Discover your destiny at the touch of a button with Madame Tulalah’s Magnificent Box, leaving the quirk capital of Melbourne for Mount Isa’s first Fringe Festival, September 15 – 16.
Speaking through an earpiece from her custom-built box, the mysteriously mechanical Madame Tulalah uses not-quite-conventional methods of divination to take you on a journey into the realms of fate, future, and free will.
What if there was an actual fortune teller stuck in a call centre, having to pump out fortunes all day?Performer, Richard Chambers.
This Victorian fortune teller is part drag queen, part automaton, and played by co-creator and performer, Richard Chambers.
Richard says the show is intimate for the audience, and exhausting for the performer.
“I’m in my little phone booth sized box the whole time, and do individual seven minute shows with whoever sits in front of me,” Richard said.
“For the audience, they only see me one-on-one for seven minutes, but for me, it’s a three hour show where I get to meet all sorts of people.”
Richard said he is interested in the ways in which automation has become normal.
“We’re on this interesting level where it’s a spectacle, other people can see it, but sometimes people will walk past and think “Oh it’s a machine”, even though to me I look human.
Devising the work with director, Melinda Hetzel, Richard said the character was partly inspired by call centre operators.
“We wanted it to feel a bit like an automated call centre where you speak to the voice who gives you the menu options,” Richard said.
“The monotony of doing it over and over again is exhausting, but that’s the inspiration of it too – what if there was an actual fortune teller stuck in a call centre, having to pump out fortunes all day?
“Without giving too much away, there are a few technical difficulties which means there’s much more of a personal element as well. That’s the most exciting part, for me.”
Headphones create an intimate experience for the solo audience member, who hopefully understands that this is all a performance.
“We joke and say ‘Your fortune is for entertainment purposes only’. Only a couple of people have been very serious about having their fortune told,” he said.
While Richard dismisses the idea of fortune telling real life, he admits it’s hard not to get drawn in.
“It’s a strange part of human nature, when you go into depth like that it’s hard not to believe it a little. I ask people to think of a question to keep in their mind while the performance is going on and it’s funny, you start looking for signs, it’s hard not to resist!
“Even for me, having performed it for quite a while now, it’s still hard for me not to believe a bit of the magic myself.”
Drag is a still new area of performance for Richard, who began reading fortunes in character at parties and small gigs 10 years ago.
We may not be able to see the future but we trust Google Maps to predict the traffic, we put fortune telling powers into the weather app, your phones even predict what you want to write, and they’re often right.Performer, Richard Chambers.
“We’d always kind of had the character in the back of our minds, but we couldn’t work out what we wanted to do together,” Richard said.
"One day Melinda sent me an email saying ‘what about a booth?’, and for some reason it felt right. A week later we put it into Melbourne Fringe at the last minute, and it just seemed to fit.”
The history of automatons is another inspiration for Richard, who told us about ‘Chess Robot the Turk’, a robot puppet to play chess with, which is in fact controlled by a human using levers and magnets.
“There was something exciting about people wanting to believe robots have an additional power to do things that humans can’t do, and we see that every day,” Richard said.
“We may not be able to see the future but we trust Google Maps to predict the traffic, we put fortune telling powers into the weather app, your phones even predict what you want to write, and they’re often right.
“Facebook is suggesting friends and people we can meet. So it’s an interesting thing, to think what robots and artificial intelligence can do in terms of predicting the future,” Richard said.
Madame Tulalah’s Magnificent Box premiered at the Melbourne Fringe Festival before a short season in Adelaide. After performing in Mount Isa, the Madame takes her box to Brisbane Festival.