Hants’ Faces Friday – Struan Robertson

Published on September 8, 2017

Struan Robertson works at the Mermaid Theatre’s shop where he creates and builds puppets, sets and more.

©Colin Chisholm

WINDSOR, N.S. – Ever stop by Mermaid Theatre on Gerrish Street and admire the puppets? Meet Struan Robertson, a puppet-making maestro who can often be found working hard at the Mermaid Theatre Workshop in Windsor. He makes everyday objects like wood and plastic come to life.

Robertson said one of the best aspects of his career has been the rush he gets from audience feedback, both as a performer and a creator.

Starting out as a performer, Struan Robertson has switched gears and now teaches workshops in creating characters and set pieces that are seen all over the world.
Colin Chisholm

“I’m a shop guy and I teach puppetry. I’ve been with Mermaid now 11 years. I got my start with touring, touring North America and Asia, and then they put me in the shop and now I build the set pieces and puppets that tour all over the place. I was doing a show called Goodnight Moon and the Runaway Bunny and that just took me all over the world, and now I’m building stuff. And it hasn’t really stopped. This summer I just got back from China and Singapore where I was teaching puppetry, so I still do a lot of traveling. Now it’s more about teaching, showing them how to move objects through space, how to make them.”

Starting out as a performer, Struan Robertson has switched gears and now teaches workshops in creating characters and set pieces that are seen all over the world.
Colin Chisholm

“Teaching is not really different from one place to the next you know? Kids are kids. They want to explore the medium. So if you’re teaching the child the art of puppetry or how to build stuff, they’re going to take a look at all of these objects and see what they can do. One of the things we do is found-object puppetry, so we fill the room full of recycled materials that kids have seen everyday and throw away – like pop bottles, water bottles, coffee trays – and we say ‘OK, make stuff.’ So we challenge them to take everyday objects and make them beautiful. It doesn’t change from one culture to the next because these kids find the love and find the beauty.”

Struan Robertson poses with his workshop mannequin companion who he named John Allen MacLean after a performer of the same name dressed in the mannequin’s clothes to scare Robertson in a prank.
Colin Chisholm

“I got a call that a store in Windsor was throwing out a mannequin, so I was like, man, I gotta get this thing. I ran down to the store, said ‘I’m your guy,’ that I’d take it. They said ‘OK, here it is,’ so I carried the mannequin, naked, body in pieces, up the road. And then I have cars, driving up the road, honking at me being like ‘Nice! Nice mannequin buddy!’ Because she was naked. But the story continues. I’ve got her... dressed and put her in the corner of my shop and she’s been there for a long time, a couple of years now, and during one of our rehearsal periods, one of the performers got rid of the mannequin and dressed in the mannequin’s clothes and then sat there for 45 minutes. Everybody in the theatre knew that there was a guy sitting there. So they’d ask ‘Can you get me measuring tape?’ so I’d go in the shop and grab it, go back. They did that a couple of times. Then they were like ‘we need your calendar,’ which is in my office. Eventually I ended up going there and all he did was stand up and all I did was scream and went in for a hug. I don’t know why I did that, but it’s on Youtube now somewhere.”

Faces Friday is our weekly online feature highlighting members of our community: their strength, challenges and humanity. Meet more of your neighbours in our Faces Friday collection.

Production associate and workshop instructor Struan Robertson was instrumental in reviving the Howard Dill puppet that is on display at the Spitfire Arms Pub in Windsor. He worked on restoring the puppet after it had been damaged by fire in-between his regular duties at Mermaid Theatre. Here, he's seen working on a puppet that may wind up travelling the world.

©Carole Morris-Underhill