Vancouver Fringe Festival 2016 Preview – Does Not Play Well With Others
August 21, 2016
Moon Dinosaur Theatre’s show Paleoncology was sweet without being sentimental and harsh without been cruel. This year they are touring fringe festivals with a brand new puppet oriented piece, Does Not Play Well With Others. Showbill.ca’s Matt McLaren discusses puppetry and the Fringe with co-creator Kira Hall.
Matt McLaren: Full disclosure – your show Paleoncology ruined me. My father actually made the comment that he thought the show could work, albeit staged, somewhere like the Sydney Opera House. With that in mind, what’s the focus for this show? Wider or more intimate?
Kira Hall: I would say that the scope for Does Not Play Well With Others is wider. Does Not Play Well With Others follows two puppeteers who are quite guarded, using off-hand jokes and patter to build walls around themselves, whereas Paleoncology‘s Lea uses quietness as a defense. It’s a slightly harsher environment I think, but with more laughs than sorrow. My writing partner Adam Proulx brought ample comedy experience to the table.
MM: Without spoiling too much, what’s the plot baseline this time around?
KH: The story is about two children’s public television puppeteers, whose coworker brings a scandal down on the network. In the fallout that ensues, they have to soldier on with their puppets Oomph and Bae as they deal with additional network pressure, each other, and their own neuroses.
MM: I had the pleasure of watching your director Andrew G. Young perform in SNAFU Theatre’s show Snack Music in the Toronto Festival of Clowns. No idea that he was one of the minds behind Moon Dinosaur Theatre – but his talents made it obvious why. Could you tell the folks at home how your collaboration started and what he brings to the proceedings?
KH: Andrew and I first worked together on Artichoke Heart’s We Walk Among You at the Montreal Fringe in 2013. I as a puppeteer, him as assistant director. I was impressed with his thoughtfulness – both with the performers and the piece – so I asked him if he might be willing to act as dramaturg for Paleoncology.
To my great fortune, he continued on as director and stage manager, because he can do it all. We share a similar humour and sense of the impact we want our work to have, but I can get a bit cerebral in the writing process. Andrew’s strong base in physical work, as you saw in Snack Music, curious insight into the small threads of story, and calm focus make him a grounding and insightful collaborator.
MM: Thanks to watching Snack Music, I’m a little more familiar with both your backgrounds in object puppetry, which reared it’s head in Paleoncology. Can we expect to see it make a return? What other tricks do you have in your magic show bag?
KH: Does Not Play Well With Others uses what most people think of when they hear puppet: adorable muppet-style monster puppets that were built by Adam Proulx, my co-writer and co-star. Adam and I first worked together starring in the first Canadian production of Avenue Q (Lower Ossington Theatre), and Adam has been building and working with mouth puppets ever since. His show Baker’s Dozen: 12 Angry Puppets uses a blank puppet (like Henson’s Anything Muppets) and several different facial features and wigs. So it was an easy choice to focus on mouth puppeteers and their tribulations, since we’ve been working in that area for a few years now.
Does Not Play Well With Others also features video segments featuring the puppets, guest actors, and our own Mr. Rogers type character. We have original music scattered throughout.
MM: What do you/what have you, as an artist and a person, most want to explore with this piece?
When we started work on Does Not Play Well With Others, we were thinking about mental health in the performance field. Performers and performance technicians work in a very precarious, high-stress field; accordingly, we have high rates of depression, addiction, and suicidal ideation.
Through research we learned about links and similarities between the personality traits that make someone “creative”, and the traits that can easily develop into mental illness. On top of that, we considered questions about the pressures and expectations of fame (or semi-fame), and how much higher the pressure becomes when you’re a performer who works with or for children.
So in that high-stakes environment, if you’re a performer with your own little bundle of neuroses that you may or may not have a handle on, how do you deal with the pressure? How do you deal with other performers and their idiosyncrasies? How do you deal with yourself?
It probably sounds heavy, but this show is in fact a comedy. Our research was a great realistic base to build a dark, funny, often very silly story about a couple of sloppy puppeteers who are trying to do their job without killing each other.
MM: As with Paleoncology, this piece is looking at mental health with the power of puppets. Is that because you anticipate people would be less guarded watching puppets and therefore more willing to discuss these issue?
Puppets are a good way to get guards down. For Does Not Play Well With Others, we use them to emphasize the juxtaposition of on-camera and off-camera life. The puppet characters Oomph and Bae are a goofy, silly, squeaky-clean duo who get on each other’s nerves in the fun context of TV. Compare with the two puppeteers, who get on each other’s nerves in the real world, and who are far from squeaky clean. The puppets carry a certain truth, but it’s the additional glimpse behind the curtain that makes that truth clear.
MM: Why should audiences come and see Does Not Play Well With Others?
Does Not Play Well With Others is what you might get if you mashed up Death to Smoochy with Bert and Ernie, and put them on 30 Rock. Come to see a sharp comedy that finds humour in the dark corners of our brains as we navigate the business of show business. And, of course, adorable puppets.