Puppets Up! family festival in Almonte, with a Glebe twist

Puppets Up! Festival artistic director and master puppeteer Noreen Young with friends.   Photo: Kigor

By JC Sulzenko

After a hiatus of six years, Puppets Up! International Puppet Festival returns to Almonte from August 12 to 14, and this Glebe writer plays a part in it.

Students from Almonte schools under Jenny Sheffield’s direction will present my story The Magnolia Thief on a tree-lined path, an “alameda,” during the two-and-a-half day extravaganza of world-class performances. I narrate the voiceover.

I feel honoured that this year’s Puppets Up! International Festival will stage the premiere of The Magnolia Thief, a very urban fairy tale. Having local students as the performers adds to my delight. My thanks go to the festival’s artistic director Noreen Young for this opportunity.

Written for young children and families, The Magnolia Thief was inspired by my love for the magnolia in our Glebe backyard. It’s a rhyme about trouble that comes into a peaceful city garden. Saying more would give away too much of the plot!

Our magnolia began as a shrub, a gift I received for Mothers’ Day when our children were small. It now measures 40 by 40 feet. I wrote The Magnolia Thief as a way to honour the tree and acknowledge the pleasure its blossoms give us each spring. Just visualizing the magnolia in bloom sustains me through the winter months.

Since 1970, Noreen Young, acclaimed puppeteer and Member of the Order of Canada, has been involved with over one hundred television programs, including the award-winning series, Under the Umbrella Tree (1986-1993).

The Puppets Up! International Festival is Young’s brainchild. This year’s lineup features performances by troupes and puppeteers from Ontario, Quebec, Indonesia, Iceland and the US, including The Frogtown Mountain Puppeteers, Tanglewood Marionettes and Joshua Holden. Over the weekend, there’s a Puppets Up! parade (on both Saturday and Sunday), plus street entertainment and a kids craft tent.

For The Magnolia Thief, Noreen created the set, props and puppets around three characters in the story – The Little Man, the Tree and The Giant.

I first worked with Noreen when she created puppets and animated a playground tour across Canada to teach young children the meaning of new symbols on hazardous products labels. The campaign included television spots which still can be screened at www.youtube.com/watch?v=R3aFSahUHtg.

I’ve been a huge fan of her work from that day on. It’s a great pleasure to work with Noreen again in the context of this year’s Puppets Up! Festival.

A few years ago, I wrote a poem based on interviews for my series that captures how each of my subjects chose a particular direction for their life’s work. This is the poem which evolved from discussions with Noreen and which appeared in my debut collection in 2017 from Point Petre Publishing, South Shore Suite…POEMS.

After Gepetto

It must be odd …
living with all those puppets
you made

What did you intend
when you sculpted their faces in clay
Added foam for flesh
Layered latex for soft, almost skin
Painted all in colours, true-to-life
When you clothed them in what
their real-life models wear

When you spoke for them
Your inflection, gestures, mimicry: uncanny

It must be odd …
taking on each character
while still knowing who you are

Without a puppet in your hands, you blush
You speak with a gentle rush of breath
No harsh words, but no nonsense, either

So, it must be odd …
Children, parents call to your puppets
embrace them like friends, like family

without ever having learned your name

The festival’s complete program is at: puppetsup.com. Shows take place throughout the town and throughout the festival’s run August 12 to 14. Passes and tickets are available now.

JC Sulzenko curates “Poetry Quarter” for the Glebe Report. Octopus Books carries her most recent collection, Bricolage, A Gathering of Centos. www.jcsulzenko.com

The magnolia in the author’s Glebe back yard inspired the urban fairy tale The Magnolia Thief.   Photo: Vicki Robinson
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