Puppets and penises

By Robin Ianson

While most people’s exposure to the world of puppetry has been limited to Saturday morning children’s shows and corny ventriloquist acts, Calgarian Xstine Cook’s International Festival of Animated Objects is working to change all that. The IFAO runs Jan. 19-28 and will highlight the best and brightest from the world of puppetry, masks and all things animated. Throughout the world there are a handful of puppetry festivals, but Cook went one step further and decided to make her festival about more than just puppetry.

“The first impulse was to have a puppet and mask festival, but this is more exciting because it goes beyond that,” comments festival assistant producer Trevor Anderson. “Including animated objects leaves a lot of room for interpretation and curatorial experimentation. That’s what makes it different from other puppet festivals around the world.”

The IFAO has taken full advantage of their unique title and assembled an eclectic roster of artists from across Canada and around the world. The KSAN Performing Arts troupe hail from northern British Columbia and will be performing traditional Aboriginal song and dance utilizing their beautifully crafted masks and costumes to express their stories. Also attending are the Chiodo Brothers, puppetry and stop-motion geniuses who helped create Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s Team America: World Police. The IFAO has even managed to grab acclaimed artist Paul Zaloom, who the New York Times has called, “one of the most original and talented satirists working in theatre.” In short, there’s something for everyone at the IFAO.

“If people want comedy and like it a little edgy, the opening weekend has Get Off the Cross, Mary!” explains Anderson. “It’s our big gay puppet show­–scandalous satire. If people want to check out a little bit of everything they should book their tickets to do Dolly Wiggler Cabaret. Many of the artists at the festival will be performing short comedy acts.”

Although the IFAO has far more events for adults than the average puppetry festival, there are still plenty of family-oriented events such as Faustwork Mask Theatre’s Mask Messenger. Parents will want to be sure they go online to check the advisory ratings for each show to avoid little Susie asking uncomfortable questions about the nature of life.

“We have something for families, but then we also have lots of programming that is for an adult audience, such as Mother of All Enemies and Get Off the Cross, Mary!” Anderson admits. “These are shows that are definitely for a sophisticated and mature audience. I don’t know what the erect penis count is in the festival. I believe it’s quite high.”

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