May 26, 2020

Hanging with the “Roommates”

by joeyphoenix

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“Today my roommates and I had our front porch portraits taken. The wind was picking up a little, so Animal’s hair was out of control! This was the best we could do!”

by Joey Phoenix
Images by Crystal VanArtsdalen

We’re all going a little stir crazy. Our normal outlets for de-stressing have been taken from us. We can’t go to bars so instead, we’re going to the woods, we’re getting wild, we’re becoming fabric artists and baking truly terrible loaves of bread.

Essex, MA performer Crystal VanArtsdalen has also had the privilege (or misfortune) this quarantine of having three incredibly unruly roommates. Luckily, they’ve been down to have photoshoots with her as a way to pass the time.

Things have gotten a little out of hand.

“Today Kermit decided to help me practice some guitar. I’ve been trying to reteach myself how to play in quarantine. My other roommates were clearly not impressed.
Everyone’s a critic.”

“I first got the idea to do these photos during quarantine from my mother. We had joked for years – really since I bought them- that we should take some pictures like these just for fun. When lock down started I didn’t have the, ‘I don’t have time to do that right now’ excuse anymore,” Crystal said.

She bought the puppets, i.e her “roommates”, almost a decade ago from a friend of hers who collects movie props, and he wanted to sell these to make space in his collections. Crystal said that she couldn’t “bear the thought” of them going somewhere that wouldn’t fully appreciate them.

“Today my roommates and I officially entered ‘phase two’ of quarantine by baking some banana bread. I really should get Gonzo an apron that fits him. He’s going to get batter all over his tux.”

“They are fully poseable photo replica puppets, meaning that all of their joints are moveable and poseable, but they don’t have the ability to have a puppeteer operate them from the inside,” she explained.

The photos involve a lot of initial set up and, due to some less than state-of-the-art tech – namely an iPhone and a timer, a lot of luck.

“The first few pictures were taken by duct taping the phone into position across the room and then diving into place before the timer went off,” she said. “There have been a lot of outtake shots.”

“Today my roommates and I played a little Dutch Blitz. It was a tough game, but I won! They insist it was because I am the only one with arms long enough to reach the whole way across the table to play on all of the piles, but I think it was sheer skill.”

Since she started this project, friends and family from all over have played along with the idea that these are her real-live roommates, and have given her suggestions about things that she and her roommates can do together. All of the scenes are inspired by things that she would probably be doing already, with an extra dose of absurdity.

“I think one of the greatest gifts we have in this time where we all feel so out of whack from the intense amount of change is the ability to relate to each other digitally and realize that none of us are alone in feeling off,” she said.

“Being able to joke with each other about that is incredibly important.”

After yesterday’s outing, my roommates were really bugging me to let them take the car. So, today we had Animal’s first driving lesson (he was the only one who could reach the pedals). Big, BIG mistake. I think Kermit and I are traumatized for life. Gonzo wanted to do it again. He said it was the best rollercoaster he’s ever been on.
Today my roommates and I realized that this weekend was halfway to Halloween! So, we are enjoying a horror movie marathon. I don’t think anyone is going to sleep tonight.
Today my roommates and I all had some work to do, so here is a picture of us looking about as “normal” as every other family during quarantine! I wish Kermit would use earphones, but it’s hard when you don’t have…well…ears.

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