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Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett teaches Concordia theatre students this semester

Burkett is teaching Design for the Theatre students as an artist-in-residence in the Department of Theatre
November 22, 2021
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By Olivier Du Ruisseau

Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett in class listening to a presentation by a Design for the Theatre student. Photo by Ashutosh Gupta. Puppeteer Ronnie Burkett in class listening to a presentation by a Design for the Theatre student. Photo by Ashutosh Gupta.

Ronnie Burkett is one of the world’s most prolific puppeteers, known for his complex marionettes and mises en scène for adult theatre shows, which he entirely designs himself. He has toured the world with his works many times, and has won a regional Emmy Award (Cinderrabbit, 1979) and a Siminovitch Prize in Theatre for his lifetime work (2009).

Although he is used to doing workshops in universities, this ongoing series of Design for the Theatre workshops at Concordia is his first credited semester-long course teaching experience.

“Normally, I wouldn’t be able to teach like this, but this year, I obviously had no tours and theatres were still closed, so I happily agreed to embark on the project,” says Burkett.

Burkett passes on his experience and creativity to students, assisting them in the process of entirely designing their own small shows, of conceptualizing the marionettes, the decor and the story.

“I like to tell them stories, to offer them real-life examples of things we talk about in class,” he says. “The course has been a very enjoyable experience so far. I’ve presented a lot of images, styles, artists working right now, and given examples of works in papier mâché, wood, cardboard. This has even led me to reflect, with the students, on how we can have the most sustainable practice possible in puppeteering."

'Learning puppeteering a great way for young theatre designers to start their career'

Design for the Theatre student presenting their work in class. Design for the Theatre student presenting their work in class. Photo by Ashutosh Gupta.

Burkett  wants to encourage students to think about their work within the constraints of a post-pandemic context. At the end of the course, on December 5th, students will present their works to the public, in class, with their teacher. The event is aptly named The Post Pandemic Puppet Project.

“My sense is that small theatre will have a very strong place after the pandemic. I think solo work in small venues (what my students are currently working on, but also what puppeteers have always done), even portable work, which allows more room for individual creative practices, will become more popular in the coming years,” says Burkett.

He also often reflects on how the approach to storytelling in puppetry is changing.

“The younger generation of theatre artists seem keener on doing their own work, and delving into devised theatre, which puppetry is also getting into,” he says. “I’m also very happy to notice more young artists getting into the medium, more artists who are realizing that they like not being confined within the limitations of working from the human body,” he added.

Burkett concludes that he is very satisfied with the semester spent with Concordia students, and that he hopes to have encouraged them to try his medium.

“Learning puppeteering a great way for young theatre designers to start their career. It shows them new possibilities of decor, how to work with shadows, it gives them more versatility and allows them to integrate these practices into theater in general,” he said.

Go see The Post Pandemic Puppet Project, the public presentation of the students’ works.

Learn more about academic programs in the Theatre Department.

 



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