Southern kids delight in northern story
“We like how thrilling it is for the children”
It’s not every day kids in Ottawa get to learrn about Qallupilluit.
Rag & Bone Puppet Theatre spooked and delighted about 30 children and their parents Sunday afternoon during a performance of “A Promise is a Promise,” a play based on the Michael Kusugak/Robert Munsch book of the same name.
“I love the message, not just that a promise is a promise but that you have to listen to your elders and listen to the traditions,” says Kathy MacLellan, who founded the theatre company with her husband and fellow puppeteer John Nolan. “It’s important to embrace the modern world but it’s also important to listen to those old stories.”
The book, released in 1992, tells the story of Allasua, a young Inuk who disobeys her parents, goes fishing in a crack in the sea ice and is captured by the Qallupilluit. She outwits them by promising to bring her brothers and sisters to the ice crack if they let her go.
The Qallupilluit, Inuit spirits who live under water and take the things that people leave behind — including children — are further outsmarted by Allasua’s mother and father later, allowing the family to escape unharmed.
The children sat spellbound as the Qallupilluit captured Allasua and pulled her under the water, a moment that might have been scary for some of the younger audience members.
“We like how thrilling it is for the children,” MacLellan says but adds, there’s a fine line between thrilling and frightening and both she and Nolan are constantly gauging the audience reaction and inserting comic relief when necessary.
The Arctic setting was not overly difficult to recreate. MacLellan and Nolan simply used white sheets and pillows to simulate the snowy landscape and strips of blue for lakes and sea ice cracks. The puppets are all hand made of wood and papier maché with hand sewn parkas and kamiks.
The northern soundscape was beautifully rendered by musician Russell Levia who played a number of instruments throughout the play including an Inuit drum made of goat skin and a juice harp which, at times, sounded like throat singing.
Rag & Bone has been performing their adaptation of “A Promise is a Promise” for about 20 years. MacLellan says they went to Iqaluit to research the story and then returned two years later to perform it in the early 1990s.
The afternoon performance, one of two at Ottawa’s Shenkman Arts Centre on April 28, was part of the National Arts Centre’s Northern Scene, a 10-day festival featuring northern music, dance, theatre, film, art and food.
Michael Kusugak, who celebrated a birthday the day before, attended the first performance and signed copies of his book which were on sale outside the theatre.