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Work and Play in Montreal 

Experiences from an artist residency in Canada
Text and photos: Outi Sippola

I arrived in Montreal on the 3rd of March, a couple of days before the 19th Festival International de Casteliers began. It was a good choice to have little time to settle (and sleep!) before the festival. I was offered a spacious French style apartment with a large terrace in a quiet house and perfect location in a calm Jewish quarter.  Spring came as many times as winter returned during the month of my stay, so there was only one day I managed to fully utilise my sunny and lovely terrace. 

The Festival

During the Festival de Casteliers I participated in most of the happenings and performances the festival offered. There was The Bagel Evening, a mingling event, where I already met many of the guests. The Festival Opening Cocktail was arranged before the opening performance, which was a visually impressive performance, Loco by Belgian Compagnie Belova-Iacobelli.  I was also introduced as an artist in residency to a theatreful of guests during the opening night. Later during the week, there was the opening of Sylvie Gosselin’s exhibition which I loved and visited twice again later. Most of the evenings OUF! festival OFF Casteliers continued showing late night performances. During the festival I saw 13 performances from the program, handful of performances from the OFF program and participated a film event where several different shortfilms and animations were presented.  Here is a link to the entire festival program

Personally I was delighted by Ingrid Hansen’s and Snafu Society of Unexpected Spectacles’ (Canada) Epidermis Circus. Even though the performance was filmed and projected on a wall, the  concept of the performance was simple and Hansen’s delivery hilarious. It returned all the experienced puppetry spectators back to the basics of puppetry. Marie-Pascale Bélanger’s (Montreal) A Comme Animal was also very pleasant to follow for it’s precice delivery on stage and fine visual style, even if it contained a lot of spoken text in French (which I do not speak).  For my surprise there was a great Finnish puppeteer, Marika Karlsson, who performed in this piece. In addition to the festival program I saw three other Canadian puppet theatre performances during my stay. 

Writer Outi Sippola Roosa Halme, who performed her Block Theatre performance at the festival

Working with my own project

After the festival I returned to working with my own children’s performance project about marine life. Since I started from zero, I spent a lot of time brainstorming, visited several libraries and went through a pile of children’s books looking for different ways to tell a story. I read and read and read, visited National Geographic’s immersive exhibition of biodiversity in Palais des Congrès, discovered Canadian David Suzuki Institution and  spent a day in Biodome following their incredible fish and other marine creatures. I also had a beautiful opportunity to interview three marine biologists. Two of them I met in person in Montreal, one of them was located in the town of Rimouski, six hours drive away, but I had two very fruitful online discussions with her. All of the three women mentioned plastic as one of the most concerning problems for marine life. A day before my actual residency was finished, Helsingin Sanomat published an article that a garbage patch had hit the shore in Hanko, the southernmost town in Finland.

The workshop space at Maison internationale des arts de la marionnette

The Workshop

Often during residencies some sort of exchange takes place and the artist gives something back to the inviting party. I held a workshop to nine puppeteer students in UQAM, Université du Québec à Montréal. I made a short introduction of my own way of working and puppet theatrical thinking, after which I sent the students outdoors with a task. They returned with nine brilliant and very much useful ideas which we then talked through. Usually I am not so fond of giving workshops but this was an inspiring experience. I truly hope that at least some of them realise their ideas. Maybe  I like giving workshops anyway.

And also some Play

After my stay in Montreal I made a short visit to New York, where I visited the Museum of Natural History and MoMa. I also had a chance to visit La MaMa theatre on Manhattan. 

I had set myself an intention before I left for Montreal; I do my best to stay stress free, enjoy some free time and the city as well, let ideas flow freely and let things happen. I met people also out of theatre circles, I went running and indoor climbing regularly and explored the city, the area of Western Township and even New York. I still have a huge work load with the project ahead of me but in Montreal one thing led to another and now I have a good start. The news of the garbage patch on our shore is a sad fact but it also feels like an icing on the cake: this performance is truly topical. And as it usually happens for me, I could have stayed in Canada. Much longer.


About the Cross-residency programme

With the goal of developing puppetry, bringing together and exchanging contemporary practices between puppeteers from various backgrounds, Casteliers, the Montreal Arts Council (Conseil des arts de Montréal-CAM) and Aura of Puppets partnered in late 2022 to offer a creative cross-residency for professional puppeteers. The selected Montréal artist, Sophie Deslaurieres stayed in Finland in the city of Turku in November-December 2023, in return, Montréal will hosted a Finnish puppeteer Outi Sippola during March 2024. 

The cross-residency offers artists in residence the time and space to reflect upon and work on developing their practice and encourage sharing of practices between Montréal- and Turku-based puppeteers, their international colleagues, and the many arts and culture stakeholders. The residency also aims to foster international collaborations and co-productions as well as increase awareness among international puppeteers of the dynamic puppetry arts scene in Montréal and across Québec and in Turku and across Finland.