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Ishmael: A modern take on an epic tale at the Brisbane Festival

August 30 - September 11

This September, audiences are invited to join the plight of a climate refugee and voyage to the outer solar system, when Ishmael makes its long-awaited world premiere at this year’s Brisbane Festival.

This modern take on Herman Melville’s Moby Dick will be presented by Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Dead Puppet Society, and Brisbane Festival, in association with Screen Queensland, in the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC from 30 August to 11 September 2021.

Minister for the Arts Leeanne Enoch said it was great that Queensland audiences would be the first to experience the imaginative, thought-provoking and captivating production from Brisbane’s own creative success story, Dead Puppet Society.

Ishmael is the latest work by Dead Puppet Society and represents a significant industry collaboration between this vibrant company, QPAC and Brisbane Festival,” Minister Enoch said.

“Featuring talented Queensland cast and creatives, state-of-the art technology, brilliant puppetry and an outstanding original score, Ishmael, with its topical themes, inclusivity and humanity, has the makings of another hit.

“It’s great to see this production is back in the Festival program, after being postponed last year due to COVID. The arts are key to delivering the Queensland Government’s plan for economic recovery, each year injecting $8.5 billion into the state’s economy and supporting more than 92,000 jobs for Queenslanders.”

A reimagining of the timeless novel, Moby Dick, for a new millennium, the production is the creative vision of the internationally acclaimed Dead Puppet Society (Laser Beak Man, The Wider Earth) and melds captivating storytelling with live action, live filmmaking, an original score and boundary-pushing visual theatre.

Ishmael is set in a not-too-distant future where the earth’s oceans have been recast as the vastness of space and the titular character as a young climate refugee grasping at the chance to build a new life for herself.

To survive their voyage to the outer solar system aboard the MV Pequod, Ishmael and the obsessive Captain Ahab must navigate the immensity of space and its endless possibilities and terrors.

Writer and Director David Morton said the genre-crossing Ishmael played out like a film on stage, weaving in the elements of miniature sets, puppetry, a trio of live performers and an original score by indie pop musician Bec Sandridge.

Three acclaimed Brisbane actors will tell this futuristic story; Ellen Bailey plays the title role of Ishmael, Barbara Lowing is Captain Ahab and Patrick Jhanur rounds out the cast as Queequeg; an AI droid who has escaped from a laboratory.

“The original Moby Dick centred on humankind’s relationship with the natural world; Ishmael addresses what happens to the human motivators of greed and wealth when we’re in an environment that can no longer sustain them,” Dr Morton said.

“Recasting Ishmael and Captain Ahab – two iconic characters from Western literature canon – as females to bring the story into the new millennium felt like too good an opportunity to pass up.

“They are both incredibly strong characters who embark on a literal journey of self-discovery, one with challenges and adventures that transcend gender.

“At its core, Ishmael is a human story about personal redemption and the grace of humanity, told with hope and humour.”\

Creative Producer Nicholas Paine said Ishmael advanced Dead Puppet Society’s signature laser-cut artistry.

“This work will really blur the boundaries of what is considered a puppet,” Mr Paine said.

“The biggest difference is rather than us playing with human or animal figures, we have built universes and worlds, miniaturised landscapes and fully-functioning spaceships.

Ishmael will have the theatrical sensibility of a space epic and be captivating to watch, not only for the story, but for how it is told.”

Brisbane Festival Artistic Director Louise Bezzina said the long-awaited international debut of Dead Puppet Society’s Ishmael reinforced the Festival’s commitment to be boldly Brisbane.

“While COVID-19 affected our plans to deliver this incredible work to audiences in 2020, we’re thrilled to see it come to life as an exciting new project for this year’s Brisbane Festival,” Ms Bezzina said.

“This production marks not only a wonderful opportunity to stage a world premiere in Brisbane, but also to celebrate a globally successful theatre company that started right here in Brisbane.

Ishmael is both timeless and contemporary; a relatable story with classic themes of redemption, determination and triumph of the human spirit that is reinvigorated and reimagined for a modern audience.”

QPAC Chief Executive John Kotzas said supporting new productions by home-grown and internationally celebrated arts companies was at QPAC’s heart.

“Working with local companies, creatives and artists to enable storytelling via the powerful medium of live theatre is what we do at QPAC,” Mr Kotzas said.

“Dead Puppet Society never fails to wow audiences with its innovative blend of creativity and technology and we anticipate Ishmael will similarly engage and entertain.

“While it was disappointing it could not be presented last year as planned, we look forward to welcoming this inspiring company back to QPAC as part of 2021 Brisbane Festival with the world premiere of Ishmael.”

The Ishmael script was commissioned by Dead Puppet Society, and the production has been commissioned by QPAC, Dead Puppet Society and Brisbane Festival in association with Screen Queensland.

Following its world premiere at Brisbane Festival from 30 August to 11 September, Ishmael will play a season at Sydney Opera House in 2023.


Cremorne Theatre
Cnr Grey and, Melbourne St, South
South Brisbane, Queensland 4101 Australia
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