Arts

The Muppets meets Marina Abramovic: This artist is taking puppetry to a new extreme

Montreal's Jesse Stong is about to spend five consecutive days exploring his process in "an extreme puppetry experimental performance" for the public to see.

Montreal's Jesse Stong is about to spend five consecutive days exploring his process

One of the puppets Jesse Strong will be performing with. (Jesse Strong)

Jesse Stong is about to take puppeteering to the next level. For the next few days at the Mainline Theatre in Montreal, he'll be engaging the public in what he calls "an extreme puppetry experimental performance" that will go on until Sunday, October 23rd. Think "The Muppets meets Marina Abramovic," he says.

The piece is called LOVEpuppets, and it unites Stong with a cast of 30 puppets that he'll spend five consecutive days with conducting a "performative examination of the puppeteer's cultivation process." It's free for the public to witness from 9am to 11pm each day (Strong will indeed sleep, though it will be inside the space).

"[It's] a live, embodied exploration of the uncanny phenomenon at the heart of puppetry — that is, its ontological ambiguity," Stong tells CBC Arts. "How can this fundamental component be utilized by puppeteers in performance to manipulate and animate space?"

One of the 30 puppets Jesse Strong will be performing with. (Jesse Strong)

Strong, a graduate of National Theatre School, is doing the project as part of his master's degree in art education at Concordia University. He wants the piece to explore what happens when, as a performer, he invites people to watch him for such an extended period.

"How will my practice change over this time? What will emerge once I move past my predetermined ideas? When boredom and exhaustion kicks in, where will my mind and performance go? I want to invite audiences to see puppetry from behind the scenes, see an unpolished version and appreciate process over final product."

Leading up to the event, Stong has been trying to not even consider what he is going to perform in order to surprise himself in the process. Instead, he's been putting all his energy into planning things like meals, medical supplies and support for his wrist and hands.

I am in the space for five days, so I have had to prepare as thought I am going on a camping adventure...or perhaps a jail cell.- Jesse Stong

"I am living and sleeping in the space for five days, so I have had to prepare as though I am going on a camping adventure...or perhaps a jail cell," he says. "I can't say I have too much fear at this point, though. I think I am mostly hoping something emerges out of all of this that I can use in my later teaching of puppetry artists."

Stong believes that puppetry challenges our human-centric perspective and allows us to imagine a living pulse in everything.

"I think we need to notice the world around us," he says. "I think that we also live in a culture controlled by the objects we possess. I think by listening deeply and radically to the inanimate, putting our energy and imagination into bringing life to these objects, we change our connection to the world that we inhabit. Puppetry is a way to honour and appreciate the material world and infuse it with a life of its own."

LOVEpuppets. Featuring Jesse Strong. Until October 23. Galerie MainLine Gallery, Montreal. www.mainlinetheatre.ca

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Peter Knegt (he/him) has worked for CBC Arts since 2016, writing the LGBTQ-culture column Queeries (winner of the 2019 Digital Publishing Award for best digital column in Canada and nominated again this year) and spearheading the launch and production of series Canada's a Drag, variety special Queer Pride Inside, and interactive projects Superqueeroes and The 2010s: The Decade Canadian Artists Stopped Saying Sorry. Collectively, these projects have won Knegt four Canadian Screen Awards. Beyond CBC, Knegt is also the filmmaker of numerous short films, the author of the book About Canada: Queer Rights and the host of the monthly film series Queer Cinema Club at Toronto's Paradise Theatre. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter with the same obvious handle: @peterknegt.

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