Too long have puppets been claimed exclusively by the stroller riding, pre-pubescent tween. But fear not, you closet lovers of animated toys. No longer must you hang your heads low in public, secretly stroking and whispering to your little Elmo or Blinky Bill doll stuffed discretely within the folds of your grownup looking duffel bag. The Snuff Puppets have come to town.
"Puppets are for everyone," declares Snuff Puppet Artistic Director and creator Andy Freer. Freer has erected a giant puppet haven for the over-age crowd to take shelter in since 1992, and he has generated quite a following. But don't expect these puppets to play by the rules of your typical Jim Henson production censorship. The big Snuff tends to get a little...well...naughty. And we like it.
"As a performer, being inside guts is quite a visceral experience," Freer says. And he does mean literally. Imagine a life-size cow dancing a quivering jig around a deranged butcher puppet who likes to flash his audience by lifting up his one piece of clothing: a scanty, barely legal apron. Now picture a performer dressed up as intestines peel its way out of the cow after the maniac butcher carves the beast up. No messy blood, or horror movie gore. Just disturbingly cute, plush puppet gizzards rolling across the stage. Naw.
"Death and guts are part of what I create," Freer says. "People have a lot of issues about these things and I support people in breaking down these issues. There is a particular movement quality to guts."
In the entertainment business, "snuff" has come to mean real-life sex tapes or actual murder movies. Now, while these bizarre and cheeky puppets aren't exactly real, two out of three ain't bad.
"Puppets are able to do things that humans cannot. It allows us to experiment, break and explore taboos," he says. And let's face, you can get away with a lot more mischief in a gigantic alien puppet suit.
But this Sunday, the Snuff patrol will be putting on a special show. A party, in fact. Snuff Party #3 will be shaking up the Big West Festival that's rocking the inner western suburbs this week. The puppet brigade will be a definite highlight in the community-based performance and visual art event.
"People should expect anything," Freer says enigmatically. If Snuff's previous street performances captured on YouTube are anything to go by, expect to be delightfully - if not, unsettlingly - surprised.
But Freer gives us a little sneak peak: "It will be a night of entertainment and artistic experiment. There will be body parts - insides and outsides. Throughout the night there will be roving human body parts and other spontaneous puppet performances."
And Freer embraces the true reason why puppets are put on Earth: to play with, project fantasies on and draw into your own little world. Snuff Party invites its guests to have a test drive of the exquisite - and, yes, the scary - costumes. "Guests will be able to interact with the puppets. They will be able to get inside the puppets and see the world from inside.
"Come down, have a good time and party with the puppet. You can also have a go in one of the puppets."
Going to a Snuff show is definitely an eye-opening experience. The puppeteers don't just potter around in their incredibly designed costumes (although, this would be entertaining enough). Freer weaves live music, visual and physical theatre and glorious props into performances with a dash of spontaneity.
"The work is poetic, metaphorical, challenging, experimental and transformational.
Puppets are able to do things that humans cannot. It allows us to experiment, break and explore taboos," Freer says.
The mood is a little dark as it rests on the age-old art of black comedy and the actors rely on body language over speaking, and the silence in the characters just adds to the eerie mood. "It's about transformation," Freer explains of his handiwork.
"Liberation of the senses, experimentation, exploring taboos, extreme surreal places, provocation, comedy and the grotesque. In the end, it's about having fun and being taken out of daily existence for a moment and being transported."
Freer doesn't use death and sex just to shock and titillate viewers. He says he also wants to tackle the big stories in life, uncovering the unspoken and unseen in everyday life.
"Death is part of life; it's expressive of life and the cycles of life. It's a good turning point to explore...Children should be exposed to the big stories in life and not sheltered from things."
Snuff Party #3 is on at the Big West Festival in Footscray's Drill Hall on Sunday November 27 from 8pm until late. $5 tickets available on the door.