Canada’s Most Outrageous Puppeteer Comes to Calgary
Ronnie Burkett brings 40 handmade puppets to Calgary for his latest performance of The Daisy Theatre.
One puppet that is sure to grace the stage is Edna Rural. Edna is from Turnip Corners, Alberta and she’s bringing some recipes with her, like her lemon pound cake laced with Neocitran.
If you meet Ronnie Burkett, you might also meet an alcoholic Hollywood diva, a talking cow and a pensive fairy.
Ronnie Burkett is a puppet master with more than 30 years of experience under his belt. For each performance of The Daisy Theatre, he manoeuvers and voices a smorgasbord of different characters, sings songs and delves into the risky world of socio-political commentary. And there’s no script.
Ronnie Burkett’s show returns to Alberta this month. He shares where the idea for the puppet show came from, how a show comes together and what an audience can expect.
Where The Daisy Theatre came from
Burkett was inspired by the illegal, underground puppet shows performed in Nazi-occupied Czechoslovakia during the Second World War. Burkett researched the shows and recognized the noble craft the puppeteers were doing. In a repressed society, the craftsmen were risking their lives to provide political and social commentary (surrounded by filth and sex and musical numbers.)
That’s also where the name The Daisy Theatre comes from: those shows were known as “daisies,” symbolizing the flower’s ability to grow in the dark. “I love that metaphor,” says Burkett. “That in bleak times, things can grow regardless.”
Burkett first performed a version of The Daisy Theatre at One Yellow Rabbit in 1993. Burkett says the show was “mostly an experiment.” He got advice on improvisation from the Rabbits, built a marionette stage and a bunch of odd puppets, and came out every night to perform. “And it was wildly popular,” says Burkett.
More than 20 years since its debut, Burkett hopes his “speakeasy puppet show” will still entertain audiences and cause jaws to drop. But what Burkett hopes most is that the audience will realize that they’ve emotionally connected with a puppet.
Building and controlling the puppets
Burkett originally worked with 30 puppets. Now, he has 40. And he’s designed every detail that’s on stage, including the puppets, their costumes and their tiny shoes – each character has custom-made leather shoes.
The trick to controlling every puppet and remembering their unique personalities and voices? “It’s like operating heavy equipment,” laughs Burkett. “You have to be alert!”
Getting ready for a show
Warming up before every show is important for a puppeteer. Burkett does everything from high falsettos to screeching to singing during a performance, which means he risks blowing out his voice every night. “I get to the theater earlier than any performer I know,” says Burkett. “I get a full hour of quiet time. I check every puppet and I spend all day warming up my voice.”
What an audience can expect
Burkett’s show has everything an audience could want: music, morality lessons, filthy jokes and political satire. One way of describing it would be like The Canterbury Tales of puppetry. But Burkett admits that you can look at it in so many ways.
“One night it will be like a mini Vegas review. Other nights it is a morality play. Other times it’s like a Renaissance fair or like what I imagine being in a cabaret in Berlin in the 1930s would be like. It has all of those references.”
The Daisy Theatre runs at Arts Commons from February 17 to March 7. Tickets are from $42. artscommons.ca.