Sometime around the year 2000, Eric San (better known as DJ Kid Koala, who has toured with real music deities, like Radiohead) got his heart broken by his college sweetheart. While many heartbroken people stop all normal activity, drink excessively, and don’t accomplish anything, Eric San is not your standard person. Perhaps because San grew up in Vancouver idolizing Charlie Chaplin, Jim Henson, and Monty Python’s Flying Circus, his ideas about what to do in difficult situations like this were… inventive. San wrote a 350 page wordless graphic novel about a robot who can’t sing but tries to write a love song for a girl he doesn’t get. Nufonia Must Fall was published in 2003. Poof! Heartbreak gone.
Now, more than a decade later, Nufonia Must Fall is being brought to life, live, for its US debut at BAM. Are you wondering how a silent graphic novel about a love-sick robot can be performed live at BAM? Clearly, your heroes are not silent film actors, enigmatic English comics, or Muppets. But San’s are and, once again, they helped him figure it out.
At four performances this Thursday through Sunday, you can see Nufonia Must Fall brought to life via master puppeteers from Montreal, a score written by Kid Koala and performed by the heartrending strings of the Afiara Quartet, all directed by KK Barrett (the production designer legend behind Her, Lost in Translation, Being John Malkovich or, as Kid Koala points out, every visually exquisite movie because “anything that he touches in film has been so beautiful and moving and bold”).
In more than a dozen miniature sets, Nufonia Must Fall puppeteers recreate the story of a lovesick robot—a metaphor, of course, for humans who can’t figure out how to communicate with people they love—which is filmed and projected in real time on a movie theater screen. You can see the behind-the-scenes music-playing and puppet-making production at the same time as the live-edited Nufonia Must Fall movie. The grand result, hopes Kid Koala, is “a unified love story and silent film, which is just, you know, unfolding over the course of an hour.”
Today San is friends with the woman who inspired the graphic novel-cum-live-action-puppet show, and he’s pretty happy with how it’s all turned out. (It probably helps that he’s married to someone else.) San calls the US premiere of Nufonia at BAM the “2.0 version of the show,” (which premiered last year in Canada), since it includes two more cameras, flyover shots, and an entire city skyline.
Though San and Barrett (who approached Kid Koala after one of his shows in LA and suggested they collaborate) have been working on the project, creating a brand new kind of live performance for more than two years, San still has trouble defining what it is. “I can’t describe it. I start talking about the technical stuff, but that still doesn’t give people any indication of what it’s actually like to watch,” he said. “At any given point you can glance down on the stage and everyone is running around making a scene happen, or you see me scrambling to queue up a record. It’s a flurry of activity.”
If it’s still not what you expect, well that is what you might expect from the man who writes graphic novels, dresses as a large stuffed animal while he scratches vinyl, and has played tambourine during a live performance of In Limbo for Thom York. “It’s one of those hours that kind of surprises people, and I think that’s a good thing,” said San. “Getting to do it in front of a live audience, and hear them laugh and gasp and come along for the ride is great.”
For more information about how to get tickers for this live-performance robot love story, running at BAM from Thursday, September 17-Sunday, September 20, visit here.