“It’s like a cabaret, a show & tell, an evening of everything we learned this semester.”
That was the plan for the final Humber presentation in April, and it came off very well. Eileen Smith liked our show so much she immediately invited us to appear at her new mini-fest in Stratford - PuppetWorks, an off-shoot of her long-established SpringWorks. We would perform four times across the weekend of July 12, 13, 14.
I chose the week leading up to our departure for Stratford as the week that we would work towards recreating the show. Nearly three months had passed since we’d done it at Humber. I would provide the script and direct the piece. Of necessity we had to expand some bits, and re-think others. Instead of the weird creatures and experimental puppets we used at Humber, I had to re-cast the final portion of our show from my personal collection of stuffed animals.
I’m quite proud of what we came up with. As promised, it was extremely similar to the original 30-minute presentation that impressed Eileen.
We were given a small, raised platform inside a big white tent that was set up in the middle of Market Square in downtown Stratford. As before, the show began with our village of little spongy dudes running and climbing and hopping around doing silly things while the audience was coming in. We invented new antics, too, spongies climbing the sides of the tent, dancing on people’s knees, even venturing outside to wave at passersby.
At showtime I as narrator took the stage and introduced the show. We re-named it Puppet School, and we took that title literally by offering the audience all of my usual lessons, with the puppets demonstrating things step by step as we went along. For that, we said goodbye to the little spongy dudes by having them leap off the back of the table one by one like cascading dominoes, to be replaced one by one by our fleet of colourful cloth neutrals.
Up and down the line these cloth neutrals ran through the gamut of basic movements, gestures, and emotions. Then they demonstrated simple interactions like nodding to one another and shaking hands. Perhaps my favourite of the new inventions using these puppets were the quick scenes they performed together. And I do mean quick. One or two lines at the most. For the first one, the puppets clustered all together at one end of the table, while three, at the opposite end, huddled up and stirred an invisible cauldron, chanting “bubble bubble toil and trouble!!”. Then they switched into a new picture, with puppets clustered up to watch a quick two-puppet scene, one character towering over another - “Join me and together we can rule the galaxy as father and son!” “I’ll never join you!!” Switch! Another scene. Switch! Another. And switch, another. These were fast-paced and delightful, and I loved the way the puppeteers brought each moment to life.
We demonstrated “puppet breath” by having the puppets heave a sigh together, and then “puppet gravity” by making the puppets look at the table they were standing on and suddenly floating as if weightless in space.
For the more esoteric portion of the show, (what we called “The Island Story” back in April), we swapped out the production students’ array of spiders, fuzzy monsters, and articulated walking puppets, and used instead ordinary toys and stuffies: a rabbit, a platypus, two Raggedy Anns, a monkey. While the horse and his boy were the same as before -- the white blank puppets from class -- the furry new menagerie added cuteness, warmth, and charm, and again the puppeteers excelled as they made the animals appear one by one to populate the “island”.
Then came our musical grand finale with the puppets all dancing together to a rousing finish. The end.
On the last day, festival organizer Wendy McNaughton surprised us all with discount tickets to Little Shop of Horrors. Then we were back on the shuttle, back to home.
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