The water puppets production in Chéticamp is back
-by Rosie Aucoin-Grace
Jim Morrow of Mermaid Theatre gives pointers.
Summer is winding down, kids are going back to classes and soon Mother Nature will spread a tapestry of fall colours throughout our surrounding forests. Where did the summer go? For Le Conseil des arts de Chéticamp, it has been a very busy and successful season with their Festival de l’Escaouette which ran for a whole month offering locals and our many visitors a true taste of Cape Breton hospitably and fun for all ages.
Although the festival and its many activities/productions may be over, the fall brings on some exciting entertainment such as the Culinary festival – Right Some Good, production Cuisine à Patronille, Celtic Colours and more! Most recently, Le conseil started presenting their water puppet show – Ti-Jean et la Sorcière de l’île de Chéticamp on August 28th.
This very unique and new production was introduced to the Acadian region in 2009. Speaking with Artistic Director Paul D. Gallant, he explained where this whole concept comes from, “This idea stems from some research that I did about water puppetry. This form of entertainment originates from Hanoi, Vietnam. It’s a form of art that has existed for over one thousand years.” He continued, “The Vietnamese people work in the rice paddy fields. In order to break this monotonous task, they came up with water puppets as a form of entertainment. They use bamboo shoots under water to maneuver the puppets. The red-coloured water from the rice fields hides the shoots.” He added, “This form of art is passed on from generation to generation and only a selected few are taught the secrets of this fine expertise.”
We continued to discuss the world of water puppetry and Mr. Gallant explained “When I heard about this form of art, I was intrigued. During my research, upon having read about a water puppet show in San Francisco, I was amazed and thought wouldn’t that be an awesome project for our community.” He added, “We certainly didn’t want to copy this production, but rather be inspired to create something of our own, and that is exactly what we have done.”
It was simply a few ideas and theory but in 2005, Le Conseil des arts had an experimental show at the Chéticamp arena. This show was titled Pierre et la Pièvre, and although this was done with a very low budget, the show was quite successful. It helped to prove that with the right type of lighting, props, etc. this could work, that there could be potential enough to create a show that would be well received by captive audiences.
Following this experiment, Le Conseil developed a partnership with Mermaid Theatre which is notably one of the top puppetry theatres. Their expertise in fabrication of puppets was critical to the success of this project. They also had support from ECBC (Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation) as part of an idea to extend the tourist season, as this show was presented in September. They wanted to do something for the shoulder season. Gallant explained, “The fall colours are very much an attraction to visitors from all over the world but we also need to entertain them while they’re in our midst.” He continued, “We also wanted to partner with local businesses and associations. A concerted effort is essential to make this work. If we want to stretch the season, we need to go after the market with new and creative, viable products.”
Upon presenting the première of this show in 2011, the water puppet production Ti-Jean et la sorcière de l’île de Chéticamp was very well received by many people who gathered to experience a first-hand look at this new form of theatre. “I wrote this play revolving around a theme, mostly based on nature, the ocean, our suêtes, etc. I’m thinking the less narration the better; instead, more concentration on the music and visuals. In this manner, the presentation could be understood in any language, a very universal product,” say Gallant. Many were amazed at how he incorporated le suête in this story line. “I wrote this material as a fairy tale based on Les Contes de Chéticamp by Père Anselme Chiasson.” He added, “There is usually a Ti-Jean or as we know, a Jack in the Bean Stalk type of character, three animals and a happy ending. Some might remember the Three-headed beast that is a part of some of our Acadian tales. I decided to make it more localized by adding touches such as Chéticamp Island, le suête, the fishermen, etc.”
This is a show that involves scores of participants, none of whom you can see; only the magic of the marionettes are visible, and much of the story unfolds under black-light conditions. A massive pool has been built to set up in the arena and in the midst of the pool, Chéticamp Island, surrounded by boats, fish, seagulls and puppets (or peoplettes). To make things more interesting, a witch threatens to curse the people and the island, and there is the over-sized and colourful water puppet, Ti-Jean. There is an incredible blend of sound effects, lighting, colourful props, etc. Bruno Bourgeois does a great job with the bilingual narration of the story.
Like so many other productions of Le Conseil des arts de Chéticamp, there are many people involved in various aspects of the development stages and then eventually those putting on the show. This has been a community effort from the get go consisting of the following individuals: Puppeteers are Julien Aucoin and Rose Cameron as the land puppets, Stacey Bourgeois, Andrée Aucoin and Celine Larade as the underwater puppets. What an experience for these students! Luc D’Éon was responsible for the video aspect/3D animation. Background scenes were painted by Bruno Bourgeois and Julien Aucoin. Script and song Grenouille et goéland, Paul D. Gallant, music by Brian Doyle and Adrien Aucoin, who was also responsible for recording material used in the show. Visuals were by Jim Morrow (Mermaid Theatre) and folk artist Michel Williate-Battet, sculpter Juanita LeBlanc and Eric Tingley. Décor was designed by Clarence LeLièvre and Roland Poirier. Scenes/background were put together by Island AJAX.
Artistic Director Paul D. Gallant proudly expressed, “This has been a work in progress for many years, and I am thrilled that this new type of theatrical production has been introduced to our community and visitors, and to my knowledge it was the first in North America.” He added, “I originally saw something done with water puppets in Vietnam, but it was quite different than this form of water puppetry.”
Everyone involved in this amazing production is to be commended for bringing the audience into a fantasy world, a type of theatrical experience unknown in our part of the world! “This show would not be possible without the support from the following: N.I.R.C.A., La Société Saint Pierre, The Craig Foundation, David Mulley, Highland Pools and Spas, Destination Cape Breton Association, Enterprise Cape Breton Corporation, Nova Scotia Communities, Culture and Heritage, The Municipality of the County of Inverness, Conseil scolaire acadien provincial and Ministère d’éducation de la Nouvelle-Écosse,” says Paul D. Gallant. “Such assistance is much appreciated as well as the efforts from many volunteers and the support from the community.”
This production is for everyone, but if you have a child handy, your enjoyment will probably be doubled by the giddy thrilled children which is certain, as they watch the puppets, the magical fantasy and wonder of the show.
Ti-Jean et la sorcière de l’île de Chéticamp was presented at 7:30 p.m. from August 28th to September 1st at the Chéticamp arena and will be presented again from September 4th to the 8th. For more information, you may contact personnel at Les Trois Pignons by calling 224-2642.
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