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TOMAS FORD & THE FxxK YxU PROMS Interactive Fringe

The enigmatic and charismatic Tomas Ford has graced Perth stages for over 15 years with his unique brand of confrontational, comedic cabaret. Fringe World 2018 sees Ford taking over Four5Nine Bar at The Rosemount for the end of Janurary and most of February with The Fxxk Yxu Proms, a curated blend of interactive shows, comedy and the just plain weird. NATALIE GILES had a chat with Ford ahead of the opening of Fringe World this weekend. The Fxxk Yxu Proms kick off on January 26 and 27; Tomas Ford’s 3 Show Endurance Test for Lifeline is on January 28, 6pm – 10pm, then a variety of entertainment is available at The Fxxk Yku from January 29 to February 18.

You’ve been terrorising Perth audiences for many years now with your fierce, confrontational brand of fun times. What are some of your own WTF moments from shows?

I try to terrorise the whole audience at once – I don’t always succeed and I used to be a lot more one-on-one confrontational. That would lead to a few punches in the head, but usually the audience would step in and protect – like I might be fuck head, but if I’m doing my job right, I’m their fuck head. The best was when I played the main stage of Rottofest at the Rottnest Hotel while they were also screening the grand final. Some idiot jumped up and shouted “you’re shit, go back to the mainland” in my ear (still my all-time fave heckle) before trying to hit me with a pint glass. His mates were out front making schoolyard gestures like they would be waiting for me at the exit. They got kicked out and I ended up leaving a different way because I don’t need to fight meth heads. Next time I came to Rottnest, the local constabulary sent a police car to the pub every five minutes and a couple of undercover cops – they reckon I had “started a riot”. So that was fun.

I mean, I’ve cut myself on almost every kind of surface you could name, fallen off speaker stacks, had boyfriends up in my face, had every technical explosion you can imagine – there are too many stories of fuckery to count and a few of them happen every night. But I’m usually so puffed up on adrenaline that they don’t go into my long-term memory, I just remember the warm fuzzy feeling of how much fun I had at the show.

We’re familiar with your unique style and craptacular-ness here in Perth, but how do overseas audiences cope?

I’ve played as much interstate as I have back home for a while – so new audiences are kind of the norm for me. It’s actually enjoyably weird when I’m playing back in Perth to a room full of regulars who know all my schtick, because I have to work twice as hard to surprise them. British audiences seem more genuinely afraid of me, while over in New Zealand they have a long history of weirdos that I seem to slide into quite nicely. And in Malaysia, it’s a whole other thing I seem to be some kind of ridiculous Australian Dad guy to them – the variety is good.

The Fxxk Yxu Proms over Fringe opening weekend sounds prom-ising (zing!). You’ve got some stiff competition for punters. Why should they pop their festival cherry at the Prom(s)?

I mean, sure, they could go into town and contend with the crowds drawn by That Public Holiday, but we’re in North Perth away from all the bullshit, with a line up that is really something else. We’ve got Justice Yeldham flying over from Sydney for the shows, where he will be playing glass with his face, making loud noises that will blow your mind. Usually it smashes and he ends up bleeding all over it, it’s so intense. Last time I saw him, I was so amped up on adrenaline that I sped all the way home by accident. Perth to Freo in 13 minutes. I don’t condone that, but it gives you an idea of what kind of thrill level we’re talking about. It’s full on.

Leading up to that, we’ve got all kinds of weird shit happening in our little chamber rooms, guests from around the festival and bands including UK-based ridiculous electropunk act Buttered Bronson and local faux-preacher punks The Bible Bashers. It’s four hours of non-stop good weird.

Plus my wife Eleesha is heading up decorating the venue and she is famous amongst the kids our native Cockburn for turning our house into the most fucked up haunted house in the area. Last year we had people tied up in the shed, a labyrinth tent maze in the backyard and a massive spider cave in the lounge room. Kids were screaming so loud their voices were hoarse. She’s bringing a bit of that style to The Fxxk Yxu, but in a less Halloweeny way. We’ve got a pile of little themed rooms nodding to things like Twin Peaks and Edgar Allen Poe, teeth hanging off trees and a cocktail menu that’ll rip your face off. It’s going to be the kind of place where you come to see a show just so you can hang out in our creepy-ass chamber-maze afterwards.

You’ve got a fantastic line up of talent in the rest of The Fxxk Yku program throughout the festival – Cameryn Moore, Ayden Doherty, John Robertson. How do we choose? How did you choose and curate the program?

I directed and co-produced Noodle Palace for the first few years of its existence, and I’m glad there’s a place for Tame Impala fans to go party and drink and see stand-up, but at the end of last year I realised it wasn’t a good home for my work anymore. The three shows I’m presenting are demanding and they’re probably not the kind of thing where you sit in a beer garden thinking “oh yeah, let’s go see that”. So the spark of this idea was to figure out how to put those shows into a context where it would make sense to see them. Then it was a case of finding the most fucked up shows I could on the international touring circuit and asking them to come to Perth – everybody said yes, so we have a really great program. All of these shows are the kind of thing where you go in with a little trepidation but end up having a wild ride. Those kinds of shows are really addictive.

Most of these acts are people who could easily be playing 100 seats – that’s the size I’d generally play and in the case of something like The Dark Room, it’s such a huge show internationally that I would be producing it into a 300 seat venue each night if it wasn’t for this. That’s part of the appeal for all of us – let’s play to 50 awesome people in a tight space and make it real special.

We’re at the Rosemount’s Four5Nine, so we’re a little away from the other action in Northbridge – I mean you can mix up our shows with stuff in town if you want, but I’ve intentionally kept tickets as cheap as possible so that you can come and see a couple of shows in a night. They’re $20 on weekends and $15 on weeknights and there’s 30 minutes between shows, so even if you marathon four in one night, you’re still gonna have time to chill in between.

I reckon pick something that takes your fancy in the first week or so, because if you like it, you’ll probably find anything else from the rest of the program tickles your sweet spot too. We’re all of a type. A very fucked up type.

So what differentiates The Fxxk Yxu from the rest of Fringe World?

We’re running this venue in a way that sits a bit outside of the Fringe model – I’m buying in most of the acts, putting them up and producing them. So it’s much more like a regular festival where the artists aren’t expected to take the risk. I think Fringes are great but they’re also super middle-class, super-white and, as much as I love it, Fringe World in particular skews towards light entertainment. I like light entertainment fine, but it’s not why I go to Fringes. I go because I want my face blasted off with the weirdest, most idiosyncratic stuff that isn’t likely to find a home outside of a fringe. Plus I have my other show, Crap Music Rave Party, which is there to give that audience a jolt of weird without being too hardcore – that’s great fun to do and it’s been such a huge gift to be able to tour it around, but this kind of stuff is my main focus. So let’s have some weird. Let’s have some uncompromising.

Finally, what other shows are you keen to see and what would you recommend Perth adds to their Fringe hit list?

There’s a lot. Support your locals. Take a flyer, see a thing. I guess the main thing is don’t just go see someone because they’ve been on telly or they’re doing a tribute act – those kind of acts hit Perth year-round, Fringe is special because you get all this other stuff. We’re the third biggest in the world, which means we’re one of the biggest natural homes for this really specific kind of weird fringe culture. Who would’ve thunk that 10 years ago. So get behind those unusual kinds of shows.

Outside of that, all the stuff that Dead Man Productions are bringing over is on our wavelength – in particular Josh Glanc is a genius clown, I love his stuff. And I’m producing Amy Abler’s Pianodivalicious, a piano player from the USA who has had huge success touring theatres and cruise ships. I brought her to Mandurah last year when I was running Hubbub down there and she was the breakout star, so I’ve popped her in The Lucky Cat at Perth Town Hall. She is a hell of a player and showman. Take your mum to that; she’ll love it. That’s in the last week and it’s turned into the antidote to the rest of my fringe, which is full of all this full-on fuckery.

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