Tuesday, 28 January 2014

Ronnie Burkett's garage sale

The glove puppet by Ronnie Burkett.  
He would warm up the audience with his puppet 
assistant before ascending the marionette stage
Has it really been twenty years? The woman at the theatre entrance eyed our daughter and her friend with Canadian master puppeteer, Ronnie Burkett's Tinka's New Dress, and it was going to make history.
concern. "This is not a children's puppet show", she said. We assured her that we knew and that we thought that the kids were old enough. The production was
Based on the illegal puppet shows staged in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia, Tinka's New Dress examines propaganda versus truth, compliance versus censorship, and the collective society versus the individual.
Playwrights Canada Press
Before the play began, Ronnie Burkett gave his usual glove puppet introduction. He also warned us all that there would be no intermission during the main performance. It soon became apparent why this had to be. We were soon transported to an Orwellian world where, throughout the play, recorded messages from "The Common Good" acted as an audial backdrop for what was occurring on the stage. We were all mesmerized; The ambience was palpable. Later, I remembered George Bernard Shaw's words, "The theatre is a place where two or three are gathered together...". You might get some sense of this from the following Ottawa Citizen video clip from the recent production, Penny Plain, introduced by Ronnie Burkett.

So, Carrie and I were at Ronnie Burkett's garage sale at a tiny house on 17th Avenue in Calgary, not far from the Calgary Stampede Grounds. I was looking at the marionettes he had made for his plays. His marionette controls were more advanced than what had previously existed, and their costumes were amazing. With a marionette play, costume changes are impossible so he made one marionette for each costume scene. They were, obviously, quite expensive and we could not afford to buy one. Besides, I thought that my attempt to work one would be too absurd --almost sacrilege, in fact! Instead, I bought the glove puppet pictured above. I asked him to sign it, and he kindly did so on its liner. He told me that it had been one of his early "assistants". This would have been around the time that he won a regional Emmy award for his puppets in the PBS series Cinderrabbit. About fifteen years before Tinka's New Dress. You can see the same puppet style in these production shots of Cinderrabbit

Not that long ago, I read that Ronnie Burkett never sells his puppets (although I later saw that he donated a glove puppet for a charity auction). He also destroys all of his sets after a performance run -- Sic transit gloria mundi.  Although I've owned it for twenty years, it's not really in my collecting interests, but my intuition told me to buy it, and to get it signed. If you would like it and would like to make me an offer over $200, I'll consider it -- but you had better, also, give me a good reason for wanting to own it -- its not an auction.

I'll leave you, for now, with the recent four part documentary series on Ronnie Burkett, his work, and his philosophy (produced in Melbourne, Australia). If you are lucky enough to be able see one of his plays, do not miss it. You will never forget the experience!

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