Happy Fall:

A Queer Stunt Spectacular

Two young men dressed in black use metal rods and work together to pose a 15-inch-tall foam puppet that looks like a bald, muscular, blue-skinned bodybuilder or professional wrestler, wearing red briefs and black boots. The puppet is scowling and staring up at a miniature white slip bag, or punching bag, used by boxers for training.
Exploring cast foam prototype “Maxi Stuntee” for Happy Fall: A Queer Stunt Spectacular by Rogue Artists Ensemble

Queer culture, stunt showmanship, and puppetry all collide for the Rogue Artists Ensemble’s Happy Fall: A Queer Stunt Spectacular.

Written by Lisa Sanye Dring with Rouge, Happy Fall is informed by five plus years of conversations and workshops with the LGBTQIA+ stunt community. Merging the excitement of a live action stunt show with the emotional impact of a relatable coming out story and expressed through skillful puppetry of figures from small to extremely oversized, the show offers audiences an introspective look at themselves as well as into an often-unseen community. 

In Happy Fall, miniature stunt dummies are used to recreate famous action scenes live on stage, sometimes compositing the miniature footage with shots of human actors in front of a green screen. Life sized stunt dummies (a real thing used in action films) step in when it’s not just physically dangerous, but also when characters can’t be truthful, which leads to a haunting conclusion. Puppets play a critical role in the production, bringing an otherworldly quality to the proceedings asking us to question what is human and what is truth. 

Happy Fall is inspired by the love of an often-overlooked entertainment, the live stunt show, a true inspiration growing up in Los Angeles as a kid. The production explores a coming out story as so many members of the Rogue community identify as part of the LGBTQIA+ community and it was during an Ensemble meeting where the idea to collide these two disparate forms occurred – stunt show and a coming out story – what is more Rogue than that?

Two young men dressed in black use metal rods and work together to pose a 15-inch-tall foam puppet that looks like a bald, muscular, blue-skinned bodybuilder or professional wrestler, wearing red briefs and black boots. The puppet is scowling and has one leg extended behind him, as if he's lunging forward, with his arms outstretched.
Exploring “Maxi Stuntee” cast foam prototype.
A close-up of two sets of hands using metal rods to pose a trio of 4-inch-tall foam puppets that each look like bodybuilders or professional wrestlers. Each puppet is a single pastel color, bald, barefoot, and wearing red briefs. The yellow puppet is lying with his chest on the ground and lifting his head up, while the pink puppet is straddling the yellow puppet's neck in what looks like a wrestler move. In the foreground, the blue puppet appears to be reacting with alarm to the struggle between the yellow and pink puppets.
Exploring “Mini Stuntee” cast foam prototypes.
In a spoof of Buster Keaton's famous falling house movie stunt, where the actor stands in exactly the right spot so that the facade of a house falls all around him and leaves him standing unharmed in the space left by an open attic window, a 4-inch-tall yellow foam puppet crouches and looks up at a crudely built white styrofoam facade of a three-story house that's falling and appears about to crush him.  A young man dressed in black, his face just above the level of the table, watches the scene and uses his left hand to help manipulate the puppet, while a hand from an unseen second puppeteer reaches intro frame from the top right corner to also manipulate the puppet with a set of metal rods.
An homage to Buster Keaton’s famous house falling stunt.

Created by a team of Rogue ensemble members (Sean Cawelti, Kelsey Kato, Jack Pullman, Emory Royston, and Brian White), the puppets capture the hyper-masculine action figures from the 1980’s, created at a time when stunts were king. The oversized action figures are cast out of expanding polyurethane foam, which allows them to be eerily human. The small puppets are manipulated with tiny wires, while the larger puppets move through several rods and a mechanized head which requires three puppeteers to bring to life. 

Developed over many years, Rogue Artists have been researching, playing, interviewing members of the LGBTQIA+ stunt community, even taking stunt classes to develop the concept and script. Support from the National Performance Network’s Creation and Development fund has been crucial in further development as the project nears the finish line.

A promotional image for "Happy Fall: A Queer Stunt Spectacular." The image has a saturated blue background. On the left side are blurred shadows of lighting equipment used in movie making, and on the right side are blurred shadows of scaffolding. Running vertically down the center 20% of the image are six saturated pink stripes. The stripes fan out at the top and bottom of the image to give the illusion of perspective and depth. Over the stripes is gray silhouette of a figure falling backwards. There are two lines of white text at the top of the image. The first line reads HAPPY FALL, and the second line reads A Queer Stunt Spectacular.

Visit Skirball.org for more details on Happy Fall: A Queer Stunt Spectacular.

For more information regarding Rogue Artists Ensemble, visit rogueartists.org.