Yukon News

Power of puppetry

John Thompson Monday September 28, 2009

Photo Submitted/Yukon News

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Byrne Power's puppetry show, The Great Ziggurat, performs in Whitehorse and Watson Lake this week.

Byrne Power wants to break down the formula in many people’s heads that states that puppets equals children’s entertainment.

Nothing could be further from the truth, the resident of Haines, Alaska, learned nine years ago during a trip to the Czech Republic.

Puppets could be heroic, he discovered. During the Second World War, Czech puppeteers risked death by making subversive performances to protest their country’s occupation by the Nazis.

“More than 100 of them were killed,” said Power.

Puppets could also be disturbing, as demonstrated by the dark films of the Brothers Quay.

In short, puppets have far greater expressive range than the comic performances of Jim Henson’s muppets, which, with their faux-fur and googly eyes, have become nearly synonymous with puppetry in the North American public’s mind.

Power hopes to change that with a puppetry troupe he’s put together, called Reckoning Motions - motions being an old, Elizabethan term for puppetry - which is stopping in Whitehorse and Watson Lake as part of a tour for its first show, The Great Ziggurat.

The performance has lofty ambitions. It’s a romp through the history of western civilization, from the Bible to Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and an examination of the human desire to work towards grand projects and the competing urge to tear these unifying projects down.

The story starts with the Tower of Babel and progresses through the middle and modern ages, with appearances by Rapunzel and King Kong, among others, along the way.

Marionettes, shadow puppets and cast-away dolls and toys are all incorporated into the show. Most notably, the show features a wooden puppet that was hand-carved by the respected Czech puppet-maker Lenka Pavlickova.

While there’s nothing naughty about the performance, Power suggests it’s not appropriate for young children.

“I’ll probably put PG10 on the poster,” he said.

Puppetry has long lived in the shadow of other forms of theatre, but it has its advantages. Namely, it’s disarming. Audiences tend to look at puppets through children’s eyes, said Power.

Before forming Reckoning Motions, Power and his troupe members were involved in another puppetry venture, named the Lilliputian Puppet Sideshow, which performed at the Southeast Alaskan State Fair and other venues.

This year, Power received a Rasmusan Individual Artist grant that has allowed him to fund his forthcoming tour, which starts at Skagway before making stops in Whitehorse and Watson Lake.

And that’s only the start of what’s planned to be a three-month tour that is to visit Canadian cities such as Winnipeg and Toronto and stop along both of America’s coasts.

The Whitehorse show starts at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, September 30 at the Old Fire Hall. Tickets are $20, available at the Yukon Arts Centre.

The show continues in Watson Lake’s recreation centre on Thursday, also at 7 p.m. Tickets are $15.

Contact John Thompson at

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