Rocket ships hanging from strings, tinfoil meteorites and cardboard cutouts… who doesn’t love a good ’60s sci-fi B-movie?
They’re low-fi and cheesy, with terrible acting, and were an instant inspiration for Brian Fidler. After watching several in a row, the actor, director, puppeteer and Ramshackle Theatre founder thought about how to translate that quality to the stage.
He approached filmmaker and friend Edward Westerhuis about the project, and the two of them got down to business.
After many hours of work, not to mention vast amounts of glue, string, cardboard, tape, wire and shish kabob sticks, Fidler and Westerhuis have created what promises to be a show like no other.
Called Sci-Fi Double Feature, the production will be set up like any good drive-in movie, with two sci-fi movies called Attack of the Slime-o-Trons and Last Day on Earth, complete with an animated intermission piece.
There’s one significant difference: the sci-fi movies are puppet shows, filmed and projected in real time.
An earlier version of Attack of the Slime-o-Trons was presented at last year’s Longest Night event.
Fidler explains his set-up in loving detail.
“On one side of the stage is a small shadow puppet world made out of cardboard,” he says.
“Claire Ness and I will be moving the puppets around while Edward films it, and his camera is hooked up to the television. The audience will be able to see both the making of the sci-fi movie, and also the completed version on-screen at the same time.”
This mix of mediums, he says, gives people a glimpse “behind the curtain”, which is one of the really fun parts of the movie.
“I think that people are often curious about what goes on behind the curtain of a show, so it’s fun for the audience to see what’s going on, while also seeing a completed version of the film. With Last Day on Earth, the shadow puppet world faces away from the audience, so they’ll see backstage as well as the completed movie shown on a screen, filmed from the other side.”
Co-producer Westerhuis adds there’s so much computer-generated imagery (CGI) and use of special effects in today’s movies, it was great to go back to the basics of low-fi, straight-up filming.
“What’s really interesting is that the medium is reflective in that we show the making-of,” he says. “People can enjoy the crafty aspect behind the scenes, exposing the corrugated edge of the cardboard and all the cutouts.”
Westerhuis says it’s refreshing to bring a live performance to video, “because I don’t have time to edit the work… everyone can see it’s made out of paper and glue, they can see when it’s out of focus, but I think it’s forgiving because people are experiencing it live.”
Performance and video aspects aside, there are a few other components to the show.
It will begin with a video mash-up of old science fiction movies done by Erin Corbett, with an animated short by Westerhuis at intermission, Zoobee Zoobak and the Non-Registered Inventor’s Summit, with musical accompaniment by Jordy Walker.
“This is really just a blast of craziness,” says Fidler.
He hopes the light-hearted production will help banish some of the mid-December winter blues, and denies the presence of any deeper meaning in the show.
“It’s good timing for people to see something that’s just about fun,” he says, “Hopefully people will go away from it thinking that it was stupid and impossible and fun to watch. It’s just about entertainment and joy. And anyone who dresses up as their favourite sci-fi character gets free popcorn!”
From over Fidler’s shoulder, Ness chips in indignantly. “The show’s not stupid! This show is amazing, it’s astounding to watch and I’m so honoured to be a part of it.”
Despite Fidler’s good-natured deprecations of his work, Westerhuis seems to be of the same mind as Ness.
“It’s been time-consuming but worth it,” he says after spending eight hours making baby pterodactyls out of cardboard. “Working with Brian is great because it’s nice to have someone like that. We like to talk about different types of cardboard; it’s an ongoing joke.”
Fidler is known for puppet theatre work, including his recent touring show, Cam-and-Legs. Sci-Fi Double Feature, he says, is something different, and he hopes people have as much fun watching it as he and his co-workers have had making it.
“I mean, there’s nothing really original out there in the world, but we feel like we’re doing something unique. I don’t think people will have seen this before.”
Sci-Fi Double Feature will play at the Guild Hall on December 7, 8 and 9 at 8 p.m. There will also be a midnight showing on December 9 and a 1 p.m. matinee the next day.
This is an all-ages show, and “anyone who dresses up as their favourite sci-fi character gets free popcorn!” Fidler vows.?Tickets are available at Bent Spoon Cafe, or at the door.