Libby Broadbent: Mermaid’s Tears
Théâtre Alacenne: Ally et la forêt
Mermaid Theatre returns to Singapore
Libby Broadbent: Mermaid’s Tears
profile by Tara Manuel, Shadowy Souls
An original puppetry show recently made its debut at the Astor Theatre in Liverpool, NS. The show is called Mermaid’s Tears, and is produced by Winds of Change; a Nova Scotia-based amateur theatre company. The production will also be featured at the Liverpool International Theatre Festival in May. After seeing pictures of the piece, I was curious to find out more, and contacted the creator, Libby Broadbent, to ask her a few questions. I discovered that, not only had she written the script, but she also designed and built the puppets and performed in the piece as well! Now, tell me this woman can’t multi-task!
TM: Would you mind giving us a brief description of the story of Mermaid’s Tears?
LB: Mermaid’s Tears is the story of two families torn by grief, and redeemed by sacrifice. It is the story of Morna, who escapes the dark abuse of her mother’s home through her friendship with a mermaid, and also the story of The Grandfather, whose grieving for his dead wife cripples his relationship with his son. Morna falls in love with a selfish boy and is left to fend for herself when she bears their child. The story is narrated by two human (non-puppet) characters, Morna’s young daughter, Esme, and The Grandfather as he tells her the story of her birth. The story alludes to the classic fable of the Fisherman and the Mermaid, where wishes or gifts are bestowed on the person who releases a mermaid once they have been caught. Mermaid’s Tears unites three levels of story-telling as Esme visualizes the story her Grandfather weaves for her; from the fable-like tale told by the two narrators, to the fantasy re-enactment of the puppets, to the distant memories characterized by shadow puppets.
TM: Libby, what is your background in puppetry, and what inspired you to make this a puppet play?
LB: Hahaha! That’s funny! I don’t have a background in puppetry! I am a high school English teacher who likes to write books and play with paper maché… writing and creating a puppet play was just a really neat project that fell into my lap, and I was lucky enough to be supported by the Winds of Change in making it a reality. I was approached over a year ago by the WoC as they were planning their entry for the Liverpool International Theatre Festival, 2016. They were interested in doing a puppet play, and asked if I would help build the puppets. Of course I said yes, but when I asked what the play was, they didn’t have one.
We tossed about several ideas, but there wasn’t a script that we felt would meet our needs regarding the various restrictions of the [Festival] (less than 50 minutes, max 12 people, appealing to a non-English speaking audience, etc)… so I decided to write one. I wanted the puppets to be mostly non-verbal, so that the main impact of the play wouldn’t be dependent on language, and I wanted them to be made of paper maché since that is the medium I enjoy the most.
TM: Where did you come up with the design ideas for your puppets? Is the design successful?
LB: When my children were little, I would drape a big sweater over two of them, with one child being the head and other child being the hands so that it looked like one person. They would then have wildly raucous times demonstrating “How to Wash Your Face”, or “How to Eat a Banana” with little or no connection between the head and the hands. I also always loved the Swedish Chef, from the Muppets… so I knew I wanted to make puppets that had real hands. I also wanted the puppets to be manipulated by one person, and to be life-sized. So, I researched. Pinterest is my best friend! I saw lots of examples of the Bunraku style of puppetry, but I wanted to eliminate the necessity of having two puppeteers. I then found a clip of “Lemonia” by the Greek Nevma Theatre Group. Problem solved. I built the heads out of paper clay… with much trial and error to get them lightweight, the right size, and to create eyes that came to life… and then built a frame for the torso, and a harness for the puppeteer’s head and shoulders. I made several prototypes before I got it right! Initially, the head harness was painful because I had built the wires too close to the front, but then one of our cast members, Sarah Webber, altered her harness by moving the wires down the side of the head for greater comfort and mobility and the design changed. I may have made the heads, but these puppets were definitely a group effort as each one had to be altered to fit each puppeteer, and the costume ladies were indispensable in fixing the clothing so they looked right. We initially had a problem with their arms being too “noodley”, but repeated efforts by various cast members straightened out that problem. I’m very pleased with the final design, because it allows great mobility and dexterity for the puppeteer, and I think the illusion is successful because there is only one body manipulating the puppet.
TM: How successful was your work with training actors to be puppeteers?
LB: I think that’s a better question for Susan Lane, our Director, since I was one of the puppets myself! The biggest challenge of being a puppet was having a limited range of vision, and not knowing what we looked like as we moved. We had to be told how high to raise our arms, for example, so we didn’t look like we were dislocating the puppets’ shoulders every time we moved!
TM: What was your greatest challenge with this show?
LB: I think the greatest challenge has been designing the set. Any theatrical performance relies on the talents and energy of a great number of people, and our set people have worked tirelessly to create a fantastically beautiful set which enhances the mystique of the story.
TM: What does it mean to this group of creators and performers to present this show at the Liverpool International Theatre Festival?
LB: Our little town of Liverpool has been hosting the LITF for many years, although there have been several festivals without an entry from The Winds of Change. Being able to enter an original play, in competition with other troupes from around the world, is terrifyingly exciting! It is my greatest hope that audience members with little or no English language will be able to interpret and enjoy the performance… to me, that will mean we have been successful in creating the illusion, and sharing a visual narrative that transcends language.
I want to thank Libby for sharing her work, and also wish her group all the best for their performance in May. The Liverpool International Theatre Festival runs from May 18-22 at The Astor Theatre in Liverpool, NS. Tickets will go on sale soon at www.astortheatre.ns.ca
Tara Manuel is a western Newfoundland based artist, and the NL rep for the Atlantic Canada Puppetry Association.
Théâtre Alacenne – Ally et la forêt
La marionnette ; un voyage parmi les cultures qui dépassent les barrières.
(English version follows)
Voici une réflexion personnelle suite à une tournée avec le spectacle de marionnettes pour la petite enfance Ally et la forêt – Ally and the Forest– le dernier spectacle du Théâtre Alacenne.
Un geste et un regard sont tout ce qui est nécessaire afin que l’on puisse comprendre l’émotion de la petite Ally perchée sur son arbre. Ally est arrivée de la Louisiane et se retrouve dans une forêt acadienne, elle est perdue et elle doit s’adapter à ce nouveau territoire et à tous ses changements. Comment le fera -t-elle ? Elle se débrouille en se faisant une nouvelle amie Mouffy, une moufette qui n’est pas habituée d’avoir un étranger sur son terrain! Nous pouvons trouver plusieurs sous-textes et plusieurs comparaisons dans cette petite et simple énoncée, c’est comme ça que j’aime travailler ; dans les métaphores. À la rencontre de ceux qui arrivent, ceux qui sont en mode changement, à la rencontre de l’amitié ou à la rencontre de la vie, peu importe nous devons tous à un moment donné s’adapter à du nouveau ou à un changement.
Mouffy, fabriquée avec des sacs de poubelles, un rouleau de peinture et un filtre à café (entres autres) sort de sa cachette avec une musique magnifiquement composée par Justin Gauvin, sur une vitesse d’empressement. Cette image nous donne le ton qu’elle a des choses à faire et ça presse. Tout ça, sans un seul mot parlé. Sans même le dire, nous prônons deux messages : le recyclage et l’environnement puis l’urgence d’agir. Vive l’art de la marionnette. L’image est plus forte que la parole, nous pouvons communiquer à travers les cultures.
Ally et la forêt a tourné deux semaines au Nouveau-Brunswick dans les écoles francophones, anglophones et autochtones en novembre 2015. Ally est allée rencontrer les écoles d’immersions en Louisiane en février 2016 aussi. Que l’on comprenne la langue ou non, la musique, les marionnettes, les intonations et les regards de notre histoire sont clairs. Ce sentiment de connecter avec n’importe quel jeune, peu importe son contexte scolaire, son contexte culturel ou son contexte sociétaire, nous rend fière en tant qu’artiste de théâtre. Le Théâtre Alacenne travaille fort depuis plusieurs années à créer des liens et à aller à la rencontre de différentes cultures, que ce soit en notre duo de compagnie ou à titre individuel. Nous sommes fières de notre dernière création, c’est pourquoi je sens le besoin d’écrire ce blogue.
Mélanie a vécu et a travaillé le théâtre à divers endroits comme en Uruguay, au Guatemala, en Guyane française et au Cameroun. De mon côté, j’ai eu la chance de rendre mon art pratique en Croatie, au Macédoine, en Ukraine et dans la francophonie américaine soit au Maine et en Louisiane. Le corps, l’émotion et la rencontre humaine sont universels, nous sommes tous faits de chair et d’os, nous avons tous besoin de nous sentir connectées. Qui sommes-nous sans la connexion à une communauté, à une histoire collective ou à une mission personnelle ? La rencontre est nécessaire. Que ça soit les rencontres que nous créons par l’entremise des arts ou des sports à l’intérieur de nos communautés, peu importe la langue que l’on parle, se rejoindre est un besoin essentiel.
Quand j’assiste à des rencontres religieuses, je suis toujours inspirée; c’est la ressemblance à ce que je veux contribuer et partager par mon théâtre. Ce partage sacré collectif, cette rencontre nécessaire afin de soulever l’esprit, afin de se propulser plus haut vers quelque chose de plus grand que nous, ensemble. C’est le sentiment qui me fait vibrer quand je joue sur scène, quand je manipule notre chère Ally devant les enfants et quand je m’engage dans mon rôle d’artiste.
Au nom du Théâtre Alacenne, nous souhaitons remercier tous nos partenaires. Sans eux, nous ne pourrions pas faire ce partage, créer ces liens avec les communautés autochtones ou avec les écoles d’immersions, les théâtres, les communautés ; nous allons continuer à bâtir des ponts. L’art a un rôle à jouer dans nos sociétés, pour mieux nous comprendre, pour briser l’isolement et pour adoucir les changements que nous devons tous vivre collectivement. C’est le miroir de qui nous sommes. Merci au Ministère du Tourisme, de la Culture et du Patrimoine du Nouveau-Brunswick, au Conseil des arts du Canada, au Conseil des arts du Nouveau- Brunswick, aux Caisses populaires acadiennes, au théâtre de l’Escaouette et au Mermaid Theatre d’avoir fait partie de notre dernier projet Ally et la forêt. Merci surtout aux communautés de Tobique et de Eel Ground qui nous ont ouvert les bras grands ouverts. Notre séjour m’a marquée et nous avons beaucoup à partager. Merci spéciale à Natalie Sappier de nous avoir donné la confiance d’agir. Nous en sommes reconnaissantes et ce n’est pas fini. Notre voyage théâtral ne fait que commencer.
Puppetry; travelling through cultures and breaking barriers
Here is are some personal thoughts from our experience with Theatre Alacenne’s last show Ally and the Forest – Ally et la forêt, a puppet play aimed for very young audience.
A look and a attitude is all that is necessary in order to understand the emotion that little Ally is having on top of her tree. Ally arrived from Louisiana and has landed in an Acadian forest. Lost, she needs to adapt to her new territory and to the new changes that surround her. How will she do it ? She manages to find a new friend, Mouffy, a skunk who is not used to having strangers (unfortunately!) on her land! We can find many meanings or subtexts about this small and simple statement. This is how I like to work, in metaphors. Meeting the new ones who arrive or for all the ones who are in changing mode, meeting the notion of friendship or life itself, no matter what, we all need at one point or another adapt to something new or to change.
Mouffy is made out of plastic bags, a paint roller and a coffee filter (and many other materials). She comes out of her hole with a magnificent music composed by Justin Gauvin in a very rushed rhythm; all of this, without one word spoken. Without even saying it, we give out two messages: recycling or thinking of the environment, and the urgency to act. The image is stronger than words, we can communicate through different cultures. Language is not a barrier with puppetry.
Ally and the Forest toured two weeks in New Brunswick in the French, English and First Nations schools in November 2015. Ally also went to the Louisiana’s immersion schools in February 2016. Whether we understand the language or not, the music, the puppets and the intentions of our story are clear. That feeling of connecting to any youth no matter what their education background is, cultural setting or society that they live in, makes us proud as theatre artists. Theatre Alacenne works hard since many years to create links and to connect, either with our theatre or individually. We are proud of our last production, this is why I wanted to write this blog.
Melanie lived and worked theatre in different places like Uruguay, Guatemala, French Guyanaand Cameroon. On my side, I had the chance to work my art in Croatia, Macedonia, Ukraine and in the French Americas like Maine and Louisiana. The body, the emotion and the human connection are universal, we are all made of flesh and bones, and we all need to feel connected. Who are we without that link to the community, to a collective history or to a personal mission? Meeting the other is necessary. If it is either being in a gathering that we create in sports or in arts inside our communities, no matter the language that we speak, connecting is crucial.
When I assist to religious gatherings, I am inspired always; it reminds me of what I wish to contribute and share with my theatre. It is this sacred collective feeling, this necessary meeting to elevate the spirit, to send us higher to something bigger, together. This feeling makes me vibrate when I am on stage, when I handle Ally in front of the kids and when I engage into my role as an Artist.
Theatre Alacenne would like to thank all their partners. Without them, we wouldn’t be able to share, to create links to the First Nations communities or with the French immersion schools, with theatres and with communities. We are going to continue to create links. Art has a role to play in our society, to better understand us, to break isolation and to accompany change that we all need to live collectively. It is the mirror of who we are. Thank you to the Minister of Tourism, Heritage and Culture of New Brunswick, to the Canada Council of the Arts of Canada, to the New Brunswick Arts Board, to the Caisses populaires acadiennes, to the theatre l’Escaouette and to Mermaid Theatre for being part of our last project Ally and the Forest. Thank you to the Tobique First Nation and Eel Ground First Nation community for greeting us with open arms. Our experience inspired me and we have so much to share. Than you to Natalie Sappier for giving us confidence to act. We recognize it, and it is not finish. Our theatrical experience together is only beginning.
Mermaid Theatre returns to Singapore
The company will return to Singapore for the eighth time between March 5-13, presenting 14 performances of The Very Hungry Caterpillar & Other Eric Carle Favourites at the elegant Drama Centre. A duplicate of the show is currently on tour in the United States and Canada, enabling Mermaid’s Caterpillar to delight audiences on two continents simultaneously.
On the road since 1999, Mermaid’s compilations of Eric Carle stories have been seen by more than 3.5 million spectators in 15 countries. The award-winning production was adapted, designed and directed by Jim Morrow, with music by Steven Naylor and narration by Gordon Pinsent. Company members for the Singapore-bound show include stage manager Jessica Lewis, and seasoned performers John Allen MacLean and Jackson Fowlow, while the U.S. touring version features stage manager Christine Oakey and veteran artists Graeme Black Robinson and Simon Rainville.
The Mandarin-language edition will return to the People’s Republic of China in the summer of 2016 following last season’s highly successful debut.
Other puppetry notes…
- The Casteliers Festival recently brought puppetry professionals from around the world to Montreal – this annual event was a great opportunity for lots of us, both inside UNIMA and out, to connect and learn more about what everyone else is up to. Thanks to all who participated.
- Don’t forget that the ACPA/AMCA members are encouraged to send updates about your puppetry-related activities in the region. You can send them to email@example.com for inclusion in a future Journal. Submissions can be in either English or French (or both!).
- UNIMA Canada maintains an excellent website, with updates, events, and interesting stories from the world of puppetry. It’s online at unimacanada.com
- The ACPA/AMCA maintains this blog/journal, as well as a Twitter feed: @AtlantiqueUNIMA and a Facebook Page: facebook.com/UNIMAAtlanticCanada