Montreal

Parents say 'offensive' puppet performance had no place at Verdun festival

Cabaret Décadanse puppeteer said he warned organizers that the performance was an adult-oriented show, and putting them in an all-ages event was a "mistake."

WARNING: This story contains explicit language

A still from footage taken during the performing of Prison Bitch by Cabaret Décadanse during Verdun's annual puppet festival on Wellington Street last weekend. (Ronit Milo / Facebook)

A skit featuring a song about prison rape during an all-ages show at Verdun's annual puppet festival has at least one parent wondering what the event's organizers were thinking.

Ronit Milo was there with her three-year-old son and filmed the song called Prison Bitch, which was part of a free outdoor show called Aux Grands Airs by the troupe Cabaret Décadanse on Wellington Street.

The footage shows a little girl dancing in front of the stage and other young children sitting around watching while two puppeteers manipulate the wolf-like puppet on stage.

The puppet is mouthing the words to a song played over loudspeakers that includes lyrics like:

"Prison Bitch, Prison Bitch — you nymphomaniac.
I really hate these knockers that you've tattooed on my back.
I thought that I could break away, but now I'm losing hope.
And, God, I'm getting tired of picking up the soap."

"Without any kind of explanation or warning, they went into this song…It was definitely not an appropriate song for a crowd of children," Milo told CBC Montreal.

Troupe says it warned organizers

A festival news release had billed the performance as "nothing less than an open-air celebration of song and sensuality, highlighting characters who are both funny and decadent. Sure to bring to a smile to everyone's face!"

Cabaret Décadanse puppeteer Serge Deslauriers said he told one of the festival's organizers that the performance was an adult-oriented show and scheduling the group in an all-ages event was a "mistake."

"She said she didn't think it was anything bad — children will understand one thing and adults will understand something else," Deslauriers said.

WARNING: this video contains explicit language.

WARNING: explicit language. "Prison Bitch" was part of a free outdoor show in Verdun by the troupe Cabaret Décadanse on Wellington Street. 0:53

Billy Walsh, head of Wellington Street's development society, said organizers were given a general sense of what the performance was about and gave the troupe permission to present the song if it wasn't offensive.

"But what is considered offensive varies from person to person," Walsh said. "I think the artists honestly thought there were different ways to interpret the material."

Festival promises greater vigilance

Milo said that it was true that material went over her son's head, but she felt that organizers and performers should have warned parents that the show contained adult-oriented material.

"If there was any content that was not appropriate for children, there should have been some indication or disclaimer beforehand that this was a show with adult content," she said.

"It was pretty offensive, even for an adult," she added.

Walsh apologized for the song choice and said the festival would be more diligent next year.

"It's clear that more vetting needs to be done, but this is the first time in the festival's seven-year history that this kind of thing has happened — and we're very disappointed," Walsh said.

"We'll be more careful next year."

With files from Jay Turnbull