Theatre Preview: Getting revenge on creepy puppets

By Ryan Pike

Death touches us all, whether we like it or not. At some point every living thing on this planet will die, but those inanimate objects have a free ride, until now. With their latest production, Famous Puppet Death Scenes, The Old Trout Puppet Workshop and One Yellow Rabbit aim to prove inanimate objects are no longer free from death’s clammy grasp. The black comedy features, as the title suggests, puppets dying in scenes taken from a menagerie of fictitious plays.

“Your narrator, who is a puppet himself, has gone out into the world and culled all of these mysterious strange shows from the far regions of the globe and assembled them onto the stage for the audience to witness,” Peter Balkwill of the Old Trouts explains.

The production’s genesis emerged when the Old Trouts were struck by a bit of inspiration while working on a show for Alberta Theatre Projects.

“One of the first intrigues we had into the nature of a puppet death was when we were doing Pinocchio last year for ATP,” Balkwill recalls. “In the original Pinocchio, as soon as he sees the cricket he kills it. The first thing he does is he squishes it with a hammer.”

Like many classic children’s stories, Pinocchio has undergone several changes since being written. Many modernizations of Pinocchio cut out the killing in the story, but The Old Trouts kept it in.

“That moment was a favourite moment for a lot of the audience members,” Balkwill recalls. “It got us thinking ‘Wow, what if we just did a show that was composed of nothing but puppets dying, if it’s such an interesting thing for the audience to watch?’”

Needless to say, the puppet masters have conjured up just such a production. In fact, they’ve assembled a very abstract series of demises. It’s not the same death repeated ad nauseam, or simply puppets dying of old age. In Famous Puppet Death Scenes, death gets creative.

“There are some very sudden deaths, for sure,” Balkwill explains. “There are reoccurring bludgeonings from the fist of fate. There is a puppet who is killed due to an enormously strong wind. There’s a puppet killed by his desire to excel in the modern age. There is a birth that in a sense is toted as a death in an abstract way as well.”

Though awesome for jaded, university students, some may ask whether or not a collection of puppet deaths is fun for the whole family. Balkwill believes families shouldn’t have to lock grandma and the kids in the car with the window cracked open for fear that witnessing puppet deaths might damage their fragile psyches.

“Interestingly enough, we’ve had kids in the audience and they seem to enjoy it and get most of it,” Balkwill says. “We’ve had the elderly as well. They have an interesting relationship to the show.”

In a society where we all witness murders and warfare from the comfort of our own homes via our television screens, it’s important to examine what death actually entails. The Old Trouts aim to open the audience members’ dialogues with death through their macabre puppet show.

“This show is interesting, on a level, that it asks you to think about [death] in ways that aren’t necessarily what we get in film or what we get in the news,” Balkwill illustrates. “In being forced to think of it in a different way, you sort of change or re-examine your relationship with it.”

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