The Ulster Kama Sutra

People thought Andrea Montgomery was mad, but the Foxy Box of Thought is coming to an Art and Design Festival near you

‘I am really interested in sock puppets,’ Andrea Montgomery says, widening her eyes earnestly. She holds up her hands in mime. ‘Imagine a really intense sex scene between sock puppets. That opens the door to interesting things.’

It is less worrying than it sounds. Montgomery, founder – ‘Technically, it’s a long story’ – and artistic director of Terra Nova Productions, is talking about the company’s latest project: The Ulster Kama Sutra. With puppets – possibly sock ones.

Montgomery knows it sounds a bit strange,‘ People think I’m mad when I put the words Ulster, puppet and Kama Sutra together.’ Her intent, however, is to find a way to discuss serious questions about sex, sexuality and people’s preconceptions in a safe way.

‘We can show stuff on stage and, because it’s puppets, people feel safe and can have fun,’ she explains. ‘I want to be adult – not pornographic – and fun, but serious at the same time. I don’t want to go into Oh La La territory. A bit of fun is great, but I am interested in something deeper.’

The roots of that interest were nurtured during Montgomery’s childhood. A Quebecois-Canadian, she was born in India, grew up in Asia and now lives in Northern Ireland with her partner, Antony Toner. ‘What a mix!’ as she describes it.

‘I know the Kama Sutra because of my cultural background,’ Montgomery explains. ‘I thought – there is a really important text about all sorts of issues – social, spiritual, psychological, interpersonal – around sexuality. Wouldn’t it be interesting to use it as a way to stimulate debate in Northern Ireland?’

She was sold on it, but convincing the Terra Nova board took a bit more work. The musical Avenue Q helped, as did the puppet sex scene in Team America. (The two things everyone mentions when they learn what Montgomery is working on.) The fact there was already a precedent for using puppets in this way helped Montgomery make her case.

Now Terra Nova is ready to take the first steps in creating the Ulster Kama Sutra at the Ulster Festival on Art and Design with the Foxy Box of Thought and a series of puppet-making workshops. Montgomery credits festival organizer Tim Kerr with the idea that brought them on board.

‘He pointed out this was a Festival of Art and Design, so why didn’t we design the project in real time, with input from whomever comes through the doors?’ And I thought, “Now that excites me. How stimulating.”’ Montgomery pauses long enough to flash an unrepentant grin. ‘That’s the problem with working with the Kama Sutra. Everything becomes a double entendre.’

The information gathered in the Foxy Box of Thought and at the workshops will be used to put together a presentation on what Terra Nova has done during the Festival. From there it will develop into a complete piece of theatre through the phased development that is Terra Nova's preferred methodology.

Montgomery hastens to add that none of the people who volunteer information in the Foxy Box of Thought will have their real name or voice used at any point. Their accounts will be transcribed for actors, although they will be presented verbatim.

But will anyone be willing to tell the Foxy Box their sexiest thoughts? Montgomery admits that she doesn’t know.

‘The room for failure is huge,’ she says, without looking discouraged. ‘I hope people will though. I need to know what people here think.’

The Foxy Box of Thought is available in the University of Ulster Foyer and you can find out more about the workshops on CultureNorthernIreland’s What’s On.