Yukon thespian Brian Fidler was watching a lot of cheeseball B-movies, noting with amusement the low production value, when a thought struck him.
“I was watching all these movies from the 50s and 60s, and with the rockets you can obviously see the strings holding them up, the meteor is made of papier mache. This was all pre-CGI, so there had to have been someone standing above pulling those strings and moving those rockets,” he said.
“I started to wonder: what did it look like on set? Who did they hire to move that stuff around? That was the starting point, was that idea of pulling back the curtain.”
The finished product, Sci-Fi Double Feature, involves Fidler using crude puppets on-camera to create two films: Attack of the Slime-o-tron and Last Day on Earth.
Fidler scrambles to get the proper puppets into place while his costar Edward Westerhuis films him live—mistakes and all—then projects it on the big screen.
“The show is like a Rube Goldberg machine, where everything is in continuous motion. He’s following us around with the camera and we’re trying to keep up, but there’s always an inherent risk of knocking something over or something breaking apart.”
And when Kootenay audiences come to see it on May 16 and 17, they’ll have the option of watching either the puppets or the puppeteers.
“We keep the storytelling really simple, because there’s a lot of information coming at the audience and we don’t want to overwhelm them. There’s a moment of adjustment when the audience is uncertain—‘are we going to watch the big screen or watch the puppeteers down there’? Most people find they end up moving back and forth between the two.”
Fidler said the two films are a celebration of the science fiction genre.
“The first movie is about aliens, and it’s an intergalactic love story. An alien flees to earth and is pursued by tormentors, but then he falls in love,” said Fiddler.
The focus then shifts to time travel.
“The second one is a time-traveling show, with this professor and his dog. At one point they encounter a three-headed dinosaur.”
But the puppets don’t always cooperate the way they’re supposed to.
“The original idea was to make everything out of cardboard, hockey tape and hot glue. In some cases these are fairly crude, 2-dimensional illustrations,” he said.
And if things start to come apart, or if some sort of mistake happens, that’s considered part of the fun.
The show features music and sound design by Jordy Walker, who Fidler said was a huge part of the creative process. Fidler is coming to the Kootenays after an invitation from local thespian Lucas Myers, who he went to school with.
“He an I live parallel lives, it’s true. He’s got his theatre company, and he’s living in a small town married to a teacher with two daughters. I’m doing the same thing up here in the Yukon, I’ve got two boys and with Ramshackle Theatre I’ve been touring around with my shows, trying to live this small-town theatre life.”
Fidler encouraged the audience to show up in costume.
“The more people dress up, the more it’s like an event,” he said, noting that a tinfoil hat goes a long way.
Sci-Fi Double Feature will play at the Capitol Theatre at 7:30 p.m. on May 16 and 2 p.m. on May 17. Tickets are $15 for adults and $12 for students.
For more information visit ramshackletheatre.ca.