The Ranger puppet play is a playwright that I wrote which was inspired by a trip my sister, cousin and I made to the island of Old Fort Rae three summers ago. Old Fort Rae is an island on the North Arm of Great Slave Lake where our grandmothers were born and grew up. It is a very spiritual place and our trip that summer was quite the adventure, so much so that I knew I needed to write a creative non-fiction story to capture the essence of our trip.

It wasn’t long after I got home that I sat down with pen to paper and put a twist on some of the true and curiously odd events that happened during our trip to the island. I began with adapting our boat driver into the main character and named him “The Ranger”to represent what I thought would be the closest version of what a modern-day Dene legend Yamoozha would be like. I then added in a conflict for him in the form of a lake creature (that some have claimed they have seen in the deepest parts of the Great Slave Lake) as well as a shapeshifter for added dramatic effect.

I originally wanted this playwright to be developed into a theatrical performance but because it was such a large undertaking with limited time to produce it, I needed to think of an alternative way to bring the story alive through acting rather than writing.
Then I was lucky enough to have a friend suggest the idea of doing either a puppet play or a shadow theatre. I did a bit of research into both options and thought the puppet play would be the easier route for an amateur director like myself but little did I know that puppeteering takes expertise and it is actually a profession. Nonetheless, I couldn’t turn back on my decision because I was waiting for my large order of puppets to arrive on my doorstep from Amazon.

photos courtesy of Catherine Lafferty From left, Stacie Smith; Savannah Lantz; Robyn Scott; Diga Wolf; columnist Catherine Lafferty; Therese Estacion and Kesver Sarikaya participated in a puppetry play rehearsal recently. In the foreground is Aliviya Coe.

Once my puppets came in the mail, I dressed them up in Dene jewelry and baby moccasins that my grandmother made for my children when they were babies to portray the culture of the Dene in the puppets for Dene children to identify with when they see the puppets in action.

The stage was designed with help from Bartle and Gibson, good old local business support, and I painted the backdrops on flattened cardboard boxes with the help from my daughter (who is the real artist in the family). I printed them at KopyKat to ensure durability and make them the proper size in terms of scale for the stage.

I put a call out for voice actors and received much interest from people who were genuinely interested in a possible career in voice acting.

I delegated each actor with a role in the play and sent them the full script to practice their lines. We did one full through rehearsal together practising our voices and emphasizing the characters actions and we headed into Diga Wolf’s Naka Productions studio to record the audio, all in one day. The idea was to have a pre-recorded version of the play for the puppeteers to lip sync to, taking the pressure off the puppeteers so that they wouldn’t have to rely memorization and I wouldn’t have to worry about getting a back up puppeteer, as anyone could easily stand in as a puppeteer.

Therese Esatacion flashes Aunt Margaret as the two go over a script reading of The Ranger puppet play.

All in all, I’m hoping that this play will generate a lot of interest in puppeteering and will also educate audiences on Dene history and the importance of telling our stories but also the importance of creating new ones showing the different outlets that a story can be told.
I will be donating the puppet play to the museum or to the education district so that it can be used again and again. There will also be lessons throughout the play and questions around safety during transportation such as texting and driving and the wearing of lifejackets when out on the water. These could be thought-provoking exercises for children to watch and point out when they see what is to be considered safe and not safe when in transit on land and water.

The Ranger puppet play will be performed at Indigenous Day June 21st in the Somba K’e Park near the log shack and next to the long line up for fish.

Happy Indigenous Day!

Follow the process of creating the puppet play on my Instagram page:

catherinelafferty_author

(Special note: Mahsi to the NWT Arts Council for providing me the funding to produce the play.
Mahsi to the voice actors: Casey Koyczan (Yamoozha/The Ranger); Stacie Smith (Edna); Aliviya Coe (Lauren); Therese Estacion (Aunt Margaret); Savannah Lantz (Daphe); Kesver Sarikaya (Anna May; Deneah); Colin Fraser (Rex); Robyn Scott (Narrator)
Mahsi to the puppeteers: Chantel Lafferty, Therese Estacion, Kesver Sarikaya and Aliviya Coe.
Special thanks to the NWT Arts Council for providing funding.)

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