Q&A/The Fringe Sessions/Fringe World Festival/Music

Surround sound

14 January 2021

Indie pop choir Menagerie returns to Fringe World in 2021 with a new show that promises to immerse audience members in a physical and sonic journey.

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Established in 2013, Menagerie is a Perth-based indie pop choir, directed by Sally Banyard, AKA Zookeeper Sal. In her Fringe Sessions Q&A Zookeeper Sal takes Seesaw readers behind the scenes of Menagerie’s Fringe World 2021 show, No Such Place.

Seesaw: Welcome back to the Fringe Sessions Zookeeper Sal. For those who haven’t read your 2019 Q&A or seen the choir previously, can you tell us about Menagerie?
Zookeeper Sal:
Menagerie is choir with a massive twist. Think carefully crafted arrangements of indie songs with the energy of a pub choir and the dedication of Olympic athletes!

A close up profile shot of Sally Banyard conducting Menagerie Choir. She has her hands raised and is smiling at the choristers.
Sally Banyard AKA Zookeeper Sal in action. Photo: Anthony Tran

S: Tell us about No Such Place, the show you are presenting at Fringe World 2021.
No Such Place is an immersive journey throughout the State Theatre Centre of WA – a powerful 80 voices singing an eclectic mix of the best indie songs, in front of and around the audience. Expect chills, spine-tingles and maybe even tears as beautiful vocal sounds wash over you (with appropriate physical distancing of course!)

This work was designed specifically for the spaces and architecture of the State Theatre Centre and is a sequel (of sorts) to last year’s acclaimed Songs From a Distant Sun, but this time the audience moves with us as we traverse this very special venue. See and hear the choir in various physical forms, singing the rousing indie tunes Menagerie are known for, while also creating a continuous flow of music as we take the audience from space to space through evocative soundscapes.

Accompanied by a small band and original video artwork, No Such Place will transport you and will be a forever-memorable experience.

Please note the preview shows (January 23 and 24) are fully seated and in the Courtyard only – a good option for those with significant mobility barriers.

S: What inspired No Such Place?
Since last year’s Songs From A Distant Sun we have been really keen to perform in shapes other than a block of choristers on stage – exploring “space” in more ways than one. I love the idea of the audience being inside the music, and the idea that different listeners will hear different things depending on where they are sitting, whether that is the nuance of a particular voice, or even a whole line of harmony. Stereo effects are exciting! But this aspect of performance often gets lost in the practicalities of staging a Fringe show.

Because of our desire to explore physical space in this way, we’d been musing over possible venues in which we could develop this approach with our new show No Such Place. Then Kaitlin Tinker at the State Theatre Centre of WA put out a call for Fringe shows that we couldn’t ignore. We submitted an application for our dream show scenario that made use of multiple spaces in the STCWA, including balconies and staircases, and it was accepted, so off we went, tailoring a show to suit this space and as many of its features as we could (realistically) muster!

Of course, COVID restrictions have meant we can’t get really up close and personal, but those limitations have led to other interesting ideas, plus what is probably a silver lining for some audience members – you will be immersed, but no-one will actually sing right in your face!

S: Take us behind the scenes of a Menagerie Fringe show – what happens backstage?
The Menagerie Fringe experience may include…
• Zookeeper Sal dying her hair… and hands… purple just before the first show. (Fortunately the lights disguised the purple remnants!)
• Having to redesign an entire stage setup that took months to figure out in a matter of hours…
• Trying to keep 60 people quiet in a stiflingly hot corridor for 20 mins pre-show.
• One of our dancers from Songs From A Distant Sun being accidentally locked out mid-show and needing to race around Girls School to get back in time for the next dance!
• Impromptu ball-pit performances for security guards who couldn’t watch the show.

S: How has living through a global pandemic shaped or changed the way you work?
The fact of the matter is it hasn’t changed things heaps for us, and we’ve been really grateful that we were mostly able to continue choiring through the year. We Zoomed from April to June – revisiting old Fringe performances and singing along together – mostly with mics off, but sometimes on (coining the term “chaos singing”)

We had a quiet winter season with socially distanced rehearsals that culminated in a lovely walk around Hyde Park, singing to trees and people. Restrictions and uncertainty have made us more flexible than ever before – we plan, but expect things to change and roll with whatever limitations get thrown our way! Consistent motivation is difficult, but at the end of the day singing together makes us feel good, so we keep doing it how and when we can.

S: What is your favourite part of the playground?
Monkey bars because we’re a menagerie.

No Such Place plays the State Theatre Centre of WA 23-29 January (23/24 are seated shows, the remainder are immersive performances) as part of the State of Play program at Fringe World 2021.

Pictured top is Menagerie Choir performing their 2020 show, ‘Songs From a Distant Sun’.

Seesaw Managing Editor Nina Levy is a member of Menagerie Choir. Photo: Anthony Tran

“The Fringe Sessions” is an annual series of Q&A interviews with artists who will be appearing at Fringe World. Stay tuned for more!

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Rosalind Appleby

Author —
Rosalind Appleby

Rosalind Appleby is an arts journalist, author and speaker. She is co-editor of Seesaw Magazine, author of Women of Note, and has written for The West Australian, The Guardian, The Australian, Limelight magazine and Opera magazine. She loves the percussion instruments which can be found in the uber cool parks.

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