As the elementary school kids filled the auditorium during the morning of April 8, they looked onto the Visual and Performing Arts theater stage puzzled to see 12 stands with small plastic sets, along with a giant white movie screen in the background.
Eric San, also known by his stage name Kid Koala, welcomed everyone to OCCC’s pre-screening of “Nufonia Must Fall,” a live puppet show filmed and broadcast onto the big screen.
San found his way to his deejay setup situated near the upper left part of the stage and fired up his turntable.
“Nufonia comes from the stem nufon, which if you spell that backwards makes ‘no fun,’” San explained as he scratched the mid-tempo beat playing in the background.
San continued to preface Nufonia while the rest of the company set up to begin the show. Finally the lights dimmed and the screen lit up with the title card appearing on screen.
The first character to appear on screen is T4, a cylindrical monochromatic robot with small protruding sensors for ears. Loud city noises begin to stir the auditorium, causing T4 to cover up his sensitive ear sensors with headphones in order handle his reality.
Throughout the performance, T4 faces conflicts with obsolescence in his workplace while trying to win the affections of the company’s inventor, who is slowly counting down the days before she can escape her daily routine and go on vacation.
T4 is fired twice from the jobs he takes in the film due to his slow work flow. He is replaced by a newer faster robot. During this time, T4 crosses paths with the inventor and decides to win her affection by writing her a love song.
During the performance, the audience can see the puppeteers working on the small sets on stage and the four camera operators walking around the set filming the puppet show live. These metal-rod puppets are hard to see from the audience, but become life-size on screen.
“Each puppet is quite different and you have to get to know each puppet individually,” said company puppeteer Veronica Barron. “They’re not mass produced objects, they’re each unique in their own way.”
Barron is a newer member of the company and has worked in other shows as a puppeteer.
In her last show, she helped perform with a 20-foot-tall puppet with 10-foot rods for a stage production.
“It’s the same concept, but instead of moving my entire body in big motions, I’m moving my fingers in small amounts to move the puppets.”
Each puppet moves fluidly and precisely in tandem with the music being scored live by San and the Afiara Quartet. The live mixture of media creates a unique multi-sensory experience that different generations of viewers seemed to enjoy.
“It’s mind blowing,” said OCCC Visual Arts Event Coordinator Linda Bosteels. “The music combined with what’s going on on screen, along with the entire technical aspect of everything, is mind blowing. You just can’t explain something like this to somebody.”
The show is designed so that people can see the production in progress in full view, San explained.
“I wanted to give the people interested in the production of the film the opportunity to see what was happening in real time under the hood,” San said.
The idea for a multimedia stage show of San’s graphic novel came from the minds of Eric San, KK Barret, and Afiara Quartet’s Adrian Fung. ECW Press published San’s graphic novel in 2003 and Oscar-nominated KK Barret contacted San, encouraging him to make this a live show.
The ball kept rolling and more and more people got involved, San explained.
“We wanted to find a way to use everyone’s skill-set into one show,” San said. “But in a way that wouldn’t be too forced.”
“Nufonia Must Fall” is not just a show, but an experience, mixing film, music, and puppetry along with the rawness of live production to create a unique production for its audience. After the show, San allowed audience members to come up close and look at the setup and ask questions. One of the many questions asked was what exactly “Nufonia Must Fall” means.
“It’s an idea about that state of mind where sometimes your own worries or fears kind of inhibit you from enjoying yourself,” San explained.
T4 paints a worse situation in his head than what is actually going on. The robot that keeps replacing T4 actually isn’t against him, but is an ally looking to help him win over the inventor.
“Nufonia is a state of mind where you default to thinking the worst.” San said. “Sometimes that actually inhibits you from being present to enjoy the moment.
“In order to fight that Nufonia Must Fall.”