Maggie Winston is participating in this weekend’s Festival Marionnettes Plein la Rue with her show The Heron Walks. Winston’s theatrical company, The Lost & Found Puppet Co. previously put together the hit show Beaver Dreams and has continued to produce work in Montreal. Knowing that she moved to the city fairly recently, I wanted to know more about her and her latest show. like to be a puppeteer. Her very generous answers give a good sense of what drives
Rachel Levine (RL): First off, you shifted from Vancouver to Montreal in 2016 after performing for many years in Vancouver. What prompted the switch of location? How do you find working in Montreal?
Maggie Winston (MW): I moved to Montréal for several reasons. Just as I had moved to Vancouver for many reasons. I grew up in Baltimore, Maryland and studied theatre and puppetry at Sarah Lawrence College with puppeteer Dan Hurlin. After graduating from SLC, many of my friends were staying in New York and it just wasn’t the place for me. Because my mother grew up here in Montreal, I was born with Canadian citizenship and had spent every summer of my life at our summer cottage on a lake in Morin Heights, QC. So, I grew up with an appreciation for nature and an awareness of Canada. Since, President Bush was about to start his second term when I was graduating, I knew that Canada was going to be where I was headed next. I was trying to decide between Vancouver and Montreal. I chose Vancouver originally because my mom’s family, her sisters, brother, and parents moved out there, while my mom ended up in the USA with my Dad, a native born American hailing from Philadelphia. My mom’s sisters are very well known artists not just in Vancouver, but in Canada as well, and I knew that they would help establish the right kind of artistic connections for me in Vancouver. I was seeking to live somewhere beautiful and where nature was easily accessible but where I could also establish a career as a professional artist.
Yet, every summer, even though I was in Vancouver, I would return to Quebec to spend time at the cottage with my mom and my sisters.
I love Vancouver, and it was a great place for me to really establish myself and my work. I was busy busy busy with many amazing projects all the time. But, in terms of the diversity of performance and specifically, puppetry, the community was just a little too small for me.
Puppetry is already a teeny tiny world, but in terms of what kind of work and opportunities there are for puppeteers, Montreal is really the hub of artistic activity in Canada right now. I had known for a while about Casteliers Festival and wanted very much to be a part of it.
I also longed to return to the east coast, where the culture is different from the west coast. I wanted to have easier access to the puppetry community in the Northeast USA as well, and return to some of the community I had left in NYC, Boston, Vermont, Philadelphia, and Baltimore.
The cottage was a big deciding factor for me. While I was living in BC, I did explore it thoroughly and spent time in Northern BC seeing the wild nature that is there. But I longed for a beautiful natural place where I could put down roots and take on responsibilities.
I also wanted to tell the story of that place as my next theatrical project.
When I applied for Montreal Fringe in 2016 and was accepted, it was my cue to leave Vancouver and plunge into a new life in Montreal. And my introduction to the city would be with this new show (Beaver Dreams) that was going to tell the history of my family’s cottage.
RL: Your training in performance and puppetry has taken you around the world… do you think these places have impacted your work?
MW: I have always traveled around the world. My family was very globally conscious, and I was travelling to far away and remote places from a young age. For me, it was natural to seek opportunities and connection internationally.
These experiences have definitely impacted my work. I had an amazing year in 2010 when I was able to travel with my solo show to Israel, Turkey, India, and South Africa. I was able to get involved with all kinds of other projects in each of these places and it definitely opened my scope of the world. It helped me to realize how small the world of puppetry is for one, but it also established for me that if you reach out to people, more often than not, they want to work and play with you. I think that it is also the nature of the puppetry world, to be inclusive and open. It’s not like the acting world or the dance world or even the music world, where artists feel the competition. Everywhere that I have performed or worked, I have experienced other artists who want to include me and collaborate with me.
RL: Puppetry is an under-recognized, but always popular form of performance. It’s almost a kind of magic how people can anthropomorphize any object. Why do you think so many people, children included, like puppetry? Is there something that drew you to this art form?
MW: I was drawn to puppetry because I wanted to do theatre but I didn’t like the actor’s world. I studied theatre and acting in high school at a magnet school for the arts called Carver Centre for Arts & Technology. People who graduated from there were headed to Broadway or Hollywood and I just didn’t connect to that. I hated auditions and head shots. I was always making up my own stories and finding my own ways to tell them theatrically. The artists I admired in high school were Laurie Anderson, Robert LePage, and Julie Taymor, while most of my friends were only interested in singing songs from “Rent” the musical.
I also loved designing for the theatre and I really couldn’t pick between performing and designing. When I discovered puppetry, it was the perfect melding of all of my creative interests. It was “different” enough for me to want to do it. I think I’m attracted to it because it’s unusual and underappreciated.
I think that people connect to puppetry because it’s a natural way that we play and tell stories. If you watch any child playing with a toy, you can see that the story easily comes to life through the object, without the child thinking about it. I believe that this tendency stays with us as adults even if we stop playing with toys. We can still recognize the story being played through an object. Children like it because it’s as if we are telling the story to them in a way that is familiar to the way they play naturally. Adults like it because it reminds them of that time when playing like that was a natural thing.
It’s also a form of performance that is ancient and global, and I think that energy is in it when it is performed today. There are many traditions that are passed down through the art form.
RL: With the Heron Walks, you seem to be returning to the world of Canada’s nature and combining it with puppetry. Does nature have a special meaning to you?
MW: Most of my productions involve a nature theme. The Heron Walks arose out of a group process between myself, Naomi Moon and Jesse Grindler. We all signed up for a workshop offered by Casteliers Festival this past March with guest artists from Teatro Elastico (Mexico) who were facilitating the workshop. In the workshop we had to work together in a group to design and build a puppet that would be part of a live outdoor spectacle featuring other animals. Naomi really wanted to make a Heron and Jesse and I wanted to make it too. We created the puppet in just over three days total.
Nature always has a special meaning to me, and I hope to express aspects of nature always in my work. I also think that puppets can tell the stories of nature in ways that human actors can’t. Because we can create an image that looks and moves naturally like the heron does, we can tell the specific story of that creature better.
RL: What should audiences expect with The Heron Walks? Can you also tell me a little bit about the heron puppet that features in this work.
MW: The Heron Walks is really just an outdoor roving performance. We simply walk in the crowd with the puppet. People can get up close to it, touch it, and it will interact with you. The puppet is operated by two people, there is one actor who will be playing a pvc pipe flute as the sound that accompanies the bird, and anyone can ask questions as we perform as well. It’s a very informal show. Perhaps, in the future it will become more of a story. I hope so… We are still working out some of the kinks with the puppet itself, so whenever that is working really well, maybe we can feature it in another kind of performance.
The Heron Walks is part of the Festival Marionnettes Plein la Rue taking place August 25 and 26 on Rue Wellington in Verdun. For details on The Heron Walks and other shows, click HERE.