“Every year I say the Festival program’s not going to get any bigger,” says Awesome Festival Artistic Director Jenny Simpson, “But every year it does feel a lot bigger.” Indeed, this year’s Awesome Festival program seems to be fairly bursting with shows and workshops for children and their families.
Jenny took some time out of her busy pre-Festival schedule to talk you through the shows on this year’s Awesome programme. (Challenge: see if you can work out which of Jenny’s show descriptions had Seesaw’s Nina Levy helpless with laughter.)
Super Power Kids Exhibition
“This year’s Festival will be underpinned by a fantastic book and exhibition that we’re launching in WA called Super Power Kids,” says Simpson. “The exhibition will be at the State Library of Western Australia and it will feature 33 extraordinary young Western Australians who have super powers. We’re partnering with Kalparrin to present this exhibition. Kalparrin is one of Western Australia’s leading agencies and they have over 4000 families whom they help navigate the health and disability systems.
Super Power Kids is a book that contains photographic essays created by Rachel Callander and Nathan Maddigan, contemplating the super powers people have that might not be so obvious to the outside world. We’re going to be asking the whole of Western Australia, and anyone else who’ll listen, ‘What is your superpower?’”
“Our headline show in the Heath Ledger Theatre this year is called Cloud Soup. Wolfe Bowart, of Spoontree Productions, is the artist and he is an extraordinary physical performer. His work involves clowning and movement and animation and mime… and in a nutshell it’s exquisite storytelling,” Simpson says with a sigh. “So in this instance it tells the story of a tailor who discovers the adventure that he longs for lies at his feet. And I don’t want to give too much away but I will say that I think there’s a lovely message of empathy in this show. Wolfe has been living in America and under the current American regime he’s feeling quite strongly that empathy is something we need to be discovering and rediscovering for ourselves, and having a conversation with our families and children about.”
Peter and the Wolf
“The is a show that everyone is talking about – social media went absolutely berserk when it was announced – is West Australian Ballet’s Peter and the Wolf, choreographed by Andries Weidemann. It’s a free show in the Perth Cultural Centre. You’ll need to bring yourselves, along with a hat and some sunscreen because it will be outdoors. I went to an early performance of this when it was being made and it’s just delightful and warm and ticklish… and beautiful really. So I expect that there’ll be lots of people coming in to join us for Peter and the Wolf. And I love the fact that we’ve got one of the best ballet companies in Australia making their work accessible to everybody by putting it on in a public place for free.”
“I’m pleased to be presenting some amazing West Australian artists and another show I’d like to highlight is CATCH! by Maxima Circus. Now, Maxima Circus is directed by someone who’s very well known, Sally Richardson. Sally is one of WA’s best known and loved directors. She works across theatre, dance and movement, and circus. It was a real interest to me a few years ago when she formed Maxima as a way of integrating these art forms. Often I struggle to program circus because it seems it’s based on one trick after another and often doesn’t have any kind of deeper narrative or anything more to offer the audience. And sometimes I struggle to program dance because it can be very abstract for children. So the notion of bringing physical movement, dance and circus together, all woven through with a narrative, is a really interesting idea. And Sally’s made a very beautiful show for young children that has lovely messages, a really empowering show actually. I can’t wait to see it light up the stage at PICA.”
“This show is phenomenal. It’s a partnership between DADAA and Circus WA. Led by Sam Fox, the artistic team includes circus artist Nel Simpson, dance artists Bernadette Lewis and Laura Boynes, composer/musician Roly Skender, costume/set designer Tyler Hill and lighting designer/production manager Mark Haslam. They’ve been undertaking this project for the last two years with teenagers who have high support needs and Circus WA’s youth troupe. They’re working with these young people to gather their stories and to develop their performance skills. So I think this is going to be beautiful… it’s actually a moment in time when a group of young people will have a platform to tell something about themselves in the way that they want to. And it’s very evocative of the super power conversation as well.
“The whole circus troupe has learned signing over the course of the creative process and they were talking about this recently, saying that the the biggest learning for them is that language needn’t have anything to do with words. So Experience Collider is very much about physical language, physicality and movement. It’s going to be extraordinary.”
“We’re doing a big weekend at UWA, the second weekend of the Festival this year. And we’ll have two stunning shows. The first one is by Windmill Theatre Co. and it’s called Beep. It’s for young children, ages 2 to 7, and it’s just a beautiful, beautiful show. Windmill’s artistic director, Rosemary Myers, is one of the best children’s theatre directors in the world, bar none. Beep is a robot who enters a foreign world and has to make her way in this world. The characters are absolutely endearing. Adults and children will fall in love with them as did I. I swear you will come out of it with a smile that would light the power grid.”
Picasso and his Dog
“Also at UWA we have Picasso and his Dog. This show has been on my wish-list for a couple of years now. It’s by Lemony S, a puppetry theatre from Victoria. It’s for ages 4 and up, and it’s about a sausage dog named Lump. So it’s a story about a man and his dog and the man just happens to be Picasso. And it’s a very, very beautiful show. So I encourage people to get along and see Picasso and his Dog at UWA.”
Bear With Me
“We presented Bear With Me at the Awesome Festival back in 2012. It’s one of the best shows in this genre that I’ve ever encountered and I see a lot of shows around the world every year. So I came to the conclusion that if it’s the best I will bring it back because it’s for young children and the children who would have seen it back in 2012 are in high school now probably. The characters are Tyrone and Lesley and they are the most adorable ukulele playing performers. And audiences are invited to bring their teddy bear to this show because their teddy bear plays a major role in the performance. I don’t want to say too much but let’s just say it’s a musical journey and really great for parents and grandparents with their young ones. There’s a lot of creative play and singing, and it’s pretty adorable. Possibly my favourite audience response to this show was back in 2012, when I saw a little girl coming out with her teddy bear. And I looked at her and said, ‘How did you go with that show?’ And she said, ‘I was a little bit too old for that show.’ And she’s about six. And I said, ‘Oh okay. And what did your bear think of it?’ And she just grinned and said, ‘You know? He loved it.’ I think that speaks volumes. So do bring your teddy bears along because, take it from her, they will love it.”
“One of our international acts this year is called Tetris, by Arch 8. I saw the show in Edinburgh in 2014 and I watched it with programmers from the Opera House and the Arts in Melbourne and Adelaide Festival Centre. At the end of the show we pushed each other out of the way and nearly broke our necks running to the front of the stage to grab the choreographer to tell him how much we wanted to bring this show to Australia. And back in 2014 he said his earliest dates were 2017. So that gives you an idea of how popular this piece is.
Tetris is a piece of contemporary dance/ physical theatre, based on the game Tetris. It is a show for anybody who likes, movement, colour and having a go. It’s really really fun. Basically it’s the colours of Tetris and the dancers perform a series of moves. And then over the course of the performance the dancers invite children onto the stage – parents can join them if they like – to learn the dance moves with them. By the time the show finishes, the dancers are sitting in the audience watching the children… and we all applaud them. I don’t think that should work on paper but it actually just works in practice. I’ve never seen it not work. So we just need lots of people to turn up and have a great time.”
“I’m always looking for opportunities to engage children in interesting and exciting ways with art-forms that have long and proud histories and a devoted, passionate following… but not necessarily with younger audiences. So I made an approach to Western Australia’s wonderful vocal ensemble, the Giovanni Consort, because they strike me as the group that is really trying to break down barriers to accessing choral music. I asked them how they would feel about creating something a bit different for children. We’ve used the premise of a show that they performed at Fringe and adapted that to be a work for children.
“The show is called Cloud Nine. It’s going to be quite immersive. Children and their families and their grown ups will be invited into a gallery downstairs at the Art Gallery of WA. The lights will be low, they will wear sleeping masks and lie on yoga mats, and the Giovanni Consort will perform around them. This affords the audience an opportunity to physically feel the music as well as just listening to it. And by depriving the senses it cuts out that distraction and the fidgeting, definitely no screens, and enables children to actually be more embodied in experiencing this performance. Then at the end of the performance they’ll be invited to join with the Giovanni Consort to sing a single note and to make a big harmony together. And then we hope that they might go in and join one of the exhibitions at the gallery, feeling very present and able to more fully interact with the artwork at the gallery.”
From Lip to Lung
“Now there’s a bloke called Mal Webb coming to this year’s Festival. Mal has been top of my bucket list for a long time. I’ve sent him an email with monotonous regularity every year inviting him to the Festival. And he’s never been available until now.
“Mal is a science geek. He’s the most magnificent musical nerd I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing. He’s been known to stick cameras down his throat to teach you how your vocal chords work. He’s a beat boxer. He’s a looper. He plays pretty much every instrument under the sun. And I defy anybody to be in a room with him and not want to make music and make noise. He’s crazy, he’s fun and he knows his songs. He will be joined by Kylie Morrigan. All the instruments that Mal doesn’t play, which is pretty few, Kylie plays. So this is a show (and we’re doing workshops as well) called From Lip to Lung. When you leave you’ll be in no doubt as to how your voice works and you’ll be able to do quite a few new things with.”
The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer
If you come to the gallery opening of The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, by The Last Great Hunt, we’ll be celebrating the success and the resilience of an independent show from Western Australia that has toured the world internationally, with two casts, for ten whole years. That is something, I think, to be very proud of.
So I’ve programmed Alvin Sputnik to celebrate his tenth birthday. I’ve loved this show and I’ve seen so many audiences around the world adore it as well. Alvin has been shining a torch all around the world for Western Australia. And I think it’s time for us to shine that torch on him and say, ‘Congratulations little fella.’
I expect that the show will sell out. The Last Great Hunt and Awesome are doing side by side seasons so we’re presenting the daytime shows and The Last Great Hunt is presenting night-time shows. One of the great things about good theatre, like Alvin Sputnik, is that it appeals to all ages.
*The description that made Nina ROFL was ROFLSHALBOWCO, of course!
Pictured top is Arch 8 performing ‘Tetris’. Photo: Didier Philispart.