Day One.


Wow, what a day!  I’m tired.

I was up quite early this morning, before anything was going on. I went to the pool in the Sally Borden Building to swim and relax a little before everything was to get started.  Swam, showered, and went to breakfast.  As I was eating,  the other participants started to trickle in.  (The food here is something else, by the way, buffets with more kinds of food than you could ever try in a day.)  Eating meals here are almost as important as the work we’re doing- making friends, making connections, sharing ideas and information, getting to know each other as individuals, and a a group.  There are a few participants who know each other, including a group of 5 or so from Regina.  I am impressed with the way that we are not letting this affect us negatively as a group, that everyone is making a point to talk to everyone else.  We are doing a lot of group exercises and everyone is willingly shaking it up, pairing with people they haven’t really paired with before.

Ok, the Intensive.  So, activities officially start at 9:30, with a yoga style warm up. (So much happened today, I’m not sure I can remember.  It feels like a week has gone by already… and it’s been maybe 28 hours.)  We did some exercises in grounded-ness, using our posture and focus to really ground ourselves, enabling us to do some things we weren’t as adept at just a minute before. We talked about chi, energy, and the relationship between us as performers and audience, how that relates to energy and feeling.  We implemented a few types of rituals, signifying work time and focus.  We did a sort of movement pattern to music (not a dance so-to-speak), but a pattern to get us to focus our chi and blend as a group.  It was a little intense, but strangely calming.

Then, lunch. Eat, a few minutes to do whatever you needed to do, and then back to the movement studio.  We played a couple of games, 4 square, and Blind Death, and then sort of analysed the experience with how it might relate to theatre.  We thought about what engaged and bored us, and how we responded to eachother’s cues.  We talked a little about the sorts of narratives that sort of naturally appear.  We talked about tension and how nothing happening can create anticipation.  We talked about setting a framework, how that can give us a place to start from and get going, more than starting from no rules.  (This is something that I’ve been learning more recently in my own process as well.)  We talked about conflict, competition, and challenge.

After the games and the discussion, we had an assignment: to invent a game.  We had a little more than an hour to invent a game, in our little groups of five.  All of the groups came up with something, and all seem happy with it, and we will play them all.  (Maybe I will publish the rules of our game later.)  After supper, we did play one of the group’s game- Deer in the Headlights, a type of Red Light Green Light in a completely dark studio with a flashlight.  It was fun, and it actually worked pretty well.

Going back downstairs into the making studio, we discussed the process of collaborating to come up with a game idea and rules.  Their were some weird commonalities with it, such as groups saying that they often had to cut their crazy ideas back for simplicity’s sake, going back to Square One.  After this discussion, we pulled out the puppets we had brought- such a lovely assortment of characters and styles.  Not one of the puppets (which wasn’t some sort of a set) was anything like any of the others.  One of the memorable ones for me was Rob’s little performance about a dead hen, a bird he had made, full with skeleton, to be systematically dismantled and put back together.  I am quite intrigued by this, as it definitely relates to my own work.

Our open studio assignment for the night, working in pair, something to start on, was to make a simple puppet out of paper and tape.  My partner and I have lots of wild ideas about this weird, ghouly, supernatural man who directs your nightmares by going in to your head through your ears…. hopefully I don’t dream about him tonight.

Just before 10:00, the final section of the evening, Appreciation.  Standing in a circle (we did a lot of that today, all 25 of us), Peter mentioned what we needed to be aware of for tomorrow, and we felt appreciative of things that had happened during the day.  It was a nice way to sort of hit the highlights, a nice closing to the day.  Finally, before we were officially done for the day, we learned and sang a pretty little african song, that I’m sad that I know I won’t remember.

Long, wonderful day.  I need to sleep, but then, I’ll be ready to do it again tomorrow.

Before day one (Arrival at the Banff Centre)

I didn't see one of these at the Banff Centre.  (This is from the Tyrell Museum.)
I didn’t see one of these at the Banff Centre. (This is from the Tyrell Museum.)

9:48 PM.  Quiet.  Dark.  I’m at the Banff Centre, sitting in one of the lounges at Lloyd Hall, by myself, enjoying the quiet before what I’m sure will be craziness starts.

I am a participant in this years incarnation of the Banff Centre Puppet Intensive.

Today was arrival day.  A windy day as I drove up here from Calgary, not too far away. I checked in, met my roommate, did a few of the administrative things such as checking in and getting my ID/ meal card set up, etc.  In the three buildings I’ve been in so far, I’ve gotten lost at least that many times. Good thing the lounge is right across the hall from our room.

It’s pretty quiet around here right now.  It looks like we are the only group residency going on at the moment, although I have a feeling that will change as time goes on.  It’s also only the 2nd of January- holidays are just ending for a lot of people.  I met most of the people in the puppet workshop with me- there are 24 of us, from all over Canada (one from the States), with backgrounds in arts of all kinds: theatre arts (some puppetry, performance, acting, etc), music, and only a couple of other visual artists.  Everyone seems pretty focused on their work and their commitment to their practices,  which take many forms.  We had a discussion about day jobs at dinner- temping, working in art supply stores, Starbucks, corporate fundraising, and one person works in a chocolate factory/ shop.  A few in different types of art admin/ theatre jobs, but those two types seemed most prominent- either career-related, although maybe secondary to their real work, or totally unrelated, but flexible.

Anyway.  Dinner in the Vistas Dining Room, then off to “Orientation,” essentially the overview of the Centre, plus introductions for everybody, and what to expect.  The biggest thing that stuck with me is Peter saying that it was nice to hear what everyone wanted to get out the workshop, but not to be too fixated on that- to be open to learning and possibility, and to let what happens happen.  In my limited experience with residencies, you really do need to be open, open to experience, open to collaboration, open to the unexpected.  That’s where the magic is, or as Peter put it, “it pushes your brain into different crevices than you normally would be in.”

Banff Centre Puppet Intensive!

Pinnochio.... no, I did not make this one.


I will be attending the Puppet Theatre Intensive Workshop at the Banff Centre for the first couple weeks in January! The workshop will be run by Peter and Juanita from the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, based here in Calgary.

A colleague had pointed out the workshop to me, but by the time I had found out about it, it was full.  I applied for the waitlist anyway, and earlier this month found out that there would be a spot available for me, if I could get everything lined up.   I was lucky enough to receive funding from CADA (specifically the Artist Opportunity Grant) to be able to go.  What originally seemed like something resigned to the “it would have been nice” pile, the pieces happened to align properly, and I am able to go.  (I am also currently working as a temp, which means that it’s not a problem to be able to get time off when I need it – I would recommend that to other artists, if you think it might fit what you need.)

Puppet Hostages getting ready to go on a trip.
Puppet hostages getting ready to go on a trip.


Since becoming aware of the Banff Centre during my undergrad, I have wanted to go.  I have known a few other artists who have gone (such as Meagan Boisvert), and it always seems to be such a rich experience for them.  The centre offers themed residencies, as well as self directed residencies, and work studies, in different areas of visual arts as well as other disciplines, such as music, dance, theatre, literary arts, film, sound, photography, and even opera. This particular residency does not seem like the typical structure at the Banff Centre, although there are some similarities.  We will be living, eating and working together rather intensely it sounds like, exploring, building sets and puppets, scripting, directing and manipulating puppets, putting together something of a show.

I am not only excited for the project and experience in general, meeting new people, spending some time in such a wonderful place, and working on what I’m sure will be an interesting project, but also how it might affect my future work. I see definite ties with how this might relate to the IMR and the Morphoids, in animating them, giving them more of a sense of life. Actually, you could maybe say that I have used puppetry with them before- one of the most common methods I used in the documentary to make them move was to use fishing line to pull on their limbs.  Sorry to take the magic out of it (ha ha), but that’s exactly what I used here:  (I might be letting some secrets out here, but I also ran the video backwards, did some stop motion animation, and played with the speed to get the effects that I wanted.)

Pteropod from Jennifer Akkermans on Vimeo.

I’m sure the puppet workshop will also give me some new ways of looking at narrative and storytelling.  I am interested in the construction techniques as well, and think that that might also translate into some of the new work I’m playing with, using automata mechanisms.  (Have I told you much about that?  It might be too soon….)

As usual, I will be blogging about the experience to some degree, although I can’t say how much, because I’m sure we will be very busy!  Stay tuned!

For anyone interested and in the area, there will be a public presentation on Friday, January 17, 2014 at 7:00 p.m.
 in the Margaret Greenham Theatre.  The event is free.