A muscle-bound, one-eyed troll with a fondness for Queen and a Mohawked pig prince looking for a mate were among the fascinatingly hilarious characters Salt Spring audiences got to know at Entangled Puppetry shows this month.
The hand and rod puppets, in the style that Jim Henson’s work made instantly familiar to people around the world, were created on island by Tangle Caron and Tyler McClure. The two puppet and theatre professionals have made a temporary studio of Caron’s mother Wendy Beatty’s home near Vesuvius Bay, turning the dining room into the creative base from which Short TALL Tales was launched.
Caron and McClure put on two performances and gave a puppet-making workshop at the public library this month, introducing thrilled audiences to an amalgamation of three fairytale retellings: The Princess and the Pineapple, the Three Gruff Billies, and Jack and Jill and the Beanstalk. Not knowing how the local population would respond to puppetry, the artists were surprised to see an audience of 85 cram into the library’s new programs room on March 2.
“They’re very personable puppets. We had a really delightful response from people who came to the first show,” said Caron, adding, “Puppets are an interesting art form because people of all ages are really willing to engage in suspension of disbelief.”
Caron’s parallel career path has been in environmental education. She was a member of the Otesha Project, touring the Sunshine Coast and Vancouver Island by bicycle and giving performances about sustainability, and was a member of Parks Canada’s professional troop Mountain Whit (where she met McClure), touring out of Banff for two years.
She’s found puppetry is a great bridge between education and performance, helping to spread messages through entertainment in a unique way. The Bread and Puppets troop from Burlington, Vt. has been a strong influence.
For Caron, who grew up on Salt Spring but left in her final year of high school to attend a performing arts school in Alberta a decade ago, the trip home between contracts has been a chance to reconnect with the creative community she knew as a kid.
“Salt Spring was such a wonderful place to grow up as a young artist,” she said.
“It was such a nourishing place. Since we were here, we sort of wanted to give back to the community.”
According to Caron, puppetry is kind of the underdog of the theatre arts in North America, but for a creative person it can offer an abundance of riches, involving visual art, performance and movement. She has made puppets in many styles, but says the environment where she produces them tends to have an impact on their design.
The Short TALL Tales characters, for example, have soft and fleecy bodies and clothes made from recycled items and upholstery. Ducky shows the influence of nearby Duck Creek in her ankle-length green braids, marshy skin tone and frog-like face. A seven-foot whale puppet Caron made for the Pacific Rim Whale Festival had a spine and skull of driftwood that she scavenged from the local beach.
Found elements often make their way into the creations, as Caron’s artistic vision has to be worked through on a limited budget — a challenge she calls “exciting and exhilarating” to overcome.
Just as the puppet forms often emerge from the local environment, their personalities are also strangely innate.
“With this show we found the puppets kind of make up a lot of their own dialogue, so we don’t write a lot of stuff down,” Caron said.
“We write a framework but then do a lot of improvisation to tell the story.”
During their three-month sojourn on Salt Spring, Caron and McClure took the opportunity to get involved in another popular project, appearing in the Salt Spring Community Theatre hit Harold and Maude.
Although the pair will be leaving again soon to take up their summer contracts in environmental education, Caron said their recent experience has opened the doors to establishing a permanent studio someday.
“It’s been really nice to be on Salt Spring and really nice to come home as an adult.
“It’s been really encouraging to come back and see such a thriving artistic community,” she said.
To learn more about Caron’s creations, visit her blog at http://entangledpuppetry.blogspot.ca.