Saturday, August 09, 2014

Elaborate puppet show staged in gritty garage draws crowds for melancholy tale: Milissa Orzolek's "What keeps us"

Milissa Orzolek presented artful and melancholy puppet performances in a garage in the King's Hwy rust belt on Fri, Aug 8. A puppeteer who has worked with Arthur Mintz and Theresa Andersson on a movie and who toiled with Wayne White on the UnScene parade puppets, she and her cohort of 10 - Abandoned Ships - drew considerable crowds to her 2 shows.

It was an elaborate entertainment. Opening with paper and pencil and cardboard lap boards, the audience drew a map of their abodes and routes to their favorite places. Then the story of a mysterious witch was revealed via numerous handmade sets and smartly varied lighting schemes. Among the most charming were graceful silhouettes. There was a clever attempt by the puppet townspeople to find the enigmatic figure by making giant broomsticks using utility poles.

One of its strengths was the melodic and witty score performed and written by guitarist Kern Courtney and percussionist Peter Fetterman.

Steady changes of lighting and of sets mesmerized the audience. Interestingly, the relatively small puppets telling the story alongside funky vehicles such as a bicycle and garbage truck were overshadowed by their human handlers. Orzolek eschewed the traditional mode of handlers being hidden from the audience by fabric or board. Instead, the humans were continuously onstage while they manipulated the figures.

In presenting the show at a heretofore obscure location - behind Jim Hayes' LA House of Props on Kings Hwy - Orzolek stunned local art followers. Using cheap materials, low-tech methods and a pensive, enigmatic tale, she offered a persuasive, alternative mode for artful storytelling. Her production was not supported by grants, she said.

Pennsylvania-native Orzolek, who has been living in New Orleans for several years, said, "I've been creating shows for a few years now. Long before I started living here." Yet her performance art arrives as Shreveport Regional Arts Council's UnScene series meets the one-year mark. Has the spark of energy from the Shreveport Common shows played a role in lighting fires such as "What keeps us?"

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