Every year the Williams Lake Harvest Fair brings people together from across the Cariboo but recently it brought together an aspiring lakecity puppeteer and his mentor.
A familiar face on stage at recent harvest fairs, Kellie Haines is a comedic ventriloquist who delights lakecity youth with her vibrant energy, quirky personality and colourful puppets Magrau the bird and Kamilla the frog. After the 2018 Williams Lake Harvest Fair, however, Haines made a special connection with one of her fans which has led to a rewarding student-teacher relationship.
Zach Gillespie is a lakecity youth with autism who has always wanted to be a ventriloquist and expressed a real interest in becoming one shortly before Haines came to town last year. When he got the chance to meet her and expressed his interest in the art form, Haines took him under her wing and taught him the craft via the use of his puppet Bart.
Over the past year, she has been teaching him via Skype the basics of puppeteering including personality and character, manipulation technique and redirection as part of his homeschool program.
“What I like to do is to inspire kids and kids of all ages … to show their talents,” Haines said. “I’ve been travelling throughout North America doing shows that empower kids and youth to embrace diversity and (show) that being different is more than OK it’s extraordinary.”
Haines herself, as a young girl, used ventriloquism and puppetry as a way to accept herself and her own differences before eventually making a career out of it.
During the Tribune’s interview with Haines and Gillespie, a clear sense of affection and playfulness had developed between the two puppeteers over the last year, with Haines using her puppets creatively to keep things exciting for Gillespie. Haines said that she’s thankful the fair allowed her the chance to meet Gillespie whom she believes will be a friend for life now.
Gillespie loves making people laugh using Bart along with doing impressive impressions of popular media characters like Spongebob Squarepants. Haines said that Gillespie has an incredible memory for characters and puppetry theory and went out of his way to research performers and techniques she herself had never studied until that point.
While Gillespie admitted he had felt a little nervous prior to taking lessons from Haines, she felt that as time went on and he opened up his imagination which in turn really inspired her and brought on her A-game.
“He’s made me a better ventriloquist,” Haines said.
Throughout the entire process of teaching him, Haines really wanted to praise Gillespie’s mother Chanti Holtl who has been a constant source of patient, empowering support. Holtl said that what Haines taught her son went beyond simple ventriloquism and included confidence building amongst other life skills. While Gillespie has always enjoyed telling jokes, Holtl said she’s noticed him doing so with far more confidence recently that she attributes to Haines’ influence.
“Kellie, she’s just phenomenal, she knows how to pull him out of his shell like nobody ever has, it’s a lifelong connection they’ve already made, I think,” Holtl said. “We love her, she’s absolutely one of the best things that has ever happened to him.”
Holtl doesn’t know what her son will ultimately do with ventriloquism, but anything that helps him lead a more fulfilling and rich will be something she’ll support in any way she can.