Watts' clouds have silver lining

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Chris Isaacs, Tim Watts, Arielle Gray and Adriane Daff present Falling Through Clouds, Picture: Jarrad Seng.
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He may be a long way short of the level of McDonald's, Jim's Mowing or even Slava's Snowshow but Tim Watts has established a thriving theatrical franchise.

The Perth writer-performer and director has recently outsourced his internationally successful The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer, hiring Perth actors Sam Longley and St John Cowcher to help keep up with the demand for the solo show he created in 2009.

"It is bizarre how it keeps going and going," Watts says of the touching show about a hero whose head is made from a foam rock lobster float. "Every now and then I do it here and there but for the most part St John and Sam are doing shows around the world. It certainly was very strange handing it over."

Another show involving Watts, the poignantly poised dementia parable It's Dark Outside made with Chris Isaacs and Arielle Gray, also has been roaming the world and recently completed a four- month tour of Australia and the UK.

He has similar touring ambitions for his latest creation with Isaacs, Gray and Adriane Daff, all members of the new theatre collective The Last Great Hunt.

Their self-devised show Falling Through Clouds, which opens next week, coalesces around a scientist, Mary, who dreams of flying and a rare whooping crane, Henry, who has visions of escaping captivity.

In a world bereft of birds, the scientist is part of a program to bring them back from extinction. Henry, the puppet crane born in a laboratory, simply wants to fly the coop. "It is about having impossible dreams and trying to achieve them and about an imagination that turns on you," Watts says during a rehearsal break at the Perth Institute of Contemporary Arts.

"There is a whimsy and a playfulness that becomes corrupted. There is a slightly heightened bureaucracy that she longs to escape from. Her imagination gives her that sense of freedom."

As with Alvin and It's Dark Outside, Falling Through Clouds relies heavily on visuals more than words to weave a story through physical theatre, puppetry, animation and other non-verbal sleights of hand.

Watts says it is partly inspired by an American whooping crane breeding program in which the birds had so lost touch with their instincts that they had to be taught how to feed, sit on eggs and migrate by following ultra-light aircraft, as dramatised in the 1996 film Fly Away Home.

"There are scientists with whooping crane puppets on their arms trying to show these birds how to eat and drink," he says.

"The humans teach the birds how to fly. It is bizarre."

Like the central character in her laboratory, Watts and co have delighted in the alchemy of experimentation in the theatre as they have developed Falling Through Clouds through the trial and error of creating and showing scenes to people along the way.

"I always think about making a new show as a scientific experiment or at least putting together a series of experiments for each scene," he says.

"It would be silly for a scientist to put together an experiment and if he doesn't get the result he wants, he then thinks he is a bad scientist. It's the same with putting together a scene and showing it. If the scene is no good then it is still a worthy experiment and you learn something from it even if you didn't get the result you wanted."

Watts and the others have invested the show with a sense of scientific fun after watching snippets of American TV entertainer and science teacher Steve Spangler doing cool experiments.

"The ensemble's energy is like a clowning DIY-science vibe of putting things together while wearing lab coats and dust suits."

He hopes the audience will take pleasure in watching the show coming alive, a sense best magnified in the collective imagination through the medium of puppetry.

"I am a fan of a bit of magic in theatre and for me what creates that magic is being aware of being witness to your own willingness to suspend disbelief," Watts says

"Theatre is good like that in that you have to actively pretend a bit more. You can see the construction of an image as opposed to a blockbuster film in which you have no idea how they do those special effects."

Falling Through Clouds is at the PICA Performance Space from Monday- October 11.

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