by Edith Cody-Rice
Puppets Up! was a popular puppet festival originated by veteran puppeteer Noreen Young, an Almonte resident. It ran for 12 years from 2005-2016.
It was so popular and valuable to the community that local resident, former Mississippi Mills councilor and community activist Jane Torrance, when mulling over what she could do to revive and celebrate this wonderful and engaged community after Covid lockdowns, immediately thought of reviving this festival. She contacted the festival originator and artistic director Noreen Young and together, they enlisted local publisher of the Humm and Humm Team Productions theatre director Kris Riendeau. Kris had felt miserable at the lack of cultural activity in the community during Covid.
Noreen and Jane prepared a Facebook media call on International Puppets Day, March 21, 2021, to see if anyone was interested in bringing Puppets Up! back from its 5-year hiatus and they were off!! An initial zoom meeting on April 22, 2021 attracted 72 volunteers: men and women with impressive talents and expertise who felt strongly that the festival should be revived. These volunteers were canvassed with respect to what leadership and planning roles they wish to fill. Then Jane put together a board and a number of sub-committees of volunteers who have been meeting by zoom for almost a year. Jane is executive director, Kris is volunteer coordinator and vice president, Noreen is artistic director. The proposal also attracted Donna Price, a governance specialist, as fund development coordinator and Joe Boughner, a communications specialist, as public relations coordinator. Two women on the committee have careers in theatre.
The festival dates have been set for August 12-14 2022.
Enthusiasm has been contagious. Local resident Bill Levesque, built the set for the May Fundraiser “The Hound of the Basketballs” and recently put it up at a rehearsal space with members of his hockey team.
The volunteers are now focused on fundraising and have revived the Puppets Up! website which has complete information about the history, the organizing team, the planned festival events, support and ticket sales. The town of Mississippi Mills has promised $5,000, Lanark County $1000 and the board is waiting for word on other grant applications. In the meantime, the festival has raised $10,000 in donations from the public, a good start. Much more is needed, of course and volunteer coordinator Kris Riendeau has said that the best way to show support for the festival at the moment is through sponsorships, donations or ticket purchases. This provides the capital that assures the financial success of the festival. There is attractive early bird pricing on the site right now.
Kris through her volunteer database from the original festival as well as appeals on the website, twitter, Facebook, a Puppets Up! newsletter and sign ups at the Mississippi Mills at a Glance and Augusta Park summer events has amassed a group of 150 volunteers, most of whom would like to be called upon during the festival itself. She is still looking for people who want to work the weekend of the festival, behind the scenes and up front. The festival particularly needs technical expertise for tents and venues. Kris will send out a volunteer survey in next couple of months to determine the roles people would like to play and how many shifts they want to do at the events. Youth volunteers absolutely welcome and their volunteering is eligible for credit towards Community Involvement Hours.
It is vital to emphasize that no one, except the puppeteer performers, is paid or compensated for their volunteer time. Everyone from the executive director to the artistic director to the board and committee members and those who contribute on the festival days works absolutely free of charge. They do it for love of this magical event and for the love of our community.
For more information visit the Puppets Up! website at https://puppetsup.com/