Blackfoot puppeteer spreads humour, anti-bullying messages with Indigenous characters

·2 min read
DerRic Starlight partaking in formal puppeteer training at the Jim Henson studio in Hollywood, California. (Submitted by DerRic Starlight - image credit)
DerRic Starlight partaking in formal puppeteer training at the Jim Henson studio in Hollywood, California. (Submitted by DerRic Starlight - image credit)

DerRic Starlight is a Blackfoot puppeteer from the Tsuut'ina Nation near Calgary who followed his dreams into a career.

"My characters are called the Nuppets," he said.

"Jim Henson had called his The Muppets because they're half marionette and half puppet. So my characters are Native and puppets, so they're called the Nuppets."

Starlight grew up watching The Friendly Giant and other puppet shows on television.

"I used to think that Sesame Street was downtown Calgary," he said.

One Christmas, he received Muppet characters as gifts. He learned how to imitate their voices, and carried that same effort into creating his own characters.

Starlight started writing at age 14, while attending Fairview School in Calgary's southeast. He began acting in short films and television shows such as North of 60, and performing puppet shows for community gatherings.

When he was 17, he went to Vancouver Film School for professional training. Now Starlight books performances at casinos, conferences, special events and schools on a full-time basis, with shows with humour and anti-bullying messages.

In July, he spent three weeks in Los Angeles learning the Jim Henson technique at a puppeteer training initiative for diverse performers.

Submitted by DerRic Starlight
Submitted by DerRic Starlight

Carol Mason, Starlight's mother, is a fashion designer from the Blood Tribe in southern Alberta. She said she has always been supportive of her son's career choices, even though she did wonder sometimes if puppeteering would pay the bills.

She makes outfits for his characters.

"It's interesting when you get into the development of them," she said.

"There is detail into what that puppet has to look like and it was cute when he did Buffy St. Marie with long black hair, it had to be silky black hair."

She also appreciates that his characters "are from true-life people."

"As Niitsitapi, we like to laugh at ourselves or we're always joking around."

Characters based on his relatives have created some of his more well-known Nuppets, including Granny Nuppet. Naw-Naw, a puppet character of an Indigenous youth, wears a colourful band around his wrists representing all the nations which are part of Treaty 7 and aims to be a Facebook star.

Submitted by DerRic Starlight
Submitted by DerRic Starlight

Hal Eagletail, from Tsuut'ina Nation, is an educator and powwow MC at round dances. Starlight once surprised Eagletail with a puppet character of him. The interpretation gathered a positive reaction from children in the audience and from Eagletail, too.

"I'm easy going and I enjoy Native comedy, especially when he mimicked my famous one-liner, 'Let's rock this joint,'" he said.

"He's certainly got a lot better and professional at making his puppets. When you learn from the best it's a reflection of his capabilities."

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