Fledgling puppet company meets the world one puppet at a time

A new puppet company is stepping up to the Calgary stage — and it’s entering if not with a bang then definitely with a clunk .

That’s right. Clunk Puppet Lab founded by Kyla Read and Shawna Reiter is bringing its inaugural show How I Became Invisible to the stage. The idea for the show stemmed from a short audition piece Read created years ago for an Old Trout Puppet Workshop apprenticeship and the idea for a newly minted puppet company grew out of the show.

“From the get-go we knew that this wasn’t a one-off thing” says Read. “We’re both very passionate about puppeteering and come from different artistic backgrounds which are so complementary that it’s foolish not to get together.”

Read’s background is in theatre and acting whereas Reiter is a visual artist. Peter Balkwill an artistic director of the Old Trouts and the show’s director chimes in: “That’s the chemistry for a successful puppet company a convergence of the visual art medium and performing art.”

How I Became Invisible is about old age — and youth. The story follows Saija a 12-year-old girl who has to go live with her Aunt Vivian in an apartment building full of elderly people. Saija’s curiosity leads audience’s through pipes and air ducts as she spies on her eccentric neighbours.

That’s the groundwork anyway: a synopsis wouldn’t really do the show justice. As Balkwill explains one of the goals in creating the show was to “abandon the notion of a hero’s journey [and] try to find an original way of telling a story.” Easier said than done.

The result according to Read is “completely non-linear — a series of compelling highly visual imagistic scenes.”

Or as Reiter puts it the show is “kind of like a visual poem.” Reiter’s art background contributes not only to creating evocative puppets but also to imagining the stage space as though it were an art installation.

“I’m thinking about how an art audience would react to this space” Reiter says. “If they’re invested in the puppet they’ll see moments and they’ll project themselves into that moment in a very similar way that you would if you were actually walking through a piece of art.”

“It’s like an installation art piece that moves and comes to life” adds Read.

Visual beauty aside the creators believe it’s an interesting show of different facets.

“I think it’s going to touch a lot of people because it’s dealing with issues that aren’t so much explored in a highly theatrical medium” says Read. “The facts are that older and younger people have an affinity for one another because they’re at opposite spectrums of their life and they’re kind of asking themselves the same questions.”

Clunk promises to leave its own mark on the Calgary arts scene but like any risky venture it’s just a bit easier with a little help from one’s friends. “This project would have been nearly impossible to pull off if it wasn’t supported by some of the large companies in Calgary” says Balkwill referring mainly to the Old Trouts and Vertigo Theatre particularly Y Stage producer Nathan Pronyshyn. “It’s a quite a beautiful thing about the Calgary theatre community — how fostering it is.”