November 4, 2015 by Marie Franek

    (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
    (905) 546-2424

    I 'll write a quick wrap-up next week, thanks for indulging me.


  • WWI Commemorative Fall Tour 2015: Part Two

    October 23, 2015 by Marie Franek

    (This is the second 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

    When you are a travelling puppet troupe, you learn very quickly that the ability to adapt to your venue is crucial. We have many different kinds of shows, and some of them don't require much space. But our two historical plays, From Ruthven to Passchendaele and Young Sophia: the Dundurn Castle Diary, are full scale productions with lights, sound effects and music, and a set that we assemble on the spot, made of PVC-type tubing hung with blacks. We need room to perform and sometimes it's a squeeze!

    We had received images and dimensions for our gig last weekend in Southampton at the Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre, so we knew we were in for a tight fit with our one hour play which includes a table out front, back projection and 13 rod puppets. The Museum theatre has lights and sound, run from a booth, so we didn't need to bring all of our own tech equipment, (which is considerable and wouldn't have fit anyways), but it meant we'd have to learn their system, focus the lights and set new sound levels.

    There is always a little anxious anticipation when you head out to perform at a new (for you) venue. Add the fact that it's 2.5 hours away, and if you forget anything you are SOL, and the nerves factor increases.

    Well, we couldn't have been happier with the facilities and our reception in Bruce County. We were offered help with our move-in and tech set up by Chris, an actor, techie and theatre graduate who was very responsive to our needs. The theatre itself was a little gem, a tiny stage with stairs either side (more on THOSE later) but a lovely raked seating area with great sight lines and acoustics.

    After setting up on Friday, we had a lovely dinner in town and then headed to our hotel for pool frolicking and Blue Jays. We awoke refreshed and ready to perform, knowing everything was set to go at the Museum. Upon arrival, we saw the other exhibitors readying for the day long event at the Museum, The Great War Commemorated: A Family Event. What fun it was to look at so many interesting displays and chat with the exhibitors. As well, the Museum's vast permanent collection spread over two floors really gives you a feel for life on the shores of Lake Huron over many generations.

    We had small but appreciative audiences for our shows, and there were even a few tears at the end. The most exciting part was when I fell down those stairs while making an entrance for a scene . . . there was a huge gasp in the audience as I tumbled to the floor carrying the boat bringing Violet and her daughter Peggy to England. Luckily I recovered just fine and was even able to open the next scene with an appropriate ad-lib, as my puppet Peggy straightened her hat and commented on the “rocky crossing”. The audience laughed, as it signalled I wasn't injured, and the play carried on! It was a successful visit all round and we sincerely hope we get invited back.

    We'll have no such trepidation when we set out to Cayuga on Saturday, to set up for Sunday's performance at Ruthven Park National Historic Site in the Coach House. This is where the play originated and we've performed here many, many times, for students and the public. We are also hoping to run into some of the same WWI exhibitors from last weekend.

    Ruthven Remembers: Commemorating the Great War
    Sunday October 25; 2 pm
    243 Haldimand Hwy. #54, Cayuga
    (905) 772-0560

    It's such a lovely drive to Cayuga, please think about coming. Or plan to see our last two shows on the tour:

    Hamilton Goes to War – A Day of Commemoration
    Saturday November 7; 1pm & 3pm
    Dundurn National Historic Site
    Hamilton Military Museum
    610 York Boulevard, Hamilton
    (905) 546-2424

    All for now,


  • WWI Commemorative Fall Tour 2015: Part 1

    October 14, 2015 by Marie Franek

    by Kerry Corrigan

    This has been a year of firsts for Studio Babette Puppet Theatre. It was our first time doing a full run in a Fringe festival, and we sure picked the best one, our hometown Hamilton Fringe Festival. Performing in the Studio Theatre at Theatre Aquarius, with the support of a professional stage manager, in a room that actually goes black(!), with more professionals just outside the door handling box office – well, we felt really spoiled. We were part of the Family Fringe, geared to audiences of a tender age. Then there was the honour of being part of such a happy, committed group of artists, from home and away, including performers, technicians, administrators – everybody was just really cool.

    It was especially significant for me personally because I felt like I'd come full circle. You see, I was the head theatre writer at VIEW Magazine when the very first Hamilton Fringe Festival debuted in 2002. VIEW was the media sponsor, and I scrambled to put together a team of writers, to make sure that every single show had a brief review - 39 shows in 5 venues. It was an intense experience, seeing so many terrific shows from the unique perspective of the critic's free seat. To be performing our puppet play, Where Are You Cinderella? this summer, so many years after I'd been on "the other side", was a poignant little brain flip for me.

    But enough of the past. On to the future. That brings me to our second first (huh?) - our first tour. Our WWI Commemorative Fall Tour 2015, to be exact. We're playing three fascinating historical/cultural venues. We kick it off this weekend, at Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre in Southampton, up on the shores of beautiful Lake Huron. On Thursday, we'll have a line run and discuss last minute details, and load the cars. Friday morning we're on the road, 3 puppeteers and one stage manager, and enough puppets, set, props, drapes, projection equipment and various odds and ends to fill 3 vehicles. We'll set up there in the afternoon in preparation for:

    The Great War Commemorated: A Family Event
    Saturday October 17; 11am & 2:30pm
    From Ruthven to Passchendaele
    Bruce County Museum & Cultural Centre
    33 Victoria St N, Southampton
    (519) 797-2080

    We'll bunk down in a hotel in Port Elgin, 2 to a room, on Friday night and wake up refreshed and invigorated, ready to tackle our free breakfast, greet the day and give two performances of our hour-long play with puppets, From Ruthven to Passchendaele. Based on the true story of the Thompson family of Ruthven, this original production was commissioned by Ruthven Park National Historic Site for Remembrance Day 2012. It shows the contrast of the genteel life in the manor with the mud and misery of the trenches in France, and the quiet healing in the hospitals in London. There's humour, tragedy and plenty of period music. Told with 13 original table-top puppets, in authentic uniforms and outfits, this play is designed to be especially relevant for students in middle school, who study the Great War in Grade 8. We recommend it for kids age 8 and up, adults and particularly, seniors.

    Next weekend we're bringing the show to Ruthven Park National Historic Site, Sun Oct. 25, and then we'll be at Dundurn National Historic Site, sponsored by the Hamilton Military Museum, on Sat. Nov. 7. More on that later.

    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. Full tour info on our website


  • Home Music Practice Tips!

    September 23, 2015 by Jennifer Spleit...

    The hardest thing about music practice at home... is getting started! Here are our favourite tips to get you set on the right path for success!

    Practicing tip #1: Set regular days & times for practicing.
    We all get busy, but we don't forget to go to school/work or forget to eat meals because they are at the same time each day! Pick a time for your music practicing and then stick to it! Even if you only have 10 minutes to spare, it's better than nothing and will help you build confidence in yourself, discipline, and improved music skills, too!

    Practicing Tip #2: Start with a warm-up.
    Athletes would never think of starting a game or practice without a warmup, and neither should we musicians! Taking a few minutes to go through some scales or exercises gives you the chance to focus on your posture, set-up, tone control, comfort... before complicating things with new skills, fast passages, and music-reading! A little focus on building good habits at the beginning of a practice session will go a long way in helping you build confidence, proper technique and more enjoyable music-making!

    Practicing Tip #3: Go to the hard parts first.
    Whether you're working on something new or an older song, skip straight to the hard parts. Try a small section, slowly, and then try it again and again - until you build up enough comfort to play it successfully and to play it faster! Once you've tackled the hardest bits, playing a larger portion of the song will feel easier!

    Practicing Tip #4: Your metronome is your best friend.
    It's a lot easier to keep count when you can hear the beat sounding out loud! Start off on a slow pulse until you can get the notes to fit right on the beat, or even try clapping the rhythm first before playing! Once you can play with metronome successfully at a slow speed, gradually increase the speed each time you practice. Playing with other musicians is easier and more fun when your sense of timing is comfortable!

    Practice Tip #5: Switch it up!
    Practicing every day is only dull if you're practicing the same WAY. Try working on something different each practice session. Focus on a different part of your song each day, or even trade off by concentrating on one piece one day, and another song the next. Pull out an old 'easy' song and see how well you can play it now that you're more advanced! Try sight-reading something new, or even inventing your own music. Any time you spend with your instrument will help make you a better musician, and switching it up makes practicing a lot more fun!

    Practice Tip #6: Use the Add-On Game.
    To build fluidity, comfort and "flow", start with one musical fragment and slowly piece it together with others like puzzle pieces. Try one measure only until you like how it sounds, then move on to the next measure and do the same. Now you're ready to ADD the two together! Play the third bar until it feels good and then go back and add it in to the phrase, too! Before you know it, you'll be playing the whole page with no trouble!

    Practice Tip #7: Make a show of it!
    Performing and sharing our art is the reason most of us study music, so why not do it more often? Recitals and orchestra concerts are great long-term goals but they usually take months of preparation. So why not create your own mini-concert in the meantime? Setting short-term goals will help keep you motivated in your daily practicing! Plan to play a song at your next family gathering, or ask if you can play at school for your class. It can even be as simple as asking a family member to listen to that half-page you’ve just been practicing! Try it – the performance rush you’ll feel makes it all the hard work worth it!

    Practice Tip #8: Make a video!
    These days everyone has a video recording device on their computer, cell-phone, or ipad. Set yours to record while you play through your song, and then sit back and be your own audience! You’ll be surprised at the details you’ll notice in your own playing from this new perspective – and it will help you decide what skills or passages to focus on next! And if you love it just the way it is, now you have a digital copy you can share with the friends and family who live too far to make it to your next big concert.

    Practice Tip #9: Clap it out
    Rhythm is often our biggest challenge when learning a new song. And trying to make sense of all that counting while playing notes makes it even harder! Put down your instrument and try clapping the rhythm. Once you can clap it steadily, it’ll be much easier to play. Extra tip: If you can clap it out with the metronome, too, you know you’ve really figured it out well!

    Practice Tip #10: Focus on tone
    A beautiful tone is what brings music life to life and it’s your bow arm that is responsible for producing sound from your instrument.  To focus on tone, try taking out the left hand fingerings from your playing. Just play the open strings! Follow the same rhythm, string crossings, and slurs in the song – except without the left hand notes – and see how gracefully you can play. Keep your elbow, wrist, and finger joints as relaxed and soft as possible for smooth motion. Once you find you can create a beautiful tone, add the left hand fingers back in, and TA-DA more beautiful tone!

    Practice Tip #11: Bow in the air
    Are you having trouble getting the bowings and slurs right in your piece? Put down the instrument, and practice some air-bowing! Sing or hum the tune while you feel the slurs and string crossings. Use small bow amounts on the little notes, and feel the stretch of the long notes. Don’t forget to hold the bow with a proper grip, and to keep the bow centred over your imaginary instrument! Once you’ve taught your arm muscles how to feel the bowings, pick up your instrument and try playing it out again. It should be a lot easier!

    Practice Tip #12: Try some sight-reading
    Reading sheeting music is an important part of being a musician. Yes, it can be hard at first, but if you can read, you can learn any song! To develop your sight-reading, take out your old music and try playing a song you haven’t worked on in a long time. Since you don’t know the song for memory, you’ll have to rely on your reading skills to work out the notes and rhythms. Even more fun: visit your local music shop or browse an online store to find sheet music by your favourite band/artist! Figuring out the newest Justin Bieber, Selena Gomez or Maroon 5 hit will make practicing extra special!

    Practice Tip #13: Make it a date!
    The best part of making music is being able to share it with others. So why not share the practicing with a friend, too? Make a date with another musician to practice together. If you are working on the same songs, you can help each other and learn from one another as you play! If you don’t know the same songs, try playing some simple scales together with different bow-strokes or in a round, and then try figuring out a new song together just for fun. Having company in your practice session will make the time fly!

    Practice Tip #14: Get unplugged!
    Computers, Cell Phones, Ipads and Ipods can be a serious distraction. It's just so tempting to check your messages every few minutes to see if you missed anything! When it's time to practice, leave the electronics in another room (except your metronome!) and don't go looking for them until you've completed your musical workout. Your practicing will be more successful, and if your friends are wondering where you were, a little mystery never hurt anyone.

    Practice Tip #15: Set a Performance Goal
    Daily home practicing occasionally needs a little encouragement and knowing that you have a concert coming up can be the perfect motivation! If your next orchestra concert or school exam is still a long way off, set your own interim performance goal. Sign up for the school talent show, invite your grandparents over for a private show, or ask your church if you can play before the service. Reaching for your goal will keep you inspired in your practicing, and the pride you’ll feel after your performance will inspire you to keep it up after the show, too.

    Practice Tip #16: Take short breaks
    When you practice, your whole body is hard at work: brain, muscles, and emotions. Take small breaks during practice sessions to re-energize. A few moments of stretching will relax you from head to toe. Take a walk or do some jumping jacks to get your blood flowing and re-oxygenize your brain. When you return to your instrument a few minutes later, you’ll feel fresh instead of exhausted or frustrated and you’ll practice more constructively. Remember, it’s QUALITY not QUANTITY of practice that counts!

    Practice Tip #17: Keep a Pencil in your case
    If your metronome is your best friend, your pencil should be your next-best friend! Keep a pencil in your instrument case, and another one on your music stand. And don’t be shy to use it! If a quick notation in your music will help you play a part better and save your practice time… well, why not mark it in? You can also mark the difficult passages with a circle, asterisk or bracket and then you’ll know where to focus your practicing in your next practice session.


  • The Accessibility of Art

    April 22, 2015 by Elizabeth Abraham

    Spring is here!  This is a time of year that I associate with many happy things, most particularly getting outdoors and exploring what our great city has to offer.  Monthly Art Crawls on James Street North are at the top of my list.

    One thing that I’ve struggled with at Art Crawls past is purchasing pieces of art to take home with me.  I’m a person whose background is mostly in musical performance, with no formal training in visual arts.  One of my biggest regrets was never taking an Art History course during my schooling.  This has in the past made me feel somewhat self-conscious about what constitutes good art. I’ve historically been drawn to abstract paintings, sculptures and mixed media that incorporate vibrant colours, geometric shapes and textures, but I find it difficult to articulate why I’m attracted to these elements, and if these pieces could be considered “good art”.

    I recently came across a post on my Facebook news feed about a working class couple from New York who had amassed a priceless contemporary art collection over several decades.  In reading the article, I discovered that the couple had been the subject of a 2008 documentary entitled Herb & Dorothy, which detailed Herb and Dorothy Vogel’s infamy in the New York art world as unassuming collectors of modest means.  Herb worked as a Postal Clerk, Dorothy as a Librarian, and both made a pact that Dorothy’s salary would go towards the couple’s living expenses, while Herb’s would be entirely devoted to acquiring pieces of art.

    The couple had no formal training in art collecting, but they had simple rules: the piece had to be affordable, transportable via taxi or subway, and small enough to fit in their one-bedroom Manhattan apartment.

    The Vogels gravitated toward Minimalist and Conceptual art in the 1960’s at a time when both were unpopular, and Pop Art was on the rise.  They purchased pieces from unknown artists according to what they liked, rather than collect works based on who or what was popular.  They eventually donated their entire collection to the National Gallery in Washington in 1992, which was where they spent their honeymoon decades earlier.

    Artist Richard Tuttle was an interview subject in the film, and perfectly encapsulated what Herb and Dorothy’s process was for selecting works of art: “Something goes from the eye to the soul without going through the brain.”

    Filmmaker Megumi Sasaki, who spent a great deal of time with the couple in preparing the documentary, summed up best what I enjoyed about Herb and Dorothy: “One of the greatest lessons I learned from Herb and Dorothy is that you don’t have to explain, you don’t have to theorize art to like it.  The important thing is to look.”

    After viewing this documentary in full, I honestly feel more motivated than ever to go out and acquire pieces without feeling the need to explain why I love them.  In the words of artist Lucio Pozzi, “Art is not something you have to explain, but feel.”

    With that I say support our local artists, buy what you love, and happy hunting!

    Elizabeth S. Abraham is a Family and Criminal Lawyer at Wasserman Law Firm in downtown Hamilton.  She currently sits on the Board of Directors at Hamilton Arts Council and Wesley Urban Ministries.