For almost 40 years, sibling duo – David and Ann Powell – have been astounding audiences at home and abroad with their innovative puppetry and creative storytelling. Together, they are Puppetmongers – and are here to share their story, a their contribution to SIA’s Hamlet’s 100 Worries, and their season’s shows!
SIA: What is the Puppetmongers’ story? How did it begin? What inspired you?
Puppetmongers: Our parents gave us each a marionette for Christmas when we were 7 (David) and 8 (Ann) years old. They were fun to play with; we started asking for and collecting more, and making our parents watch the shows we put together.
SIA: What is it like working alongside your sibling?
Puppetmongers: It makes it harder to leave the company! But at the same time it is a longstanding relationship based on childhood memories and experiences and play.
SIA: Is there a puppetry experience that stands out in your mind?
Puppetmongers: When we were still using marionettes, before we were Puppetmongers, we realized the kids in audiences were peeking up under our puppet theatre proscenium to see us. So we got rid of the proscenium and, now that we were visible, the puppets and the story could become the focus. This was probably a seminal moment in developing the puppetry style we’re now known for.
SIA: Where in the world has your puppetry taken you?
Puppetmongers: Across Canada, around the States, to parts of Europe, and to Iran.
SIA: Any fun anecdotes?
Puppetmongers: There’s an act in our Brick Bros. Circus for which we “plant” a volunteer brick with an audience member. In Belgium, performing the show one night in Toone Theater (the old theatre for traditional Belgian rod marionettes in the heart of Brussels), children in the audience got wind of this and, before the show, went out looking for bricks to volunteer. They brought back huge street cobblestones from a worksite – that of course wouldn’t fit the act the brick was needed for. Lots of booing ensued!
For our Walidad the Grass Cutter we needed some bricks to act as set weights. Performing the show at a festival in Seattle, we set out to find a brick yard but, because of a massive storm, traffic was at a standstill and we had to think fast – we bought watermelons which worked perfectly, and we shared them with the audience afterwards.
A child’s comment after a performance of our Cinderella in Muddy York – “Did this really happen in Toronto?”
A question after a school performance of the Brick Bros. Circus – “What other planets have you performed on?”
And we could go on with wonderful anecdotes from our nearly 40 year company history…
SIA: What are some of the materials and methods that you use to build puppets?
Puppetmongers: When planning a new show, we come from the point of view of how to best tell the story. And that leads us to decisions about techniques, methods, materials to suit – which could be materials and methods we’ve not thought to use before.
SIA: For you, what distinguishes puppetry from other art forms? What is its value for today’s audiences?
Puppetmongers: As audience members, we often find it easier to identify with a puppet character than a human one; there’s no “What have I seen her in before?” “He’s looking older” “Would I like him/her…”. There’s no personal baggage brought to the stage/part: the puppet is the character.
SIA: Tell us a little more about your work with SIA on Hamlet’s 100 Worries.
Puppetmongers: We brought in masks and fabrics, and halogen lamps; we experimented with how puppets could be brought to life as characters in Hamlet, how actors and puppets could mix, how scenes could be staged. It was most interesting to hear the actors’ responses after experimenting with scenes (puppeteers don’t tend to do that!) – an intelligent cast analysing, sharing interesting feedback and perspectives on what they’d just experienced, relating to the puppet figures and images and how they were able to do a scene.
SIA: What shows do you have coming up for families, schools, and adult audiences?
Puppetmongers: Well, for schools this next year, we’re touring Cinderella in Muddy York in October/November, Foolish Tales for Foolish Times next March/April, and Walidad the Grass Cutter next May. This December, Tea at the Palace will be at the Tarragon Theatre for our 24th Winter Holiday season. There will be a week of school performances the last week of the term and a week of family performances during the holiday. And we’re developing a couple of new shows too – A History of History (big bang to now) and Monger Memories (adventures from our childhood).
To learn more about what Ann and David have in store for this season, visit the Puppetmongers website – click here.