Calgarians live dream with home prop and puppet workshop
Juanita Dawn and Pat Rozitis are the forces behind The Long Grass Studio & Workshop
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Five minutes west of Calgary, inside an unassuming red home with a handcrafted sign out front, Juanita Dawn and Pat Rozitis spend their days turning fantasy to reality.
Their little workshop, dubbed The Long Grass Studio & Workshop, creates props and puppets. Rozitis’s half of the workshop is all woodworking, glass blowing and heavy-duty power tools. It’s fun contrast to his wife’s half – which is rows on rows of different wires, fabrics, moulds and half-finished puppets just begging to spring to life before your eyes.
There are notes and drawings over the desks and the walls. In the corner, a glass heater moans and bellows while the ventilation heaves in delight as bodies move through the space.
It’s really cool.
Through raising children and working their own careers, the two never lost sight of their passion – and created the workshop next to their home a few years ago, to make props for other productions.
Now Dawn is debuting her own show, Broken Sugar Bowl, at the Calgary Festival of Animated Objects.
Involving multiple artists and different mediums, the show presents three poems from award-winning poet Mildred Tremblay (who, in a wild coincidence, was raised in the same town as Dawn). The poems have big, bold feminist themes and in Dawn’s interpretation of them, all three will feature the character of Old Woman.
Creating Old Woman
Dawn’s speciality is making puppets, so let’s talk how she created her star puppet.
First, it starts with a few sketches on paper, and then Dawn begins work on creating the head. She makes a clay mould, in two pieces, that create a hollow head. This is really important, as Dawn wanted the eyebrows to move, and the head needed room for some cool, technical wizardry.
“I wanted her to move from a fairly normal look – to really mad. Just a little movement changes her to a really angry person,” Dawn laughed.
The torso is built out of a wood frame, like a marionette, and then covered with a clay cast. The inside is kept hollow, so the puppet doesn’t require a huge feat of strength to lift.
The arms and legs are sanded down until their the right shape. The hands need to be a bit stronger, so they’re actually cast with a silicone-like product called Dragon Skin, which feels as cool as it sounds.
Finally, the hair is put into place with a process called needle felting. There are tiny holes in the back of the Old Woman’s head, and the hair is placed one tuft at a time – in a long, but impressive looking process.
At the time of the interview, Old Woman was very naked (which will be a plot point in the play), but Metro was assured she would get some clothes by showtime.
Broken Sugar Bowl runs March 18 and 19. Visit puppetfestival.ca