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Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Delicate, Controlled Manipulation: An Interview with Nufonia Must Fall's Puppeteers

Kid Koala's Nufonia Must Fall at the Noorderzon Festival in 2014.

A tone-deaf robot, fearful of his growing obsolescence, tries to woo an office worker with his love songs in prolific producer and turntablist Kid Koala’s bold adaptation of his tender, and entirely wordless, 2003 graphic novel Nufonia Must Fall—coming to the BAM Harvey Theater September 17—20. Collaborating with Oscar-nominated production designer K.K. Barrett, Kid Koala enlists a team of puppeteers to stage the circuit-bent amoré as camera crews edit the footage in real time, resulting in a live silent film. To better understand this unique performance event, we spoke with three of the show's puppeteers (Clea Minaker, Felix Boisvert, and Karina Bleau) about the various mechanisms underpinning such a hyper-hybrid work of art.

When was your first experience with puppetry?

Clea Minaker: My first significant experience was seeing Ronnie Burkett perform Tinka’s New Dress in Montreal in 1998—such refined designs, and a compelling presence. I was totally inspired and began exploring and researching puppetry and making performances.

Felix Boisvert: It was in 2006, when I was finishing a master’s in music composition at Montreal Music Conservatory. I started a project where music and puppetry were bound together and started getting closer to the puppetry world.

Karina Bleau: I started being interested 18 years ago as it seemed like a great medium capable of not only tricking the perceptions of kids, but of adults too!

Clea Minaker
How did you train to become a puppeteer?

CM: I studied at L'Ecole Supérieure Nationale des Arts de la Marionnette, the teaching institution of the International Institute of Puppetry Arts (I.I.M) in Charleville-Mézières, France. 

FB: My wife (Karina Bleau) has training in puppetry and she teaches me a lot. Besides that, I am self-taught.

KB: In training, there are many types of puppets with a unique presence and different level of fabrication. I started my training as a visual artist and sculptor, and was interested in movement which led me to puppets. Movement through this medium is for me a metaphor for life, in opposition to death and inertia.

I studied woodworking to develop building skills to recreate fine human movement and emotional expressivity, and was interested by Bunraku and thread puppets. I participated in master classes at the Association Québécoise des Marionnettistes and the International Institute of Puppetry in France. I specialized in fine mechanics and light manipulation (lighting, video) and earned a diploma in contemporary puppet theater at l’Université du Québec à Montréal. My practice interweaves performative and interdisciplinary art supported by a puppeteer background.

What techniques have you utilized to bring Kid Koala’s graphic novel to life? How have you had to modify your typical practice to cater to live filmmaking?

Felix Boisvert
CM: In determining puppetry techniques for the film, I relied on previous experience manipulating for camera. It was important for K.K that we minimize the presence of rods and mechanisms, which meant manipulating from under the table using monitors. The biggest challenge was adapting the story so it could be performed by puppets. Not every action could be included—picking up blueberries and fumbling with a turkey while getting tangled in phone cords was prohibitively complicated! Each special action from a puppet requires a special design. This is a theater show; we move in real time from set to set and don't have advantages of film: time to create complicated images, and the ability to stitch performances together through editing. I think the film medium ends up adapting to puppetry. As puppeteers, we are very familiar, and comfortable, with the constraints of our art form. 

FB: The puppets in Nufonia Must Fall are different types, but mostly rod puppets, operated from below. It was a new challenge for me. When working for film, you manipulate the puppets while looking at a cinema screen, not the actual puppet, which is harder because every action is seen in reverse, like in a mirror. But the fun factor is really high, since you can experience the image just as the public is.

KB: The demands were specific: no visible threads and a controlled manipulation of fine movements. We used mixed techniques. For wide shots we used rod puppets with very fine mechanisms similar to thread marionettes. For the close up views, we built small puppets influence by bunraku puppets. We accomplished the super wide shots with “figurines”—simple rod puppets accomplishing one specific action.

Karina Bleau
The main difference was the delicateness of the manipulation required for filmmaking. At first, I felt I had to retain the flux of energy I would normally give to manipulating a live puppet.

What’s your favorite puppet production?

CM: No favorites, but sooo many I have adored...It is a medium that is infinitely varied in aesthetics and approach, I can't lose my thirst for it!

FB: I very much like the work of Teatro Gaia, which is puppetry intertwined with human body.

KB: My favorite work is eclectic in style! Yael Rasouli – Paper cut, Agnes Limbos - Ressacs, Roland Shön – Ni fini ni infini, Nicole Mossoux - Light.

What are you looking forward to most about performing at BAM and visiting Brooklyn?

CM: I think the programming at BAM is really exciting and diverse. I look forward to soaking up the atmosphere of this important space for creation and innovation. I am also excited to perform for a Brooklyn audience.

FB: Getting in touch with the NY public!

KB: To meet the local artistic community and visiting artists. Unfortunately, William Kentridge will not be there at the same time—I admire his work a lot!

Don't miss Kid Koala's Nufonia Must Fall when it comes to the BAM Harvey Theater September 17—20 as part of the 2015 Next Wave Festival.

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