Lights, camera, showtime!
Festival showcases the magical world of puppet shows
The Festival of Animated Objects is preparing to flood Calgary with puppets, some of which are anatomically correct, from March 16 to 19.
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop is one of the contributors for the festival and has been working with puppets for 17 years.
“Puppets are clowns,” said Pete Balkwill, one of the founders and performers for the Old Trout.
“They allow us to embrace folly.”
Not only does the Old Trout put on shows, but it also makes its own puppets and sets.
The company has even created several short films featuring its puppets.
Some of the Old Trouts also explore other art forms like canvas painting.
“I think we all have our toes dipped in different areas,” said Teddy Ivanov, a performer for Old Trout.
The Festival of Animated Objects will feature live puppet shows, short films featuring puppets and workshops on how the magic is done.
The Old Trout is planning to put on The Unlikely Birth of Istvan, a show about a painter and a cook fighting over a pig.
While the premise sounds simple and safe enough, this puppet show will be talking about serious metaphysical subject matter and will also contain puppet nudity.
In fact, most of Old Trout’s shows are made with an adult audience in mind.
“Children can handle dark,” Balkwill said.
Traditionally, puppeteers hide themselves as they manipulate their creations, providing a sense of wonder and magic to the audience.
Balkwill said that people are becoming too jaded for that to work anymore.
Depending on the show, puppeteers might show themselves. It can even serve as a nice wink to the audience.
Puppeteers also have puppets they can put on their heads, with some puppets being able to move their mouths along with their controller.
Other puppets are passive and only partially move, blurring the line between puppets and sculptures.
One of the big challenges to being a puppeteer is the physical strain.
“You have to be prepared to be into the most ungodly positions you can imagine,” Balkwill said.
Puppeteers often have to get into uncomfortable positions and press up against fellow performers while doing a show.
“It feels like a workout at the end of every show,” Ivanov said.
“It’s a good cure for a hangover.”
Puppetry primarily appeals to people due to the novelty of seeing an inanimate object come to life.
It can also allow storytellers to tackle heavy issues without scaring away the audience.
Balkwill pointed out that wooden puppets might appeal to people’s sense of nostalgia, reminding them of how children used to play with toys and how humans in general used to build things with their hands.
“It’s pulling us out of the digital age.”