The World-Wide Open Creation Puppet Show
We here at the Old Trout Puppet Workshop are plagued by a nagging sense of dissatisfaction, and we think you might be too. So, on our common behalf, we’ve gone searching for our lost bliss amongst the ignorant – our prehistoric ancestors, who once howled in gigantic joy, stamping the rock with grubby feet over the steaming remains of an eviscerated mastodon, while we their clever progeny make do today with feeble tweets and stuttering skype and hot yoga, all the while stifling the mightier shrieks that surge below. Ignorance is a puppet documentary about the evolution of happiness – from the thick-blooded hearts of the ancient caves, to the ethereal heaven of our light-speed future – it’s about where we all went wrong, and how we might find our way once again.
Not only that: it’s the first attempt at what we’re calling Open Creation – the entire show has been written on the web for all to see and for all to comment, criticize, or contribute. Visit THE BLOG to take a look.
* We'll take all the credit, and make all the profits, just so you know up front. And there's no guarantee that your idea will make it into the show – even if everybody in the world can tell it's a way better idea than we ended up using – we'll make the final decisions. After all, we'll be the poor bastards actually making the puppets and spending the money. You have to contribute for the love of it, or not at all.**
** There might be a better way to do it, but we haven't thought of it. Maybe you have, though – in which case, you're allowed to say so.
Ignorance - Press and Presenter Support
- Mar 1-10, 2012 – Vancouver, BC, | Vancouver East Cultural Centre
- Mar 15/16, 2012 – Banff Centre, AB, | Margaret Greenham Theatre
- Mar 20 - Apr 8, 2012 – Edmonton, AB, | Theatre Network
- June14-17, 2012 – Calgary, AB, | Magnetic North Festival
- Oct 23 - Nov 3, 2012 – Calgary, AB, | Pumphouse Theatre
- Nov 27- Dec 15, 2102 – Toronto, ON, | Canadian Stage
- Jan 15-19, 2013 – Montreal, PQ, | Espace Libre
- May 18, 2013 – Sevilla, Teatro Central
- May 21, 2013 – Granada, Teatro Alhambra
- May 23, 2013 – Malaga, Teatro Carnovas
France 2013 - dates - pending
Upcoming performances in 2014:
- Jan 7-19, 2014 – Victoria, BC, | Blue Bridge Theatre
- Jan 22, 2014 – Nelson, BC, | Capital Theatre
- Jan 24, 2014 – Vernon, BC, | Vernon and District Performing Arts Centre
- Jan 28 - Feb 2, 2014 – Saskatoon, SK, | Persephone Theatre
- Mar 10-15, 2104 – Montreal, PQ, | Espace Libre
- Mar 18-22, 2014 – Kitchener, ON, | Centre in the Square
Old Trout Puppet's Workshop's Ignorance ... is bliss
BY LOUIS HOBSON, CALGARY SUN
I never cease to be amazed by Calgary’s own The Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
With every show I’ve seen, I just sit back and watch in awe as the performance unfolds.
Even if I’m not completely enchanted with the plot, I’m amazed at the genius that has gone into creating and executing it.
Such is the case with the company’s latest creation, Ignorance: The Evolution of Happiness, currently running in the Pumphouse’s Victor Mitchell Theatre.
Ignorance reimagines The Garden of Eden as a bleak, inhospitable place, sort of like Calgary in January and February.
As in the biblical version of Eden, it’s Eve who wreaks havoc by bringing enlightenment.
She develops imagination, which means she and Adam realize just how wonderful things could be, but are not.
Ping pong-ing between prehistory and modern days, Ignorance is a bit like the Cloud Atlas of puppet shows.
One minute we’re back in Adam’s cave and then we’re in a bustling city where modern man is contemplating suicide or trying to artificially manufacture happiness.
It’s not what Ignorance has to say, but how brilliantly it says it with over-sized puppet heads, floating happy face balloons and brilliant lighting, sound and video effects.
It minimizes what they accomplish to simply call Nicolas Di Gaetanto, Trevor Leigh and Viktor Lukawski puppeteers.
They are extensions of their puppets acting with every muscle of their bodies for results that are as mesmerizing as they are hilarious.
For all the nonsense Ignorance trots out to make its points, there is an incredible poignancy to Eve mourning Adam’s death, which goes to say just how much gets drawn into the world of Ignorance.
Ignorance is bliss as puppets rule the roost
Bob Clark, Calgary Herald
Review- Published: Saturday, June 16, 2012
The Magnetic North Theatre Festival presents the Old Trout Puppet Workshop's Ignorance through Sunday at the Martha Cohen Theatre.
(Rating 4 out of five Stars)
Watching the three hooded cast members of the Old Trout Pup-pet Workshop creep, cavort and manipulate their way through the ensemble's new show, Ignorance, you can't help thinking these are just the kind of guys you'd like to have over to play with your kids and their toys.
Or tell them stories of some of the comically base but basic things that can happen around a Stone Age campfire - which, in the case of Ignorance, happens to be set in a phantasmagorical "cave" fashioned from two giant interlocking antlers with a skin stretched between them.
With the show's running gag, or leitmotif, of yellow balloons with happy faces, plus segments featuring three little red cars, or a Rube Gold-berg contraption that spits out a few of the aforementioned inflatables - not to mention puppeteers who animate their humanoid charges while wheeling around on office chairs - you'd swear you were at some sort of Shriners benefit.
Except, of course, you're not.
You're in the world of the Trouts, a darkly fantastic and gothically Romantic, Tim Burton-meets-Cirque du Soleil-ish sort of place.
In the case of Ignorance, it boasts primitive murders and a suicide, cannibalism, a little caveman com-bat, and a prowling, bellicose Pa-leozoic puppet monster who's on the lookout for the Cro-Magnons.
This pair function as our typical prototypes, documentary-style, created to guide us through a fancifully prehistoric state of happiness, if not its modern analogues and consequences (which is where the Trouts' suited Everyman pup-pets come in).
All in good fun. Make that very good fun.
Joining regular Old Trout pros Peter Balkwill and Pityu Kenderes onstage for Ignorance is Trevor Leigh, the well-known Calgary actor who acts here as if he's been a puppet master for the Trouts forever.
Offstage we have Judd Palmer in the form of a voice-over done up as a mid-Atlantic accent doing a characteristically literate and tongue-in-cheek Trout script, its cleverness sometimes obscured by the soundtrack, a potpourri of old recordings featuring everything from Mayan kitsch by multi-octave vocal wonder Yma Sumac to Franz Liszt's Totentanz (Dies Irae).
The "crude" bone-stick-and-hair puppets are a delight - especially a stamping pre-mastodon creation with a long articulated tail and sound effects straight out of Jurassic Park.
The projected black-and-white videos of stuff like panoramas of snowy barrenness or traffic help too in bringing home what Ignorance ultimately stands for: the joy, the "happiness of child's play, re-captured over and over in the exercise of imagination, if only the bad stuff that can result from what is imagined doesn't get in the way.
Ignorance is Creative Genius
Danielle Benzon - March 3rd, 2012
Ignorance is a unique puppet play: it was created partially by the online community. If you want to read more about that process visit www.theoldtrouts.org/ignorance.
This kind of “Open Creation” scares me as an audience member, I don’t trust my peers to help create anything I might be interested in seeing. But I like the company and the synopsis was intriguing and how on earth could I not go see a puppet documentary about the evolution of happiness?
And Old Trout aren’t pulling any punches. Yes, this is a fun, ridiculous, funny, cute and heartwarming play, but it’s also horrifying, depressing and even a little scary. Mercilessly, just when you think everything is about to turn into happy endings, reality knocks our heros down even harder than before.
It takes a special group of creators, performers and directors to make me feel very strongly about 2 pieces of wood, a wig and a stick. I felt like a kid at my first Punch and Judy show, very much wanting to shout out “He’s behind you!” when the relevant monster lurked on to the stage. (I didn’t, thank you, but it was a very near thing.)
With imagination anything can be a puppet, all you need a a strangely shaped stick and a sprinkle of anthropomorphism. Here lies the true magnificence of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, they blend a variety of puppeteering styles together, as well as blending the logic of our reality universe and their created universe together until this particular audience member will believe just about anything they put in front of her.
I would call what Old Trout do efficient creativity: not bare bones, but not heavily dependant on technical effects either. From the sound track to the puppets themselves there is a good mixture of electronic and plastic effects. Each piece has its purpose (and most pieces MANY purposes), nothing is superfluous and it's all just so well thought out.
In my mind economy and creativity within structure is the sign of a true craftsman. It takes a lot of planning and imagination to keep a show tour-able, practical and tight while still managing to fill your audience with delight and awe. And a little can go a long way when placed correctly, like putting a fan under the puppet man who is standing on the building’s ledge. Suddenly our perceptual dimensions shift and he is more real than he was before. The letter he rips up blows away out of his reach and his tie flaps in the wind. Consistency creates magic. Deliberate interfaces with our “outside world reality” allow the story to extend past the theatre walls and into our every day lives. Which means that the play can truly have an impact in our lives.
I have a theory about puppet theatre and other more minimalist theatre genres with regards to audience investment. In a more realistic theatrical production the audience is presented with a story and a good actor will get you to be invested in his performance because you can relate to his struggle. In puppet theatre you are not presented with a story, you are invited to help create one. It is only the participation of your imagination, your filling in the missing details that makes the performance what it is. You are a partner in crime, it's yours, you care more, you believe more and jsut like that the story becomes magical.
This audience investment coupled with the power of laughter to open our hearts, allows Ignorance to discuss some very scary and thought provoking questions. This show is not just a romp of silliness and adorable artifice. It has depths. It is a very powerful comment on the purpose of humanity. Why are we here? What are we striving for? What is the point of it all?
In the end, I think that the play had a reasonably uplifting message. There's a good healthy does of cynicism in there. A little more determinism than suits my palette, but in the end, there is hope for the species. Something bigger than happiness. Now if only we could work out what that was...
In Trout troupe's hands, Ignorance is witty fun
Puppets probe age-old puzzle: Why can't we just be happy?
Liz Nicholls, Edmonton Journal
Published: Saturday, March 24 2012
Ignorance - The Old Trout Puppet Workshop
Starring: Peter Balkwill, Pityu Kenderes, Trevor Leigh
Where: Theatre Network at the Roxy , 10708 124 St.
In one memorable scene in Ignorance, you see two grimvisaged old people armed with butterfly nets. They're chasing the same yellow smiley balloon, and end up thrashing each other violently. Happiness has that effect on people.
This oddball, quixotic little "documentary" from Calgary's famously off-centre Old Trout Puppet Workshop purports to address the age-old question: Why can't we get happy, and stay that way for longer than 23 seconds at a time? "What's gone wrong?" intones the narrator in his gravely faux-warm docu-speak voice. "How has happiness slipped from our grasp?"
This philosophical pursuit isn't content with tortured monologues from misery steeped characters, familiar in other branches of Canadian theatre. No, the Trouts trace the evolution of happiness back to prehistoric times in smoke-filled caves, and even further back, to the very birth of the universe. Side note: docu-king Ken Burns is downright lax in comparison.
"The Paleolithic era was no paradise," concedes the narrator suavely, as prehistorical evidence mounts before our eyes - in puppet vignettes with onscreen mood enhancement from actual 30,000 B.C. footage (designer: Jamie Nesbitt). Still, we've lost that special happy feeling you get from slurping over the raw bleeding haunch of a mastodon.
Ignorance looks very different from the Trouts' other work. There's a sophisticated perversity to this return to the First Cause of puppetry in all its crudity: puppet heads that are two rocks hinged together with dints for eyes, and stick arms; monsters that are deconstructed fossils; gibberish for language. But as in their hit Famous Puppet Death Scenes, with its deadpan catalogue of demises, Ignorance reveals a signature Trout wit and cast of mind. They're in love with absurdity. They embrace paradox with a lover's fervour.
The birth of the imagination, and the fantasy-provoked quest for happiness, is also the birth of disappointment and despair. In reaching for the yellow balloon, one sad-sack gets throttled on the string. It's a perfectly Trout-ian irony. The modern characters, battered by quintessential Troutisms, are soft-bodied pillow bodies with beautifully expressive chiselled heads, that use the puppeteers' own hands and arms, and their feet for propulsion.
In the cave, imaginatively lit by Cimmeron Meyer, something magical happens; rocks take on a wary or wistful expression; they reveal fear, or horror, or happiness. Which says something about the expertise of the puppeteers (Peter Balkwill, Pityu Keneres, Trevor Leigh), whose amusing grey long-john/helmet costumes seem to have been created by cavepersons, too (designer: Jen Gareau).
What unfolds, 30,000 B.C., is a kind of Creation myth cum love story between Man, who's slow on the uptake, and Eve, whose pre-front lobes can imagine happiness and therefore get depressed. Modern man only gets slivers of happiness, which make him chronically dissatisfied. So it is with Ignorance. It's fun, it's smart, it's 75 minutes, and it leaves you wanting more of it.
Dissatisfaction: that's an irony the company should appreciate.
Ignorance by Old Trout Puppet Workshop: Review
Published on Tuesday November 27, 2012
Image by Jason Stang
There are many happy faces on stage in the play Ignorance, a Canadian Stage show from the Old Trout Puppet Workshop.
By Richard Ouzounian
(3 out of 4)
By The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. Until Dec. 15 at Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St.
Ignorance is bliss. Well, a lot of the time.
The latest work from The Old Trout Puppet Workshop which opened at the Berkeley Street Theatre on Tuesday night as part of the Canadian Stage season, may lack the unifying brilliance of Famous Puppet Death Scenes, their last Toronto appearance, but it contains enough comic invention with serious thought underneath to warrant a visit from the interested theatregoer.
Framed as a bizarre takeoff on those informative nature cartoons that Disney was so fond of in the 1950s, Ignorance flips back and forth blithely between prehistoric times and a somewhat antiquated view of the present daylumber around a set designed by the company: a structure which looks, depending on Cameron Meyer’s lighting, like a skeletal cocoon or an impacted wisdom tooth.
These men are, uh, distinctive. Clothed in grey long-johns, each wearing identical ’70s porn-star moustaches with headgear that looks like an inverted phallic comma, they manipulate the puppets that a crew of builders and designers too numerous to mention have created.
The puppets are dessicated creatures who all look like they’ve long past their “best before” date and are just waiting to get cleaned out of the fridge. Whether they’re supposed to be mastodons or grumpy old men, they share the same lost quality that’s both amusing and alarming, which is the show’s point.
The narrator, an aptly unctuous Judd Palmer, is never seen, just heard, pouring out a series of platitudes about happiness, how we never really find it, or don’t recognize it when it does come our way.
Mocking yellow happy faces keep appearing on balloons of various sizes, each destined to be popped, sometimes in the cruelest way.
And then there’s Jamie Nesbitt’s deliciously ironic projections. Sometimes they bring us into the world of bad old nature films, while at other moments they wallow in the commercials of ’60s television. I caught ads for Dristan and Colt 45 Malt Liquor, among many others and even think I spotted the late Andy Griffith in a film clip.
Alas, that reveals one of the show’s problems. The puppet activity downstage, although often dazzling, becomes ultimately repetitious and as the 75-minute show weaved toward its ending, I found myself watching the screen more than the stage.
Surely not a good thing.
We also bring what’s in our outside lives into the theatre and as I saw an assortment of aging, rubicund, pudgy male puppets raging against their fate, I thought of another aging, rubicund, pudgy male raging against his conflict of interest verdict.
Ignorance is the kind of show that’s loose enough to allow those thoughts, which is good, but it’s also loose enough to let your attention slip away and that’s less commendable.
At its best, some of the slapstick comedy is almost Chaplinesque in its cruelly comic pathos and I’m not sorry I spent an evening watching the show.
But I know from the past that this group can give us better and that’s what I left the theatre wanting.
Next gay theatre review: Ignorance
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop creates a modern prehistoric masterpiece
Ignorance - reviewed at the Berkeley Street Theatre, 26 Berkeley St. | The Canadian Stage Company, Front St E, Toronto, ON
In the opening minutes of Ignorance the omniscient narrator posits that the average human being is allotted only about 14 and a half minutes of happiness in his or her entire lifetime, "most of it before the age of 12." Ignorance then proceeds to contradict that statement by providing 75 minutes of unrelenting pleasure and laughter.
The Doras this year should have a category for puppets, or Best Performance by an Animated Inanimate Object. Warhorse, Avenue Q, Penny Plain and now Ignorance all demonstrate that in the right hands, puppets can reveal more about the human condition than some actors/playwrights and are often able to access deeper emotional truths.
The deceptively rough-hewn puppets who make up roughly half of Ignorance's plot may be twig, bone and fur, but they manage to cover a full range of human emotions — and be uproariously funny. In fact, the prehistoric puppet couple would have to compete with Avenue Q for an AVN award as well; who knew there would two raunchy (and hilarious) puppet sex scenes onstage in staid Toronto in the same year?
It's hard to write anything in depth or offer high points without giving away the elements of surprise and wonder that are integral to Ignorance's effectiveness. But it is impossible not to mention the most delightfully vicious vivisection of Céline Dion ever, the gently gyrating granny, the killer happy-face balloons, the mechanical balloon inflater . . . the list goes on, but no more spoilers. Even the set pieces that seem to be heading in a predictable direction veer in unexpected ways. And whenever there is a threat of a pause or a cliché, the outstanding performers/puppeteers break the fourth wall and interact -- they seem to be having as much fun as the audience, though the sweat stains on their surprisingly sexy longjohns during the curtain call reveal just how much effort and energy they are putting into the performance. After all, they are acting for two.
Ignorance is a magical and profound show. Reflection and the sharing of favourite moments reveals how tightly knit the script and symbols are and how much thought they provoke. Shows this unique and entertaining come along rarely; everyone should take the opportunity to find some happiness in Ignorance.
BY JACQUIE MOORE, SWERVE OCTOBER 26, 2012
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop's Pete Balkwill
Photograph by: Postmedia Archive , Swerve
Get in touch with your prehistoric joy at the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s masterful show Ignorance, a puppet documentary about the evolution of happiness. Swerve’s Jacquie Moore talked to Old Trout’s Pete Balkwill about puppet-fuelled bliss.
What is it about existential themes that lend themselves so well to puppetry and comedy?
The puppet doesn’t try to make a verbatim statement about anything; instead it stands as a reflection that an audience can look into to garner their own impressions on the theme. Puppets are much more cinematic than human actors because they defy rules and we forgive them that; we embrace their journey and so they can take us places that mortals never could.
There’s a disembodied voice that comments on the action throughout Ignorance. How did you conceive of that voice?
That is Sir Reginald Chute. Our show bounces between primitive man and modern man, so we needed something to knit that together—an omniscient, documentary narrator’s voice. We have a fantasy list of celebrities we’d like to ask to lend their voice to Ignorance: Morgan Freeman, Christopher Plummer and William Shatner are on the list.
Does the title of the play have anything to do with the old adage “ignorance is bliss?” Are we unhappy today because we know too much?
Well, I think we potentially know less today. It would be hubris to say we know more. In our quest to know so much, we’ve probably lost connection with some extreme, essential things that make us human. So, who are the ignorant ones? The ones who lived to satisfy what they needed? Or those struggling to acquire all that they don’t need?
Tell me a little about the Calgary Brief Festival.
It’s our inaugural attempt at creating a little festival of puppet shows. We brought some local puppeteers out of the woodwork and asked them to create 10-minute puppet pieces for smaller audiences that will be performed in stairwells and nooks and under bleachers for folks to enjoy an hour before Ignorance (Fridays and Saturdays only). They’ll touch your childlike curiosities.
What’s one small thing you think the average Calgarian could do to make themselves happier?
Probably get rid of their iPhones. People would greatly question that, but if they remember a time of busy signals and answering machines, they might actually lose quite a bit of stress. It’s why I’m slightly unreliable on mine.
© Copyright (c) The Calgary Herald
Ignorance Media Kit | 5.4 MB PDF
Ignorance Tech Rider English | 717 KB PDF
Ignorance Tech Rider French | 615 KB PDF
Ignorance Press Clippings | 530 KB PDF
Ignorance Wordmark | 25 KB JPEG
Ignorance Program Credits | 35 KB Word Doc
Ignorance Hi-Res Images (10) | 17 MB ZIP Archive
Ignorance Hi-Res Poster Image (Bog) | 36.6 MB ZIP Archive
Ignorance Complete Presenters Package | 57 MB ZIP Archive
"It takes a special group of creators, performers and directors to make me feel very strongly about 2 pieces of wood, a wig and a stick."
- Danielle Benzon, PLANK Magazine
The Old Trouts promise to cure your fear of death; no more anxiety about difficult choices, no more dreading birthdays, no more desperate pleas for immortality through fame, art, or progeny.
Through a collection of famous scenes culled from the absolute best puppet shows in history, including Edward’s Last Meal, from The Ballad of Edward Grue by Norman Strake, DungBeetle’s Lament, from Flap Flap Flap by Lizzie Fook, The Last Dance, from Henrique! by Kevin Farquartson, and the unforgettable Bipsy’s Mistake, from Bipsy and Mumu Go to the Zoo by Fun Freddy, the Old Trouts will deconstruct your traumatized psyche and reconstruct you so that death means nothing to you anymore.
In a way, we promise ever-lasting life. Through a puppet show. That’s right.
Tour de France - 2011 - Back we go by popular demand.
- THEATRE GERARD PHILIPPE
SCENE CONVENTIONNEE POUR LES ARTS DE LA MARIONNETTE ET LES FORMES ANIMEES
54 Avenue de la Libération
54390 Frouard - FRANCE
Sunday, February 13th, 2011
- THEATRE BOURG-EN-BRESSE
SEMAINE EUROPEENNE DE LA MARIONNETTE
1 Place de la Grenette
01004 Bourg-en-Bresse - FRANCE
Thursday, Feb 17th and Friday, February 18th, 2011
- LES COLONNES
SCENE CONVENTIONNEE DE BLANQUEFORT
4 rue du Docteur Castéra
33290 Blanquefort - FRANCE
Tuesday, March 2nd and March 3rd, 2011
- THEATRE JEAN ARP - CINEMA JEANNE MOREAU
SCENE CONVENTIONNEE POUR LA MARIONNETTE ET LES OBJETS ANIMES
22, Rue Paul Vaillant Couturier
92140 Clamart - FRANCE
Wednesday, March 9th to Sunday, March 13th, 2011
- LA COMETE
SCENE NATIONALE DE CHALONS-EN-CHAMPAGNE
5, rue des Fripiers - BP 233
51010 Châlons-en-Champagne – FRANCE
Friday, March 18th, 2011 (2 shows, Matinee and Evening Performance)
Press and Presenter Support
LOS ANGELES TIMES—THEATER REVIEW
Old Trout Puppet Workshop's 'Famous Puppet Death Scenes'
The Canadian group visits Orange County with a lively bunch of puppets contemplating mortality.
By David Ng, Los Angeles Times Staff Writer | Mar 20, 2008
Puppets don't bleed. At least not real blood. This anatomical axiom means the violence in "Famous Puppet Death Scenes" is safe enough for children -- with some reservations.
Children will no doubt find a lot to enjoy in this darkly comic play, which ends its three-night engagement this evening at the Samueli Theater at the Orange County Performing Artscenter. But adults will probably enjoy it even more. Beneath the amusing puppet antics churns a mature existentialism: Why do we die? Is it necessary? What is eternity? You might say this is a play that prepares you for that doctorate in puppet metaphysics that you've always wanted. An intellectual puppet show? Yes, but don't let that scare you away. "Famous Puppet Death Scenes" knows how to mask its bevy of ideas in ways that are visually stunning and endlessly entertaining.
Produced by the Alberta, Canada-based Old Trout Puppet Workshop, the play is neatly divided into 22 "scenes," each an excerpt from a notable puppet-theater classic. Of course, none of these classics really exists -- the show is a faux anthology that culls from an imagined theatrical canon. For example, in an episode called "The Feverish Heart by Nordo Frot: Act 1, Scene 3," an unsuspecting hand puppet falls victim to a giant fist that comes crashing down from out of nowhere onto its cute little head.
The show moves swiftly from one visual punch line to another. Two German puppets must choose between doors labeled "Ja" and "Nein" as part of a diabolical game show in "Das Bipsy und Mumu Puppenspiel by Freulicher Friedrich: Episode 43 'Bipsy's Mistake.' " (The segment titles alone are priceless.) Later, an innocent street urchin turns the tables on his bloodthirsty mugger in "The Beast of Muggditch Lane by August Stainbrook: Act 1, Scene 1."
Performed almost entirely in a specially constructed wooden proscenium, "Famous Puppet Death Scenes" is a puppet show that interrogates the artifice of puppetry, which is to say that it's a self-reflexive play. In one brilliantly inventive scene, a pair of marionette legs dangling from the ceiling suggests a recent suicide. But we soon learn through a macabre series of events that things are hardly what they seem and that fooling the viewer is an important, if not fundamental, part of puppetry.
The play's most memorable scenes aren't necessarily the goriest or most violent, but those that quietly ponder what it means to be a puppet as well as the person behind it who gives it life. In a scene titled "The Cruel Sea by Thorvik Skarbarg: Hour 14," the corpse of an old mariner slowly decomposes before our eyes, each body part floating away to reveal the wooden core beneath the costume and paint. This simple tableau provides a chilling X-ray into the heart of puppetry. The art form, it seems to say, consists merely of inanimate objects brought together by dexterous hands and the audience's willingness to suspend disbelief.
Directed by Tim Sutherland, "Famous Puppet Death Scenes" provides so much visual stimulus that it's easy to simply sit back and marvel. The democratic assembly of puppets includes wooden creations of all shapes and sizes. Much of the magic should be credited to the four puppeteers who perform the show -- Peter Balkwill, Mitchell Craib, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer.
But the play's real achievement isn't visual but rather philosophical and even epistemological in nature. These puppets think deeply about death and the afterlife. They ponder, ruminate and even despair about the unknowable universe.
Odd as it may sound, these puppets often seem more recognizably human than the humans they are meant to imitate.
The Old Trout Puppet Workshop laughs in the face of death
By Martin Morrow | October 24, 2007
They’re killing puppets at Toronto’s Young Centre this week. “They” are Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop, and their lovingly carved wooden characters are meeting the Reaper in all kinds of grisly ways: they’re being hanged, shot, drowned or disemboweled, ravaged by a cruel sea, dismembered by a wicked wind or pummeled by what appears to be the Fist of Fate.
Famous Puppet Death Scenes, making its Toronto debut as part of the Old Trouts’ current U.S.-Canada tour, is a delightfully macabre little show that simultaneously riffs on mortality and spoofs theatrical genres. In the space of 90 minutes, it features no less than 22 morbid vignettes from such imaginary puppet classics as The Feverish Heart, a melodrama by one Nordo Frot (whose dumpy little hero is imperiled by the aforesaid Fist); Das Bipsy und Mumu Puppenspiel, a cheerfully violent German children’s show that would give Itchy & Scratchy a run for their money; and The Cruel Sea by Thorvik Skarsbarg, a glacially paced 14-hour Norwegian play in a style aptly known as “Theatre of the Insufferable.” Among the 50-odd puppets slain in this medley of bizarre works: an opera-singing priest and his monkey, a frustrated lover, a barn full of Fisher-Price farm animals, a lugubrious whale and a gaggle of aliens that look like Johnny Depp.
It’s a veritable feast of puppet annihilation, made gruesomely delicious by the Old Trouts’ fertile imaginations. For the uninitiated, it’s also a perfect introduction to these splendidly freaky puppet masters, who combine a passion for the baroque and surreal with a visual esthetic poised somewhere between Hieronymus Bosch and Edward Gorey. Not to mention a penchant for wearing their puppets on their heads.
Their latest and most popular work to date, Death Scenes has been gathering plaudits since it premiered to sold-out houses at Vancouver’s PuSh International Theatre Festival last year. Having already toured across Western Canada and to Ottawa’s Magnetic North fest, it’s on the road again this season, playing a string of gigs in the eastern U.S. as well as a handful of Canadian dates.
“It seems to be our breakout show, insofar as getting into the States,” says Judd Palmer, a company co-founder and one of the production’s creator-performers. “I guess people want to see puppets dying.”
Americans are finally getting a taste of what Canadian theatregoers and especially Calgarians have been savouring since 2000. That was the year the Trouts made their critically acclaimed debut with The Unlikely Birth of Istvan, an obscure life-cycle allegory that involved murder, nudity and the slaughter of a pig and still managed to be witty and charming. Since then, the troupe has turned out a succession of equally unlikely adult puppet shows, from a wordless version of the medieval Beowulf poem to a biography of 19th-century French chef Antonin Carême. For family audiences, they’ve also brought their skewed sensibilities to an original fantasy called The Tooth Fairy and traditional favourites like Pinocchio.
Palmer says the idea for Death Scenes came in 2004 when the Trouts unveiled their award-winning version of Pinocchio a dark, anti-Disney adaptation in which the boy-puppet’s “conscience,” the annoying talking cricket, is smashed to death with a hammer, as in the original Carlo Collodi novel.
“There we were, murdering the cricket onstage, and the audience ran the gamut of emotions,” Palmer says. “You could hear the first gasp of, ‘Oh my God, can they really be doing that?’ Then they started to laugh. We realized there was something absurdly compact about the act of a puppet dying; it can be funny, tragic, offensive and absurd, all in one blow of the hammer.”
Death Scenes purports to be a compilation of such memorable moments from the world’s greatest puppet plays, as collected and introduced by an elderly puppet thespian named Nathanial Tweak. A dry old stick (quite literally) with a mad-professor’s shock of white hair and a fondness for rhetorical excess, Tweak hosts this puppet Ars moriendi as a lead-up to his own tour de force, a promised death scene to outdo all the others. “He’s been practicing it since time immemorial,” says Palmer, who provides Tweak’s voice, “and once he’s prepped us with this whole notion of the towering achievements of great puppet art, he’s going to cap it all off.”
The show is an excuse for the Trouts to indulge their love of the arcane by wholly inventing a canon of supposed puppet masterpieces. Palmer says they had a great time dreaming up what the classic plays might be. “The inspiration came from everywhere. You know, you’re watching Barbarella and you suddenly think, ‘Oh my God, there has to be some kind of famous puppet science fiction movie from the ‘60s.’ Or you think, ‘What would a German children’s television puppet show look like, viewed drunk in a Düsseldorf hotel late at night?’
It also allowed the Trouts to dabble in and send up different theatrical styles, from the Victorian morality tale to the bleak, Sean O’Casey-type Irish domestic drama to the kind of excruciatingly slow and uneventful spectacle usually identified with avant-garde director Robert Wilson. “It’s one thing to do an existentialist, 14-hour-long piece of experimental theatre with humans,” Palmer says, “but when you do it with puppets, it makes its absurdity self-evident.”
The production is directed by Tim Sutherland and performed by original Trouts Palmer, Peter Balkwill and Pityu Kenderes, along with newcomer Mitchell Craib. The lineup has changed a few times since 1999, when a 27-year-old Palmer and a bunch of his puppet-loving friends founded the troupe while living collectively on his grandfather’s ranch south of the city.
As teenagers, Palmer and his pals had all been afflicted with, in his words, “this classic Calgary self-loathing,” and had scattered elsewhere Palmer himself headed to Toronto to work as a television puppeteer. But with Y2K looming, it seemed a good time to get their priorities straight. “Everyone was turning to this introspective place, thinking, ‘What do I really value in this world? Wouldn’t I rather be amongst my greatest friends?’” Palmer recalls. “The ranch suddenly illuminated itself to us all as being an aspect of Alberta that we really did love, that was part of us.”
Their rural retreat turned out to be a kind of puppeteers’ Big Pink where, between chopping wood and carrying water, their creative energies flowed. It was there that they perfected their signature mask puppet, worn on the puppeteer’s head and face. And it’s there that they conceived and built Istvan, performing it first for an audience of bemused local Hutterites before taking it to Calgary’s High Performance Rodeo. Unlike the Hutterites, audiences there were accustomed to innovative puppetry, thanks largely to native son Ronnie Burkett; nonetheless, they were blown away.
The Trouts eventually abandoned their neo-hippie experiment on the ranch and moved back to the city. “We lost our minds down there, living together in a coal-heated shack,” Palmer admits. “You can only handle so much of the sound of another guy chewing his granola.” New owners have recently bought the building housing their Calgary studio, forcing them to pull up stakes again.
Palmer says they’re taking advantage of the situation by relocating temporarily to Guanajuato, Mexico, after this tour. There, they’ll spend several months creating their next ambitious puppet work, based on the legend of Don Juan. “We’ll lodge ourselves in some grand, cheap hacienda,” he says. “It’s a beautiful opportunity to return to the puppet-making adventure we began with.”
Martin Morrow writes about the arts for CBCNews.ca
NOW TORONTO MAGAZINEREVIEW
This Old Trout leaps high
by Jon Kaplan | October, 25, 2007
If clowns of terror Mump and Smoot -- we miss them dearly -- were to do a puppet show, the result would look a lot like Famous Puppet Death Scenes, playing only until Saturday at the Young Centre.
Presented by Calgary's Old Trout Puppet Workshop, the piece is, on the surface, the work of philosophical narrator (and puppet) Nathanial Tweak, an old-timer who collected the episodes from around the world to remind us of the imminence of death in our lives and suggest the importance of confronting our own mortality.
Yeah, it sound like a therapy session, but the show isn't the sort of lifestyle seminar you'd go to on a weekend retreat. It's often very funny and dark, with some surprisingly tender moments to offset the laughter.
In 20-plus brief scenes, Tweak provides a survey of shows by the likes of Samuel Groanswallow, Thorvik Skarsbarg and the never-say-die Nordo Frot, whose The Feverish Heart makes no fewer than four appearances during the 80-minute show.
Don't look these writers up in a dictionary of puppet playwrights. They're the brainchildren of the Old Trout collective -- Peter Balkwill, Mitchell Craib, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer, all dressed in funereal black -- the sometimes visible manipulators who work the puppets, which are a combination of rod puppets, hand puppets, heads and torsos.
Working with director Tim Sutherland, the creators are endlessly inventive in the stories they tell and the kinds of puppets they use. One of my faves is the German-language Das Bipsy Und Mumu Puppenspiel, featuring a pair of brightly coloured, single-eyed cones with tiny hands and a tuft of hair. Their tale, a show for children (as if), is a take on the classic Lady And The Tiger story.
Yet we're also treated to the sad ending of The Last Whale, and the touching, visually impressive King Jeff The Magnificent, in which the title character take an unusual, celestrial trip on New Year's Eve.
Oh, yes, and there's that series of Frot pieces, featuring a bulbous-headed puppet who can't seem to escape a malicious fist intent on squashing him. You know that the episodes are drawn from a mammoth work when you get to Act 19, Scene 78; thankfully we're only treated to a few select moments.
Not every scene in the show works, but they're all so short that if one doesn't succeed you're quickly on to another.
The company is masterful at creating expressiveness in inanimate objects, partly through how they're sculpted but also through their movements and the use of emotionally resonant soundscapes.
Not only do they use the three "stage" areas but bring out trunks, oversized books and other settings filled with magical surprises.
TORONTO STAR REVIEW
Laugh, cry . . . and watch 22 doomed puppets die
BY RICHARD OUZOUNIAN, Theatre Critic | October 24, 2007
Famous Puppet Death Scenes4 STARS (out of 4)
Written and performed by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop. At the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, 55 Mill St. 416-866-8666
In The Hostage, Brendan Behan once asked "Oh death, where is thy sting-a-ling-a-ling, or grave thy victory?"
I wonder what he would have thought about Famous Puppet Death Scenes, which opened last night at the Young Centre for the Performing Arts, because its subject is death, its sting-a-ling-a-ling is considerable and yet, somehow, the grave still claims its victory at the end.
All of this is by way of saying that this work presented by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop is shockingly funny, blissfully irreverent, definitely outrageous and yet somehow truly touching.
The framework is seemingly simple, yet subterraneanly baroque. We are supposedly witnessing 22 of the most famous "puppet death scenes" in history. Since the entire piece takes just 80 minutes to perform, you have some idea of the brevity of the scenes involved.
Indeed, some of them are almost afterthoughts: blink and you miss them.
But enough of them have satirical heft and stylistic skill to allow you to admire them both as conception and execution.
The Trouts (Peter Balkwill, Mitchell Crab, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer, with Tim Sutherland directing) are not like any puppet ensemble you may have ever seen.
They have a flair for operatic parody, linguistic games and classical allusions that give these vignettes some intellectual zing, but yet they never forget their origins in the Punch and Judy shows of ancient puppetry.
And ultimately, they realize when all is said and done, nothing is as funny as watching one character get bashed on the head by another.
There are sequences with names like Das Bipsy und Mumu Puppenspiel or Funeral Ritual of the Sugawara Denju, which have to be seen for their sheer anarchic humour to be appreciated.
But then, when you are least expecting it, comes The Perfect Death Scene, in which these masters shove our laughter back in our throats, defy the odds and offer us a truly moving meditation on what it means to die.
If the best art is unique and the unique is indescribable, then let my feeble words do what they can to convince you see The Old Trout Puppet Workshop and their masterful Famous Puppet Death Scenes in action.
BOSTON GLOBESTAGE REVIEW
Puppet deaths brim with lively wit
By Terry Byrne, Globe Correspondent | October 20, 2007
Alien puppets with Johnny Depp faces, a detailed home interior complete with photos hanging on the wall, an adventure on the high seas - Old Trout Puppet Workshop has it all in the terrifically twisted "Famous Puppet Death Scenes," which plays through tonight at the Institute of Contemporary Art.
Led by our host, a spindly wooden puppet named Nathaniel Tweak, more than a dozen puppets gamely reenact 22 death scenes that Tweak tells us are culled from the greatest moments in puppet theater history. The scenes, which actually spring from the imaginations of the Calgary-based puppet troupe, range from the sublime, Edward Gorey-influenced "The Ballad of Edward Grue," in which Edward has the unfortunate habit of dressing up as a deer (during hunting season), to the absurd "Bipsy's Mistake," a bizarre take on a German children's TV educational show (à la "Teletubbies"), in which making the wrong choice has deadly consequences.
Old Trout's decidedly quirky approach to puppetry is both dramatically engaging and visually stunning. Although most of the action happens on a traditional puppet stage with curtains, as well as two smaller side stages, the action also spills out onto the broader stage when various puppeteers (including Peter Balkwill, Mitchell Craib, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer) wheel out other puppet props. In addition to a wonderfully adaptive trunk that opens up to a stormy sea for "How the Spirit Entered Me" and a pop-up book whose changing perspective takes us closer and closer to a scene of domestic violence ("Never Say It Again"), there's also a puppet-free toy barnyard right out of Fisher-Price, which becomes a scene of devastation with Palmer, fully visible, acting out the sounds of the toy players. The carved puppets, with their detailed beauty, balance with the wonderfully weird inflatable puppets that make recurring appearances in the superbly strange "The Feverish Heart." Without any words, these puppets manage to communicate desire, fear, joy, and desperation in scenes that escalate in absurdity even as they develop the story. The long arm of Fate that returns relentlessly is reminiscent of Monty Python's classic animated sequences, as are the flying body parts in "The Forgotten Dish" and "The Cruel Sea." What makes them even more breathtaking is knowing that each part of the disintegrating puppet must be carefully pieced together so that it can be effortlessly torn apart.
Director Tim Sutherland keeps the death scenes coming quickly, even as the movement of the puppeteers (elegantly dressed in "Men in Black" suits) is choreographed with graceful precision. The snapshot stories work whether they're framed as a silent movie ("The Beast") or in a foreign language ("La Nature") with the company's sly sense of humor always rising above the bleak themes.
Cimmeron Meyer's extraordinary lighting and Mike Rinaldi's imaginative sound design, which includes flamenco music, "Star Trek" sound effects, and Mozart's "Requiem" among other wide-ranging musical selections, adds to the sense that this is much more than a simple puppet show. "Famous Puppet Death Scenes" may not be "medicine for your fears," as Tweak promises, but it is a surprisingly sensory experience.
CALGARY HERALDTHEATRE REVIEW
Death becomes these doomed puppets
Old Trouts produce a twisted treat
by BOB CLARK
It’s not often we get to laugh at mortality and feel good about it. But in the case of the show that opened Thursday at the Big Secret Theatre, you can’t help it. The Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s Famous Puppet Death Scenes is probably the funniest, wisest and most bizarrely clever show the Calgary collective has ever done which is saying a lot, in light of the kind of wonderfully literate, inventive and twisted stuff the Old Trouts have delighted us with in the past.
In only 80 minutes, we are treated to more than two dozen instances of theatrical puppet demise, purportedly culled from some of the greatest puppet shows in history.
“The scenes have been recreated as similarly as possible to the originals,” our venerable white-haired puppet host, Nathaniel Tweak, tells us in the printed program.
“Of course, we cannot view them in the original contexts, so that must be left largely up to your imagination.”
Tweak goes on to say that he took pains to seek out the original cast members, too, only to find that some of them were “very old, and (that) many had been lost for many years.
“I scoured the world, and found them in mouldering crates, shadowed attics and ship bilges.”
The scenes in which these resurrected characters re-enact their final moments take place either in the main puppet theatre (and its flanking smaller theatres), or in front of it, on portable stages wheeled in and opened by one or two of the Old Trout puppet masters Peter Balkwill, Don Brinsmead, Pityu Kenderes and Judd Palmer.
Among the fascinating vignettes of sudden fatality by murder, accident or suicide unfolding before our very eyes: A surreally brutal German children’s show in which two conic one eyed gobs of goo contestants named Bipsy and Mumu must choose between doors labelled Ja and Nein; recurring segments featuring an eggshaped puppet named Nordo Frot at the mercy (in The Feverish Heart) of the long arm of implacable Fate; a string of working-class suicides that culminate in a grotesquely comic twist at the end; and a dig at cryogenic immortality, featuring four aliens with Johnny Depp faces. Not only are the puppets as boldly and uniquely conceived as ever, but the puppeteers themselves occasionally play a role that is apart from even the visible manipulation of their creations. Palmer, for example, wheels out a toy farmyard and proceeds to make the sounds of the tiny figures he moves around in the enactment of some tragedy. Moments later, the little set is laid waste by two hideous, screaming Ninja-like creatures walked in from either side by Balkwill and Kenderes.
Other highlights? It’s difficult to choose in a show that has no end of them.
How about the portable-theatre scene straight out of the 19th century, with a fez-wearing monkey and an opera-singing prelate jammed together in a boat that’s about to capsize on the mechanical waves moved back and forth beneath them by Kenderes.
In more technical ways, the show is a joy to both hear and behold.
Both the costumes by Jen Gareau and Sarah Malik, and Cimmeron Meyer’s lighting design, help bring life to the puppets and their terminal stories as does the carefully thought-out sound design by Mike Rinaldi, whose choice of Mozart’s Requiem in the ensemble scene, for example, adds fitting poignancy to the final moments of what is a great black comedy.
And while Famous Puppet Death Scenes may not be a show for kids, it certainly has the child in all of us at heart.
FFWD WEEKLY THEATRE REVIEW
A good death - Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s new show is hilarious, beautiful and macabre.
by JEFF KUBIK
FAMOUS PUPPET DEATH SCENES
Old Trout Puppet Workshop
Directed by Tim Sutherland
At One Yellow Rabbit's Big Secret Theatre (Epcor Centre)
That we can imagine inanimate pieces of wood with a few slivers artfully removed as living creatures is beautiful and bizarre. That Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s latest work, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, is built entirely on the emotional resonance and comic possibilities of taking these same lives away is simply remarkable.
Laden with a devotion so intense that it can only be described as religious realized in his own concluding presentation of The Perfect Death Scene emaciated curator Nathaniel Tweak guides the audience through the greatest puppet death scenes culled from a canon of the Trout’s own imagining. Leaping between the comic, the tragic and the poignant, blocks of scenes are book-ended both by Tweak’s erudite musings and by scenes from The Feverish Heart by Nordo Frost, whose egg-shaped, allegorical protagonist graces the production’s posters. From a stair-climbing scene evoking Fritz Lang’s Metropolis to the horrifyingly comic disembowelling of adorable plastic creatures, the Trout’s premise allows its latest production to switch tone effortlessly and frequently.
More than a splintered collection of scenes from their fictitious canon, Famous Puppet Death Scenes is an innovative showcase of the Trout’s ever-broadening esthetic. While the stage’s setup initially suggests a familiar puppet theatre, with three small stages framed by purple curtains, under the direction of Tim Sutherland and backed by Mike Rinaldi’s varied sound design, nearly every scene is executed with a perspective so alien to the others that the nuances of the canon might be established by sight and sound alone. A refurbished armoire wheeled to centre stage holds a forest of spindly tree limbs in The Ballad of Edward Grue; an oversized novel composed of portraits conjures the dread of the unseen in Never Say it Again; and King Jeff the Magnificent sees the audience’s perspective bent to add a cosmic, vertical dimension to the familiar, largely two-dimensional realm of the puppet stage. Already masters of their own indulgent visual style, the Trouts have expanded their repertoire to include visual tools remarkable not only for their arresting style, but for their technical innovation.
At its best, the play produces exactly what its conceit implies, with the power of a single scene suggesting a larger work. As a dying woman’s face is literally peeled of its age in Lucille Arabesque, the audience can imagine the scene as either a conclusion or a beginning a hauntingly beautiful image that begs the audience to consider the potential at its edges. Yet even when it fails to suggest the breadth of the canon, the show’s engaging pace and artful pauses render scenes of such wit and style that the Trouts can be forgiven for crafting vignettes too succinct to fit into larger pieces. If the production suffers, it is only when the audience makes a few initial falters in trying to determine whether they are about to be made to laugh or cry.
Famous Puppet Death Scenes offers equal measures of the hilarious and the poignant, exploring the dramatic potential of carved wood and the audience’s imagination. Just as Nathaniel Tweak is driven by his limitless devotion to the idea of puppetry as theatrical communion, the Trouts’ own creation is clearly a work of love. Coupled with a dynamic premise and the occasional, wholly welcome dose of self-conscious satire, Death Scenes is a delightful example of puppet theatre too intense to allow its audience to catch its breath, too beautiful for them to want to.
FPDS Promotional Package - English | 635 KB PDF
FPDS Promotional Package - French | 750 KB PDF
FPDS Program Credits - English | 643 KB Word Doc
FPDS Program Credits - French | 647 KB Word Doc
FPDS Program Credits - Spanish | 643 KB Word Doc
FPDS Technical Rider - English | 180 KB PDF
FPDS Poster + Title - English | 6.9 MB ZIP Archive
FPDS Poster Template (.PSD file - Blue) - Spanish | 60.3 MB ZIP Archive
FPDS Poster Template (.PSD file - Grey) - Spanish | 83.2 MB ZIP Archive
"one of the best shows of the year… not to be missed."
The Globe & Mail
"visually stunning and endlessly entertaining."
The L.A. Times
"dramatically engaging and visually stunning."
The Boston Globe
The Tooth Fairy treads the strange and beautiful line between childhood and adulthood: an odyssey from innocence to experience, a children’s book adapted for adults, an avant-garde puppet show adapted for children. What horrors accompany the loss of baby teeth, symbols of our innocence? Why, in the name of all that’s good, would we trade them for money, the source of all that’s evil? The Tooth Fairy is a fantastical leap into the dark and troubling waters of our childhoods. It is a glimpse of what we have lost, what we have gained, and, most disturbing of all, what the Tooth Fairy does with all those teeth.
The Old Trouts do not shy away from extravaganza. The Tooth Fairy is an unprecedented colossus of the puppet stage. Monsters! Cosmic curses! Sea battles! Foggy nights haunted by lurking defilers! The epic saga of every soul’s horrifying leap into adulthood enacted with puppets of edifying ridiculosity!
Created, conceived, and performed by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop & David Rhymer.
Premiere: One Yellow Rabbit High Performance Rodeo - 2001.
The Tooth Fairy is also a book, published by Bayeux Arts/Raincoast and is part of a series, "Preposterous Fables for Unusual Children."
Press and Presenter Support
Recent Performances and Venues
Vertigo Theatre | Calgary, AB | April 9 - 16, 2010
Vancouver East Cultural Centre | Vancouver, BC | April 27 - May 1, 2010
New West Theatre | Lethbridge, AB | May 5 - 8, 2010
Globe Theatre | Regina, SK | May 12 - 16, 2010
Banff Center | Banff, AB | May 21 - 23, 2010
Whitehorse | Yukon Arts Centre | June 2,3 & 4, 2010
Calgary Herald Review: The Old Trout's Tooth Fairy
Four stars - At the Vertigo Theatre Centre
Review by Stephen Hunt | Saturday, Apr 10, 2010 - On the Scene
Having spent the '70's at one (Winnipeg) arena rock concert or another, it didn't particular catch my attention to arrive at the Vertigo Theatre Friday, only to discover a stage shrouded in mysterious fog.
After all, back in the day, every touring arena band with a budget used that one!
But it did catch my seven year old son Gus a bit off guard.
"Why is there smoke coming out of the lights?" he asked, a bit suspiciously, as if the whole opening night of Y Stage's remounting of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop's The Tooth Fairy might have to be delayed while we evacuated the joint.
Once he was reassured that the smoke was merely part of the show, he was game to hunker down and go along for the wild imaginative ride that is The Tooth Fairy, which might best be described as a kid's puppet show if Tim Burton was suddenly put in charge of children's theatre in Calgary.
In other words, a rich, inventive, hallucinatory, funny, sad, mildly spooky story of the journey of Abigail (Kyla Read), a young girl with perfect teeth who goes searching for The Tooth Fairy, (rather than vice- versa).
But what sort of child, you might ask, does a thing like that? Kids don't chase down the tooth fairy. Kids lose a tooth, stash it under their pillow, then wake up and discover that their tooth has been swapped for a shiny coin.
Well, that's part of the mystery that rests at the core of The Tooth Fairy. There is always a fair bit of that at a Trouts' show, where the journeys tend to be internal, highly stylized, and frequently quite funny.
What separates this Tooth Fairy from all the Trouts shows that came before is that its performed by a Trout-free cast of actors, most of whom are working with puppets for the first time in their professional stage careers.
I never saw The Tooth Fairy's first incarnation, back in 2001, so I can't compare that one to this one, but all I can say about the new crew of substitute Trouts is that while watching Tooth Fairy, I couldn't imagine anyone else telling us this oddly enchanting story.
Whether it was Kyla Read's perpetually curious, relentlessly toothy Abigail, or Len Harvey's old, wizened, toothless grandfather, Nick Di Gaetano playing a leafy branch, or Leda Davies and Teddy Ivanova providing a sprightly female presence, the new cast managed to slip into the tempo and odd, poetic Trout rhythm -- including quirky, choreographed set changes -- effortlessly.
The only hiccup came courtesy of that nasty virus that has been cutting a swath through the city lately: Read was hit a type of laryngitis that made it possible for her to sing, but necessitated Davies speaking Read's lines.
While this sounded odd in the abstract, in the context of an Old Trouts' performance, it didn't make the show one bit less engaging.
The puppets themselves were spectacularly, oddly compelling. I don't know whose idea it was to make them so small, but watching this show was a bit like wandering into the cabaret part of a shrunken head convention -- (in a good way).
While Cimmeron Meyers' haunting lighting (and fog) did a wonderful job of creating a weird dreamscape for Abigail to wander among in search of the Tooth Fairy, what managed to keep the show from straying into the fright zone were David Rhymer's jaunty songs, which brought the sense of wonder back into Abigail's quest for the Ticketmaster of Teeth.
Well-directed by (Trout original) Peter Balkwill, if this remounted Tooth Fairy proves anything, it's that puppets age well when they're Trout vintage.
The Tooth Fairy celebrates innocence and the inevitable journey toward knowledge
By Kathleen Oliver | April 29, 2010
Created by the company. Music by David Rhymer. An Old Trout Puppet Workshop production. At the Cultch on Wednesday, April 28. No remaining performances
There's magic in your mouth. The Tooth Fairy transforms a commonplace childhood experience into a delightful adventure.
Abigail is a young girl whose life is every bit as perfect as her "awe-striking" perfect teeth, so beautiful that they inspire people around her to do anything she wants. She lives with her overprotective grandfather, a toothless old man who won't let her go outside, lest she lose any part of her smile. Convinced that the Tooth Fairy is an evil force who is stealing children's teeth, a righteously indignant Abigail decides to teach him a lesson. By the time she sets sail in her grandfather's boat, she's got one wiggly tooth, thanks to the gift of an apple from a stranger in the woods. Her journey careens from one adventure to the next as she is abducted by pirates, nearly swallowed by a sea monster, and stranded on an iceberg.
The liveliness of the story is matched by the inventiveness of the staging, which rarely conceals the human beings behind the puppets. For most of the show, Kyla Read, who plays Abigail, wears a little dress with a tiny pair of arms around her neck, and we can see her own hands moving Abigail's arms. Clad in baggy, tie-dyed long johns and black skullcaps, puppeteers Léda Davies, Nicolas Di Gaetano, Len Harvey, and Teddy Valentine Ivanova sometimes function as a chorus to narrate the tale, and use all manner of devices to bring its other characters to life. The Tooth Fairy is an unforgettable creation worn atop the operator's head, with its little legs aloft and a flying device made of a paper lantern strapped to its back. The sea monster features separate puppets for its gigantic eye, mouth, and blowhole. The more conventional puppets—like the wizened Grandfather and the bulgy-eyed, ham-handed pirates—are crafted with loving attention to detail.
David Rhymer's music captures the show's changing moods, from rollicking to ominous, and subtly underscores the moments of stillness that punctuate Abigail's adventures. The exquisitely crafted wooden set celebrates old-fashioned technology, as scene changes become part of the performance; it's beautifully lit by Cimmeron Meyer.
The Tooth Fairy celebrates both innocence and its inevitable journey toward knowledge—and it shows how much fun that trip can be.
Bitten by Tooth Fairy
Puppet show gives adults something to chew on
Jo Ledingham | April 30, 2010
Kyla Read's pearly whites aren't the only things that shine in Old Trout Puppet Workshop's production of The Tooth Fairy.
At the risk of getting children's advocates on their high horses, The Tooth Fairy is almost too good for kids. It's a remount of a 2002 Old Trout Puppet Workshop production, and it's aimed at kids from seven to 107, but it's full of the Old Trout's distinguishing features: glorious language ("Go forth, beak and claws, my plumages," urges Grandfather to his rare birds); dark humour (just when things look like they can't get any worse, they do); and irony (as a boy, Grandfather sold all his teeth to the Tooth Fairy and then bought a boat so his family could catch fish, which, because he had no teeth, he couldn't eat). And there's always the overriding sense of doom: "Nothing lasts forever. Your teeth will fall out. It's inevitable," warns white-whiskered, toothless Grandfather.
The kids will love it, anyway. After the show I asked a beautiful, curly haired youngster who looked about three or four, if the show had been scary. "No," was the perky reply, "I knew it was pretend." What sort of an idiot was I?
But grownups will love this show more than the kids, and they shouldn't stay away because this is the last of the Cultch's Family Series.
The Tooth Fairy is based on the first book in the series "Preposterous Fables for Unusual Children," written and illustrated by Judd Palmer, one of the founding puppeteers with the Old Trouts, which originated in 1999 in Calgary. This production is directed by Pete Balkwill, another in the trio of founders (and unforgettable as Don Juan in 2009's The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan). The Tooth Fairy was originally performed by longtime Old Trouts, but this production features five new performers. They're terrific, and it's hard to imagine a finer Abigail than Kyla Read (a graduate of Studio 58).
This Abigail, so the story goes, had "awe-striking, spectacular teeth," and her life was as perfect as her teeth. Her only sorrow was that her old geezer of a grandfather wouldn't let her out to play. "The world is toothy," he warned. But Abigail got into her grandfather's old boat (a tiny thing that Read wears around her shoulders and paddles with her puppet hands), took his helmet and harpoon and "snuck off into the night" to have tooth-threatening misadventures, including one with Captain Bleak who can't wait to pull her "chompers" and use her for whale bait.
Nobody does it better than the Old Trouts. Abigail first appears behind a counter. We see Read's head (and undeniably beautiful smile), below which is a tiny white collar and tiny blue dress. Her little hands are operated by Read with sticks. It's amazing how quickly we accept the technique and actually enjoy slipping back and forth between the story and the presentation. Read uses those little hands so well: crossing them so demurely, tucking them under her head when she sleeps, pushing away a would-be tooth thief, placing them tidily on the coverlet when she's in her little bed.
The masks on the other performers are surreal concoctions of wood, paint, feathers and stuff--including the outlandish get-up on the Tooth Fairy, whom Abigail finally encounters and with whom strikes a Faustian bargain.
Music by David Rhymer is delightful and sung solo or by the superb puppeteer ensemble that includes L?da Davies, Nicolas di Gaetano, Len Harvey and Teddy Valentine Ivanova.
Lovely, funny, astonishingly creative from costumes to set design (parts of which are manually cranked up and down by the performers), The Tooth Fairy is a cautionary tale about toothy hubris. Claiming to have "the greatest teeth in the whole world" will put the Tooth Fairy on high alert. And that could be bad news for your pearly whites.
SEE Magazine: Issue #463
Believe it — Tooth Fairy leaves treasure
ON STAGE REVIEW by ERIKA THORKELSON | October 10, 2002
THE TOOTH FAIRY Old Trout Puppet Workshop Presented by Fringe Theatre Adventures Kaasa Theatre (Jubilee Auditorium)
***** (out of five)
The toughest part about reviewing kids' plays is always getting someone to come along. The mere mention of a trip into fairyland with a bunch of makes most people cringe and make excuses. I usually end up taking a seat at the back, trying to look as uncreepy as possible as the only single person in a room full of moms and tots.
In this case, I can honestly say that all those who declined invitations missed out on an amazing theatre experience. Fringe Theatre for Young People's first production of the season is probably one of the best, most surreal works of imagination I've seen in ages. Many think children's theatre moralistic goofiness punctuated by uninspired musical numbers and cloying dialogue. Not here. Written and performed by Calgary's Old Trout Puppet Workshop, this play is more reminiscent of the twisted works of Terry Gilliam and Tim Burton than anything Disney could cook up in a million boardrooms. It's a fairy tale, sure, but one in the bizarre tradition of the Brothers Grimm and the opium dreams of Lewis Carroll. Rather than pandering, it takes advantage of the young audience's unhindered willingness to suspend their disbelief. Not appropriate for children, you're thinking? Well what is these days, if not a play that brings to life the fantastic journeys most kids make in their heads anyway?
Young Abigail's love of her own baby teeth sends her on a journey across the ocean to save the world from the evil work of the Tooth Fairy. Her adventures bring her into the company of pirates, a toothless castaway and even death itself, portrayed as a tree with apples in its branches ripe for allegorical plucking.
One piece fills the stage – a wooden structure that initially looks like nothing more than an artifact from an old-fashioned playground. But with the help of some incredibly clever moving parts and the eager imagination of the audience, it changes seamlessly from forest to pirate ship to sea monster. The characters are brought to life with similar ingenuity. Some are complex puppets with stunning, eerie detail; others little more than dolls twitched back and forth to comic or musical cues, but all manage to take on personalities that overshadow the gray-clad figures that pull their strings.
None of the poetic dialogue or philosophical pondering seems to fly over the heads of the children in the audience. Those who were too young to follow the mythical allusions simply enjoyed the whimsical visuals and infectious music. Children laughed along with parents and, at the right moments, even managed complete silence – a feat which, if nothing else, illustrates how completely involved they were in the movement of the plot.
If you miss the play, the story will be available in November as a book written and illustrated by Old Trout Judd Palmer. You may have to make room beside Where the Wild Things Are on your shelf of old favorites.
Tooth Fairy Promotional Package | 881 KB PDF
Tooth Fairy Program Credits | 66 KB Word Doc
Tooth Fairy Technical Rider | 123 PDF
Tooth Fairy Figure | 50.5 MB ZIP Archive
Tooth Fairy promo Image (355x500 px) | 303 KB ZIP Archive
Tooth Fairy Poster Template (.PSD) | 92.5 MB ZIP Archive
Tooth Fairy Wordmarks | 7.9 MB ZIP Archive
"One of the best, most surreal works of imagination I've seen in ages." - See Magazine, Edmonton
"A delightful adventure… exquisitely crafted."
The Georgia Straight
"...utterly captivating." - Ottawa Citizen
The Ghost of Don Juan is summoned from Hell to repent for his sins, and to tell us the tale of his nefarious life so that we may avoid his fate. But does he truly repent? Is he a monster or a saint? He will attempt to save us from our amorous errors, and deliver a sermon of universal love. In the end, we are liberated from our fears, and what we thought would be a simple evening at the theatre becomes a transcendental orgy that will change us forever. Most nights, anyway. Depends on the audience.
Created by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop with Vanessa Porteous, Mercedes Bátiz-Benét & George Fenwick.
Premiere: Alberta Theatre Projects March 24 April 11, 2009.
The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan returns!
Presented by Alberta Theatre Projects - March 29th to April 16th, 2011
Press and Presenter Support
Puckish Don Juan offers seductive memoir
By Liz Nicholls | April 4, 2010 THEATRE REVIEW
The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan
Directed by: Vanessa Porteous
Starring: Duval Lang, Pityu Kenderes, Don Brinsmead, Anne Lalancette
Where: Theatre Network at the Roxy, 10708 124th St.
- - -
"Your eyes do not deceive you," declares the fantastical, powdery, ruff-ed figure before us in the smoke. "Ladies, breathe calmly, and stay in your seats for the moment."
Yes, yes, it is the world's most prodigious lover, sporting a baroque chastity belt on a member so olympian it counts as his own personal flying buttress. Don Juan has wheedled his way out of the fiery torments of hell for one big show, starring his own amorous self and designed, by contract with the infernal management, to demonstrate the error of his famously libertine ways.
Not only that, the celebrated seducer has talked his demonic captors, including the devil himself, into playing subordinate roles in his story. "I think you've got a really powerful stage presence, and all without the benefit of any formal theatrical training!"
The unique Old Trout Puppet Workshop has spent its 11-year lifetime letting puppets, or bits of them, loose in the playground of dark, macabre imagery and surreal invention. The fun for the audience, in this beautifully crafted theatre of playful images, is watching them hang metaphysical ideas on the monkeybars, so to speak.
The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan, the latest from the Trouts, revisits a familiar tale, with an iconic star. Is Don Juan a man who loved too much? Or too little? Is he the most generous of men? Or the most selfish? The Don juggles such thoughts, as he darts nimbly between his appointed task of eliciting our moral disapproval for his life and his unrepentant joy in universal romantic imperialism. These are old questions. But they take on the Trout's puckish visual humour here. When Don Juan talks about his upbringing, "under the watchful Eye of Virtue," there it is, a giant, surreal eyeball in its own self-contained theatre, surveying moral lapses.
The Trouts love to play with scale. But Don Juan is their first show, however, where the star is played, not by a puppet but by a real, live actor. Duval Lang attacks with gusto and winking roue charm; a man with a history of seduction is a natural for showbiz.
The Don's stage companions redefine the notion of "some assembly required." Visually, this is fun for us, and for once the dread word "deconstructed" does not go amiss. The three "puppeteers" dance burnished limbs, and boobs, and buttocks through soulful tangos, sexy flamenco numbers, and nights of mad passion, where they form, and re-form, the women of Don Juan's long and richly appointed memory.
There are dogs, a golden bull, beautifully carved and lacquered faces. And they float through the Seville of legend, to a gorgeous Latin-infused George Fenwick score. All singing voices are an eye-watering operatic soprano -- even the singing cherubs atop the cathedral towers, even Jesus in a memorable cameo.
It's raucous and broody, in a humorous way, this Don Juan memory cabaret, bathed jointly in the golden light of baroque painting and ordinary modern sensibility. And it unfolds on a set that consists of polished wooden towers of classical persuasion. A dome here, a hint of the confessional there. Actually, the Don isn't a man for closets. We're all invited to the orgy.
VUE WEEKLY - EDMONTON
The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan: Bodily Delights
The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan surprises in the best of ways
Paul Blinov | April 8, 2010
It's a rare occasion that both "titillating" and "puppetry" appear together in the same sentence, but The Erotic Anguish of Don Juan makes it seem so right, like it could—and should—happen more often. Not in a weird way. The Old Trout Puppetry Company's latest production is a fantastic exploration of lust and love, and how easy it is to mix the two, in the kind of onstage world where there are unexpected twists, not in content but in form: puppetry with the Trouts is hardly ever marionettes on strings, and even if Don Juan marks a far more human-driven work than its predecessor, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, it's still packed to the gills with onstage magic and hand-crafted creations.
This tale of flagrante delicto begins long after Don Juan's has ended—he's roasting in hell for his boastful love of a thousand women. But the demons' constant prodding has shown him the errors of his ways and they've agreed to let him show us the morality play he's written, he says, to help us avoid the same fate of such a sinful life. He's not as repentant as he's led on, of course, his white powdery face grinning above the giant metal codpiece that hides his "pen-nis," another plan glinting in his eye.
In the role, Duval Lang finds a good balance between sleazy old man and misguided fool capable of convincing himself of anything to satiate his urges; he plays himself from cradle to grave, chats up the beautiful women he can see in the audience, and generally shoulders the script with unquenchable thirst for love. His accompanying demons, too, are all of quality, with only one actual Old Trout present onstage (the compelling, highly entertaining Pityu Kenderes).
Still, the puppets and puppetry itself are the real magic. Here, they can be as little as a womanly shawl and wooden face and a hand, a giant eye replacing an actor's head (it blinks, of course), or singing set-piece cherubs, all manipulated in beautiful, believable ways. There's a demon-headed lust-cycle sort of thing that circles the stage as a then-chaste Don tries to battle it away. Jesus pops up at some point, too. And when the three puppeteers come together to make a single being—one controlling head, one the arms, and one legs and, uh, breasts—its movements are strangely wondrous to watch, eyes half on the form they make and half on the puppeteers themselves.
The set, three giant cabinets of unnatural curiosities, is teeming with hidden wonders. The puppeteers aren't hidden, but worked into the show as the demons sent to help him show us this tale.
Nothing about this is regular theatre; there's a layer of meta, as Don eyes up the audience and demands we begin a "holy orgy"; a heavy dose of fully realized imagination—the first time Juan has sex out of wedlock, we see him floating up to heaven, replete with clouds and a sun. Later, when he makes his real journey to the great beyond, the whole set transforms—and an extended scene that happens without words, set only to George Fenwick's impeccably crafted score and the laughter of Don Juan and the spirit of his deadbeat father hitting the town, chasing down lovely ladies and causing a ruckus. It's a show that will surprise you—constantly and in the best of ways, and in theatre, what more could you ever ask for?
Don Juan Promo Package | 549 KB PDF
Don Juan Promo Program Credits | 49 KB Word Doc
Don Juan Technical Rider | 160 KB PDF
Don Juan Title + Credits + Trout Logo | 487 KB ZIP Archive
Don Juan Clean 5x7" Poster Image | 16.8 MB ZIP Archive
Don Juan Clean 8x10" Poster Image | 24.4 MB ZIP Archive
Don Juan Clean 11x17" Poster Image | 47.4 MB ZIP Archive
Don Juan Clean 11x22" Poster with Title | 60.3 MB ZIP Archive
Don Juan Clean Poster bottom area | 2.4 MB ZIP Archive
"sublimely inventive theatre… eye-popping images...a wondrously imagined meditation on love sacred and love profane..." - The Vancouver Courier
"...melancholy, beautiful… a dreamscape that's been brilliantly realized." - The Calgary Herald
"cause for celebration… the amount of creativity is… staggering." - The Calgary Sun