Have you ever wondered what would happen if our memories, emotions and stories were lost forever? Ipswich Art Gallery’s latest children’s production, Whalebone by Jens Altheimer, delves into a world where AI and technology are almost taking over and this could actually become a reality. Showcasing just how precious and important are emotions and memories are, the question of what really makes humans human vs AI is one that Whalebone aims to highlight and answer.
Our Brisbane kids team were invited to watch the show as it opened for the first time this week, to immerse ourselves in the quirky, imaginative and utterly delightful world that is Whalebone. Below is our review of Whalebone.
What is Whalebone About?
Set within a place called the ‘Depository’, Whalebone follows a solitary worker as he tries to safeguard human stories, memories and emotions in a data-driven world where AI and machines are going rogue, making more and more decisions for us.
Featuring dazzling video and computer animations, flying objects and a pinch of circus, this richly visual theatrical experience takes kids and adults alike on a roller-coaster ride filled with eccentric contraptions, strange machinery and clunky inventions, including the world’s first half-human juggling machine!
Whalebone is performed by Jens Altheimer, the imaginative inventor and comedian who delighted Ipswich audiences with his previous shows Squaring the Wheel and Loose Ends.
What to expect from Whalebone at Ipswich Art Gallery
Set on the second floor of the gallery in their children’s theatre, when you first enter the space you will be greeted with rows of chairs at the back and neatly placed cushion seating towards the front. Adults are encouraged to take the seating at the back, with the soft cushion rows kept for the youngest audience members to enjoy. Whalebone, designed with kids aged 6 – 12 years in mind, has thought of everything, and it is clear from even the set-up that Jens wants to be able to interact easily with the children.
Like all of his productions, Jens performs the show on his own. His solitary character this time is in charge of safeguarding human stories, memories and emotions into the “Mother of Stories” computer memory bank. The world outside his office is slowly being taken over by AI and so he works feverishly to capture memories from everyday objects and store them. The set, his office area, is cluttered with a mixture of old-fashioned objects, illustrating his desire to stick with what worked perfectly well in the past, such as dial-up telephones and even the typewriter he produces his records on.
As children watch on, his character has crates of random objects delivered. These are then scanned using a special contraption he has created that generates energy using an exercise bike, with the memories they hold being projected onto a screen. At a couple of points, Jens picks kids from the audience to come on stage to help him work this by riding the bike as he scans the objects.
He then shows us how he captures good memories via another invention, the extractor, a large container that puffs smoke and bubbles as it works diligently before it emits the memory. This, a slither of tinsel, is then magically held aloft as Jens blows it with a dryer up into the memory bank.
When an old version AI machine arrives to be scanned, everything changes. Plugged in, the machine speaks with Jens and the two of them, at first at odds, slowly discover how much they can achieve by eventually working together.
With a long list of fun inventions he reveals along the way (look out for the telephone shower, smoke-ring-blowing new extractor and juggling machine), the performance also uses video, 3d animation and computer imagery to keep the audience delightfully entertained. There is a lot of interaction with the audience throughout the show too, as kids marvel and often gasp at the magic his machines are creating.
At the end of the performance, Jens allows a generous amount of time to answer questions from the audience. With little (and big) arms flying high in the air with a burst of eager curiosity, it is here that some of his many secrets and inventive talents can be discovered in more detail.
What we thought of Whalebone
If you have seen a children’s show at the Ipswich Art Gallery before, you would already know you are in for a treat. If you have been to see one of the shows created and performed by Jens Altheimer, then you would know that not only are you in for a treat, but you are in for a performance that is quirky, funny, imaginative and full of some pretty amazing contraptions!
We have been lucky to see all of Jens’s amazing productions at the Gallery and so we had some idea of what we were heading into before we even entered the theatre space. Always with an underlying message, full of creativity and inspiration and sprinkled with Jens’ special ability to create an eccentrically electric connection with his audience with very little dialogue, this show was just as endearing as his previous two. As a parent, I loved how much he interacted with the audience throughout the show, from asking questions and looking out to them for help to children participating on stage alongside him.
The true magic of Jens’ shows though comes from his incredible inventions and contraptions. The way he builds the products from a mixture of different domestic objects, engineering them so that he can create the machines of his imagination, is so commendable. This is even more apparent when his show is centred around computers taking over everything. His inventions may appear simply made, held together quite often with tape and hooks, but the inner workings are brilliant.
My children loved the show. They were fascinated to discover how he made certain things work and what was involved in the process. My 11 year old daughter was called up to participate in the show – so exciting! – but it was the way he took the time to answer her many queries about the inventions at the end, and even open them up to explain how they worked, which she talked about nonstop on the way home.
My son, 8, loved being sprayed by water, loved the humorous quirks of his character and had many questions to ask about memories, stories, and how much computers and AI have changed the world from the one I knew when I was little. It started a great conversation, which I loved the most.
What ages is Whalebone suited to?
Perfect for kids aged 6–12 years, Whalebone will inspire the minds of young aspiring inventors, as well as everyone who loves stories, surprises and wonders, and leave audiences pondering what role technology plays in our lives and just what it is that makes us humans human.
The show runs for 60 minutes with no interval and plenty of audience participation, plus a Q & A after the show with the opportunity to check out all the contraptions!
More Information on Whalebone at Ipswich Art Gallery
Where: Ipswich Art Gallery, D’Arcy Doyle Place, Ipswich QLD 4305
Contact: (07) 3810 7222
Dates: From Monday 03 April – Thursday 06 April, Monday 10 April – Friday 14 April
Session Times: 10:30am – 11:30am | 1:30pm – 2:30pm
Recommended Age: Recommended for children aged 6–12 years. All ages welcome.
Cost: $7.00 per person
Website: Whalebone – Ipswich Art Gallery
Bookings: Bookings are essential through Eventbrite. Reserve your tickets online and pay at the door on the day. EFTPOS and cash payments are accepted.