Noriko Nishimoto is considered a master of puppetry in Australia and internationally, with over 45 years in the industry. Her impressive career is driven by an incredible passion for the art of puppetry and an ambition to keep developing her skills through hard work and determination.
Noriko began her studies in drama at a performing arts academy in Osaka, but was inspired to change direction after seeing a puppet show and joined the highly regarded La Clarte Puppet Theatre in Osaka. She worked as a performer, writer and director amongst peers of all ages, and learned all aspects of theatre. Noriko spent 16 years working full time with the company, before becoming a freelance performer, writer and director.
Australian director Peter Wilson discovered Noriko in 1980 when he saw a puppet show she directed in Tokyo. A year later, he wrote to her, asking her to travel to Perth and work as a master puppeteer on the Festival of Perth production Faust. She spent six weeks working in Perth before returning to Japan. After the success of Faust, Wilson set up Spare Parts Puppet Theatre (Spare Parts) in Fremantle and wrote to Noriko again, asking her to return to Perth and work with the theatre as a master puppeteer and technique master for one year.
One year turned into two, three and eventually Noriko gave up her Japanese citizenship to become an Australian citizen. During her early years with Spare Parts, Noriko performed and trained performers within the company and toured with the company throughout Australia, China, Korea, Japan, Canada and the USA. She also passed on her knowledge conducting master classes in Australian capital cities.
In 1987, Noriko became Associate Artistic Director at Spare Parts and her responsibilities increased to directing, adapting, writing and designing for productions. While working with Spare Parts, Noriko took on numerous freelance directing projects across the world including Terrapin Puppet Theatre in Tasmania, Polyglot Puppet Theatre in Melbourne and Theatre Drak in the Czech Republic. She collaborated with dance and theatre companies in Western Australia, including Two Dance Plus and Black Swan. During a six-month break from Spare Parts, she worked as a freelance artist on projects with eastern states artists, Skylark Theatre, Handspan Theatre and Polyglot Puppet Theatre.
In 1997, Noriko was appointed Artistic Director of Spare Parts. The company was going through a difficult time, but Noriko was determined to keep its doors open and worked tirelessly to revitalise the company. She focused on creating and directing productions to reflect Australian culture, including The Bugalugs Bum Thief, Cat Balloon, The Deep, Eat the Moon and the large-scale The Midnight Gang in collaboration with the West Australian Symphony Orchestra.
She established a company associate program to encourage individual West Australian artists to become involved, and a school of puppetry for the community to allow artists to share their skills and knowledge with the public. She also developed national and international tours for the company’s productions, explored collaborations with artists from other disciplines, and consolidated the company’s artistic reputation.
After 19 years with Spare Parts, feeling that she had achieved many of her artistic goals and made her mark on the company, Noriko stepped down in July 2001 to work as a freelance theatre director. Her work as a freelance artist after Spare Parks included puppetry creator for The Mamu production with Black Swan Theatre Company, directed The Emperor’s Nightingale, and conducted master classes for company performers at Capital E National Theatre for Children, and teaching drama students in New Zealand. She was puppetry director for Claudia Alessi’s Point of Entry dance production at the Perth International Arts Festival in 2002.
Noriko has been invited back to Spare Parts annually to revamp previously successful productions. Her recent projects as co-creator and creative consultant include Moominpappa at Sea and the upcoming production The Fox.
In 2008, she was recognised by international puppetry association Union Internationale de la Marionette (UNIMA) for her contribution to puppetry in Australia and in 2012, she was the first to be honoured by UNIMA’s Women’s Commission, who acknowledged Noriko’s Outstanding International Contribution to Puppetry. In 2014, Noriko was awarded an Honorary Life Membership by Spare Parts.