The Power of Puppets - theHumm March 2022

The Power of Puppets - theHumm March 2022

By Heather Phaneuf

Where did you first encounter a puppet, or better yet, when did a puppet first find you?

Time’s right to consider these burning questions as anticipation is growing for the 2022 Puppets Up! International Puppet Festival scheduled for the balmy days of August 12–14 in Almonte. Pay close attention to the growing burble in that community — you’ll pick up quickly on those energetic volunteers who are busily planning, producing, fundraising and fun-raising, all in the name of exceptional community engagement with fabricated folk!

And as if that alone wasn’t enough to drop your mittens and whirl them in the air, World Puppetry Day is on March 21 — yep, it’s a thing! The day was originally proposed by a puppet theatre artist from Iran, and first celebrated in 2003 through the Union Internationale de la Marionnette, a non-governmental organization affiliated with UNESCO to promote this global artform. Think about puppets that day why don’t you, and how traditions are renewed and become part of our lives.

For me, growing up in Montreal meant spending early days entranced by Bobino et Bobinette, Chez Hélène, The Friendly Giant, and once in a while, Kukla, Fran and Ollie beaming in from the US of A in beautiful black and white. Those mysterious beings opened a child’s eyes to the magic in the world, the artistry that can make it happen and the wisdom they often shared.

The ghosts of a childhood? Maybe. But then fast forward to a career working with NGOs and funding agencies, where sometimes puppetry was a creative way to conduct community outreach on issues such as immunizations, HIV/AIDS, mental health and rights. I keenly remember, especially now on a cold winter’s day, sitting on grass under starry skies in Indonesia framed by palm trees, watching shadow puppets stride across linen screens to the beat of Gamelan musicians — entertaining yes, but really a window into how cultural traditions are shared, and behavioural norms taught and encouraged.

Then there’s Almonte where, after a hiatus since 2016, the enchantments and excitement of Puppets Up! is returning precisely at a time when we’re needing community most. Streets will be filled once again with those pesky, pleasing, prominent puppets and their attendant folk.

Puppetry has a long pedigree and is diverse in presentation — marionettes on strings and rods, hand puppets, shadow figures and puppets manipulated or inhabited in full view. They have a way of suspending disbelief, if only for a time, and take us into another realm — that of a puppet-people universe. “A puppet can be as simple as your own bare hand or as complicated and mechanized as you can make it,” says Noreen Young, the creative force behind Puppets Up. “And best of all, a puppet can say things that you can’t say as yourself!”

I delved into that rarefied puppet space through the online World Encyclopedia of Puppetry Arts, created to ensure that our collective memory of puppetry arts is preserved as an evolving, shared human tradition. You’ll even find mention of a few folk familiar to Mississippi Mills, such as Noreen: “From a very young age, I’ve been attracted to the art of puppetry. It’s a form of theatre that includes so many different art disciplines — sculpture, painting, costuming, voicing, performing, writing, set design, costume design, production — and I love to do all those things!! It’s an art form that allows you to create characters from your imagination that are not only animal and human, but vegetable and objects — all ‘things’ that you can speak through.”

Puppets share their lives with characters of all types — basements are often filled with a cavalcade of personalities like the ones in the workshop of the multi-talented Ingrid Hamster, who clearly agrees with Noreen. Right now, Ingrid has a “focus on costumes for Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Basketballs”. Now that’s a great title for a riotous, bawdy pre-festival play to be presented in May. “The challenge is not to get too close, or start talking, to the 22 puppets in my studio,” Ingrid explains, “because the new 1890’s costumes bring these puppets back to life!” Hmmm, not sure, but I think Ingrid has a special relationship with a few of those characters springing into life.

As Noreen puts it: “Puppets are essentially communication tools. They speak to young people as well as old people. They speak to the child in all of us. They’re often used to educate. Through the ages they have represented the common man. They’re great for political satire and social commentary and they can be totally subversive.” Her work to engage children on such crucial issues as safety, nutrition, environmental awareness and addictions had Noreen invested as a Member of the Order of Canada in 1995. Interestingly, this year’s Puppets Up! will also feature Ronnie Burkett, another Canadian who has similarly been awarded by this nation, and Bernd Ogrodnik from Iceland, who was knighted with the Order of the Falcon for his work.

So, the question bears repeating: when did a puppet first see you? Support the puppets in all their diversity this summer, renew a community tradition, and celebrate magic yet again on the streets of Almonte — get ready for the festival!

Why wait for summer? Keep an eye on , where you can already purchase day passes for this year’s festival at fabulous Early Bird Bluejay prices, as well as tickets for pre-festival events!

April Shows for Kids

At the Mississippi Valley Textile Museum:

April 2 — Pirate Treasure

April 9 — Punch and Judy: The Silly Version

April 23 — Felicity Falls

And One for the Adults:

Sherlock Holmes and the Hound of the Basketballs, on May 12, 13 & 14 at the Almonte Old Town Hall

And remember, puppets need you — help make the magic happen!

Donate at

Become a sponsor — email for details:


Michael Neelin —The Art of Appreciating Your Surroundings - theHumm March 2022

By Sally Hansen

Art… and Soul

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As a gift......


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A Mississippi Madawaska Land Trust Presentation
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- theHumm March 2022

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The Power of Puppets - theHumm March 2022

By Heather Phaneuf

Where did you first encounter a puppet, or better yet, when did a puppet first find you?

Time’s right to consider these burning questions as anticipation is growing for the 2022 Puppets Up! International Puppet Festival scheduled for the balmy days of August 12–14 in Almonte. Pay close attention to the growing burble in that community — you’ll pick up quickly on those energetic volunteers who are busily planning, producing, fundraising and fun-raising, all in the name of exception......


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Be an Early Bird Bluejay
Get Your Puppets Up Passes Now and Save!
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