By Dominique Carrier
Jan 16 2008
For one group of artists, the end of December was the beginning of a two-week exploration into the creative art of puppet theatre.
The Banff Centre’s Puppet Theatre Intensive is a new program presented by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, a puppet theatre company founded on the collaborative nature of creation.
“It goes way past just puppetry; one of the agendas of the workshop is to explore how an ensemble comes together, how a group of people work collaboratively,” said Peter Balkwill, workshop director.
Balkwill is one of the founding members of The Old Trout Puppet Workshop, created in 1999 on a ranch in southern Alberta, and has spent the last seven years touring all over Canada.
“We are a group of artists with different backgrounds. I was studying theatre the whole time, I did a masters degree in acting, another guy did a masters in sculpting, someone else has a degree in philosophy, there are carpenters, and we just sort of came together,” said Balkwill.
Balkwill has conducted many puppet workshops, and he credits his experience working at the Rocky Mountain YMCA in developing many of the exercises and philosophies he uses in puppetry. He also believes the workshop’s venue to be instrumental in working together.
“This is the first time I’ve had the real benefit of having the participants isolated, I really like what the Banff Centre offers,” said Balkwill.
Throughout the two weeks, the group explored physical approaches to the art of puppetry, puppet construction, alternate designs, and trying to define the puppet.
“We initiate that with a discussion about what are the rules that constitute a puppet and they all start discussing; it just becomes heated and at the end of that, they sort of realize the more rules you place on what a puppet is, the less you have to work with and so they carry that into the other exercises,” said Balkwill.
One of the major exercises was to work on a group project where the artists were given 10 words where they had to diffuse it down to two words and then create a piece.
“We’re presenting some of this work, which is exploration of impulse and break articulation, just how to articulate a puppet with no words,” said Balkwill.
The participants came from a variety of backgrounds, and consist of designers, visual artists, formal puppeteers, and some actors.
“More often than not, the idea of the puppet draws a like-minded individual, someone that wants to invest in something other than themselves when they’re standing on stage,” said Balkwill.
One of the greatest challenges for the participants, Balkwill believes, was to remain patient and let the creative process take its course.
“A lot of stuff we do may not make sense, and it may not until a month after you’ve left, so all I ask them is to stay entirely open-minded and don’t judge whether something’s working or not, working because if you remain open, something will work,” said Balkwill.
While the Banff Puppet Theatre Intensive focused on adult puppetry, Balkwill says there is little difference in great puppetry.
“Little kids will often be frightened, and adults, but by and large, the most effective theatre accesses the child-like quality of the adult and it elevates the adult sophistication of the child to a place where they’re hovering in the same bracket,” said Balkwill.
Balkwill hopes the puppeteers leave Banff with a greater appreciation for the sophistication of the puppet art.
“It’s not just socks and fuzzy ping pong eyeballs, and it’s not just for kids, said Balkwill.
“What I generally hope, that they have found some area within themselves that they’ve grown that isn’t related to puppets, they discovered the higher level of the sophistication that puppet theatre can actually be, and I would hope that they will have new ideas on how to approach it.”