I've spent the last fifteen years hanging around wooden actors. No -- that's not quite true. Constructed, I should say. But then there are the talented objects that fall into the business because they've got something the director likes. They're just naturals. (I try not to get jealous. Some of us have to try, and others -- they just have it.) And of course, there are sometimes live actors. They're fun too.
My favourite place in Winnipeg without question is just over Hooper's Bazaar on McDermot, inside a black-box studio with no windows. It's the studio space of Manitoba Arts Award of Distinction winner Grant Guy. He's the artistic director of Winnipeg's only avant-garde puppetry company, and he's run it for the past fifteen years out of Old Market Square. The name of our company is Adhere and Deny. I don't have the word count here to get into why it's called Adhere and Deny, so I'll just move on.
Have you ever driven through Old Market Square and wondered if maybe something unusual is going on in some of those old brick buildings? You're right to wonder. Once I got invited into one of those buildings for tea. We went up to a certain floor. I entered a huge space that was painted inky blue and had a thousand glittering stars hanging from the ceiling. That's nothing. That's normal for a studio space in Old Market Square -- the trick is getting invited to these places. But Grant's studio is open for business.
It's his Geppetto's workshop. He makes the puppets there, when there are puppets to be made. It's also our rehearsal space, and our performance venue. We don't do puppetry for kids. That's strange for North America, but in Prague -- where both Grant and I have studied the carving and manipulation of wooden marionettes -- that's normal. Prague is the puppet capital of the world. It has all kinds of theatres -- big, popular theatres the size of MTYP, and smaller, and bigger -- all devoted solely to puppetry for adults, and that run year-round. If you like puppets, going to Prague is like going to your reward. In Winnipeg, we have Adhere and Deny.
I teach puppetry to kids. I have an extensive puppet collection, including puppets I've made or collected. Some kids are afraid of puppets. I ask them why. Because of Chucky, they inevitably say. To which I retort, "Chucky's not a puppet, he's a doll." You've got to educate kids.
Kids want to know why I love puppets. All I can tell them: When I was tiny and lived in Stratford, Ont., my brothers lured me into the attic, and when they had me up there in the shadows, they held out a box, whipped out a puppet and thrust it in my face. I knew they were trying to frighten me. I was always anxious to please, but couldn't oblige them, because I just felt good inside. My puppets hang from various places all through my house. Sometimes I look up from my computer in the night, and I see hundreds of eyes on me. It's comforting.
But back to my favourite place. I'm a founding member of Adhere and Deny and we've done a lot of shows in that studio. Grant and I, although totally devoted to each other (right, Grant?), differ in many ways. He leans toward the found object, the avant-garde puppet (though Grant wouldn't use the term avant-garde because it's all been done before, he says). I like expressionism, and the classic hand puppet. One of my favourite experiences is performing the original 1800s Punch and Judy show solo with twelve puppets.
Anyway, Grant and have different opinions on puppets. Sometimes when we talk puppets, I look at him like he's crazy, and sometimes he just looks at me with no expression because he's classier than I am. For example, we did a performance of Salome using rocks that we actors pushed through kitty litter. I'm serious --it was a huge hit. You should have seen Salome doing the dance of the seven veils. Very erotic. So although we differ aesthetically, I respect Grant wholly. Of our shows together, done in that little black box space, my favourites include: Prometheus Bound, done with big plaster heads on poles, Haiku, with little wooden blocks, Swan Song with a classic vintage ventriloquist puppet (to be remounted at RMTC'S Chekov Fest), The Tragedy of Doctor Faustus, with hand puppets carved out of that green Styrofoam you stick fake flowers in, The Orestia Trio, with cardboard on sticks, Madman and the Nun, with little figures stuck in sand in mason jars, and The Bedbug.
I should probably leave it there. The Bedbug is really hard to describe.
Carolyn Gray is a writer, theatre artist, and the executive director of the Manitoba Writers Guild. She's a core member of Adhere and Deny Object Puppet Theatre, which is presenting Trumpets and Raspberries Nov. 20-30 at 315-70 Albert Street, reservation line: 204-804-9686.