Ian and Geneviève are co-founders and co-artistic directors of Mudfoot Theatre in Calgary. At Puppet Power 2016 :: Connecting Generations Conference, they will be leading a workshop about using found objects to create puppets, performance, and sound.
We asked Ian and Geneviève five questions:
Why puppets? What inspired you to get into puppetry?
IAN – I have a lot of different skills and not all of them fit together nicely. I am a performer, always have been since I was little, as well as a carpenter, a scenic designer, a painter and an outdoors enthusiast. Puppetry is one of those rare disciplines that interweaves all of my passions into something tangible and incredibly theatrical.
My first experience with puppetry was with Evergreen Theatre when I performed in one of their touring shows. One of my characters was portrayed through a hand puppet. As we toured the show, I realized that our Elementary school audiences were more enthralled with the rag doll that I wiggled then they were with me. From there I began to explore puppetry on my own and have found it to be incredibly liberating.
GEN – What I love about live theatre is that anything can happen in the presence of others: the dead can come to life, volcanoes can erupt, and rivers can speak. All that is required is a bit of imagination and the suspension of disbelief. What I have witnessed with puppets is how the audiences’ ability to buy in is somehow much stronger. Pete Balkwill once suggested to me that because the puppet has no ego, the audience must lend the puppet their own ego, creating an even stronger investment from the audience. This notion is extremely exciting to me as a lover of live work.
What is your favourite puppet related childhood memory?
IAN – When I was a child, my father had a massive collection of miniature figurines that he used for various historical games he played. When I was bored, I would venture into the basement on my own and spend hours animating these tiny figures. I would set up vast landscapes out of blocks and stage epic battles between imaginary empires.
GEN – Like many kids of my generation, most of my exposure to arts and culture was via the television. I arrived on the scene a little late to appreciate the androgynous Casey and Finnigan, but I absolutely adored Mr. Dressup and his new cast mates including Alex, Annie, Granny and Chester the Crow. There was something so mellow and positive about the creative team. I miss them.
IAN – I think a puppet inherently connects to all ages in that it speaks a universal language. We all immediately know how to empathize with a puppet. This last summer I had a chance to work with Bread and Puppet Theater in Glover, Vermont. They are the perfect example of how puppetry can create community. Every Sunday they would host their large-scale outdoor circus that would draw hundreds of people of all ages. Not only that, but they included any volunteers who wanted to be in the show, from age 3 to age 80. Working with Bread and Puppet has inspired me to create work that celebrates the act of gathering.
GEN – I see puppetry as a very social and collaborative form. I am most enamored with the level of sharing that happens between puppet makers. In particular, creating puppets in the company of others becomes a beautiful exchange of ideas, encouragement and collective problem solving. It may take a bit of facilitation, but quickly people of all skill levels or experience begin to find their own approach and start sharing ideas with each other. It’s wonderful to see people of different walks of life collaborating effortlessly in this kind of environment.
Can you tell me about a time when you could see a lasting response or impact of your work?
IAN – Yes. I just finished an artist in residency program where I taught theatre in a school over the course of a week. I always love to bring in puppets and masks as theatrical tools for the students to explore. One class in particular found endless inspiration and expression from these tools. When I talked to them afterwards they said that they wanted to continue to pursue theatre and specifically mask and puppetry. I look forward to seeing what comes out of that enthusiasm.
GEN – We work a lot with found materials. We try to honour the original construction of the artifacts, so people can identify what the objects were, and what they have become. This is something that we continuously receive feedback on. It seems our audiences are really inspired by the potential of discarded objects. Individuals who want us to use their discarded items in our shows are often contacting us. Although we can’t always use the items, it’s satisfying to know that we are encouraging people to think about the continued potential of objects.
Is there someone who is in a different generation who inspires you?
IAN – There are too many to name. My mother and father would be my go-to examples. They have used creativity to enrich their lives and their children’s lives for as long as I can remember. Now that they each find themselves in retirement and are forced to redefine themselves, they have found joy in their creative hobbies. My mother now organizes an Art Festival in Nova Scotia and paints every spare minute she can and my father is hired to design board games and continues to paint his ever expanding collection of miniatures.
GEN – I will echo Ian’s sentiments and say that my mother is the most inspiring human I know. She has an incredible capacity to bring people together and create a space where people feel safe to be purely themselves. She sees the world through a lens that cannot be understood through logic. Only once you let the body and the heart take over with all of its beauty and darkness can you get close to what she knows. She believes in community, art and adventure.