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The Creative Issue – News for Creatives | January 27, 2020

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Suspend your Disbelief with David Strassman

Suspend your Disbelief with David Strassman

| On 27, May 2017

It’s about Chucking time comedian and ventriloquist David Strassman returned to Brisbane, touring Australia with his avant-garde performance of iTedE.Distressed that society’s unbeatable addiction to technology will signal an end to live theatre, Strassman pieces together a show that, with the help of his five robotic puppets, proves the opposite. In the context of the performance, Strassman has been asked to perform a Ted Talk on imagination. Throughout the show, he constantly revisits the phrase ‘suspension of disbelief,’ interviewing his puppets to test their worthiness of a seat on his Ted Talk.

From the naive but endearing Ted E Bare to the foul-mouthed Chuck Wood, the artificial menagerie are the stars of the show. Due to Strassman’s quick wit, tight lips and unusual knack for conversing with himself, it’s easy to forget that each miniature personality is being controlled by a single man.

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The ventriloquist ensures the audience catches the drift that each puppet is an extension of his psyche, mentioning the correlations between puppet and personal disposition on more than one occasion. There’s his inner child  (Ted E Bare), fatherly figure (Grandpa Fred) the voice of reason and logic (Kevin the Alien), and his feminine side (Sid the Beaver). When he compares Chuck to the voice that surfaces in his head while stuck in traffic, the wooden marionette reels off a round of outrageous language.

While the evil puppet’s inappropriate jokes elicit the most laughter from the crowd, a simple unexpected swear provoking a round of giggles, it’s Ted who triumphs as the crowd favourite. Judging by the overwhelming number of grown men and women clutching life-size replicas of the bear to their chests, more people sympathise with the sweet, chocolate-loving bear than the sadistic, red-eyed Chuck.

While a couple of jokes slipped over the sold-out crowd’s heads or fell flatter than a pancake, Strassman regained his composure by having Sid the Beaver admit, “I screwed up that line, didn’t I?” Another mishap occurred with the unveiling of Buttons the clown, the comedian’s intoxicated character. One line into the clown’s hiccupping slur and the microphone malfunctioned, leaving both the puppet and his controller voiceless. Strassman is obviously not a firm believer in the idiom, ‘the show must go on,’ as he promptly wrapped up the scene and called interval, signalling the end of the first act.

The show was not perfect, but it didn’t need to be. Like a true professional, (and no, Chuck, not “like a hooker,”) the Californian played off any slight issue by choosing to confront rather than blatantly ignore it, introducing a humanistic element into the script. The script itself included moments of incredibly fast dialogue and intelligent play on words, however was somewhat repetitive. In saying that, iTedE is essentially a one-man show; there’s only so much conversation one person can have with himself.

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As seen in Strassman’s show, the trick to engaging an audience is by relating to them. The American ensured there were plenty of Australian geographical and political references weaved into the plot, with the artificial puppets dissing locals from Ipswich and insulting Pauline Hanson, Chuck even likening the infamous figure to the Fuhrer (in ‘mein’ opinion, he’s not far from the truth).

As for the show’s underlying message, Strassman cleverly applies reverse psychology to the unsuspecting audience. He persistently reiterated his fear of technology destroying live theatre by damaging an audience’s ability to delve into an imagined landscape, while gradually introducing new elements of robotics. By the end of the show, the puppets were controlled completely wirelessly, moving their hands, eyes, necks and mouths without human interference.

Strassman is to the art of ventriloquism what Vincent Van Gogh was to the art of painting. iTedE reinvents the idea of puppetry by plunging people into an alternate reality where inanimate characters are brought to life so realistically that their apparent sentience is almost uncanny.

It may seem like magic, but as Strassman would say, “I’m just a grown man playing with puppets.”

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