Arts & Culture

Meet Treefort’s Barry Ro Mantis: He’s 18 feet tall, loves to dance and could lose his head

Watch a giant praying mantis macro puppet come to life and dance the night away at Treefort in Boise

Sam Johnson and the Colossal Collective have given birth to a new macro puppet. Say hello to a giant praying mantis named Mr. Barry Ro Mantis who danced with friends in Downtown Boise at the Treefort Music Fest.
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Sam Johnson and the Colossal Collective have given birth to a new macro puppet. Say hello to a giant praying mantis named Mr. Barry Ro Mantis who danced with friends in Downtown Boise at the Treefort Music Fest.

Sometimes it is easy being green, especially if your name is Barry Ro Mantis.

He’s a dapper, 18-foot tall praying mantis who will be prancing through the streets of Downtown Boise this weekend as part of the Treefort Music Festival — and if you love the magic and whimsy of giant puppets, you won’t want to miss seeing him in person.

Barry Ro Mantis is the creation of Sam Johnson and the Boise macro puppet-building group called The Colossal Collective. About 20 people were involved in making the puppet, which they dreamed up back in November.

“He’s got a lot of character,” Johnson said of the giant bug, who wears a top hat and bow tie. “He’s a hopeless romantic, and he’s looking for love.”

You can see Johnson talk about making puppets at his Hackfort talk “Giant Freaking Puppets” at 4 p.m. Thursday in the Inspire studio at JUMP, 1000 W. Myrtle St.

Where to find Treefort’s giant praying mantis

Barry Ro Mantis’ debut at Treefort was Wednesday night in the El Korah Shrine parking lot. He’s got another performance with Ballet Idaho at 8 p.m. Thursday on the Main Stage.

Not to give away too much about the Thursday show, but Barry could lose his head. Don’t worry, it’s detachable.

Barry Ro Mantis will be based in the Idaho Power parking lot near the Main Stage and “orbiting that area” from Friday through the rest of the festival.

Johnson has been building giant puppets since 2012, and others joined him in recent years to form Colossal Collective. Their unforgettable creations include Jungo Blizzard, a 22-foot tall gorilla, Penelopecock, a colorful two-headed peacock made with 3,000 LED lights.

Colossal Collective is a group of creative individuals that volunteer their time to build large-scale puppets with donations and grant money for music festivals in the Pacific Northwest. The group has built puppets like Jungo, the giant gorilla th

Barry Ro Mantis, who has a 30-foot claw span, is rigid but lightweight. He’s made of foam and fabric, a polyester canvas that they print on and laminate. They carved into the foam to inlay LED lights. He isn’t powered by any motors. He’s people-powered, other than the lights.

“It’s old-school puppetry,” said Johnson, who thinks Barry is more beautiful by day than night. “We’ve had puppets in the past where we said, ‘Let’s just take it out at night.’”

It takes at least three or four people to move the macro puppet, and even more to make him dance. His head turns and his body shakes, too.

Barry will soon have a partner. Colossal Collective will be adding a female praying mantis later this year. Making puppets is a labor of love for Johnson.

“They’re like children,” he said. “You can’t say that you have a favorite.”

The praying mantis cost about $5,000 to make. Treefort now provides a cash sponsorship and festival tickets to the puppet-makers.

“I get to bring everyone who helped make it,” Johnson said. “Treefort makes us feel appreciated.”

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