“I was in the middle of working on this big shadow puppet show I was going to do in the windows of the Embassy Suites Hotel,” Arthur Mintz says. “That’s when Keith and Parker called me to record Punches. I had no idea that all this craziness was going to happen, and when it happened it was a no-brainer. Of course I’ll go on the road and play drums, so I had to put everything on hold.”
“Keith” and “Parker” are Keith Ferguson and Parker Hutchinson, and they recruited Mintz to be the drummer for their rock band, World Leader Pretend. When the band broke up in 2008, he returned to his first love—puppetry.
“I studied animation in college, and I worked on James and the Giant Peach—the same company that did The Nightmare Before Christmas. Then I came back to New Orleans, and puppetry seemed like a much more immediate way to get to the same idea that animation normally gets to, and it has a live performance aspect that I think I could relate to as a drummer, creating lines and shapes and space on the stage.”
In the spring, Mintz and Rene and Jacques Duffourc of the Bally Who staged their adaptation of Roald Dahl’s The Fantastic Mr. Fox, a puppet show built into the third floor of the Contemporary Arts Center. The show returns for another run November 12 to January 2.
“The whole set’s still standing, right where we left it,” Mintz says. “The installation takes up the entire third floor of the CAC. There are 12 cardboard rooms that can fit 30 people and the actors and puppets, and these 12 rooms are connected by very long cardboard tunnels that the audience slides through. This huge set-up stuck together the whole summer”—albeit with a few minor cave-ins that are being fixed right now.
“The tunnels are definitely structures in their own right, and it really is beautiful to just walk around. I think that’s a part of the whole movement of puppetry in the last 40 years. The process of bringing a puppet to life is as beautiful as the illusion, and if you put them both onstage at the same time, you get this Cubist perspective, which is very much how The Lion King works now. It happens a lot at our show. At the end, we take people around the structures and let them see how it’s created and what it looks like on the outside.”
The project was two-and-a-half years in the making. “Probably a year of it was manufacturing. A lot of designing, a lot of figuring out how to break down his narrative into this specific type of movement that I do. I did a summer camp where I was teaching puppets between World Leader Pretend records. Jacques and I had come up with the idea of building a cardboard tunnel as a way of introducing kids to images of puppetry throughout time. We put up these little acetates inside the tunnel and they would crawl through and look at the pictures. Of course, they couldn’t care less about the acetates; they just wanted to run through the tunnel. One day after they had left, I went climbing through the tunnel, and I went, ‘Good God, this would be the coolest way to stage a show if each one of these tunnels came out into a new world.’ It’s a physical transition, so I thought it was a cool narrative device.”