(This is the third of a 4-part series of blog posts following Studio Babette Puppet Theatre's travels to three different WWI Commemorations in three different cities, to perform their WWI play with puppets, From Ruthven to Passchendaele)
by Kerry Corrigan
The midway stop on our fall tour was Ruthven Park, familiar ground for us, as it's where the play originated. We arrived for move-in on Saturday afternoon and the exhibitors were still set up from the first day of the event. It was reminiscent of the Southampton Commemorative, this time with vehicles in the large tent behind the coach house, including a couple of Model T's (one of which sold at the end of the day) and an authentic outdoor cook wagon. They even had free samples of beans. We had a terrific time checking everything out before they packed up, and we got down to building our set and hanging our lights and sound, a process we've done so many times now, I think we could do it in our sleep.
Sunday's performance found us with a large audience, with a number of men in WWI uniform and even a nurse, dressed just like Lydia. Before the show, there was a wonderful equestrian display outside the coach house. Two soldiers, an officer and an enlisted man, showed up to demonstrate their horsemanship – they looked exactly like Drew and Mike! They even took Drew for a short ride. Then another two young women (sorry no names as yet) showed us how they hope to qualify for the Olympics in dressage with their two beautiful mounts, one named Althea.
Now I'm not one to believe in curses, (although I never mention the Scottish play) and when I signed off on my first blog entry, way back when, with “I'll check back in next week and let you know how our road trip went, whether we had any disasters and how we were received”, I really didn't mean to jinx the tour. But after falling off the stage in Southampton, I should have known to be on the lookout for something to go wrong at Ruthven. Well, we had a great show, one of our best ever I venture, with some tears in the audience at the rousing finale.
Even though the arm on one of my puppets came unattached. As soon as I picked up Lieutenant Colonel Andrew Thorburn Thompson to enter for scene IV, I knew something was wrong – his hand was hanging perilously low out of his shirt sleeve. A quick check confirmed my suspicions, the arm had completely unattached at the shoulder. I quickly shoved it back up the sleeve and entered for the scene. (and yes I should have checked him earlier – I KNOW!)
Acting is all about focus. There is a curious thing that happens to an actor when something goes wrong on stage. You find yourself going through the motions, delivering the lines with as much meaning as ever, while simultaneously your mind races ahead, trying to anticipate if the malfunction at hand will impact on what's to come, and what you'll do to handle it. I was getting away with just clutching the Colonel's arm during the scene with my two sons Drew and Walter, until I realized I needed to salute – yikes! When the moment came, I raised his arm, his hand really sticking out too far from his sleeve but I don't think anyone noticed.
The scene ended and I exited but I really had no time to do any repair before my next scene, when the Colonel enters on the boat. Again I clutched his arm and charged ahead with the scene, except that in this scene the Colonel is much more animated, as he is addressing a large portion of his Battalion. Our table-top puppets have rather heavy heads that must always be supported, so you only ever have one hand to manipulate arms and legs. At one point, the arm simply slid right out of the sleeve and landed on the table, but luckily it was behind the canvas boat railing and so the accident went unseen. But what to do with the arm now? I couldn't shove it back up the sleeve during the scene, I didn't have enough hands. So I grabbed it with my right hand and held that puppet arm hidden behind my back as I exited the stage, manipulating the Colonel with my left hand – jeez.
Now I had some down time backstage to address the issue, and found the puppeteers handy fix-it that we keep for just such emergencies – sticky Velcro. I quickly applied some to the inside sleeves on either side. It wouldn't hold forever but it would see me through til the end of the show. Here's the Colonel on my work bench, awaiting repair.
Join us this Saturday for the final instalment of our fall tour - where everything will run as smooth as clockwork!
Hamilton Goes to War – A Day of Commemoration
Saturday November 7; 1pm & 3pm
Dundurn National Historic Site
Hamilton Military Museum
610 York Boulevard, Hamilton
I 'll write a quick wrap-up next week, thanks for indulging me.