Real “family” entertainment means mom and dad and the in-laws are stimulated too.
Toronto’s Puppetmongers Theatre emphasizes material good for all ages, this year mounting Cinderella of Muddy York, recasting an ancient tale in 19th century Toronto. With 35 years experience, Puppetmongers offer technical mastery and stories to satisfy kindergarteners and grandparents.
This commitment to everyone’s satisfaction can cause controversy.
“In the United States, we’re regarded as “adult” entertainment,” says puppetmaster Anne Powell by phone. “Partly it’s because we try to write material that adults will enjoy just as much, but it’s also that in the U.S., they have a different idea of what children’s entertainment is.”
It’s true that children’s entertainment is less free-spirited than it used to be. Those of us who grew up before cable television remember when kids’ shows and cartoons were a bit grittier and much funnier. Today, cartoons for kids seem to shield their young audiences from just about everything.
“We have a lot of respect for our young audiences,” Powell says, “and our shows are very rich. In the U.S., they want something simpler.”
Many parents will prefer Puppetmongers’ less sanitized themes and freer stories.
“All our shows deal with themes of kindness and generosity” says Powell, “not in a hitting-you-over-the-head way, but without the old sexist or bigoted attitudes.”
Video games and DVDs are great, but they’re no substitute for a live family outing.
“The Tarragon Theatre’s Extra Space is intimate, with just 100 seats,” says Powell. “The audience is very close. It’s all very low tech, but the crowd stays with us. We already understand how modern media has created shorter attention spans and different expectations.”
Founded in 1974, Puppetmongers Theatre consist of siblings Anne and David Powell, and their director Sue Milner. For most of the year, they tour North America and collaborate with other theatre and puppet companies. The trio wrote Cinderella of Muddy York, and built the sets and puppets themselves.
“We’ve been running a puppet company since we were children,” explains Powell, “before we went through the Ontario Collage of Art. That’s where we learned more about making things.”
Fully trained and accredited, Puppetmongers won the 2003 President’s Award from the Puppeteers of America, along with two Dora nominations a slew of other prizes from both sides of the border. Now in its 10th year, Cinderella in Muddy York is masterful, live holiday entertainment.
• Cinderella at Muddy York is on now until Jan. 2