Who is the Zen Existential Puppet Theatre?
A: Rob Cruickshank (AKA Rob Cruickshank) and Von Bark (AKA G.Van Bussel). Rob is usually a video technician. George is a beatnik, construction labourer, and art critic…

What is the Zen Existential Puppet Theatre?
A: Live performance art in the tradition of Dadaism and Punch&Judy, borrowing freely from classical literature, biblical themes, sci-fi movies, junk culture and nonsense. See notes below…

Where is the Zen Existential Puppet Theatre?
A: Usually Toronto, ON…

When is the Zen Existential Puppet Theatre?
Over the last ten years, sporadically, onwards into the undefined future…

Why the heck the Zen Existential Puppet Theatre?
A: This question touches upon the problem of being… One possible motivation is the attractive spectre of absolute immunity from criticism. Anyone choosing to denigrate our efforts automatically places themselves in the absurd position of an individual deconstructing a puppet show…


1) ZEN EXISTENTIAL PUPPET THEATRE PERFORMANCE EDITION #1; a) Summer 1991; b) Ontario College of Arts (now OCAD) Atrium Lounge, Toronto; c) Script by Rob & George, automatons manipulated by Rob & George with assitance from Mikki & Laurie, taped soundtrack augmented by live musicians: Frankie, Steve Banks, & Leslie Becker; d) introduced by voodoo doll 'Connexion Man' soliloquy from Russell Hoban's 'Ridley Walker'; Shakespeare's 'Quintesscence of Dust-Buster'; 'Tragical Romance', 'An Interview with a Smart-Bomb' (featuring pixel-vision footage), 'A Dragonfly Ballet' to the tune of 'Donna e Mobile'; 'I Can't Get Up the Hill'; 'Beowulf' (starring G.I. Joe). Finale: 'Coltrane Stereo Blues'; e) Recorded by Jamze Bee, but the video came out with sound but a vaguely messed-up image; f) Promo: "It's Wild, It's Free, It's Wild & Free"

2) ZEN EXISTENTIAL PUPPET THEATRE PERFORMANCE EDITION #2 a) December 1992; b) Second Symbiosis Opening Performance Art Evening, at a dark, forbidding rented warehouse space on King Street West in Toronto; c) Rob & George, some random noise soundtrack on a prerecorded cassette; d) 'The Assassination of JFK viewed as a Downhill Motor Race'; 'Albert Camus, Existential Goalie'; e) no known recording; f) Post-performance comments (to next act): "Please turn down the P.A."

3) ZEN EXISTENTIAL PUPPET THEATRE PERFORMANCE EDITION #3 a) Winter1996; b) The El Mocambo Nightclub, Toronto; c) Rob & George, some original Rob electronic recordings on tape soundtrack; d) 'Rock, Scissors, Paper'; 'Orphic cult: Kurt & Jerry'; 'Common Sense Revolution: Resistance is Futile'; e) Attempted video document by Maria Doyle, no footage resulting; f) Excerpt from anti-press-release: "Casey would distract Mister Dress-Up in reheasal by asking him about Nietzche" (from an article on Ernie Coombs in a recent edition of Globe & Mail)

4) ZENEXP ADJUNCT PERFORMANCE VERSIONS #4a & #4b a) Summer 1997, two performances on two nights; b) Kaleidoscope Lounge, Toronto, hosted by Trans Luv Airways; c) George only, Rob was out West, no backing music; d) formless unscripted mono-rant both nights, the second more incoherent. Attempt excerpt from Kurt Schwitter’s ‘Ursonate’; e) Video document by Jimmy Green second night only (the first night was better).; f) From introduction: "Without Rob, Zenexp is a hollow shell, and it is this hollow shell we present you tonight".

5) IMPROMPTU ZENEX PUPPET SHOW: LAURIE’S WINTER VERSION a) December 1998; b) Laurie’s Ranch, Pickering, to a select audience; c) Rob & George, thematic assistance by D.Jones, produced by Laurie; d) The death of Elvis visited by the ghost of Colonel Sanders; e) no documentation; f) “Is this a bucket I see before me?”

6) ZENEXP ADJUNCT "RUSSIAN CIGARETTES" a) September 1999; b) Trinity Bellwoods Park, Toronto; c) George performs & declaims, Rob photographs; extremely scratchy 78rpm recordings of Ukranian Choir music played on the old Victrola wind-up; d) 'The Selected Works of Dostoyevsky: The Idiot, The Possessed, Crime & Punishment, The Brothers Karamazov': many tomatoes were crushed; e) Video document by Holly Farrell & Steven Naylor; f) The sound of tomatoes being crushed.

7) ZEN EXISTENTIAL PUPPET SHOW “STARDUST EDITION” a) January 2001; b) The Stardust Lounge Niteclub, Toronto; c) script & production by Rob & George, soundtrack consisting of cut-up samples of Kraftwerk ‘Trans-Europe Express’; d) yet another restaging of ‘Rock/Scissors/Paper’; several interpretations of the collected works of Ambrose Bierce, including ‘The Citizen & The Snakes’ and ‘Interview with a Dog’ (featuring a live Jack Russell Terrier as a prop, which of course was not harmed in the course of production!); Book One of ‘Paradise Lost’ by John Milton, and several artifacts described as ‘Enigma’ which were displayed to the audience without context nor explanation; e) Kevin Steele took some pretty good photographs; f) “…propel, propel, propel your craft gently down the effusion, ecstatically, ecstatically, existence is but an Illusion…”

(Some additional Stardust events later included: 'Tales of Brave Ulysses, How his Naked Ears were Tortured, By The Sirens sweetly Singing', and ‘Joan Crawford Stereo Blues’, a loose interpretation of selected scenes from ‘Mommy Dearest’ using the latest in Three-Dimensional projection technology).

8) ZENEXP "THE GENETIC HISTORY OF LOLA, THE GIANT PIGEON" a) September 2001 b) Lola Magazine issue #9 Launch, the Steamwhistle Brewery Roundhouse, Toronto ON. c) George declaimed the script, Rob manipulated devices, Terry Carter provided percussion; we built a 9 foot tall giant pigeon stage prop for this show; d) The story of the Genetic History of Lola involves medieval gene-splicing, the Knights Templar, the Reformation, the Diet of Worms, the Rosicrucians, the Illuminati, the Lousiana Purchase, Nikoli Tesla, Che Guevara, B.F.Skinner, the Double Helix, the Angolan Civil War, etc.. e) a few photographs and a detailed final script survive; f) "The latest current tawdry tabloid headlines would have us believe that DNA mapping, cloning, genetically modified organisms, and stem-cell research are the recent innovations of servile corporate scientists... yet threaded delicately within the veneer of documented historical record runs the evidence that genetic tampering predates by many millennia Friar Mendel's juggling of black & white beans..."

9) ZENEXP: "CHARLES BAUDLEAIRE & GUY DEBORD: THEY'RE BOTH DEAD AND THEY'RE BOTH FRENCH" a) March 2003 b) The Toronto School of Art, Toronto, ON; c) George Lectured and Rob manipulated artifacts; d) two lectures on the lives and times of Charles Baudelaire and Guy Debord, a few of Baudelaire's charming and disturbing epigramatic scenes from his 'Petite Poems en Prose' such as 'The Evil Glass-Monger' and 'A Child and his Toy' (about the use of dead rats as playthings) were enacted. e) a script exists, unconfirmed photographs may exist; f) "... A Guarantee that we will die of boredom..."

10) ZENEXP: NUMBER 11 THEATRE DADAIST CABARET a) October 2003; b) a studio space on Sourauren Ave, Toronto; c) Rob and George both played asynchronous enharmonic Concertinas, and manipulated various items at random from our battered blue tickle trunk; d) no script, no dialouge, some restrained violence. We also spun scratchy old 78's on the old Victrola wind-up; e) no documentation; f) "We are sympathetic to Dadaist Expression".

11) ZENEXP: "FRANKIE TEARDROP SPECIAL HALLOWEEN HORROR-SHOW" a) October 2003 b) Musicworks Magazine Party at the Gladstone Hotel, Toronto; c) Rob George & guest artist Mikki Bikki dressed in black turtlenecks and manipulated day-glo objects under a special ultra-violet lighting rig (just like the famous peoples players, but creepier); Rob designed custom electronic controllers which made the puppets squeak and groan in sequence to our array of vintage analog synthesizers (surprisingly, it worked perfectly the first time) d) mostly non-verbal but relatively coherent and vicious script included 'How the Narwhal got It's Horn'; 'The Tide Comes in and The Tide Goes Out' (much more distrubing than it sounds); 'Commandant Guderian inspects the Eastern Front'; violent finale depicts shreiking artifact "Frankie Teardrop" by the old synth-punk band Suicide; e) surprisingly, a functional videotape recorded by Maria Doyle; f) "We are all Frankie!".


Biblical UFO Stories: 'The Book of Ezekiel'
'Flow My Tears The Policeman Said' by P.K.Dick
Celebrity Mud Wrestling: Celine Dion vs. Ayn Rand
Selections from Dostoyevsky's 'Notes from the Underground'
Manipulate or be Manipulated: The Divided Soul and the Uses of Technologies

Note #1: Aside from Russell Hoban & Ernie Coombs, Zenexp Conceptual Ethos is inspired by the scene from the Freek DeJong movie 'The Illusionist' where the protagonist delivers an enigmatic performance with a hairbrush and an animal jawbone to an enraptured audience of lobotomy subjects in the operating theatre of an insane asylum.

Note #2: See also the scene in Bergman’s “Vartigmen”: a low-action marionette theatre piece set to Bergman’s “Magic Flute”

Assorted further spurious comments:

Dadaism teaches us there is no endeavor, no matter how serious, that lacks an element of the absurd in the desperate struggle for manifestation. Art reflects the sublime, but in verisimilitude captures the absurdity of human folly.

In the execution of our ZENEXP stratagems, we practice all art forms: the writing, improvising, and performance of drama; the construction of props, sets, and mechanical sculptures; the composition and performance of original music; the dissemination of the wealth of philosophical insight offered by the wisdom of the ages.

Please note that, unlike the classic Dadaists of Zurich circa 1917, we are not out to shock people. Everybody else has done that to death lately, and it’s boring. Our goal is to try to make our audiences laugh, get their critical defenses lowered somewhat, then try to make them think, or if not think, at least confuse them, which is our real goal: confusion, the first step towards understanding.

Our performances are usually rated family viewing, acceptable for children. Of course, some concepts might seem a bit obscure, but as Dr.Suess demonstrates, kids really don’t need everything spelled out rationally: as long as we provide some form of action, or, um, violence, no, uh, conflict, then the kids love it.

This link: connects to a home page of some sort.

This link: invariably leads nowhere faster than ever thought possible.

Okay. Bring on the owls.