Langley’s Katie Allinger

Fringe plays host to puppet regime

Awkward Stage Productions returns to the Vancouver festival, bringing a pair of young Langley performers and a trunk full of puppets.

Pageantry and puppetry.

It’s not a combination that usually jumps to mind when you’re looking forward to a night out at the theatre.

Then again, this is the Fringe.

And there will be plenty to Smile about at the theatre festival — where different is good — as Awkward Stage Productions returns for its second year, bringing with them a pair of young Langley performers and a trunk full of puppets.

Set in Santa Rosa, Calif., circa 1985, Smile follows a group of young beauty pageant contests, vying for the title of California’s Young American Miss.

Bitter rivalries, bullying taskmasters and the daunting spectre of a visit from the national chairman combine to ensure this is one pageant that will be not be pretty.

Smile features 32 young performers from across the Lower Mainland, ranging in age from 14 to 24. Divided into two performance groups, the vast majority of the roles have been double cast, with “junior” and “senior” actors taking turns during the festival, which runs from Sept. 8 to 18 on stages all across the city.

After mounting a production of 13, which was named Vancouver’s Pick of the Fringe at last September’s festival, the youth theatre company returned with a seam-splitting comedy featuring squishy, adorable foam puppets.

OK, maybe not so adorable.

 

“They’re not nice puppets. It’s not like Sesame Street,” laughs Katie Allinger, a 15-year-old Walnut Grove Secondary student who is performing with Awkward Stage for the first time.

The 1986 Broadway musical by Marvin Hamlisch wasn’t actually written to include puppets, noted Katie, who plays Sean, one of the pageant contestants, in the junior cast.

“It was the director’s idea because it’s youth theatre.”

And that means young people are hard at work behind the scenes and in the orchestra pit, too.

While she’s excited about winning the role, Katie has nothing nice to say about her own character’s, well, character.

“She’s pretty much the antagonist of the show — she’s racist and spoiled. She spends pretty much the whole show trying to sabotage the Mexican contestant.

“It was interesting to try to lock into her character and not present her as one sided,” added Katie, “because she’s, frankly, a bitch.”

And though she’s a bit disappointed she doesn’t get a puppet of her own to play with, acting across from the cartoon-like stuffed characters presented its own set of challenges for the teen, such as learning to interact with the puppet and not the person operating it.

Katie first heard about Awkward Stage Productions while she was doing The Sound of Music with Burnaby’s Footlight Theatre Company last year.

One of her cast mates had appeared in 13 and urged her to audition for their next show.

Katie will enter Grade 11 this fall, but looking ahead to life after graduation, she has her eye set on a career in musical theatre. If all goes to plan, after earning a theatre degree at the University of Toronto, she will head to New York to take her shot at Broadway.

For 16-year-old Patrick Arnott, the production’s only other Langley representative, the future likely holds a career in musical theatre as well.

Whatever puts him on a stage.

“I’ve always loved performing, and the idea of seeing what emotions your performance can (elicit) from an audience.”

The Aldergrove teen, who specializes in dance at Langley Fine Arts School, started acting at 11 years old, performing with the likes of the Fraser Valley Gilbert and Sullivan Society, Gallery 7 and Show Stoppers before joining Awkward Stage.

For Patrick, the puppets are, hands down, the most exciting aspect of the play.

“It’s such a cool idea,” he said.

“(Puppetry) was kind of a dying art and it’s being brought back by Avenue Q and us, he said.

Unlike Katie, Patrick has the distinction of being one of the few youth cast members who also gets to operate a puppet — at the beginning of the show, he handles Judge Ed, one of the panel who will choose the new Young American Miss.

He is also the only member of the junior youth cast who is playing an adult character — stepping into the role of Tommy French, the pageant’s cynical, chain-smoking choreographer.

“It’s going to be a really amazing show — really funny,” he said.

“Try to see both casts,” Patrick advises, “because the same roles are played in a completely different way.

“It’s like seeing two different shows.”

Katie agrees. While she’s portraying Sean as rather clever and devious in her cruelty, her senior counterpart — 24-year-old Ashley Siddals of Burnaby — is taking a far different approach, said Katie. “She’s playing her more as a Valley Girl — kind of stupid.”

She also advises parents to think twice about bringing children under 12 years old to the show, which includes some profanity and partial nudity.

“It’s different, really funny, but definitely not child-appropriate,” she said.

Smile, runs  Sept. 8 to 18 at the Firehall Arts Centre, 280 East Cordova St. Tickets are $10 and $12 plus the cost of a Fringe membership. For tickets, go to www.vancouverfringe.com or call 604-637-6380.

Be sure to check out A day in the life of an ordinary puppet at www.youtube.com/user/StageAwkward.

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

VIDEO: Art in the time of COVID: how a Langley exhibition managed it

Holding the charitable event depended on which phase of restrictions were in effect

‘Each step is a prayer’: Ojibwe man will walk from Hope to Vancouver Island for Indigenous healing, reconciliation

James Taylor departs Sept. 20, returns to Saanich in five days for sacred fire

OUR VIEW: Fox fight continues

Thanks for keeping this courageous young man’s vision alive 40 years later

Lantern Park townhomes set to open this Sunday on Aldergrove/Abbotsford border

Developer Peter Reimer said more homes, including a mid-rise complex, are in store for the future

3 new deaths due to COVID-19 in B.C., 139 new cases

B.C. confirms 40 ‘historic cases,’ as well

Ferry riders say lower fares are what’s most needed to improve service

Provincial government announces findings of public engagement process

Air quality advisory ends for the Lower Mainland

It had been in effect since Sept. 8

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies at 87

The court’s second female justice, died Friday at her home in Washington

Emaciated grizzly found dead on central B.C. coast as low salmon count sparks concern

Grizzly was found on Gwa’sala-‘Nakwaxda’xw territory in Smith Inlet, 60K north of Port Hardy

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

VIDEO: B.C. to launch mouth-rinse COVID-19 test for kids

Test involves swishing and gargling saline in mouth and no deep-nasal swab

Young Canadians have curtailed vaping during pandemic, survey finds

The survey funded by Heart & Stroke also found the decrease in vaping frequency is most notable in British Columbia and Ontario

B.C. teachers file Labour Relations Board application over COVID-19 classroom concerns

The application comes as B.C.’s second week of the new school year comes to a close

Most Read