Andrew G. Cooper is a Canadian playwright, director, and puppeteer. As an artist, Andrew’s focus is on the creation of new works with a particular emphasis on storytelling through physical mediums such as puppetry, movement, mask, and stage combat. They hold their Bachelor of Arts in Theatre Arts from Thompson Rivers University and are the recipient of the Kamloops Mayor’s Emerging Artist Award as well as a nominee of the Lieutenant Governor of Alberta Arts Award. They won multiple awards for Outstanding Choreography for their work in Musical Theatre with the Academy of Dance and are the founding Artistic Managing Director of Chimera Theatre in Kamloops, BC and the founding and current Artistic Producer of Jupiter Theatre in Calgary, AB. Andrew debuted on television as a puppeteer on Apple TV+ with The Jim Henson Company’s Fraggle Rock: Back to the Rock. Andrew is a lover of astronomy and animals and currently lives in Calgary, AB.
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Andrew G. Cooper
Phil Rickaby: I’m Phil Rickaby, and I’m a writer and performer for almost 30 years, but I’ve realized that I actually don’t know as much as I should about the theatre scene outside of my particular Toronto bubble. Now I’m on a quest to learn as much as I can about the theatre scene across Canada. So join me as I talk with mainstream theatre creators you may have heard of, and indie artists you really should know, as we find out what it takes to be…Stageworthy.
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Now on the show.
Andrew G. Cooper is a Canadian playwright, director, and puppeteer. In this conversation we talk about working on Alberta Theatre Projects’ The Jungle Book, creating a new stage production of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, how Calgary has a thriving puppetry community, and much more. Here’s our conversation.
Andrew, uh, you were just doing the Jungle Book.
Andrew G. Cooper: that’s right. At atp
Phil Rickaby: Okay. Tell, tell me about, tell me about that experience. How, how was, how was doing the Jungle Book?
Andrew G. Cooper: it was a very upsy, downsy sort of show. From my point of view, uh, the show in terms of the design and the build for the puppets, which was one of my primary roles, was great. Very fulfilling. And the team that built the puppets did such an amazing job.
The performers that we had were fantastic and did excellent work. as a whole, which, and this is something maybe we could speak to a lot, um, cuz I have strong feelings about Newark in Canada as a whole. The, I think the production wasn’t ready for the stage. It wasn’t ready for Premier in terms of the, the script.
Um, some of the other design elements were a little last minute and at no fault to the other designers. Um, and we didn’t quite, I think we didn’t quite get where the show could have been. By opening night. The other thing, which this was public news, so we can’t talk about it, but the artistic and executive director, who was also the director and the playwright of the show was fired during our tech week.
So that was a huge blow to the entire team. And up until that point, things were a little bumpy after that point. Things were great, but then we only had three days to open the show and, and really rejig it. , it was, uh, very stressful in the moment. In the end, the, there are parts of the production that are beautiful and that I think really sore.
And there are other parts that just needed more time and more work, more dramaturgy, more rehearsal, more tech, kind of everything. So it was a really wild experience as a whole. It’s not every day that something as dramatic as your director leaving the show that, you know, doesn’t happen very often. So it was a learning experience for a lot of,
Phil Rickaby: Um, I mean you mentioned, uh, uh, having strong feelings about, about theater in Canada and the way that we make it. Um, I’m gonna, I’m gonna run a scenario by you cuz I think it’s sort of like at the heart of what may be the problem. Um, all of our organizations are at the mercy of granting organiz.
Andrew G. Cooper: Mm-hmm.
Phil Rickaby: And sponsorship are mostly grants.
Um, and what we tend to do is we tend to get, uh, one grant for writing, one grant for workshopping and one grant for performance
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. If we’re lucky
getting free, you know that that’s, yeah. But that’s pretty typical. I agree.
Phil Rickaby: And so what if we look at shows? that, that are created sort in a more capitalist system. Say for example, a lot of the Broadway shows, a lot of them go through years and years of workshop and rewrite and workshop and rewrite and r
Andrew G. Cooper: Mm-hmm. ,and then out of town pro tryouts. And they do it in this city and that city. And then they do, yes, exactly.
Phil Rickaby: Whereas we do just the sort of the three, the, you know, grant for prefer writing, grant for, for workshop grant, for production.
And uh, we also have the issue where we kind of just forget about the work that we’ve done once we’ve. Like,
Andrew G. Cooper: Once there’s a premiere, you’re like, great, I think I read a stat and I’m gonna throw the number. And this is, you know, a generalization, but it was something like 90% of premiered works in Canada. Don’t get a second production. That is crazy.
Like you put in. Years of work. One production runs for three weeks and that’s it,
which is wild.
Phil Rickaby: Well also, I mean, part of that I think is cuz a lot of, a lot of, a lot of theaters prioritize, uh, the premiere.
Andrew G. Cooper: yes.
Phil Rickaby: to be the premier production of a work. And then after that, who cares? Um, and we just don’t have a system where a work can live.
Andrew G. Cooper: Mm-hmm. Yeah, which is unfortunate. There is one thing that I saw. This was actually. Coming from the fringe world, but I saw some sort of mid-size companies try, and it’s called a Rolling World premier, which is essentially, uh, it’s one step up from a co-pro. So usually in a co-pro it’s like it premiers in one.
Place. And then it also goes some like, uh, forgiveness is at Arts Club and Theater Calgary this year. So they rehearse, they do the show there, then they come here in Calgary and they do it. But a Rolling World premiere is like a few more stops on that train. The same production does hit all of these cities and then they’re all called World Premieres, even though really one city premiered it.
But it just addresses that problem where. Oh, everyone wants to claim the premiere. They don’t wanna just claim this as a second or third production of what could be a very great work.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah.
Andrew G. Cooper: So the, yeah, that’s something that’s happening. But what I think misses from that model is the, like the workshop and rehearsing between each of those.
Cuz as you said, in a more commercial model, the show gets better and better every time. Well, hopefully it changes and hopefully it’s improving
Phil Rickaby: Yes.
Andrew G. Cooper: But, but that’s the idea that every time you do it in for a different audience, you learn new things. You, you tweak things, you improve it, and Yeah. And that, those sort of like long cycles don’t often happen here in Canadian.
Phil Rickaby: We just don’t, I mean, part of the problem I think is that we just don’t have the stages for work to live for a long period of time. All of the theaters that we have are, they have a season and a show can only run for so long before it has to clear out.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. Because another show is coming on. Yeah.
Yeah. This like the whole regional theater season model.
Especially in Western Canada.
Phil Rickaby: yeah, there’s so few companies that are doing like something that sits down and stays for a.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. I think. . I mean, as I was saying here, the only companies that kind of do that are like the big dinner theaters. They’ll run shows sometimes for an entire month or sometimes two month. And then in Toronto, of course there’s, there’s things like Mirvish, but
Phil Rickaby: Merva are the only ones that do that. They’re the only ones and they’re, and they don’t do it very often. Like usually they’re kind of a roadhouse. A show comes in on tour, it performs for a month, and then it goes, um, and occasionally they mount their own productions, which can sit down for a few months to a year or maybe more if they’re lucky.
But it just doesn’t happen in Canada the way it does in the states.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. And then the other way to do it would be just getting more and more productions of the same thing,
Phil Rickaby: Yeah, I if only, if only theaters could sort of just allow themselves to, maybe not only do world premieres, maybe a show could live on a show like Kim’s Convenience, for example, which started at the Fringe and had a life it toured and toured and toured, and they became a TV show. Like that’s
Andrew G. Cooper: show just came to Calgary again and I’m like, yay. More original Canadian work and it doesn’t have to be a work for every time that show comes up. I’m like, yes. Okay, good. The TV show, as you said, probably helped a lot.
Phil Rickaby: I’m sure the TV show helped a lot, but you know, I, I, I saw that show at its, uh, at its original run in the Fringe, and it was magic then
like, you know, very few people have the experience of, of seeing a show and when that show ends, you just feel it in the audience that it’s a genuine standing ovation that’s about to happen.
Not the kind of a standing ovation where like people sort of start to stand up because they kind of feel like they have to, and then people go, oh, well they’re standing. I guess we’re supposed to stand. And then it sort of,
Andrew G. Cooper: and then I’m usually sitting there like now I can’t even see the curtain call, so I have to stand because everyone in front of me is,
Phil Rickaby: that’s exactly right. This was a show where it ended and just everybody left to their feet, and that’s like a really genuine thing.
So that’s how magic that show was.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. I’m glad we’re digging right into this. To bring it back to what happened on Jungle Book, I think that what happened was, you know, you program a season and you have to, as you said, like there’s all these slots that you have to fill and you’re on this timeline and you have to hit these deadlines. So I think that.
Yeah, the, the i, the, the company that I run, Jupyter Theater doesn’t run on the whole season thing that most, as you said, like these kind of regional companies that depend on their grants and their sponsorship and their ticket sales, like they, they have a model that they have to stick in and I think that that can stifle.
The process very often because it’s, it’s more about the product than the process, unfortunately, cuz they have to do their five shows every year or, or whatever amount it is. And, and some companies pull it off and as per usual, sometimes you’re like, oh, well there was two good shows in that season and three that were whatever.
So yeah, it’s kind of just a product of what, what the landscape looks like. Right.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. It’s kind of amazing how, how quickly we sort of fell back into the status quo after like two, three years of, of Covid
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, yes, I was one.
Phil Rickaby: And then, you know, we had the opportunity where we could like reinvent everything. And then so many theaters were like, you know, we do so much important work.
You know, during the covid they’re like, impor important work and you know, the heart of Canada. And then they start up again. They’re like, here’s our production of Grace
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. And then they were like, here’s our sixth show season. As
we were doing Exactly before. Yeah, exactly.
I was one of those people. I was, I was optimistic. Things are gonna change and some things. are changing, which is nice, but not nearly as much as I was hoping is changing in the post pandemic world. So it’s still, it’s still a journey that we’re on, I guess.
Phil Rickaby: Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, I would be, my nerd heart would be remiss if I didn’t speak to you about a very important topic, and that’s Raggle Rock.
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, , yes.
Phil Rickaby: uh, I, as many people did, I grew up with Sesame Street and then the Muppet Show and then Fra Fraggle Rock. That was like the sort of like the, the , the, the toddler childhood, like early teens.
That was like the, the
Andrew G. Cooper: I’m right with you.
Phil Rickaby: And, um, as somebody who grew up with, with, with Fraggle Rock, what was it like to work on like the new.
Andrew G. Cooper: It’s, I, I still can’t really put it into words. It, it’s truly magical in like a real, real sense of it. I have da, we can now talk about, uh, season two was just announced a couple weeks ago after, uh, day won an Emmy for the first season. So I still have days where I’m on set and I just look around. and go, wow.
I am, I am in Franco Rock right now. I’m like, these sets, which just won an Emmy, they’re huge there. There’s like a waterfall that’s like 20 feet tall, and these sets, it’s like a 360. They’re just incredible and, and the people are all amazing. It’s, it’s very really the, the most wonderful production I’ve ever had the chance to work on.
It just, yeah, I love it. It’s so,
Phil Rickaby: I do have to say that the first season was one of the worst kept secrets in Canada
Andrew G. Cooper: I know everyone in Calgary
knew, especially the public community
Phil Rickaby: everybody. who did Eddie Puppetry in Canada was suddenly in Calgary. And you’re like, I wonder what’s going on.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yes. Exactly. Every, yeah. Well, we had a big migration of like the Toronto area artists. Every, like, all the local people here knew about it. It just,
and we’re like, yeah.
we’re working on something. We just can’t say what, so everyone would know what you meant.
Phil Rickaby: Yes, of course they did. Of course they did. Um, So did you also, you also grew up with like the Sesame Straight Muppet show, ragga Rock, and, and, and, yeah.
Andrew G. Cooper: Fraggle Rock was just a, a little bit before my time, but I did watch it, but my older sisters watched it regularly as it was coming out, and then we had all the Muppet movies. Definitely Sesame Street. So my mom, funnily enough, uh, was a big puppet fan. She hosted, uh, a puppet show on local TV when we lived in Vernon, British Columbia, where I was born.
And all of my siblings were like dressed up in animal costumes or would help her puppeteer. So she had her own puppet show that was very much in the Muppet style and inspired by the Muppets. Um, so I think that puppetry. Really in my family in like a really concrete way for a really long time. So when she figured out, uh, found out about Frankl Rock, she just was as excited as I was cuz she just loved them for so, so long.
Phil Rickaby: I’ll bet, I’ll bet. Um, when did you start, I mean, aside from what your mother was doing, when did you start like taking on like puppetry and working with that?
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, I got into puppetry as an as a stage actor, so I worked with a company in Camloops, BC where I went to school called Project Protects Theater. It was a rep outdoor summer theater company. So they originally would do one Shakespeare production and, and pair it with a kind of a family production, and then it eventually went more into.
TYA production paired with a kind of general audience production, but because there was a lot of family shows and a adaptations of literature, we did a lot of shows with puppets. So as a performer, I was learning the skills of puppetry just to be in these shows, and I was doing it so much that eventually thought, oh, I should go get some real puppetry training.
So I did the BAM Intensive with the old trout. From Calgary, and that was my first real exposure was three weeks of puppet training at the BAM Center, which was amazing. And that program, uh, it ran any every other year for probably a decade, and I don’t think it’s running anymore, or I would tell everyone to go do it because it was amazing in life changing.
But after that, I just got hooked and I created my own puppet show, sort of a device theater show that was an adaptation of a very dark Grims fairytale. We did a five city French tour of that. Brave reviews and now I just use puppetry in most of my work, or not most, but a lot.
Phil Rickaby: hmm.
Andrew G. Cooper: I also have a dance background, so I use a lot of movement, dance, puppetry, stage combat, like a lot of just physical vocabulary in the shows that I built.
So they’re very kinetic and very physical. Uh, that’s, that’s sort of as like a cornerstone of what my work is as a director. So puppetry already fit so well into. The kind of work I was attracted to anyways. And now I’m doing a lot of mask and, and puppet work and, and doing work like the Jungle Book, where I just go into a big theater and they need a puppet director or a designer.
And I, I work with actors who aren’t puppeteers as well as bring in puppeteers and, and do coaching and those sort of things. So yeah, puppetry slowly, I guess it was probably 2016 when I did that intensive. So for the last six years it’s been puppets, puppets, puppets for me.
Phil Rickaby: Hmm. What was your, I mean, you mentioned your mom, uh, doing like children’s t television. What was your theater origin story? What drew you to the theater?
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, so I, I remember seeing some plays and such when I, when I was young, what really got me into it, and I, I grew up in a certain sex of Christianity. I grew up Mormon, so there was always like, we would, like put on shows and like all these different things. But when I was in high school, a friend of mine who’s.
Mom ran the, one of the local dance studios was like, oh, you like to move and you should come and take some hip hop classes. And then that same friend after, I was like, sure, I’ll try. It was like, oh, we need more guys in musical theater. So of. Of course, I was like, sure, I’ll take this musical theater class.
And there is, and still is, like a shortage of, of male roles. Like in, in the education systems. I find once you get into the professional world, they’re like, oh yeah, of course we have a zillion women and only two roles for women so that the problem switches. But, but in high school there were like, we need more guys to come and take musical theater.
So we did, um, West Side Story was my first play ever, and I was just completely hooked after that. So I did another year of that for my 12th, uh, grade, 12 year. And then I wanted to go to school, so I got my bachelor’s degree and I just kept going and going. And it was a performer for. Um, through, through my undergrad I was focusing on performance and then coming outta school and then I realized, oh, no one’s gonna hire me just cuz I’m some young kid just outta school.
So I just started making my own work and I had already been writing a lot of other things, so I started writing and producing and directing, and I very quickly realized that I have a much stronger affinity and a stronger love for that sort of work. And I was like, oh, everyone. Is a better performer than I am.
I should focus on the things that I can excel at, and that is, is writing and directing. So I’m glad that I had that realization. And I still perform sometimes as like I’m doing Frigo rock, so it’s not like I never ever perform, but, but in the theater world, I’m mostly a director and a writer now.
Phil Rickaby: Hmm. Do you miss it?
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, yeah, I love the stage. And ev, I, I also did improv for a long time, uh, and I did, I started an improv comedy troupe in Kalos, and then when I came up to Calgary, the, the famous loose Mose is here. So I, I done that a few times and I, I’m like, oh, I just love, oh, and speaking of Kim’s convenience, the first time I went to Loose Mose, there was this, I think it was like the, for.
Anniversary and a whole bunch of loose mooses came back, including Andrew Fung. So I got to do comedy with Andrew Fung, and I, I was just, this is amazing. So that was just like such a fun and exciting experience. Um, so yeah, every once in a while I go, yeah, I should get back on stage. But I do this thing as, as a, as a theater person that like, when I’m directing, I’m like, oh, I love directing.
And then near the end of the project I’m like, Ugh, directing, like, the next time I want to do, I wanna be a. and then I’ll do that and I’m like, oh, now I mis performing. And I like, I keep switching these hats. So it’s nice that I can do all these different things because then I, I never get kind of like bored.
I can always switch it up and try something else.
Phil Rickaby: That’s good. Um, you mentioned Fringe. Um, do you find, because I Fringe is, uh, depending on every city is different. So when you’re traveling with fringes, the shows, you know, you, you, you’ve learned how to adapt to an audience really quickly. Um, when you took your show to the Fringe festivals, what cities did you do?
Andrew G. Cooper: We did just Western Canada, so we did Winnipeg, Regina, I did the show in Calgary, but it wasn’t technically part of the Fringe. Then we did Vancouver and Victoria,
Phil Rickaby: Hmm.
Andrew G. Cooper: we didn’t do Edmonton, but have been to the Edmonton Fringe a zillion times. Just that show we didn’t take there.
Phil Rickaby: there’s, uh, there’s a company that I, I did, uh, some, some of the Western fringes like 12 years ago. And, uh, there was a company that, they were originally from the States and now they’re based in Vancouver, um, called the Wonder Headss, and
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, I love them.
Phil Rickaby: They’re so amazing. They’re so amazing. I’ve been a fan ever since I saw their show Moon.
Um, and, uh, you know, we, they, at one point they were like talking about, well, we only ever star, star start in Winnipeg and we go west. And we were like, you know, we’re a Toronto group. We’re like, why do you, why would you not come to Toronto? And, and they said something and I, I think, I still think they’re right.
And it’s because they, they’d heard that Toronto was hostile to out of town performers.
Andrew G. Cooper: interesting.
Phil Rickaby: And although I wouldn’t call it hostile. It’s not exactly friendly. There are other cities where people come from out of town and everybody’s like, have you heard of this show from Camelo? You gotta see it.
And but in Toronto, they’re like, shows from out of town.
We’re just looking for the next, uh, show from here that we can, you know,
Andrew G. Cooper: We want the next games convenience or whatever.
Phil Rickaby: Exactly. Exactly. But apparently it can only come from here. And so that’s sort of like, and it’s not the fringe that does that sort of, the media does it. The audience sort of follows that. It’s so, it’s, it’s kind of, uh, too bad.
Cuz I know that, I knew that. I knew that the Wonder Hood, the Wonder Headss work would like explode once people saw it.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, it’s funny. I also have not been out to the Toronto French, but I’ve never had a strong desire to, because I’m like, well, if I’m doing Edmonton, Winnipeg, Vancouver, I’m like, those are the fringe capitals. And we were talking earlier about the kind of differences between kind of Canada and the US and the fringe circuit is something that Canada does
so so well.
I love Canadian fringes. I’ve done the. A few, three or four times now and it’s just, yeah, like you said, every city’s a little different, but you get to know kind of the differences of each city once you go back and, and then they get, they start to know your work. If you’re a returning artist, then just, it’s such a great place to try out new work.
Then that’s somewhere when new work I think can really thrive cuz it is inherently commercial. as a whole. There is, there’s a lot of things about capitalism that I don’t like, but the, the, the idea that a show will succeed if it is. Good enough to like, if it can settle enough tickets, whatever good enough means.
But that makes artists, I think, work hard to create good art. Whatever good is entertaining or thoughtful, Provo, whatever they’re going for. But if word of mouth goes, then the, then a show can soar and, and the fringe is where that can happen. It’s, it’s just like the, the free market of theater and I love it.
Phil Rickaby: It really is. And I think that that’s a great, that’s a great sort of a way to speak about it, is the, the sort of like the free market of, of, of theater because you know, you are like, you’re, you’re, you’re out there pushing your show, you’re doing all this work, but you also as a performer learn so much about your show,
Andrew G. Cooper: yeah, yeah,
yeah, yeah. Even between cities it can change cuz you’re like, oh, you know, I did six shows in Winnipeg and I’m like, ah, there’s a few little things that are not landing. Let’s just switch those up when we get to Edmonton. You know, like you can make changes on the go. This whole changing of new work.
We were talking before, you can do that in one tour over one summer, and then you have a. So well refined cuz you’ve done a hundred performances or something, or you
Phil Rickaby: And what’s awesome about that, about that is the next time you do that show, like I I’ve show that I’ve taken around is called, uh, the Last Man Earth. It’s a, uh, a play in the style of silent film with Keystone Theater. And we would, the first time we did it, we did it at at a Festival of Clowns, even though we’re not technically clowns, but we did it there and then we sort of reworked it after that.
And then we did a fringe tour. And every time we do it again, we can sort of come back and revisit it and like, what did we learn from the last time? What did we learn from the last time? And to do that between fringes, you can. Show that is so tight and so different once it gets to Vancouver as opposed to when you started out.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yes. Yeah, and which is nice. I like sometimes starting with some, some smaller shows. I, I think that we started in Reg Regina of all places, but I like starting with the small fringes like Regina Calgary. because it’s tryouts, you know, and you get to get it under your skin. So by the time we got to Vancouver and Victoria, we were getting five star reviews cuz we had kind of worked our way up and we were really hitting our stride.
So yeah, there’s something beautiful about seeing a show evolve over one summer as well.
Phil Rickaby: it’s, I mean, you talk about not, not having a desire to go to Toronto if you’re starting in Winnipeg and you know, like Winnipeg is like the second biggest fringe in
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, it’s, yeah, , it’s a big one.
Phil Rickaby: it’s a big one, and then Edmonton. So if you’re doing those and that’s your experience at Fringe, uh, I know people are like, I can’t wait to get to Toronto.
It must be huge. And I’m like, you’re gonna be so
Andrew G. Cooper: No
Phil Rickaby: It’s not anything like that at all. It’s not anything like that at all.
Andrew G. Cooper: no. Calgary is tiny as well, and and I think it’s because we’re so close to Ed Edmonton. Everyone’s like, well, may as well go to Edmonton. It’s like the mecca of Frenches.
Phil Rickaby: I think people, like if you were doing a fringe tour, that’s why you would go to Calgary. Like, cuz you have like the opportunity, you started Winnipeg and then you have the time in between. You’re like, I will
Andrew G. Cooper: You may, yeah.
Phil Rickaby: or I will go to Calgary. Whichever one.
Andrew G. Cooper: You go to one of them,
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. . Yeah.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. It’s a funny thing, but yeah, I, I love it. And when Fringe just started coming back, I was like, now theater is back in Canada finally.
Phil Rickaby: Absolutely, absolutely. It. This is this, this past summer, although fringe felt weird this past year, um, in, in Toronto, it was not quite. Back, you know, we still had, like, you had the, the dichotomy of like, masks were mandatory, but after a while the staff was a little tired of fighting with some people. And so there’s like, things get all of that sort of thing.
And I would know, I know people who are on the tour and you’d be like, okay, so they’ve ha they’re having to cancel shows cuz they’ve got covid. It’s like hopefully we will have a a a a regular fringe again
Andrew G. Cooper: Sue. Sue. Hopefully
Phil Rickaby: I wanna talk about, uh, uh, Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yes, I’m
Phil Rickaby: me about, tell me about that production.
Because, you know, Frankenstein is, I mean, it, some people, when they think of, of Frankenstein, they think of the silent movie. They think of, uh, uh, uh, you know, the green guy, we think he’s green, but
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. Gloria Carla.
Phil Rickaby: Barlow, Boris Carlo, and, you know, we, that’s how we think of, of the story. But it’s so much more than just that.
tell me about what you love about Frankenstein and, and, and about this production that you’re working.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, so I read. Frankenstein, I think in my like introductory to English class in my first year as an undergraduate student. And I just fell in love with it immediately. I’ve always loved Monster fiction anyways, and, and this is like early, early sci-fi and I love early sci-fi. Um, yeah, the, and there’s just something that’s so.
Beautiful, beautiful and tragic about this story, and as you said, yes, a lot of people think of this sort of like gut monosyllabic, like non-speaking person, but, but the beauty I think of Frankenstein is how eloquent. He become like, the creature becomes this persuasive and eloquent force and it’s, ah, it’s just such a beautiful story.
It’s so human, which I love. And really at its heart, for me at least, the, the, it’s the themes of, of being an outcast, of trying to find your place, of not fitting in and of how we treat people who are others. And those themes. Every time I do this show, I’m like, oh, this show is for today because. Of the same themes.
The very first kind of workshop production I did in Cams was right during the, the wave of Me Too, like the, the first big wave of Me Too. And I was like, this story is so relevant right now. And then we’re, we’re getting ready to do it again. We did another workshop last October. Um, and then our, our big premier is coming up this upcoming march, so we’re gonna be doing it with Jupiter Theater here in Calgary.
And, and coming out of Covid and all of the. The big waves that have been happening with Black life matter and the indigenous movements, and I, I just think, oh yes, this is the play for our time, and it just keeps happening, which tells me that, oh, these themes are universal. That
unfortunately this story of how we treat others and people being outcasts and, and being others, that that’s not going away.
So, so it, it’s unfortunate, but it’s still relevant. it was relevant cuz it’s 200 years old, so it’s probably just like Shakespeare. It’s probably not gonna go anywhere. These, these themes are, are kind of universal themes of the human condition. So, so that draws me to it. And then in terms of the production, we mentioned before how I love movement and puppetry and, and all those sort of things.
So the, the production itself has a lot of movement. The creature doesn’t speak a lot and learns to speak over the first act of the show, so there’s a lot of non-verbal. A non-verbal acting happening and, and a beautiful movement. There’s puppetry moments, there’s a lot of mask moments that the supernatural elements from the novel I’ve keyed in on, especially the kind of like ghosts and the, the haunting and, and fixture Frankenstein’s.
Disintegrating psychology. So I’m using masks as metaphor. So there’s elements of dance, movement, mask, puppetry, shadows, so all the, the things that I said I, I often use as trademarks in my show. So it’s highly visual, highly spectacle, and I find that these. These amazing classic stories and, and especially stories that lean into sci-fi, supernatural or fantasy.
They’ve really lend to this very highly visual style that I’m drawn to. So something I’ve been trying to do with Jupiter Theater especially is to get more speculative. Speculative fiction on stage. I’m constantly advocating that we need more sci-fi and fantasy on stage because I love those things, and I just think that the liveness of those can be so unique and, and so thrilling.
So that’s, that’s what I’m really excited about with this production that’s coming up in March. And I, I, yeah, we’re, we’re starting soon and I just keep getting fired up about what’s, what’s gonna happen in 2023.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. I, I think there’s, there’s, I’ve thought for a while there’s not enough genre on our stages.
Andrew G. Cooper: yeah.
Phil Rickaby: Um, you know, there was a time where that, that was where horror happened. If there was, if you know, you, there were Dracula, Frankenstein, the, the, the, you know, the. Jacqueline Hyde. These were all like plays that happened on stages and terrified people at the time.
Um, and then at a certain point we just decided, we decided that we just don’t do that anymore. Our theaters are for more, you know, we like a living room. We like, uh,
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, it’s bizarre.
Phil Rickaby: yeah. Somehow we just sort of stopped doing that, and yet there’s nothing more visceral than seeing a play in a theater and see being afraid in a.
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, it’s, it’s amazing. So Calgary’s very blessed. They do have a genre theater, vertigo, which their, their mandate is around mysteries. But the last artistic director who has just left Craig Hall really was pushing for thrillers as well as mystery, which they’re very, very similar. So I’ve seen some amazing thrillers on stage at Portico.
I just. Stephen King’s misery, and it was fantastic. It was just so, I was like, I couldn’t believe what they were doing, like sludge, hammers, breaking people’s legs, you know, torturing people on stage and being in the audience and feeling the, the jump scares and feeling people’s kind of horror. I, I just, yeah, like you said, it’s just so fun.
It’s so amazing being in a communal space to, to get that, and I constantly want more of that. So yeah, that’s sort of what I’m chasing, right.
Phil Rickaby: I remember being, you know, in my day job, I work with people who are not theater people. And I was having a conversation with, with someone who just is they, they didn’t really get theater. Why theater? Why not just movies? Um, and I. I tried to explain and talked about, you know, how violence on stage is more visceral on stage than in a movie.
Um, and you can sort of see it where, you know, in a show if somebody gets slapped, that ripples through the entire audience. And if it happens in a movie, people are just like, eh,
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. You’re like,
Phil Rickaby: the same impact. Right.
Andrew G. Cooper: Totally
Phil Rickaby: I did a production of the Scottish Play years ago where the murderers, um, that came to, to kill MacDuffs family.
Um, lady McDuff had a baby, and so we took the baby from her. We acted like it was gonna be fine, and then after her son got killed, we just sort of like turned the neck
Andrew G. Cooper: Ugh.
Phil Rickaby: piece of balsa wood in there. So like just the slightest snap and the way the audience just sort of like, entirely like, as.
As a entity Recoils from that, you
Andrew G. Cooper: yeah.
Phil Rickaby: just that in in itself. You wonder why, like why are we not putting more of this like stuff this visceral stuff on our stages if the audience is going to like buy into it so much.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, I love that. And there is a moment in Frankenstein from, from the novel where the young. Son, who I think is like 10 in the novel, gets murdered, gets strangled by the creature. And in our workshop productions, we, we’ve typically had a, a 10 year old play that role and just the way that people react to a child being violently murdered on, it’s so macab, but it’s so.
Delightful. Like, it’s such a visceral reaction. And I think people love that because, I mean, because of the safety of theater that you can go and you can feel this huge emotion, but, but you do know that there’s safety, but it, it’s different as you said in, in a film, there’s so much. Distance. You’re like, oh, I can feel that.
And that’s terrible, but when there’s a living, breathing, 10 year old in danger right there. But yeah, there’s something special about that kind of feeling that happens between people in a space.
Phil Rickaby: absolutely. There’s that moment of like, I, I really think it’s because, you know, on stage it’s, there is that distance, or sorry, in, in film there is that dis distance, you know, you see the screen, it’s not really happening. Um, but something about having somebody who’s breathing who might be sweat. You know, you, you just, you buy into it so much more in, in the theater.
And I wish, I kind of think that if, if, if we could give more people that experience in the theater, I think we would see an influx of audiences to our theaters.
Andrew G. Cooper: No, exactly. It’s not just stuffy plays in a living room or, or great plays in a living room. I just saw theater Calgary’s, um, the importance of being earnest. I love the play. The production was fantastic. It still is funny. They did a really great job and I was like, you know what? Great night out of the theater.
There’s nothing wrong, you know, with these comedies, but that’s not the kind of shows that I produce personally, and I can enjoy them. But, but I think we would get different people coming to the theater. With these very different kinds of productions,
and that’s something we definitely need in Canada is we need new, younger, different audiences watching live theater if, if,
live theater is gonna continue.
Phil Rickaby: That’s the thing. We, we always have all these conversations. There’s the hand ringing of like, where is our audience going? You know,
Andrew G. Cooper: Right.
Phil Rickaby: audience going? And you have to look at what you’re putting on the stage as the, as the answer. Because if you’re not giving something that like, Young people want to see or like that, that audiences want to see.
They’re just not gonna come. It’s easier for them to stay home and see what’s on Netflix or Hulu or whatever services they have. You have to give them something exciting to bring them out that they can only see there.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, and so much of the conversation about audiences is focused on marketing, but as we were just discussing audiences about is about programming. Like whoever, what, what you choose to put on the stage is going to reflect who’s coming to see it, which is why there’s such a great resurgence right now of diversity in
Phil Rickaby: mm-hmm.
Andrew G. Cooper: People of other cultures writing or directing or producing work. And that inherently will bring different sort of peoples, because other people wanna see those stories. It’s not just for, for me, as a white male presenting person, like I like certain things, but other people who don’t typically go to the theater.
And this is one of the, the things about the jungle. That I actually really loved is, the original vision for this show was to really reclaim it from a South Asian perspective and the, the moments, uh, that are about South Asian culture that I really didn’t know much about. Coming before coming into the process.
They’re beautiful and I think more people should be witnessing these sort of acts on stage. And I hope that a lot of South Asian people in Calgary are going to see this because there are moments that are so lovely in the show and, and that’s something that I was excited about and, and needs to happen more.
And one of the elements of the show that I think meets more workshopping and more time and, and those sort of things. It’s lovely seeing that some of these changes, as we discussed, are starting to happen and and need to happen faster.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Yeah. I mean the, the, the advantage to the stoppage of theater was in theory the theaters could have the conversations that they would had been putting off because they were in a cycle of production. You can’t have important conversations about diversity, about, about, you know, who’s on the stage, who do you serve, that sort of thing.
Uh, if you’re just like always in the
Andrew G. Cooper: Okay. Cranking it out.
Phil Rickaby: That’s right. Um, so it’s great. Those conversations were. Um, but you know, I’m looking around at some theater companies being like, do you remember we had that conversation? Do you,
Andrew G. Cooper: do
Phil Rickaby: remember? Because I remember,
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. Yeah. I Another aspect of, of this kind of different. What makes, I think theater unique and is the things that you can’t see on film. And one of those from me is the puppets, which is, and this is the reason why I love puppetry so much, is because as you’re, we were saying about the danger of like, oh, there’s a living, breathing, sweating, human on, danger on stage.
I think there’s something really magical about when people really. Puppets and they start to go, oh, that is a living, breathing, sweating thing, even though it’s not. But when people really buy in, I think that the trick of theater is imagination this. So this is my thesis. I’m gonna stand on that, that it’s a shared imaginative space between the actors and the audience.
Everyone knows it’s not real. Whereas film often, not always, but most of the time in film, you’re, you’re going for realism, even if it’s superheroes public. But, but the lens, you’re, you’re trying to find a realistic format. But I think in theater, Or at least what’s interesting for me is, is finding this imaginative space where we both know it’s not real, but we buy in anyways.
And puppets take that and they turn it up to 10. Cuz you’re like, this is just wood and cloth and paint. You definitely for sure know this isn’t real, but once you start to buy in and care about it, you can just, you can sort, you can run on this journey. You can really go to new heights and it loves. I also love that puppets can do things that.
Can’t. So in the, in the little, as an example in this French show that I set this Dark fairytale show, the Robert Bridegroom, one of the reasons why we wanted to use puppets originally was we wanted to find a story that we do things that humans can’t. So we had this scene where this little girl gets.
Dismembered, like chopped up and put into a soup pot, which is what happens in brother’s fairy tales because they’re actually very dark. So for a puppet, you spend the first half of the show getting them to love this character. And then in the finale, this terrible guy. Murders her, it literally rips her limbs up and cuts her up on stage.
That there’s something that, that, of course, yes, we wouldn’t be able to murder someone on stage and you could maybe do tricks, but not to the level we did it. We really pushed it far and I’m like, yes. That’s why puppets are so great. You get people to buy in and then you can do something that, that a human would never be able to do and I, I just love those moments so much.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah, that suspension of disbelief is a magical thing about theater because you can, I mean, it’s amazing. You can be like, all right, here we are on stage, and then if I turn the lights blue and I say, we’re all underwater. Everybody just like, accepts, okay, we’re underwater. Nobody like, well, the special effects weren’t that great.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, exactly. . Yeah, yeah, yeah,
Phil Rickaby: we’re underwater. You
Andrew G. Cooper: yeah. And I.
mean, that goes all the way back to Greek and Shakespeare where you’re just like, ah, here is the place that we are at. And everyone’s like, cool. Great. We
know where we
Phil Rickaby: I kind of, I kind of always appreciate that about Shakespeare cuz he’ll walk into the room and he’ll just be like, now we are in space. And the audience is like, yeah, okay, we’re
Andrew G. Cooper: Okay. We are space.
Phil Rickaby: Um, The, the thing about Puppet is I, I’m, I’m reminded of, you know, you know, occasionally like these clips come up of like, uh, Muppet with people back in the day, you know, like, like especially the children.
And, uh, years ago I was doing, uh, uh, uh, at, at uh, park, there was like, there’s a beloved Char character on Ontario called Pru. It’s like this weird thing. And I was doing that for the summer, but we were rehearsing outdoors and so we didn’t have the full outfit on. We just had the head on.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah.
Phil Rickaby: Somebody was, we didn’t know that anybody was bringing their kids in, but some one employee brought their, their child in going by on some golf cart, sees poo and freaks out and start trying again. We’re thinking, we don’t have the body, we just have the head. What do we do? The child didn’t care
Andrew G. Cooper: Right.
they just saw it and they knew and they believe it.
Phil Rickaby: That’s right. And you see that with like these, these clips of like Kermit and the little girl trying to do her ABCs, but saying, saying Cookie Monster, like Jim Henson is kneeling at her feet
Andrew G. Cooper: Yes, right there. And she can see it, even though the camera can, and we as the audience can. Yes, those people can for sure see it.
Phil Rickaby: but she ignores it entirely. She’s just like, I am just talking to, to Kermit. And it’s amazing that kids do that, and I think adults do that too.
Anytime I’ve ever seen, uh, uh, any adult interacting with the Muppets, they just, they, they don’t care about these people. They just
Andrew G. Cooper: They believe. That’s what it is. Yeah. Yeah. And I see that I’m very fortunate. I do see that at work a lot, that you’re like, oh, it’s so easy to just go, that character is alive and is real, and you just, you erase everything else. And that’s, yeah, that’s one of the beauties of good puppetry. That event, the, the audience will, uh, and on stage where puppeteers are almost always in full view, the audience will just forget.
and they’ll just see this, this being breathing on stage and forget about the rest and yeah, there’s magic in that. I love
Phil Rickaby: there was a, there’s sort of like an, an adult version of the Muppets that does like this improv show. They travel around. I saw it. Uh, they came to Toronto and they like, they just, there’s just on stage, they just have the Muppets. There’s nothing
Andrew G. Cooper: Yep. Yeah. Yeah. I’ve done
Phil Rickaby: do have a screen. They do have a screen where you can like, choose to just watch the Muppets.
But it’s just incredible just to watch like how quickly you just go. There’s a person there, but I don’t care. I’m just gonna watch the.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yep. Yep. Because it’s, it’s alive.
Yeah. It’s it, Yeah
It’s a magic trick. It, and
that’s why I think it’s so wonderful to do for the theater.
Phil Rickaby: I remember when I was performing Poo, cuz he is just like this big thing. He’s like, you wear this, you wear this, this, this thing. It sits here, but the head’s like way up here. Um, and I remember the first time I put that on, uh, I got the first note and it was like, so you’re doing a lot with your body, but that doesn’t matter because the head is dead.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, of course.
Phil Rickaby: It’s, you have to move around. And of course, what that meant in that was that I have to like move my entire torso around to get the head moving. But if I didn’t do that, there was no life in it.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah.
Phil Rickaby: it’s amazing how quickly that will kill it. No matter what you’re doing with your body. How quickly, just like the, the inanimate thing can just like,
Andrew G. Cooper: Yep. Yeah. It’s all about, uh, puppetry. It’s all about focusing your energy into that object, all of your energy and that yeah, that’s what I think could really help the audience see this as a living thing. It’s a beautiful medium. I love it.
Phil Rickaby: Yeah. Obviously.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yep.
Phil Rickaby: thing, another thing that you would like that you’re a huge nerd for is, is space.
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, yes.
Phil Rickaby: Tell me, did you fall in love with space through science fiction or on its own?
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, that’s a great question. My, I think through science fiction, so I, I’ve liked science fiction for a really long time. Like I grew up watching. . Well, I consider this science fantasy . I’m getting really nitty gritty, but I grew up watching Star Wars and, and other shows, um, reading a lot of science fiction.
Um, yeah. And then I think when I got older, I started getting interested in physics. I took physics in high school and now I’m just a very casual science lover and I look a lot into astrophysics and astrobiology and I, I just. Space. So I such a nerd for it, and I do try, and what we were talking about, like bringing these sort of genre things to theater, and it’s so rare.
Sometimes fringe shows kind of go really wacky and will do something like hard sci-fi, um, or like a space opera, but it’s so rare to see those kind of things on stage. So when they, when they do happen and when they’re done, well, I really love it. Um, but I’m always trying to look for space. One of the sh the shows that I’m writing, right. about the, the aftermath of the discovery. Proof of extraterrestrial life is discovered and then these people trying to figure out, oh, what do we do now? Like, what, what does the world look like if, if this was a real thing that happened? It’s not a super original idea, but I’m having a lot of fun writing it and, and exploring that lens right now.
And a lot of that is research into kind of, for my own sake, like, oh, like. About the telescopes that would be used and the like at the wilder, the characters is an astronaut on the lunar gateway and they’re just, just all these things. So I just love exploring that world and I think that it’s very, very rich.
Phil Rickaby: How excited were you, uh, about the James Webb telescope?
Andrew G. Cooper: Oh, I I’ve been following that for so long, and when the images started coming, I just was like blown away. Uh, just honestly, every time there’s an update from it, I’m, I just cheer. I love it so much, especially because the, like Huble is still amazing, but there’s just. . It’s so, it’s so old now compared to what the James Web can do and some of the things it’s doing.
It’s just opening so many doors in that world. And for example, like being able to possibly discover organic life on very far away exoplanets is something that the James Web can conceivably do if such a thing does exist. So I, yeah, there’s just so many fun frontiers that are being explored right now.
I’m, I’m super jazzed about James Webb.
Phil Rickaby: Awesome. That’s, I mean that, I remember when it was going up, cause I remember when Hubble went up and Hubble went up and it was broken. For the
Andrew G. Cooper: Yes. I had to send someone yeah,
Phil Rickaby: they had to send up a repair man to fix it. And there was kind of like, so somebody mentioned that as they were like preparing to launch James Webb.
And I was like, and they. If something similar happens with James Webb, we’ve wasted a billion, do billions of
Andrew G. Cooper: Cause you cannot
Phil Rickaby: send somebody up to do it. To fix it.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, so even the deployment, like I was like following along on Twitter, just waiting like, oh, the, the, the arms are deploying. The, the mirrors are coming out. And I was like, is it gonna work?
Because yes, if if it doesn’t, if one little thing didn’t deploy properly, they’d be like, well, it’s just a piece of space junk now outta the garage point that we’re never gonna get to
Phil Rickaby: Yes. Yeah. Just incredible. I mean, huge. You have to have a lot of confidence, but also, I can’t imagine how tense the, uh, the ground crew was as that was all happening.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. NASA does some amazing stuff and, and the CSA as well, like Canada does have a lot of like Canada arm on the I Ss, but Canada, Canada’s also gonna be involved in the Luna Gateway that’s going up in the next year or so. So we are also doing some good things in space. Go Canada.
Phil Rickaby: I always remember cuz you know Canada arm is something that all every Canadian kid knew. Right?
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah. It’s on the
Phil Rickaby: that’s right. And if you talk to any American and you mentioned the Canada arm there, people would be like, the what?
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, exactly.
Phil Rickaby: It’s like, how can you not know about this? It’s foundational.
Andrew G. Cooper: They’re like, oh, what? Yeah. Well, yeah, exactly. . It’s just so ridiculous, but, but it’s something we’re very proud of here
As we should be an engineering feat.
Phil Rickaby: be. Absolutely. Absolutely. Um, so Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein, uh, uh, is going up in March.
Andrew G. Cooper: that’s right.
Phil Rickaby: Um, uh, when do you start rehearsals for that?
Andrew G. Cooper: We start the last week of February, so I’m gonna be finishing up with Fraggle Rock mid-February, and then I will be jumping into rehearsals just a couple weeks after that. We rehearse for a month and then we are gonna be opening at the end. March. So, and we were talking about this like cycle of, of theater, and I do feel that right now Frankenstein’s in a good place because I, I did it once in Camloops, we did a workshop production.
So most of the designs are all done. A lot of the props and caution pieces are. Finished. There’s a few new cast members, unfortunately, just because from the last workshop to this one, people’s availability changes. Um, but the show, I, I’m glad that I’m gonna be able to focus on the show rather than building and designing and, and all these other elements.
Whereas as I said, a lot of the time you’re like, huh, we have four weeks to premier a show from Designs building everyth. Actor’s rehearsal, the script still has to change. So the, the script has been in a good place for years. All a lot of the elements are done or ready, so we can just focus on, let’s create a show, let’s do the work in the rehearsal room and create something that audience will enjoy.
So, Yes, it’s, I, I feel kind of carefree about it, like there’s still more work to be done, obviously. But I feel ready because we’ve taken years and many different processes and it’s been tested in front of audiences and we’ve had feedback and we’ve done script workshops and tech workshops and yeah, like the lighting cues are done basically, like
we’ve already lit the show and it’s gonna change cause blocking will change and this and that.
But, but that puts us way ahead once we get into tech week. So yeah, I’m feeling really great going
into. and it’s going to be part of in Calgary with, because Calgary’s actually really big in the puppet scene. There’s a festival hill called the Festival of Animated Objects, and it’s all about masks and puppetry, and the show will be part of that this year, which I’m super excited about.
So people who love masks and puppets will be able to come and see it, and people who maybe just like Frankenstein or sci-fi or horror thrillers, I hope we’ll also be able to come out and see it.
Phil Rickaby: That’s awesome. That’s awesome.
Andrew G. Cooper: Yeah, very excited about it.
Phil Rickaby: Andrew G. Cooper, thank you so much for joining me today. Really appreciate you taking the time.
Andrew G. Cooper: Thanks so much, Phil. This was really lovely. It’s been a delight.