This cardboard story isn’t flat
Joel Krahn/Yukon News
In this day and age, everyone should be applauded for recycling.
But there’s recycling and then there’s what Brian Fidler and his team have decided to do with the massive piles of used cardboard they’ve collected.
For the last three years they’ve toiled away, turning leftover boxes into more than 300 puppets and set pieces for Ramshackle Theatre’s Tombstone: A Cardboard Western which debuts at the Yukon Arts Centre March 30.
Everything on stage is made using cardboard, hot glue and magnets. That includes the set, the oversized masks and various sizes of puppets that come with moving limbs and eyes.
“I like (cardboard) because it’s free so you can make mistakes and start again. It’s a really good material for creating puppets with just using glue,” Fidler said.
The production is a cross between a puppet show and a movie set.
From three tables on stage, puppeteers dressed in black will be manipulating the characters to tell the story.
While that’s happening two cameras will be recording. The two camera operators can switch back and forth between their shots, creating a sort of live-edit of what’s happening on stage shown on a large screen.
“I think some people … just watch the screen with the finished movie on it. Some people just watch us, bustling around and moving around,” Fidler said.
“A lot of people, I think, their focus shifts from what’s going on onstage to what’s going on on the screen.”
There are, admittedly, a lot of moving parts in this show and not just of the cardboard puppet variety.
Joel Krahn/Yukon News
“There have been times where I’m like, ‘Oh my God, what have I done?’” Fidler said 10 days before opening day.
“It could really end up looking like a dog’s breakfast because there are so many moving parts. It could really throw the audience off, I think, if we don’t keep it really, really simple.”
Fidler credits director Jessica Hickman with keeping all the pieces moving in the same direction.
“She’s just a very, very organized person who has taken the chaos that myself and (co-creator) Edward Westerhuis have created and just kind of organized it for us… so the audience will be able to follow a seamless story all the way through.”
The story is your average love triangle: Girl meets cowboy, girl falls in love with cowboy, girl has tragic accident and is turned into cyborg, girl suffers identity crisis and falls in love with robot.
All of this is set to the backdrop of a robot uprising at the amusement park town of Tombstone.
Westerhuis is the show’s main puppet builder.
“He’s almost like a sculptor with cardboard, what he’s able to make the cardboard do, it’s really quite extraordinary,” Fidler said.
But coming up with all 300 puppets and set pieces wasn’t a one-man job. It was a group effort by a handful of dedicated crafty folks, armed with glue guns, who have been getting together over the years.
Sometimes the construction crew — including Westerhuis, Fidler, Hickman, Claire Ness and Geneviève Doyon — would work together in one place. Other times the pieces would have to be shipped back and forth between Whitehorse and Westerhuis’s home in Vancouver.
“We’ve just been shipping stuff back and forth over three years,” Fidler said.
When he’s not crafting with cardboard, Fidler is also artistic director of the Guild.
While he has plenty of experience bringing shows to the stage, he says this one, which he created himself and took years to develop, feels different.
“This one feels really special because of all the people that have worked on it and put in hundreds of hours. I don’t want to let them down,” he said.
“We did the crowdfunding (campaign to raise part of the budget) and people were super supportive and it just made me feel really good.
“I want them to enjoy it and make them feel like what they invested in is something good and special.”
After the show makes its debut in Whitehorse, Fidler is hoping to tour with it.
That means the cardboard art will remain intact for the foreseeable future.
“Maybe at the end of our lives we’ll be burnt with it, in like a big pyre,” he said, laughing.
“The goal (right now) is to tour.”
Tombstone: A Cardboard Western runs March 30, March 31 and April 1 at the Yukon Arts Centre. Shows start at 7:30 p.m. A matinee is also scheduled for 2:30 p.m. on April 1.