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Puppets with some strings attached

When Helen Juvonen and Tyler Seguin, who had toyed with the idea of trying their hands at puppetry, saw a performance by the Old Trout Puppet Workshop, they knew which style they wished to explore. They began by taking a course with Puppetmongers, the East End brother-and-sister team (see Entertainment Beat)  who are passing on their skills to a new generation.

Helen and Tyler with one of their most popular puppets, Derek the Dragon. They were hired by the Gardiner Museum to support its Sunday Family Programs.  The inspiration for Derek was the many dragon motifs on exhibits in the museum. PHOTO: Phil Lameira / Beach Metro News

Helen and Tyler with one of their most popular puppets, Derek the Dragon. They were hired by the Gardiner Museum to support its Sunday Family Programs. The inspiration for Derek was the many dragon motifs on exhibits in the museum. PHOTO: Phil Lameira / Beach Metro News

Drawing on Helen’s Nordic background, Tyler and Helen have written tales based on Finnish folklore, which they call Jurkka Jarvinen’s Troll Stories. Some episodes have been presented at The Puppetmongers’ Fresh Ideas in Puppetry Festival and at the Theatre Passe Muraille. In traditional folk tales the characters usually represent good or evil. They prefer their puppets to be morally ambiguous.

Among their collection of trolls are Thin Thorkel and his three-foot-tall and two-foot-wide brother Fat Thorkel. Another is The Icelander, who scales up four sizes during a performance, from a finger puppet to a table-top puppet to a rod puppet and finally as a human played by Tyler.  Another figure is a sinister bartender who is just a head with a shirt attached. These characters are part of the story The Troll in the Outhouse.

Puppetry has its constraints. One of the challenges is operating a row of marionette trolls and pulling the right strings. As Helen can attest, the work can be physically tiring.  She recalled the many times she has lain under a stage holding up a character on one arm for what seemed like eternity.

Along with their partner, Bonnie Thomson, who designs and constructs the puppets and grew up in the Beach, they have appeared at local schools teaching students how to write their own shows and how to make puppets move the story line along. If the character has to talk a lot, maybe only a large mouth is needed. If it has to pick up something, perhaps a hand on a stick will do. Teachers have told them that children who hardly speak in class, can become quite vocal behind a puppet. The school workshops were part of the 2011 Ontario Arts Council’s Artists in Education program.

Helen and Tyler are professional actors, writers and directors, as well as life partners. They met eight years ago at the Toronto Renaissance Festival, and have since produced numerous shows together and appeared on stages across the country including Calgary, Edmonton, Victoria and Vancouver. Helen founded Thought for Food Productions 15 years ago, showcasing the talents of emerging actors while collecting donations for a food bank by offering discounted tickets.

This summer Tyler danced and sang as a rapper across the Greek stage at the Guild Gardens in the Guild Festival Theatre’s production of Clouds Over T.O.  He has appeared in Shakespeare’s MacBeth, Twelfth Night and Much Ado about Nothing.  He was the lead, Dennis Smith, in an  episode of the Discovery Channel’s In Cold Blood. His stage skills include hand-to-hand combat, sword fighting, dancing, playing the trumpet and the digeridoo, stilt walking and juggling, all in a variety of accents  from Cockney to Armenian.

In 2013 Tyler and Helen will perform in  an environmentally-themed puppet play, Handle with Care, produced by Bonnie Thomson at The Kids’ Fringe Venue as part of The Fringe Theatre.  In March Tyler will return to Theatre New Brunswick as a puppeteer in Little Shop of Horrors.

Anyone interested in arranging a classroom visit from this talented local couple can get more information at  tylerjseguin.com.

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