Esquimalt woman creates massive light-up puppet in driveway

During the pandemic, Jessica has found herself gardening more than ever before.

“I think most people maybe don’t realize it,” Jessica says before pulling out her gardening tools and planting some seeds. “But [they] crave to do something with their hands.”

While some build and others bake, Jessica is getting her hands dirty and waiting with wonder.

“I’m just going to plant these and hope they grow,” Jessica smiles. “You research and you do all those things but you don’t really know.”

But it wasn’t just in her backyard. Jessica was trying something new in her front yard too.

“When people are walking by, the kids are asking what it is,” Jessica says about the colourful collection of arms and legs she’s creating on her driveway. “And I’m like I don’t know!”

What Jessica does know is that it began with a curiosity about the potential of everyday objects.

“If I was to open this up,” she says, raising the lid of the cup in her hand. “There’s all of a sudden a mouth here.”

And when she adds the appearance of breath, a voice, and personality, the cup comes to life.

“It’s anything you can think of, my toque can be a puppet, my gloves,” she says before making her hat talk and her fingers walk over to the edge of nearby table and sit down. “Anything could become a puppet and has that possibility.”

Jessica started reading and watching whatever she could find about puppet-making, even seeking advice from an acclaimed puppet professional.

“Sometimes there’s puppet tears. [Not puppeteers] actual tears,” she says of the process of learning how to make and animate objects. “It’s very challenging. You try something and it didn’t work.”

But Jessica found pleasure in the problem-solving, persevered, and started posting her puppets on social media.

“Then I was approached, based on the puppets I posted on Instagram,” Jessica says, before pointing to the puppet appendages, huge torso, and bright-eyed head in the driveway. “[I was] commissioned to make this 20-foot lantern puppet.”

When the colourful puppet is complete, it will be worn by a professional performer in a Puente Theatre production that’s been commissioned by the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Thanks to the dozens of LED lights inside, it will no doubt earn glowing reviews.

“To see an object come to life and [hear people] react to it,” Jessica says, after I repeatedly say ‘wow’ watching her puppet light up. “I guess we get the same delight out of pulling a carrot [from the garden]. I did it!”

While gardening feeds her family, Jessica has found puppetry can nourish her soul.

“To build something with your hands feeds me in a way that nothing else seems to do.”