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In Conversation with Jens Altheimer | Little Legends Festival

"All the clunky old machines you see on stage have a wicked inner life: a bit like a wolf in sheep’s clothing." Jens Altheimer, creator and performer behind 'Whalebone', gives us a glimpse of the magic young audiences can expect to see at this year's Little Legends Festival.

Q: What interests you most about creating work for young people?

A: I think kids (and their house-trained adults) should come to the theatre as a place of wonder. Where they get surprised, puzzled, amused and blown away by things they would never seen before like that. Things that open a window to a world they haven’t experienced (and expected) before. And when they look though that window, the stories they see should be exciting and encourage them to ignite their imagination, make up their own stories and relate them to their life. So I take a huge pleasure in spending months and months to invent those narratives and contraptions that make this kind of magic happen.


Q: Where did the idea behind Whalebone come from?

A: That was just about the time when I had gathered a bunch of old family objects and was remembering the stories in my brain connected to those memorabilia. And I had this thought: how would it be if there would be a place where those stories inside of the objects could actually be extracted and then saved somewhere. The idea of the mysterious ‘Depository’ (that exactly does this) was born.


A few days after I was getting directions on my phone and I suddenly remembered how different that had been a while ago, unfolding maps and working out the route. It suddenly made me think about how our decisions and tasks are more and more taken over by technology and the A.I.s hidden inside.


And what if these two universes would collide and have some conversation about stories, data, humanity and machines? The idea to ‘Whalebone’ was born. All the exciting visuals, actions and contraptions then appeared on the path, bringing together quirky machines, a half human juggling machine, a malicious computer virus, lots of clowning and heaps more.


Q: Do you remember your first theatre experience?

A: Yep. It wasn’t seeing a show, but making theatre. In early primary school, our class put on a nativity scene. And I scored the main role of Joseph!

I can’t remember much of the artistic brilliance of the performance, but I always remember the one instruction from the director: walking from side to side of the stage next to Maria, I had to be on the inner side of her, towards the audience. If not nobody would have seen me: I was so much smaller than the girl who played Maria. I sometimes wonder if that early trauma not to be seen is the reason that I turned into the uncontested front man… of my solo performances.


Q: What can you tell us about the technology used in the show?

A: Don’t get me started. No, wait…get me started! There are three computers, two projectors, three micro-processors, 4 remote control systems, 5 relays, two electro magnets, one vacuum cleaner, meters of wire, three hairdryers, a bunch of old telephones, two smoke machines, one air blower and lots of LEDs.

All the clunky old machines you see on stage have a wicked inner life: a bit like a wolf in sheep’s clothing. And, so much can be said here: they do amazing and absolutely surprising things!

The author Arthur C. Clarke once said:

“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.”

That’s exactly what I want that the technology does in in Whalebone: create magic and wonder!


Q: What's the best feedback you've received from a young audience member about Whalebone?

A: Hearing a 10 year old saying after the show: ‘I wish I could be you!’ filled me a bit with pride. Even though, poor boy, didn’t know what he’d be in for!

But I will corrupt the question a bit and give you the best feedback I got from a ‘young at heart’ audience member:

"I wish your inventions could be made real and we could collect and save memories that we touch, live with, connect to and share them. I just want to say thank you for being you, so creative and generous and bringing to life an idea that I wish looked like and worked like you showed today in WHALEBONE. "

Mandy, Audience member and Grandmother WHALEBONE

By Jens Altheimer 22-24 September |Theatre Works BOOK HERE

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