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Upfront Arts Ltd. was formed as a not-for-profit organisation in 2003 by John and Elaine Parkinson to develop the art form of puppetry and to create a centre of creativity and excellence for the art form. Located near Penrith, Cumbria, Upfront is one of only four dedicated puppet theatres in England and has its own theatre building and workshops.
Its first production was at Christmas 2004 in an eighty seat venue created from an old farm workshop building. John was trained as a theatre designer at the Design school of the English National Opera, before working as a designer in many northern theatres. He has a degree in drama from Manchester University and has lectured in drama, directing, production and design. Puppetry has always been one of John’s major passions.
Elaine was trained as a primary teacher and worked for many years teaching reception and junior school children. She is now a puppeteer for Upfront and brings to the company an educational focus for its work. Her job also includes company administration and she is responsible for scheduling the seasons of performances and handling the day to day finances.
The organisation became a charity on July 26th 2013, charity registration number 1153089. A board of 10 trustees now administer the activities of the company.
Freelance puppeteers and makers are employed for each production. They work with the company to create and perform the shows. Since the company was formed there have been productions every year at Christmas, Summer and Easter. In 2010 the company designed a new building, raised funding and built a new 144 seat venue during 2012. The building is designed and constructed to high standards of environmental sustainability and is clad on the outside with locally felled larch.
The company also supports a young people’s puppet performance group which is about to reform following the Covid-19 lockdowns.
The theatre is designed with specific resources for puppetry as well as for other general use as a venue.
A fully accredited puppet museum will open at the venue in 2022.
Theatre Building Part Funded By:
New Interactive Puppet Museum “Puppet” Stories” due to open in 2021 part funded by
Stan Parker Puppet Collection
Upfront Puppet Theatre houses a collection of Stan Parker’s puppets which was saved by a grant from the Heritage Lottery fund for the future.
For 25 years Stan and “Stanelli’s Super Circus” was one of two major puppet exports from the United Kingdom. Stan and his wife Dorothy toured their show across Europe and beyond, including Japan, Korea, Pakistan and the USSR.
Visit the Stan Parker Puppets website for more information, pictures and videos of Stan’s puppets.