Fremantle is about to be besieged by Saurus – a pack of rampaging, bird/dinosaur hybrid things – as part of the Fremantle Street Arts Festival, which runs from Saturday, April 19 – Monday, April 21. We caught up with Tonny Aerts, the Art Director of Close-Act Theatre, the Dutch troupe who wrangle the impressive beasts.
Founded in 1991 by Hesther Melief, Close-Act Theatre have spent over two decades astounding unsuspecting audiences around the globe with their arcane and alien creations, combining stilt-work, puppetry, costume and mime to make strange, otherworldly beings, many of which that, at first glance, couldn’t possibly conceal a human operator within.
“She grew up with stilt walking and acting because her mother was a street artist who travelled through Europe,” Aerts says of the group’s founder. “After her graduation at the design academy she started as a graphic designer, but not for long. Somehow she missed the travelling and acting and made her first stilt costumes: insects. This was a big success and she got a lot of work. Enough to stop the graphic work and make a living from street theatre.”
The idea for their Saurus show came about in 1993, taking roughly a decade from initial conceptual noodling about to prototype. Funnily enough it was the poor accommodations at a German medieval festival that first provided inspiration.
“A tent which Close-Act used to sleep in was rotten and therefore useless. After finding a hotel we got a great idea. Let’s throw away the textile and keep the sticks. With this sticks Close-Act created the first ‘longnecks.’ This worked out very well! Actually it was the start of a new Close-Act concept. In 2003 we added stilts, a tail and moving jaws to create a kind of fantasy dinosaur. It became a very original stilt creature wanted all over the world.”
Asked to elaborate on the concept behind the show, Aerts weaves an intriguing story of a world shared with benign, inhuman creatures. “The Saurus still live on this planet and we have to live together with them. No problem, they just walk around, eat from the trees and like to make contact with the humans. This is the main story but there is also something happening with the audience. The excitement you feel when you bump into this weird but realistic creatures increases. There are no visitors, only collaborators in this performance. The animals, who move kind of naturally, will not give the audience time to think. This is where it becomes reality.
You feel like a child again: so thrilled that you jump away when the Saurus come nearby. When the crowd moves you realise that you’re an important role in the show yourself.”
For more information on The 2014 Fremantle Street Arts Festival, including performers, session times and locations, head here.