Award-winning puppeteer and producer is bringing puppets to Halifax this spring

Workshops for both adults and children planned at NSCAD, Halifax’s Youth Project, Lunenburg School of the Arts

You might not know who’s pulling the strings, but you might know the puppets. They’re both coming to Nova Scotia this spring.

Ali J. Eisner is the JUNO award-winning puppeteer who’s brought a host of furry characters, who you may have seen across Canadian and American TV, to life.

Now, Eisner is bringing some of those puppeteering and acting talents East for a set of workshops for kids — and a few for adults — at NSCAD’s School of Extended Studies, the Youth Project in downtown Halifax, and at the Lunenburg School of the Arts.

Eisner spent years crafting characters and stories with hand-sized monsters, fluffy birds and dinosaurs for corporations like CBC, TVO and NBC.

But Eisner said they welcome a change and look forward to working face-to-face with both kids 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 about more than teaching kids how to act their characters or craft a puppet. Eisner has seen how puppets can help people experiment and better express themselves.

Eisner, who’s transgender/non-binary and uses they/them pronouns, said they encourage kids to just be themselves.

“Weirdly enough that’s how kids are, they just ‘are’ and they don’t question it,” said Eisner.

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 be able 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 act them out for screens and stages, using either puppets teens create or professional puppets provided by Eisner.

Eisner operates Mamma Yamma, a puppet on CBC Kids.   Submitted by Ali J. Eisner

Along with puppeteering, Eisner’s worked in producing, writing and composing across a wide range of creative projects.

But in the puppeteering workshops, technical skill is paired with creative freedom.

“While I might teach everyone technically the same way, I will structure and communicate the course in such a way where they can reflect on their own self to try and feel the voices and emotion inside of them and trust to let those things come out,” said Eisner.

Children, Eisner said, can use puppets to experiment with different emotions and aspects of their personalities in ways they might not once they get older.

“To me, they’re kind of perfect specimens until adults put them in boxes and teach them how to be,” Eisner said.

For the Youth Project workshop, Eisner said teens will be able to create a puppet that reflects their gender.

‘Keeping the magic alive’

Amber Solberg, one of the coordinators of NSCAD’s extended studies program, said in the past, these sorts of programs have been met with huge enthusiasm.

“There’s something about performance, and the act of creating new life, that really engages youth,” said Solberg.

Eisner will also run programs for adults, focusing on writing and pitching scripts, as well as the finer points of directing and producing puppeteering work.

“As a creative industry professional, it’s really interesting to hear what they have to impart to others,” Solberg said.

Eisner said puppets and puppeteering are accessible to anyone.

While Eisner works with professional-grade puppets, puppets can come from anything can be personified with some creativity, from a napkin to a pen.

And that’s what Eisner hopes to bring to Halifax: encouragement to play, to create, and to explore.

“When kids talk to puppets, hopefully that’s the goal you’re working towards — keeping the magic alive.”

Eisner hopes that particular magic extends to the adult workshops too, as adults are the ones who typically need the most help playing and being creative.

“Adults, they need puppets bad, man,” Eisner said with a laugh.

Sam Gillett

Sam Gillett

Sam calls Orillia, Ontario home. When he's not chasing Signal stories, he can be found sketching in cafes, watching soccer or following news about professional motocross.

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