Diana Bayliss

Professional puppeteer and actress, Diana Bayliss, achieved a BA (Hons) Performing Arts degree at Bradford & Ilkley College in 1984.

Diana BaylissDiana set up The Black Cat Theatre Company in 1985, to promote live theatre with puppetry performances, workshops and training for theatres, schools, libraries, museums, community venues, fetes and festivals throughout the UK and occasionally abroad. She has received numerous commissions to create and deliver puppetry projects for education and health organisations and to build puppets for theatres and artistes. Diana specialises in producing storytelling, shadow theatre and puppetry inspired by Hindu culture, often working with visiting and resident Indian puppeteers, dancers, textile artists and musicians to create and present performances and run residencies and workshops.

“I started performing professionally with puppets whilst still at Ilkley College, cutting my teeth on play schemes in the summer before my final year, with a little shadow show Teaser and the Firecat, adapted from a song by Cat Stevens. We were the last intake of students for the Performing Arts Course at Ilkley so when I became pregnant with my third child during the second year I could not take time out. The staff were wonderfully supportive and the intimacy and rural aspect of the college was ideal.

Two events within the course made a big impression on me. Impact Theatre worked with our year group to create an on-site performance and for 2 weeks it was anarchic and inspiring. Performers emerging from the shallows of the tarn as dusk fell signalled the start of our show and with a costumed brass band, led the audience over the moor to the college where there were environments, sound-scapes and performances, finishing with a huge bonfire. My input was to create a series of shadow theatre scenarios in the 4, first floor windows of the art block, which were watched by the audience from the path below.

The other landmark was seeing Lizzie Allen from Freehand Theatre work one of her puppets when she was a supply tutor. I was immediately drawn to this powerful medium. Some time later, looking for an idea for an art project, I found a book on making marionettes and decided to have a go. I’d never carved before but the tutors were encouraging and so I created my first wooden puppet, Patrick. I was pleased with my creation but at a loss to know what to do with him and his 9 strings. However, I had got the puppet bug and in my research had become intrigued by shadow theatre.

Around the same time I also began my yoga career, and its practice and teaching has become a part of my life. I began to visit India and my interest in Indian culture and the arts became entwined leading to many collaborations in performances and educational projects with Indian artistes. For me, puppetry encompasses the four subjects that I studied – drama, art, music and dance so that within my work I have the freedom to continue to explore and develop my practice of all the

Photograph supplied by Diana Bayliss