The Old Trout Puppet Workshop is a motley gang of artists churning out ideas for a whole heap of unlikely things: puppet shows for adults and children, sculptures, films, music, books, plays, paintings, and pedagogy. We struggle against terrible obstacles to create things we think might help make the cruel world slightly more hospitable to the yearning and fragile souls that inhabit it. Check the Oddities page for a look
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop was founded on a ranch in southern Alberta back in the strange winter of 1999. We were a small gang of old buddies, with a fondness for beards and wood and wool and other old-fashioned and pleasant things; the world was uneasy with the threat of Y2K, and we felt an urge to huddle together for mutual protection, and to dedicate ourselves to something fragile, ridiculous, and gentle, out on the edge of the world. So we learned to carve puppets, and paid our rent through wholesome labour; we collected eggs, fed the pigs, cooked big stews, and premiered our first show to a bunkhouse full of cowboys and Hutterites.
For the record, the Hutterites were more impressed than the cowboys. We took that show into Calgary to the High Performance Rodeo, and people clapped; in that moment, an insatiable craving for applause was born in us, and the warm contentment of our ranch camaraderie turned into mean and craven Ambition.
We've been labouring under the lash of that evil spirit for over ten years, during which time a great deal has changed. We moved to the city, for instance, and now operate out of a workshop next to the train tracks in industrial Calgary. It's a thriving operation that has grown much larger than the original hairy few. Dozens of people are employed at various points in the year for various projects. We've got a nascent apprenticeship program, technical and administrative wings, and three shows on the road this season.
We've toured our productions across Canada and into the United States and Europe. We've mounted seven mainstage shows, most of which are lurking in crates at the workshop, ready to deploy: The Unlikely Birth of Istvan, The Tooth Fairy, Beowulf, The Last Supper of Antonin Carême, Pinocchio, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, and most recently The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan. And now we're hard at work on our next show, a puppet documentary about cavemen, called Ignorance.
The taloned grip of Ambition has been fierce upon us.Where are we going? Will we ever understand what hollow ghosts we've become? Can we ever retrieve our innocence, now that it is lost?
Here's our plan:
We're going to build our own workshop, on our own land, in the forest somewhere. And we're going to fill it with good young people who want to make puppet shows, and teach them what we know. They'll take over from us when we are too old and grizzled to hoist a block of wood over our heads.
The workshop of our descendants will be a-bustle with artists, working on all kinds of wondrous projects. Apprentices will be slumbering in hammocks in the rafters, cooks will be chopping beautiful things for the stew, people will be drawing and carving and counting and pondering. The walls will be festooned with old and mouldering puppets, and amongst them will hang the shriveled remains of the founders, watching over the hub-bub and brou-ha-ha. And in seven hundred years, the accumulated efforts of all the blooming generations will result in a puppet show so beautiful that even we, the desiccated and undeserving ancients, will be saved. That's the plan, anyway.
To donate several million dollars to have us name our workshop after you, click here.
Where the name comes from:
On the Palmer Ranch, where the Old Trouts first gathered, there's a swimming hole much beloved by the people of the area. In that swimming hole, it is said, there lives an ancient fish, who will answer any question you ask it, if you can swim deep enough to find it. Our company is named after that noble creature, even though truth be told we never did manage to find it. "Old Trout" is also a term of endearment in Newfoundland, and that gave the name an endearing ring; of course, when we named ourselves thusly we were not yet old, but every day we become more and more like our moniker.
“Comic, macabre, and sublimely surreal”
- The Globe and Mail
“Old Trout… will surely become one of the most vital and vibrant puppet companies in the world.”
- The Calgary Sun
“Someday very soon there will be a style of puppetry that will come to be known as ‘Old Trout-like’ – it’s just too good not to be imitated.”
- Fast-Forward Magazine, Calgary
“Nothing short of genius.”
- The Ottawa Citizen
“Pure joy. Great, great theatre.”
- Alvina Ruprecht, CBC Radio