Gay Strings Attached

Article excerpt

Master puppeteer Ronnie Burkett tells how he brought his wild cast of gay characters to life amid a turbulent year of his own

Canadian artist Ronnie Burkett is trying to answer that age-old question: Was he born a puppeteer, or was it because of the environment he grew up in? "It certainly wasn't the way I was raised," he says, laughing. "I would be a doctor or a lawyer, some white-collar guy. I opened the World Book Encyclopedia when I was 7, it fell open to puppets, and I said, `That's what I'll do.' It really was that easy."

Now 43, Burkett is in New York, chatting before an evening performance of Street of Blood. Playing at the New York Theatre Workshop, it's a featured show in the prestigious Henson International Festival of Puppet Theatre.

Street of Blood tells the sweet and sometimes campy story of Esme, an aging Hollywood star--turned-vampire; Eden, a gay terrorist who blows up bars to rile his community; and Edna, Eden's mom and a self-proclaimed "silly old biddy in a Sears housedress." The New York Times said Burkett's technical skills in bringing to life 14 characters--including the Turnip Corners Ladies Orchestrale, Ute Haagen-Dazs and Jesus--simply "astonishes."

The show feels so personal that--despite its fantastic elements --audiences assume it's very autobiographical. Burkett is happy to leave the question of what's real and what isn't to their imagination, but as he does make clear, "I will say that I've never been beaten bloody by my father while wearing a wedding dress."

You could call Street of Blood Burkett's "current" show, but he always has so many works scheduled for performance around the world that this seems misleading. Street of Blood, for example, is part of a trilogy that includes Tinka's New Dress and Happy (with Happy scheduled to play throughout Canada from November to April and in London next summer). …