Vegetable puppet crew sets sails toward NACC

Vegetable puppet crew sets sails toward NACC
Kestrel Puppet Players get tips from a professional out of Calgary on puppet movement. Left to right, instructor Peter Balkwill from the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, Jennifer Stranart, Marianne Wasylycia and Kerry Egan.Photo: Rose Scott.

Stage ahoy! A new puppet crew will be docking at the Northern Arts and Cultural Centre (NACC) in Yellowknife next year.

The Vegetable Ship is a chipper tale of giant evil fish, a watermelon of a vessel and a crew of fresh legumes, suitable for all ages. Presented by a new society, the Kestrel Puppet Players, it is slated to make its joke-packed debut on Jan. 16 followed by three more performances before wrapping up on the 18th.

The puppet show follows a captain with a peg leg made out of a parsnip and his crew of brussel sprout-headed, swashbuckling tubers and greens taking on a fish with an appetite for their fruity boat, complete with sails made of lettuce and a pea pod rudder.

The play, scripted by former Yellowknifer Kira Hall, is based on a poem of the same title written by Ken Frew, a passionate Northerner who tragically passed away three years ago in a drowning accident on the Hoarfrost River off the East Arm of Great Slave Lake while trying to save a teenager who was struggling in the water.

Frew’s friends found comfort and saw great potential in the poem, boosted by the vivid illustrations done by Terry Pamplin.

“Ken had such a love for children and this whimsical nature to him…and we thought, ‘Wow, this poem could really be a puppet play.’ So we decided to get together and go from there, and now we’re hip deep in water trying to figure out how to go forward,” said Rosanna Strong, Kestrel’s stage manager, who goes by First Mate Bossy Pants during The Vegetable Ship’s production.

The puppet show will honour Frew’s memory – “a delightful man who had a great way of looking at the world with a lovely sense of humour, sometime a wicked sense of humour,” Strong said with a laugh.

The show will also promote eating vegetables in an amusing way for children, she noted.

“Ken had a really good sense of play and whimsy, and it’s a poem that just comes to life – especially with the illustrations,” Strong said.

While the group of friends all have an array of backgrounds in theatre – some sing and some dance, Strong said – no one has any experience with puppets.

A new gang of Yellowknife puppeteers play with shadows.

Photo: Rose Scott

A new gang of Yellowknife puppeteers play with shadows.

“It’s been an adventure, exploring lots of uncharted territory,” Strong said about the art of puppeteering.

Kestrel Puppet Players – named after Frew’s old boat – reached out to the Old Trout Puppet Workshop from Calgary, a group of artists known internationally for their teachings on all things puppet, for advice.

“Peter Balkwill from Old Trout has been our very patient mentor in this process, from helping us with shorelines, puppetry movement, reviewing the script and advice on puppetry construction. He has come to Yellowknife twice to work with us and led a public workshop this past February, and we hope to bring him up one more time to work directly with the cast this fall,” Strong said.

The Vegetable Ship, about 90 minutes long, will feature seven to 12 puppets on stage at a time, according to Strong, but no one has been cast yet.

Kestrel is currently looking for volunteers to help with the puppeteering, narrating and everything else involved in the production.

“We need folks who don’t want to be in the limelight on puppet construction, puppet first aid, building sets and set pieces and backstage crew,” Strong said.

Auditions will take place this Wednesday as well as on Sept. 11 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at the Yellowknife Public Library, and previous puppetry experience is not required. For more information, contact 867-446-2799.

“There’s a lovely story behind this show,” Strong said. “I know it’ll be a very heartfelt production and we’re looking forward to getting it on the stage in January.”

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