Handspring Puppet Company works with different creative partners, depending on the artistic project. What follows here is a list of our permanent staff and some of our most frequent performers.
Creative Production Team
The creative production team is the group of people within Handspring Puppet Company responsible for selecting, designing, writing, developing, producing and directing the work we create.
Co-founder and Artistic Director of Handspring Puppet Company, Adrian Kohler is considered to be one of the world’s leading masters of his medium. His mother was a thoughtful amateur puppeteer, who with his father, as yacht builder and cabinetmaker, gave him a firm grounding in woodwork and the creation of moving figures. A BA Fine Art at the University of Cape Town followed. He then spent a year at The Space Theatre – the city’s only non-racial venue at the time and another in Birmingham U.K. at the Canon Hill Arts Centre and Weld Community Arts Centre. Kohler then moved to Botswana to run the National Popular Theatre Programme for three years. His puppets for Handspring have been widely acclaimed and exhibited. He has had a solo retrospective at the National Gallery in South Africa, and groups of his works have been shown at The Barbican Art Gallery, London and The Museum for African Art, New York. His puppets are held in public and private collections including the Constitutional Court in South Africa, the Munich Stadtmuseum in Germany, and the Old Mutual Art Collection. Kohler received the Michaelis Prize, a lifetime achievement award from Tshwane University  and an honorary doctorate in literature UCT .
Co-founder and Executive Producer of Handspring Puppet Company, Jones completed his BFA at UCT where he met future husband, Adrian Kohler. In 1990, Jones set up a not for profit NGO Handspring Trust, which produced the award winning Spider’s Place, an innovative, multi-media science education series for TV, radio and comic aimed at young learners from disadvantaged backgrounds. He set up the Handspring Awards for Puppetry, which recognise and encourage puppet design, direction and performance in South Africa. The Handspring Trust is involved in a number of projects in urban township and rural areas, using puppetry as a means to educate and empower youth and bring communities together through street parades and performance. He speaks and writes on the subject of puppetry and is deeply interested in growing an international dialogue on the theatre of objects. He received the Naledi Executive Directors Award , a lifetime achievement award from Tshwane University  and an honorary doctorate in literature from UCT .
Janni Younge – Associate Director
In January 2011 Janni Younge joined the Handspring Puppet co as Associate Director. She is a graduate of the French national school of puppet theatre, has a B.A. in Fine Art and an M.A. in Theatre from UCT. Janni’s work has been performed locally and internationally winning awards including the Standard Bank Young Artist Award for Theatre 2010, two Fleur Du Cap Theatre Awards and four other nominations. From 2005-2011 she was CEO of UNIMA SA (South African Puppetry), director of Out The Box festival of puppetry and Artistic Director of Sogo Visual Theatre. She has created and directed puppetry and masks for, amongst others, FTH:K, ZA News and for the Royal Shakespeare Company.
James Nilsen – Producer
James completed his Fine Art degree and Illustration diploma at NMMU, followed by an honours in Production Design at AFDA. For four years James managed two of Cape Town’s leading prop houses, Hot Tuna Props and Artappel Prophire, liaising with art directors, purchasing new props, collection cataloguing as well as the business administration of the facilities. James moved from props to puppets in 2009 when Handspring began work on War Horse for Broadway, working with Executive Producer, Basil Jones. James is Handspring’s Producer. James serves on the board of the Association for Visual Arts - Cape Town’s oldest public benefit organisation and art gallery.
Jane Taylor – Dramaturge and Academic
Jane Taylor is a South African who has worked for two decades in cultural practice and cultural critique. In 1987 she edited (with David Bunn) From South Africa, a collection of graphics and writing covering the years of Emergency in South Africa (University of Chicago Press). In 1996 she curated Fault Lines – an exhibition conceived to engage with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In the same year she wrote Ubu and the Truth Commission for Handspring and William Kentridge. In 1999 she was a Rockefellow Fellow, and she curated Holdings: Refiguring the Archive (Forthcoming, 2002). In 2001 she wrote Zeno at 4am which has been absorbed into the larger work, Confessions of Zeno. She has a PhD from Northwestern University, Chicago USA, and currently holds the Skye Chair of Dramatic Art at the University of the Witwatersrand, Johannesburg. She is currently writing a book on the history of affect and the performance of sincerity, and is working on a new play script.
Ncedile Daki – Puppet Builder, Assistant Engineer
Nced is from an informal settlement called Masiphumelele. Prior to working for Handspring he was an assistant at the local library. It was there that he took up art classes on the weekend and met the woman who introduced him to Handspring. Ned entered the team as a Studio Assistant but has quickly progressed to independently building puppet components from plan. Ned builds his own puppets for the Masiphumelele Youth Development theatre group. Working at Handspring he finds he is able to do what he has wanted to do all his life – make art.
Handspring Puppet Company works with freelance professional puppeteers, actors and dancers to perform in productions. Several performers have worked with the company on numerous occasions and we consider them to be part of the current greater Handspring team. Below is a selection of such performers, people who have performed with Handspring on a regular basis and continue to work with the company:
Born into a family of musicians, Busi Zokufa’s early professional work was as a vocalist. In 1987 she joined Sibikwa Players in Daveyton where her first stage role was in So Where To? at the Market Theatre in Johannesburg. The play also toured abroad. Zokufa then worked briefly with township-based bands at Mega Studios. In 1990 she performed as a puppeteer for the first time with Handspring in Barney Simon’s Starbrites at the Market Theatre and which also went on to tour abroad. Since Starbrites, Zokufa has performed as a puppeteer with Handspring in A Spider’s Place, Woyzeck on the Highveld, Faustus in Africa, The Chimp Project, Ubu and the Truth Commission, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, Zeno at 4am and Confessions. She also does television drama work.
After completing five semesters of a Bachelor of Fine Art and Architecture Degree, Craig Leo was apprenticed to the designer and South African circus guru, Keith Anderson. Together, they revived the Cape Performing Arts Board’s Puppet Company, which had last existed in the 1960s. During the following years Leo designed for Jazzart Dance Theatre as well as Magnet Theatre Company in productions, such as, Medea, Bolero and I Do x 22. In 1998 he trained in circus arts. In addition to performing with The Zip Zap Circus, he performed as the lead character in the 2000 Sun City extravaganza Baletsatsi. Following this, as artistic director of his own acrobatic theatre company, Myth, he toured both Germany and Austria for two years. While in Austria he designed costumes for the Retzerland, Feuerigesland cultural festival. He returned to South Africa to resume work on Magnet Theatre’s Onnest’bo, an outdoor physical theatre piece. In 2004 Leo completed the production design and skills training for Rain in a Dead Man’s Footprints, a Jazzart Dance Theatre/Magnet Theatre collaboration. After the completion of the South African Tour of Tall Horse, Leo went on to design costumes for Pieter Torien’s Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and for the Sun City Extravaganza, Aphrodisia.
Jason Potgieter – Puppeteer
Jason Potgieter is a writer, actor and puppet theatre practitioner based in Cape Town, South Africa. He has worked as a puppeteer on a number of Handspring productions including Woyzeck on the Highveld, The Return of Ulysses and Ouroboros. Jason has also adapted and directed Basil Jones’ I Love You When You’re Breathing for the stage. He has also manipulated for acclaimed satirical puppetry series ZA News and is the curator of Iqonga at the Out The Box Festival of Puppetry and Visual Performance. Jason teaches puppetry skills and facilitates object workshops around the world.
Nkosinathi graduated from UCT with honours in theatre-making in 2007. He performed most recently in Handspring Puppet Company’s Woyzeck on the Highveld European tour, taking over from Basil Jones as The Captain and when Busi Zokufa was ill in hospital on the UK tour, he learnt and rehearsed her role in two days and twice played both The Captain and Maria in the same show! Woyzeck on the Highveld combines Handspring’s rod-manipulated puppets and Kentridge’s animated film, graphically illustrating Woyzeck’s tortured mind as he tries to make sense of his external circumstances. Büchner’s Woyzeck was a German soldier in the 1800s but in this version Woyzeck is a migrant worker in 1956 Johannesburg, a landscape of barren industrialisation. Nkosinathi has also performed in the Magnet Theatre’s Voices Made Night, Janni Younge’s Dolos, and his one-man show H.O.T.T. in Cape Town and Johannesburg. He has directed two original works professionally, Ouma/A Little Red for the Festival of Fame and Her Honey like Lips at the Out the Box Festival at the Baxter Theatre Centre. Nkosinathi was a cast member in the Baxter and Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of The Tempest, directed by Janice Honeyman in 2009.
Hamilton Dlamini is a South African actor best known for his television roles as businessman Korea in the SABC1 sitcom Mzee wa Two Six (2005) and as Prosper in the SABC1 drama series Mzansi. He had a leading role as the janitor Lucky in the SABC1 mini-series adaptation of Shakespeare’s King Lear, Izingane zoBaba, from April to May 2008 as well as the Handspring production of Woyzeck on the Highveld. In 2009 he replaced James Ngcobo as the lead character Mojo Khumalo on the SABC2 sitcom Stokvel, for the sixth season.
Hamilton Dhlamini was born on the 15th December 1969 in Sebokeng. He started his acting career in 1984 and boasts an twenty six years experience in the show business. He’s an Actor/ Playwright/ Director and Producer for his own Multi Media Company JAMA Productions cc which produced shows like “THOKOZA”, “ZAKATA” and “INGUBO YOKHOKHO”. He toured Europe extensively since 1989 with theatre musical shows like “STREETSISTERS” Directed by John Ledwaba and “SIKULU” Directed by Peter Ultee. Also local theatre shows like “THE KING IS BORN” Directed by Jerry Mofokeng, “SMOMONDIYA” Directed by John Ledwaba and “TEN BUSH” Directed by Mncedisi Shabangu. He played lead roles in SABC’s television series such as “ZIKHETHELE as Ntokozo, “EMZINI WEZINSIZWA” as Ndwandwe, “HOME AFFAIRS” as Senzo, “MZANSI” as Prosper, “STOKVEL” as New Mojo… He has acted in a lot of Industrial and Corporate Theatre with companies such as Blue Moon, VWV Communications, The Win-win Group, Agile Solutions, Vutha Advertising and Marketing, Raintree, The Events Company and Mann Made Media. He wrote and directed Musical Theatre shows like “THOKOZA” which was nominated for FNB Vita Awards 2002 and “ZAKATA” performed at the National Arts Festival 2008 and invited to Burkina Faso, Ouagadougou’s Recreatrale`s Falinga Festival 2010. He’s written and directed “INGUBO YOKHOKHO” which performed at the Windybrow Arts Festival. He has worked with William Kentridge/Handspring Puppet Company in “WOYZECK IN THE HIGHVELD” playing the lead role of “Woyzeck” and touring the World. He is a S.A.F.T.A Award winner 2007/8 for the Best supporting actor in a movie “FAITH LIKE POTATOES” and the Naledi Theatre Award winner 2008/2009 “TEN BUSH” for the Best supporting. Hamilton is a qualified Television Multi-Camera director trained by Vusi Dibakwane, Penguin Films.
Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu started his career in Theatre in 1992 and has gathered knowledge and experiences that far exceed expectations in both Community and Mainstream Theatre. Shabangu had spent all his time in theatre with a brush and a canvass painting a really colourful career that is close to, if not an replica of the dream career for every aspirant young actor in South Africa. Following a very successful start based on his natural talent for theatre, Shabangu enrolled and trained at both Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg and taking the summer acting course at the Royal National Theatre Studio in London in 1998 specializing in Shakespeare and unpunctuated text and storytelling. Blessed not only with the art of acting but also the skill of writing and directing, Shabangu multi-tasked his way through many established and internationally recognized theatres around the world. He has touched, moved and wowed many audiences with particularly his charismatic but often physical and humorous styles of acting. In an excerpt from The Star, a daily newspaper in South Africa which boasts a readership of over10000 000 daily, describes him as “He is personally a very humble and likable person but more importantly a dedicated theatre practitioner who has worked with many theatre heavyweights in South Africa. He has as a young actor, achieved the inconceivable role of directing some of the best brains in the South African Theatre Industry’’. This profile gives an overview of Mncedisi Baldwin Shabangu’s involvement and participation in various aspects of the Creative Industries both locally and internationally.
Belknap obtained a BA in Theater-Making from UCT in 2009. Since then he as resident lighting designer for the Vaudeville Theatre. He toured with the Paper Body Collective to France, Belgium and the HIFA festival in Zimbabwe. He teaches puppetry design and construction for Active Puppets and designs and builds sets and puppets for numerous other productions. In his spare time, Belknap enjoys talking to inanimate objects, watching B-grade horror movies and playing violent video games. He says puppets are the new black.
Marchand is an actor and puppeteer who graduated from UCT’s Theatre and Performance programme in 2009. Since then he has toured India with Pieter Dirk-Uys’s Macbeki, the UK and the Netherlands with Asanda Phewa’s A Face Like Mine and played alongside Oscar Peterson and David Isaacs in Damon Galgut’s production of Waiting for Godot. Marchand rejoins the cast of Ouroboros a year after its successful debut at last year’s National Arts Festival. This is also his first time working with Handspring Puppet Company. He wrote the music for The Suitcase Stories, a NAF Main Festival show and The Golden Ring which premiered at last year’s Out the Box Festival. Gabriel will perform in Jaqueline Dommisse’s Sadako at the National Arts Festival later this year.
Handling the financial, production and company administration demands, international touring managers and technicians.
Roderick Bothman – Financial Advisor
Roderick was born in Cape Tow and studied at UCT. Prior to Handspring he has worked for a number of companies including Shell SA, Top Billing and Robben Island Museum .
Melanie Roberts – Company Administrator and Bookkeeper
Melanie was born in Kalk Bay. Prior to working at Handspring Melanie has worked as a Receptionist, Personal Assistant and Sales Administrator. Melanie loves working at Handspring and hopes to build a puppet one day.
Technicians and Tour Managers
International touring managers and technicians also work with the company
He has twenty years experience in production, company management and lighting design for the performing arts. He was senior production manager for the Market Theatre in Johannesburg for eight years and has been nominated numerous times for a Vita Award for Best Lighting Design, most recently for Lara Foot’s production of Waiting for Godot. France has been company manager and lighting supervisor for many international tours. Since 1991 he has toured internationally with Handspring for their productions Woyzeck on the Highveld, Faustus in Africa, The Chimp Project, Ubu and the Truth Commission, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse, Zeno at 4am and Confessions.
Has worked extensively in the theatre, film and television studio on sound. His live theatre experience includes engineering sound for the Handspring/Kentridge productions Faustus in Africa!, Ubu and the Truth Commission, Zeno at 4 am, Confessions of Zeno and Handspring’s production The Chimp Project. He has also engineered sound for musicals such as A Chorus Line and Fiddler on the Roof.
Worked extensively at the Market Theatre since 1980. Highlights include ‘Laughing Wild’. ‘Telegrams from Hell’, ‘Struts and Frets”. ‘Gomorrah’ ”Wangashaya Wangashaya”. ‘Shakespeare at the Market’. Was the Coordinator and lighting designer for ‘The Barney Simon Young Directors Festival’ 1998 and 1999.Coordinated the Barney Simon Young Writers Festival in 2001 and 2002. Stage Management credits include ‘Diepe grond’ ,Athol Fugard’s ‘A lesson from Aloes’ Barney Simons’ Silent Movie’ and ‘Black Dog Ngemyama.’ Woman of Africa – Inyanga’ ‘Forbidden Fruits’ ‘Night Mother’ ‘The Last Trek” ‘Jack and the beanstalk’ ‘Sexual perversity in Chicago’ Amampondo’ ‘Johnny Clegg’ ‘Mswake Mbuli’ ‘World summit conference launch’ Pieter Dirk Uy’s’Evita’s Ballot Bus Tour’ ‘Siyavuma” ‘Endgame’ ‘Shopping and Fucking’ ‘Fanon’s Children’ ‘ Mooi Street Moves’ ‘Amabali – it’s storytime’. International highlights include ‘Woyzeck on the highveld’ ‘Faustus in Africa’ and ‘Ubu and the truth commission’ For William Kentridge and the ‘Handspring Puppet Company. ‘Black Dog – Ngemyama’ ‘Starbrites’ Robyn Orlyns ‘Orpheus, I mean Euripides, I mean the natural history of a chorus girl’. Was a technical host for the cultural city of the year in Antwerp, Belgium and worked with companies from Turkey, Slovenia, Belgium and Canada. Was attached trainee director for the Royal National Theatre Studio in London and Edinburgh. Founder member of SPANK productions. Directorial credits include ‘Ward Music’ ‘A murder of crows’ ‘Umlungu – Beauty Bound’ and ‘They shoot extras don’t they’ . Has co – written three productions at the Market Theatre. ‘Best Wedding Ever,’ ‘They shoot extras don’t they. And most recently ‘Loving Lulu’.
Freelance Puppet Makers
Artists and artisans who’ve worked on War Horse puppets, as well as the creation of new puppets for other productions.
Thys Stander – Chief Cane Sculptor on War Horse
James Dee – Factory Manager
James was born in Durban, he studied Zoology, Entomology, Geology. Previous to Handspring James worked as a Chef, Marine Engineer, Steel Fitter, even a Nanny and spent time in the Film Industry. He is responsible for the running of the factory and the building maintenance.
Jessica Mias Jones – Assistant Factory Manager and Puppet Maker
Jessica was born in Cape Town. She has studied English Literature and Drama at UCT. Prior to working for Handspring, Jessica was a props maker for “The Tempest” produced by The Royal Shakespeare Company in association with the Baxter Theatre Centre. As Assistant Factory Manager Jess manages scheduling, staff and puppet production deadlines. She also finds time to build puppets. Jess met her husband Andy at Handspring and has been married to him for two years.
Simon Dunkley- Puppet Engineer
Andy Jones- Puppet Engineer
Andy was born in Bristol UK, he has been working in the Theatre industry for over 20 years as a puppet maker and performer. He also has extensive experience running workshops to teach children how to make puppets. Andy initially worked with the War Horse puppets at the National Theatre in London but after visiting the Handspring workshop and meeting his wife Jess, he decided to move to South Africa and join Handspring.
Phyllis was born in Johannesburg, she matriculated at the Johannesburg School of Art and spent a year at the Royal Ballet School in London. After 12 years of Ballet she decided to study Fashion Design in Cape Town and has worked on many movies, has designed and made costumes for a number of productions such as Elephant Man, Dancing at Laughnasa, Harold and the Boys and Handspring’s very own Woyzeck, Il Ritorno D’ Ulisse. Phyllis’ current work includes fabricating the WarHorses.
Peter Collard- Puppet Maker
For more than 30 years peter has been engaged in the film and television industry as an Art Director, Stylist, Set Builder and Designer. His work in broadcasting included Technical Producer for the SABC which included work for international and local features. Peter has also run a small and successful production company which catered to clients who required below the line advertising, corporate ID and corporate videos. Working with his hands would be Peters first love, which is what he does at Handspring everyday. He resides in Cape Town with his lovely wife and daughter.
Luyanda Nogodlwana – Assistant Cane Sculptor and Supervisor
Luyanda was born in a small rural town of Tsolo, in 2002 he moved to Cape Town where he discovered his passion for art. At the age of 13 he started drawing and making sculptures and now he uses these skills to teach the children in his community through the Masiphumelele Youth Development theatre group that he established. Luyanda started working at Handspring as an apprentice but today he is able to independently sculpt the cane heads and bodies of the War Horses.
Kyle Daniels – Puppet Builder
Kyle is from Strandfontein, Cape Town. Prior to joining Handspring Kyle worked in the hospitality industry and for the newspaper. James Dee spotted Kyle while he was working at the Olympia café, noticed his keen interest in motor mechanics and offered him a job at Handspring. Kyle has developed a fine capacity to build complex puppet components and is in training as a manager.
Jonah De Lange – Puppet Builder
Jonah studied Fine Art at Pretoria Technicon and has exhibited his work in various venues including the Bronze Age gallery. Jonah has been involved in projects at the V & A Aquarium and has also been involved in making sets for movies, creating customized furniture and in bronze casting and mould making. Jonah continues to develop his personal artwork while being a valued member of Handspring’s puppet construction team.
Lyn Sieborger – Assistant Puppet Builder
Lyn grew up in Johannesburg and Cape Town, she studied Fine Arts at Stellenbosch University, majoring in sculpture. Previous to Handspring Lyn has interned at Goodman Gallery, was part of the collaborative sculpture commission “Noti Procrastinari” in Lainsburg and acted as curator’s assistant to Katherine Smith at the Iziko National Gallery. A versatile member of the team, Lyn is often focussed on painting, leatherwork and casting.
Zweliyashakuma Ngcombela – Assistant Cane Sculptor
Zweli developed his craftsmanship as a wire artist. He worked at Iziko Gallery and was referred to Handspring by Carol Cofman, gallary manager. Zweli’s capacity to understand and create form was soon recognised at Handspring and he is fast becoming one of our important cane sculptors. Zweli continues to create beautiful beadwork objects in his spare time.