New direction for puppet master
David Strassman rates his new show his best so far. Photo: Supplied
'When I started 30 years ago, it was me and a suitcase and a stool. That's all I did in my show," David Strassman recounts. "Now, it's full-spectrum theatre."
The ground-breaking American ventriloquist, responsible for bringing beloved characters such as Chuck Wood and Ted E. Bare so vividly to life, has taken his craft to a whole new dimension with the Careful What You Wish For tour.
Strassman describes it as "a twisted, trippy, funny show - it's my best so far, and it really is a great night out". It's a bold claim to make, even for an established master of the trade - but the show's synopsis lends plenty of credence to his confidence.
"It's about Chuck wanting to mutiny,'' Strassman explains. ''He bribes them to mutiny against me because he has fears that if I ever quit show business, he'll die or end up in a museum. So he bribes all the puppets, and when I find this out, I get very angry, and I wish the puppets never existed through the magic of theatre.
"I travel through a wormhole to another dimension where my puppets exist, but without my influence. And then I have to visit each one of these doppelgangers to find clues to get back to my reality."
None of this would be possible with traditional sets and curtains, of course, so they are replaced by three massive, rear-projection screens that transport Strassman and his puppet cohorts everywhere from outer space to Las Vegas.
"In between scenes there are Monty Python-esque videos that transition between characters," Strassman says. "It's visually stunning, a laugh every 10 seconds. I've been doing this show now for almost three years, and it's shit-hot tight."
The technical wizardry extends to the puppets themselves, with Strassman employing an elaborate version of his proprietary robotic technology.
"This particular performance, I've upgraded a robotic element," he says. "I operate Chuck during one scene in the show, I do his voice live, and I operate his movements, but he's sitting five feet from me. I have a handheld wireless device that does all his physical movements - but it's live." Strassman describes himself as a life-long geek who revels in the spectacle of sci-fi, although he's never had any formal robotics training.
"I had to learn it over the years," he says. "Getting into robotics, I had to learn what voltage meant, and now I'm doing design and all kinds of engineering robotics, electrical engineering … I'm not an expert, I hire third parties to make up circuit boards and stuff like that, but I'm pretty much right down in there."
Having technical prowess adds another layer to his creative powers, Strassman says, and lets him put on a performance that stuns audiences, along with making them laugh.
"My show begins with the big bang. It starts with an empty screen, and suddenly this little dot appears, and the entire universe explodes into billions of galaxies and stars. It's jaw-dropping. What does that have to do with a ventriloquist show? Nothing … I want you to see stuff where your jaw drops and you go, 'Whoa, that's so trippy!' you know?"
It's not only audiences in large cities that will get to enjoy the spectacle of Careful What you Wish For, with Strassman playing a long series of dates in regional Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria.
"There are unbelievable venues all over Australia that are not in the major cities,'' Strassman says. ''I play Griffith, I play Wagga, I'm playing Queanbeyan, I'm playing Goulburn.
"Granted I'll do one night, two shows a night - but it allows me to take my show pretty much anywhere. And I've been all over Australia, from Esperance to Weipa, from Broome to Launceston, I've played them all - I love it. I love Australia."
WHEN: Thursday, March 14 (Queanbeyan) and Friday, March 15 (Canberra)
WHERE: Queanbeyan Performing Arts Centre and the Erindale Vikings Club Auditorium