Cattle Mutilation: The Musical! 

Bigfoot, aliens and rock 'n' roll will hit the VAC stage on Tuesday, July 23

click to enlarge PUPPETEERS FOR FEARS
  • Puppeteers for Fears

It took Josh Gross just two weeks to write dialogue and music for Cattle Mutilation: The Musical! At 90 minutes in length, it was the first full show that his troupe, Puppeteers for Fears, had ever performed.

"This show has a really wonderful balance of absurdity, complexity and heart that is super rare," wrote Gross, artistic director of Puppeteers for Fears, in an email. "Unsurprisingly, it's a delicate balancing act to write kooky songs about anal probes that also dissect the legacies of colonialism as they explore the meaning of friendship. But here, it worked really well."

Cattle Mutilation: The Musical!, which will hit the Visual Arts Collective stage on Tuesday, July 23, created a template for the shows that PFF's wrote after it. They contain monsters as heroes, and embrace of dark humor, and catchy songs that aesthetically match the story's themes. An example is "Bigfoot's Lament," a song in which Bigfoot expresses anxiety over the size of his feet and his ostracization from society because of them. But there's a more serious meaning behind this show which also contains dancing anal probes and inside-out cows.

"We all have to learn to live together or else we will tear each other apart," wrote Gross. "That may seem like a weird thesis for an R-rated puppet show about Bigfoot, but come along for the ride and I assure you it will track."

It was important for Gross, a native Oregonian and Boise Weekly alum, to represent Bigfoot in a musical. When writing musicals, PFF had tried to "focus on monsters that have name or face recognition, but that don't have a story that audiences are overly familiar with. In that sense, Bigfoot is great because audiences get the general idea but haven't already seen his singular story done to death through endless remakes," wrote Gross. "That's very different from a character like Godzilla or King Kong, which have mythology that has to be factored in, thereby limiting the storytelling and inviting comparison to previous versions."

Bigfoot isn't the only odd character included in the musical. There is revolutionary cows, megalomaniacal aliens, ranchers struggling to connect with their kids, and—the least odd of the bunch—lonely gamer teens. The value of having such a diverse crowd of characters speaks to the underlying message of the musical:

"It's a story about the importance of bridging divides, even if it takes a UFO abduction to show you the light," wrote Gross.

Puppeteers for Fears has performed shows about robots, elder gods, mummies, werewolves, and serial killers. During its last visit to Boise, in 2018, it came with Cthulhu: The Musical, and each new show ups PFF's production level and sophistication. Cattle Mutilation: The Musical! is more lighthearted than some of the previous shows it has put on in Boise, "but they have a coherent trajectory," wrote Gross. The company has put together a book of all its musicals that will be available at its merch table—reading about all its shows side by side puts into perspective its growth in all aspects of theater.

Puppetry is of course an indispensable aspect of the company's shows.

"The biggest challenge specific to this show is that several of our senior and founding members recently cycled out, so we had more new cast members than usual. And since people rarely come to us with an existing background in puppetry, that usually means we are teaching them puppetry along with the show," wrote Gross. "Learning puppetry through a show this robust and complex is definitely throwing them into the deep end. It's a physically intensive medium, and a beast of a show."

PFF is known for liberally mixing genres, and like previous performances in Boise, Cattle Mulitation: The Musical! Uses puppeteering side by side with live music. In this case, audiences can expect a dozen space-jazz songs performed by Derek Deon and the Vaughns.

"There are a lot of classic pulp sci-fi themes in the story, so the score was written to compliment those with a lot of use of surf and space-age guitar techniques. But for fun, I snuck in a lot of different riffs and references to all sorts of different songs, everything from Oingo Boingo to Motorhead" wrote Gross.


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