Napi Stories Puppet Program

For most of July everything was coming up puppets for me. Nearly everyone who talked to me during that time was subjected to my questions about puppets they might have had as kids, their thoughts on puppet shows, and asked to review prototypes of puppets in development. This recent puppet obsession started with a wonderful program suggestion from Tanya Harnett from the University of Lethbridge.

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Tanya (above right) volunteered with Doreen-Williams Freeman (above left), a local artist and business owner, to create a puppet show program based on the Napi Plays produced by Doreen earlier in the summer. Napi is a Blackfoot trickster character and there are many wonderful and educational stories featuring him. Doreen took three Napi stories and wrote, produced, and directed the plays that were performed at the Galt Museum as a program in June. All of the actors in the plays were from Southern Alberta, and some were from Aboriginal Council of Lethbridge. Doreen made the costumes and narrated the action, while the actors performed brilliantly. The action was lively and they managed to engage the audience so much that I could hear the laughter and cheers all the way down the hall! Cast photo by Marie Gomez:

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These plays were the inspiration for the puppet show program. The idea was to have children make puppet versions of the characters from the three Napi stories and then, following Doreen’s narration, act out the three stories in separate puppet shows. Kids who didn’t want to act were asked to be the cheering section (always an important part of any show!)

We began planning for the program by identifying which characters we should make from the different plays. Tanya and Doreen spent a fun, for me at least, morning going through the plays with me and identifying which characters we should make, making sketches of the sorts of shapes we could use, planning for the decorating of the puppets, and planning the puppet show part of the program. Doreen volunteered to make the puppet Napi, and to act as him as well as the narrator in the puppet shows, and Tanya volunteered to make the Rock puppet and also to help the kids act in the shows.

Then some of my wonderful program volunteers set to work creating patterns for the puppets, cutting out the pieces, sewing the puppets, and assembling the donated supplies needed for decorating the puppets. We decided that in order to keep the program to two hours we should pre-sew the puppet bodies. We picked three main patterns (plus a no-sew gopher, and some paper puppet patterns for younger children) that could be adapted to make the different characters in the plays: Napi and the Gophers, Napi and the Two Ladies, and Napi and the Rock. Here are Tanya, Kelti, and Susan sewing:

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The puppet-forms were left unadorned so that during the program the kids could decorate them however they wanted. The photo below by Marie Gomez, another local artist and Galt Museum volunteer, shows sample puppets she made using the bird form on the left, the “lady” form in the middle which we also used for bears, and the “coyote” form which we used for snakes as seen in this photo as well as any other animal the kids wanted to create.

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We made a few prototypes in case we needed to pitch in at the show ourselves. Marie on the far right in this photo is holding up my attempt at making a gopher.

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(Above photo from Marie Gomez. Back: L-R Kelti, Susan, Tanya, Marie. Front: Brad)

On the day of the program the children were welcomed and asked to pick a character and decorate their puppet. Here is a gopher in progress:

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and a lady:

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Then the kids acted in the shows:

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and took a bow:

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This was one of my favorite programs of the whole year – I loved doing the prep work (who knew that I would come to love puppets like this?!), and I think that the program itself was such a fun way to learn about Blackfoot culture. I can’t thank our volunteers enough for helping prepare and run the program: Tanya, Doreen, Barbara, Marie, Brad, Del, Susan, Kelti, Jill, and Janell. I’m looking forward to a chance to do the program again.