27 July 2010


Krista and I can handle quite a few different art forms: painting, writing, photography, puppetry, stilting...clearly, mostly visual stuff. But no music. We're not against it; we love music. There's music playing almost constantly around here. Sometimes we sing to each other --I prefer to sing alone while driving with the stereo turned way up, drowning me out-- but I can't play a single instrument (and, although Krista wants to enlist a Recorder Army, I'm skeptical of both our skills). So the only way we can have (good) live music here at Small Pond is to invite actual musicians to come out and play.

When Guy mentioned a few of his friends were on an East Coast tour and would like to play Small Pond at the end of it on their way back to Toronto, we jumped at the chance.
Hell yes.

They were scheduled to be in our area on 24 July. We did a quick search to see what significant historical events happened on that day and it turns out that, more than forty years ago(!), the crew of Apollo 11 returned home after being the first humans to walk upon the moon. They splashed down in the Pacific Ocean on 24 July 1969. That was a pretty special event (I love space exploration) and, also, "Splashdown" ties into our "Big Splash" in May.

I made a poster:

Krista made a backdrop:

Guy arranged the bands:

The firepit was readied with wood.

There was even a rainbow:

We had originally planned the bands to play on our back deck (pictured with backdrop), but the repeated threat of rain made us switch to our Plan B: the Art Barn (pictured with rainbow). It ended up being the best venue even though it didn't rain much because the acoustics were great and it was just...cozy and intimate.

And, even outside in the corral, the music sounded excellent:

Opening the show was Master of Ceremonies Guy Doucette with a song cycle:

MJ Cyr was up next:

Then Graydon James and the Young Novelists:

And Lara Martin closed the night:

The musicians played together on each other's songs, giving the night a nice, rich sound and added texture of collaboration. Everyone --musicians, audience, and the three attending canines (small, medium, & large -and each black & white)-- had a great time that Saturday night.

Most of us ended up at the fire pit after the show,
roasting the biggest, fattest marshmallows we'd ever seen (not pictured):

Krista and I sincerely thank Guy, MJ, Lara, Graydon, Shawn, Noel, and Laura for their excellent musicianship and for making the air at Small Pond Arts ring sweetly for a few precious hours. We look forward to more live music here very soon...

20 July 2010

Bet you wish you knew a Guy like him‏

We’ve mentioned Guy Doucette in a number of previous posts, and with good reason. Guy is living with us at Small Pond all summer, and he has been an invaluable help to us in this important first year of pond life.

I met Guy three years ago while I was working at Clay & Paper Theatre. I was leading a stilt-walking workshop, and he showed up to learn how it was done on the same day that we were joined by a journalist from the National Post. A few days later, Guy’s picture showed up in the newspaper under the headline “They Just Want to Get High.” A-hem.

Guy makes sand angels at Sandbanks Provincial Park

From this unusual beginning, Guy and I became fast friends and artistic collaborators. He spent a year working with me as an intern at Clay & Paper, where I tried to impart some of my knowledge of producing to him – although he’s been producing his own festivals and plays with Back Burner Productions for years. Guy and I have developed and performed a number of shadow puppetry plays together: Dreams-A-Go-Go, Leap Year Pudding, and Wolf/Flow. Right now we're working on our next shadow show, Doubt Seed, which we’ll be performing at Small Pond in August.

So what does Guy do at Small Pond, you might ask?

Guy gardens, he cooks, he plays guitar, cuts trails through the woods, and makes sculptures out of the plethora of found objects that turn up around the farm.

Guy's scarecrow has been mighty effective in fending off critters

He’s continues to be a stilt-walker...

… and is also a bat-catcher…

... a puppet-maker...

… a snake-handler…

… and generally just helps out with whatever needs to be done. He’s got a killer sense of humour, inimitable fashion sense, a ready laugh, and is one of the hardest workers I’ve ever met. You couldn’t ask for a more devoted friend.

Guy's crowning achievement this summer has been the creation of what we call Salon du Silo, an elaborate landscaping and gardening project which involved unearthing the floor of the long-gone hundred-year-old barn next to the silo. The Salon is now one of the most magical spots on our property.

Now don’t you wish you knew a Guy like him?

01 July 2010

Birthing Bacchus

Let me introduce you to the newest member of the Small Pond menagerie: Bacchus. Bacchus, meet our blog readers.

Bacchus is a giant puppet – 10 ½ feet tall when I’m wearing him – and today he made his first public appearance at Picton’s Canada Day celebrations.

And who is this ruddy-cheeked, swaggering giant? Bacchus is none other than the Roman god of wine, theatre, and agriculture; all most worthy domains to preside over. We thought he’d fit right in around here with all the wineries and farms in Prince Edward County… as well as with the tribe of theatrical heathens here at Small Pond.

I’m going to give a basic step-by-step of how we made Bacchus… but first you might be wondering why on earth we would put so much time and energy into creating such highly impractical, nonsensical things like giant puppets. I can really only blame one person: David Anderson.

Four years ago, Milé and I moved in together into the tiny third floor apartment of a house in Toronto (the aforementioned shoebox). As it turned out, David lived on the main floor. I knew him to be the Artistic Director of Clay & Paper Theatre, and being a playwright and fledgling puppeteer myself, I naturally suggested that we have dinner and talk theatre. Thus it was that a few days later we rendezvoused on the front porch for a barbecue. David was in a right state. He had a show going up in a month and his producer had just quit. As luck would have it, I’d just quit my job. By the time we were tucking into our meal, I’d been hired.
David Anderson toasts a cabeçudo (giant head puppet)
 in the first production we worked on together

This month-long contract at Clay & Paper turned into four crazy years of writing, producing, performing, workshopping, stilt-walking, and yes, building all sorts of puppets, both great and small. I have to thank David for teaching me almost everything I know about puppets. He was a great mentor and I have many fond memories of working with him in the years before starting Small Pond. In addition to my puppet pedigree from Clay & Paper, I also had the great fortune of doing a 5-week internship at Bread & Puppet Theater in Vermont, an experience that not only further informed my knowledge of puppetry, but in fact inspired us to start a ‘puppet farm’ of our very own.

Bacchus was born from the outhouse, in a sense. When we dug the pit for the Small Pond outhouse, we were happy to discover a vein of clay which we hauled away in buckets for later use. The first step of the process involved reconstituting the clay by adding water to it. Once it had returned to a fairly squishy state, I dumped it out on a big table and started sculpting with my hands.

It took a while for me to get a shape I was happy with, and I often had to stand on a ladder above the sculpture to get a sense of what it looked like. I then had to let the clay dry out for a few days– once it had solidified I smeared the whole thing in Vaseline and started papier-mâchéing with the assistance of Nel, a visiting playwright, and our friend Guy.

Nel and Krista papier-mâché

Meanwhile, in Oshawa, my sister Caitlin and my grandmother Marion had been sucked into the puppet vortex, and in between cups of tea and games of Scrabble they were cutting out 175 grape leaves based on the template I provided them. I love you two!

When the papier mâché was dry, I popped it off the form, the Vaseline forming a barrier to prevent the paper from sticking to the clay. I reinforced the edges of the face with wire. Guy and I screwed some cross beams into the head, then I primed the face, inside and out, and handed it over to Milé for painting.

Bacchus is nothing without his grapes. I made each grape individually, sewing little bundles of stuffing into two colours of purple fabric. The grapes I sewed into bunches, the bunches I sewed onto leaves, and the leaves I stitched onto the head. I filled in some gaps with strips of dark green fun fur – I feel they look like vines and it really works well in adding another texture. I also used a bit of gold highlighting throughout – ribbons, sequins, gold leaves – which I thought would lend itself to his godliness as well as providing a bit of good old fashioned sparkle.

All this time I was debating what to do with the hands. Sculpting them in clay would take too much time, so I opted for my patented Frankenstein technique. The hands are made out of a cut-up pool noodle found in our woods and a bit of junk Styrofoam. It’s all held together with masking tape and a couple layers of papier mâché. The wine bottle is similarly made of some cut-up plastic pop bottles and a cardboard tube, again covered with masking tape and papier mâché.

Bacchus is a backpack puppet – this particular backpack I found on the street in Toronto (I'm an avid freecycler).  It is a Pioneer Indian Pack Board No. 3. Not totally comfortable by modern standards, but I enjoy the design of it. Its wooden frame made it easy to bolt it to two pieces of 2” x 2” wood which go straight up and bolt onto the cross beam in the head. The key to keeping control of the puppet is a snug strap across the waist and the chest. This particular backpack didn’t come with such straps, so I bought some 1” buckles and some strapping at Canadian Tire.

Milé designed the Small Pond Estates wine label

For Bacchus’ costume I decided to try something a little different; instead of the traditional giant puppet costume consisting of a large tube of fabric covering the operator and two tubes for the arms, I decided to go more conceptual and use fabric strips. I knew that I was often going to be the one carrying the puppet, and chose to make my own costume part of the larger costume – really, I was just looking for an excuse to wear gold combat boots! 

Bacchus is the first of many giant puppets we’ll be building at Small Pond. If you’d like to get involved in helping us make one, please get in touch – they are big projects and volunteers are always welcome. Until next time, may Bacchus continue to watch over you, and may your cup runneth over!