Into the Time Warp

Remounting The Cow Show

Out standing in her field

About a year ago, we decided to re-mount The Cow Show. The Cow Show was our first big hit. It created a splash in the puppet world when we first performed it in 1981. Before we knew it, we were touring rural Nova Scotia, Toronto schools and other places far and wide, including a puppet convention in Ames Iowa, where the show earned a prestigious “Citation of Excellence” from UNIMA, the international puppetry association. In 1985, we played the Atelier of the National Arts Centre, the present home of La Nouvelle Scene on King Edward, and the show got a great review in the Ottawa Citizen. The headline was “History Through Cow’s Eyes a Sure Hit”.

We followed up The Cow Show with many other productions and tours, but we always thought we’d get back to it someday. Then one day, about a year ago, we were looking for something fresh for our public series over the 2019 March Break, and it hit us: how about The Cow Show?

The idea for the show came to us in the back of Felix’s truck. Our puppet mentor, Felix Mirbt was driving from Ottawa to Nova Scotia to meet with Mermaid Theatre and, on a whim, we decided to join him. As the countryside sped by, we couldn’t help noticing all the lovely cows . . . and an idea for a show was born.

Flash forward to 2019. We are grateful to have received a grant from the ARTicipate Endowment Fund. The season is announced, the venues have been booked, tickets are selling well. How long has it been since we last performed the show? John looked it up. 20 years!

Would we still know our lines? Would we remember the songs and the choreography? What about the puppets and the quilt? What if a mouse got at them? We were almost afraid to open the boxes.

I rummaged in the filing cabinet for a script. These days John loves to desktop publish our scripts, and they look pretty good. But the script for this show was written BC—before computers! Typewritten on an old manual typewriter, with notes about blocking scribbled in the margins, it might as well have been papyrus that had to be decoded.

Luckily, we also had a video. Many years ago, our friend Greg West was looking to get some experience as a video director, and we had agreed to do the show on Roger’s Cable. We went into the TV studio, set up the show, invited a group of kids to be the audience, and the whole show was recorded. There were even some close-ups. (Although it was a strange experience to watch our 20-something selves in action!)

We used the video to transcribe a new script. Then we decided to test ourselves. Without looking at the script, we stood in our kitchen and took a run at the lines. Oh, my goodness, they all came rushing out. We still knew those lines after all those years. Not perfectly, but still. But we needed to re-learn the set-up, the placement of props, and the actions for the songs.

We opened all the boxes. Everything was still there – except a few items we had “borrowed” for other shows. We set up the whole show in a rehearsal studio at the Ottawa School of Theatre, and for three days, we went over the show, stopping to figure things out, and trying again. By the end of the third day, we were ready for an audience.

We had some worries about the theme. The show has some serious warnings about taking care of the natural world (represented by the docile cow) and the environment (represented by a beautiful hand-stitched quilt). In a humorously dystopian future, the whole world is covered in pavement and stainless-steel buildings. The ozone layer has been destroyed. The people have invented a time machine. They need to go back in time and convince people not to make the same mistakes that they made. But they need a living animal to guide them. In 2019, these things are no joke. The ozone layer destruction seems to have been averted, but the environment is a much more crucial issue than it was 30 years ago. Would it be too much?

We performed the show three times, at Shenkman Arts Centre, The School of Dance, and the Nepean Creative Arts Centre. Two of the shows were sold out. And it was so much fun! The younger kids enjoyed the puppet antics, and the older children appreciated the theme and engaged in a thoughtful discussion in the question period.

The next week, we called up our friends at MASC who book our shows in Ottawa and area schools. The Cow Show will be our lead offering to schools next year. The study guide for teachers is up on our website and ready to go. As the cow says in our opening song, “Moo ma ma moo ma moo!”

Harry, Armand and a toy cow.