Touching tales from William Head prison

Culture Theatre

Oct. 11 marked the opening of William Head on Stage’s (WHoS) most recent production, Fractured Fables: The Prison Puppet Project. The production, led by UVic alumni and co-directors Peter Balkwill and Ingrid Hansen, is a collaboration between volunteers and inmates. Created in a brief seven weeks, the inmates drew from their own experiences to create the stories that make up this original production.

The show is a mixture of tales told using puppets, and touching and often humorous personal stories from the inmates’ childhoods, presented as individual monologues sans-puppets. The brief puppet vignettes are reminiscent of whimsical Pixar shorts; with little-to-no dialogue, the audience pieces together the story mostly through the movements of the puppets. However, the skill with which the puppets are presented gives each puppet its own personality and emotions, which in turn easily draws emotion from the audience. I found myself often saddened or concerned for many of the mostly animal puppets, however the play contains lots of humour and most of the puppets are left happy at the end—although not all.

The idea of puppets may bring images of socks on hands, but the show presents a cornucopia of puppets. There’s the skilful use of shadows to present a regular-sized man as a giant; a large bird that is part-costume, part-puppet; and a baby bird that is a small, hand-controlled puppet; among others. Despite the variety of puppets and stories, they all flow together, with small elements from the previous stories seeping into later stories, linking them all in a single cohesive world. The action isn’t restricted to the stage, with the auditorium space being used as part of the show too; puppets come from all sides, from behind or beside the audience, creating an immersive experience. The production also presents one of the most unique ways I’ve seen to signify the end of the play, which I’ll leave a mystery so that it’s a pleasant surprise for those who attend.

After the end of the show, audiences are invited to stay for a question-and-answer session with the cast and crew. The session demonstrated the clear respect and comradery this group of volunteers and inmates has developed, and also allowed the inmates to speak of their appreciation for this project and the personal benefits they’ve gained.


William Head on Stage presents Fractured Fables

Oct. 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+, photo I.D. required. Attendees may be electronically scanned. Money, wallets, purses, tobacco products, lighters and electronics of any type must be locked in vehicle or locker provided.  

Free refreshments and cookies are available.