All-inclusive, family-friendly ‘Wilbur the Optical Whale’ to make a splash at Fringe

Brisbane-based, inclusive theatre company indelabilityarts is bringing the children’s show Wilbur the Optical Whale to Fringe this summer, hitting Rehearsal Room 1 at State Theatre Centre of WA on Friday, February 3 and Saturday, February 4 (get more info and tickets here). With a focus not only on fun, but on the themes of inclusivity and acceptance, the award-winning show promises to make a splash with kids and adults alike. Based on the book by Karen Lee-Roberts, Wilbur the Optical Whale tells the story of a glasses-wearing whale named Wilbur who, along with his best friend Cecil the Shark, encourages children to accept everyone just as they are. ANTHONY JACKSON caught up with indelabilityarts Program Manager Georgina Bullock to find out more about the show and why we can expect a “whale of a time!”

First off, congratulations on bringing this show over for Fringe 2023 and for WA audiences. Is this the first time it will be performed on the west coast?

Yes! This is the first time Wilbur the Optical Whale is going to be performed on the west coast and we are thrilled to introduce our glasses-wearing whale to new audiences. The show has delighted families across Queensland and Adelaide, so it’s time for Wilbur to make a splash in Perth!

How does it feel to be able to bring Wilbur the Optical Whale to Perth for Fringe 2023?

It feels incredible to be bringing Wilbur the Optical Whale to Fringe! We always have a ball at Fringe festivals as it introduces us to audiences who love getting out to experience the beautiful and diverse world of theatre. We are in great company with all of the wonderful children’s shows on offer, and we look forward to sharing Wilbur’s story with Perth kids and their families.

The performance is based on the book by Karen Lee-Roberts. Can you tell us the origins and history of how the show came together?

Karen has been an indelabilityarts ensemble member since 2015, so when the company first started discussing producing a children’s show, it seemed a natural fit to develop her 2016 children’s book. The book reflects on Karen’s experience of bullying and the hurdles she encountered to overcome it through the character of Wilbur the Whale and his best friend Cecil the Shark. indelabilityarts spent a year developing the show along with Flipside Circus to turn it into the extraordinary underwater adventure it is today. Karen appears in the show as the narrator and takes the time to tell the audience her personal story. The book is still available for purchase, and can even be bought at the show!

Being a children’s show we can expect a lot of fun and cheeky characters, but are there any themes that will appeal to the adults in the audience?

The show has been created with children aged three to eight in mind, however, it really is tonnes of fun for the whole family! It carries a beautiful message about celebrating difference which resonates with people of any age and is presented in a vibrant and engaging way. The show is exciting from start to finish with multiple methods of audience interaction. It also allows people with disabilities to see themselves represented on stage. We want to start seeing more neurodivergent and disabled actors working on our stages, and this show is a lovely inclusive platform.

Being created to be accessible to all audiences, what facilities are built into the show that make it all-inclusive?

One of indelabilityarts’ core goals is to create great theatre that has accessibility built in. For Wilbur the Optical Whale, we looked for ways to integrate Auslan into the underwater world so it is equally important to the storytelling as the narrator. To do this, we use a projection of an Auslan interpreter in a bubble floating around the stage. This unique method of incorporating accessibility led to us winning an Adelaide Fringe Weekly Innovation Award and Overall Access Award. Additionally, our audiences can access headphones to engage on their terms, and the set includes a quiet space as part of a relaxed performance mode catering to those who may require it. The audience are on the stage with the actors and there’s a beautiful message in the show about acceptance and celebrating difference.

Without giving away too much, what can you tell us about the characters in the show and the performers that are bringing it to life?

Each of the characters in the show helps Wilbur the glasses-wearing whale on his journey to overcome bullying and teach the unkind Starfish Meanies a lesson in celebrating difference. His best friend Cecil the shark, who loves Bunnings sausages and is rather farty, is always by his side through thick and thin. Wilbur and Cecil play games with the kids during the show, and afterwards the audience is very welcome to come and meet the cast, and even give them a ‘high-fin!’

Not only does the story carry strong messages of anti-bullying, friendship, and acceptance, but having the show performed by talented actors who identify as having a disability themselves in an environment that welcomes and caters to accessibility solidifies these positive themes of the show.

We know the show employs circus, stunning visuals, vivid music and interactive games. What can we expect to see at Wilbur the Optical Whale that we won’t see at any other Fringe show?

People can expect to have a Whale of a time – see what I did there! There is so much joy in this work because it has been written from the heart and from real-life experiences. It is the most heart-warming show you will see all year. For some kids, this is their first introduction to a theatre show and seeing artists with disabilities on stage. It is a wonderful way to introduce children to the theatre and celebrate that being different is a wonderful thing.