Why puppets? What inspired you to get into puppetry?
When I was a kid, every time the Sound of Music was on I would sit through it until I saw “The Lonely Goatherd” scene by Bill Baird. I was fascinated by the dancing, singing goats and that you could see the strings!
All my life I have been interested in movement. As a kid I would string up my stuffed animals like a marionette and make them move. I couldn’t stand to see them just sitting on a shelf, staring out, so lifeless.
With puppet theatre, I love being able to be creative in all aspects of performance. You have control over the script, the actor, and the sets.
The magic is created when the audience can see and believe the magic but in their logical mind they know how it all works because they can see how things are being operated, they can see that the figures are not the real thing. They are engaged and going along with it. To see this in their faces from the stage is truly satisfying.
What is your favourite puppet related childhood memory?
I was a military brat who moved a lot. To make friends fast, my sister and I would make a stage in the back yard and host private puppet shows for the neighborhood kids. We would charge 5 cents per kid and use it to buy more art supplies. One could never have enough stuff to make things with.
When I moved to the Arctic I met a marionette maker that got me involved at a larger scale. During that time I just made marionettes and different types of puppets but never used them for real performance. It was in the tiny Inuit community of Kugaaruk, Nunavut, where I really made the commitment to puppetry on a personal level.
How do you connect generations and/or communities with puppetry?
I work with Inuit and First Nations so traditional language and interests have shifted rapidly since the 60’s. While the Elders want to preserve the culture and the stories that have entertained and guided Inuit for centuries, the youth want to move on to digital games and reality TV.
To put the role of the Elder in context in Inuit culture, we must realize Elders are respected. They are served first at community feasts, they speak first at community meetings and they more often than not live with their families. There are so few Elders over 70 in northern communities, that there is a race on to document their histories of the world they lived in. The problem with this becomes language. The language of the Elders is different from where the Inuktitut language has evolved today.
Puppetry becomes a medium that generations can connect. In the communities that I have worked in, we have connected artists, youth and Elders to create a common work. I have always focused on the classics so to speak. The Classics are the legends and they are so engaging on so many levels. They teach and entertain at the same time. Some legends explain the world around you, some scare the heck out of you and other are just there to entertain. Through visuals we can interpret language in a 3D format.
Can you tell me about a time when you could see a lasting response or impact of your work?
The work that I did with the community of Kugaaruk was 12 years ago. The satisfying thing is that the youth that we worked with then, are now teachers and parents in the community today. I keep in close touch with them and they continue to use puppetry to illustrate these legends and tell the stories in the classroom and at home.
Is there someone who is in a different generation that inspires you?
I believe I came to be who I am by living in the Arctic and working with the Elders. I would have to say that Jose Angutingunirk, an Elder, is my mentor and inspiration. He taught me patience and empathy. He taught me how to work in a cross cultural environment. He told me never to be afraid of failure. He worked tirelessly, passing his knowledge of the animals and the land to the younger generation about the past. Jose was born out on the land and doesn’t have a birth certificate so no one really knows how old he is. To me he will be ageless.
Marla will be presented the talk, “Puppets of Kugaaruk – bringing community together”, as well as a hands-on workshop, “Sculpting mini kinetic characters” at our Puppet Power Conference in 2016.
> check out Marla’s bio on our Presenters page!