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Gabe Thirlwall
Gabe Thirlwall. Photo by Mitchel Raphael

The Political Circus

Gabe Thirlwell gives new meaning to the term "puppet regime"

When former religious studies major Gabe Thirlwall (BA 2001 St. Michael’s) came out of the closet and found there weren’t a lot of options for queer women in the Catholic Church, she did what most people would do: she moved to Ottawa and started a small business making political puppets composed of recycled textiles. “It’s a slow town,” she says, “and seeing federal politicians is like celebrity sightings. It’s pathetically exciting when you go to a bar and see them sitting two tables over.”

Thirlwall started with federal MPs and has since moved on to municipal figures, and gay icons such as Harvey Milk. U of T alumni puppets include Michael Ignatieff, Bob Rae and David Miller. The most popular puppet is John Baird, outfitted in pink lamé. Almost no one wants poor old Jim Flaherty, even with his glittery gold shoes. “Maybe Ican put him on sale,” muses Thirlwall.

Thirlwall’s political leanings aren’t too tough to gauge from the puppets – she purposely made Stephen Harper pudgier in puppet form – but that’s not the point. “It’s about getting people engaged in politics and asking them if they know what this person stands for,” she says.

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