Hamilton puppeteer teaches kids the power of imagination
Benton Lowe has studied with industry legends from Sesame Street and The Muppets
Hamilton's own Benton Lowe has trained with puppetry legends who worked on Sesame Street and The Muppets.
Now Lowe, 33, is holding a class at the Hamilton Film School on Saturday.
The class is for kids aged eight to 12 and teaches children how to build their own sock puppets, create their own characters and how to put their puppets on camera.
"You don't have to have a lot of money to to be able to create a character," Lowe said, adding the class teaches kids how to use what they have in their homes to make simple puppets.
Lowe said he began his puppeteer career when he was working in community outreach in Nunavut. He said the winter storms gave him time to explore his creativity.
"I lived up in the Arctic for four years and there wasn't a lot to do ... I started to just practice and build," he said.
When he was in Nunavut, Lowe said he made his puppets out of the same materials he teaches kids with — 1/8 steel rods, fleece and foam. What started as a way to exercise his creativity turned into a passion.
Lowe said he went on a day trip to New York City for a workshop and was hooked. He said since then he has gone back to New York City to work with industry legends like Michael Schupbach and Peter Linz, who both worked on Sesame Street and The Muppets respectively.
"Those people, while I was up in the Arctic, were really inspirational for me to grow as a puppeteer and to really take my craft to a whole another level," he said.
Hamilton's puppetry scene
Nathan Fleet is the director of the Hamilton Film Festival and executive director of the Hamilton Film School.
He said the school began in 2017 as a summer camp for kids, but has grown to include classes for people of all ages. Fleet said the Ancaster Memorial Arts School asked him if he would like to host classes out of their buildings before the pandemic.
"And I said absolutely, I said sign me up," he said.
In 2018, Fleet worked with Lowe to create music for a puppet version of Hamilton Public Library's mascot, Scout the Fox.
"He asked if I would help him put some music together that this puppet would sing," Fleet said.
Fleet said Lowe's puppetry class is part of a series called Saturday Morning Cartoons.
"We teach things that you might see on Saturday morning TV, like animation, stop motion, puppets," Fleet said.
Lowe said he moved to Hamilton in 2018 and is still new to the local puppet scene.
"There are only a handful of puppeteers in Hamilton and many are doing their own thing to innovate in the puppetry arts in this city," he said, adding that most puppetry projects happen in Toronto where there are more opportunities.
A few years ago, Lowe considered making a puppet club in Hamilton, but he said it didn't happen because of the pandemic — but that hasn't stopped Lowe and his fellow Hamilton puppeteers from thinking up new projects to get people involved in the art.
"We are thinking of how we can create work in our city so that this art form can be more accessible to Hamiltonians both young and the young at heart," he said.
Lowe has an upcoming puppet show, The Great Maple Syrup Slurp-Up, which will run in Mississauga and Hamilton in March.
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