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

Telling a tale for our times

8 January 2021

New Perth-based theatre company Monkey Brain will be making its debut at the 2021 Fringe World Festival, with a show about the luckiest cat in the world. Why is that a particularly pertinent topic in 2021? Monkey Brain founder Yvan Karlsson explains.

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Yvan Karlsson is a director and performer, working in dance, puppetry and theatre. Most recently he has founded Monkey Brain, a physical and visual theatre company creating primarily “all-ages” work.

Seesaw: Yvan, although you’re a young artist, you’ve already worked extensively in theatre and puppetry, both here and overseas. Can you tell us a bit about your career journey to date?
Yvan Karlsson:
I have had an interesting journey through the arts to get to where I am now. I was first a dancer with STEPS Youth Dance Company for eight years, training under Danielle Micich and Alice Lee Holland. Then, out of high school I became a puppeteer with Spare Parts Puppet Theatre performing in shows directed by Philip Mitchell and Michael Barlow.

Yvan Karlsson

I went to London to study more puppetry at the Curious School of Puppetry lead by puppeteer legend Sarah Wright. Staying in London, I then became a movement director working with Jessica Lazar of Atticist. We worked on a production of Stephen Berkoff’s EAST, which picked up multiple “Off West-End Theatre” nominations, one of which was for Best Choreography/Movement.

Returning to Perth I have been working for companies such as MAXIMA Circus, ERTH, Spare Parts Puppet Theatre and last year I directed a puppetry show in Singapore for The Wanderlings called Tape Tape World.

2020 actually provided a blessing when the shows I was due to be in got cancelled. It allowed me to finally get to work on my own creative projects that had been brewing for some time. With these new projects came Monkey Brain – a fresh new company that provides a platform for my work and the work of my collaborators.

S: Tell us about your Fringe World 2021 work THE LUCKY CAT
THE LUCKY CAT is Monkey Brain’s first ever work. It’s about Alex, “The Unluckiest Child in the World” who meets Tet, “The Luckiest Cat in the World”. They go on an adventure to the world of Fate, to change Alex’s luck and in the process learn what luck really is.

It is a delightful and witty work for ages 5 and up, featuring puppetry and visual theatre to tell a story about luck, fate and optimism. It’s a whole lot of fun.

For this work we have puppets designed by maker extraordinaire Leon Hendroff, sound by fast-rising star Rebecca Riggs-Bennett (Elsewhere/Rebecca) and stellar performances by Caitlin McFeat of See You Next Tuesday fame and our loveable funny man Tristan McInnes, a Big-Hoo-Haa regular. Also helping us is dramaturg Humphrey Bower, young lighting wiz Peter Young and formidable producer Erin Lockyer.

S: What inspired you to make THE LUCKY CAT?
I wanted to make this work as a response to feeling like “The Unluckiest Child in the World”. It seemed like at the start of the pandemic young people (and adults) felt like nothing was in their control. Why weren’t they allowed to do this? Why not that? I’m sure many felt absolutely unlucky, having to have birthdays on Zoom and playdates through the garden fence.

When I thought back to when I felt most unlucky it was during high school. I would come home with endless homework and tests and my black cat, called Shadow (I know, a genius 14-year-old name), was just sitting there lying in the sun. I thought he was “The Luckiest Cat in the World”. I wished I could just drop everything and lie in the sun with him all day.

So, THE LUCKY CAT was born and I started writing. Along the way I got inspired quite heavily by Studio Ghibli. I had always longed to create a work with Hayao Miyazaki’s “soft world building” approach and this seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Also entwined through the story are references to Egyptian mythology, another obsession of mine at the moment. One may be able to draw the connection between “Tet” and “Bastet”.

A man crouches next to a chicken puppet. The puppet is bright red and is composed of triangular shapes.
Tristan McInnes rehearsing ‘The Lucky Cat’. Photo: Emma Fishwick

S: What makes The Lucky Cat different to all the others on offer at Fringe?
To quote Perth producer legend Libby Klysz. “THE LUCKY CAT stands out from other all-ages theatre because it never talks down to its audience. It is smart, and very funny. Like, funny for everyone. Not just fart jokes for the kids, or smug smirks for the parents. Genuinely innovative in the way the performers work in scene and to the audience, juggling comedy, pathos, puppetry and live performance deftly and with ease.”

S: No interview is complete without reflecting on 2020. How has living through a global pandemic shaped or changed your practice?
Well in many ways it has changed everything. I think artists are looking deeper into what the purpose of what we do is. Which sadly for some has meant stepping away and choosing different fields. But for others it has meant doubling down and investing further in the path we have chosen. I feel for graduates and emerging artists during this time especially, feeling so undervalued and unsupported in their introduction to the industry.

Safe to say a lot changed for me personally with the pandemic. In 2020 I would have performed in two shows, travelled to India for two months, been to Japan and already started living in London again. Ha… Ha… That doesn’t even include not being able to see my girlfriend in Singapore for going on nine months.

However, there is no doubt in my mind that without the pandemic this company and this show would not exist. It has been an absolute blessing to be able to create, especially here in Perth and especially being able to support and pay artists through this period.

I think there’s also something to say about the possibilities of working digitally. Like most, I’m sure, I am sick of Zoom. However, at the start of the pandemic I gathered online with some fellow TYA (theatre for young audiences) Asian/Oceanic artists and have kept up regular contact planning out some serious exciting projects for our collective. Once again something like this would not have happened otherwise.

I try to believe there’s always hope. Even in chaos.

S: What is your favourite part of the playground?
Well it has to be the monkey bars! Not just because of our company name but who doesn’t want to feel like Tarzan, Mogli or Spiderman? I used to love hanging upside down looking at the world through a different perspective.

THE LUCKY CAT plays Subiaco Arts Centre, 15-19 January 2021 as part of the Subiaco’s Fringe World program, Subilicious.

Pictured top is The Lucky Cat. Photo: Emma Fishwick

“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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Author —
Nina Levy

Nina Levy has worked as an arts writer and critic since 2007. She co-founded Seesaw and has been co-editing the platform since it went live in August 2017. As a freelancer she has written extensively for The West Australian and Dance Australia magazine, co-editing the latter from 2016 to 2019. Nina loves the swings because they take her closer to the sky.

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