Nfld. & Labrador

Shadow puppets tell a spooky tale of fun and love in new outdoor play

There’s a shadow hanging over the world of theatre these days. But this weekend, you can take in a brand new play where the shadows come to life, and you can watch in the safety of the outdoors.

The Kraken is an spooky tale of adventure and love, and it’s all happening outdoors

Jamie Skidmore is the director and designer of The Kraken. The shadow puppets used in the performance were created using a 3D printer. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

There's a shadow hanging over the world of theatre these days. But this weekend in St. John's, you can take in a brand new play where the shadows come to life — and you can watch in the safety of the outdoors.

It's called The Kraken, presented by Under the Bridge Productions as part of the St. John's Short Play Festival. The show is performed with shadow puppets, tiny stick figures that become giant images when projected onto a wall of the Reid Theatre at Memorial University. 

"We had planned on doing it indoors," said Jamie Skidmore, director and designer of the production.

"But when COVID hit, we had to think outside the box. So we brought it outdoors, put it on a big wall. And I think with our little puppets becoming huge puppets on the wall behind us, and the shapes and the movement, I think it's going to be really magical."

Making the magic happen is the show's cast, who operate the shadow puppets and provide the characters' voices.

"It's really interesting, there's a whole person in here," said performer Michael Smith, holding one of his puppets by a long thin stick. "It's kind of focused, it's almost meditative in a way, because you can really zone in on your movements and not think about anything else. In the dark, with the shadows, it's wonderful."

WATCH: The crew of The Kraken explain how they are using shadow puppets to tell their story: 

Performer Kimberly Drake says learning to act with a tiny puppet was a big challenge.

"I've realized that it's kind of like working in film where you have to be really small because the minuscule movements that we make are projected onto this massive wall. They're a lot bigger than we really intend, a lot of the time."

A girl, a sheep, a kraken

The Kraken was written by Darren Ivany, and is set in the imaginary Newfoundland village of Pickled Capelin Cove. A young girl named Beverley Rosemary Rose and her best friend, Baa the sheep, are set on a quest to find a terrifying sea monster that lurks on the local fishing grounds — a kraken that followed Leif Erikson to Newfoundland hundreds of years ago.

Michael Smith and Kimberley Drake are two of the co-stars of The Kraken. They perform the puppeteering and voice the characters during the show. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

Jamie Skidmore designed the puppets, renowned comic book artist Mike Feehan created original images of the characters, and then a 3D printer was used to fabricate the finished puppets used in the show. 

But of course, only the performers will see the puppets. The audience experiences the story through the puppets shadows. Skidmore says it's very different from creating a stage play, with sets and costumes and props galore.

The shadow puppet play is being projected onto an outdoor wall of the Reid Theatre at Memorial University. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

"It's challenging building a shadow world, because you just can't have as many elements," Skidmore said.

"You try to get a sense of what that world is. So in this case, all the puppets were designed after the shorelines of Newfoundland. So I tried to do the same with the set design, to try to get a sense of that organic shape of the water shore."

The show debuted Thursday night and was scheduled to play Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

A forecast of heavy rain has forced the cancellation of Friday night's show, but performances are still planned for Saturday and Sunday.

Actor Michael Smith is one of the puppeteers bringing the world of The Kraken to life. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

People have two options to come and see the show. A limited number of cars are being allowed in the parking lot, where people can watch the play like a drive-in movie, with the sound on their car radio. Or, Skidmore says, people can just sit under the stars.

"It's actually still quite pleasant at night. Bring a blanket, you can sit on the ground, bring a lawn chair, bring some hot chocolate, and you'll have a great time."

Show time is 8:30 p.m. NT on Saturday and Sunday. For a sneak peek at the show, check out the video above.

This is a scene from The Kraken, an original shadow puppet play from Under The Bridge productions. (Zach Goudie/CBC)

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