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  NUMBER  
 
16
 
 
MARCH
2018
 
     
 

It has now been 20 years since Le Porteur / The Star Keeper was created and began touring. To mark this anniversary, Théâtre de l'Oeil wants to pay tribute to everyone whose hard work and commitment has made this possible: designers, artisans, puppeteers, technicians, stage managers, managers, marketing coordinators, presenters… This newsletter is dedicated to them.

 
     
 
20th anniversary!
 

Letter to Pretzel


My dear Star Keeper, my little Pretzel,

You might not remember, but the first time we met, it was already winter. November 25, 1997 in Ottawa. Just like today, it was cold out. As soon as I set eyes on you, I knew I would love you for many years to come. In the blink of an eye, you made me laugh, moved, delighted, charmed and entranced me. It was love at first sight. And it warmed my heart.

I followed you around just like a groupie. Sometimes it was from a distance because you are quite the traveller. For 20 years now, you have been gracing stages around the world. You collect cities and countries as if they were beads in Daisy Bygone’s necklace, the little old lady whose bag you carry, you being the chivalrous worm that you are. I pinned so many tacks on the world map I have up on my wall that it looks more like a strainer now! And all that time I dreamed of the day when you would return. Besides Australia, is there any place you haven’t been?

For 20 years, children’s starry eyes have sparkled. Your story is a great tale, the stuff of myth, or should I say legend. When I look at the press kit, your face is everywhere. You are a real star. There was even an article about you in The New York Times.

For 20 years, your best (and most loyal) friends Jean Cummings and Graham Soul have breathed life into you at every chance they’ve had. And your stalwart stage manager Gilles Perron has been pulling your strings and bathing you in light. For 20 years, your biological father André Laliberté has been saying that you are a small miracle. I think he is right on the ball. Innocent though you may seem, you have changed so many people’s lives. Those who are close to you, those who come to see you, those who bring you to life, those who travel with you…and she who is writing to you now.

When I am as old as Daisy Bygone, I hope you will be the one to come and take me to my place in the sky. And with a little star hanging over your shoulder.

My heart is with you always,
Your loving blankie (not my real name, of course)

 

The humble beginnings of a great adventure


In 1993, André Laliberté got together with painter Richard Morin, scenographer Richard Lacroix, and puppeteers Guy Coderre and Jean Cummings to ask them to think about “image theatre”, a show without words based on a dream. “After all, we needed to be worthy of the name ‘Théâtre de l’Œil’!,” says André Laliberté, laughingly.

Discussions, research and exploration went along nicely over the course of several months, and the initial outlines of a story took shape. We wrote and rewrote. First one storyboard then another. Richard Morin drew the puppets (here’s a scoop for you: Pretzel, The Star Keeper’s main character, is modelled after André Laliberté himself!). Richard Lacroix envisioned the puppet stage as a film set, the ideal setting for the creatures built by Jean Cummings (puppeteer who has been part of the show since its creation and has (almost) never missed a performance!).

Finally, a first staged version in 1996. Here we could check whether the story and the staging worked, and we could resolve technical difficulties. A third storyboard emerged and the design became clearer. Preliminary rehearsals began in the summer of 1997, which helped us determine which images we wanted to include and gave composer Libert Subirana a chance to write the music that is so key in any show without words.

In Théâtre de l’Œil’s workshop, artisans (Caroline Bourgeois, Jean Cummings, Catherine Jodoin, Olivier Perrier, Sylvain Racine, Claude Rodrigue and Graham Soul) were hard at work designing the mechanical devices, the costumes and the props. Then came rehearsals. “This was a crucial, make-or-break stage when the dream would take shape… or not,” says André. For two months, four puppeteers[1] learned how to perform the array of characters and to manipulate the different kinds of puppets: string, hand, rod and Bunraku.
 
The French version of The Star Keeper, Le Porteur, premiered on November 25, 1997 at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Four years spent researching and experimenting and “we had no idea how it would turn out,” remembers André. Le Porteur became The Star Keeper in the spring of 1999 and had its international début performance at the Kennedy Center in Washington (DC).

Twenty years later, The Star Keeper  has toured 15 countries on four continents, has given over 750 performances and has been seen by more than 150,000 people. It has even been presented two or three times in the same festival or theatre over a period of several years. It has played twice at the New Victory in New York City, the second time as special guest to mark the theatre’s 20th anniversary.

The show has been critically acclaimed and has received several awards along the way: the prestigious Chalmers Canadian Play Award, Theatre for Young Audiences in 2001, a Citation of Excellence in the Art of Puppetry from UNIMA-USA in 2005 and three Masques in 1999 from the Académie québécoise du théâtre: Best Production for Young Audiences, Best Set Design and Special Contribution for the puppet design.

 

Captured live: a few touring memories 


Twenty years of touring… unavoidably leave their mark, forge memories and become theatre lore! Funny stories, silly anecdotes, various things that went well (or not) are now part of The Star Keeper’s history. As puppeteer Myriame Larose says, these anecdotes are now part and parcel of the show. Part of its DNA. We tell them over and over again, even if we have heard them a thousand times. And they still make us laugh!”

Puppeteers Jean Cummings and Graham Soul have been there right from the beginning and have been part of The Star Keeper throughout all these years. If you recall from the previous article, you’ll remember that Jean Cummings was part of the team that developed the idea behind the show. He was there at its birth! He helped build the puppets before bringing them to life on stage and accompanying them several times around the world.

You could say that twenty years constitutes a true love story. Jean doesn’t deny it: “I really love The Star Keeper and the fact that it is a show without words. We’ve had amazing experiences while touring, especially in Spain and Ireland. Being able to perform the show overseas has been a dream come true and has more than fulfilled my wish to become a puppeteer. I hope to continue performing The Star Keeper for many years to come.” One of his most vivid memories is of a “disaster that turned into a miracle” when Pretzel lost his head during the show and Jean only had a few minutes to put it back on – in the dark and while wearing gloves! And he did it! Because Jean is a magician with extraordinary talent and he can do anything. But, because he is also very modest, he would say that’s a bit of an overstatement.
 

Daisy Bygone’s accident


Graham Soul joined Théâtre de l’Œil because he was drawn by the “magic and the quality of its productions”. One of his strongest recollections is being blown away when he met Richard Morin and “his amazing colour drawings of The Star Keeper’s extraordinary characters. The illustrations, the images just took my breath away. I knew right away that it was exactly the kind of puppet theatre that I had dreamed of doing ever since I was a kid!”

He also remembers Daisy Bygone’s accident, a story that has since become a favourite with The Star Keeper crew [I myself have heard it several times, and still love listening to it]: “It was during a performance at the Maison des arts de Laval. I hung up the old lady Daisy Bygone, a string puppet, on a hook before going down from the bridge. Then I heard a weird noise, but I didn’t pay any attention to it. A little while later, my colleagues started whispering urgent messages to me like: ‘There’s a problem with Daisy Bygone, you’d better go see!’, ‘Go see the old lady, she doesn’t look well!’.

Then I saw it: the poor old lady had fallen almost two metres and was lying on the ground in a terrible state. She was crumpled up with her strings all tangled around her. Her wooden hip was broken. She would definitely have to go to hospital (the workshop). No way would she be able to go back on stage at the end of the show like she normally would have. But who could take her place? We all agreed right away that it would have to be Pierrot, the only other string puppet (like Daisy Bygone] who could do the same movements. I truly believe that the audience didn’t notice anything was amiss, but I have never been as anxious as I was that night! Jocelyne Losier, who was Théâtre de l’Œil’s marketing coordinator at the time and in the audience, almost had a stress-induced heart attack when she saw this new version!”


Daisy Bygone on the left and Pretzel on the right
 

A cult show


Stéphane Heine and Myriame Larose are the “young newcomers” to the team, having joined it in 2011. André Laliberté is careful to ensure that his teams include “the old guard”, as he calls it, and young artists: “the older ones have experience and the younger ones bring a kind of freshness.”

“When André offered me the job, I said to him ‘Are you sure I will be up to the task?’” explains Myriame Larose, carrying her new baby, Milo in her arms. “I was just starting out as a puppeteer and, for me, The Star Keeper was a cult show! ‘You can do it’, replied André.” And, adds Myriame, with just a touch of pride: “I am the first woman to have done it.” Since then, Anne Lalancette has joined the team, first to fill in for Graham, and now for Myriame. “They were pretty big shoes to fill,” Myriame goes on, “but André was completely confident. Graham and Jean showed us exactly what to do, and there is something very satisfying in passing on this knowledge.”

Like Myriame, Stéphane Heine began his career at Théâtre de l’Œil as a puppeteer on 3-Legged Tale, another show without words. In the case of The Star Keeper, he was lucky to be Pretzel’s main manipulator. “It’s a wonderful challenge that requires a lot of dexterity and precision. Even after seven years, I have as much fun bringing this odd little creature to life and am still looking for ways to improve my performance. The Star Keeper is a magical show. When we get to meet members of the audience after a performance, we can see the sparkle in their eyes and their smiles. And they are always generous with their thanks. It is an incredibly gratifying show for a puppeteer.”
 
Stéphane Heine remembers a funny incident that occurred on a US tour: “The presenter had hired a sign language interpreter to do a simultaneous translation of the show. Yup, you heard me right: a translation of a show without words! Seven times during the first performance, a woman stood on the side of the stage to let the hearing impaired in the audience know that the star was crying, that Daisy Bygone was laughing or that the sound of waves could be heard. It was clear that she hadn’t seen the show beforehand because, when the spotlight turned to her to interpret the conversation featuring a made-up language between Bob and Maggie Mischief, she was dumbstruck and couldn’t say a word. She didn’t come back to any shows after that.”

And then, of course, there were the dodgy adventures due to fickle Mother Nature: the snow storm in the Maritimes that held the team hostage for two days in a deserted hotel, deserted even by the hotel’s staff… Or the heat wave in China, where temperatures in Beijing reached 45°C and traumatized Jocelyne Losier forever. Jocelyne spent 28 years at Théâtre de l’Œil, organizing The Star Keeper’s wonderful trips and amazing adventures around the world. “The Star Keeper brought me great joy but also its fair share of nightmares!” she notes. “But it never got lost at sea, in a train, a plane, a truck, at customs, etc. The first time I saw Pretzel rise towards the moon at the NAC (National Art Center) on November 26, 1997, I couldn’t help but think about Guy Coderre. He had been part of the project’s original team, but, unfortunately, he never saw the show on stage. I have thought about this time and time again. I was especially proud when the show was presented in my little Acadian town a few months before I retired. It was a fantastic way to end my career at Théâtre de l’Œil…

We’ll leave the final word to Myriame Larose: “The Star Keeper is ageless. It’s just as relevant today as ever and kids love it wherever it’s performed. They don’t make shows like this one anymore!”


Curent cast. From left to right: Anne Lalancette, Jean Cummings, Graham Soul and Stéphane Heine (and Pretzel!)

 

Where are we playing?


The Star Keeper will be on stage at the Maison Théâtre in Montréal, from March 14 to 31, 2018. Quite a few of the 26 performances are already sold out, but there are still tickets.
www.maisontheatre.com

The Star Keeper will also make an appearance in Valleyfield on April 1, 2018.

On February 25, 2018, Pretzel and his friendly band helped to inaugurate the Maison de la culture Claude Léveillée in the Centre Jean-Marie Gauvreau, located at 911 Jean-Talon Street. This is the same centre which houses Théâtre de l’Œil’s offices, workshop and rehearsal space. And this performance was, without a doubt, the one that required the least amount of travel ever: going down two floors in an elevator!


[1] Jean Cummings, Olivier Perrier, Sylvain Racine and Graham Soul


 

What people have said about the show
 

Characters:

Pierrot   BelleLurette   Pretzel

Pierrot
Rather grouchy and clumsy, he
is responsible for bringing in
the night and lighting the stars in the sky.

 

Daisy Bygone
A very old lady whose
heart is as fragile as Chinese porcelain.

 

Pretzel
A small, friendly worm who
loves to help others. 

         
Leontine   Centaure   Somnanbule

Maggie Mischief
A spoiled little girl who throws
terrible tantrums when she doesn’t
get her way.

 

Cedrick the Centaur
So big that his head is literally in
the clouds.

 

The Three Sleepwalkers
Triplets with two faces.

 

 

 

 

 

Poissons   Hippocampe   Dompteur

The Accordion-Fish
The grand champions of
underwater ping-pong.

 

The Seahorse Family
World travellers and litterers.

 
The Bubble Charmer

He captures, tames and collects
all bubbles that come within his reach.


 


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CREDITS

The Star Keeper 
Storyboard: Richard Lacroix, André Laliberté, Richard Morin  Stage Direction: André Laliberté
Puppet Design: Richard Morin  Set and Prop Design: Richard Lacroix  
Music: Libert Subirana  Lighting: Luc Désilets

Newsletter
Text: Michelle Chanonat   Translation: Denise Babin  Coordination: Marie-Claude Boudreault 
Template: Julien Berthier  Graphic Design: Marie-Claude Boudreault  
Photo Credits: (1) Théâtre de l'Oeil - (2) Richard Morin - (3) Léon Gniwesch
(4) Richard Lacroix - (5) Théâtre de l'Oeil - (6 to 14) Léon Gniwesch

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THÉÂTRE DE L'ŒIL
Touring Creative Puppet Theatre Company
Montreal (Quebec) Canada
info@theatredeloeil.qc.ca
www.theatredeloeil.qc.ca

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Théâtre de l'Œil · 7780, av. Henri-Julien · Montreal, QC H2R 2B7 · Canada