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Puppetry of the Pooh

Cast of MTYP production ready to bring 'stuffies' out of storage and back to life

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/11/2018 (496 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The featured performers of the new show at Manitoba Theatre for Young People have been residing in a cramped bin in a storage area for the past few years.

THEATRE PREVIEW

Click to Expand

The House on Pooh Corner
Manitoba Theatre for Young People
● To Dec. 30
● Tickets $20-$30 at 204-942-8898 or at mtyp.ca

No union intervention should be necessary, however. The stars of The House on Pooh Corner are "stuffies" — animal dolls modelled after the characters of A.A. Milne’s Winnie the Pooh stories, specifically found in the book of the same name, published 90 years ago in 1928.

And anyway, according to Janelle Regalbuto, the MTYP’s head of properties, the stuffies will probably be stored in two bins after this production wraps.

"We might space them out a bit more because they were pressing on each other," she says.

The stuffies are the stars of the The House on Pooh Corner. (Mikaela MacKenzie photos / Winnipeg Free Press)

The stuffies are the stars of the The House on Pooh Corner. (Mikaela MacKenzie photos / Winnipeg Free Press)

Regalbuto says this year has been especially intensive when it comes to puppets at MTYP, from Comet in Moominland to the upcoming productions of The Very Hungry Caterpillar, Twenty Thousand Leagues Under The Sea and the new show Torn Through Time.

"I can’t remember a year where we’ve had so many occurrences of puppets throughout the whole season," she says.

Shawn Kettner (Supplied photo)

Shawn Kettner (Supplied photo)

That said, the puppets in The House on Pooh Corner, built in 2003 for an original MTYP production, are unique in that they don’t really look like puppets at all.

"They’re hands-on stuffies being manipulated the way a child would manipulate their toy in the playroom," says Shawn Kettner, who built the puppets 15 years ago and designed them alongside set/props/costume designer William Chesney.

"We wanted to keep in the realm of how a child would play and bring their toys to life."

"It’s a slightly different version of puppeteering," says actor — and puppet novice — Cherissa Richards, who does multiple duty in the show.

"My main person role is Alice, Christopher Robin’s nanny," she says. "And as a puppeteer, I play Eeyore, Rabbit, Kanga, Roo, Owl and a butterfly. It’s quite a lot of puppeting."

Cherissa Richards, who voices Owl, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, stars in House on Pooh Corner at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.

Cherissa Richards, who voices Owl, Eeyore, Kanga and Roo, stars in House on Pooh Corner at the Manitoba Theatre for Young People.

Other than Pooh himself, Eeyore may be one of the most popular characters in the Hundred Acre Wood setting of the play, ironic since the donkey character is best known for his unfailingly bleak worldview. He was always Richards’ favourite.

"I don’t know why, but I always felt a kinship with him, although I’m not a depressive person," she says. "There’s just something about him that makes me fond of him, so it was exciting to get to play him."

One tends to attach a particular Pooh character to a type of person: Eeyore is a pessimist, Tigger is manic, Piglet is timid, and so on. But Richards believes each character can reflect a single aspect of... everyone.

Winnie the Pooh is knighted during the House on Pooh Corner.

Winnie the Pooh is knighted during the House on Pooh Corner.

"With all the different Pooh characters, there’s a little piece of them in each of us," she says. "And it’s so interesting to play so many of them actually, to find as an actor what your connection is to that specific character type.

"Kanga is a very maternal, caring mother and Roo feels like this little four-year-old boy who just wants to play," she says. "Rabbit is a bit of a megalomaniac. He likes to be in control and have everybody do what he wants them to do and come up with all the ideas and orchestrate the plan, which is definitely the bossy control freak inside of me.

Aaron Pridham is the voice of Tigger.

Aaron Pridham is the voice of Tigger.

"Owl comes off as a very wise character but is quite clueless in the end," she says. "He makes grand pronouncements without really knowing what he’s saying, although everybody buys into it because he seems so wise. We all have a little bit of that."

During the show, kids in the audience watch as adults manipulate the dolls in the same way the kids might themselves. In that way, the show builds a bridge between the playroom and the theatre stage.

"It’s the beautiful thing about the play: adults playing as children the way children play in their rooms with their stuffed animals, having tea parties and make up grand adventures with their dolls.

"We’re doing that in front of their eyes," she says. "It’s just the essence of using your imagination."

"Owl comes off as a very wise character but is quite clueless in the end," says Richards.

"Owl comes off as a very wise character but is quite clueless in the end," says Richards.

randall.king@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @FreepKing

Randall King

Randall King
Reporter

In a way, Randall King was born into the entertainment beat.

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