Between the outer-suburban fantasy land that is Midlandia, the freshly-relocated inner city den of wonders, The Noodle Palace, and his own one man show, Electric Cabaret, Tomás Ford might be the busiest single human being involved in Fringe World 2014. TRAVIS JOHNSON finds out.
King of cabaret, self-made electro-pop superstar, perennial Perth culture vulture – Tomás Ford is many things (not the least of which is serial accoster of unsuspecting audience members at his sweaty, sensational live shows). This year, he seems determined to add even more job titles to his already impressive resume. For starters, he’s helped to inaugurate Midlandia, the Fringe World satellite located out in the semi-rural environs of Midland.
“I’m the co-producer at Midlandia and the Programme Director,” Ford explains. “And I guess the idea with Midlandia was just to try and take some the crazy, exciting, creative energy of Fringe World and take it out to a part of Perth that maybe doesn’t get a lot of that kind of stuff.”
That endeavour comes with the full support of the local council, who jumped at the chance to bring some fringe glitter to the far end of the railway line. “The City Of Midland kind of came to the party supporting that idea really early and it’s actually been a really smooth and groovy ride…”
Ford’s curatorial approach had to balance his own sensibilities with a notion of what would play in Peoria, so to speak. “I guess my main role has just been picking through all the shows that I had seen and been in touch with over the past year and just trying to find a programme that would serve the fairly specific needs of Midland audiences rather than that of the city.
“There’s stuff we’ve got on in the city at Noodle Palace that I instantly knew wasn’t gonna work,” he continues. “Some of the super far out stuff that was not really gonna fly with a suburban audience. I guess it was just kind of a case of focussing around things that you could kind of see had a certain appeal to certain little audience demographics out there. Like, we’ve got a show about a submariner telling salty stories of the high seas, called Eric’s Tales Of The Sea. That was a bit of a no-brainer. We’ve got one called Anatomy Of A Piano, which is kind of a high art cabaret/lecture/piano recital. It was kind of a process of going through things like that where I could very directly see the audience appeal and then sprinkling on top just enough crazy so it’s there. I think it’s important with a Fringe programme that there’s things in there that will surprise you, that you don’t think you’ll enjoy, so there’s a good sprinkling of those kind of events in there as well.”
Then there’s Noodle Palace, the boutique venue that drew such healthy crowds when it made its debut at its original Beaufort Street location last year. Now in 2014 the Palace returns, this time setting up shop in the regal confines of the recently-vacated Piccadilly Cinemas in the heart of Perth. Ford is justifiably proud of being able to nail down the prestigious and iconic location.
“There were a lot of people putting things on Facebook last year when the Piccadilly Cinemas closed,” Ford muses. “Just saying how sad they were that they weren’t going to be able to go there any more. And I posted a few things on there myself, but then the opportunist in me kicked in and I realised that there were three really amazing theatres in there that were just ready to go, for the kind of theatres that we were looking for. My co-producer, JumpClimb, really came on board with that straight away and we were chasing up real estate agents and having a million phone calls until we got what we wanted.”
Like Midland, the Hay Street and Murray Street malls, which the Piccadilly Arcade connects, aren’t exactly renowned for their after-dark culture. Ford tells us he delights in bringing entertainment to unusual places like these. “I think me and JumpClimb both have an interest in putting culture and art into places that they don’t necessarily go all the time,” he says. “Personally, I grew up in the outer suburbs and I used to love it when cool stuff would happen in the general vicinity of wherever I was. With Noodle Palace, it’s pretty central to the Fringe Festival still, but we do have access to this audience of office workers who maybe wouldn’t be engaging with the Fringe Festival otherwise – we get right up in their faces, so that’s pretty exciting.
“We have a really diverse and interesting and somewhat odd programme, so it’s really nice to be able to put that in a context that’s not just a Fringe Festival context. It’s good to be reaching out a little bit further, because I think that sometimes those shows can get stuck with the same audience, so it’s nice to be able to offer them to some different crowds.”
Then there’s Ford’s own contribution to Fringe World, which should have fans of his outrageous antics salivating. “I am bringing my show, Electric Cabaret, which debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year. It’s an hour-long nervous breakdown that basically takes a lot of what I’ve been doing and puts it into a very weird, David Lynch-y, dark, twisted shape over the course of an hour, but then ends up in a really happy place. It is definitely the weirdest, funnest thing that I’ve ever done, so I’m really happy that Perth audiences are going to freak out over it.”
Let’s face it, Tomás Ford calling something the weirdest thing he’s ever done is setting the bar pretty high. He admits that, even as he debuted the piece to a hardened Hibernian audience in 2013, he didn’t know how far he’d pushed the envelope until partway through the performance. “The first night that I did it, I hadn’t really realised how the emotional arc of the character in this show, how deep and dark it went? Like, I kind of put the show together, got all my ducks in a row and then, when performing thought, ‘Aw, shit! This is really fucking hectic!’ It’s not horrific – it’s probably more intense for me than any performance I’ve ever had to do, but I think that makes it an even more wild ride.”
Tomás Ford: Electric Cabaret happens at Midlandia, aka The Midland Junction Arts Centre, on Saturday, January 25, then continues at Noodle Palace from Wednesday, February 5 until Friday, February 23. For tickets, session times and all other Fringe world information, head here.