Penticton Secondary Theatre takes on puppets

After months of preparation, PHAME is putting the final touches on its version of the classic Grimm Bros. fairy tale, The Frog Prince.

Delbert the Dragon (puppeted by Ravel Perez) engages in a sword battle with Prince Robin (Austin Paquette) in the dead forest.

One evening, a long time ago, a princess went out to take a walk by herself in the woods…

In the case of the Penticton Secondary School’s version of The Frog Prince, “a long time ago” can be switched for coming soon. After months of work and preparation, Pen-Hi Arts Media Entertainment is putting the final touches on its version of the classic Grimm Bros. fairy tale.

“It has been a journey. The kids have been problem solvers all the way along,” said Megan Rutherford, the Pen High drama instructor. A lot of work goes into any production, she said, but this one has had its own special difficulties, especially since they are incorporating live puppeteering into a production for the first time.

Rutherford said getting the students to test their limits is part of what they like to do at PHAME.

“We always want to do something different,” she said. “We don’t want to do musical theatre every year … we want to keep challenging ourselves.”

Rutherford said this  production is one of the most educational endeavours they have ever undertaken: working with puppets brought many changes to how they do things, starting with the design of the set.

“Set design has to be as good or better than the actual forest creature puppets,” said Rutherford. Then, too, the set had to be designed to keep the puppeteers out of sight as they lie on the stage or crouch in wells.

That meant the height of boulders and other objects on the stage had to be raised, said Rutherford. Then you have the length of the puppeteer’s body and live actors having to get past them.

And that was just the puppets; setting up other parts of the stage decor had their own problems.

“Following the Oliver Secondary school fire, we had 16 dead trees trucked in here … plus a pickup truck full of dead branches,” said Rutherford. “All sitting here when Mike Richards, the fire inspector, walks in and doesn’t get five steps through the door looking at this firewood.”

Rutherford simply asked Richards if he was there about their “dead forest” and got “I am now” in reply.

“So all of these trees have been painted with fire retardant, all of the holes drilled and branches inserted, leaves attached … that was weeks of work,” said Rutherford.

The puppeteers had their own difficulties, starting with learning how to speak and sing in a character voice. Then too, there are the problems of interacting with an actor that you may not even be able to see.

“You kind of have to assume what they look like or where they are,” said Jesse Doucette, who plays the Frog Prince. “It’s different than seeing a face.”

Despite the challenges, Doucette and the other puppeteers agree that they love the challenge.

“I love being a puppeteer. I love it more than live acting,” said Doucette. “No one can see your face so you can make all the faces you want.”

There will be five public performances of The Frog Prince, all taking place in Pen High’s Black Box Theatre. The curtain rises each night at 7 p.m. from Nov. 29 to Dec. 2, followed by a matinee performance at 2 p.m. on Dec. 3.

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