Florida’s famous Weeki Wachee mermaids, currently in residence at the Audubon Aquarium, aren’t the only glamorous underwater creatures in town this month.
Far from the French Quarter, in an unassuming corner of the 9th Ward tucked behind Almonaster Avenue, a ramshackle former auto repair complex is being transformed into an immersive undersea wonderland complete with fluttering jellyfish, fabulous marine denizens, a live photo booth … and yes, its very own mermaid tank.
Just be sure to leave the kids at home for this one.
Described as “a mermaid masque,” “Splish: The Rise and Fall of the Show and Tail” is part interactive art installation, part theatrical extravaganza, and — this being New Orleans — part cocktail party, complete with a costumed cast of dozens and a 4,500-gallon mermaid tank that was custom built for the occasion.
The brainchild of a group of artists who have previously worked together in New York, Taipei, Taiwan; and Europe in addition to New Orleans, “Splish” was conceived of as a contemporary take on an art form that flourished in royal circles during the Renaissance.
In their original incarnations, masques incorporated elaborate architectural settings along with music, dance, drama, costumes and set design, making them the original multimedia art form par excellence.
The architecture this time around might be less grand, but the event taking place on Port Street on two evenings this weekend hews close to that original concept. “Splish” will include art installations and live tableaux taking place simultaneously throughout the performance space over its three-hour duration, and audience participation is integral.
“It’s a fully immersive environment, and no two people will have the same experience,” explained Jade Brandt, who is helming the fabrication of the performance environment along with fellow artists Nina Nichols and Jesse Roadkill. New Orleans-based Alita Edgar, of Marigny boutique Ex Voto, will be coordinating costume design, and Zibby Jahns and Jeff Stark are credited as co-directors.
All of which underscores the intensely collaborative nature of the project. Over two years in the making, “Splish” will be presented thanks to the efforts of about 60 collaborators and volunteers who will be doing everything from decorating the vast space at 2120 Port St. with hundreds of hanging jellyfish (“They’re made out of grocery bags,” explained Roadkill) to painting sets and making costumes, to performing in the show.
For all of its light-hearted splash and color, “Splish” isn’t family entertainment: Nudity and a ribald sense of queer-flavored theatricality are a central part of the proceedings. Pre-show publicity carries the tongue-in-cheek warning that “Interspecies sex and deep sea monsters abound.”
But for those willing to take the plunge, “Splish” promises to be one of New Orleans’ most eye-opening theatrical experiences this season.
“We’re showcasing the work of a lot of really talented local artists,” said Roadkill. “And our goal is to create something completely new and different and exciting. It’s going to be fantastic.”