By Adrian Salopek, Staff Writer
As kids, watching puppets on TV was a surreal experience. Wonderfully wacky creatures helping you learn your ABCs, your 123s and ultimately becoming a friend in the process. Local puppeteer Benton Lowe has made a name for himself in Hamilton and has allowed puppeteering to flourish as an art form in the city.
By putting on shows at the Hamilton Public Library and appearing on local channels such as CHCH, Lowe is working to ensure that puppeteering is brought to the mainstream.
Originally from Carleton Place, a town outside of Ottawa, Lowe was inspired to practice puppeteering from a young age. Being exposed to shows like Sesame Street and growing up a short drive away from renowned Canadian producer and puppeteer Noreen Young, Lowe was very interested in what it takes to craft these characters from an early age.
“Noreen Young was my puppet grandma,” said Lowe. “She is an amazing puppeteer who did a lot of TV stuff. I really appreciated what she did.”
Although he loved puppets, it wasn’t until December of 2016 that Lowe began pursuing his current career. It was then that Jordan Lockhart, a friend and fellow puppeteer, helped Lowe realize what he wanted to do in life. As Lowe spoke with him, learning more about Lockhart's puppetry, he discovered a special interest in television puppetry. This prompted Lowe to buy a camera and a monitor to kickstart his own career as a puppeteer.
In order to make puppet shows believable, television monitors are used to allow each puppeteer to view what the audience would be seeing from home. This in turn allows them to get each shot right in order to make a more immersive connection between the viewer and the character.
“That’s how [puppets are] able to look into the camera and look at you, kind of like they’re looking at you through the screen. That’s the way we connect with people,” explained Lowe.
Lowe then moved to Nunavut in 2017 for a job where he was able to isolate qualities that he wanted to mimic in his own characters and practice puppeteering. He then participated in workshops in Texas with puppeteers like Noel MacNeal, who appeared on Sesame Street and was one of the people who originally inspired Lowe to pursue puppeteering.
“It was really cool kind of going full circle to be trained by them, because now I want to do what they inspired me to do,” said Lowe.
Puppetry is much more difficult than many might think, but Lowe has worked tirelessly to master the art form. A lot of energy has gone into making his puppetry style so seamless and his characters so relatable.
“I’ve definitely tried to master the art of bringing characters to life and studying human behaviour, an example of that is breathing,” said Lowe, “This can really make a character stand out and come to life.”
Lowe then moved to Hamilton and found there to be little puppeteering around upon arriving. He has since worked hard to change this. He turned the Hamilton Public Library’s mascot, Scout the Fox, into a recognizable puppet. He has also appeared in TV commercials on CHCH for the city as part of its “Spend it Here” holiday shopping campaign and has been featured on the channel’s morning segment. The city has embraced what Lowe is doing and his puppets are recognized by many, particularly children. During the Santa Claus parade of 2019, onlookers recognized his puppets when he was featured on the BookMobile.
“I could see the excitement of the kids . . . That’s when it really hit me — the impact of the character. I didn’t fully know, like now, that I had brought this character to life,” said Lowe.
Lowe has big plans for the future of Hamilton. He wants the city’s puppeteers to become a source of pride for Hamiltonians. He is now thinking of collaborating with different people within the community to explore possibilities of shooting a local show using puppetry right here in the city, reminiscent of the Hamilton-shot puppet show “Hilarious House of Frightenstein”, which aired in the 70s. He hopes to put Hamilton on the map for its talented puppeteers and artists.
“Hamilton really has the potential to create shows and entertainment locally in the city,” said Lowe. “[S]o I’m really collaborating with different people for a television series done locally in Hamilton and also not just shot locally and created locally, but done by local producers and even picked up by local broadcasters.”
You can see more of Lowe’s puppets and video content via his Facebook and Instagram.