Philip Mitchell is an award-winning director and puppeteer with more than two decades experience working in puppetry and visual theatre in Australia.
Philip is the current Artistic Director of Spare Parts Puppet Theatre. For the company he has directed award winning shows including The Arrival, winner of the WA Equity Guild Awards Best Production, Spellbound, nominated for a Helpmann Best Children’s Production Award, and H20, WA Equity Guild Award winning show commissioned by the Perth International Arts Festival and designed for an Olympic sized swimming pool. Most recently, Philip directed the critically acclaimed Farm nominated for six PAWA Awards.
Prior to his move to Western Australia, Philip studied with Josef Krofta and Petr Matasek in the Czech Republic and attended the Prague School of Alternative Theatre and Puppetry at DAMU. He worked for more than 10 years as a puppeteer, performer, director, and co-devisor. In that time winning the Crawford American Express award for Performance art and several Helpmann award nominations for works with Terrapin Puppet Theatre.
Philip’s work explores the point at which the visual arts meets the performing arts – it is this point of ignition that excites and feeds his artistic journey.
Through his work Philip aims to explore new directions in puppetry development and is passionate about discovering where the artistic leadership or authorship of a work can be placed.
Philip is committed to nurturing new artistic leaders in puppetry though Australia’s only tertiary education unit at WAAPA and training programs like FirstHand.
THE STREET TALKED WITH PHILIP BEFORE THE SEASON OF THE ARRIVAL COMING TO CANBERRA FOR THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS.
WHY PUPPETS? WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO GET INTO PUPPETRY?
I trained as an actor and it was not by choice I became a puppeteer – it was the Commonwealth Employment Service that sent me to Terrapin Puppet Theatre to audition for a job as a puppeteer. I auditioned and found myself with a 12 month contract and a Japanese Director, Noriko Nishimoto, from a company called Spare Parts Puppet Theatre in Western Australia, training me as a puppeteer.
It was when I studied in Prague and met mentors Josef Krofta and Petr Matasek that I truly got bitten by the puppetry bug and the potential of the art form for extraordinary art.
TALK US THROUGH YOUR VISION FOR BRINGING SHAUN TAN’S BOOK, THE ARRIVAL, TO LIFE?
The decision to adapt The Arrival was made from a desire to find work that would appeal to an intergenerational audience. Work that was relevant to us as Australians and a work that had potential for great visual beauty.
WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF WORKING WITH CO-PRODUCER MICHAEL BARLOW ON ADAPTING THE SCRIPT AND ANIMATING ILLUSTRATIONS?
The creation of The Arrival was a very hands on collaboration with the writer, designer, composer and myself as a director. I am very interested in breaking the traditional “job descriptions” of artists and looking to how the authorship of a work can be placed with other key creative other then the person we call the writer. This collaboration saw much greater agency for the designer and composer to contribute to the creation of the work.
LEE BUDDLE COMPOSED THE MUSIC FOR THE ARRIVAL. WHAT WERE YOU LOOKING FOR IN THE SOUND LANDSCAPE?
Music is the language of The Arrival and also reflects the cultural richness and diversity of the Shaun Tan world we create.
The music itself is a melting pot of cultural references and instrumentation that parallels the themes of the work.
THE ARRIVAL IS NON-VERBAL. WHY DO YOU THINK THIS WORKS?
Non verbal works that focus on visual dramaturgy transcend cultural, language and socio economic boundaries.
WHAT MAKES A PUPPET THEATRE WORK FOR 36 YEARS?
Apart from consistently producing works of excellence, our team have and always have had a deeply passionate commitment to the art form.
A commitment to training artists has seen Spare Parts feed our own artistic excellence. Our Alumni have impressive portfolios. Most importantly creating a community around the company. This community is the life blood of Spare Parts and it always astounds me how many people have some connection to the company.