Recognized as one of Canada’s foremost theatre artists, Ronnie Burkett has been credited with creating some of the world’s most elaborate and provocative puppetry. The artistry that has led to worldwide acclaim is front and centre in his current show, Penny Plain, opening soon in Ottawa on its national tour.
His latest work is the story of a blind woman waiting for the end of the world, in a season that celebrates the 25th anniversary of the Ronnie Burkett Theatre of Marionettes. The apocalyptic tale – as always a story for adults, not children – features 35 puppets, including talking dogs, a cross-dressing banker and a group of survivalists. His reputation for exquisite puppets is well deserved, as in this character from the previous production String Quartet.
The Toronto based artist (above, with Penny Plain cast) was adopted by a probation officer and a homemaker shortly after his birth, and grew up in Medicine Hat, Alberta. At the age of seven, his lifelong obsession with puppetry began when he flipped open an encyclopedia to the entry on puppets.
-Marionettes from the production Provenance.
Burkett converted to Mormonism as a youth and received a puppetry scholarship to Brigham Young University. He dropped out of university—and Mormonism—but not before winning a 1977 regional Emmy for Cinderabbit, the story of Cinderella retold with animal characters, filmed for PBS by a TV station in Provo, Utah.
-Characters from the production 10 Days on Earth
Burkett obsesses over each of his marionettes. He compares them to violins, once telling the Georgia Straight magazine: “I’m pretty bullish in my studio that we have to make a Stradivarius every time.”
-Detail, Penny Plain
Underneath their clothes, the puppets have collar bones and rib cages. He spends hours making sure his creations return to characteristic stances when at rest. Burkett has also invented numerous signature joints to get lifelike movements out of his creations, including the Burkett High-Neck Joint and the Burkett Hip Joint.
Agent for Ronnie Burkett website, here
Ronnie Burkett’s papier-mache recipes