Theatre Preview: Cakes, puppets, oh my!

By Kristin McVeigh

There’s trouble in puppet land. As Tomas Prochazka of the Cakes and Puppets theatre troupe explains, their set is stuck in Houston being subjected to unbearable heat and monstrous space shuttles. Without the set, where will the surreal creations of the company frolic upon? But, not a minute later another member of the troupe announces the set has arrived in Calgary. It turns out the show will go on and what an intriguing show it promises to be.

“Everyone of us has had a different story, a different journey. We all studied the same school, which was the drama faculty in Prague,” Prochazka says of the troupe, which in Czech is called Buchty a Loutky. Though the group was founded in 1991 in the Czech Republic, Prochazka’s reasons for beginning puppetry was to combine the many artistic interests he had, including writing music, acting, and designing the puppets.

“It’s like you do not need to be perfect in each one kind of art. The main thing is the certain parts all go together. [The puppets can] fly, have struggles and they can be transformed somehow into something else.”

Still, the puppets aren’t perfect and have inherent challenges of their own. “All the time you have to carry heavy stuff from one place to another, that is the negative aspect that we feel about it,” he explains, in all seriousness.

The Cakes and Puppets show, Urbild, is part of the International Festival of Animated Objects. “There is one hero and he wants some kind of treasure which could be love or power,” Prochazka explains of the plotline.

However, beyond the classic storyline lies the claim to fame of the troupe–the ability to play by their own rules. Written more like a movie, the play has quick scene cuts not usually seen in theatre. “We saw him on this journey, walking through the strange lands and strange situations. There are some very surreal parts in it. In certain parts no one knows if the hero is alive or already dead.”

The depth of the art in Urbild comes from not only the storyline, but from the craft of combining many arts and creative ideas.

“We reuse things, like some of the stuff from garbage and some objects we found in nature and the city. We collect them and put them together with old puppets. I think it could be also a philosophical aspect.”

Urbild is normally performed in Czech, but luckily for Anglophones in Calgary it will be performed in English. “Well of course it will be a little strange English, but I hope that you will understand,” he says of his perceived incomplete grasp of the English language. The play will keep its Czech poetry and songs, in which the artists play instruments like the cello, accordion and drums.

“We’re crossing the borders between different kinds of art,” Prochazka says.

“We are puppeteers, but that doesn’t mean we have to use really cute puppets which are very smoothly operated. We can also use objects or puppets without any string. Well, this is art, and it’s free.”

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