by Adrian Miller.
Jeff Robinson left Christchurch when it was hit by an earthquake and has been touring the world with a circus ever since. He has recently also been performing in duo acts, but appears at this year’s Adelaide Fringe in solo mode.
We speak with Jeff, via email, to find out what we can expect from The Quizzical Mr Jeff, and begin by asking him how this new show differs from what he has done before and, after touring the world with duo shows, what’s it like to be performing on your own?
“It’s amazing having full control of the stage and being able to make things complicated without the stress of having to communicate that to anyone else. However it’s also loads of work. Ideally I would like to travel with a team to work on my shows, but there will always be a place for my duo partners in my life and my shows as it can be a joy to create with others!!”
How did you arrive at the name The Quizzical Mr Jeff?
“I was chatting with a friend in Wellington, NZ, trying to come up with a name. They have Asperger’s, so love really going into great detail. We sat together talking about the style and flavour of my performance and when he suggested ‘The Quizzical Mr. Jeff’ I just knew it was right. It’s fun and quirky, slightly absurd with just a hint of mystery.”
You convey a lot of humour and energy without speaking? Did you study mime or does it come naturally?
“I am a self-taught entertainer. I have an aptitude for being able to look at things and deconstruct them. I did spend a lot of time working of my mime skills but really I’m always looking for things that are amazing and wow but also fun.”
It must be rewarding to see that your show appeals to all age groups?
“I see myself as a circus artist and, for me, circus is for everyone. I’m more drawn to excitement and amazement than shock or sex appeal on the stage and as such I can take people of all ages on a journey and really transport them into a world of imagination.”
Costumes are clearly an important part of the show. Who chooses the costumes?
“As a second career, I am a costumer under the brand Ringmaster Designs RMD – I create men’s stage costumes with a glitz and glam feel in a traditional circus style. It’s hard as a circus person to find good quality costuming that you can also move around in and perform in. So I have created all my costuming from scratch especially for my show!”
Where did the balloon idea come from? Has it ever spectacularly not worked?
“I spend a large amount of time researching different types of performances and that was something that really jumped out at me. The balloon can be chaotic. It pops at different points, sometimes you get all the way through, sometimes you get half way you just never know when it’s going to go!”
When did you first get the idea to combine all the different elements – circus, magic, juggling, mime, humour, and storytelling – that make your show so unique?
“When creating a piece of work you always want to put in your best stuff, I have had a lot of skills for a long time now and this show was a chance for me to combine all the different skills I have to make a world class piece of entertainment that I knew would take me around the world again!”
Do you ever have any difficulty getting the audience to participate? Have you ever had an audience member demonstrate more skill than you were expecting?
“Sometimes, when selecting audience volunteers, people don’t want to join in and what I have learned is to just listen to what people want, I never force people to do things. I’m not a bully if someone shakes their head then I just move on and try and find someone who wants to join in. I have had some great volunteers the more they go for it the better really!”
Did you learn your hoopla skills while touring with the circus, or did you join a circus because you already had an interest?
“I had a lot of skills under my belt before I joined the circus, including the Hoolas! The main skills I learned from being in a big top was how to be a showman, how to create a show and how to take the audience with me in my performance.”
Where to next??
“After Adelaide, P&O Cruise Lines are taking my show on the high seas!! Then on to the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. After that I’m going to have a big long nap as I have been working pretty much non-stop for months. But I’m always on the lookout for new challenges and places to entertain.”
The Quizzical Mr Jeff performs at The Garage International @ Adelaide Town Hall, at various times, from Tue 19 Feb until Sat 23 Feb, and Gluttony – Parasol Lounge from 6pm on Tue 5 Mar until Sun 17 Mar.
Book at FringeTIX on 1300 621 255 or adelaidefringe.com.au. Click HERE to purchase your tickets.