Thursday, 5 April 2012

How we Conquered Melbourne

My wife Jen and I like to attend a lot of shows. Bands, comedians, theatre.

In 2011, we decided to visit Melbourne for our birthdays (both in March) and see as much of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) as we could, while taking in all the sights of the town. 

There's so much to do in Melbourne - From the film/TV/animation exhibits at The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) to the endless selection of interesting shops, bars and restaurants, many of which remain open until the early hours of the morning. Unlike Brisbane, there are theatres galore, and performers on every corner instead of charity street hasslers. And a really good public transport service to get around with. There's no shortage of trams. If you miss one, there's another right behind it. 

The highlight of our 2011 trip was meeting comedian Bob Franklin, who gave us free tickets to his show. His was one of about 15 or 16 shows we attended in the short time we were there.

In 2012, we again managed to squeeze 15 MICF shows into 6 days, and also attend the filming of a TV show. Well, I guess it was two TV shows, because one of the MICF shows was a special filmed for TV.

But we really embraced this trip in a big way, really getting involved and making an impact. Here's what happened:

- We booked front row seats to the MICF "All-Stars Gala" show. Yet to be aired on Channel Ten, this massive show at the Palais Theatre was hosted by Julia Morris, and featured sets by Wanda Sykes, Sam Simmons, Idiots of Ants, Dead Cat Bounce, Wellington International Ukelele Orchestra, Jeff Green, Wil Anderson, Shappi Khorsandi, Greg Behrendt, Mark Watson, Kumail Nanjiani and more. Being in the front row of this means you're right amongst the action. Camera men running past, comedians performing right in front of you, and in the case of comedian Sam Simmons - incorporating you into the act! When the show airs on Ten, you will see a shirtless Sam Simmons riding on top of the gentleman to my right, and then climbing past me to sit on Jen's lap! The cameras were in our faces the whole time. A great start to our holiday!

- During a play by Bob Franklin and Steven Gates (aka Gatesy from Tripod), I was chosen to portray a character named Jason. A failed actor, and regular psychiatric patient of the doctor being played by Bob Franklin. 

- After seeing Lawrence Leung's show, another comedian John Robertson gave us free tickets to his show because he liked the way we were dressed - all in black. Another win!

- On our way home from a show, Jen photographed a billboard at one of the tram stops and posted it on Twitter. She started what became a widespread discussion about how it seems to promote irresponsible drinking and bad workplace health and safety practices. Within a very short time, Jen was the number one "trending topic" in Australia on Twitter! 

- Comedian Mick Neven had a show at the MICF where it was encouraged to tweet during the show. It was an interactive Twitter show! People could tweet from home too! All tweets were displayed on a screen at the front, and read out during the performance. Jen was chosen to drive the iPad up the front, and be in control of Mick's Twitter account. Retweeting things and replying to people. 

- Somehow over Twitter during the Mick Neven show, Jen was mixed up with a different "Jennifer Hansen" (same spelling), a Melbourne journalist who is married to Neighbours actor Alan Fletcher (aka Doctor Karl Kennedy). The confusion ended with the two chatting a lot over Twitter. This part of the story has an interesting twist later.

- Having been on a waiting list since September to be in the audience for "Adam Hills in Gordon Street Tonight", a popular TV show on the ABC, we got a call to attend a filming on the second last day of our trip. We showed up to the station, where a production assistant announced they're going to film a sketch starring comedian Jimeoin, and they wanted some of us to be in it! Jen and I raised our hands pretty quickly. While the episode we're in the audience for aired last night (there were a few very brief shots of us), the sketch we appeared in will air on next week's show (18/04/2012). 

- The Doctor Karl Kennedy twist was when the other Jennifer Hansen's husband Alan made a brief comedic cameo on the Adam Hills show, just a metre from where Jen was sitting. What a coincidence! All was discussed over Twitter afterwards and apparently Alan (who is not on Twitter) thought it was hilarious.

- Only hours before boarding a plane back to Brisbane, we had coffee with character actor Michael Davoren, who plays Basil Faulty in the "Faulty Towers Dining Experience" - That's not a typo. The original show is spelt Fawlty. Faulty is the tribute show. They travel all over the world with it! 

And that was our most recent trip to Melbourne in a nut shell. We didn't just visit. We got amongst it! Got involved! And got on TV! And Jen was famous Australia-wide on Twitter for one night! 

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

My journey down Avenue Q: Could Puppetry Be My Purpose? - Part Four

A few rehearsals in, and the Brisbane Arts Theatre production of Broadway puppet musical, "Avenue Q" is shaping up to be a fantastic show! The first rehearsal was all about getting to know each other, and to go through a full script read. The cast sounded exactly like the original Broadway characters. It was unbelievable!

This is video #1 of what will become a small series of videos documenting the events which lead up to the opening night of the show:

My involvement in the show began as "Puppetry Consultant", where I was to simply teach the cast how to operate the puppets convincingly, and assist them throughout the rehearsals. 

Trekkie Monster and Nicky in Broadway's "Avenue Q"
However, to my delight, I was soon given the additional role of "2nd Hands Puppeteer". I will be assisting actor Kieran (seen in the video) with the puppetry of his two characters "Trekkie Monster" and "Nicky". For the most part, I will be operating the right hands of these characters while Kieran operates the mouth and left hand. In scenes where both characters are on stage at the same time, I will be puppeteering one or the other character wholly at various times throughout the show. I am also performing one of the singing postal boxes in one scene! Absolutely brilliant! I never imagined I'd ever get to be a stage puppeteer in Avenue Q someday!

In addition to that, I'm now a part of the singing ensemble. The harmonies in these songs sound amazing. It's really sounding spectacular!

Last week, I conducted my first ever puppet workshop, just teaching everybody the basics - lip sync, performing in tandem, eye focus, keeping the puppet at a fixed point (a sense of being grounded, of having weight), walking, hearing and reaction to sound, and "puppet vibrato" (a Jim Henson technique where a puppet is indulging in a moment of singing). The most important thing is to keep the puppets 'alive' at all times. Never must they flop to the side or float across the stage without a walking movement. 

I brought my own puppets, and the director brought some along too, as we haven't received the Avenue Q ones just yet. We went through some exercises and I showed some videos to demonstrate how these techniques are used in professional puppetry. 

One of the best examples I showed the cast was this Sesame Street parody of the show, "Glee". It has walking, it has great lip sync both in the talking and singing. The characters are very animated, with a lot of forward head movements to emphasise certain words. The "puppet vibrato" technique is used perfectly in this too. Watch as they sway their heads when singing, rather than simply open their mouths. It's a lot of fun for adults to watch while kids learn about the functions of the letter 'G'. The great thing about the Muppets is that they never talk down to kids. It's never too babyish. And there's always plenty of wit and humour for adults to enjoy.

This Easter long weekend, we'll be working with puppets further, and might even receive the Avenue Q characters! An exciting time for all involved! 

This production will feature a revolving set, a full band playing the music, video sequences throughout the show, and the cast will all have headset microphones, which is a first for the Brisbane Arts Theatre. Most shows don't have a full band playing, so this is necessary. And of course, most of the main cast are puppets! This will be the must-see show of the year in Brisbane! It's an honour to be a part of it!

There's a buzz about Avenue Q already. There's excitement in the air! Tickets are already selling, and fast! Here's where to book your seats! -- 
Ticket Request! AVENUE Q: June 2 - July 14 @ Brisbane Arts Theatre