Mastering the reins.
Mairi Babb has worked as an actor across the country, forging new relationships from coast to coast. She has focused her career in theatre, sharing that she “loves that immediate feedback of the audience, the energy exchange is so palpable.”
Mairi never expected that her career would afford her the opportunity to perform and tour in the epic production War Horse, especially not as a puppeteer. “I had an acting audition, but the call back was to work with the puppet,” Mairi shares. “I’d never done puppetry before. They like to use people who are green because you go in to the show without preconceived ideas about what puppetry is.”
A typical acting call back is 15 minutes. You run the prepared scenes, perhaps review a couple of sections and you leave the building hopeful of a second call.
Mairi was there for an hour and a half. “We started by working with this man made out of paper. Someone is holding his neck in one arm, waist in another arm and someone on the feet.” Mairi was working with two actors she didn’t know, but had to become comfortable with quickly. “We did a lot of improvisation. It was exhausting, but so rewarding.” Mairi reminisces. “ I remember thinking, Even if I don’t book this show, I’ve just won the lottery.”
Mairi did book the show as one of the baby Joey puppeteers. “Our puppet was different than the big horse, we were outside of it. Baby Joey came up to my waist. “ Mairi and her fellow puppeteers had to undergo two weeks of gruelling puppet boot camp prior to rehearsals. “The puppet had to have thoughts, intention and breath. What would be the impulses? How would we communicate those differences to each other? There was also a lot of repetitive stress, so we would rotate between the Head, Heart and Hind each show and that’s how they kept us healthy.”
Baby Joey only appears in the first 15 minutes of War Horse, but as Mairi explains, “It was such an intense awareness. The hardest part was that three people were telling one character’s story. It makes you listen in an entirely different way as an actor because it was very fluid. You knew where you had to be at certain times, but it was all improvised and working off each actor; through breath and feeling their energy.”
During the rest of the production, Mairi played a villager, German, British Soldier, a nurse and understudied for two other roles. “If you weren’t on stage, you were backstage changing,“ she laughed and added that the biggest crisis occurred one day on tour in Schenectady, New York. “War Horse has very few women in the cast and each role has multiple understudies. One night, an understudy ran into a German soldier backstage and broke her nose. The only person that could take over for her was already on stage understudying for someone else. So an announcement was made about the cast change and in five minutes two of us transformed into completely different characters. An army of people found our costumes, changed us and we carried on!”
After running the show for a year in Toronto, Mairi joined the US tour and eventually travelled to Japan. This was her first tour, lasting almost two years. “Each Monday we would pack up and move either by plane or bus. We travelled with about 50 people, and 9 semi trucks transporting the show.”
Mairi’s next role will land her in Port Dover at Lighthouse Festival Theatre in the romantic comedy Perfect Wedding on stage from July 20 to August 4.
“The play is so funny and I love working in British dialect,” Mairi shares. “I’m excited to be in a new space, seeing audiences that I’ve never seen before, and working with new people. You never know what you’re getting into with a company you haven’t worked at before, but I’m inspired and thrilled to be surrounded by such passionate people at Lighthouse.”
For more information or to buy tickets to Perfect Wedding, click here.