Thursday, 21 September 2017

Stories from the Professional Theatre Training Program: Naomi Duvall

Our Professional Theatre Training Program (PTTP) offers financial support for unique and flexible training with a chosen mentor in any theatrical discipline (except performance.)

Naomi Duvall began training in puppet design, building and manipulation with Brad Brackenridge at the Nervous System in Peterborough

(April 28, 2017) In the week before I start my mentorship I find myself brimming with excitement and energy. The first time I set eyes on Brad Brackenridge he was eating copious amounts of deviled eggs. I suppose I should clarify that he was in character as a celebrity judge (in a deviled egg contest) to support a fundraiser for a local theatre company. My first impression was that he was a joyous, hilarious, generous and warm person. I had not yet seen any of his work and I was already drawn in. When I did get a chance to experience it, my imagination was captured. His original ideas, execution, and attention to detail were what I aspired to in my own work. I was given the chance to serve as a type of Usher, guiding each audience member to their private show for his portable puppet piece VERTEP. The piece took place in a confessional-type booth, so that each audience member had an individual experience of a magical, disturbing, powerful journey through death, mourning, and transformation. It was awesome to be able to witness their unique responses to the images/sounds/objects presented. The audience members were all enchanted, deeply moved, and transformed. I was in love and I already wanted to work with him again.

Marionettes created by Brad Brackenridge 
My background is mainly in the performing arts. I graduated from a three-year actors training program in 2012 and have since been finding ways to hone my craft and stay sharp through workshops and sporadic work in theatre/commercials. At the end of this mentorship I hope to have the tools to be able to originate my own work. My plan is to participate in the design, build and manipulation of puppets for Precarious: The Peterborough ArtsWORK Festival from conception to completion with Brad as my guide.

I am intensely curious about marionettes; it’s a realm of puppetry that is magnetic to me but that requires considerable know-how to attempt. I am lacking in wood sculpting/joining/carpentry experience and the mechanical understanding of puppet motion and it is a skill I hope to focus on.

I’ve never been trained in puppetry, all ventures have been self-taught or relied upon experimentation. I’ve always loved working with my hands and have developed a lot of dexterity from years of kitchen work and manual labour. It is a pleasure to be able to use that strength in the service of something that gives me such fulfillment. The satisfaction of literally holding an idea in your hand and shaping it is immense. The possibilities and power that a puppet can have onstage is a definite draw for me. Also, it takes a huge amount of problem solving and ingenuity to figure out how to give an otherwise inanimate object life. It is a special kind of theatre magic created by a well-designed, built and manipulated puppet. I want to be able to provide an audience with that experience using my bare hands, allow them the kind of rapt emotional involvement and belief that I feel when watching one of Brad's pieces.

Brad carving a puppet for a Shaw Festival show
This mentorship means direct contact with the quality of work I myself want to be doing and a person whose work and character I thoroughly admire.  I can’t think of anything better for my career than that and look forward to contributing my enthusiasm, creativity and talent to this project! Next week I will be delving into some puppet history and different styles of puppetry as well as taking a look at some puppets Brad is building for the Shaw Festival. Can’t wait!!

The next application deadline for the Professional Theatre Training Program is October 2, 2017.

Theatre Ontario’s Professional Theatre Training Program is funded by the Ontario Arts Council, an agency of the Government of Ontario.


  1. This sounds really interesting! Congrats Naomi!

    1. It's been a fascinating project. We have her second update in queue for next month!