Puppet Power 2020: Final Report

WP Puppet Theatre presents

Puppet Power 2020: Puppets Go Existential** and ONLINE!


** Existentialism: A philosophical inquiry concerned with the experience of being a thinking, feeling, acting, living human. Examining existence. Questioning the meaning of life.


This year’s Puppet Power 2020: Puppets Go Existential conference theme was chosen against a backdrop of Fridays for Future, a rise of machine learning and algorithms, Mars exploration program, genetic engineering on mosquitos, Murdered and Missing Indigenous Women and Girls, nanotechnology, burning Amazon jungles…

The year 2020, suggested a special time for clarity to examine some of the existential considerations of our time: Climate Action, Artificial Intelligence, Culture & Identity and Hope & Human Agency.

Three months ago, a new existential event brought even greater urgency to examine our vulnerabilities and spurred our decision to offer our biennial conference 100% online.

We had a few advantages embarking on this online venture: Our 2.57 full time equivalent staff typically work remotely, our bookings (March – August) were cancelled so we had more time, we’d already planned to test a webinar with Calgary based RocketHouse Productions supporting our tech, funding was in place from Canadian Heritage and Alberta Community Initiative Plan, and finally both Erin, who looks after our conference logistics, and Wendy, Artistic/Executive Director, are tech curious and committed.

The biggest challenges were shifting gears within a tight timeframe, reworking processes, adjusting our ticketing platform to work with an online production, scheduling and coordinating people, keeping clear communication about changes, areas of responsibility, rethinking marketing, and keeping up with updates, changes and workarounds with online platforms.

We are grateful to our presenters for adapting so quickly. Around the world they have struggled with power cuts and lockdowns (India), chaotic quarantines (Malaysia), street noise forcing videos to be made a midnight (Chile), uncertainty, hardship and worry.

Our closing session will bring our existential themes together, ably demonstrating the special power of puppetry to impact positive social change.  Director Reneltta Arluk and designer Daniela Masellis will discuss the impetus, process and influence of The Breathing Hole. This significant piece of theatre centres on the 500-year saga of a polar bear (puppet) named Angu’juaq and prompted its Canadian playwright Colleen Murphy to observe,

“Puppets have a power, an existential hold over us. They are so powerful, as a conduit to human emotion and to our hearts. (They speak) messages that get into us so deep, that they don’t get out.”

Marketing and Communications Highlights

Suddenly we had an international market which, among other things, required details like posting our prices in Canadian dollars, and sharing a Time Zone conversion app. with ticket buyers.

Part of our usual pre-conference marketing is to request the Mayor proclaim
World Puppetry Day on March 21.

Wendy was interviewed on Global Morning show on March 20, however it turned into a ‘How to do puppets in Lockdown” as the conference details were still in flux.

We established a Facebook Puppet Power 2020 Group – and there are currently 54 members. Our aim is to keep it as a vibrant platform for conversation and ideas.

Jenna organized a Facebook Boost reward campaign – which had encouraging results for repeating.

Wendy a great interview with Caro BD on The Puppet Podcast, a lively and far reaching initiative – there were 96 click-throughs to our website!

Wendy had a lovely interview with CKUA and discovered Elvis Presley’s “Puppet on A String”

Every time you look at me
I’m as helpless as can be
I become a puppet on a string

As part of our launch we also commissioned a short video about Puppet Power from Day One Media who also became a sponsor. Gil Ngai, Chief Storyteller, wrote: “Now here’s something you don’t see every day and a culture that frankly, I knew nothing about. There’s a whole sub-culture of people who love puppets. Puppets give voice to the voiceless and help people to express deep, heartfelt feelings. Puppets actually help people to express themselves in ways they cannot themselves. They help people open up and find healing and connection”.

Feedback and Evaluation

I just want to pass along my admiration for all that you and your team have done in getting this conference off the ground through virtual connections.
Amazing, amazing, amazing work–and hats off to you all!
Cheering from St. John’s Newfoundland and eager to watch, see and learn!           (Jan Buley)

hank you for your unique attention, focus and energy in all things relating to puppetry…it is a boon to the city that we live in. (Pete Balkwill CAMP & Old Trout Puppet Workshop)

Forty – six participants completed our 100% online survey and provided excellent feedback and ideas for going forward. The above word cloud is from their “three words to describe the conference”.

Overall the conference rated at 4.4 out of 5. Everyone missed the live interactions but many said for reasons of geography or social reasons online was their preferred delivery. Another common wish was for longer Q&A or discussion time. In fact, Kenneth Gross organized an additional hour for participants to meet in his “Conversations about the Uncanny”.

People were impressed with our rapid pivot to online and the virtually smooth delivery. Rockethouse did a fantastic job of managing. Someone wrote: WOW HERO STEVE!  Interestingly some people like the chat window function and other found it distracting. Regarding future conferences, 15% would attend online, 20% in person and 64 % were open to either, although many said a blend of online and live was preferred. We would imagine that expectations in future events would be higher, as everyone moves on from the siege mentality. Some people had never used Zoom or Vimeo but were impressed.

We are very pleased that Puppet Power seems to have developed its own ‘tribe’ of followers. One person said the biennial event is the ‘highpoint’ of their years. People feel ownership, as evident in this intriguing suggestion for a ‘speed meet’ to address the missing the valuable peer to peer conversations at breaks and coffee time.

All the sessions resonated with participants in different ways and degrees, but they all expressed their deep gratitude to all of the presenters. Here is a sampling of their comments:

I was struck by how responsible and truly caring our arts community is. Understanding trauma-informed practice and implementing it at such a level shows so much respect for our audiences and communities.

The fact that a puppet can enable people to break their silence about trauma and violence is astonishing in some ways. The company and its work are an exemplary example of how trauma and memory can be approached sensitively with puppetry. Thank you so much for this experience.

The emphasis of how puppetry involves transgressing roles and a form of ‘madness’ is still very compelling and pertinent. I was inspired.

The stories that people told were all so memorable, each so different and yet each so evocative of a crucial facet of puppet theater. It was good to hear the voices.

Techy subject deliverer with lot of care and love for the narrative. Have you thought of using a random chat service like omegle to practice & share your puppet/character improvisation?

The conversation cascaded around a web of issues and points including; that the theatre is a place of pleasure in the unfamiliar, relationships between people and objects are very serious (including marrying robots) and that we can generally have a very rich conversation between AI and puppetry.

What a terrific presenter. Great pace, great presence, open and warm but also very assured. Terrific info. BLOWN AWAY by the thought of puppeteers being “citizen shaman

A very gentle and nurturing opportunity for people to share their thoughts – prompted by the (optional) creation of an art project. It’s moving how powerful even a simple object can be.

How working with the child soldiers brought out their forgotten and abandoned childhoods – absolutely phenomenal. This practice is a powerful testament to the power of puppetry to enable healing through humour and the therapeutic benefits of object play and theatre.

Aretta presented a very engaging and accessible set of puppet videos that are a great gift to anyone interested in puppetry. Awesome!

Your process inspires me, and I love how you use puppety and storytelling to combat homelessness. Great message! For this company the puppet embodies an idea and puppets are able to express without words this awareness raising about the absurdity of human conflicts and violence over objects and space.

Hearing the experience of the sound designer and why she chose certain sounds (for the bear puppet) and how actors created those sounds was profound.  I hope to see this production one day, how heartbreaking and beautiful.

It was magical, emotional and powerful all at the same time.  The blend of nonverbal storytelling with such an enchanting & whimsical little character, the gorgeous music, and the written messages, all held within the creative (and beautiful) “heart”, created one of the most moving experiences I’ve had the privilege of engaging in.

Presenters said:
Being amongst our people could not have come at a better time. You were an amazing host and you and your team pulled off a beautiful experience.

From the beginning, the word Hope presented by Wendy in this call mobilized many emotions in us to be able to be there and be a bridge to the testimonies of those who have been voiceless as a result of political violence.

Thanks to you all for your help in getting me there virtually, and for this tremendous opportunity!  I so enjoyed presenting and have been absolutely inspired by all the other presentations today – So many mind-blowing, paradigm shifting moments in the presentations I’ve seen.

Volunteers said:
Thanks Erin, wow what a great experience. Bravo to you and Wendy, as well as everyone else who brought this online conference to life. I thoroughly enjoyed all the sessions and am so inspired by all the creative work that people are doing!

 Our partners and sponsors at Rockethouse:
I think this conference was a win on all fronts. And even if it had been able to go ahead in person, it wouldn’t have had some of the heart and global reach that a digital landscape allowed it. Thank you for bringing us in on this experiment and adventure.

 Other programming

A new initiative for Puppet Power 2020 was to invite some of the 65 proposal applicants who were not accepted to present this year, to allow their video support material to be screened. Access to view twelve short videos were used as pass buyer rewards. And an additional five longer videos were used as bonus material for the post conference packs.

Maribel García Cerrón /Arturo Zárate Polanco

Wagner Gallo/Sara Pedes (Spain)

Meyda Bestari – Flying Balloons Theatre (Indonesia)

Lucy Enskat (England)

Raven Kaliana (England)

Droomtheater (The Netherlands)

Bonnie Duncan (USA)

Orsolya Gal (Romania)

Phylemon Odhiambo Okoth (Kenya)

Manish Sachdeva (India)

Cliodhna Noonan (Iereland)

Dr Dahlen Abdul Ghani (Malaysia)


Tickets came from:
81 Calgary
211 Canada
88 USA
32 England
4 Australia
88 rest of world including Spain, Brazil, Tehran, Holland, India, Argentina, Finland
We had
121 unique paying customers,
848 total orders,
9 bursary award winners
22 artists (12 from Calgary) and 10 rest of Canada and overseas
42 separate presentations with 15 ‘main stage’ presentations
27 one on one performances

Special Thanks to:

PP20 Volunteer committee:
Carolyn, Michelle, Sky, Jenna, Kieron
Other associated volunteers: Bill and Rose

WPTS Board of Directors: Chris, Dave, Erin, Bethany, Jenna and Salima

Rockethouse Productions, a local Calgary Company for sponsorship and supporting our backend technology needs. They used OBS and Vimeo for the livestream. We used Zoom for a couple of the smaller livestream events, and live one-on-one performances.

Thank you to Donors – Eventive ticket buyers who added a little extra onto their purchase!

Going forward

Our next Puppet Power conference will be scheduled for late spring 2022. Planning will begin in 2021 with a volunteer committee and staff.
An international call for proposals will be sent out in June 2021.
The theme is yet to be decided, but learning from our 2020 experience, the structure will be a blend of live and online delivery.

We’ll also explore hosting more live/video performances.


Using the power of puppetry to impact social change.