Posted 2015/08/23 by jeremy in Uncategorized

Murder in the making at the Fringe

Imagine blue sky above, a few drifting clouds. Birds circling; at first a few, then a few more. Moments pass and you suddenly realize the sky is filled with black, winged shapes, moving in some instinctive choreography, a mass of beings guided by the same external motivations, changing as those may be.

Audiences, performers, popcorn, music, lights, beer gardens, fire jugglers, green onion cakes, hecklers, parading theatrical troupes and handbilling players – with sudden and massive presence, the Fringe festival comes into being each August, filling the air and all of Edmonton with theatre frenzy.

Then, as quickly as it comes, it ends. The last traces can be heard drifting away on the wind – the flapping of wings. Or rather, the canny mimicry of the sound of wings, lingering in my ears.


Among this year’s Fringe holdovers, perhaps few had such a resonating impact as Caws and Effect, the creative outpouring of Jessica Gabriel and Chloe Ziner of Mind of a Snail productions. Their shadow puppetry, masterful scoring and captivating storytelling arrived as a gypsy caravan by night, promising magic and mystery, and left wonder in its wake.

Creating such an encompassing work in shadow puppetry is an uncommon feat, so naturally it begs the question, how does the process begin?

“The first step is play,” Jessica describes. “We try to discover things using different materials, different ideas tried in different ways.”

“It’s not all literal, some of it is visual poetry,” adds Chloe.

“It’s a symbolic medium – it’s a medium of projection – so the audience is allowed to project their own interpretations into it,” Jessica finishes.

Working with projection, the two artists move between the two- and three- dimensional space of the stage, both acting and shadow casting the story.

The pair have worked together now for several years, and their working style is very integrated. The story and the characters begin taking shape at the same time.

“We start creating a storyboard, and then once we have the storyboard we start to craft. And we craft and alternate between craft and play, and figuring out how things layer together. So there’s a lot of back and forth,” explains Chloe.

“When you’re making something in a visual art medium, it just hangs on the wall; but in puppetry, you have to think in the dimension of time as well and incorporate good movement – I have to be able to move this complex thing with just one hand and know what’s happening next on the other projector, says Jessica. “It’s a funny experimental stew; we call it compost modernism.”


For Caws and Effect, they estimate over 100 puppets/pieces are used in the telling of the story. Meanwhile, as they create the physical pieces they are adjusting the story and scoring the soundtrack. And while the visual impact alone has drawn a lot of attention, the music deserves equal recognition.

Jessica and Chloe co-wrote the music and recorded it themselves (it would be impossible to perform live themselves while also handling the puppets). Like the puppets and the shadows they use to make visual art, the music is woven, cut and manipulated as if it too were tactile, becoming a central character in the story as well.

Props, settings and sounds like these are the physical manifestations of new realities brought to life through theatre.

Can crows dream a new world into being? Maybe, maybe – there is more to the world than can be imagined.

And if crows can do it, can we?