- Vancouver International Children's Festival on Granville Island May 29-June 3. For complete schedule visit www. childrensfestival.ca.
A puppet show is an old-fashioned kind of entertainment, about as far removed from 3-D movies, television and computer games as you can get.
But Sabrina Baran of the Montreal theatre company L'Illusion Theatre des Marionettes says children are captivated by the stories acted out on stage by simple wooden puppets.
"Sometimes the younger children talk to the puppets," says Baran. "During the show, they usually warn Hansel and Gretel, 'Be careful! Be careful!'"
The puppeteers will be at the Vancouver Children's Festival May 29 to June 3 with their modern retelling of Hansel and Gretel. Their version of the fairy tale is called Under the Stars (La belle etoile).
Older children want to know how the puppets work, and are convinced special effects must be involved. But all the magic is created with sets, lighting, music and storytelling.
"You can stay really simple, and realize children are really amazed by these small little wooden puppets," says Baran.
Baran and her copuppeteer, Salim Hammad, don't hide behind a screen. Rather, they're part of the show, manipulating the puppets, moving the wooden set and using their bodies to convey visual ideas. At one point in the show, Baran makes her arms and hands into the shape of a bird; the Hansel and Gretel puppets sit on the bird, and the bird flies off. At other times, the actors are active storytellers, guiding their young audience through what can be at times a frightening tale.
Baran comes from a family of puppeteers, and she came back to the art form after training as an dancer and an actor. Hammad is trained in clowning and mime. The group uses elements of all those disciplines in their shows.
Besides Hansel and Gretel, there's a third puppet: the set itself. Made of wood with components like a bridge and small houses, it can be moved around and transformed into different settings.
"We are able to create all the places: we are inside the house of the children, and after a couple of movements, we're in the deepest part of the forest," says Baran. She said the puppeteers had to practice quite a bit to master the set transformations.
L'Illusion Theatre des Marionettes has existed for 30 years and puts on shows exclusively for children. The company uses different types of puppets in each show, said Baran, and the puppeteers need to go learn how to use the new puppets for each show. For Under the Stars, Baran and Hammad also got special training to be able to put on the puppet play in English.
The English training is part of an effort "to start to be more present in Canada," says Baran. The company, which performs mostly in Quebec, is making an effort to bring their art further afield. The group's Vancouver run is the last stop in a crossCanada trip.
L'Illusion Theatre des Marionettes will perform Under the Stars in alternating English and French performances. See www. childrensfestival.ca for more information.