- Tell us more about yourself. What do you do and how long have you been working in this industry?
My name is Sarah Rowland-Barker. I’m 55 years old, though I’m sure someone is lying about that 🙂 I’m a puppeteer with, and a co-founder of, Noisy Oyster, an international award-winning puppet company, based in Somerset.
I started dancing when I was 7 and went on to gain my teachers in classical dance before obtaining a degree in dance and psychology. My dissertation was in dance movement therapy. After my studies, I enjoyed a couple of years running classes with the elderly and with preschoolers. Then after going to the National Centre for Circus Skills and Performing Arts, I went on to work in theatre, street performance, television, and to tour with Snapdragon Circus, and NoFit State Circus.
14 years ago, after being a stay at home mum and running circus workshops, I met Nik Palmer who was looking for a puppeteer for his show Dangerous Dave. I said, ‘I’ll do it!’, even though I’d never played with puppets. My dance training helped a lot with understanding how a puppet should move, and I found it was a medium which I loved. I was thrown straight in the deep end, and quickly had to learn how to manipulate marionettes, shadow puppets, table-top puppets, and big body puppets to name a few’ And the rest, as they say, is history.
- Who did you want to be when you were a kid?
My mum took me to the theatre a lot to see plays and ballets. I really wanted to be a ballet dancer but believed I couldn’t because all the female dancers had long hair. I wasn’t allowed to grow mine. Now I know that many wear wigs! I would have loved to be the white cat in Cats. I also wanted to be in stage musicals, and I would practise singing into my hairbrush.
- What was your ‘punch in the stomach’ or when did you first realise that this is going to become your career?
The first time was when I was filling in the application form for the 3 month course at a circus school. The form asked why I wanted to go to the school, and the only truthful answer I could give was that ‘performing is in my blood’.
Another time was watching Cats in London. We were invited on stage during the interval to get Brian Blessed’s autograph. I went up, and while waiting in line, I turned to look out at the audience, and truly felt ‘yes, I’m at home’.
- What were the 3 biggest obstacles in pursuit of your career?
The biggest obstacle was me. Even though I loved rehearsal and felt at home on the stage, I was actually quite shy and didn’t really like drawing attention to myself, which doesn’t really go hand in hand with being a performer. Thankfully this has changed as I’ve grown older, and I only wish I’d believed in myself more when I was younger.
- Where do you find inspiration?
All over the place.
We go to a lot of puppet festivals all over the world. I love seeing the amazing things people are doing with all kinds of puppets.
- What challenges do you face in this industry as a ‘50+ artist’?
For me, it would be physicality. Unless you live in Eastern Europe where puppet companies are state-funded, puppeteers don’t get roadies and techies, so we have to do all the lifting ourselves. As I get older, I’m finding it more difficult to load and unload heavy set cases.
- What advice would you give someone who is about to start their career but is being told that it’s ‘too late’?
Go for it. Some start painting, acting, etc. even in their 60s and 70s. The only time it’s too late is when you’re dead.
- Do you have any idols and if so, who and why?
My first idol was Sian Williams of the Kosh. She was such a strong, powerful dancer. I saw several of her company’s productions, including her solo piece, which she performed in her 40s. I got to meet her at Glastonbury and did the classic ‘I love you’, even though I promised myself that I wouldn’t. Luckily she just laughed.
My second was Christopher Bruce who we studied during my dance degree. I loved the fluidity of his choreography, and the pieces he created with Ballet Rambert. My favourite piece of his was Ghost Dances, and I finally got to see it after waiting for 30 years. Last year Christopher came to see one of our puppet shows – I was so chuffed.
There are many in the puppet world who I greatly admire too.
- What’s your life motto?
Carry on carrying on.
- You’re a new addition to the crayon box. What colour would you be and why?
Blue. I could say it’s due to some of the meanings such as it being beautiful, romantic, calm, cool, and one of the most exciting colours, but actually it’s because when I look in my wardrobe, practically all of my clothes are blue!
Find out more about Sarah, Noisy Oyster and the upcoming shows on the Noisy Oyster web page.