“Ophelia Thinks Harder” performed by wit incorporated

 Having grown up in the Western suburbs of Melbourne, I was very excited to spend an evening in Footscray to revel in “Ophelia Thinks Harder” by western suburbs performance group wit incorporated. “Ophelia Thinks Harder” is a play based on William Shakespeare’s great tragedy – Hamlet – with playwright Jean Betts adding a different frame to the story, and of course some modern twists. wit incoporated co founder Belinda Campbell directs the performance of “Ophelia Thinks Harder” and once you see the show I’m sure you’ll agree she does a stellar job.

To set the scene: “Ophelia Thinks Harder” is housed inside the beautiful Bluestone arts space (a former church) in Footscray. Within, the setup matches that of a castle which matches the aesthetic of Hamlet. The stage and audience space was in a completely different setup to what I expected – with the stage being a massive ‘chessboard’ bookmark shaped space, along the sides / length of which sat the audience in tiered seats. It was thrilling to see how close the front row audience was going to be to the performers, but on that note all the reactions and facial expressions of the audience will be on show at times (so beware of you’re a frequent yawner or sniffer!) Each end of the ‘chessboard’ held a small, well decorated set – a castle room, and Ophelia’s bedroom.

OTH9Photo credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn

Heading up the amazing cast is Sarah Clarke as the titular Ophelia, Ruby Lauret as Maid, Leigh Scully as the dastardly Hamlet, Sam Anderson as the sweet Horatio and Jennifer Piper as the imposing Queen (among a fantastic array of other cast members). I could honestly write a separate essay on how awesome each cast member is in their own right, however for the sake of brevity I won’t do that here. Many of the cast members have more than one role over the course of the show and their hard work is seen through their reams of dialogue, strong facial expressions and physical scenes within the play. The actors listed above do a superb job of pulling the audience into their character’s world – when Ophelia’s lips tremble and her eyes search for help I honestly wished I could depart my seat and give her a big hug. When Hamlet stokes an angry fire inside each female audience member (and let me tell you – there were a lot of us!) I had to stop my urge to kick him when he was rolling around on the floor (not that I would actually do that, but the temptation was there). When the Queen made her grand entrance into the theatre, she was so striking and imposing – every set of eyes in the theatre was set on her. It was so quiet in the theatre you could have heard a pin drop. The strength of all the acting is testament to audience members feeling those emotions inside. The play contains turbulent scenes at times, but the cast take that in their stride – never wavering or looking tired – until the final moment when everyone takes a bow. A personal favourite character of mine was that of Maid (Ruby Lauret) – consistently helpful and dependable – with some funny and potent scenes too.

OTH8Photo credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn

OTH3Photo credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn

The extended cast seems to be largely made up females, which in itself is a large departure from the times of Shakespeare which  were traditionally male dominated performances – I found this refreshing. There are times during “Ophelia Thinks Harder” where there are female cast members playing males who then dress up as females, which adds to the complexity (but also adds some light hearted banter).

OTH1Photo credit: Jack Dixon-Gunn

“Ophelia Thinks Harder” takes elements of Hamlet, but the whole show is through the lens of Ophelia – especially her trials, self doubt, how she relates to others and her questions. This is where the feminist take also comes in, with Ophelia (and other characters) speculating on what it means to be a woman – the expectations of yourself and those that society thrusts upon you. Whether it be modern day society or otherwise, the expectations and messages sing the same tune. The dialogue is rich in many places, there are many notable quotes that I could list here but I don’t want to spoil the show. “Ophelia Thinks Harder” isn’t afraid to depict serious issues – sexual harassment, assault and partner violence among them – issues which have been brought to the forefront of society in recent times. All of the characters in “Ophelia Thinks Harder” are manipulative and have their own agendas, but this and the pertinent themes combine to make a show that you can’t tear yourself away from – you become compelled to watch to see how things pan out.

There are times when this performance breaks the “4th wall” or comes close to it. The audience is so close to the performers and the cast utilise every square of space – an aspect that I loved. There were moments where (if I had outstretched my hand or leg) I could have touched many of the cast. During other moments, cast members locked eyes with audience members. All this made the show so real and potent. The audience couldn’t help but be drawn into the show and into each character’s spaces and predicaments. A wide assortment of props were used during the show, which enhanced the storyline (and laughs) in places.

The audience seemed to be engaged and enthralled by this show with each scene and interaction between cast members. There were laughs, snorts of derision (especially reserved for Hamlet!) and gasps of surprise around every corner. Scanning around the room, I found many people smiling and enjoying every scene. Indeed, it is easy to sit back and enjoy this show – it is not pretentious and you don’t need to be a Shakespeare buff to enjoy the evening ahead of you. If you are familiar with Shakespeare, there are nods to some of his other works – Much Ado About Nothing and Macbeth among them – to make any Shakespeare fan smile.

Understandably, Shakespearean shows aren’t everyone’s cup of tea but I encourage you to put your misgivings and prior experiences of Shakespearean plays aside. This is the play for you – there are modern twists and references, there are relatable characters and while there is an amount of traditional Shakespearean prose, traditional and modern dialogue and references are combined to create an enthralling, entertaining and worthwhile show.

I had such a great night out and clearly became so immersed in the characters and storyline that when I exited the theatre I completely forgot where I was! We may have been in an inner Western suburb of Melbourne, but within the church we were in Ophelia’s domain.

VERDICT: A fantastic production that will engage, enthrall and entertain. Shakespeare fan or not, it is easy to be pulled into Ophelia’s world and to be thrust into the storyline. It is a show you can’t take your eyes away from. “Ophelia Thinks Harder” will surely make you think harder too!

*disclaimer: I attended this show as a guest of wit incorporated

Tickets and information: “Ophelia Thinks Harder” is showing at the Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray until Sunday November 24th.
Information and tickets via: http://www.witinc.com.au/whats-on/ophelia-thinks-harder


“The Boy From Oz” performed by MLOC Productions Inc.

 On a gloriously warm Spring afternoon, I ventured bayside to the pleasant suburb of Parkdale to visit the local Shirley Burke theatre. This modern theatre is a jewel in Parkdale – with a welcoming foyer, comfortable seats, neat theatre layout and an abundant number of friendly staff on hand to help visitors. On this occasion, I attended the Shirley Burke theatre for the local theatrical group MLOC Productions’ opening weekend of “The Boy From Oz”. For those of you unaware, “The Boy From Oz” chronicles the story of the Australian musical icon Peter Allen- his trials, tribulations and rise to fame.

The show set a fairly fast pace  – but not too fast, so that the audience could keep up with the storyline and the ever growing cast of character appearing in Peter Allen’s life. At regular intervals between songs, lead Matt Jakowenko (Peter Allen) would keep the show moving along by addressing the audience and eliciting many responses and laughs in the process. On that note, all of the comments and one liners from Matt Jakowenko meant that this production is quite interactive. Sitting silently won’t win you any favours from “The Boy from Oz”! With a gleaming smile, smooth hair and fabulous outfits, Jakowenko easily had the audience captivated each time he was on stage. Other standout leads include Saskia Penn (Judy Garland) whose vocal solos commanded silence from the audience; Hallie Goodman (Liza Minnelli) who made many a Minnelli fan swoon with her likeness and charm; and Wendy Alberni (Marion Woolnough) who I’m sure many in the audience could relate to, with her encouraging tones and witty comments. Ben Howell (young Peter) impressed with his smile and his easy presence onstage, along with his clear musical theatre talents. I’m sure we will all see his name in lights one day! A special mention also goes to Peter Allen’s trio of singers, who helped keep Peter ‘on track’ and even sung a few songs themselves with an impressive vocal range. Indeed, throughout the production I couldn’t fault the vocal talents of the cast – everyone sang so well.

Having viewed (and reviewed) several Peter Allen tribute  / cabaret shows previously, I was excited to see this theatrical production and I wasn’t disappointed! It’s truly a joyous and vibrant spectacle of show, which had the audience clapping and cheering along at every turn. The eyes and smiles of each cast member (and especially those within the ensemble) were as shiny and glittery as each sequin worn on their many outfits. There were so many costume changes for the leads and ensemble members that I think some magic really is weaved backstage – the amount of costume changes is mind boggling and a testament to the levels of dedication and skill to all cast members involved in the production. I also enjoyed the varied range of ages within the cast members, ranging from those of high school ages right up to performers who I’m sure have ‘tread the boards’ for a number of years. This greatly enhanced the storyline and production, as Peter Allen would have mixed with a wide variety of people throughout his life.

The principal team behind this production – Director / Choreographer Rhylee Nowell, Musical Director Matthew Hadgraft and Production Manager Andrew Gyopar – head a ‘conga line’ of wonderfully talented cast members and their own dedication to the show can clearly be seen on stage. Whether it be the clever set design and glittering wardrobe of costumes, the multiple choreographed dance sequences by the cast, or the dialogue and story progression from the lead cast members that makes the show more than a back catalogue of Peter Allen songs, I can only imagine how many hours of sweat and rehearsals went into a production such as this. It’s a production that from the outset looks like a neat package which then bursts open with an array of colour and surprise as soon as the curtains open.

I felt so uplifted by the end of the performance, and almost lost my voice with the amount of cheering and whooping I was doing (always a good sign of a great show!). On the way out of the theatre I overheard many audience members commenting on the high quality of the production and the fun night out that we were all privileged to share.

VERDICT: A joyous and vibrant production that will have you clapping and chanting along. Never a dull moment with this show, which has such high production values I’m questioning why it isn’t showing in the larger theatres of Melbourne. I highly encourage you visit this jewel of a show during its limited run in Parkdale. I can only hope this production tours so many more are able to see it.

Tickets and more information: https://mloc.org.au/

*Disclaimer: I attended this production as a guest of the show Director.

Melbourne Fringe Review: “Strongman, Daredevil, Idiot”

Back in the main theatre of Speakeasy HQ in central Melbourne, I had been waiting all week with anticipation to see “Strongman, Daredevil, Idiot” performed by Mad Vlad Bolshoi and Zlobnyy “Babushka” Kartofel Let me make an admission here: this show is NOT for the faint hearted! Get ready to strap yourselves in for a wild ride for this show, for it has surprises, danger and drama in each moment.

Right from the moment the show starts, the audience becomes aware that they’re now on a rollercoaster hurtling along at breakneck speed with Mad Vlad and Babushka at the controls. Mad Vlad himself wastes no time smashing things and flirting with danger in every move. The show features some strongman stunts (like metal bending) but there are segments of the show that stray into daredevil territory, and there was one particular stunt that made me want to shake Mad Vlad and yell “ARE YOU INSANE?!!” at him. Trust me – when you see the show, you’ll know what I’m referring to. I seriously don’t know how he does it! This show is gripping, will have you perched on the edge of your seat and will make your pulse race. I’m sure I had hypertension / an elevated heart rate during the entire show! At times, things got a bit thrilling and I wasn’t sure if I needed to look away. When I did see the expressions on the faces of other audience members, there was a mix of shocked expressions, plus plenty of wincing and grimacing. I get the feeling that many people rarely get the opportunity to watch strongmen and daredevils.

I enjoyed the juxtaposition with this show as Babushka provides comedy relief (via her chirpy accordion and penchant for confetti) especially when Mad Vlad is completing a crazy or extra dangerous task. Babushka is also a master of the ‘hard stare’ which prompted many giggles from the audience. Seems they don’t smile too much where Mad Vlad and Babushka come from, however they certainly provided a few smiles and giggles for their audience. Mad Vlad himself is also engaging with the audience – many of us had the chance to make sure / feel / test that the concrete pavers / pieces of metal and wood etc used during his act were real (and they were) which added to the impressive nature of the show.

Mad Vlad and Babushka expend a lot of energy in their show, but it is all worthwhile for an audience that madly screams, cheers and shouts for them as they leave the stage at the end of a thrilling, safety defying and crazy show. A wild rollercoaster ride that I enjoyed very much and that I’m so glad I took.

VERDICT: “Strongman, Daredevil, Idiot” doesn’t just tick all those boxes, it blows them away and smashes them! Make no mistake about this show: it is thrilling and is dangerous, but there’s fun to be had when you shake off the trappings of a mundane life and flirt with danger. IS VLAD. IS STRONG. IS MAD.

Tickets / more information:

“Miniature Museum of Magic” performed by Jo Clyne

 Down an alley in Melbourne, hidden in a room that used to be an old bank vault is The Vault Melbourne – an intimate theatre seating only 20 people. This charming theatre – decked out with vintage curtains and plush furniture – is a fitting room for Jo Clyne’s magic show “Miniature Museum of Magic” which is a show that takes the audience back in time to the ‘golden age of magic’. Jo’s show is heavy on storytelling and charm as much as magic, but each aspect of the show fits together beautifully.

Jo sets the scene well with a simple table and chair onstage and wears a beautiful outfit, which echoes some of the time periods she speaks of. Jo commenced the show by explaining the setting of the show fits parlour magic – in a time where the richer members of society would have a magician perform privately for their selected friends in the parlour of a mansion. Indeed, I did feel lucky to be in an intimate gathering of audience members to witness the ‘Miniature Museum of Magic’.

Harking back to the title of the show, Jo did almost seem like a museum guide or curator at times as she told stories involving magicians from the past or special places like Coney Island. Following each story would be a piece of magic tied to that story or theme. Each piece of magic was well chosen and fit each story perfectly. The pieces of magic in the show were largely pieces of classic magic – as you’d expect with the theme being historical – however there were some clever twists too. During some moments of the show, audience members leaned in with anticipation and gasped with delight at other times. There were moments of disbelief for us all as Jo weaved her magic. Audience participation was included in the show (as it is with most magic shows) however instead of this being a daunting prospect for some people, Jo was so disarming and gentle that she never had an issue with people not wanting to help. Each volunteer enjoyed the magic (that often unfolded in their own hands) and left the stage with a smile.

This show was so enjoyable that the hour just flashed by and in no time I was thrust back onto the bustling streets and lanes of modern day Melbourne.

VERDICT: A show perfectly suited to those who love history, stories and magic. The ‘Miniature Museum of Magic’ is full to the brim with mystery, magic and marvels. Allow Jo Clyne to enchant you with her stories and magic, and take you back to the ‘golden age of magic’.

Tickets and more information: This show is held in The Vault Melbourne theatre, which is part of Speakeasy HQ.
Ticketing link: https://www.trybooking.com/book/event?eid=408811&

*disclaimer: I attended this show as a guest of the performer


Melbourne Fringe Review: “Make Your Move”

Returning to the lovely Gasworks theatre for another serving of fringe festival entertainment, I was excited to attend the show called “Make Your Move”. I had read a little about the show, however much of the details are left to be deliberately mysterious. I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect, but throughout the course of the evening I was pleasantly surprised. With many shows becoming overly descriptive in titles and marketing blurbs, it was a little liberating to attend feeling like a ‘clean slate’ – having no preconceived expectations about the show. “Make Your Move” is a well organised show and the intimate but keen audience on opening night were warmly welcomed by the cast.

“Make Your Move” is directed by Gemma Flannery (13Theatre founder) and features a core team of 4 engaging performers – Luke Livermore, Hayley Marlow, Robyn Mclachlan and Tara Kennedy. Throughout the show, the audience is slowly given access to and perspectives of each character’s personality and world. It seems, at times, as if the audience members have visited a small town inhabited solely by these characters.  Dispersed between vignettes of each character, there is also a broader storyline featuring two lovers – a story which progresses, evolves and twists through the course of the show (and via the reactions / opinions of audience members).

The 4 performers within “Make Your Move” each did a fantastic job of bringing their characters to life – there were amusing conversations for the audience to witness, giggles and wry smiles and some impressive monologues. There were a couple of cliche lines, however there were also modern references which I enjoyed so a sense of balance was towed. Most importantly, the characters were highly relatable – I could see elements of myself in some of the characters or even elements of their backgrounds and could think of other people in my life who could relate to the characters as well. Collectively, I believe at least one of the characters would be relatable to most audience members (in one way or another). This also helps draw the audience into the stories within the show – as the show progresses, I get a sense that the audience ‘cares’ about the welfare of each character a little more. Overall, I found the characters’ perspectives to be like a foggy bathroom mirror – at the start of the show, the audience isn’t given much detail and then progressively through the show we learn more about the characters until a clear image of  each appears.

A regular segment of the show that I enjoyed was the “Game Show” segment, which to me was a commentary on how life throws us all into uncertain and stressful situations sometimes. I enjoyed the metaphors that the game show references brought, as well as some bonus laughs. I also enjoyed the ‘prop heavy’ nature of the show, and indeed how each performer / character regarded the props in the space after they had been used. It felt like every aspect of this show had been carefully selected and regarded. There were some storyline aspects that were serious and could be taken to darker places, however a balance remained (in content and jokes / light hearted moments).

The title “Make your Move” was regularly referenced throughout the show, which I liked as it constantly brought the audience back to the concept of “what’s next?” or “what do you want to do next?” or “where are you headed?” Life often throws each of us into the paths of crossroads – just like in this show, where characters approach their own crossroads with different perspectives.

Verdict: it’s time for YOU to take that next step and “Make Your Move” to the Gasworks to see this enjoyable, clever and thought provoking show. Take a chance, roll the dice of fate and see a show worthy of your time, attention and thought.

Tickets: http://www.gasworks.org.au/event/make-your-move/

*Disclaimer: I attended this show as a guest of the Director.

Melbourne Fringe Review: Le Grande Cabaret

Tucked away in an inner city suburb, Hares and Hyenas is a both a bookshop and a performance space. The venue is playing host to a handful of fringe festival shows this season, including the one I was lucky to attend: Le Grande Cabaret. I will admit that I have previously seen an incarnation of Le Grande Cabaret, however this one was a markedly different show – with a particular theme and different assortment of performers.

Patrick Collins was the suitably charming MC for the evening and announced that the theme of the show was “Heaven and Hell” – with the first part of the show dedicated to performers with heavenly personas and routines, and the second part of the show would descend into the more devilish routines! Patrick addressed his audience as a ‘pantomime crowd’ prompting lots of of ‘oohs and aaahs’ and of course, making the audience laugh.

The lineup for the ‘heavenly’ portion of the evening commenced with none other than the delightfully sweet and divine Camilla Cream. Appearing in a beautifully fluffy and soft pastel pink outfit (with matching feather fans and headdress), it seemed that Camilla floated in on a cloud of fairy floss. Her routine set to a jazzy rendition of the modern song ‘Call Me Maybe”, Camilla was playful towards the audience with every step. Winking and being sultry one minute, then smiling coyly the next – every performance from Camilla is a sweet treat! I’m constantly impressed and mystified with how Camilla seemingly effortlessly moves and weaves her fans in time with the music. The way she uses them, they looks like they weigh nothing at all. One thing is for sure – Camilla’s performance was sensational!

Lord Lovat appeared next, with his ‘Twerking in the rain’ routine (admittedly, one of my personal favourites). If you’ve never seen Lord Lovat perform or seldom seen this routine then you are simply missing out on an amazing performance that is sassy, sexy and will leave you screaming for more! It’s a routine that never fails to leave the room steamy. Continuing on with the heavenly performers, I felt blessed as another ‘fan favourite’ – Liberty Foxx – appeared with a striking comedy based routine that was cleverly themed and which involved a complete transformation. I won’t spoil exactly what happened here, but let’s say the audience went bananas for Liberty.

Miss Holly Wouldn’t slipped through the crowd and onto the stage like a goddess from films past, performing a breathtaking and enchanting ‘classic tease’ routine and using a draping outfit with great effect. Continually glancing back to her audience, Miss Holly Wouldn’t ensured the audience constantly wanted more, and more we did! Ever so beautiful throughout her routine, I spied many longing glances from audience members after she had left the stage. Rounding out the heavenly section of the show was performer Michael Wheatley, who brought a gangster style vibe and very athletic body to the stage. I enjoyed his performance as he told the story of a man trying to impress a very beautiful woman (Camilla Cream) without using a word. The audience couldn’t but be charmed by Michael – he is such an endearing character.

In no time, Patrick Collins returned to introduce us to the hellish characters within the second part of the show, and in the process seemingly became overcome by the prince of darkness himself and performed some card magic!! Hellish to some, but I reveled in the magic routine (steered behind the scenes by the prince of darkness) and was entertained by every moment! It certainly displayed a stark contrast to the first section of the show. While the audience were on their journey to the hellish depths of the underworld, we discovered that many of the performers were the same people as we’d seen earlier in the show – however they’d taken on darker personas….Lord Lovat had now become a zombie, convulsing the wards of some faraway hospital while Liberty Foxx used a very slow, almost heavy metal reworking of the song ‘Bad Moon Rising’ to depict an almost occult little red riding hood. With her slow, calculating and almost tortured movements, Liberty Foxx’s performance gave me chills down my spine. Headlining the evening, Michael Wheatley returned – seemingly possessed by the soul of a singer from the 1970’s. Impressed by his vocal ability, the audience was treated when Michael came down into the audience and showed off his suave dance moves up close to some lucky audience members. All velvet and smooth moves, Michael’s routine was sultry at times as he gyrated his hips and surveyed his newest fans – the room was in awe and excited at the same time. It was the perfect crescendo to a fun evening out.

Aside from the amazing performers who clearly took the show theming to heart, what I enjoyed about this show is that it was fast paced with thrills and exciting moments around every corner. With a lineup that changes each night, you’ll never know who you’ll encounter in heaven (or hell).

VERDICT: Don’t be afraid to venture to the edges of heaven and hell with ‘Le Grande Cabaret’. Let the performers take you to realms of angelic and demonic delights for an entertaining night of burlesque and surprises.

Tickets and more information: https://melbournefringe.com.au/event/le-grande-cabaret/

*Disclaimer: I attended this even as a guest of Le Grande Cabaret

Melbourne Fringe Review – Creatrix Tiara: Queer Lady Magician

 On a slightly chilly evening, audience members gathered excitedly within a studio theatre at the Gasworks to witness Creatrix Tiara’s debut magic show during the Melbourne fringe festival, titled “Queer Lady Magician”. The title of the show describes Tiara to a tee, however this is a magic show that delves beyond titles and labels – it is a show with a strong social commentary and narrative behind it.

I enjoyed that this show has an MC (Sonia) who was dressed in an outfit echoing a circus ringmaster. Sonia appeared on stage a few times throughout the show, to make introductions and to almost ‘keep the show on track’ in some parts. Sassy and witty, the audience took a shine to Sonia each time she appeared on stage. I find that many magic shows do not feature an MC, however this seemed to be an indication that around every corner, this was not a ‘standard’ magic show.

Creatrix Tiara made an exciting entrance onstage, and the crowd responded with a roar of applause and cheers. Dressed in a beautiful sparkly outfit complete with a tailcoat adorned with more shiny and sparkly elements, Creatrix knew she’s the performer everyone was there to see but didn’t let that sway her from diving right into her stories adorned with plenty of magical surprises.

Creatrix Tiara’s show explored many stories – personal stories from Tiara’s childhood and family, right through to poignant stories regarding heartbreak, and various challenges (racism, stereotyping, feelings of not belonging). Many stories were highly relatable  – even if one isn’t a queer lady magician, similar narratives course through our collective lives at one point or another. Creatrix Tiara’s stories evoked many emotions throughout the show – at times the audience sat in tense silence, while at other times there was laughter and nods of solidarity / agreement by audience members. There were some moments where I wished I could have reached out and provided a hug.
In terms of the magical elements, I could see that Tiara had carefully selected magical effects to accompany the stories and I have to say that everything was perfectly matched. Much of the magic selected was ‘classic’ magic, but with Creatrix Tiara’s own exciting spin and twists on it. A highlight is the cups and balls routine, which had the audience gasping in surprise.

The star of this show is undoubtedly Creatrix Tiara, however the show features a small cast of other characters – namely Chadbury and Caliope – who each have their important parts to play and greatly enhanced the storyline as well as helping to elicit reactions from the audience. They were each convincing and played their roles with perfection.

This show was not afraid to address some stereotypes of magicians / magic – namely can magicians be honest or trustworthy when they deceive and manipulate for a living? Are manipulations inherently bad (or can they be good)? Stereotypes of male magicians being ‘creepy’ and treating females as assistants / props (rather than females also being magicians in their own right) were also explored, which I found refreshing. Despite the serious subject matter in places, this is a very enjoyable show and I encourage all to go along and see it – it’s a jewel of the Melbourne Fringe festival program.

VERDICT: This is so much more than just a magic show. It’s a magic show with heart, soul and some thrilling surprises along the way. I encourage you to leave all your misconceptions about magic outside the door and step into Creatrix Tiara’s world of wonder. Potent poignant prestidigitation!

Tickets and further information: Creatrix Tiara: Queer Lady Magician runs from September 13th-15th at the Gasworks.

*Disclaimer: I attended the show as a guest of the performer.


The 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival has arrived!

The month of September features a cluttered social calendar for the citizens of Melbourne. Between football finals and the starting of the spring racing carnival season, sits the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Melbourne Fringe has always been one of my favourite festivals – typically full of radical performances by performers who ‘think outside the box’ and aren’t afraid to challenge society’s ways or group thought processes. I’m pleased to say that I’ll be seeing and reviewing a few shows as part of the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival, so please stay tuned (and please support the arts!)

Review: Sugar Republic

  On a pleasant and mild Winter afternoon, a gaggle of ladies and I assembled in Collingwood for our much anticipated visit to ‘desserts museum’ Sugar Republic. We were all dressed casually (especially important given our impending time in a ball pit!) however alongside my fluro pink sprinkles dress I also wore my fairy floss inspired pastel pink and blue fluffy jacket.

 Warmly welcomed by staff at the front door, we were given a sticker sheet, and the we travelled past the inflatable banana forest into a pastel coloured, sweet sugar wonderland. There were treats for all the senses around every corner, and to our delight each room of this desserts / candy paradise was highly instagrammable!

 Each ‘room’ or segment of this sugar wonderland was extremely well thought out and curated. From homages to gummy bears, rainbows and birthday cake, each area made me smile and my heart race with excitement (or a sugar rush!) Staff on hand were also extremely kind and helpful – from assistance with group photos, to ensure all us adults had our own time in the ball pit to a staff member helping half our group to get some fairy floss when there were long lines and we got split up. I had envisaged that we’d be overrun with kids and would have to fight to have some time with the installations, however I was wrong – the number of staff on hand to help was perfect and very appreciated.

 There were a nice mix of activities in the rooms too, so that it wasn’t all a ‘look but don’t touch’ experience – personal highlights for me were the spinning wheel, giant gumball machine, giant birthday cake and ball pit (of course!). I felt that we were given an appropriate amount of time in the ball pit and we were all feeling a bit tired when we left, which was a good sign.

 The ticket itself was reasonably priced: for $38 we had an hour and a half to explore all the sweet rooms – a perfect amount of time – and it included an assortment of sweets along the way (including, but not limited to ice cream, fairy floss and wizz fizz sherbet). I wish I could have stayed there forever (cue heart eyes emoji). The experience and laughs / smiles with my friends have left me with many great memories and moments.

  VERDICT: a sweet pastel paradise for those with a sweet tooth who also enjoy nostalgia. This is one pop up that will sweeten your day!

Information: This installation is in it’s final days and has sadly sold out! It may be touring so be sure to visit the website to find out where it will be next! For more info, visit:  http://www.sugarrepublic.com.au/

My Magical Memories across 12 years and 500 magic shows (and counting!)

2018 is a special year in my timeline of being a magic fan – it marks my 12 years of being a fan of magic, but at the conclusion of the 2018 Melbourne Magic Festival it also marks my 500th magic show seen. Sounds crazy, but it turns out all those magic shows add up over the years! Yes, it’s a milestone that only I would keep a count of but it also has me thinking of some of the interesting and thoughtful questions people have asked me over the years in relation to magic, so I thought I’d share some of them here. I haven’t done personal writing like this before so I don’t know if this will end up being an interesting piece for you all to read, however if you’re curious please do read on!

Where did it all begin?
Quite some time ago (12 years in fact!) I was looking for new experiences and adventures in life, and a dear friend at the time regularly went to magic shows and invited me to one. It was called “Magic Mondays” held on the first Monday of the month at Dante’s restaurant in an inner city suburb. Run by a core team of four awesome magicians plus featuring a good rotation of guest magicians every month, I fondly remember my times in the audience there. Prior to attending the show, I did ask my friend “do you mean a kids’ magic show or?!” – at that time I had no idea that regular magic shows for adults existed. Believe it or not, during the first 6 months or so of show attendance I was terrified to help out on stage – a glaring difference to the way I am now! I was very lucky (and grateful) to have some super sweet stage experiences at this show. During its peak, “Magic Mondays” was well known for its theme nights for Halloween, Christmas and its annual Birthday show. I often organised a group of 10 friends to attend along with me – as my dear friend always said “magic is much better enjoyed with friends”. Along the way, other monthly magic nights appeared in other areas of town – like “Mitcham Magic” towards the Eastern suburbs and other small irregular shows in basement bars and other places across the city.

Many people assume I enjoyed magic as a child, however that’s not exactly true. I can recall watching / attending maybe 3 magic shows when I was a child. I was shy as a child and would have been terrified had a magician asked me to help out onstage so magic wasn’t memorable for me when I was younger….totally making up for that now, of course!

Why magic? What’s the appeal?
It’s a little hard to explain, but basically – magic changes the way I think about things, about everything – about everyday objects, about psychology and people, about the universe. I take delight in being surprised, and magic is so different to everything else that goes on in my world. Magic is also an escape to my ‘usual’ life, because nothing ‘usual’ ever goes on during a magic show! I generally like art, but magic would be my favourite kind of art form by a mile.

Do you remember all the magic / every single show you’ve seen?
Well….to put it bluntly, No. Sorry to disappoint! I can’t remember every single magical effect or show I’ve seen however I do generally have a good memory for events so I basically have a ‘favourites showreel’ of my favourite times at magic shows / unforgettable magic effects that I can refer to. A good chunk of those memories are from stage shows, but there are some select pieces of close up and card magic included too. Over the years I have been gifted with some very beautiful, ‘limited edition’ souvenirs. As much as the souvenirs make me feel like the luckiest girl in the room, they also serve as a great memory aid / prompt.  There are some pieces of magic that have been so impactful that they’re unforgettable. Along with certain pieces of magic, it is the dialogue or the magician’s personality that often sticks in my mind. A friendly, engaging personality makes magic that much more enjoyable and distinct. If the magic performance I see has a defined storyline or strong storytelling elements then I’m also more likely to remember it.

Don’t you see a lot of the “same” sorts of magic tricks on repeat?
I do, but I also find that magicians work hard at making the magic they present to be distinctive, with their own stories and personalities added into the mix. So yes, much of the ‘core’ magic I see are effects I’ve seen time and time again but I don’t mind. Regularly, magicians come up with such different and fascinating portrayals and presentations that eventually it doesn’t matter if I see repeated content.

What’s your favourite magic trick / type of magic?
I don’t have a defined favourite, and it’s hard to choose just one effect or type of magic. I can tell you the kinds of magic that just transfix me or take me away to another place, though. I’ve always had a bizarre love for rope magic. Even if it seems confusing at times, I really enjoy rope magic routines and the stories that go with them. I enjoy prediction routines where audience members get to go on stage and draw pictures. There’s always one picture that is way funnier than the others! I enjoy magic with ‘cute’ aspects, like balloon animals or rabbits or cute characters. I like watching children’s / family magic shows as there’s always a lot of colour and movement on stage (as well as plenty of puns!) More recently, I’ve discovered character magic – where the magician transforms themselves into a completely different character who then presents the show and completes the magic. I find the storytelling component to be much richer in those kinds of shows, and I find them to be the most memorable shows. The audience generally remembers magicians, but they’ll remember an immersive magical character that much more.

Why don’t you do magic yourself? Have you ever tried?
At the risk of causing myself some issues later on, I’m going to be brave and admit that I have dabbled in magic. Many friends have been very generous to me over the years (which I am very grateful for), and as such I do have books on magic, magic sets, kits and small props etc. What I don’t have is the confidence and the time / drive to practice magic regularly. This may come as a shock to some people, but outside of my ‘9-5’ job I also have an assortment of other hobbies (like miscellaneous papercrafts and reviewing shows on this blog among other activities) that require my care and attention. Naturally, more of my time will be devoted to the hobbies that I have more confidence in.

Have you ever seen a “bad” show?
If any magicians are actually reading this I can feel their eyes burning into the page…..but no need to fear. I can’t say that I have technically seen a “bad” show (magicians, you can all breathe easy for now!) I’ve never walked out of a show, but I have sat through 2 shows over the past 6 years or so that had extensive technological difficulties (with powerpoint presentations / screens / sound desks and the like) which negatively impacted the shows. During one of those shows, the performer also called members of the audience ‘lazy’ – if we chose not to seek how the magic effects were done – which I take issue with. Magicians (and performers in general), trust me when I say that if it is the middle of Winter and your audience have parted ways with their time, money and heated blankets / pajamas / multiple heat sources to attend your show they are anything but lazy!!!

Fairly early on in the days of attending magic shows I also had some pressing personal issues that were at one point becoming difficult to manage. At one magic show I was called out during a time where I was very stressed. Was it a great experience, being called out in the middle of someone’s show? No – it was one of those moments where I wished the floor would open into a void and swallow me whole. Should I have been at that show at that time? Probably not if my stress wasn’t in check, but everything in hindsight. During other shows I (and the rest of the audience) have had to put up with extensive jokes and dialogue from the 1950’s – I’m sure you can tell where I’m going here. It gets tiring, and it’s unnecessary in the modern world. From this perspective I have seen magicians with ‘less than ideal’ personalities but I figure – that’s just life. Out in the rest of the world, there are some people out there with crap personalities too so it’s not something restricted to the industry. At the end of the day, I just try and pay more attention to the performers with personalities, qualities and shows that I enjoy.

Do you have any pieces of advice or suggestions for magicians generally / from the audience / from your times as an audience member?
You’ll have to forgive me if these suggestions / pieces of information seem obvious to you – these are just items that I’ve collated after seeing many different magicians over 12 years. These points are just ‘food for thought’ however if you find any of them useful, then that is great!

I like to think most magicians treat their audiences with respect / the way they themselves would like to be treated and I generally find that this is the case. If anyone is unsure, I’ll repeat it here now – treat your audience members well! Be complimentary and make sure they know you appreciate them being at your show.  Most people subscribe to the culture of “busy” so there are many things audience members could be doing instead of watching your show. Ensure their time / monetary investment in you is worthwhile. Make sure that any helpers from the audience are treated extra well / treated with extra attention / thanks / souvenirs etc.  Helping on stage is still a legitimate barrier for people to attend magic shows, and many people I know still find it stressful or scary. Make sure everyone who helps you is treated extra well because little is more terrifying for an audience member than watching a magician not treat an audience helper well and then for that magician to search for their next victim helper. Which leads me to my next point – become a good ‘people reader’. This doesn’t necessarily mean increasing your mentalism skills / trying to read people’s minds but it does mean working on your skills to read others’ body language and small non verbal cues. Becoming better at reading people will mean that you’ll be better equipped to understand when helpers from the audience are nervous, or be able to ‘read’ when someone doesn’t want to help out or go on stage (so you can then select another helper). I find that the magicians who are good ‘people readers’ have a certain flow to their shows, and there’s less tension / uncomfortable moments. Audience members in general feel more at ease with performers who can ‘read’ them well because it makes a person seem more trustworthy if they understand how you’re feeling. Ultimately it increases empathy and that always feels nice if you’re the one feeling nervous or unsettled etc.

Personality is everything! Personality gives pizzazz to pieces of magic that can be dry or a little outdated. I’ve seen magicians with a ‘regular’ set routine, but due to their amazing personality I could watch that set routine a crazy amount of times and still be entertained. Personality sells too – it’s one of the reasons the audience comes to see your magic show as opposed to one from someone else (especially during a festival where there are many other shows on offer).

Be open to feedback. It literally took me years to pluck up the courage to actually feed back information and suggestions to magicians – obviously in the context of constructive feedback of course. Many times, magicians would know they could approach me after a show or on social media to ‘check’ on show aspects – like show flow, stage items and venue aspects etc. Egos aside, you’ll never know how much you can improve / tweak your show if you’re not open to feedback and suggestions (obviously from ‘trusted’ sources). From another perspective, being closed to wider feedback may mean that you’re missing aspects that should be addressed (like poor audience angles or items onstage that obstruct views etc). More recently, I’ve noticed that when I have provided valuable and appreciated feedback to magicians I’ve noticed that they’ve made prompt adjustments to their act / setup which I find impressive. Continuous improvement is a wonderful thing.

Commence your show with something strong or some engaging dialogue. This is less relevant for myself / regular consumers of magic, but more relevant for the audience members who are new to magic. I believe that you genuinely have 5-10 minutes to wow an audience at the start of a show to ‘win’ them over. In the best show I’ve seen, this is seamless – the magician begins with the element of surprise and then has some attention grabbing dialogue. In the less enjoyable shows, the magician spends time alienating people with a rambling dialogue / an unclear character or opens with some complicated magic which is mentally taxing for the audience.

There’s always going to be a small percentage of audience members who don’t really want to be at a show – they’ve been dragged along by a significant other or have been dragooned into supporting a ‘friend of a friend’. Or perhaps they’re just the doubters of magic – the ‘you can’t surprise me / I can explain everything’ types. It would be misguided to cater to these types for your entire show, however, there’s something to be gained if you can engage with them and surprise them early on.

Where do you think magic is headed in the future (ie from a trends perspective)?
Watching so much magic affords me the luxury of watching trends happen. Often I’ll see a particular type of magic or sort of effect done repeatedly by many magicians for about 6 months and then all of a sudden by the end of a year it will be gone / switched out for the next trend or I’ll see it less regularly. I’m unaware of what forces are at work here – whether the trend originates from trade shows / overseas recommendations / the internet or something else entirely. From one perspective it is good, because it shows that magicians are generally evolving their own shows and ‘keeping things fresh’ however on the other hand it can be frustrating too – if it’s a trend you don’t like, mentally you know you’ll be stuck watching it for at least another 6 months and that becomes tiring.

I think technology has a welcome place in magic shows. Magic with phones and iPads is seen as cool by younger audience members and technology keeps things ‘relevant’ (in a way!) With phones holding so much personal information, any magic done with a person’s mobile / cell phone becomes that much more impactful. To an extent, I think that audiences have limited capacities during a show to process and absorb all magical stimuli. Everyone is bombarded with an overload of information everyday in modern life, so sometimes I think that doing more with less during a show is beneficial. Or perhaps being mindful to provide the audience with some mental ‘breathing time’ so they can properly ‘switch’ into “magic watching mode”?

Where / what direction would you like to see magic headed?
I already LOVE magic, that much is clear. What I’d like to see is more people / potential audience members in the wider community giving magic a chance (or even ‘another chance’). I think of the stigmas that magic still (unfortunately) holds in the minds of the greater public: that all magic shows are for children / that magicians are ”creepy” / the fear of public humiliation (via audience participation). Despite not practicing magic myself, these are stigmas I want the industry to be rid of! I don’t exactly know how to ‘turn the tide’ on these aspects. All I can do is support the magicians who are displaying the optimal attributes, qualities and skills and encourage my friends to attend a show with me. Whilst I always hope to support magicians / magic in general (in one way or another!) I’m enjoying watching the continued rise of female magicians. It’s fantastic to see female members joining magic clubs, and to hear about the amazing achievements of female magicians on an international level. I hope to always be able to see and support women in magic and hope women continue to rise in magic too.

I’d like to see an expansion of magic presented differently – less of the dry, stuffy classics and more of the modern interpretations. More magic with rich storylines, enchanting characters and curious themes / aesthetics. The more the public are exposed to different kinds of magic shows (ie storytelling magic with characters, magic with certain themes or aesthetics) the better as magic won’t be seen as a ‘static’ / stuffy art form of a bygone era, and will hopefully be seen as a modern art form that is continually evolving.

Hope you have enjoyed reading this piece of personal writing. If you have any comments or questions to ask (which may be included in a future piece if I receive enough submissions) please feel free to email me: tayaroundtown@gmail.com