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About the Art: Dotted Line Theatre

Dotted Line Theatre have been telling us about the work they have been doing for the Festival of Brasil.

Can you tell us a bit about your theatre piece?

At the Dotted Line Theatre we create an original performance with a playful quality and a strong visual style. For the Festival of Brasil we have created a puppetry and music performance called Stories on a String. This is our second project for the Horniman and we are delighted to be back.

How did you come up with the ideas for Stories on a String?

We have been inspired by Brazilian literatura de cordels, booklets of stories, poetry and news, with woodblock printed illustrations on their front covers. The booklets are hung up for sale on cords or string. A literal translation of the term literatura de cordel is ‘stories on a string’.

That gave us the idea of creating a puppet show where the woodblock printed characters of literatura de cordel come to life as puppets and exist in a world of paper and string.

Cordels are sold in market places and shops, so our show takes place on a market stall cart. Our puppets and landscapes fold out from the cordels hanging up for sale, and take over the cart space.

Brazilian cordels also form part of an oral tradition of performed music and poetry. We have a group of musicians in the cordel tradition, who accompany our puppet show and have created our own literatura de cordel story.

Why did you want to tell this story?

We wanted to create a story that had a broad sweep of Brazilian life, quite ambitious in a 20-25 min performance! Our story travels from the city to the Amazon forest, from the South to the North, it has characters that are old and young, real and mythical.

Our central character is a young girl from São Paulo, who travels on a quest for her grandmother. Some of the folklore of the Amazon appears in our story, so you’ll get to meet the mythical characters of Saci Perere, Curupira and Matinta Pereira.

How did you go about creating the puppets and the music?

We’ve been working hard on our puppet designs, under our lead illustrator Jum Faruq, who is also one of our puppeteers, and with Emilia Liberatore and Tom Crame, and our designs are all in the style of the woodblock cordel illustrations. Our puppets are 2D so we have tried to be inventive with the perspective they are drawn in, how they are revealed and how they move to tell our story.

Our music has been composed by Rachel Hayter with Camilo Menjura. It draws on the musical tradition of literatura de cordel but with some modern and atmospheric music added to the mix to help underscore the drama when the puppets are moving. There is so much energy and rhythm in the music of the country, it is a joy to work with. We hope you might join in with the music in a few places during our show!

We’ve developed the piece collaboratively in the rehearsal room, so the script, the design and the music were all created in relation to one another. It can be a bit ‘chicken-and-egg’ as a creative process, but hopefully that means that all the elements are cohesive.

I hope it gives a flavour of our influences, the cordels and the Amazon!

What does Brazil mean to you?

Rachel, our composer, has lived and worked in Brazil, and specialises in performing and teaching Brazilian music. It is her passion. You can see photos about her experiences (particularly her time in the Amazon with the Turudjam tribe) on Rachel’s blog.

 Catch Stories on a String from Dotted Line Theatre at Festa Julina (3 July) and on Big Wednesday (17 August).