Nufonia Must Fall

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Nufonia Must Fall is a live performance, part of BAM’s ‘2015 Next Wave Festival,’  in which a silent film is created in realtime. All the elements that make up the film, the orchestra, the puppeteers and cameramen, can be seen collaborating on stage as the film is projected above them. The audience is given the freedom to not only choose which aspect of the performance to watch, but a behind the scenes look at the elements that make-up the film. The film is based on music producer Kid Koala’s (Gorillaz, Deltron 3030) adaptation of his 2003 graphic novel, Nufonia Must Fall. Kid Koala teamed up with production designer K.K. Barrett (Her, Lost in Translation) to direct and the Afiara Quartet to complement his turntables and keyboards. A team of puppeteers bring Nufonia to life, an aged robot with a growing fear of obsolescence, who tries to woo his office worker with his often tone-def music. (BAM.)

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Original graphic novel from 2003

The piece can be discussed in terms of interactivity in two main approaches— the onstage interaction amongst the team of performers and the audience’s interaction with the performance. Since the show is completely live, an immense amount of teamwork and attention to detail is needed by the various teams working together on stage. The film is performed, edited and scored all in realtime. The audience watches the different teams interact on stage with the final product projected above. The music accompaniment with the film is very much like a live accompaniment one would expect with a more traditional silent film, however, what is unique with this show is that while there is a set script and guidelines there is the potential for ad-libbing. For example, the Afiara Quartet discusses the ability to improvise— if they feel the audience is particularly enjoying a moment the puppeteer and camera team may decide to elongate it, meaning the Quartet will need to continue to play. (A Making of the Stage Production, video.) Furthermore, if there is a mistake, like a puppet getting stuck on a prop, again the Quartet along with Kid Koala, will need to improvise. In this sense, each audience experiences a unique performance, tailored or perhaps unintentionally tailored, to each specific crowd.

The audience’s choice in what to watch during the performance touches on the idea of a “democratization of the gaze.” (9/15 lecture.) The audience can watch the score being performed, the puppets moving, the cameraman, the team setting up for the next shot or the film itself on the big screen. It’s impossible to watch everything at once, therefore, it is up to the spectator to choose where to look. Furthermore, this adds to the idea of every performance being unique because each different spectator is viewing the performance in a distinct way. This points to what Söke Dinkla refers to as the “floating work of art,” which emphasizes the meaning of the work on the spectator— they will choose how to view the art and in turn give it meaning. (Dinkla.) Even though Nufonia follows a fixed script, the many choices in what to watch leaves plenty of room for interpretation. Furthermore, since the film has no dialogue each audience member may read parts of the narrative in a different way. Director K.K. Barrett even says he loves hearing different audience members tell the story back to him because each one remembers a different story. (A Making of the Stage Production, video.)

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The performance also can give the spectator what Erik Bucy refers to as an “illusion of interactivity.” (Bucy.) There is a sense of satisfaction for the viewer as they first watch the film being created and then see it on the big screen. Furthermore, this feeling gives the spectator a sense of involvement— as if they were involved in the creation of the film. While the audience doesn’t have much of a say, besides what the Afiara Quarter mentioned, if there is a sense from the audience to prolong a moment a little bit longer they will adapt to do so— generally it is more of an illusion, rather than an actual interaction. The audience is made to feel as if they are behind the scenes and that they are experiencing and witnessing a side of a film that they are excluded from the majority of the time. In this performance, they are invited to witness all of it. Additionally, there is a “democratization” not only in the gaze, but in that the audience is made to feel as if they are witnessing something which is usually exclusive to the filmmakers.

In a final venture to include the audience, which seems to be very important to Kid Koala and K.K. Barrett, at the end of the show everyone is invited to walk on stage and view the many mini sets on which they just performed on as well as mingle with the crew. This final invitation again plays to both the “illusion of interactivity” and “democratization” as the spectator is now not just watching a performance, but is asked to view pieces of the set up close perhaps touch them or take a photo with them and say hello to a crew member. While each audience member experienced Nufonia in a completely unique way there is a sense unity in the way the performers interact with each other and the audience and the overarching theme of love in the narrative. Creator Kid Koala said the inspiration for his original graphic novel was the work of Charlie Chaplin— even though his films are silent the audience’s reactions and interpretations create a sense of togetherness and unity, something I think Kid Koala successfully achieved.

Works Cited

BAM, “Nufonia Must Fall.” http://www.bam.org/music/2015/nufonia-must-fall

The Banff Centre, “Nufonia Must Fall: A Making of the Stage Production.” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K01BWCWk6ek

Professor Hassapopoulou’s lecture on Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Dinkla, Söke, “The Art of Narrative— Towards the Floating Work of Art.” 2001

Bucy, Erik P., “Interactivity in Society: Locatin an Elusive Concept.” 2004

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