Ivan Thorley

OutdoorArtsUK Member in the Spotlight:

Ivan Thorley

Ivan Thorley is the director of Puppets with Guts

(First published: May 2017)

How did you first get involved in Outdoor Arts?

After finishing my dance degree in Melbourne, Australia and turning down a job with the NZ ballet company, I ran away with Strange Fruit and toured internationally for many years, during which time I saw a lot of outdoor work. Alongside this, I developed my interests in object and physical theatre, performance technology and puppetry with a group of multidisciplinary peers in Australia. I was then awarded funding to study in the UK and moved here in 2007… am now I am a Brit!

What is one of your earliest memories of Outdoor Arts?

One of my earliest memories of seeing outdoor theatre was in my home town of Whangarei in my native New Zealand around 1988. The local youth theatre created a large devised outdoor theatre show in a rarely used amphitheatre. It was wild, energetic, anarchic, funny and felt like it was for us.

What performance or Outdoor Arts experience has made a big impression on you?

Shortly after moving to Melbourne Australia in 1996, I attended the Adelaide International Festival programmed by Barry Kosky. One of the many incredible works that stood out at that festival for me was a Meryl Tankard contemporary dance work inspired by classical Indian dance, set in a dusty bullring with the sun setting and huge piles of incense burning, the dancers were virtuosic, earthy and angelic. I was memorized.

What’s the best artistic advice you’ve been given?

I think Mark Down from Blind Summit Theatre shouted at me once: “don’t worry about what you’re doing – just worry about you’re actually supposed to be doing!”

Where do your ideas come from?

From things I like, hear, feel and need to say. Political, fun and weird.

What’s your top tip to someone wanting to work outdoors for the first time?

Dream big, it’s not a theatre.

What’s your funniest or most bizarre Outdoor Arts experience?

A Russian wedding in Cap d’Antibes in France near Nice… where money couldn’t buy taste or make the national Russian synchronized swimming team happily swim in a mud pit… ?!

Describe a current project or future piece of work that you’re really excited about.

I’m super excited about presenting our #rampagingrhinoceros: an interactive mass movement spectacle, on 20 May as part of Hidden Heathbrook in London. We are creating the biggest crash of cardboard rhinoceros’s ever in Wandsworth. Audiences will create their very own rhino mask from a flat-pack pre-cut cardboard pattern and apply rhino wrinkles during a drop-in workshop until 3.30pm. At 4pm we will rampage through the park, assisted by percussionists and three characters, one of whom has lost her big ginger cat…!

The activity is part of our summer R&D into the Rhinoceros play by Ionesco and how we might present a 50mins loosely inspired immersive outdoor theatre work using cardboard, text and people.

We have also been developing two other new projects over the past year:

#monstersoup – a big puppet lantern parade exploring the microscopic world of rivers and oceans

#superhoodies – a big puppet beatbox music spectacle


What do you think are the opportunities available now for the sector?

I can’t wait to further innovate and engage to reach new audiences and communities.

Where do you think the sector will be in 4 or 5 years?

I have seen first-hand the impact that outdoor work can have in a community… and the value of this must be shouted from the roof tops, public spaces and parks where we perform… through the continued high-quality and unique voice of outdoor work.

What do you see as the biggest challenges and how do you plan to meet them?

Our biggest challenge is creating infrastructure for our emerging company (and affordable storage for all our stuff) to support our continued growth. We have had excellent support from Blind Summit Theatre and all those who have commissioned our work but developing touring networks, managing those tours and creating new opportunities is tough. I hope that the broad range of work we are now offering will generate more income to support our producing / management infrastructure.

Who inspires you in your work?

The people and things I love and hate.

How do you follow what’s happening in the Outdoor Arts and cultural sectors; what blogs, tweeters, websites and organisations do you recommend?

ISAN, XTRAX, ITC, Arts Admin, NT, word of mouth, pop & pulp.

What non-Outdoor Arts performance has made a great impression on you?

I recently worked on Angels in America at the National Theatre during the prototype phase for the angel wings and I was completely taken by this 6-hour play that “lives beyond hope”  – and I recently saw The Crucible by Arthur Miller – fantastic!

And finally… by far one of the best new works I’ve seen in many moons was Triple Threat by Lucy McCormick at Soho Theatre… a fucking awesome retelling of the story of Jesus!

Name a great book that you’ve enjoyed in the past couple of years…

Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann; the best beginning and ending ever!

Who would you have at your dream picnic?

Michelle Obama, ET, Gelitin.net, Winona Ryder, John Clarke.

Any top tips for Outdoor Arts practitioners?

Creative action is positive action.

W: puppetswithguts.com

F: PuppetsWithGuts

T: @puppetswithguts

I: puppetswithguts