Fantastic Mr. Fox
5 p.m. & 7 p.m. Friday; 11 a.m., 1 p.m., 3 p.m. & 7 p.m. Saturday; 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. Sun.; through April 18
CAC, 900 Camp St., 481-5545; www.hi-yah.org
Tickets $15 general admission, $12 CAC Members
If there's one thing kids like more than puppets, it's cardboard tunnels.
That was a lesson Arthur Mintz learned while teaching a puppet-making camp at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art a couple of years ago. He wanted to show the campers images of different types of puppets from around the world, but he didn't want to do it in a classroom-like fashion — projecting slides on a wall. So he built a cardboard tunnel and transferred the images onto acetate, which he inserted like windows in the tunnel. And how did the experiment work?
"I don't think they ever saw them," he says laughing. "But they loved the tunnel. Every day we made it longer."
That was the origin of an idea that comes to fruition Friday when Mintz opens his production of Fantastic Mr. Fox in a catacomb of cardboard tunnels sprawling throughout most of the CAC's normally empty third floor.
"I thought it would be cool if you crawled through a tunnel and came out onto a set," he says. "Tunneling is a narrative device."
And Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr. Fox is the perfect story. In it, a fox is kept from food by an armed trio of farmers. The resourceful fox has to hide underground with his family and other creatures, and he realizes that tunneling is the perfect way to collect food unnoticed.
Mintz, along with his wife, singer Theresa Andersson, who made costumes, and Jacques and Rene Duffourc, brothers who comprise the band the Bally Who and have worked on other visual and sculptural art projects, started building the maze out of used cardboard in mid-December. Mintz estimates they carted 40 vanloads of (cost-effective) scavenged materials to the CAC to create the set's 13 story scenes and the connecting tunnels, which tend to be less than 4 feet tall. (Alternative access for taller people is available to those who are unable or prefer not to crawl the maze.)
Five puppeteers perform the story as they lead as many as 25 audience members through the installation. They animate up to 15 puppets in a scene and incorporate video as well: TV reporter Lee Zurik appears as Flea Zurik, an investigative reporter who gets around by hiding in the fur of a bloodhound. Drummer Johnny Vidacovich lends his voice to the production as well.
Mintz created a puppet version of Amadeus in 2002, and he was working on a grand-scale shadow puppet adaptation of ghost stories when he was sidetracked by the success of his band World Leader Pretend. After a couple of years on the road, he returned to New Orleans and began work on adapting Dahl's story.
The CAC has educational programming for kids, much of which focuses on summer camps and school visits with instruction from artists. The organization commissioned a plan to increase theater productions, and this show fit one of its primary recommendations: Produce more work for children. But Mintz's initial pitch to use CAC space to build his set was out of left field.
"I thought they were crazy at first," says CAC director Jay Wiegel, whose 7-year-old son has become one of the set's biggest fans. "But they had met with all our departments — education, everyone." In the end, it wasn't a difficult project to embrace.
"It's so mulit-disciplinary, it's so wild," Weigel says. "It's so cool."