Walking through an alley at night can be relatively daunting, especially after a few drinks. So when you're suddenly startled out of a stupor by a commanding "Halt!" and gaze up at a tricked-out stormtrooper pointing a blaster in your direction, the instinct is to jump.
That's the perimeter of Plastorm, the moniker that local artist and film editor Robert B. Fortney gave to his backyard studio along a North Skidmore Street alleyway between Kerby and Borthwick avenues. Less tendentiously, it's a converted shed where he toils at his graffiti-inspired paintings and multimedia works. But if you were to wander into the yard—don't do that!—you'd be forgiven for thinking it was a command center. The area is decked out with computer monitors, some of which feature images from the alley thanks to cameras mounted on the various sci-fi warriors. Two stormtroopers, Kylo Ren, a metallic owl named Bubbo, and a Darth Vader donated by a neighborhood fan guard the area, calling out to passersby either by automated motion-activated recordings or a delighted Fortney speaking through a mic.
Originally, it stood as something of a tableau-style security system guarding the yard: After all, it was only a couple years ago that the alley was rife with johns getting blowjobs and thieves ducking the cops. But now, Plastorm has become an essential stop for everybody from teenagers drawing robot penises on the fence-affixed chalkboard to passersby curious about commanding voice of what Fortney calls Captain Plasma.
But lest you think it's all decorative, the imposing Imperial Guard has caused many would-be thieves to suddenly drop their goods, turning Plastorm and Fortney into happy and vigilant neighborhood watchmen. "They hear the sounds, drop their shit and run," says Fortney with a laugh. "I've returned six stolen bags this year."