Wednesday, May 15, 2013

In a Word... Ronnie Burkett on The Daisy Theatre (Luminato)

(via Luminato website)

The Light of the (un)Familiar and Beloved

Ronnie Burkett has been captivated by puppetry since the age of seven, and began touring his shows around Alberta at the age of 14.  Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes was formed in 1986, continuously playing on Canada’s major stages, and as a guest company on numerous tours abroad. Ronnie received the 2009 Siminovitch Prize in Theatre, The Herbert Whittaker Drama Bench Award for Outstanding Contribution to Canadian Theatre, a Village Voice OBIE Award and four Citations of Excellence from the American Center of the Union Internationale de la Marionnette.

CHARPO: Though your productions are not particularly dark, this one, again, seems to come from a dark place. Why do you think that is?

BURKETT: The original daisy plays done by Czech puppeteers during the Nazi occupation certainly happened in a dark time; the shows were actually named with a nod to the notion that daisies grow in the dark. But darkness was not the theme; metaphor and allegory through familiar and beloved characters shed light on what was going on. My hope for The Daisy Theatre is that I’ll create a few characters that similarly resonate with the audience in their own simple way. I suppose I’m attracted to “dark” material simply because I’m fascinated by characters who are ridiculous, yearning and hopeful in their own tiny struggles toward light. The Daisy Theatre is one of the silliest and frothiest things I’ve done in years. I suppose after the darkness of Penny Plain I just need to be foolish again. Luckily, I have a job that totally allows that.

The Daisy Theatre is totally different, given that it's primarily improvised each night based upon whim, the news of the day, the audience that shows up.

CHARPO: Tell us about the process...what comes first in terms of that aha! moment and what follows?

BURKETT: It's different for each show, but the aha! moment is most usually a script idea, a central question or theme I want to explore, and one I know I'll be happy discussing with an audience for a few years. But the nature of The Daisy Theatre is totally different, given that it's primarily improvised each night based upon whim, the news of the day, the audience that shows up. So with this new show, I was able to just dream up and design a disparate bunch of characters that appealed to me, without any of them having to make sense in an overall central (script) idea or design. It was a lot of fun, and, as these things happen, fairly soon into the process I saw relationships that might occur between these characters.

CHARPO: How much time does it take to create a show? to then get it to a point where you're satisfied with it?

BURKETT: Not including the daydreaming and doodling of ideas and characters, building a show takes a full year. It's intense, laborious, and an interesting way to hermit away in the studio after the more public side of touring and performing. Satisfied? Well, I'm very particular in the studio, and there are so many hours and details in the building of my marionettes that no one will ever see. I guess the same follows through for the stage, the music and other aspects. I don't know if I'm ever fully satisfied, but that isn't such a concern for me anymore. I like repetition, be it building puppets and raising the bar every time I sit down to sculpt or joint a figure, or the repetition of performing the show night after night. It's in that act of repetition that I make all my best discoveries. For me, satisfaction comes with the doing. When I decide to retire a show, it's not so much that I'm satisfied with it finally, but more a feeling that I've had the conversation with audiences and perhaps interpreted my part of it to the best it will ever be. And then, on to something new. I suspect I’ll keep adding characters and numbers and little playlets to The Daisy Theatre for many years.

I actually think the premise of winging a show is a nice challenge.

CHARPO: Is the fact you're promising each showing will be different like inviting a burnout?

BURKETT: My big scripted solo shows are more taxing physically, vocally and emotionally, so given the silliness of The Daisy Theatre, I actually think the premise of winging a show is a nice challenge. Hopefully, certain “bits” will reveal themselves very quickly and a handful of characters will become stand alone favourites, plus there are six novelty numbers and songs we’re working on, so with those elements, I will have familiar territory to rely on. And with the short playlets written by other writers, I’ll have other set material to toss into the mix.  Besides, getting all the marionettes built on time is the real burnout; once that’s done, I’m laughing.

CHARPO: And, finally, what makes it 14+?

BURKETT: I talk to adults in the theatre. I like feeling them suspending their disbelief and buying into an idea being expressed by a small wooden figure. Those moments are usually the quietest in the show, and it can be magical. Having kids in the audience changes the dynamic and stifles the adults, I find. There are spectacular creators and performers of theatre for kids. I’m not one of them. Besides, in The Daisy Theatre, there’s always a good chance that faded Hollywood has-been Esme Massengill will call the audience cunts. Probably best to leave the kids at home.

The Daisy Theatre is part of Luminato and runs June 14-23

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