Animated objects on the loose

For the first time in the history of the International Festival of Animated Objects (IFAO) which debuted in 2002 the Old Trout Puppet Workshop is on the bill. And next year one if its members will be running the entire show.

This year’s edition of the biennial festival runs March 7 to 15 and involves 95 artists in about 30 events. Once it wraps up founder Xstine Cook is stepping down as curator and artistic director a torch that is being passed to Old Trouts’ Peter Balkwill.

“This development is fairly new and fresh. I couldn’t tell you with great clarity what kinds of strategies will be invested with that” says Balkwill. “It’s fair to say there will be Trout involvement in just about every festival in some capacity.

“The Old Trout Puppet Workshop will sail parallel to the IFAO and will help at arm’s length…. We’re banding together to help elevate the festival to the level it should be in Calgary.”

Balkwill predicts that “inventive” outreach initiatives will be one focus under his leadership as will the development of puppetry in film. “It would be lovely to bring in some workshops or create a 24-hour puppet film festival” he says.

Perhaps surprisingly considering his enthusiasm for the festival this year marks the first time since the inaugural fest that the Old Trouts are on the bill with not just one but two shows: the Trout classic Famous Puppet Death Scenes and a new show Trunk Puppet.

Famous Puppet Death Scenes which “addresses the notion of death in a joyous and rambunctious way” last played in Calgary around eight years ago and has since toured Europe. The new show Trunk Puppet was co-produced by IFAO and Montreal’s Festival de Casteliers.

“If you’re going to enlighten yourself in the world of puppetry you have to hook yourselves up with folks who’ve been doing it verbosely for a quite a while” says Balkwill adding that Montreal has a “huge” puppetry scene.

Trunk Puppet is an all-ages show in which the central character is the trunk itself. “The trunk has that sense of mystery and intrigue” says Balkwill noting that Mr. Dressup used the prop to great success. “The show explores what happens when you get so busy you don’t have time for your imagination….

“We want to elevate the children to a level of adult sophistication and vice versa have them laugh and marvel at the same thing and walk out of the theatre as two people not as parent and child” he says adding it entertains all age groups through the puppets’ cheekiness. “They get very close to the line that we think is potentially inappropriate but because they’re puppets they never really cross it” he says.

In addition to the Old Trout Puppet Workshop’s increased involvement with the IFAO the group is also in the process of helping to develop the Canadian Academy of Mask and Puppetry (CAMP) which will likely also have ties with the festival down the road.

“We want to give validation to the moniker that Calgary is the epicentre of puppetry in English-speaking Canada” says Balkwill.

Meanwhile the 2015 festival is ready to go — here are some of the highlights:

The House by the Lake which hails from Israel. In it a cabaret singer tells the story of three sisters who create an imaginary world while hiding in a tiny room during the Holocaust.

• Belgium’s In the Workshop an 18-minute show about “the mishaps of a puppet under construction.” Recommended for ages eight and up the puppet in this production decides to help carve itself.

The White Woman a poetic wordless production from Quebec that “centres on a character living in a world filled with puppets images and allegories.”

• Local Alice Nelson’s Ms. Sugarcoat. Nelson is the titular Ms. Sugarcoat a “bright-eyed and bushy-tailed” teacher who heads up a classroom in which everyone is “special.” Helicopter parents entitled high-needs students and political correctness all rear their heads in the show.

• Physical comedienne Mooky Cornish returns for the Dolly Wiggler Cabaret an evening of short-form puppetry for adults that has proven highly popular in festivals past.

• Several film screenings workshops and the Human Automaton Theatre Arcade — “a secret arcade of mini theatres” featuring very brief animated works.

INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF ANIMATED OBJECTS runs March 7 to 15 at various venues.