Peter Balkwill is the co-artistic director of Calgary’s Old Trout Puppet Workshop and faculty at The Banff Centre’s Puppet Theatre Intensive, a two-week exploration into the creative art of puppet theatre. Having toured over seven puppet theatre shows through Canada, the U.S., and Europe, he’s got more than a few stories to tell—including one about his largest puppet ever:
I once built an eight-foot-tall puppet head for a Canada Day stage. You could fit a Smart Car inside of it. I wanted to drive it across the country, actually. It was hilarious. You’d be driving down the highway and be like, ‘da **** is that? A giant head just passed us!’ It was for Canada Day in Ottawa, and so they could have made news, kept tabs on it journeying across the country from Calgary to the celebration.
Initially, it was going to be John A. MacDonald’s head, but he had a red nose, we didn’t hide the fact that he had a Scotch at, like, noon every day. The organizers were like ‘we can’t depict the first Prime Minister of Canada as an alcoholic’, so now it just had to be “Norbert the Old Man.” Two of us were inside it, pushing him around stage. We gave him an articulated jaw and said that he can speak but shouldn’t say much. The top of his head could lift up, fog came spewing out of the thing and confetti out the top of his head, he’d sneeze and confetti would shoot out his nose, and Canadian flags could pop out of his ears. And the organizers went ‘no, can’t do any of that stuff.’ They shut all the fun stuff down, and gave him pages and pages of text, and made him sing songs, and he was so inarticulate that in the TV footage I think I even saw Prime Minister Martin lean over to Adrienne Clarkson and say “WTF”?