Cartooon brings rubbery animated physics to the stage

"I will catch you, giant turtle!" A scene from <i>Cartooon.</i>

"I will catch you, giant turtle!" A scene from Cartooon.

The traditions of classic cartoons -- such as Bugs Bunny, Tom and Jerry, and any number of Tex Avery creations -- have been codified through the years. Gravity only works if you look down. Massive amounts of TNT will only leave you blackened, not dead. Never order anything from Acme.

These rules make the concepts ripe for a stage version -- but it's not something any human could actually do.

Enter the puppets.

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Steve Ackerman and a team of puppeteers and musicians have created Cartoon, a comedic deconstruction of the milieu of classic animated shorts that opens this week at In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre. He's created his own anthropomorphic critters, led by Tummy da Talking Turtle, and set out to put through their paces.

The concept has been kicking around in his head for several years, but really started to take shape while participating in a workshop at Heart of the Beast last year. 

"A lot of it was what I had watched as a kid. I was drawn back to the memories. I did indulge in watching a lot of shorts," Ackerman says.

The piece now includes three segments with each one using a different puppet scale. The first finds the characters on a tabletop. The second moves them to a more human scale, and the third has them super-sized. 

Even with the flexibility of puppets, there are still things to have to be left to the audience's imagination, Ackerman says. 

"They'll be able to fill in the gaps with the nostalgic memories they have of watching cartoons," he adds.

Musician and composer Matt Larson provides the all-important soundtrack for the various segments.

"I knew that with cartoons the music and sound effects are extremely important, so I thought of Matt," Ackerman says.

Larson also did plenty of animated research, though his focus was on a different aspect.

 "I watched. I also closed my eyes and listened. That's where I got the idea of what the sound effects and music should be," Matt says.

 One of the inspirations for Larson was Carl Stalling, who scored hundreds of shorts during his career. "He used a ton of pop music gimmicks. I tried to go for that as much as possible," he says.

Once the performance starts, Larson will have a very important job. He'll be responsible for the live foley sound effects that will bring all of the madcap action to audio life.

Between the musicians and Larson, the soundtrack never stops. "Whenever I'm not doing something, they are doing something and it is often overlapped," he says. 
The whole production uses every possible nook and cranny in the theater, all with the idea of bringing a full program of entertainment, Ackerman says.


7 p.m. Thursdays-Sundays through 26, plus midnight Saturday, January 25
In the Heart of the Beast Puppet and Mask Theatre
1500 E. Lake St., Minneapolis
For tickets and more information, call 612.721.2535 or visit online.