Getting a behind the scenes tour of a puppet theatre production still makes me feel like I’m getting away with something I shouldn’t. I know it’s literally just regular people with their hands in the air, but to me, it feels like I’m watching magicians explaining their slight-of-hand trickery. Have I seen the Wizard of Oz too many times or do I have some deep, repressed childhood puppetry moment that subconsciously shaped me into man I am today? Possibly, but either way, I’m an adult male that can still enjoy the entertaining escapism of a solid puppet play.
Here in Saskatoon, the young ladies at Wide Open Theatre have steamrolled into their 16th year of professional puppetry pandemonium. For 16 years, they’ve performed at every Street Fair, every Day in the Park and every Holiday Celebration- basically, if there’s an event and children will be there – Wide Open will be there. Their tenacity is relentless….and it has to be…because this is their business.
One would assume that a full-time puppeteer would resemble a wide-eyed, over-excited human version of Raggedy-Anne, but the women behind Wide Open are honestly two of the nicest, most level-headed people I have ever met. Oh, they love what they do, but this is their job and it’s amazing to listen to them talk casually about the art and delivery of puppetry like it’s a nomal 9-5 gig (putting in a long day and then going home to their families).
Which brings me to their latest production- ‘A Little Mermaid: An Unconventional Retelling by Wide Open’ Oh, did I mention there’s no actual puppets this time? Instead, they tell the 45-minute story by manually moving over 200 slides across three of those old elementary school/church basement projectors.
Set to prerecorded music and live harmonies, the intricate timing of this production makes me want to rub my temples and scream at them “WHY DIDN’T YOU JUST PUT SOCKS ON YOUR HANDS LIKE USUAL?!?!” but that’s why they’re performing on stage to a packed house and I’m sitting in the back row, taking notes about the professionals.
In the most Family Fun answer ever, it turns out their constant need for storytelling evolution comes from watching their own children grow and change….and puppetry is the medium that allows a high level of crowd participation and immediate feedback- and that’s when the light bulb goes on over my head. Unlike television or movies- puppetry is an extremely interactive experience where audience dialogue is encouraged. They sum it up perfectly with three magical words: “Community theatre interactivity”. The folks behind Wide Open Theatre are parents…making quality entertainment for their own children…as well as other parents…and their children. That’s the hook, that’s the magic, and that’s the heart that shines through in every production they knock out of the park.
Also, it’s neither here nor there, but two ladies in the audience came dressed as mermaids. I had to tell someone.
Check out wideopen.ca for upcoming shows as well as information on their annual summer puppet camps: make friends, make puppets…make puppet friends.