Preview: Puppets help make Grimm fairytale more papable

Andrew G. Cooper would like to remind audiences that those folk tales the Grimm brothers wrote back in the early 19th century were pretty grim.

“These stories often had a violent, rather gruesome edge to them. Characters often lost limbs, if not their lives,” said Cooper, whose newly minted Calgary company Jupiter Theatre is using The Robber Bridegroom to introduce itself to audiences.

Cooper is using puppets to help make this particular Grimm story more palpable. Some will be life-size with their upper halves blending into the puppeteers’ lower bodies. There will also be a marionette-style puppet and shadow puppets.

They will help tell the story of an impoverished miller who wants his daughter to have a better life so he arranges for her to marry a wealthy man who lives outside of town. The problem is, something wicked lurks in the forest where the bridegroom lives.

“Puppets are extremely theatrical so they draw audiences more quickly into the story. Because we know they’re not real, we’re able to accept the more violent, gruesome aspects of this folk story,” said Cooper.

“That was our reasoning for using puppets to tell this story which is tinged with violence. Someone loses limbs and, though you could certainly imply that using actors, it’s easier and more effective to do it with puppets.

“Puppets are very good for the horror elements in the story of The Robber Bridegroom because puppets are particularly good at dying,” said Cooper, who moved to Calgary from Kamloops in September to work as assistant director on Theatre Calgary’s world premiere production of Mary & Max.

Cooper created innovative theatre events in Kamloops for five years, earning him the city’s 2018 Emerging Artist Award. Just prior to moving to Calgary, he produced a stage version of the Mary Shelley classic Frankenstein, but Cooper said he was best known for his Tunnel Theatre productions in the B.C. city.

“We would take people into the tunnels under an abandoned sanatorium and mental hospital to tell them part historical and part fictional stories.

“People loved that these stories were as creepy as the tunnels,” says Cooper, who admits he’s looking for a similar venue here in Calgary and welcomes suggestions from anyone who might know of any abandoned tunnels.

Cooper took a puppet workshop with Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop in Banff, but had never seen the company’s work until he visited the Edinburgh Fringe Theatre Festival.

“I saw the Old Trouts’ production of Famous Puppet Death Scenes and it was amazing. It’s scary but encouraging to see that Calgary has a rich history of puppetry.”

For The Robber Bridegroom, Cooper is co-directing with Melissa Purcha, who directed Trojan Women for graduate studies at the University of Calgary. Purcha stars as the girl’s father in the show with Cooper playing a magistrate. The costume designer, Maddison Hartloff, stars as the bridegroom with the show’s visual designer, Brittney Martens, rounding out the human cast as the maid.

Juanita Dawn and Randi Edmundson are responsible for designing and creating the puppets.

The Robber Bridegroom will run in the Vertigo Studio Theatre Jan. 30 to Feb. 2 at 8 p.m. with a pay-what-you-can matinee at 2:30 p.m. on Feb. 2. Tickets for the evening performances are available at tickets.vertigotheatre.com or by phone at 403-221-3708.

Prior to its four-day run in Calgary, The Robber Bridegroom will run in the Kamloops Pavilion Theatre Jan. 23 to 26. Trending in Canada

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