Jollyship the Whiz-Bang
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Jollyship the Whiz-Bang

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When my friend Steve called me up and insisted I go down to the Bowery Poetry Club and see Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, a crazy "electro-rock puppet show," I could only think "Holy shit! How can two of the best pleasures of the modern world be combined into one?" . . . Aquatic ballyhoo plus electric accordion plus guitar solos equal a guaranteed good time. When you break it down, the whole 90 minute affair is like being inside the animated Yellow Submarine: there's quite a few hot tunes, a cast of notably zany characters and the big swirls of giddy psychedelia. Okay, so the Beatles never fucked with any puppets, but when the alternative to this lysergic rock fest is standing at some bar with your arms crossed trying to chat up some hoity-toity stranger, you gotta dive in.
- The Fader, Jan 2005


After having to listen to hundreds of boring hipster rock band clones, a little novelty music is pretty refreshing. This is a "musical pirate puppet sea saga." I suppose the live show is where it's at, what with the puppets and pirate ship stage set and all, but these songs aren't half bad either. Reminds me of Bobby Conn with a nautical theme. I like "Kill it if it Don't Got Feet" and "Pyrate Love." Fans of kooky stuff like Flossie & the Unicorns or Dame Darcy will dig this.
- VICE Magazine, April 2005


"Awesome. . . utterly ridiculous. . . the performers are obviously having fun with their semi-improvised dialogue, and it’s infectious. Call it the theater of low expectations – everything is so lo-tech here that a simple action like a puppet kicking his feet when he swims can elicit applause, and an ambitious act like sending a puppet over the audience on a wire seems like a more impressive piece of stagecraft than a chandelier collapsing on a Broadway stage. And it helps that the songs fucking RAWK!. . . it's theater that makes you feel good. It has the feeling of “Hey let’s put on a show” – except that the performances are actually really tight - you don’t get that level of songs and elaborate sets without some hard work."

- Culturebot


Pirate puppets will be pillaging the Hoontown festival this weekend. The expression “art for art’s sake” finds its perfect embodiment in puppeteers Nick Jones and Raja Azar, who got into the business just because they love it so much – and they to plan to stay there for the rest of their lives.

They’re the founders of Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, a troupe that bills itself as “the Pyrate Puppet Rock Opera Consortium”.

If that sounds a bit flamboyant, you should see the show. The group is bringing its noisily musical salty-sea tales to Hoontown 2005, the puppet festival being held on Bangkok’s Samsen Road Soi 5 tomorrow through Sunday.

Americans Jones and Azar have a fascination with puppetry that stems from the fact that it combines all of their disparate passions – music, theatre and making stuff up – all of which can be incorporated into one show filled with action, lighting, sound, dialogue and even special effects.

Plus, puppets are easier to deal with than people, they declare.

“They’re also cheaper – you don’t have to feed them,” laughs Jones.

This pair of puppet masters are clearly delighted to be sharing their imagination with audiences.

“It’s like we’re creating a cartoon world, so you have the drive to think more creatively about ways to create the actions or to move the story forward, and that’s very challenging,” says Azar.

They picked up the puppet bug on a visit to Bali five years ago.

“We acquired some Indonesian puppets and started to play around with them,” Jones says. “We created a show about pirates, and people seemed to like it.”

They took it on the road, and it wasn’t long before they realised the shows could be bigger and better with some extra hands. There are now eight people in the Jollyship crew.

Why the sea? Credit Bali again. One of the puppets Jones bought there made him think of pirates right away. “Of course the original pirates were brutal and murderous, but I think they have a certain romantic appeal for people today,” he says. “They represent people who have total freedom, living outside the law and the bounds of society.”

“The sea,” Azar adds, “is a great equaliser. It makes us see that all humans are the same in terms of needs and motivations. Things like manners and status aren’t important any more when you have to struggle.

“You strip away all those external things, and this is the way you can see true human nature. Your true colours and behaviour will become very apparent.”

The voyages of Jollyship across the sea of humanity have certainly strengthened the maturing band as they continue to collect valuable experience and grander inspirations. September’s journey to the Dublin Fringe Festival proved to be their most influential trip to date thanks to the sparks of impetus they found in Ireland. There, they were experimenting with full multimedia theatre for the first time, and the response was encouraging.

“That trip made us realise we can actually do this,” Azar says. “The puppetry we do is viable, and a real art force. We were totally amazed by the response. We realised that if we pushed ourselves a little bit harder, we can keep going and going.”

They expect Thailand’s inaugural Hoontown festival to give them another learning experience, and even ahead of the performances they were enjoying the opportunity to share ideas and techniques with other puppeteers and exchange cultural outlooks.

And, of course, Thailand is no stranger to puppetry, so they’re keeping an eye out for new knowledge among its traditions.

“After the festival we’ll either go scuba diving in Koh Chang or visit Oomphang in Tak province,” Jones says, “and there we’ll find more materials to add to our shows. We usually grab something from all the countries we visit.”

The materials thus collected can be almost anything, actually – an old toy or a discarded artefact posed, or maybe even a human trait that strikes them as humorous. This they exaggerate a bit and include it in their shows.

Jones displays a bee modelled from clay with wings taken from a flying toy. They made it specially for a show called “The Colonists”, which they’re presenting at Hoontown.

Also on the festival programme is “The Seagull”, a prominent piece of which they’re justifiably proud. The bird of the title is made simply of papier-m?ch? and “garbage”, as Jones puts it, but it’s capable of intricate movements.

“It can turn its head, open its mouth and flap its wings,” Azar says. “Unfortunately its head fell off due to some misappropriate effort to modify it, but it’s still beautiful to look at!”

The sturdy skippers of Jollyship see their next big conquest in a tour of America’s west coast, and after that they’re keen to return to Southeast Asia.

“Hopefully, we can bring the whole group to Thailand next time,” says Azar.

Weeranuch Puttachartsaewee

The Nation - The Nation (Bangkok), Dec 29, 2005


Shows that really kick ass. . . We never understood the appeal of The Rocky Horror Picture Show or Hedwig and the Angry Inch, but many of you apparently enjoy them. Here’s a twisted musical that we can all enjoy. Captain Clamp, the quirkiest sex symbol around, keeps updating his Jollyship the Whiz-Bang adventures of pirate puppets and filthy sea shanties. Cheer on the sweet cabin boy, Tom, as he challenges the traditions of ocean crime and sodomy, and hope for a happy ending that may never arrive. Sit up front if you can. - New York Press


"When Pirates of the Caribbean was just a ride nobody wanted to go on at Disney World, Jollyship the Whiz-Bang was cranking out funny "pyrate puppet rock operas," with all the olde tyme speech patterns that knotty genre tag implies. The group's first song, "Pyrate Love," covered the swashbuckling traditions of rape and murder, and the eight member collective - made up of musicians, singers, puppeteers, and a few Bindlestiff Family Cirkus veterans - has since waded deeper into the pirate infested waters with an album called Songs to Drown By. Here, Jollyship takes its winding storylines, bizarre seafaring characters, and well-crafted puppets to Spiegeltent, the temporary vaudevillian venue at South Street Seaport."

- The Onion AV Club, August, 2006


. .Whiz-Bang makes a solid case that artistic innovation and grandiosity need not be confounded with tastefulness. Low budget showmanship, improvised dialogue and a predilection for ribaldry imbues the episodes with a spirit of joyful anarchy. While critical to the show’s audience appeal, this illusion of spontaneity often conceals the meticulous degree of precision and labor harnessed to synthesize its many components . . . - Brooklyn Rail, July 2005


Discography

Songs To Drown By (2005)
Curse of The Ancient Legend EP (2006)

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Bio

From faraway lands they came, and destiny found them this task: To become Jollyship the Whiz-Bang, and sing new songs of the sea. The men are hardy and fearless, but read the hardship in their weatherworn puppets. Laboriously crafted and delightfully insane pirate puppet rock operas, catchy nautical electro pop, and mindblowing cheap stage effects. Somewhere between a band and a theater group, with none of the hangups of either, Jollyship the Whiz-Bang is an eight- person multimedia force of nature!
Jollyship the Whiz-Bang was conceived in 2002 by Nick Jones and Raja Azar. The origin of the group began with a song, “Pyrate Love,” performed while the two were working for the Bindlestiff Family Cirkus. The warm response to this ballad of rape and murder became the central premise for an expanding musical and theatrical universe. A mission was forged to create a massive live musical pirate puppet sea saga, to be performed in sequential episodes developed and presented over the course of many years. 5 years later, this has yielded 6 full length multimedia productions (or “episodes”) linked sequentially, and hours of bizarre musical material, characterized by whimsical themes, an eclectic rock sound, and unconvincing “period” dialogue between dubiously lovable seafaring puppets.
Jollyship the Whiz-Bang has garnered praise in Time Out New York, New York Press, The FADER, and VICE. They have toured the U.S., Canada, Ireland, and Bangkok, Thailand. This coming spring, they will be found performing their latest rock musical at the Ars Nova Theater in Manhattan, NY. In 2005, they released their first album, “Songs to Drown By,” followed in 2006 by an EP, "Curse Of The Ancient Legend".