Workshops for adults and children scheduled at NSCAD, Halifax’s Youth Project, Lunenburg School of the Arts
You may not know who is pulling the strings, but you may know the puppets. They are both arriving in Nova Scotia this spring.
Ali J. Eisner is the JUNO Award-winning puppeteer who brought to life a slew of furry characters you may have seen on Canadian and American television.
Now, Eisner is bringing some of those puppeteering and acting talents to the East for a series of workshops for kids — and a few for adults — at NSCAD’s School of Extended Studies, Youth Project downtown. of Halifax and the Lunenburg School of the Arts.
Eisner spent years creating characters and stories with hand-sized monsters, fluffy birds and dinosaurs for companies like CBC, TVO and NBC.
But Eisner said they welcome a change and look forward to working face-to-face with children and adults.
“When you work directly with kids or adults in front of you, you get a different kind of connection,” Eisner explained.
It’s not just about teaching children how to play their characters or make a puppet. Eisner saw how puppets can help people experiment and express themselves better.
Eisner, who is transgender/non-binary and uses the pronouns they/them, said they encourage children to be themselves.
“Oddly enough, that’s how kids are, they just ‘are’ and they don’t question it,” Eisner said.
They said that’s a great quality of a good puppeteer.
“It’s a way to express a variety of different feelings and emotions in a safer way for people to feel,” Eisner said.
At NSCAD and the Youth Project, Eisner’s workshops will focus on creating characters, developing a puppet’s voice, and learning how to direct them for screens and stages, using either puppets created by teenagers, or professional puppets provided by Eisner.
Along with puppetry, Eisner has worked in producing, writing and composing a wide range of creative projects.
But in puppet workshops, technical mastery is combined with creative freedom.
“While I can technically teach everyone the same way, I will structure and communicate the course so that they can reflect on themselves to try to feel the voices and emotions within them and trusting to let those things out,” Eisner said.
Children, Eisner said, can use puppets to experience different emotions and aspects of their personality in ways they couldn’t once they get older.
“To me, they’re perfect specimens until adults put them in boxes and teach them how to be,” Eisner said.
For the youth project workshop, Eisner said teenagers will be able to create a puppet that reflects their gender.
“Keeping the Magic Alive”
Amber Solberg, one of NSCAD’s advanced study program coordinators, has said in the past that these types of programs have generated tremendous enthusiasm.
“There’s something about performing and creating new life that really engages young people,” Solberg said.
Eisner will also direct programs for adults, focusing on scriptwriting and presenting, as well as the intricacies of directing and puppet production.
“As a creative industry professional, it’s really interesting to hear what they have to pass on to others,” Solberg said.
Eisner said puppets and puppetry are accessible to everyone.
While Eisner works with professional quality puppets, puppets can come from anything that can be personified with some creativity, from a napkin to a pen.
And that’s what Eisner hopes to bring to Halifax: an encouragement to play, create and explore.
“When the kids talk to the puppets, I hope that’s what you’re working towards – keeping the magic alive.”
Eisner hopes this particular magic will extend to adult workshops as well, as adults are the ones who typically need the most help to play and be creative.
“Adults, they really need puppets, man,” Eisner said with a laugh.
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