Strathcona Puppet Theatre
One of the original Arts & Health projects, the Strathcona Puppet Theatre Group created original puppet performances for 13 years, working with glove puppets, sock puppets, humanettes, bunraku, rod puppets, pop-up puppets, shadow puppets, and toy theatre. In 2019, they embarked on a process of digital storytelling with Catrina Longmuir to celebrate their time together.
While it appears simple, puppet manipulation requires a great deal of concentration and focus. Physically coordinating hand movements with voice is one of the many weekly physical theatre exercises the group practices in order to ready themselves for performance, while keeping physically fit at the same time.
Preparing for performance requires a great deal of forethought and preparation. There is the creation of the puppets, the design and building of the backdrop for the set, and learning and rehearsing for the performance. It is a long process ‘from here to there’, requiring patience, memory, and focus. Everyone needs to be flexible, especially when working in different languages. Over the years the relationship between the artists and the group members has developed into one of trust. “The challenge we experience through language barriers is also a gift,” says former lead artist Sharon Bayly, “We all need to pay very close attention in order to be understood and we learn from each other.” Each year the Strathcona Puppet Performance Group looks forward to offering their work in performance for family, friends, and the public at the Arts & Health showcase and exhibition.
If you are interested in participating in seniors arts programming at the Strathcona Community Centre, please contact Liza Tam.
Strathcona Community Centre
601 Keefer Street
Vancouver, BC V6A 3V8
2006 - 2019
"The challenges we experience through language barriers is also a gift. We all need to pay very close attention to each other in order to be understood and learn from one another"
"I don’t go other places but here – It teaches me a lot of activities!"
"I get to meet more people we do exercises for better health."
"It makes me feel young again."
In 2012/2013 the group explored a puppet style referred to as “Humanette” puppetry. It utilizes the puppeteer’s real head with a small, fabricated body that extends from the neck down. This creates an exaggerated, comical image where the head looks absurdly large on a small body. When the participants tried on their puppets for the first time they couldn’t help but see themselves as children. We asked them to remember themselves as children; what songs did they sing? What games did they play? Many of the seniors couldn’t remember childhood songs and games because their lives were overshadowed by war. Through the puppets we explored our own sense of being child-like, and guided them through a series of games and exercises that included singing and making silly faces. At first some of the participants were shy about using their real faces to show emotion or character, but after we played for a while they discovered the fun in it. This piece explored childhood songs and games as a way of illustrating the importance of play throughout our lives. As we age some part of the child remains and this piece honours that idea.
In 2011/2012 the senior puppeteers made sock puppets as part of their final project. Each participant made a sock puppet representing one of the 12 Chinese zodiacal animals, and then together, the seniors and artists created a short performance piece based on a mythic story which they presented at the Roundhouse during senior’s week in June.
Each year the dance, puppetry and shadow play performances speak for the intimate community of women and stand as a testament to their trust in each other and the deep friendships that have developed over the years.
Preparing for the Roundhouse performance every year is a rigorous endeavor for the seniors and artists. Every year the seniors present a live show. Many members have faced serious challenges in their lives and telling their stories through dance, puppetry and shadow play is a powerful experience for them. In 2010/2011 the seniors built on existing trust relationships and strong bonds among artists and participants. Previously developed skills in dance, movement, choreography were furthered to seek new creative expression in utilizing created materials and space. The performances were based on the seniors’ stories and celebrated the richness of their lives.
2007 to 2009
The workshops begin with regular physical warm ups and theater games which in the second and third years (2007 & 2008) included movement sequences for a series of dances. To remember the movements, the seniors transcribed them on colourful silks with ink calligraphy that were hung in the space during performances. Storytelling and puppetry were also introduced during warm up: seniors worked with shadow play using puppets and their own bodies and told stories involving photos and objects brought to the workshops. These stories were transcribed into movement and also enacted with their puppets.
Connections between the artists and seniors strengthen over time in spite of language barriers. Body movement and gesture as well as some language connections allows for deep bonds to develop within the group. Kathryn Ricketts noted that in time the women in the group began to change their ways of expressing themselves with their bodies, incorporating more fluidity and youthful expression in their dance and movements. Through exercises, members became more open emotionally and physically, and explorations with dance became more youthful and courageous.