Mermaid: A Puppet Theatre in Motion


140 pages
Contains Photos, Bibliography
ISBN 1-894031-85-7
DDC 791.5'3'09716






Reviewed by Ian C. Nelson

Ian C. Nelson, Librarian Emeritus, former Assistant Director of
Libraries (University of Saskatchewan) and dramaturge (Festival de la
Dramaturgie des Prairies).


Mermaid Theatre is exceptionally fortunate to have its history
chronicled by Alice Walsh in this elegantly written and produced volume.
Walsh is a recipient of the Canadian Children’s Book Centre’s Our
Choice award and has twice been short-listed for the Hackmatack award.
Her Pomiuk: The Little Prince of the North received the 2005 Ann Connor
Brimer Children’s Literature Prize. Perhaps her experience as a writer
and as a preschool teacher explains her felicitous affinity for the work
of Nova Scotia’s premier youth theatre.

Founded some three decades ago, Mermaid has changed focus from
fledgling steps, through notable presentations of adapted Mi’kmaq
legends championed by founder Evelyn Gabar, through her successor Lee
Lewis’s politic of “fun and fanciful” puppet theatre, to the
creation by youth of social issue pieces and current theatrical
interpretations of significant children’s books (for instance, the
“mix-and-match” touring collection of Eric Carle favourites that has
recently played before its millionth spectator). The creative use of a
variety of styles of puppets, combined with classic and original music,
masks, and live action, has evolved until Mermaid is now recognized
worldwide as one of the most respected theatres for children and youth.

Naturally, this growth has had to weather periods of financial stress
and internal conflicts of vision. Walsh covers the first with a succinct
history of Canadian theatre, explaining how government initiatives aided
Mermaid’s growth. As for the second, it is to Walsh’s credit that
she gives very clear and balanced accounts of the changes of vision and
mandate, backed by meticulous research, including many interviews with
the major players. What is more amazing is that while including such
careful documentation (very attractively annotated with marginal
footnotes), Walsh recounts this history in an engaging discursive style
with informative descriptions of the highly visual elements of
Mermaid’s notably appealing productions. The text is enhanced with
black-and-white and colour photographs. An index is all that is lacking.
This is a book that should be on the shelves of all Canadian libraries.


Walsh, Alice., “Mermaid: A Puppet Theatre in Motion,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed June 14, 2024,