Show and Tell | Pursued By BearMidland is getting into the Fringe action this year and is turning the Midland Junction Arts Centre into a Fringe World 2014 venue. They’ve even given it a new name for the time being, the rather pedestrian “Midlandia Fringe,” and they’ve added the descriptor “pop-up” to the media blurbs, even though the MJAC has hardly sprung up out of nowhere, out of a tent, or out of an empty shop front like most “pop-up” spaces tend to be. Still I suppose it could be worse, the City of Swan could ignore the Fringe frenzy, and certainly they could refuse to celebrate the arts, and of course, they could always turn a deaf ear to the desperate cries of Perth artists for access to affordable spaces in which to put on shows. So, bravo to the City of Swan for their initiative and for getting a slice of the festival pie; here’s hoping Fringe World’s Fringe is successful.

That being said, Midlandia Fringe is full of good stuff, and it seems to be a first pit-stop for a few acts who are then moving on to Noodle Palace, which is the new moniker for the old Piccadilly Cinema in the city centre. Opening tonight is a mostly improvised show called Show and Tell. It’s the inaugural production by Pursued By Bear Productions, a brand spanking new theatre company founded in 2013 by Tegan Mulvany and Brianna Williams, who are both members of The Big HOO HAA improv comedy group, and who presumably both have a penchant for Shakespeare and forest predators, going by their mascot, a bear in a ruff holding a quill.

Opening night of Show and Tell features Brianna Williams, Shane Adamczak, Fran Middleton, Arielle Grey and Nick Pages-Oliver on the boards and Michael de Grussa on the piano. Presumably, this cast could change on any given night, as it’s improv (my apologies, being American, I just can’t get used to calling it “impro”) and there are a handful of Perth improv superstars that could step in, as you do in improv. Tonight Tegan Mulvany didn’t appear on stage, but she was the proverbial “fifth band member” on the light board, joining in the games with improvised light cues.

Special guest storyteller was the excellent Jon Bennett, whom I had the pleasure of seeing in a one-man show Pretending Things Are a C*ck during 2013 Fringe; I didn’t recognise him by name, but the minute he stepped into the spotlight a handful of memories, strange, secondhand memories came flooding back. He told us some of the same childhood stories that we heard in his show last year, but this time there was a kind of urgency to his retelling. I suppose the format was unusual for him; in his one-man show, he would have time to settle in and find a rhythm, where as here, he was spliced in between improv scenes. Still it’s an interesting concept to try, especially to see if the audience can handle the cut from storytelling to improv with only tenuous links between the juxtaposed material.

As the audience enters the theatre, the improvisers invite the audience to write on a chalkboard the first word that comes to mind when they hear the word family. Then as the show begins, Jon Bennett chooses one of the words on the chalkboard as a springboard for his first story. Then the improvisers begin their part, using details from Bennett’s stories as bits in their scenes. For instance, Bennett mentions a “door snake” (those draft stoppers you put along the gap between the door and the floor) as a pivotal object in a story about his brother, then Williams becomes a researcher pursuing the elusive “door snake” in the wild. Bennett reciprocates by subsequently choosing tales from his storyteller’s arsenal based on the feeling he takes away from the improvised scenes.

This group of performers are extremely at ease with improvisation, and can immediately embody and commit to new characters, situations and ideas at the drop of a hat. And speaking of hats, I have to take my hat off to anyone who can state with absolute confidence, “I used to have an ear in the middle of my head,” without second-guessing whether it’s funny, makes sense, or is right for the scene. These guys are just naturally funny, creative and smart problem-solvers. They also look out for each other, give and take without selfishness, and very obviously enjoy what they are doing.

Pretty promising start for that bear and its humans.

Pursued by Bear Productions
Show and Tell

Venues: (check website for details)
Midlandia - Rectangle Room | Midland Junction Arts Centre, 276 Great Eastern Hwy, Midland, WA
Noodle Palace - The Barry Hall | Piccadilly Cinema, 700 Hay Street (Enter Hay St Mall/Piccadilly Arcade), Perth, WA
Dates: 30 January – 20 February 2014
Tickets: $20

Part of Perth Fringe World 2014

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