SURREY — Comedy is the spotlight at Centre Stage this fall, with the comfortable council chambers at Surrey City Hall being converted to a performing-arts space more frequently.
Two of the first three shows booked to start the 2016-17 season there include “Laughs From the Past,” featuring Phyllis Diller, Carol Burnett and Lucille Ball act-alikes on Oct. 22, followed by Vancouver TheatreSports League’s “Comedy Unscripted: Improv With a Twist” on Nov. 4.
But first up, on Friday, Sept. 23, is “Baker’s Dozen: 12 Angry Puppets,” which features Toronto-based actor/writer Adam Francis Proulx in his acclaimed one-man courtroom drama/puppet show.
Proulx brought the slightly twisted mystery-comedy to last year’s Vancouver Fringe Festival, and he’s there again this week with “Does Not Play Well With Others,” a more recent puppet-based tale he wrote with co-star Kira Hall.
With both shows, Proulx has his work cut out for himself as he moves his puppet characters around the stage.
“On a Fringe tour, it can get really physically taxing if you’re doing full puppetry shows, arm up in the air, right, so we wondered what we could do to do half puppetry and half just regular theatre,” he said, explaining the origins of the show staged in Vancouver, about two children’s entertainers and a scandal that hits their TV network.
“On stage like that,” Proulx continued, “the puppet is usually at my head level, and that means wrenching my wrist in kind of unnatural positions and yeah, my arm’s up in the air for an hour.… I have a physiotherapist who takes very good care of me. And then there’s the vocal stuff, too, because I’m changing my voice all the time and there’s stress on the vocal chords because of that. But that’s the nature of the business.”
In “Baker’s Dozen,” Proulx transforms one puppet into 12 members of a jury tasked with deciding the fate of a butcher accused of murdering his wife, a baker.
Some people have likened his trusty puppet to a kind of Mr. Potato Head creature, only made of felt and foam.
“I think that’s a pretty good analogy,” Proulx told the Now. “You’ve got this kind of blank-face puppet and then I come out with a briefcase that says ‘Jury Box’ on it, full of eyeballs and noses and wigs and other stuff, and so I use that to build 12 different characters in the show, and these pieces are also used to change emotions of the puppets.
Reusing the same features, or same body parts, on the puppet can sometimes put the character in a new light, he said.
“It’s interesting to me how a slight angle change of an eye, for example, can really change the character, the emotional state of the character altogether.”
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Proulx, a University of Waterloo grad and former employee at Walt Disney World, has been doing “Baker’s Dozen” for the past couple of years, and it’s taken him places, so to speak.
“If you asked me five years ago if I’d be crossing the country doing puppet shows, I probably would have thought you were crazy,” he said with a laugh.
“But yeah, it’s turned out to be the thing that distinguishes me from all the other brown-haired actors in Canada. There are just so many actors, right, and you just have to find a niche, and mine is just a little more specific than some.”
When Proulx got writing his own shows, that meant the start of a lot of promotional work for him as a mostly solo artist.
“I mean, I don’t love going up to strangers selling my wares, so doing that with a puppet sounded a lot more appealing,” he said. “That’s kind of how I started going really far down that path…. If a puppet hands someone a flyer, they’re much more likely to take it than if it’s just me standing there. It’s a total icebreaker.
“Also,” he added, “I have a business background and the idea of having a puppet there, people want to take pictures and tweet them or mention it on Facebook or whatever, and that’s the kind of thing that really helps out.”
Tickets for “Baker’s Dozen: 12 Angry Puppets” at Centre Stage are $30 for adults and $27 for seniors. The 8 p.m. show, presented by Surrey Civic Theatres, comes with an “audience advisory” for strong language and mature themes. For details, visit Tickets.surrey.ca or call 604-501-5566.