Ronnie Burkett, O.C.
Calgary, Alberta and Toronto, Ontario
Ronnie Burkett is an acclaimed puppeteer, playwright, performer and designer from Medicine Hat, Alberta. He has entertained audiences with his theatrical productions featuring puppets of his own design and creation for more than 40 years. He began his career with a one-man street theatre show that toured schools and community centres to great fanfare. He later formed his own theatre company and turned his creative attention to adult themes and characters that would come to embody artistically-conceived architypes of the human condition, beloved by his devoted followers worldwide. He is not only a prolific writer, but also an avant-garde designer and performer, creating original and innovative new work at a breathtaking pace. His performances have established box office records at Canadian Stage, Theatre Network and the Vancouver East Cultural Centre. He has won many significant theatre awards in cities across Canada and throughout the world, and is a sought-after mentor in his field.
- One of Ronnie Burkett’s mentors is Order of Canada member Noreen Young, C.M., of Almonte, Ontario. He has known her since he was 10 years old.
- Another mentor: American puppeteer Bil Baird, who famously produced and performed “The Lonely Goatherd” puppetry scene in The Sound of Music.
- Ronnie first became interested in puppetry at the age of 7. Soon, he was putting on performances in schools and shopping malls. By the age of 14, his dad was taking time off work to drive him to shows on the road. At 15, his parents let him travel alone to the United States for his first puppetry festival.
- “It’s a craft where things are passed down. I wrote fan letters to puppeteers as a child. I figured if they responded, it was an invitation to come and visit. For a basically shy person I had this kind of ability, eventually I bullied my way in.”
- In addition to continuing to put on performances, Ronnie teaches and mentors young people. Many work in his studio and consult his extensive library of 1 600 puppetry books.
- Ronnie makes puppets out of traditional materials: carved wood for limbs, a lot of paper mâché (“I spent a lot of time researching old paper mâché techniques. It’s non-toxic, cheap and durable.”)
- Ronnie’s new show Forget Me Not (which recently premiered at Toronto’s Luminato festival) features 114 one-of-a-kind hand puppets.
On criticism: “When I started, theatre critics weren’t even doing puppet show reviews, so even a bad review is a victory.”
Puppetry doesn’t lock me into my physical being. In theatre school, I found it very limiting to be constrained to a certain height, gender, sex. There’s so much discussion of gender fluidity these days, but I’ve been doing this my whole life.