World-renowned scratch DJ, music producer, and award-winning graphic novelist Kid Koala brought his production Nufonia Must Fall—based on his graphic novel of the same name— to the Bay Area this February. Those who experienced the show can attest to its magic. Appearing at the Hammer Theatre under the sub-brand Art Tech, Nufonia presents a unique marriage between art and technology that those of us living in Silicon Valley can appreciate.
Nufonia Must Fall, published in 2003, is a mostly wordless (“silent” in Kid Koala’s vernacular) graphic novel that tells the story of a robot fighting against its own obsolescence while falling in love with a female roboticist. Kid Koala says, “When I was writing Nufonia Must Fall, I always imagined the book being a kind of paperback silent movie.” His inspiration for the production stemmed from childhood memories of Charlie Chaplin films. “I remember my whole family, kids, parents and grandparents, huddled around the screen smiling and laughing along as the story unfolded. Since those days, something about the silent film format has always struck a chord with me.” The production itself is also largely silent—backed only by a string quartet, Kid Koala’s scratch music and sound effects, and his own occasional autotuned voicing of certain characters.
Kid Koala kicked off the night with a DJ set tribute to one of his biggest idols, Louis Armstrong. In the meantime, ushers at the Hammer Theatre passed out small bingo cards and pencils for a game of Nufonia-themed “Canadian Bingo” which followed the set. Two lucky audience members ended up winning a copy of his book, which details the production of Nufonia Must Fall. Kid Koala also gave an explanation of the word ‘nufonia’: “It’s backward for ‘no fun’,” he says, “so the robot has to go through his own sort of ‘nufonia’, that’s his journey.”
Nufonia brought a huge production team of puppeteers, technicians, and musicians who managed 5 cameras, 20 miniature sets, and 70 puppets to bring Kid Koala’s world to life. The director, K.K. Barrett, is an Oscar-nominated production designer who’s worked on Her, Where the Wild Things Are, Being John Malkovich, and more. The miniature sets were placed around the perimeter of the Hammer Theatre’s main stage, giving a few nods to San José’s downtown—Original Joe’s, La Victoria’s, Ike’s, Cafe Stritch, Hotel De Anza, and San Pedro Square Market. A member of the crew explained that they often add those personal touches to the set for each town they tour in.
After the performance, the audience was invited onstage to get a closer look at each of the sets and the main character puppets, as well as chat with the crew members about the production. The San José Valentine’s show ended Nufonia’s run in the U.S. The production is now touring Asia.
Though Nufonia Must Fall is a unique production, the Hammer Theatre typically brings in one or two Art Tech events per season. To learn more about Art Tech at the Hammer Theatre, visit the archive page at hammertheatre.com, and subscribe to our Applause e-newsletter for information about future events like this one!