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The trainees are currently learning to walk on stilts, spin plates, use puppets and get crowds involved in their performance

Trainees resurrecting traditional seaside entertainment to bring puppets, magic and song to Devon beaches

Seaside entertainment featuring puppets, magic and songs will return to Devon’s beaches, promenades and quaysides this summer thanks to trainees helping to keep traditional performance forms alive and well.

Promenade shows with slapstick, songs and Punch and Judy have become increasingly rare as holiday habits change but that won’t be the case in the county as new trainees run free performances including puppetry, escapology, blade box routines and storytelling.

The training will ensure the skills involved in beach shows are passed down to the next generation of artists. It is the latest part of a project led by Dr Tony Lidington from the University of Exeter & artistic director of local social enterprise Prom-Prom, to bring traditional seaside entertainment back to resorts in Devon.

The training provides a stimulus for seaside regeneration and local employment for emerging young artists. This is an unique programme of cultural work which is being developed in the South West and is model for other areas to follow – Teignmouth, Torquay, Dawlish and Exeter Customs House and Quayside are already part of the project and keen to develop the initiative further over the coming years.

The trainees are currently learning to walk on stilts, spin plates, use puppets and get crowds involved in their performance. They are also learning other self-employment skills they’ll need in the industry such as invoicing, marketing, health & safety, risk assessments and using contracts.

Trainee Josh Meredith is in the second year studying A-levels in drama, politics and geography at Exeter College.

Josh, from Dawlish, who hopes to study at drama school in the future, said: “I applied for this opportunity because I wanted to try something new. I’ve been doing local stage shows since I was ten, and this is a great chance to get more experience and learn different skills.

“I love the fact that seaside entertainment is so intimate – you are very exposed because you are working with the audience – but what’s great about it is you get their reaction immediately and it will be wonderful to make people smile and laugh.

Trainee Lara Darke has just graduated with an acting degree from Falmouth University. She hopes to work in theatre and continue doing voiceover work in the future.

Lara, also from Dawlish, said: “I wanted to do this because it’s completely different to acting work I’ve done before. I love working in a live environment but this will be really different to being in a theatre. I’ve not done any street or circus skills before so this is a lot of fun.

“I’m really enjoying using comedy and learning to react spontaneously to an audience. I’ve been surprised by how much I’ve enjoyed ventriloquism and working with puppets, it’s so fun to use my voice in that way.

“I’m sure it will be scary starting to perform to crowds but we are looking forward to the first laugh!”

Performances will take place in Teignmouth on August 8, 9, 30 and 31st, on Dawlish on August 4, on Exeter Quayside on August 5 and 12 and in Torquay on August 17.

The training is specifically funded by the Helen Foundation and Exeter City Council Community Grants and supported generously in kind by Exeter College, the University of Exeter and Theatre Alibi.

Date: 28 July 2022

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