042105 Bread & Puppet, Ottawa, ON

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As you may have read within these missives, when it comes to entertainment I adhere to the motto, “if you don’t go, you won’t know” (“if the motto don’t rhyme, the motto ain’t mine,” I always say.  At least I do when I’m making up mottos, which is surprisingly often).  In keeping with this motto I bought tickets for a performance on April 21st, 2005 featuring a touring abstract-political puppet show from Vermont called Bread and Puppet.  The show took place in the theatre of the Bronson Centre – a somewhat dubious “venue” that was a tired, tattered, and unventilated antique soft seat auditorium inside a small community centre that used to be an all-girls high school.

The performance wasn’t very memorable though I distinctly recall not enjoying it very much.  Ah well, I go-ed so now I know’d; no biggie.  I don’t recall how much the tickets cost but I’m sure they weren’t too expensive and I think there actually might have been bread involved as well so I’m not complaining, plus I’m happy to support anyone with the chutzpah to eke out an existence as touring puppeteers.  You go, Mr. Fuzzywunkle!

The truth is, I’ve had a thing for puppets for as long as I can remember.  As I got older I started to realize that puppet appreciation wasn’t as universal as I thought it must be, and in fact it seemed like I was more into puppets than most people.  Don’t worry, things never got freaky or anything, but I am saying that in addition to worshipping almost any puppet-based television show (very much especially all things Muppet) I’ve always owned hand puppets, marionettes, and even a ventriloquist dummy or two  I still have a box full of puppets (The Velvet Theatre Players) that sees the light of day more often than you’d expect and I still crack up every time my mom puts a puppet on her hand and it turns to me with a tilt of it’s head and says in a deep baritone voice, “Hi Todd!”  I tell you, it makes me laugh ’til I cry, every time.  Little-known fact: When i enrolled in the music department at Carleton University my #1 goal was to write music for Sesame Street.  I can’t tell you how crestfallen I was when Jim Henson died unexpectedly just as I was finishing my first year of studies.  


And you know, it was just recently that I discovered a possible reason for my puppet affinity.  

Have you ever heard of prosopagnosia?  Neither had I, but I came across it a little while ago.  Prosopagnosia is a condition – you’re usually born with it – that makes it difficult to recognize faces.  I came across this by googling “why can’t I recognize people” and I googled that because I can’t.  I suck at recognizing people.  And man-o-man, I am a serial forgot-I-met-you-before kind of guy, like over the top.  It’s embarrassing.

I’ve long wished that we all lived in Richie Rich land, one where everyone wore the same clothes everyday.  Then I’d have no problem, because I always remember people by what they are wearing.  Or their hair.  I’m way better recognizing people that wear glasses too, and if you always wear the same hat or have notable facial hair I thank you.  If two characters in a movie look at all alike – say, two female characters with long blond hair – I’m gonna have a hard time following things.  When I was teaching music I remembered students by their guitars.  

Anyway, I always thought I was just a freakin’ idiot, a belief that was compounded by the fact that my best friends were puppets.  The few real-life friends I made over my childhood were usually noticeably odd in one way or another.  I had one friend that had seizures with his hands every thirty seconds or so, one who was the tallest kid in class, another who was the fat kid…all people who were easy to pick out of a crowd of blurred, undefined faces.

When I read the symptoms of prosopagnosia it listed every single one of these things, right down to the puppets (which were obviously much easier to distinguish from one another than the human characters in other kid’s shows were).  Come to think of it, one show that I utterly worshipped was Hilarious House of Frightenstein, a brilliant real-life comedy out of Hamilton, Ontario that starred three people, one guy who weighed about 400lbs, another guy who was about 2 1/2 feet tall, and Billy Van, a vastly underrated acting genius who transformed himself through a miracle of makeup into the remaining half-dozen characters, each of which was unmistakably different.  Once again, a show that was easy to follow without depending on face-recognition.

Of course, my self-diagnosis is based on approximately forty minutes of mostly uninterrupted research done by someone with no training in any appropriate field (me).  However, after a lifetime of close, personal observation in this particular case I’m leaning towards joining the vast, vast majority of mankind and declaring my own ignorant self-diagnosis a bona fide truism for ever more.  Which may prove that I am indeed a freakin’ idiot, but one with a condition.

And so it is that I declare myself now and retroactively to be a victim of prosopagnosia, a mostly unknown and misunderstood mental disorder that kneecaps a vital social ability and in a roundabout way makes one prone to buying tickets to touring abstract-political puppet shows.  

In other words: If I don’t know your face, don’t get on my case.

And of course: if you don’t go you won’t know.


  1. Pretty sure that Hai Toh and I were at this show as well. I was really looking forward to it, but like you, I wasn’t overly impressed. Hai Toh had seem the Bread & Puppet show in their native territory (Vermont) way back when she was attending Goddard College in the 70’s, and was bowled over by them – looking at her photos of the event, and a subsequent visit, I realize that they really have to be seen in a large, open-air environment for them to be fully appreciated.


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