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Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre brings Inuit legend to life

By Gloria Song on September 30, 2015

On October 4, the children of Ottawa will have a opportunity to experience a traditional Inuit legend brought to life through puppets in Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre’s adaptation of A Promise is a Promise, a collaboration between children’s writer Robert Munsch and Nunavut storyteller Michael Kusugak. The story of A Promise is a Promise takes place in the faraway setting of Pangnirtung, Nunavut, but many elements of the plot will be familiar: a young child with an independent spirit goes against her parents’ advice and now forced to be creative in learning how to overcome the consequences while keeping her promises.

Allashua is eleven years old, and she lives in a town in the Canadian Arctic called Pangirtung. Her parents have told her not to fish on the sea ice, but she breaks her promise to her parents and goes fishing in the cracks of the Arctic sea ice. There she meets the monster Qallupilliut, the monster that her parents warned her would steal children who go on the sea ice without their parents and drag them under the ice. In her desperation, Allashua tells that Qallupilluit that she will bring back all of her siblings if she is released. The Qallupilluit lets her go, and now Allashua must face a difficult decision. A promise is a promise. How will she keep hers?

Robert Munsch and Michael Kusugak’s A Promise is a Promise was the first children’s book to be written and published in the Inuit language of Inuktitut. Preparations for the adaptation of the book into a puppet show included a trip to Baffin Island, where Pangnirtung is located, and a subsequent presentation to the schoolchildren and elders there. For the show, Rag & Bone Theatre Company employ a modern puppet style of open manipulation, in which the puppeteers work in plain sight of the audience.

The puppet show is recommended for children over the age of four, but enjoyable for children of all ages, including those young at heart. A Promise is a Promise will be a great opportunity for parents and teachers to introduce children to other indigenous cultures in Canada, which is particularly important given that Ottawa is home to the largest population of Inuit people outside of the Arctic Circle. Stories like “A Promise is a Promise” have often served as cautionary life lessons that allow older generations to pass on wisdom to the next generation, including lessons as simple and specific as “Be careful when standing near cracks in the ice” (no doubt an important survival tip in the North), but also truths as universal as “Always keep your word”. The October 4 production of A Promise is a Promise will allow children to learn these lessons from the magical stage of the puppet theatre.

Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre’s Promise is a Promise will be performed on Sunday, October 4, 2015 at 1:30PM and 4:00PM at the Irving Greenberg Centre (Great Canadian Threatre Company, 1233 Wellington St. W.). Tickets are $10 each or 4 for $32.