Current Issue #488

Lachlan Barnett is pulling the strings to a dream career

Lachlan Barnett

As a proud queer, Indigenous emerging theatre maker, Lachlan Barnett is on a quest to carve out a space for kids like him.

The Flinders University Acting graduate was presented with Helpmann Academy’s Neil Curnow Award (presented in partnership with the Independent Arts Foundation) at the end of 2019 with the aim of travelling to Cornwall in January 2020 to undergo a seven-week course at the Curious School of Puppetry. Luckily Lachlan was able to complete the trip before COVID-19 restrictions came into effect, training under some of the world’s best puppeteers in a life changing experience.

Lachlan’s teachers included the puppetry masterminds behind War Horse, Star Wars, Labyrinth and The Dark Crystal – the very shows that ignited Lachlan’s love of puppetry at a young age.

“I remember, as a weird little boy of 9, being shown an old VHS of Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal at my Auntie’s house. As soon as I saw those Skeksis (reptilian bird-like puppets) gathering in the Sacred Chamber in the opening sequence, I was bewitched. I had to know how they worked, but I also wanted to believe that they were real living beings,” Barnett says.

“I think that’s where my fascination with puppetry lies – the puzzle of working out the mechanics behind the puppeteer’s magic in tension with a complete surrender to the existence of their imagined characters. In Cornwall I met the man who designed those puppets, Brian Froud. I guess you could say it was a full circle moment.”

During the day, Lachlan was taught a range of techniques and puppet types, with a focus on the key aspects of performance, including components of rhythm, atmospheric impulse, scale and perspective, movement and character. In the evening he attended theatre shows, presentations, discussion and networking opportunities. His biggest takeaway at the end of it all? To trust himself.

Barnett at the Curious School of Puppetry

“I learnt how to use a marionette and how Henson puppeteers work on set. I puppeteered everything from a plastic bag to a 10-metre whale,” says Bennett.

“But the biggest lesson was that it was all in me to begin with. You know that thing that you’ve always admired from a distance and wished your parents forced you to learn as a kid? You can do it. Pick it up, have a go. There are no limits.”

Back on home soil, Lachlan has already scored a gig as a puppeteer with leading Adelaide youth theatre organisation, Windmill Theatre Company. Combined with his continuing association with ActNow Theatre as one of their artists – this makes Lachlan well placed to be a representative for young people. A role he takes very seriously.

“As a gay skinny red head with a confusing heritage, my teen years were unsurprisingly dramatic. I yearned for a place to be me and to relax and just have fun. When I’m working with young Indigenous or Queer kids and I see that point where they forget their otherness and just belong and let go, I rejoice. Kid’s don’t just deserve that, they need that,” says Barnett.

“My drive is to make a world that is a little bit more fun and a whole lot more inclusive. No one should feel like a freak. Art is great at preventing that.”

Keen to put his new skills to use, Lachlan is currently brewing up an exciting project while isolating with the rest of the country. A new friend is being constructed for him by props maker Marshall Tearle (Mortal Combat, Escape from Pretoria, I Am Mother), who he hopes to debut very soon.

“She’s a Koala named Flora and she is excited to meet you all in a possible web series coming later this year. So, I guess, watch this space? She will be ready to cause a whole lot of trouble very, very soon…”

And in the meantime Lachlan is dreaming big about the future of puppets in Australian art.

“I want to see the artform on our main stages and on Australian screens. Puppetry creates one collective theatrical experience, where the consumer is just as active as the artist themselves. I think it is the most exciting storytelling medium I can think of. I want to create work that does this for all audiences. Why let kids have all the fun?”

The Adelaide Review is a media partner of Helpmann Academy

Mahalia Tanner

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