Kaslo puppet designer Rose-Blanche Hudon has been working tirelessly to prepare the first of a trio of planned puppets celebrating Francophone pioneers in the Kootenays.
This week she was putting her finishing touches on the first character, Henri Borgeois, in time for his debut on December 13. And she’s extremely happy with the end result.
“I got to know Henri Borgeois through this process. He had a really special life. His doctor recommended he live in the mountains because of his illness, so he moved west from Quebec without his family,” she said.
The puppet will make its first public appearance at the Association des francophones des Kootenays Ouest (AFKO) Christmas celebration in Crescent Valley, which was originally named Borgeois Siding after the pioneer.
Though his family eventually joined him, Bourgeois lost both of his children in a fire. He eventually recovered from his grief to became one of the most prominent and influential Francophone pioneers in the West Kootenay.
Hudon said imagining the struggles he overcame inspired her to do her very best work in creating his likeness. She hopes the puppet will help honour his memory.
Hudon, who studied stage design and puppeteering at L’Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) said this has been one of the biggest project she’s ever undertaken. She was recruited by AFKO and went through an extensive consultation process before deciding on a final design.
“We had to meet as a group and discuss every character,” she said, noting they came up with a variety of possibilities before deciding on the current design.
“It’s more like a comic book than a real representation,” she said. “I went to my drafting table and drew the character, trying to draw from their story and from the picture. I wanted to capture their character.”
The puppets will ultimately be somewhere between 10 and 12-feet tall, depending on the puppeteer. The shoulders are four-feet wide, while the head is three feet by three feet.
During the process, Hudon changed the original design, which called for a wooden structure. Instead they went with three-inch thick PVC plumbing. The head and hands are constructed of papier-mâché and plaster.
During the process she had to vacate her basement suite, and had to choose products that wouldn’t create fumes that would seep into the rest of her house.
“My basement was transformed,” she said.
But now that she’s nearly finished the first, she thinks the remaining two puppets of J.O Patenaude and Elie Carpentier will go a lot faster.
Hudon is also going to be involved in the upcoming production of Jorinda, an opera at the Capitol Theatre. She will be assisting in the construction of the puppets involved.
Hudon said she hopes the AFKO puppetry shows, which will be touring through the Kootenays and will eventually make an appearance in Nelson, will renew interest in puppetry.
“You can make puppets out of tea pots. It’s an art that has to be rediscovered. It’s not just marionettes and hand puppets, and it’s not just for children,” she said.
For the production local experts contributed to build the set, the puppets and the costumes. Bilingual signs will be designed to illustrate the story of each character.
In addition, French schools, French immersion classes, and the general public will be invited to an exhibition at the Touchstones museum in March 2015.
“I would invite people to open their minds about what we can do with puppetry.”
For more information, or to learn about the upcoming shows, visit afko.ca.