With the support of Express Media, Fringe World, and the Sunday Times, I am very pleased to introduce BUZZCUTS PERTH!

Buzzcuts is a program that trains young writers and broadcasters in critical arts reviewing. After running successfully in Melbourne for 15 years, this year the program is expanding to include Perth, with the support of Express Media, Fringe World, and the Sunday Times.

Buzzcuts Perth gives successful applicants the chance to see several Fringe World shows for free, write reviews and see them published on the Perth Now website. Participants will also be trained in writing critical arts reviews at a free orientation session.

The program is open to writers aged 18-25 who live in the Perth area and are interested in developing their skills as entertainment/arts writers.

Participants are expected to attend at least two shows during Perth’s Fringe World festival (26 January – 19 February) and to produce two accompanying reviews. In addition, participants are required to attend the compulsory orientation to be held in mid-January (date to be confirmed).

To apply, please submit the following:

  1. Your contact information (name, street address, email address, phone number, and date of birth)
  2. A cover letter outlining why you would like to be involved and any experience you have relevant to the area (experience in arts reviewing is preferable but not essential)

Send applications to:

Kaitlyn Plyley

kaitlynplyley@gmail.com

Applications close: 5pm, Sunday 14th of January 2012.

Successful applicants will be contacted via email.

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Theatre People feature: “Watts Up With Alvin Sputnik”, Nov 2011

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A feature article I wrote for Theatre People, interviewing WA’s Tim Watts.

It’s the opening night of the Perth Theatre Company’s latest production at the State Theatre Centre. An eager crowd pours in, primed by two years of rave reviews from this show’s runs in New York, Seoul and Edinburgh. Reviewers have used no shortage of gushing adjectives for this show, even calling it the theatrical equivalent of a blockbuster Pixar film. But if this audience is expecting a big-budget production, they aren’t going to get it. They’ve come for the story of one little man made out of a buoy and a white glove. This is the fringe theatre darling known as The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is set in a bleak future where the seas have risen and wiped out most of humanity. Someone must volunteer to journey down into the watery depths to find a new place for the survivors to live. Alvin Sputnik takes on this dangerous mission, hoping to follow the soul of his beloved wife, to be with her once more. Alvin Sputnik is told through a fusion of live performance, animation, mime, puppetry, projections, music, live drawing and even a ukelele. Alvin himself is portrayed by a mix of performance, stick-figure animation, and clever puppetry.

Two weeks before the show’s opening night, I’m sitting in a North Perth café with Alvin Sputnik’s creator, Tim Watts. He has come a long way since the first performance of Alvin Sputnik at The Blue Room in 2009. The show was quickly picked up by the Perth Theatre Company and went on to tour the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea, India, New Zealand and, of course, Australia. Watts and Alvin picked up a swag of awards along the way. Now, in 2011, Alvin has come back to Perth a hero, starting a season at the newly minted State Theatre Centre.

After all the positive press over Alvin Sputnik, is Watts feeling the pressure to deliver? “I’m just worried that it’s going to be over-hyped,” he admits. “Towards the end of the UK season, I think people came in with really high expectations. I think no matter what happens when you go into a show and your expectations are through the roof, it can never really measure up.

“At the beginning of the show, where I’m just doing the live drawing, I try to bring things down to a basic level, so that people aren’t necessarily going to expect a big song and dance. Then I can surprise them from there.”

Despite the show’s accolades and years of touring, Watts has been careful to preserve what he calls its “nice little handmade quality.” Since Alvin Sputnik’s first incarnation at The Blue Room in 2009, Watts has added more animation and more puppetry, but says it is still essentially the same show. “You don’t want to polish it up to where it doesn’t have any heart left.”

Watts developed Alvin Sputnik in collaboration with fellow Perth theatre peep Arielle Gray. Their development process focused on audience response; they would work on the show together, then present showings to their friends and ask for feedback. Watts was prompted to try this kind of process by watching stand-up comedians.

“I got really jealous of stand-up comedians who’d have an idea for a joke, and could get up that night and try it out. They got real feedback as to whether the delivery was right, whether the joke was any good. They could work on their set through actual response from the audience, as opposed to a lot of theatre shows where you have an idea, you write out a script, and you spend six months putting it on. Then you perform it for two weeks, and no one is really honest with you as to how it goes. If anything negative is said about it, you just go and sit in a hole. You think, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now’.”

The character Alvin was created in a puppetry workshop with ‘Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’ in Fremantle, out of a buoy and a white glove. Under Watts’ expert hand, these abstract objects take on a very human life. He attributes Alvin’s anthropomorphism to the audience’s imaginative engagement. “To be able to pretend that this is a little guy … it’s as though you’re delighted at your own imagination. Then, when he does something human, it looks even more human,” he says. “When you’re really imaginatively engaged with something, you’re more likely to be emotionally engaged as well.”

Whenever he mentions Alvin, Watts absently arranges his hands into the shape of the little puppet, so for a moment it’s as if the deep sea explorer is at the table with us. It’s clear that Watts has formed a strong bond with the little round-headed man. So, how long do they plan to stay together? “Next year I’m kind of winding it down a bit. I don’t have a finite date where I’m like, ‘2015: no more Alvin’. I’m happy to keep doing Alvin, but I’m hoping to introduce more shows into my repertoire.”

But for now, it looks like Alvin will be sticking around. It’s the opening night of Alvin Sputnik’s Perth season for 2011, and I’m sitting in the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground, holding my breath in anticipation. Watts needn’t have worried about the hype. It’s not often you see a show that wins over the audience’s heart so quickly, or so completely. But Alvin Sputnik does it. During the performance, theatre-goers of all ages are sitting forward in their seats, faces shining, completely enamoured of Alvin. There are soft gasps of delight the first time puppet-Alvin emerges, and bursts of joyous applause throughout the 45-minute show.

Alvin’s underwater adventures arc towards a poignant finale. This is the second time I’ve seen The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik (having seen it during its inaugural season in 2009), so I reckon I’ll be able to steel myself against the emotional gutpunch and maintain a cool demeanour. Err, not so much. I straight-up weep. But I am relieved to see plenty of other patrons dabbing at their eyes as we leave the Studio. Something about this simple story of love and self-sacrifice has certainly captured people’s imagination. Perth audiences are usually dour and bestow admiration grudgingly, but Alvin Sputnik receives an ovation that seems to go on forever, and cheers such as are usually reserved for rock stars. But that’s how it is now. Alvin is a rock star. And it’s only a matter of time before Tim Watts achieves the same status.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is showing at the State Theatre Centre of WA (Perth) from Tuesday 22 November to Saturday 3 December.

Tim Watts performs with one of the Alvin puppets


Theatre People review: “Flirt Fiction”, Oct 2012

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A review I wrote for Theatre People, of Blue Room production Flirt Fiction.

Red Rabbit Collective, Perth’s sexiest new performance ensemble, brings their new show Flirt Fiction home to Australia, fresh off the back of a run in Edinburgh.

The show is a web of seductive tales woven around two competitive writers, Ana (Kathryn Delaney) and Henry (Lawrence Ashford). The two friends set each other a new writing challenge: sensual fiction. Each writer must attempt to write erotica. Henry accuses Ana of being uptight, and Ana tells Henry that sex isn’t all about penetration. They each struggle to take on the challenge, facing up to their personal taboos and secret fantasies. Centred in their sensual scenes is the waitress from their coffee shop, played by Zoe Cooper. The writers craft their characters in her image, and she becomes goddess, whore, dominatrix, whatever they need her to be.

Flirt Fiction production still, courtesy Angela H King
Zoe Cooper and Kathryn Delaney flirt with fiction.

Flirt Fiction is an interesting exploration of erotica, and how we craft our fantasies. With a strong script by Jessica Craig-Piper, the show explores the vulgar and the obvious in erotica, then goes deeper, reflecting on how our identities inform our consumption of sex. Woven through the story is a sweet thread of romance, which elevates the play from a collection of vulgar sketches and creates an engaging narrative.

Ashford is the stand-out performer of the show; he had the audience from his opening monologue and held them right through the play. Delaney, too, gave a strong performance and played her character with an admirable mix of strength and vulnerability. Cooper was perhaps the least engaging; although she gave a brave performance as the muse who is stripped of her clothes and bent into any position the others wish, she was somehow too brittle, and not terribly convincing as a flirt.

On the night this reviewer watched the play, it was unfortunate that the audience was not terribly responsive. There were a few murmurs of laughs at some of the naughty jokes, but mostly just the tense silence of an uncomfortable audience. While Ashford’s comic timing was spot-on, Delaney and Cooper missed a few chances for laughs, so that the energy fell flat. Unfortunately, the biggest laugh came in the middle of a heartfelt monologue about bestiality and rape, which was clearly intended to be an emotional peak in the story. Instead, the audience was left chuckling and hoping for relief from the confronting sound effects. The play’s finale was undercut by The Blue Room Studio’s black box set-up, which means that the actors freeze in their final position, then immediately unfreeze and wave goodbye to the audience. Awkward.

Despite some setbacks, this show is enjoyable and intensely interesting. Although not, perhaps, for the faint-hearted. At the end of the show, a man loudly said to his friend ‘I did NOT like that’, and two young women from the front row were evidently most concerned that they were going to be hit in the face by a strap-on dildo. It seems the show did not ‘find its audience’ that night. But if you can get past the graphic sexuality and the desire to giggle like a schoolgirl, then you’ll find Flirt Fiction a rewarding experience.

Flirt Fiction is showing at The Blue Room until Saturday 22 October.

Read this review and heaps of other up-to-the-minute info about Australian theatre on TheatrePeople.com.au