All images lovingly swiped from CLUNK Puppet Lab.
The other day, we did an interview with Shawna Reiter, co-artistic director from CLUNK Puppet Lab. The interview gods must have been shining upon us because the other co-artistic director, Kyla Read, also replied to our questions.
It’s pretty awesome to have both sets of answers to peruse to see what drives this interesting company.
TT: What drew you to the art of puppetry?
I fell into it. Totally by fluke. I had been acting for years all over Canada doing live theatre (predominantly physical theatre, clown and maskwork), when a friend I had been touring with told me about an audition for an apprenticeship program being offered by The Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Calgary to work on their latest show. I knew the Trouts’ work, and I loved their twisted perspectives and truthful philosophical inquiries into the madness and beauty of life. Though I had never manipulated a puppet in my life -save for a few hand puppets as a child- I have always been one to follow my gut, and I knew that there was something extraordinary about this opportunity.
I quit my temporary day job to focus on building my very first puppet for the audition, as well as a mask, composing original music and writing a short script based on an image that I had had rolling around in my head for a while. The audition piece was 4 minutes long and I put over 40 hours into creating it. I didn’t get the job; but instead of an apprenticeship to work on their show, they offered me an incredibly generous opportunity to create my own. And so, I gulped, I sat down, and I typed “let’s fucking do this.”
When making a puppet, what are some of the most important things you focus on?
Well, when we’re in building mode, I focus on the health and happiness and sleep schedule of my other CLUNK-half Shawna. Hahaha. She is the trained visual artist half of the two of us, and the true brains behind the puppet mechanics and the “how the hell do we make this work?!” element of the building, so it is imperative that she get her sleep and daily chocolate! Haha. No, the two of us have developed an amazing working relationship, which is absolutely key to everything we do. The hours and hours and hours of trial-and-error that go into creating a tiny replica of life are mind-blowing, and I truly wouldn’t be able to do it without her. We complement each other well, and our ideas have always been synchronous – while we aren’t afraid to push and challenge each other for the betterment of the piece that we’re working on.
In terms of my focus on the puppet-building itself, it honestly varies with each job. Because we’re working with building things that move (hence everything affects everything), every time an adjustment is made to one part of the project, everything that we’ve already done has to change with it, or at least be re-tested in various situations to make sure it will function as best and most efficiently as it can. I’d say the most important thing that we strive to attain in everything that we do is detail and specificity: the two undeniable factors in my mind which will always carry with them the potential to take something from “good” to “incredible”.
What is your favourite puppet (or two)?
Aesthetically: The Grandmother – I could look at her face for hours on end; Shawna did such an impeccable job with that sculpture. I also love the way her hair gently bounces naturally as she moves.
Personality: Super Ogorki- Maybe it’s because I’ve been manipulating him since his creation (so I know how he works inside and out); but this puppet is the one that I find that I lose myself in. It’s just pure “fun” when, as a performer, you get to the place where the puppet starts to trigger your impulses before your brain does. It’s always a hilarious surprise when the puppet does something that makes you laugh, and only after the fact, do you realize that it came from you.
In this current state of computer-generated everything, do you still think puppets have a strong draw?
I think that they have a stronger draw than ever. The technology we possess in this day in age is undeniably mind-blowing, and ever-increasingly so. I think that because so many of us are digitally reliant, there is something completely refreshing and almost spiritual about going to a theatre and having to “invest belief” into an inanimate object to infuse it with life. For this reason, I think that puppetry has the ability to speak personally to every person in that audience. Because the puppet is not another human being with a past and a history of life experiences, it almost becomes instantly capable of anything a person wills it to be.
I also think that because we are so used to seeing things happen virtually, we have a potentially increased imaginative capacity to simply accept worlds where aardvarks can juggle mango jello, or where a little boy can float on an umbrella to the moon; and therefore, there is an irrepressible child-like wonderment and giddiness that comes with seeing those very same things happen live right in front of your eyes. Because puppetry allows us to warp scale, perspective, and really delve into the abstract at times, it is an art form that is truly capable of anything. Really, it’s part old-school magic – the kind of magic that I think the inner children in all of us will never get tired of. Seeing the “unbelievable” occur right in front of you allows you to temporarily believe it. It makes you want to leap up and question it, and touch it and try to figure out how it was done. Perhaps, most special of all, is that when you leave the theatre, you know that you have been part of a collective moment that will never happen the same way again.
What do you think puppets bring to entertainment that no other form can?
Hmm…I guess I answered this a bit in the previous question. I think because puppets (if we’re talking realities) are just lifeless blocks of carved wood, and because we all know this and have to willingly suspend belief in order to invest their little lives into existence, they almost become vessels for truthful innocence and curious naïveté; and they have the ability to explore issues from a pure standpoint without any judgments that come from who a person is and where they have come from.