SMILESTUFF

Te Auaha, Tapere Iti, 65 Dixon St, Wellington

08/03/2022 - 12/03/2022

NZ Fringe Festival 2022

Production Details



After a year’s break from solo performance, Dan and the crew are back with a brand new devised show Smilestuff that will leave audiences smiling in a time where there seems to be more and more reasons not to.

Join solo-performer Daniel Nodder and his trusty musical side-kick Ben Kelly on their exploration of the multifaceted nature of human happiness. Jumping from the intricacies of chemical reactions in the brain to the euphoric feeling of dancing like nobody’s watching and everywhere in between, Smilestuff is an energetic, physical, nonverbal show that will leave audiences smiling by the end of the hour.

Leaping from one discovery to the next, Daniel uses dance and clowning to examine the nature of joy and the places it can come from.

“Where is my serotonin?”

We are all on the search for happiness.

What is it? Where is it? How can we find it?

Smilestuff will run for 5 nights at Te Auaha in the Tapere Iti stage, during 8-12th of March.

This is a non-verbal show that will incorporate sign language and is at an accessible venue.

TE AUAHA
8 – 12 March 2022
6.30pm
Tickets are $13-$18.
BOOK HERE


Smilestuff is brought to you by an incredible cast and crew:


Producer: Fay Van Der Meulen
Director: Austin Harrison
Performer: Daniel Nodder
Musician: Ben Kelly


LX: Campbell Wright
Marketing: Amy McLean


Theatre , Music , Clown ,


1 hr

Gifted performers in search of coherence and structure

Review by John Smythe 10th Mar 2022

The day that I happen to read of a book called How to Be Sad: Everything I’ve Learned About Getting Happier, by Being Sad, Better (Helen Russell, HarperOne, 2021) is also the day I see Smilestuff in the Fringe.

How to be Sad is described online as “part memoir, part manifesto for change in how we express our emotions, good and bad.” When I get home I retrieve the Dominion Post ‘Life’ supplement (9 March 2022) from the recycle bin. In her Well Read feature (p10) Emma Clifton writes “this book is  a fascinating look at how many of us fear sadness, and therefore lose the benefits of it, and treat it like something to be avoided.”

Smilestuff is billed as “a brand new devised show … that will leave audiences smiling in a time where there seems to be more and more reasons not to.” The promo invites us to, “Join solo-performer Daniel Nodder and his trusty musical side-kick Ben Kelly on their exploration of the multifaceted nature of human happiness. Jumping from the intricacies of chemical reactions in the brain to the euphoric feeling of dancing like nobody’s watching and everywhere in between.”

Te Auaha’s Tapere Iti stage is strewn with yellow balloons and something lurks under a black cloth. When Ben Kelly arrives, he also covers himself with the cloth. Daniel Nodder’s surprising entrance instantly puts a smile on our faces, as does his gradual discovery of what his limbs can do. Perhaps they have Alan Curnow’s poem in mind as Nodder explores “the trick of standing upright here” and how to best use his feet for walking.  

The squeak of a balloon, notes on the keyboard (yes, that where Kelly is seated) and a full keyboard rendition of ‘Heart and Soul’ facilitates their learning to work together. And they realise their skills are not interchangeable; if both do what they’re good at, each enhances the other.

A square light (lighting operator Campbell Wright proves to be a third performer with his remote-controlled spotlight) suggests Nodder has found his face and a range of expressions are discovered. I’m reminded of Marcel Marceau’s ‘The Mask Maker’ … But although Marceau becomes trapped within a happy mask, Nodder seems to be willingly moulding his face into a forced smile. This becomes a recurring image – interspersed with bouts of baby and child-like crying – as he pursues his happy-chappy lifestyle.

Meanwhile a nonverbal interactive sequence with the audience, involving numbers, is welcomed by all – but I’m a bit bemused as to its inner logic. A routine evolves that suggests going out to party, and random dancing and physical contortions ensue. Some sense of social pressures to be happy being navigated seems to be what might be being explored but I can’t quite tune into Nodder’s wavelength here.

Asking audience members to place an object in a spotlight then responding to it, abetted by Kelly’s keyboard effects, is fascinating in itself. But as Nodder keeps reverting to ‘dancing like nobody’s watching’ – rather than because people are watching? – my engagement begins to flag for want of a narrative or thematic throughline that draws the components together to make the show more than the sum of its parts.

Marceau explores the duality of masks – as ways of covering and expressing emotional truth – in about six minutes. More recently and closer to home (albeit via France and Finland) Thom Monckton has shown us how inner logic and a coherent structure can take his clown – and the audience – on well-grounded flights of fancy that hang together no matter how abstract or discursive some elements are.*

Director Austin Harrison lists dramaturgy among his skills and I’d like to think further development will bring this to the fore. As it stands, I’m not sure whether ending Smilestuff with the ‘Smile’ song** – albeit beautifully played by Kelly and lip-synced by Nodder – is an ironic comment on what society expects of us, an invocation to deny our true feelings or a serious therapeutic suggestion. I suspect the latter given the attempt to get us all bouncing the balloons between us – which might well have worked if Te Auaha’s extreme physical distancing of seats had not subverted it.

Nodder is clearly a gifted mime and physical actor, and Kelly’s adept but poker-faced musician offers an excellent counterpoint. With dramaturgical coherence and structure, Smilestuff could be developed to earn its 50 minutes on stage. Maybe researching How to Be Sad: Everything I’ve Learned About Getting Happier, by Being Sad, Better could prompt clarification of their show’s driving purpose.
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*See: Members of our Limbs (2010), Moving Stationary (2012), The Pianist (2013-15), Chameleon and Only Bones (2015), Only Bones 1.0 (2019), The Artist (2020).

**The ‘Smile’ song was originally evoked by Charlie Chaplin in Modern Times then sung by Nat King Cole.

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