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Artistic Director Noreen Young with Gloria. Photo by Brent Eades.

The puppets return to Almonte: Puppets Up August 12–14

By Ryan Pepper on August 9, 2022

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After a five-year hiatus, Puppets Up is returning to Almonte, a 30-minute drive from central Ottawa, with a weekend of international puppetry, street performers, and the much-buzzed-about Puppet Parade.

Festival-goers can watch shows in five theatres, including the Old Town Hall. Thirteen troupes will be performing 63 shows all weekend, ranging from solo performances with hand puppets to marionettes, Almonte District High School’s Peter Pan, which played at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and Indonesian puppeteer Sutrisno Hartana, who received backing from the Embassy of Indonesia to perform a nationally recognized art form in Almonte.

Puppets Up, 2015. Photo by Brent Eades.

The Artistic Director of Puppets Up is Noreen Young, an Order of Canada-winning puppeteer known for her television shows Hi Diddle Day and Under the Umbrella Tree. She moved to Almonte in 1983 and helped start the festival, drawing on her deep knowledge of puppet theatre and her long list of national and international colleagues.

“For this year’s comeback, I decided to bring back about half the 13 troupes that have been here before, so they would feel comfortable, and half of the troupes are new to us, that we’ve never seen before,” Young said.

Puppets Up, 2015. Photo by Brent Eades.

While attendees can personalize their visit, Executive Director Jan Torrance urges visitors not to miss the Puppet Parade in the middle of each day.

“It’s probably the most exciting parade I’ve seen in my whole life,” Young says. “Everybody is so excited and happy to see the puppets coming down the street, and there’s lots of music and lots of activity. There are a few VIPs and lots of kids with the puppets they made.”

The street entertainment is designed to “animate the space,” says Torrance, to make Puppets Up feel more like an open-air festival. People can catch jugglers, clowns, outdoor balcony puppeteers, and music as they go from one venue to the next.

Puppets Up started in 2005 as an economic booster when downtown Almonte wasn’t as lively as it is now. It was a period in the town’s history after the mills closed but before it became “trendy Almonte,” to quote Torrance.

Because of the festival’s longevity, Torrance and Young are eager to invite people who attended as youngsters and might now have their own children. It’s a chance to reconnect with the puppet shows that made you laugh and introduce the great presentations—and the art form of puppetry—to a new generation. It’s that specialized art form that Puppets Up seeks to celebrate.

“I always think of a puppet as a communication tool,” says Young. “You speak through the puppet, and you don’t have to be just a human character—you can be a shoe, or a broccoli, or a witch or whatever. You can use different voices, different personalities, and there are a lot of different disciplines involved … you can do a one-man show and do a cast of 20 or 30.”

Puppets Up, 2015. Photo by Brent Eades.

About midway through our call, we were joined by Gloria, a hand-and-rod puppet. Young makes all her own puppets and finds unique ways to bring them all to life. Despite knowing that Gloria is a puppet, there’s a liveliness to her.

“When you see the crowds, they start to talk to Gloria instead of talking to Noreen, and I think it’s not just the art of puppetry but how that puppetry is received by the audience,” says Torrance. “But kids get it right away, and they start to talk to the puppet almost immediately and don’t even recognize there’s a puppeteer behind them.”

Puppets Up, 2015. Photo by Brent Eades.

Puppets Up was last held in 2016 before returning this week. The hiatus was needed because of financial difficulties and burnout, which, thankfully, appear to be well behind them. The organizers decided to revive the festival to inject some celebration and magic into the pandemic times. Immediately, 72 volunteers stepped forward; now, they have over 160 people on board. The festival’s public relations coordinator, Joe Boughner, did not even live in Almonte when he signed up. Sponsors stepped up instantly, the team received support from the municipal, provincial, and federal levels, and ticket sales are steady.

In short, the festival was missed. So, make the drive to Almonte this weekend and immerse yourself in the craft, joy, and celebration of puppetry.


For schedules and tickets, check out the Puppets Up website

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