My Friend Magrau the Bird

School Talent Show to Vancouver International Puppet Festival Home Grown Series

When I first saw him, I knew even at a young age, that there would be a photo op. I sensed that this would be a great moment for a picture as my Dad picked up his Kodak camera.

You can see in the photo that I am ‘milking it’ by posing with a surprised look on my face. I was really pleased and startled at this little blue bird gazing up at me. Flash about thirty or forty years later (I’ll never tell) and I find myself on stage in the spotlight performing as my eight year old former self at the premiere of my newest show A Birdy Told Me So at the Vancouver International Puppet Festival HomeGrown Series.

When I was young, I was a “ham”, as my grandma Haines fondly called me, and ventriloquism found me. I didn’t know what a ventriloquist was. I had not yet heard the word.  Every child talks to their stuffed tigers and bears and I just happened to talk to my little blue bird and he talked back, which to me was no big deal. 

After folks in my small community of Wainfleet, Ontario started inviting me to perform at their functions, fairs, exhibitions and parties, I learned about the importance of “warming up the audience”. I was self-taught but I watched people like Carol Burnett and Johnny Carson as a kid and I think I emulated their timing as far as child could! Much later in life would study dramatic arts, but as a kid I didn’t understand that you could actually rehearse your material and write it ahead of time! What a concept! For many of these shows I’d find myself agreeing to, I would go in with some vague ideas about what I’d be performing and naturally I’d be terrified, trying to explain to my Dad why I couldn’t perform and get up on stage. I learned quickly how to keep going on with the show whether I blanked on my lines or not…and it was…exhilarating. Thank goodness for my family! My family was my very first audience whether they liked it or not and all new material was tried out on them. 

As I grew, I also learned that I was different. I was just plain different and a bit of a loner and was always day dreaming, but my plan for overcoming these feelings of shyness was simple: I would get up on stage at every new school and perform. I was saying to my schoolmates, “This is me, wacky, funny, odd little me, and if you think my blue bird and I are funny, you can laugh.” And they did! It earned me some respect and broke some ice. I made new friends. 

Sometimes Magrau would take me aside and help me with my struggles at a young age. Then I left him alone for a few years while I went to University and got my degree in Drama and English. But he didn’t let me forget that he was indeed, a big part of my life and that I’d better start paying more attention to him. We took part in the talent shows in my University residence and later at War Memorial Hall and then College Royal at the University of Guelph, as well as other shows that began to pop up here and there.

After hundreds of shows I find myself telling my story with Magrau on stage at Performance Works on Granville Island. I’m performing in front of a screen with beautiful drawings by David Robinson and Greg Robinson to set each scene. Belly laughs and applause make me realize that all of that anxiety that comes with writing a brand new show goes away once I hit the stage. 

Jeny Cassady and I wrote this play together and Jeny directed it. How did Jeny know that she needed to give separate stage directions and notes to Magrau and me individually? Because Jeny is a professional puppeteer for stage and film and speaks fluent puppet! It was so exciting to work with her and she helped raise the bar in my technical puppetry. The theme of my new show A Birdy Told Me So is to never give up. Have I wanted to give up? Sure, but it’s impossible when you have a little birdy telling you that things are going to be great and if you believe in yourself anything is possible. 

 

My husband Greg Robinson has come to accept that the puppets often get the sofa before he does, the North Pole will stay in the living room until after the Holidays, and that my puppets will always be a part of our lives. I’m lucky to also have a builder, designer, writer, and therapist for tired puppeteers in Greg my life partner. When his brother David Robinson came to visit he was put to work on creating these beautiful illustrations to be the backdrop of the show. 

One of the pics of David’s of my bedroom by David Robinson  

Trish, my incredible stage manager and creative partner would be inventing, building backdrops, finding and creating sound cues, all while listening to me go on and on about the next thing that needed to be done to pull off this show. A show is a team production from front to back and upstage to downstage. 

On stage I was allowed to play the character of Kellie from eight years of age up to the present and tapping into an 8 year old’s movement and physicality was so much fun. This show is so special to me because it’s based on factual events with a fictional twist. I guess that’s what theatre is all about and it sure is healing. When a grandmother wrote to me and said that her 10 year old granddaughter was quoting the play’s lines about ‘never giving up’ I knew I had hit my mark. Magrau had hit his mark too. We had created a musical show together. The show had  only three performances in its premiere run, so we’re rarin’ to go into other venues soon and perform it for new audiences.

After our last show we got something to eat at a restaurant and someone got an unplanned serenade by Magrau for their birthday. We don’t always plan Magrau’s outings. Sometimes Magrau is coming home from a rehearsal in his case and we meet someone who is sad and I’ll take out Magrau and they will smile. That’s what it’s all about whether you are 8 or 88 I guess. 

Kellie is available to perform A Birdy Told Me So in schools, theatres and Festivals and is booking now to start her new tour of this special production. Listen to her new song Never Give Up written by John Pippus and Kellie soon to be released after debuting on Granville Island for the VIPF Home Gown Series

All the best 
Kellie and Magrau

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