For his pint-size project, Todd Schrenk had to make a big decision.
The Krewe of ’tit Rex member wanted to create a shoebox-size parade float that featured a marionette popping out to greet onlookers. But he’d never built a marionette before, and it became a logistical nightmare.
After considerable research and reworking, the marionette will sit back and pull beads off tree limbs and hand them out to spectators when the “microkrewe” rolls for its eighth year on Saturday in St. Roch and Faubourg Marigny.
“That’s what I’ve got to practice over the next (few) days,” said Schrenk, who will manipulate the marionette while his wife, Trish Nugent, pulls the float along bumpy neighborhood streets.
Paying attention to minute details as this is part of what makes ’tit Rex so special. The successive, alternative parades of ’tit Rex at 5 p.m. and Chewbacchus at 7 p.m. — covering routes that span swaths of Faubourg Marigny — have made the previously tame Saturday before the two main parade weekends one of the highlights of Carnival.
The theme of this year’s parade is “No Big Deal.”
If his dining room is any indication, Schrenk just might pull this off; surrounding the table of glue, wine corks and papier-mâché is a sort-of shrine to previous petit floats and the themes to which they speak. His “Atlas ’tit Populi” float from 2014 (“Wee the People”), perched atop a cabinet, features little clay men who stand on beams and tug at strings on pulleys surrounding a globe.
Diagonally across the room sits the king float for 2010 (“Le Petit Morte”), with a champagne poking out of a crimson and gold crown, the little royal about to be uncorked from the bottle.
On a nearby table is the title float from 2015 (“L’Enfant Terrible”), with a woman giving birth to the mischievous baby in question. (It was one of the few floats, he notes, that elicited complaints from paradegoers — not bad for a krewe known for its pointed social and political satire.)
Each year, Schrenk seems to feel the same level of creativity that inspired him, along with several other friends, to create ’tit Rex back in 2009.
An English and theater teacher at Cabrini High, Schrenk and his wife love to collaborate with what, at times, feels like a “who’s who” of New Orleans’ artistic community on a parade that packs a lot of visual and satirical punch into a street-level float.
He’s a native New Orleanian, which doesn’t hurt when repurposing a tradition inspired by generations of local schoolchildren crafting Carnival parade floats out of shoeboxes.
Avant-garde musician Rob Cambre emcees the post-parade Ping-Pong Ball at the AllWays Lounge, in which floats do a little promenade around the bar, a la the Convention Center.
One might think that such strong artistic personalities might dwarf the parade.
But beyond dressing up in tuxedos and gowns, the krewe members stay relatively out of the way. Float figurines, and not actual members, serve as royalty.
Schrenk enjoyed a particularly thrilling parade when, after his wife welcomed a son in 2011, they decided not to craft a float in 2012. Instead, he served as the “Tool Master,” helping fix problems with floats as needed along the route. (So, even the delays are small.)
“You get to walk up and down the line,” he said. “It gives you a whole new perspective of the parade.”
In keeping with this egalitarian spirit, paradegoers often show up with their own little works of art, so don’t be surprised if you almost trip over a 6-inch-high Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle sporting a sign that says, “Throw me something, Mister!”
“There’s this blurring of the lines between spectacle and spectator,” Schrenk said.