Prison puppetry pioneering

Culture Events Theatre

Co-founder of SNAFU Dance Theatre and UVic alumna Ingrid Hansen discusses the progress of William Head on Stage’s (WHoS) new production, Fractured Fables: The Prison Puppet Project. The William Head Institution, situated in picturesque Metchosin, has been producing plays for the public for the past 30 years (and is the only federal prison in Canada to do so).

This is the first year that the 30 inmates are writing, designing, building and performing their own show—complete with giant-scale LED puppets, live music, hand puppets and masks. “The process is more complete when you create something from nothing yourself,” says Hansen. Hansen is co-directing the show with Peter Balkwill, co-artistic director of the Old Trout Puppet Workshop and winner of the 2013 Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Distinguished Artist Award. The two are working with the inmates to create a unique connection with the audience through puppetry.

“Everyone pours energy into this object and allows it to come to life,” says Hansen. She goes on to say that puppetry acts as an interesting point of innocence for the performers and audience alike, as we were all natural puppeteers as children. Puppetry allows us to move between the surreal and the natural, letting all else fall away—which is what she has seen happen with inmates working on the show.

Inmates have told Hansen that before working with WHoS, success in something other than crime seemed unreachable, but it has now been realized. Theatrical work requires blind trust in each other, and Hansen is amazed by the inmates’ willingness to share personal stories, work as a team and mentor each other. “The stakes are high for the guys, and if someone gets stage fright the other guys will calm them down,” says Hansen. “They have an overwhelming desire to put on a great show.”

Fractured Fables will enhance the already mystic WHoS play-going experience. Add spinning puppet heads to the seaside drive into the woodlands of Metchosin, the shuttle through the prison grounds and the post-show talk with the men behind the masks, and you have a very surreal experience indeed. While the show is inspired by personal experience, it is largely fictionalized. The show will incorporate live music by Katrina Kadoski and feature actress Anne Cirillo.

Hansen has been involved with WHoS since 2007, when she began teaching drama workshops at the prison. This 2013-14 season, she returns to The Phoenix Theatre with Kitt & Jane: An Interactive Survival Guide to the Near Post-Apocalyptic Future, the award-winning sequel to 2011’s Little Orange Man. The play will run for The Phoenix’s Spotlight on Alumni.


William Head on Stage presents Fractured Fables
October 11, 12, 18, 19, 25, 26, 31 and November 1, 2, 7, 8, 9.
Tickets $20, available at Ticket Rocket (#2-1609 Blanshard St.),, and in person at My Chosen Café, 4480 Happy Valley Rd. in Metchosin.

Venue: William Head Institution. 6000 William Head Rd.
Gates at 6:15 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Arrive early to allow time to go through prison security.

Show is 19+. Picture I.D. must be shown. Attendees may be electronically scanned. Money, wallets, purses, tobacco products, lighters and electronic devices of any type must be locked in your vehicle or locker provided.