Gail Borrow is an innovator in string hybrid puppetry forms, object theatre and performance honouring architectural spaces

Photography: Ian O’Leary


I studied the Wayang Golek puppetry tradition in Java in the '90s exploring community spaces adopted as temporary performance venues for the three dimensional rod puppetry performances and the tradition’s supporting orchestra.

From sundown to sunrise during these epic nights, I was able to view how gamelan musicians, puppeteer and puppets settled into and adopted spaces from outdoor urban environments to interior nooks and crannies in public buildings. And to consider how audiences came to own the spaces in the act of viewing the performance. I studied the natural theatricality of nighttime and the low tech, domestic illuminations adopted alongside more standard performance lighting.

In observing an alternative to the hang-on-every-word expectation of much modern western performance, I started to document the meshing of a sustained audience absorption with a more distanced acknowledgement as viewers lit a cigarette or attended to children’s requests. And to consider how how various styles of engagement were not hierarchically measured. I also charted communion including conversation within the audience during performance and began to analyse how performances, depicting much loved and honoured stories, variously permeated the audience consciousness over the eight hour performance period. And to seek to understand what sensory factors triggered the various types of engagement.

Current work

I now run experiential theatre company ExploreTheArch at our main domestic status venue, Archer Lodge, in cultural hub St Leonards on Sea, Sussex. Sitting within intimate theatre tradition, the venue opens around four times a year with ExploreTheArch’s unique interdisciplinary productions which typically run for a month. Drawing on other South East Asian art forms and movement training at The Welsh College of Music and Drama, Rubicon Dance and Stanford University, as well as twenty years of experience in directing and initiating community performance projects, I lead an interdisciplinary team creating work that reimagines an audience-performer relationship. Working typically with paper forms manipulated by strings and pulleys, floor to ceiling pages and visual responses to the architecture of the space, I work with new musical composition.

“much of the standard output in theatre invades a space and overtakes. We seek to work with the environment as performer”