material in their studio, nowadays almost catalogically arranged, especially since they moved into their new studio on January 1. Van der Sande: “The objects have to audition before we end up using them. Materials and objects have talents, but at the same time their limitations. We try them out, see what their strength is. Only then do they become part of a performance.’

Schiphorst: ‘In the past we processed objects, nowadays we start much more from the expressiveness of an object. First we look at where the power is. The objects are now visibly manipulated and composed and projected live on a large screen. This research should yield the performance Small Disasters.’

TAMTAM has regularly worked with outside people. For example, Wim Hofman wrote and drew for two youth performances, Bear, the story of a hero and Smart as a donkey. And it collaborated with Jeroen van Westen, a landscape artist, for the performance Rusty Nails & Other Heroes. ‘In this way we acquire a new insight into the performances we make. A new outside perspective.’

New collaboration.
‘In the anniversary performance Small Disasters we are again working with Aus Greidanus. In this performance we want to show that failures are an essential part of evolution. We show small disasters to better cope with big disasters. It is a search for balance. Being out of balance triggers a movement. And that is needed within theatre as well. We were satisfied with the scenes at Rusty Nails, but the transitions didn’t flow. Aus then remarked that we needed harder transitions opposite the beautiful scenes. in which what has been completed is broken down, the audience must be put on the wrong foot. The nice thing about working with objects is that people think they know what they are looking at. But with the shifting of a single nail you can trigger a completely different action.’

And that is certainly what happens in Small Disasters. Privileged as I was, I was allowed – figuratively – to look behind the scenes already. The images are hugely associative and evoke memories of Giacometti, for example. A lampshade becomes a planet, packaging cardboard a kasbah and an old window frame a tower block.

Other activities
TAMTAM Objektentheater does not only perform performances. They give workshops and masterclasses all over the world, asking participants to bring a number of objects with which they have an affinity. Then a presentation is made within the time available. They have already done this in 15 countries, including Taiwan, Hungary and right after this interview in Alexandria. A tour with tensions, because Air France found it necessary to go on strike just then. With leaving a day later and skipping a night of sleep, this workshop was also achieved.

In 2011 they were “artists in residence” at the Kröller-Müller Museum. And thus provided a cross-pollination between theatre, music and visual art. There were extreme video close-ups of the art present, shown on a large screen with the object performance Objectomania underneath: a project they would like to repeat again.

And then there is the visual art leg. Some found objects find their place in a collage, a sculpture. Retired object actors can also be found in that capacity. Then there is visual art with a high theatrical character, exhibited nationwide.

Playing in the Netherlands

TAMTAM Objektentheater is hardly ever seen in the Netherlands. Not even in the ninth edition of PopArts. A pity because these very performances fit the theme ‘visual stories’. Schiphorst: “We do not recruit specifically in the Netherlands. The programming of theatres is so stuffed. You get booked two years in advance, and if an offer comes in from Malaysia, you can’t go because you are in Appingedam. That’s why we focus on foreign countries. We have already played in more than 32 countries.

Van der Sande: ‘I would love to play in the Netherlands for a month straight. Programmers only go to the impresario days, play it safe. It has gradually become a closed system.’ Schiphorst: ‘But a new layer is slowly forming, a frayed edge is starting to stir.

TAMTAM Objektentheater is not the only company struggling with this issue. A number of our puppet, visual and object theatre companies are almost exclusively performing abroad. How do we help programmers get rid of their cold feet?

So on the regular theatre circuit, TAMTAM Objektentheater is not often seen, but they regularly give private performances, play at conventions, which does suddenly land them in a regular theater. Or make a special act for Henk Boerwinkel’s 80th birthday. They are also making a tribute to Henk Boerwinkel that will be played during the festival in Meppel on October 12 and 13. According to Schiphorst, “TAMTAM goes Boerwinkel. A TAMTAM interpretation of his work.’ So go see that.
Furthermore, Schiphorst and van der Sande are busy selecting and auditioning their objects that will play a role in Little Disasters.
This performance will premiere in 2019. For playlists and further developments, see their website.


(NB: The performance Small Disasters, mentioned in this article was never finished due to COVID, but the elements of it were the starting point for Memories Of The Future)

The World Of Puppetry

Marla Kleine