Interview: Tim Watts / The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer
The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer
By Bridie Connellan
If idle hands are the devil’s tools, Tim Watts is practically Messianic. Crafting his able palms into an imaginative, endearing and award-winning character, this Perth-based theatrical auteur is back on Australian soil this month with two paws very firmly on deck to introduce the sweetest little guy this side of the Pixar lamp: Alvin Sputnick.
A fusion of original hand puppetry, animation, mime, projections, and an inspiring blend of live and recorded music, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is what happens when Watts put his mind to exploring “enduring love and the end of the world”. Clearly it’s edifying stuff, with the show fresh from performances at the Delhi International Arts Festival, New York International Fringe Festival, Perth’s Blue Room Theatre, and Adelaide Fringe Festival – having bagged a host of awards in the process.
Bearing an unmistakable resemblance to the Greek tragedy of Orpheus and Eurydice, Watts’ story concerns inquisitive deep-sea voyager Alvin Sputnick, and his quest to retrieve the lost soul of his wife from the bottom of the ocean.
Our setting is a future planet Earth where science has failed, and the ratio of land to ocean is ever-dwindling.
“One major inspiration was my trip to the Great Barrier Reef a few months before we started making the show,” says Watts. “It frightened me so much. There’s something that is just terrifying about being all alone in that massive expanse – but then there’s something I quite like about being reminded how small I am.”
The trip triggered something of a scribbling compulsion for Watts. “I started doing drawings of this little guy on a completely blank page with just a few bubbles trailing off, swimming next to a giant whale, just to be reminded of how tiny, tiny, tiny we really are.”
The character of Alvin is one of the show’s most compelling aspects, and Watts accounts for this partly by the ability of puppets to engender an emotional engagement. “Human beings have this great need to imbue things with life, so we’re so great at giving things life and personality,” he suggests.
At the same time, Watts was acutely aware of the difference between conveying feeling and conveying plot, and decided that animation would be his prime mode of creating a narrative. “It wasn’t just another technology just for the sake of it, or another gimmick. Quickly it becomes apparent that multimedia is serving a function in the telling of the story.”
The other star of the show, of course, is Watts – or rather, his hand. “I’ve always kind of mucked around with little hand movements, like those little boots that you put on your fingers,” he says. “The trick is coordination, particularly teaching your hand little disco moves.”
When: January 18-23
Where: Downstairs Theatre, Seymour Centre