Wakefield puppet show makes it to the big screen

People in Wakefield made puppet versions of themselves and their alter egos for a performance that was made into a film.

Some community members created puppet versions of themselves for production

Meet Anne Winship and 'Single Shelly.' Winship is one of dozens of people who created a puppet in their likeness. (Photo: Nadia Ross )

When Wakefield's Nadia Ross put out a call two years ago for local residents to make puppets that looked like themselves for a new, unwritten theatre project, she had no idea what to expect.

Ross, the founder of a local indie theatre company, ended up with 50 people showing up at her studio with puppets made with everything from toilet paper rolls to paper mache — some were even full-blown art pieces.  

There were not only puppets that looked like their creators, but puppets that represented people's alter egos, and others that came completely from people's imaginations.  

Ross, who didn't have a particular storyline in mind for this next production, was left with the task of wrangling all those characters into some kind of narrative.

"I opened up a big bottle of wine and thought what have I gotten myself into?" she said in an interview on CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning.           

Ross is the founder of STO Union, an indie theatre company that works with live performance, video and other disciplines. 

Writing the script for this initiative took her months.     

Some of the cast of The Twilight Parade. The film features 54 handmade puppets. (Photo: David Irvine )

Some puppets fell into their roles

"Basically I was looking at all these puppets saying, 'Speak to me. How do you want to be in this story?'" she said.  

For Ross, some puppets simply "fell into their roles." But for others, she had to use a more deliberate approach.    

"One day I took a pen and just threw it at the puppet group and if it hit a puppet, it was like OK — you're in that role," she said.      

The result is a 70-minute movie called The Twilight Parade featuring 54 handmade puppets (although not all have speaking parts), voiced by eight performers live on stage.

It tells the story of people in a small village debating the future of their community well and beginning to understand the larger forces at play that can erode communities.  

The production premiered in Wakefield last month, and will be shown at this years undercurrents theatre festival in Ottawa, which runs Feb. 7 to 17, 2018.  

Creepy challenge 

Stephanie Hill and her puppet, Cress. (Photo: Nadia Ross )
It's a pretty big undertaking for a woman who admits she, like others, can find puppets creepy.  

"But that is the kind of challenge I like as an artist," Ross said. "If I don't like something, it intrigues me."   

As for creating a script for puppets that resemble people she knows, she said it wasn't so much creepy as awkward.

"Nobody is safe in this movie," she said with a laugh. "Everyone gets ribbed." 

For Ross, the decision to do this as a film, rather than a puppet show, goes to the heart of what the production is about — community.   

She wanted the entire project done in the La Peche region, but there aren't many theatre spaces available that could accommodate them.

"We had to adapt because we want to work in our region, and the only way you can do that is through video. Video makes it easier to bring people together and do a large scale project," she said.

"It is about community building," Ross said. "Art allows us to come together in a different way and to make connections." 

People and their puppets slide around on the floor during production, trying not to get caught in the shot. (Photo: Nadia Ross )