Published, EAC Communiqué, Autumn 2004
aura Fairfield, who had previous puppetry experience with the Maycourt Puppeteers and Kids on the Block, founded Puppets Elora in the fall of 1994. Laura recruited five volunteers through networking and local media. Before the first performance, the cast constructed the theatre, sewed the curtains, chose a light and sound system, built puppets and props, adapted scripts, practiced puppet manipulation and, last but not least, learnt the lines. Of course they also had to recruit an audience by advertising the troupe with press releases, playbills and a public performance.
Fortunately the Elora Arts Council gave the troupe an initial start-up grant which was repaid during the first year. Since then Puppets Elora have continued their good deeds by contributing some of their proceeds to other art programs. One of the principal characters, the Giant, presents the cheques and appears in all of the troupe’s publicity photographs. (In this way the face of Puppets Elora has remained the same, even though the artistic director, producer and some of the actors have changed during the intervening years.)
When the old Elora Public School building was transformed into a new home for the arts, Puppets Elora was one of the first organizations to donate funds, renovate a room, become a member and move in. We are happy to support the Elora Centre for the Arts in this endeavour.
The mandate of Puppets Elora is to “bring live puppet theatre to school audiences around Wellington and Dufferin County” through performing fairy tales, folk tales, and original stories. The troupe is able to travel to and perform in a variety of locations, and has even entertained an audience at the Fergus Fall Fair adjacent to the cattle show! The cunningly constructed theatre fits into most cars when it is disassembled and set-up takes less than thirty minutes. The company repertoire ranges from perennial favorites such as “The Frog Prince”, to the less familiar “Selfish Giant” by Oscar Wilde. These timeless stories appeal to young and old, and have been well received by many different and memorable audiences. At Alma PS one of the students asked the Giant for an autograph. When the troupe performed “The Frog Prince” at Portage, a home for troubled youth, the audience was so enthralled that one teenager advised the princess to take group therapy.
The troupe’s handmade puppets with elaborate costumes make it easy for the audience to be swept into the land of fairy tales. Puppets Elora producer Annerose Schmidt individually sculpts the heads using Styrofoam and air-drying clay. The troupe sent her to a sculpting workshop by Dutch doll artist Annie Thiesson to upgrade her skills and the investment has really paid off. Beverly Matson replaced Laura Fairfield as artistic director when Laura left in 1997. She too was sent off for workshops with the Puppetmongers in Toronto and now builds the puppet bodies and costumes as well as casting and directing the plays and coaching the puppeteers.
The members of the troupe range from experienced live performers to eager beginners. All have worked diligently to master puppet manipulation and performance skills. One of the most frequently asked questions after a performance is how the puppeteers can have so many different voices. Very close attention is paid to casting the most suitable voice for each part. The entire company has also participated in voice workshops led by drama professor Kim Renders and dramateacher/actor Gary Bryant. With the presentation of its new show “Babushka’s Doll”, the troupe has incorporated a wider array of puppeteering skills, including puppets that dance and perform pantomime. The company will be staging the new play at the public opening of its tenth season at the Elora Gorge Cinema.
Through its membership in the Ontario Puppetry Association, Puppets Elora took part in the Mississauga Puppetry Festival, met fellow puppeteers, saw a show in Toronto and received valuable input for the production of “The Frog Prince”. Puppets Elora is looking forward to hosting the AGM of the Ontario Puppetry Association in October 2004.
by Annerose Schmidt, Autumn 2004
The troupe’s handmade puppets with elaborate costumes make it easy for the audience to be swept into the land of fairy tales.
UPDATE – 2005
In the summer of 2005, three members of Puppets Elora spent a week learning to make soft sculpture puppets with moving mouths, in a course given at the Haliburton School for Fine Arts. Five of the puppeteers took a further weekend course in puppet manipulation.