Ventriloquist Kellie Haines with her friends Magrau, left, and Kamilla. Haines will perform at Penticton’s Peach Festival at the Home Hardware Kid’s Zone at Gyro Park. Submitted photo

Ventriloquist finds her voice through puppets

Kellie Haines, who has Tourette’s syndrome, is performing at the Penticton Peach Festival

A present Kellie Haines received as a child not only provided her with years of entertainment but a livelihood and the ability to feel and teach others about acceptance and belonging.

The Vancouver ventriloquist and puppeteer, who has Tourette syndrome, said her lifelong passion for performance started with a puppet named Magrau.

Like many children, Haines spent hours talking to her stuffed animals. When she received the puppet Magrau, a blue-feathered, orange-legged bird, as a present at eight years old everything changed.

“I started talking and he started talking back,” said Haines, who will perform at the Home Hardware Kid Zone during the Penticton Peach Festival.

“It all came about when I was very young. I was really trying to express myself and working with my puppets allowed me to do that.”

First there were little performances for her family and friends of her parents. Then one day she decided to enter into the school talent contest.

“I was scared and I didn’t know what to do but I just started. I just did it and the teachers all laughed and the kids all laughed. I did five more talent shows in Grade 6.”

The child that was strange and different because she had Tourette suddenly had a following of friends who loved it when she performed with her puppets.

“They were all really good with it and they all looked forward to the talent shows and would ask me when I was going to pull out the puppets again and perform. I fit in that way.”

However, she felt that isolation again in Grade 9 at a new school with lots of older teenagers.

“At first high school was a hard phase. I was just not fitting in.”

Instead of wallowing in her challenges she decided to focus on something positive — her ventriloquism and puppeteering.

So, she decided to sign up for the school’s talent contest.

“It was a whole gym full of kids from Grade 9 to 13. I remember going up there. The lights were in my eyes. You could see the teachers looking at me on stage thinking, ‘uh-oh, what’s this kid going to do,’” she said. “I can remember just feeling that beat after Magrau said something funny and they all went wild. And I thought if I can perform for the Grade 13s and everybody and maybe they will understand and accept me.”

And they did.

Haines went on to study drama in university and added singing and movement to her repertoire.

That was several decades ago. Since then Haines has performed all over B.C. and Canada and into the U.S. She’s also worked in television and film.

In 2015, she fulfilled one of her dreams by working on Jim Henson’s production called Turkey Hollow.

The movie is set in a town called Turkey Hollow where the Emmerson family heads to visit Aunt Cly. Children Tim and Annie quickly grow bored without the internet, and try to track the howling hoodoo, an elusive monster the locals dismiss as a legend.

“This was the last work that was not developed yet of Jim Henson’s. His daughter was one of the producers, one of the wizard’s behind making it. It was a dream come true.”

Although it’s still her goal to have her own show, Haines is happy performing at festivals, libraries, schools and anywhere with or without a stage.

She describes her ventriloquist, puppeteer performances as uplifting moral stories that help the audience learn about acceptance.

In addition to Magrau, she also has a curious frog with red hair named Kamilla.

“We’re really teaching people through the puppets and their adventures. When Magrau doesn’t feel good about himself because he has orange legs and can’t reach the bars on the climber and he talks and sings about how that feels in the show, it’s always after that the kids come up and say to him ‘no we like that about you.’”

“It’s really about taking your talent and embracing and being okay with being different and proud.”

Haines is set to perform at Penticton’s Peach Festival at the Home Hardware Kid’s Zone at Gyro Park on Wed., Aug. 9 from 9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m.; Thursday, Aug. 10 at 10:30 a.m. to 11:15 a.m. and Friday, Aug. 11 at 9:15 a.m. to 10 a.m.