Wild and wonderful: Anything goes at the Festival of Animated Objects

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While it has become a bit cliched to say a festival offers something for all ages, it is certainly true for Calgary’s long-running Festival of Animated Objects.

To be clear, the festival as a whole will offer something for all ages when it runs from March 8 to 24 in various venues in Calgary and beyond. But it’s important to note that not every performance or workshop is suitable for all ages.

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“You wouldn’t want your kids stumbling into Dolly Wiggler or Multiple Organisms,” says managing producer Cosmo Christoffersen.

Those two particular shows are aimed at the adult crowd, which is part of the basic principle behind the festival. It’s meant to explore all the possibilities in the worlds of mask and puppet arts and part of that has been to hammer home the point that puppetry is not just for children. Dolly Wiggler, which will run at the Royal Canadian Legion No. 1 on March 15 and 16, is a cabaret co-hosted by festival founder Xstine Cook and former Cirque Du Soleil clown Mooky Cornish. It will feature several performers offering short and occasionally unhinged showcases. While the acts aren’t necessarily adult-themed, there is an “anything-goes” vibe and a recommendation that it is best suited for the 18-plus crowd.

Festival of Animated Objects
Puppeteer Jen Bain will perform The Stories We Right as part of the Festival of Animated Objects. Photo by Sean Dennie. cal

Multiple Organisms, held at the cSPACE Marda Loop on March 13 and 14, is performed by the Vancouver duo Mind of A Snail and comes with a bunch of warnings that the raunchy show contains “nudity, sexual content, cartoonish suicide and body weirdness.”

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According to the festival’s website, the surreal spectacle involves a “multilayered psychedelic dream about having a body” and focuses on an artist’s life model stealing a magic paintbrush before falling down “a proverbial rabbit hole with a pair of sentient toothbrushes.” It also boasts “one of the weirdest personal hygiene rituals you’ve ever seen.”

“There is nudity and puppet dancing, it’s definitely one of the more offbeat kind of things,” Christoffersen says.

It is all part of the weird, wild and wonderful world of Animated Objects. The festival was founded 22 years ago, although up until three years ago was only held every two years. It is now an annual event, which is a testament to the abundance of talent eager to put on shows and mentor younger performers. Thanks to high-profile Calgary-based or Alberta expat performers such as Old Trout Puppet Workshop and Ronnie Burkett, who was recently named a laureate of the 2024 Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards for Lifetime Artistic Achievement, puppetry has a deep legacy in the city and province. This has been strengthened even more over the past couple of years as two seasons of the Fraggle Rock reboot have been produced in Calgary using local talent.

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Festival of Animated Objects
A scene from Calgary filmmaker Tank Standing Buffalo’s MONSTR, which will be screened as part of Animovies at the Drive-In in Nanton as part of the Festival of Animated Objects. cal

Cristoffersen says this year’s Festival of Animated Objects, dubbed Growing Together, features more than 70 local performers.

That includes an artist talk with Calgary siblings Naomi Duska and Toby Duska, a.k.a. Earthworms, who will discuss their work-in-progress puppet horror show Growth on March 13 at cSPACE Marda Loop. The show is told through mask and puppetry and “explores generational hurt and the ugliness that lurks within each of us.” The Duskas first fell in love with puppetry while attending an Old Trouts show at the Festival of Animated Objects.

Local puppeteer and puppet and mask maker Juanita Dawn will be performing One for Sorrow, Two For Joy at cSpace Marda Loop on March 12, 13 and 14. The show features 30 hand-crafted puppets in its tale of Willow Mae O’Reilly, a woman who braves adversity on the Canadian Prairies in the early 1900s.

The Stories We Right is performed by Calgarian Jen Bain, a puppeteer who worked on the Fraggle Rock reboot. It will be performed March 11 and 12 at cSPACE and was inspired by Bain’s mother having a stroke and being diagnosed with vascular dementia.

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The festival will also feature a drive-in theatre showcase of short films created by animators around the world. Animovies at the Drive-In will be held March 8 at the Canadian Grain Elevator Discovery Centre in Nanton. 

Festival of Animated Objects
Characters from Juanita Dawn’s One for Sorrow, Two for Joy, which will be performed as part of the Festival of Animated Objects. cal

There will also be several workshops for children, teenagers and adults. That includes everything from Fuzzy Friends: An Extraordinary Sock Puppet Workshop for Families, aimed at children ages five and up, which will be held March 16, to a shadow puppet workshop with multidisciplinary Calgary artist Monica Ila on March 20. Both will be held at the Sparrow Arts Space, which is partnering with the festival this year. Those are just two of 11 workshops featured this year.

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