Established in 1991 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, Green Fools Theatre is a non-profit, charitable society that creates, performs, and teaches physical theatre arts focusing on masks, puppets, and stilts for diverse audiences locally and internationally. Green Fools Theatre reaches thousands of audience members each year through performances, community events, festivals, and creative training opportunities. We have an extensive history of local, national and international touring.
Green Fools Theatre was established in 1991 by Dean Bareham and Christine Cook upon their graduation from the Dell Arte School of Physical Theatre in California. They shared a desire to create the kind of work they had studied. Influenced by world travel, they aimed to tour internationally. The work focused on stilt walking and street theatre. The annual April Fools Day Parade, the annual Halloween Party were created and the artists began experimental indoor performances.
New Artists, New Direction
Around 1995-1999, Dean and Christine were joined full-time by artists Judd Palmer, David Lane, James Davidge, Steve Pearce, and Steve Kenderes who called themselves Disposable Metaphysics and went on to form the Old Trout Puppet Workshop. During this time, Green Fools Theatre began to focus more heavily on puppetry and puppet experimentation as well as indoor theatre shows. We obtained our charitable status, bought our first computer and hired an administrator.
Throughout 1998-2002, Green Fools Theatre created an Artistic Core to collectively create work with a focus on circus. Disposable Metaphysics left Green Fools to form the Old Trouts and artists Mooky Cornish and Jennie Esdale joined the company. Green Fools Theatre focused mainly on training a select group of artists and creating a new large-scale touring circus show. Many other artists contributed to the circus show and training was extended to other artists as well.
Between 2002 and 2004, after a large-scale circus show, Mooky Cornish left for Cirque du Soleil and Dean, Christine and Jennie began to re-assess the direction of Green Fools Theatre. We began to create smaller indoor shows, received consultation for managing the company, and adopted Better Business Practices. We resolved to pay artists and to ensure that they are paid equitable rates; we developed a clearer artistic process; we changed from a collective company to one that hires artists on a per project basis so as to create more paying opportunities for more artists and better fiscally manage the company. At this time we also produced the Animated Objects Festival of puppetry.
Definition and Creation
In 2004, Christine Cook left Green Fools Theatre to focus on the Animated Objects Festival that she spearheads with the Calgary Animated Objects Society. Artistic leaders Dean Bareham and Jennie Esdale’s focus continues to be the creation of new work, the touring of performances, stilt walking, workshops, and two annual Calgary events – the April Fools Day Parade and the Halloween Howl, both now surpassing their 20th year. Under this leadership, Green Fools Theatre began and continues to evolve our artistic process and business methods to provide a strong foundation that enables creative opportunity, presentation and arts education. We provide artistic opportunities for dozens of artists each year as well as many physical theatre workshops for hundreds of artists, youth, and youth-at-risk as well as communities. We have sought out artists to mentor for apprenticeships and continue to provide opportunities that attract long-term involvement from diverse artists, in addition to reaching thousands of audience members through performance work.
Where We Are Now
Since 2001, the current artistic leadership has led the creation of some of Green Fools most memorable and acclaimed theatre productions that have been nominated and honoured with awards and have received critical and audience acclaim. Most of these works engage up to 20 paid artists, including actors and puppeteers, designers and builders, musicians and composers, writers and directors. Theatre shows are hand crafted- built from scratch- and are original. Each show is developed over a minimum 2 year period. New design techniques are invented to serve the project and scripts are developed in phases with much collaboration. Last season Green Fools Theatre shows earned 3 Betty Mitchell Award Nominations and 2 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Award nominations with a win for Outstanding Artistic Achievement.
Our trained stilt walkers in hand crafted original masks and costumes have toured the globe. Stilt walkers are trained by our artistic leaders in stilt walking, mask and character performance. Many performers are professional actors or improvisers. Each costume is designed and built by Green Fools artists. Characters are developed collaboratively with artists. Characters range from the beautiful to hilarious and each brings a striking and whimsical element to festivals or events. Audience members can admire from afar or can share a laugh or a magical moment with our 10 foot tall creations.
In addition to creating and presenting theatre productions and stilt walking, our Calgary programming has remained constant in the last 20 years, presenting a Halloween Howl and an April Fools Day Parade every year. This is traditional programming that is repeated, though within each of these events a new work is created. For the Halloween Howl, we create a new collaborative multi-discipline spectacle show and at our April Fools Day Parade we present the new mask/stilt characters we create each year. The Halloween Howl has grown every year filling venue capacity, with over 1000 attendees last year. It is considered to be one of the biggest Halloween events in the city. Our Annual April Fools Day Parade has a steady history that has seen families return with new families joining every year. In many seasons (including this last season) we also present a cabaret of varying size and scale determined by timing and interest, in recent years this cabaret has presented graduates of clown workshops.
In addition, some previous shows are repeated in our programming and we believe it is a testament to the success of our work. “The Frying Fool Show” has been performed every year since Green Fools Theatre was founded and has been presented around the globe. The show is in constant demand and has generated many thousands of dollars in revenue for the company. We are extremely proud of this success and we think it’s important to acknowledge this in our season and include in our funding applications, as it is a vital part of our work, our presence, and our revenues. We believe the balance of re-presenting past productions and developing new work is deeply important to the fulfillment of our mandate of creating, presenting and teaching physical theatre arts to diverse audiences and we find that re-presenting successful/ tourable shows allows productions to continue to evolve and grow and to reach new audiences.
Before touring theatre shows, we rehearse and then re-present them in Calgary. Each time we do this, we reach a different audience. This past season, we performed “Project: Whooping Crane” in Calgary to audiences that included a performance for a multi-cultural school that has limited opportunities: some kids in attendance had recently come to Canada from refuge camps, some with limited English. We think this is profound and vital work with palpable impact; the wordless puppet show is able to reach diverse audiences and promotes a message of hope, friendship and understanding.
After Calgary performances, the production is taken to its touring engagement. This past season “Project: Whooping Crane” toured to Edmonton, where it was nominated for two 2010 Elizabeth Sterling Haynes Awards and awarded with one for Outstanding Achievement in Theatre for Young Audiences. As well, we were invited to perform this show at the Hamedan International Festival of Theatre in Iran and in Japan- we hope to make these tours a reality in the near future. The repetition of past programming is vital to the longevity and wider presence of our company and our work. Touring has always been and continues to be a very important aspect of Green Fools Theatre each season and we proudly acknowledge the effort, time and work as well as audience reach and revenue generation of re-presenting past productions every year.
We have seen a major increase in our role as leaders in arts education, which is a natural evolution for a maturing organization with a strong history. This work is not always seen, as much of it is undertaken in remote communities. Though the commercial and profile impact of touring to teach may not be high, we are having a profound impact on countless individuals and communities providing physical theatre skills and life skills that can greatly increase the quality of life for many people. The teaching of physical theatre workshops has a long history with the company; however, in the last five years we have seen a major increase for the demand of this important work due to the strong work of our staff. Green Fools Theatre instructors have taught physical theatre for people of multiple ages, abilities, cultures and economic brackets throughout Calgary, Alberta, BC, Manitoba, and in remote First Nations communities in Northern Canada. In the last three years, we’ve gone twice to Africa to work with and teach circus skills to communities at risk and in need. In addition, we provide a free Monday night stilt walking club open to the public throughout the year.
Since its inception, Green Fools Theatre has always been a company based in Calgary that aims to reach the world. We have presented our stilt walkers, our theatre shows and taught physical theatre workshops across Canada, in Europe, New Zealand, South America and in the United States. Much of the year, the Fools are on the road.
We are passionate and devoted to the great company we lead. Green Fools Theatre is a unique, eclectic, beautiful arts organization that is maturing, refining, while continuing to be smart, strong and endlessly creative.