July 10, 2023The Giant Puppet Project

Giant bears, beavers, and bees, oh my! In collaboration with the University of British Columbia, the RCA has been busy creating a flock of giant puppets. The Giant Puppet Workshop is part of Riparian ReAnimation, a donation-based community program with the goal of creating medium and large-scale puppets of characters from the Kelowna floodplain for a series of public parades and presentations in the summer and fall of 2023.  

The idea of building large-scale puppets came from a desire to create a space for people to deepen their relationship to the Okanagan environment in a fun and unique way.  Riparian habitats in the Okanagan are formed between land and moving bodies of water - think lakes, creeks, streams, etc., which then create shady, humid places. In this case, workshop participants have been creating puppets based on living beings around Brandt's Creek. We are excited that this project is accessible for all (free/by donation), with an emphasis on youth participation.

Leading the puppet construction is Andrew Stauffer (artist and Community and Educational Programming Specialist at the RCA) Madeline Donald (Ph.D. candidate at UBCO in Interdisciplinary Sustainability Studies), Annie Furman (MFA candidate at UBCO in Interdisciplinary Performance Studies) Cathy Stubbington (artist and Founding Artistic Director of Runaway Moon Theatre), Pamela Barnes (West Bank First Nation Syilx Elder and project advisor), and Jasmine Peone (West Bank First Nation Syilx advisor). During these open workshops, participants have been working as teams or as individuals to help build things like a giant muskrat, a humongous snake, tree costumes, a 10-foot bear, a swarm of bees, and so much more. Each puppet is built with recycled materials such as boxes, plastic bags, and newspaper. Because of the lightweight materials, the puppets are surprisingly easy to maneuver, despite their size. 

These puppets are more than just a fun summer project. A key focus in Madeline Donald’s PhD research is studying how we interact with nature and its riparian creatures.  

“Riparian ReAnimation was conceptualized as a way to create deliberate space for folks to come into and deepen their relationship with the riparian habitat in the Okanagan, making riparian character puppets in collaboration and community” says Madeline. “Kelowna is built on top of a floodplain, which is a place where water wants to be, ebb, and flow. In order to maintain life in the city as the climate changes, we must learn to respect and live well with the water ways that flow through this place and their associated riparian habitats.” 

The project took off when Madeline met Andrew Stauffer, who was looking for collaborators to create giant puppets with and opened the possibility of working with the RCA.  

“We've been going since March 27th and now have a 5-meter-long rubber boa, a Saskatoon backpack, a cottonwood trunk wide enough to accommodate 2 three-year-olds, and a swarm of bees. We'll be running workshops until August 21st, every Monday evening from 5:30 PM to 7:30 PM in studio room 105 on the first floor of the RCA. All are welcome to join in the creation of more riparian beings!” 

Above all, these workshops are intended to connect community members to each other and to the land, so we encourage all participants to join in and carry a puppet in some of the parades we have planned. These hand-made creatures and plants are a means of storytelling, both through their creation and puppeteering them. Thank you to our community members who have participated in these workshops so far. Bring the whole family along to build some critters! These workshops are a great family activity. Please pre-register below. 

Youth Registration

Adult Registration 

There is a special opportunity for youth 13+ to participate in these workshops through RCA Summer of Arts! All Summer of Arts programs at the RCA are free thanks to a generous donation from the Sedin Family Foundation. Learn more and register at rotarycentreforthearts.com/events/special-events/summer-of-arts/ 

Listen to Andrew and Madeline chat with Chris Walker on CBC Daybreak South about these giant puppets.  

Thank you to our generous partners and sponsors on this project: 


City of Kelowna 

Rhizome Eco-Social Education Society 

UBCO’s Kelownafornia Project 

Ponderosa Fibre Arts Guild 

SHARE Society 

This project draws on research supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council

Images courtesy of Madeline Donald's website.

The Giant Puppet Project