Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater

It came to me like a dream…a waking dream. For weeks I had, during daytime hours, pondered what to do for my grandson for Christmas morning 2019. For some reason, I thought that this decision would lay down the tracks for every other decision I would make on his behalf for his entire lifetime. (Crazy, I know.) I don’t take my place as Gramma lightly, exemplified in my willingness to put myself out there as a bumble bee.  Isn’t my grandson handsome?

My mother had such a talent for sewing that for every Christmas and birthday, there were sure to be homemade gifts arrive in the mail or delivered, personally. They were tagged and finished beautifully, “To my Grand Daughter, with Love!” I follow in impressive footsteps. 

So, it was on a morning in October, that a waking dream came to me. I sleep in the deepest darkest lowest level of the house and it’s pretty cold at times. I was curled in snug under the covers, when ‘it’ came to me in half-sleep. “I could build my grandson a puppet theater!” I imagined him as he is now, watching his Mommy and Daddy being funny and laughing behind the stage…and then, with little friends, growing up…and then making hilarious fun as an upper elementary student…and then, possibly, with his life marked by all sorts of little stories that Mommy made up…and stories that he performed for evening entertainment, he might even take the puppet theater with him, after a long and probably painful storage dilemma between his Mom and Dad and him. Yes, I conjured all of this up in the rumblings of a dark morning in October.

When I woke and got up that morning, shuffling to the kitchen to make my first cup of coffee, I said aloud, “Gramma is going to make a puppet theater!”

It began with a plan.  I scoured Amazon, Ebay, Kijiji and puppet companies the world over.  Finally, I came up with a plan that I wanted to work with, a little homemade theater that I spotted on Kijiji.  If I had an interest in driving to the city of Lacombe to pick this one up for 100.00, it would have been easily revised.

But, nah…I would create something amazing, at least I would be the one with the vision!  In terms of tools, I just don’t have what it takes.  I needed to track down Santa’s helper, and quick!

After my communications with a high school shop teacher came up empty, I went to my go-to guy, Len, a neighbour who helps me with all sorts of odd jobs when I don’t have the tools necessary.  He works independently and I like to support him in his various efforts.

I took in account Steven’s height and the fact that I wanted at least one little friend to be able to participate with him during his childhood productions and so I drew up this plan.  Now, this wee sheet that was sketched out in my day timer was not so simple as it might appear!  Lots of thought went into this, so please, readers, don’t think that this came fleetingly!

Within a week or so…Len came up with some ideas of his own.  I talked to him about a concept of design that would align itself with Steven’s birthing songs and art…something to do with ‘Under the Sea’ or ‘An Octopus’s Garden’.  Insert music here.

I was pretty darned happy when Len and James brought the puppet theater off the truck and into the studio, even though the weight of this beast certainly didn’t mean that I would be moving it around a lot.  It would have to find itself a space and it was at this stage that I first became concerned that it might never really find its way into a forever-home.

Safe in my studio, I was able to begin measuring and planning for curtains, backdrops and decoration.  I began by applying two coats of primer.

In the evenings, I was bopping in and out of shops, planning and scheming a system that would work for the draperies.  I wanted them to mimic the velvet curtains I imagined in the grand theaters.  In the end, the installation of curtains ended up being so darned challenging.  This lady became one of my friends on this mission…taking several different exchanges as I would return rods…experiment…ask for help.

In the end I settled on these velour panels…and now, to seek out someone who might hem them up for me.

I won’t go into details (is this a detail?)…but, at one point, these small bits of hardware were purchased as a bit of an experiment.  I feature them here simply because the man who helped me in this department of the big box store, Home Depot, was such an angel and was seriously the greatest guy to talk to.  He was so excited about my ‘Gramma Builds a Puppet Theater’ project, that my problem-solving ended up being a huge conversation.  I just really treasure people like him and only regret that I didn’t ask his name.

I solicited a lovely high school student, Emmanuella, to sew the draperies, under the supervision of her Fashions teacher, Fierina.  Emmanuella has excelled in this area and advanced beyond all of the projects assigned.  It was a great idea for the both of us and I really enjoyed getting to know such a conscientious and beautiful person.

Rooting through my basement storage cupboard, I located some old tins of house paint and selected a colour that would help me achieve my underwater theme.

While pursuing the painting and project, I began to search out puppets.  Late into my evenings, I would explore on-line sites and finally decided to write a story about an Eagle Walk.  Ikea is the only store to have an eagle puppet, and ironically enough, I never did get myself to the store to purchase the puppet.  One day, perhaps. The eagle, therefore, was represented by a sound effect…very very cool!

Basically, I ended up purchasing puppets that I fell in love with, after exploring so many toy shops in town.  For the sake of this post, I have spared you archives for several locations.  It was actually Scholastic, on Macleod, where I tracked down chicken and monkey in a barrel, both two of my favourites.

I found a perfect stuffie border collie at the Goodwill store and at home, washed and dried it, gutted it, inserted a glove and created our Maxman character.  Thanks, James, for exploring so many stores with me, looking for the perfect puppet collection.

I began to decorate the puppet theater, first locating a dry erase board for puppet show announcements, at the Dollarama…hmmm…or did it end up being Staples? While at the dollar store, I picked up some rolls of ribbon, thinking I could create a celebratory effect by placing some of that here and there.  I am really NO DECORATOR!  Let’s face it, the greatest problem of them all was the curtain.  It was getting close to the wire, by this point, and while really wanting to pain scene backdrops for the theater, I let go of that project, thinking that this would be an idea for later gifts.

I painted a few bits onto the outside panels and opted to leave the front of the theater plane.  Embellishments definitely made a difference!

I think it was only a short time before the actual performance when I solicited the help of friends, Angela and Nigel, to create puppet figures for Doug, Erin, Gramma and Steven.  They came to our Christmas feast, with felt puppet figures in tow…and while Christmas went remarkably long due to an unforeseen crash by young Steven and a trip to the hospital so that his forehead might be taped back together…THE SHOW DID GO ON!  But…I get ‘A HEAD’ of myself here.

The puppet theater, at completion…

It was at the pre-function on Christmas day that the screenplay came to be created in a very collaborative way and with many laughs…all directed by our writer/editor in residence, my sister-friend, Karen.  The traditional big feast happened and then, interspersed with the drive to hospital and back, the $10 gift steal that happened incorrectly this year (and did I listen to the five people who tried to tell me?….next time, don’t be so polite), under my direction, the puppet show was set, complete with eagle sound effects provided by Tyler (mind you…the timing might have been a little off) and narration delivered, confidently, by Shawn (you are such a good sport!).

A small capture of that…

Sending love to all who helped this dream happen…

Somewhere out there, there is a video from this debut, but I don’t know where it is or if I have permission to share.  I just am grateful for Christmas magic.

Gordon Lightfoot, After All These Years

There are no photographs that I can find (we probably didn’t own a camera), of the days when Dad, my brother John and I used to play the ukulele.  There are just so many tunes to play around the campfire on a ‘Uke’ but I remember them including Yellow BirdMichael Row The Boat AshoreDown In the Valley and Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.

Dad got us interested in stringed instruments very early in our lives.

Christmas St. Sylvestre

 

Whenever we gathered with friends or went camping, we had sing-songs.  In fact, we grew up surrounded by music.  Our military life took us on many family road trips and Sunday drives and all of it involved singing a repertoire of folk songs, big band era music like Abba Dabba Honeymoon,  Moon River and Mack the Knife and funny songs like “One Man Went to Mow“, There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea...well, you get the idea.

Dad also owned a beautiful Gibson guitar.  Nothing made me happier than listening to him sing songs, while playing that guitar.  There are no photographs of the Gibson, but I’m certain that my father and siblings remember it as though it was yesterday.  It was a family treasure.  Dad shared…

“I was given that beautiful Gibson from our neighbour across the street from us on Briar Hill Drive in Battle Creek, Michigan. I am sorry I cannot remember their names, but they were certainly good friends of ours throughout my tour there. He was a Lt.Col in the USAF Reserve and taught high school.  One of the humorous things I remember was Mom giving him a 1 quart and a 1 pint milk bottle that somehow came with us on the move. He was so excited since he would use them during his 2 hour course on Canada. That was the total length of time for their history of Canada.  Anyway he came over one day and had the Gibson with him. He told me that it had been owned by quite a famous country singer and was given to him. It honestly looked like it had just come from the factory it was such a beautiful instrument. I simply adored it and learned to play somewhat from a book.(just our usual camping songs.).”

Because of this inspiration around stringed instruments, when I got a regular summer job at The Deluxe restaurant in North Bay, Ontario, I decided to buy my very own guitar.  I spotted the one I wanted in a music shop window on Main Street and began saving up my tips.  By end of summer, I made the purchase of my Yamaha Classical guitar…something I decided on so that I could play with ease because of the give of the classical strings instead of the resistance of steal strings.  I’ve treasured that guitar for ever since.  Yes…it’s gone out with my own kids to campfires and parties…but, it hung in and makes a beautiful sound to this day.

At the day of my purchase, I also bought a song book of Gordon Lightfoot songs.  The thing about this particular book, the chord illustrations appeared above the appropriate words, so I figured, like my Dad before me, I could teach myself to play guitar.

From 1960 until 1963, Gordon Lightfoot became a household name in Canadian homes.  He was and still is a wonderful song writer…optimistic writing, surfacing during what came to be known as the Folk Revival (just before the huge movement of Beatles music across North America and the world.)  I wasn’t like my brother, John, who next door to me in Great Falls, Montana, in a neighbouring bedroom, played the Grateful Dead and Gregg Allman.  I was playing Dylan; Buffy Ste. Marie; Peter, Paul & Mary; The Mamas and the Papas, Pete Seeger and Gordon Lightfoot.

In the end, it turns out that my older brother, John, became a person I would always admire for his ability on guitar.  He had the ear for music and was a natural.  He felt the guitar and released its spirit, where I would be measured and predictable.  I think he spent some years playing at gigs as well, and given his home in Sault Ste. Marie, he moved towards a Bluegrass style.

Once I moved to Lethbridge and attended University, I continued to appreciate more mellow voices and music, enjoying Valdy, Bruce Cockburn, Bette Midler, Cat Stevens and Paul Williams.  Somewhere along the line, I bought myself a Three Dog Night album.  It seemed that I never really had a lot of money…still don’t…so accessing concerts and getting out for musical events didn’t really happen until I ‘grew up’.  I did, however, listen to other people’s music and so became exposed to a lot of Cabaret music in the day, Beatles, Rolling Stones, Peter Frampton and Grace Jones…on and on it went from there.

Summers and Christmases, traveling back home to share times with Mom and Dad, the guitars came out…and always there were sing-songs.  Mom always asked me to play and I did.

singing and group 4 Two

singing and group 4

Family reunions brought together a large group of very talented people, many of them sharing guitar during the programs.  Cecil, Jo-Anne, my brother, John…Dad…

singing

Kath and John Reunion 1984

There have been a lot of back yard, under-the-tree sorts of moments…sitting in the stair well at the U of L, singing my heart out.  Living in residence was isolating at times.  The guitar filled lonely moments.

 

Gloria

Singing at weddings…oh my gosh, I’ll never forget not being able to find my beginning note during Lord of the Star Fields.  But things went well when I played and sang I Will and also For Baby.

Gloria's Weding

There was never the chance or the opportunity to pick up a Gordon Lightfoot ticket before this recent purchase.  But, long-story-short (fail)…last evening I had the chance to attend a concert where 78 year old Gordon Lightfoot came to Calgary, I felt, to sing just to me.  I purchased the ticket some time ago.  Without a partner, I’ve had years to practice not being shy about attending events on my own.  Strategically, when something comes up on my radar,  I pour over the seating maps for the venues and select the best single seat that I can find for that event.  Last night, I ended up in the second row of the Grey Eagle Casino Theater, with an unobstructed view of Lightfoot.  A father and teenaged daughter duo were sitting to my right.  I felt a bit sorry for the daughter because after every tune, the Dad would turn to her and say, “Did you like that one?”

To my left, two Ya Yas sat down just as the show began, a little envious of the cold gin and tonic that I was sipping, having arrived in time to access the bar line before the performance.

DSC_0254

I felt that the performance last night was all about good song writing.  The lyrics, beautiful narratives, for the most part, were exquisite.  I was filled with admiration for this person…for a career of dedication, struggle, and sideways living-gone right.  I really listened to these lyrics for the first time and saw them as very positive.

I got teary at the point where Gordon Lightfoot began singing The Minstrel of the Dawn…and that continued until the end of the song. Many of his songs moved me, but this one, the most.

Lightfoot is good humoured about his abilities.  He has a great lead guitar that provides the thread of his former performances.  His voice is weaker than in the past, but has all of that quality that is endearing.  Some songs were performed as shorter versions of themselves, out of need to entertain the crowd with the ‘old familiars’, but Lightfoot performed his most recent writing in its entirety and with enthusiasm.  I was really impressed.

I can’t tell a lie.  As I listened, I thought about my Dad.  I thought about what a gift it must be (and I have some experience of this already) to be able to continue to delight in your talents after so many years.  Dad, at 86, is in a choir and continues to carry the magic of his Irish tenor voice whenever he interprets music.  I was impressed by Gordon Lightfoot last night and was moved in a remarkable way.  As we move into our later years, we need to do what we can to continue nurturing our gifts.  I’m posting a video here.  I hope you will take the time to listen to the interview and then, listen to the song.

Music is something we hold inside of us…like DNA.  The stories that we carry in us are, for the most part, bits and pieces of the music we have cherished in our lives.  Live music can never be underestimated for its impact on us.

Post Script: The Next Generation

 

Shadow Catcher Productions

Wowsah!  I headed down on the C-train Sunday evening, anticipating quality time with friend, Wendy Lees of Love Art in Calgary and her partner, Bob. Quality time shared with Wendy typically happens around good art, food and music and Sunday evening was no exception!  Richard Anseuuw’s Shadow Catcher Productions, along with talent buyers and production people Kevin Warren and Bryan Taylor are doing tremendous things with a number of offerings this season. Theatre Junction GRAND was the perfect venue for an acoustic song-writer/performer blow out!

I arrived early and so I went for a walk to collect a few photographs.  The evening air was full of summer changing and so a walk was the perfect thing to do.

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Lisecki's work in the Theatre Junction Grand!  Whoot!

Lisecki’s work in the Theatre Junction Grand! Whoot!

The show consisted of two 60 minutes sets where Eliza Gilkyson, Kevin Welch and Gretchen Peters shared the stage, alternating and creating back-ups for one another in a whole collection of ‘magical’ tunes. Dustin Welch and Barry Walsh rounded off the stage musically, with rich guitar and keyboard sounds.  Directly from the publicity that circulated before show night, this.

Eliza Gilkyson
The Grammy-nominated Eliza Gilkyson is a politically minded, poetically gifted singer-songwriter, who has become one of the most respected musicians in folk and Americana music circles. www.elizagilkyson.com

Eliza’s performance was so inspiring and I was pretty sad that by midway through the intermission, her recent release, Roses at the End of Time, was gone.  Her tune, Tender Mercies, caused me goose bumps.

Tender Mercies by Eliza Gilkyson


Across the world she tapes explosives to her chest
steps into a shopping mall
a life devoid of all of mercy’s tenderness
really isn’t any life at all.

 

Tender mercies, tender mercies, come before despair
shine down all your tender mercies
it’s every mother’s prayer.

 

Down below the factory along the riverside
children swimming in a poison pool
playful afternoon of unintended suicide
gone before they ever knew.

 

Tender mercies, tender mercies, come before despair
shine down all your tender mercies
it’s every mother’s prayer.

 

Across the world she holds her loved ones to her chest
lays them down and listens at the door
everybody safe and warm among the truly blessed
how can we even dare to ask for more.

 

Tender mercies, tender mercies, come before despair
shine down all your tender mercies
it’s every mother’s prayer.

Gretchen Peters
Singer-songwriter, Gretchen Peters, is well-known for composing hits for performers like Martina McBride, Etta James, Trisha Yearwood, Patty Loveless, George Strait, Anne Murray, Neil Diamond and others. She has won the Country Music Association Song Of The Year for “Independence Day”. She is rapidly becoming known now as a wonderful performer herself. www.gretchenpeters.com

Kevin Welch
Kevin is a well-known & respected Americana roots songwriter and performer who has plied his craft since the late 70s. Along with musical buddy and frequent touring companion, Keiran Kane, he formed his own record label Dead Reckoning in the mid 90s. www.kevinwelch.com

The song writing was exquisite and I’ve been playing Gretchen’s music again and again the last few days…the only CD I picked up that evening, but with an interest in following up on Amazon for the others.  When Gretchen introduced St. Francis, she talked about the impact of the BP oil spill on the Gulf of Mexico and about the cottage on the gulf where she writes.  She said that this song was born out of thoughts around this event.  At that, I knew that I wasn’t leaving without that tune in my pocket.

Keep an eye out here as I’m going to post upcoming events!

Where are you, Morley Redwood?

It was a pleasant surprise, recently, to encounter First Nations dance, singing and drumming at the annual Calgary Spaghetti Western Festival.  I found the love song that Morley Redwood sang solo to be both haunting and beautiful. Not typically performed solo, I thought that Morley was courageous to sing with such spirit, in front of an audience at Olympic Plaza. I’m also posting a YouTube where Morley is joined by other drummers and singers so that my readers can see the depth of sound as several drummers and singers join.

 

 

 

Recently a group of First Nations singers has gone viral on YouTube.  This particular performance echoes, but is different from a Buffy-Ste-Marie tune that I used to listen to while painting.

 

 

Morley Redwood is Assiniboine/Cree from Cowessess First Nation, located in Saskatchewan.  He has been singing all of his life and competing extensively.  He has his own group called Bear Spirit. Singing is his passion in life and it has taken him across North America as well as Australia and England.

Bear Spirit Painting Borrowed from Morley Redwood.

Bear Spirit Painting Borrowed from Morley Redwood.

From the Saskatchewan Encyclopedia…the following

Chief Cowessess (Ka-wezauce, “Little Boy”) adhered to Treaty 4 on September 15, 1874, on the Hudson’s Bay Company reserve, at the southeastern end of Echo Lake, with his Saulteaux, Cree, and Métis followers. They remained nomadic until 1878–79, when they began Farming near Maple Creek in the Cypress Hills, and in 1880 a reserve was surveyed for them at Crooked Lake. While several band members settled there under O’Soup, Cowessess and his followers remained in the Hills until the spring of 1883. Education was always a priority: the first log school house was built in 1880 by the Oblate fathers; Cowessess Indian residential school opened in 1898; and Lakeside Day School was built in 1934. The Roman Catholic Mission was called Crooked Lake Mission until the community was granted a post office under the name Marieval in 1908. The 21,488-ha Cowessess Reserve is 13 km northwest of Broadview, and an additional 257.1-ha reserve (73A) is situated 31 km west of Esterhazy. There are 3,266 band members, 597 of whom live on reserve.

Where are you Craig First Rider?

We had just stepped out of the M. C. Escher exhibit and Buzz Elroy was entertaining the crowd down at the Olympic Plaza. It was the weekend for the 6th Annual Spaghetti Western Festival. Sitting under the awning, the three of us were just taking in the goings-on when I was certain I recognized a man, dressed in First Nations dance regalia.  I spoke out loud to my friends, “I think that’s a former student of Holy Cross, Craig First Rider.”

Sure enough, once introduced by the MC, I heard his name.

I met Craig back in the days when I taught at Holy Cross School in Calgary.  I saw him as a young boy, dancing the Fancy Dance for our school population and community.  I was big on coordinating huge festivals in the day, given our huge multicultural population.

When I met him down at Calgary’s sixth annual Spaghetti Western Festival, I was in awe of the man he has become and impressed that he has now danced for over 35 years.  This was a fantastic addition to Calgary’s Spaghetti Western Festival and we enjoyed three demonstrations after Maddison Krebs (excellent and very entertaining for a sixteen year old) and Buzz Elroy (dawning a great hat) and before Angela Harris.

I’m very proud of you, Craig and hope that we can speak again and I can be updated on your accomplishments over the years.

 

Craig First Rider and Keegan Buffalo

Craig First Rider and Keegan Buffalo

Craig First Rider

Craig First Rider

Craig First Rider and Keegan and Kasha Buffalo

Craig First Rider and Keegan and Kasha Buffalo

 

 

1979

Marina Abramović: The Artist Is Present

I headed out to the train station, making it downtown to the Globe Theater by 7:10… time to pay for my Tuesday-deal-of-a-ticket, a big bag of popcorn and a medium sized Minute-Made orange pop.  I made it into my seat for the fading of the house lights.  Then…magic!

What a remarkable film about an amazing performing artist, Marina Abramovic.  I only wish I could have witnessed her retrospective in 2010 and been one of the people to experience her gaze!  It must have been remarkable!  Twice during the film, I shed tears…it was so dang beautiful!  I hadn’t intended to write another post today, but hoping that some of you might catch the HBO film while it’s playing in Calgary, especially if you are an artist.

Be obscure clearly. E.B. White

Sanctuary by Peter von Tiesenhausen

This afternoon, I drove out to the Leighton Arts Centre to experience a dance performance piece and epic sculptural project by Peter von Tiesenhausen.  He harvested 1000 poles to use in the construction of the piece from his own woodlot outside of Grande Prairie, Alberta.

The experience on the hill transcended dance and certainly the elements, were in part, responsible for a very mystical experience of the art.  The dancers initially brought up for me, bird-like movements in the great stand of vertical poles.  There was considerable interaction and a variety of levels and locations in the performance piece.  I felt amazed by the entire interaction between the dancers and the sculpture.  I also think that that interaction caused the viewer to move and enter into the art from a whole number of points of view.

The rain itself, contributed to the art as the viewers were transformed in their bodies…with the clothing/boots they wore and the very colourful presence of umbrellas.

Peter seemed joyful as the piece came to its conclusion and we couldn’t help but celebrate along with him.  Awe-inspiring!