luminus toronto

Glowing puppets are taking over Toronto's streets at night

If you've noticed ghostly glowing figures meandering through the Toronto streets at night, your eyes aren't deceiving you: it's the latest lantern puppet project from a local theatre company.

You might be familiar with Clay and Paper Theatre from similar experiences: perhaps you were lounging in Dufferin Grove one day when a parade of tall, colourful, zany figures made their way through the park, providing one of their well-known community performances.

So far the group has mystified the Esplanade, Davenport and College/Gladstone areas with the glowing lantern puppet project, called LuminUS.

"LuminUS was partly created out of the depth of our own need for light during these very dark and challenging pandemic times. We wanted to create an experience that would help to remind us of the interconnectedness of all life, using giant glowing luminous animals and life-sized human lantern puppets," Tamara Romanchuk, co-artistic director for Clay and Paper Theatre, told blogTO.

"As performers who work exclusively in public space with puppets and big images, we wanted to see if Clay and Paper Theatre could share that light with communities in a safe-distance, hyper-localized way. My Clay and Paper Theatre co-artistic director partner, David Anderson is also my husband, and together we could continue to work safely in the studio."

Though nothing is more Toronto than Clay and Paper, LuminUS was actually partially inspired by an event that takes place in Picton, which helped Romanchuk and Anderson to conceive of a way to perform in a distanced fashion this winter.

"We got super interested in sculpting with reed, the same material you would use to make baskets, and exploring the use of LED lights in puppetry. We were also really inspired and helped by our good friends and colleagues at the Department of Illumination in Picton. They have a truly magical annual event called the Firelight Lantern Festival," says Romanchuk.

"Last fall Clay and Paper Theatre also got a chance to do a parade-in-place, an adapted and very small version of our Annual Night of Dread parade and pageant. Residents around Dufferin Grove Park could still experience this community ritual by watching our small procession of stilters, puppeteers and drummers safely, from a distance."

Clay and Paper ended up staging their first LuminUS performance in the Esplanade neighbourhood as it's where community organization Jamii is located, a group that had been putting on similar distanced performances.

"For our appearance on the Esplanade, Jamii created a Facebook event and then they live streamed the first evening online. Subsequently, we did other mobile street and courtyard performances for people in various buildings. We did this same type of very localized outreach and performing for residents in Davenport neighbourhoods in mid-March," says Romanchuk.

"Right now LuminUS has had to be very carefully shared with the community, for health and safety reasons, as I'm sure you can appreciate. We've done outreach to TCH buildings, shelters, seniors homes and low-rise apartment buildings or townhouses, to ask permission to perform for folks so that they can watch from windows and balconies only."

Clay and Paper Theatre has always been a beloved quirky fixture in Toronto, but Romanchuk has been surprised by a warmer response than ever before, even as the company has battled wind and cold weather to put on their performances in the only way possible.

"Clay and Paper Theatre has always developed, built and rehearsed most of our shows all out in the open in the park during the summer and fall, so that people can see the artmaking process right up close. And the public also sometimes participates in that process with us. So we're used to hearing from folks," says Romanchuk.

"But being back out on the street with LuminUs we weren't quite prepared for how moved people have been. Folks are so enthusiastic and generous with their applause and kind words. And our Clay and Paper Theatre performers are blown away by it all. They've really been affected by the palpable need for connection."

If you've been feeling a need for connection too and feel like a light-up puppet show might be just the ticket, the puppets Clay and Paper is calling "Lumins" could be coming to your neighbourhood too.

"We're building more Lumins, which is what we like to call our glowing lantern puppet beings, the different animals and the life-sized humans. In November and December of 2021, we will be working with residents in the Parkway Forest Park area (Don Mills and Shepherd), offering folks some lantern making workshops," says Romanchuk.

"And then we'll animate their streets with a more developed version of  LuminUS. We're incredibly grateful for the City of Toronto's #ShowLoveTO activation grant that is making our work in Parkway Forest Park possible."

Lead photo by

Clay and Paper Theatre

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