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Fear of death cured with strings

Old Trout Puppet Workshop troupe presents Famous Puppet Death Scenes at Celebration 2010

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What: Famous Puppet Death Scenes

When: Jan. 31 to Feb. 2, 8 p.m.

Where: MY Millennium Place

Tickets: $28, $25, $22

By Nicole Fitzgerald

When thinking about puppets, joyful and child-like images come to mind: fuzzy blue cookie monster with his googly eyes always chowing down on a chocolate chip cookie, or maybe the little wooden puppet Pinocchio on his search to become a real live boy.

Puppets are about warm fuzzies, not the death crone.

The grim reaper, made of paste and paper, comes to town as the Old Trout Puppet Workshop troupe takes on the capital D word with a performance of the Famous Puppet Death Scenes from Saturday, Jan. 31 to Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. at MY Millennium Place.

“They can expect to have their fear of death cured,” said puppeteer Peter Balkwill. “It’s an interesting dare that to suggest that it was possible, for a brief period of watching the show, that the last thing they’ll be thinking about is their own mortality.”

There will be plenty to ponder over the everyman mortality, however, as puppets get reaped, pounded and destroyed. But instead of a black mourning and eulogy response, audiences will be laughing at the misfortune these puppets endure. Because in the papier maché forms, audiences will see a part of themselves.

“It renders us helpless and hopeful in the same moment or do we not see glimmering in him, that self same luminescence that powers our own hearts,” says one puppet from the show after an oversized fist pummels a nine-to-five suit. “These are not mere blocks of wood that suffer before you. They are your companions.”

Like the television show Dead Like Me, Old Trout strings up demise and fatality with humour, insight and theatrics.

The Calgary Sun raved: “If Old Trout keeps producing work like this, it will surely become one of the most vibrant and vital puppet companies in the world.”

So how does the world’s leading puppet company make the connection between death and puppets?

First, the medium.

“Puppets are the culmination of all artistic mediums available to mankind,” said Balkwill. “They operate as sculpture, paintings, dance, music, storytelling. We (the troupe) all come from a different artistic background, so we throw all those strengths of each one of us into a pot and it comes out in equal measure.”

Second, the actor and puppet connection.

“Puppets operate on a different theme of the actor,” Balkwill said, noting the dead factor between the two. Actor, alive, plays death. Puppet, dead, plays life… and death. I started to get lost, but what I took away from the discussion was the puppet is already dead so the response to a whack job on wood is a little more detached for the audience, a little more laughable.

Mind you people have always applauded pain in theatre dating back to the days of jesters falling on their heads at court for a few guffaws. Then there was Larry, Curly and Moe and B-Grade horror films and that poor Wile E. Coyote always getting a rock dropped on his head.

“The most honest part of living is death, so you really begin to explore what that means,” Balkwill said. “Generally people have no idea what to expect when going in, but I haven’t met too many disappointed (theatergoers). Even people with a recent experience with death have thanked us for the show. The show seems to liberate them from the aspects of death we dwell on: grief and loss. And allows us to ruminate on how important death is and how inevitable it is.”

It’s also inevitable that kids might not be suited for this puppet show.

Tickets are $27.50 for adults, $25 for students and seniors, and $22 for MY Place members.

Famous Puppet Death Scenes is only one of more than a dozen events taking place during Celebration 2010, which is an official participant of the Vancouver 2008 Cultural Olympiad.

For an event schedule, visit www.whistlerartscouncil.com.

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