Brady McKellar used to get up at 5:30 a.m. as a child just to watch “The Muppets.” As a result, that’s his 20-foot, 5-man egret you’ll see chasing fish down the street at Festival International 2015.
“All of a sudden, there’s art that happens in front of them,” said McKellar. “We’re still talking about scheduling. Festival wants things to constantly be popping up.”
The creative director and co-founder of Wanderlust Theatre Company, a 10-person, semi-professional organization in Lafayette since 2010, McKellar is contracted to do street animation, large puppetry and performances on smaller stages for Festival 2015. He’s assisted by fellow co-founder and director Elsa Dimitriadis and associate managing director Charlee Halphen.
Street animation in the past meant walking on stilts.
“We offered, but no,” he laughed. “They wanted to do something different. We’ve been fortunate to be tasked with that.”
McKellar designs and engineers the puppets — large puppets 16 feet tall and over — with tech director Duncan Thistlethwaite. “He’s been thrust into puppet armature construction,” said Brady. “It’s a two person job.”
Dimitriadis and Halphen are in charge of draping, costume and aesthetic operations. The men do the frame and skeleton, although McKellar will sculpt the faces. University of Louisiana at Lafayette professor emeritus Dr. John Fiero is their dramaturge.
Wanderlust is designing ten different events, one with two puppet pieces actually on bikes, and another, a dramatization of Louisiana Folktales, will take place on the Children’s Stage. “Audience participation is required so we’ll need children,” said McKellar.
There will be shadow puppets at Sans Souci plus the 20-by-20 foot egret and its five puppeteers flying down the street, complete with fish puppets fleeing its advance.
“We’ll need help, we have a decent size Rolodex we’ll be flipping through,” said McKellar.
The Festival is partnering with Project Front Yard, Mayor Joey Durel’s initiative to improve the city’s landscape.
“It’s very exciting to throw around ideas of what we like. The Festival has enjoyed having custom pieces that can underscore the theme while being part of the creative process,” said Dimitriadis. “We’re basing two figures on a green theme, they’re recycled people.”
The characters’ concept derives from Troy Dugas’s Festival artwork, Radial Forms #4, a large-scale collage made entirely of vintage product labels.
Dimitriadis has a degree in music and theater with a masters from Savannah College of Art & Design, Halphen graduated from the North Carolina School of the Arts and McKellar has degrees in theater performance and an MFA from the University of Southern Mississippi in theater technology.
Although they have performed at Jazz Fest in the past, they are all diehard Festival International people. Halphen attended her first when she was six.
“It’s wonderful to have these people with the training and background. Society has always had an obligation to support the arts, but we want people to have a good time too,” said Dimitriadis.
Dimitriadis says the troupe is trying to make theater accessible to the masses. “Martini glasses or bikes, we want public theatre to be public, but it has to be good.”
Wanderlust consults, contracts with film and community theater groups, and their recent résumé includes “Little Shop of Horrors” and the Steam Punk Fair. They do special private, and corporate events. “If you want elaborate staging or walk-around characters, we can,” said Dimitriadis.
The group also does theater in random locations and once had an audience remain even in the rain.
“It’s fun and exciting, it makes people wonder what we’re up to,” she said.
And while they refuse to reveal too many of their surprises in advance, there will be a pre-April preview. In the meantime, a small spoiler alert.
“I’ll be in the egret for sure,” said Halphen.