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Activist Arts Collective is Building a Puppet Government

Matt Gould of the Red Deer Puppetry Collective surrounded by puppet effigies of Adriana LaGrange, Tyler Shandro, and the imaginary children of Jason Nixon: Clementine and Jedediah.

Matt Gould was never one to have his hand in politics, but now he’s creating his own political stage.

“Too much is happening right now. How many more pretty pictures of flowers are we (artists) going to paint when the world is burning?” he says.

Gould is now heading up the enthusiastically political Red Deer Puppetry Collective. Hand puppets depicting provincial politicians have been the stars of the first two shows. He and the handful of activist artists behind the bobbing little bodies are hoping their political satire will motivate audiences not to sit passively on their own hands.

“I should thank the UCP for firing me up. We want to challenge the powers that be, while activating the people – all with humour and good high spirits,” he says.

Gould, a multi-disciplinary artist, has been known around Red Deer for his exhibits and for teaching at Red Deer College, but mainly for 10 years as artistic director with Tree House Youth Theatre. While his previous artwork has reflected his views on social issues and raised philosophical questions about topics like religion or gender, he has admittedly shied away from taking open political positions.

“I’ve circled around that before in my work.”

Now in his early 60s, Gould says he’s more interested in creating art that will leave a mark, and not just be another project for the sake of creating. The incendiary moment for him came during the last provincial election campaign.

“I was so alarmed at what I was seeing when the UCP were mounting their campaign that I joined the NDP and volunteered for Red Deer South.”

After the UCP victory, Gould struggled with his perception of Red Deerians. He was plagued by the thought that so many around him had voted for a party with such “destructive and dismissive” ideas.

When he heard about an anti-UCP rally scheduled in February 2020, he asked permission to produce a puppet show. Gould has a penchant for puppets, having used them in a few Tree House productions and in the course he taught at RDC. He finds puppets and masks allow actors “to say and do and be outrageous.”

The rally organizers agreed, so he reached out to his local arts connections to help put together a satire that vented his anger and frustration with the Kenney government.

“The second our characters came out, the audience went crazy,” he recalls. “They were shouting and swearing and screaming at the puppets.”

That reinforcement led Gould to gather more artists for another puppet show, which they filmed and posted online. Titled Back Kountry Boi, it satirizes Jason Nixon’s energy-friendly environmental policies.

Gould is also working on a show about respectful discussion of controversial issues that he hopes can be worked into a partnership with Red Deer Public Library. The collective is considering what other social issues they want to tackle and is building a stage for further live shows.

“There are about eight of us circling the wagons,” Gould says.

To view Back Kountry Boi, visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uwIE-eEKTjA.