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I'm Your Puppet 

Tickets $10 advance, $12 at the door Late one afternoon in August at the Spellcaster Lodge (the sometimes nightclub on the first floor of his Ninth Ward home), Mr. Quintron is trying to light a sparkler attached to a high-hat the size of a Mardi Gras doubloon. The organ player is helping to direct an episode of Trixie and the Tree Trunks, the latest project of his puppeteer companion Panacea Pussycat, and the pyrotechnics are for a scene in which the puppet band Trixie and the Tree Trunks rock out at a harvest festival. Sparks fly from behind the puppet's tiny amp, but the crepe ribbon rimming the stage also ignites. Take two. Trixie and the Tree Trunks tells the ongoing story of Trixie and Marsha, two squirrel-like puppets on a quest to start a band after being ordered to do so by a mysterious 'Happy Tree" that sprung up in their yard after a devastating snowstorm. Puppets and their bands have been a consistent theme in Panacea's work. Some of her earliest New Orleans puppet shows starred the puppet band Flossie and the Unicorns, and in her 2005 puppet movie Electric Swamp, Antoinette K-Doe (in puppet form) solved a termite problem by making the vermin into a backing band for Ernie K-Doe.

Each brief episode of Trixie and the Tree Trunks takes many man-hours logged in strange and uncomfortable positions under the puppet stage, for which Panacea and Quintron call on the good natures of their friends. For more advanced puppet help, they rely on Jayme Kalal, a local musician and neighbor who is an accomplished puppeteer in his own right " and who that day was manning the puppet drum kit and steering clear of the flames.

'There's lots of puppet bands," explains Panacea, who has been making puppets since she first joined her church's puppet ministry in middle school. 'Almost all the puppets are in bands " that's actually one of the things puppets do best of all, is play guitar and play drums. And kiss. They're really good at kissing, and they're really good at killing each other."

Panacea's puppets do all those things and more in the series, which was filmed for Vice magazine's new Internet-TV channel, VBS-TV, and aired over 10 weeks this summer. Quintron and Panacea pitched the show on the advice of their friend Gabe Soria who had filmed a documentary about the couple rebuilding the Spellcaster Lodge for Vice in the spring.

'VBS is obviously for a more mature audience, and it just seemed like, "why not take this ball and run with it,'" Panacea says.

Her puppets live in a color- and texture-saturated landscape somewhere between a child's fantasyland and a grown-up psychedelic fever dream. Glittery, candy-colored skies are festooned with cotton-ball clouds, and stalactites at the center of the Earth shimmer with iridescent beads of moisture. The puppets of Trixie and the Tree Trunks, however, definitely live in an adult world with local touches of exquisite detail " their house has a miniature Saturn Bar calendar, and Trixie and Marcia's puppet-sized record collection is heavy on titles from New Orleans' underground rock scene. There's some PG-13-rated making out, puppet boozing and mild drug use, plus some more shocking events as the series progresses.

The Internet format proved to be an interesting experiment for the puppeteers, although it didn't translate particularly well to their New Orleans audience.

'Early on, the Web site was hard to use," Quintron says. 'Nobody seemed to be able to download it. People didn't even seem to know what Internet TV was — they were like, what time does it come on?"

Quintron and Panacea recently took the film on the road, airing it in the intriguingly named Puppeteer's Bar at the International Puppetry Convention this past summer. The first episode was selected by Heather Henson (Jim Henson's daughter and a longtime fan of Panacea's work) for inclusion in a collection of short puppet films. Henson also borrowed several characters from Trixie for a puppet exhibit that's currently on display in Florida. Although there are no plans for a new season on VBS, the pair doesn't see an end to the episodic adventures of Trixie and her band.

'How many seasons of Dallas were there?" muses Quintron.

The 10 episodes that make up the first complete story arc of Trixie And The Tree Trunks will screen promptly at 10 p.m. on Friday, Oct. 26 at One Eyed Jacks, followed by a performance from Quintron and Miss Pussycat. They're supported by the rough-edged local garage rock act the Black Rose Band, plus Yip Yip, an experimental synth-and-drum duo known for often-outlandish costumes.

click to enlarge Trixie stars in a series running on Vice magazine's Internet TV channel (www.vbs.tv).
  • Trixie stars in a series running on Vice magazine's Internet TV channel (www.vbs.tv).
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