“I’m very, very much looking forward to the Adelaide Fringe. I love performing MANBO,” says Sam Dugmore, who has been separated from his madcap ’80s-action-hero inspired character by a series of tour cancellations and postponements.

“As independent artists trying to create our own work, the Fringe remains just an incredibly important platform.”

It’s been a tumultuous year for Dugmore. The high of his first child’s birth accompanied a role as vampire Lucas in Warwick Thornton’s TV series FireBite. Simultaneously, Dugmore’s life as an independent artist was significantly hampered by COVID restrictions that, when not resulting in cancelled tours, were leading to drastically reduced ticket numbers, usually without offering any financial compensation.

Despite these challenges, he’s relieved to be returning to the joy of MANBO, and not solely for practical reasons. The character and show, which he developed in collaboration with director Jessica Clough-McRae, harks back to some of Dugmore’s formative passions.

“I was obsessed with the army when I was young,” he says. “I almost joined the army. I suppose I was attracted to the idea of it – the adventure and the action hero.

“With MANBO we’re tackling that… idea of the little eight-year-old boy that grows up playing with toys like G.I. Joes and the theme is so violent – you know, you’re killing and you think that’s fine. So, I suppose there’s lots of serious undertones but it’s delivered in a very light manner.”

MANBO brings together the best of the worst of ’80s action film clichés, following a haphazardly masculine character on an amorphous mission to combine heroics with emotions.

Dugmore and Clough-McRae found ready comedic fodder in the camp aesthetics and weary stereotypes of the genre (think Russian villain and superficially-sketched female love interest). The pair’s ability to use these funny touchpoints to gently explore bigger questions harks back to their training. Both studied at École internationale de théâtre Jacques Lecoq – a renowned physical theatre academy in Paris.

“At Lecoq, you’re creating from scratch –you’ve got an empty space… you’ve got an idea of a concept and then you go for it. You make a show with nothing on stage. It’s really kind of raw creativity and very much physically made.

“[For MANBO] we came up with the concept… and we hired a room once a week and just got into the space and started to fill it up with ideas, trying out little numbers and different characters.

“It comes from a place of innocence – we’re not standing on the outside just saying ‘men, they suck and how funny is that’. You know, I’m speaking about myself as well. I try to get the audience to like the character and empathise with him.”

Dugmore graduated from Lecoq in 2017. Prior to attending the school, he was a more conventional actor – rarely creating his own works. His study in France fostered a drive to devise as well as perform, and he emerged as one-third of The Latebloomers – a collaborative trio of Lecoq graduates.

The company had ideas and the capacity to create, but not all that much experience performing or presenting their own works. Getting their show SCOTLAND! off the ground was a steep learning curve – involving developing skills like publicity and production alongside their performance – which they navigated with the help of Adelaide Fringe.

“Fringe is where we cut our teeth with live performance – getting experience in front of a live audience and developing as performers in that regard,” says Dugmore.

“And Adelaide Fringe do really well with upskilling artists. Throughout the year they provide workshops and talks and online forums where you can go and learn. They run really good workshops on things like applying for grants, which is a huge part of being an independent artist.”

SCOTLAND! toured internationally off the back of successful Fringe seasons, and the festival also helped the trio as they grappled with keeping their newer show, The Bakers, alive during COVID.

“It’s through the support of the Adelaide Fringe as well that we managed to get Jon [Tilley – one-third of The Latebloomers] into the country to tour The Bakers,” says Dugmore.We got a grant last year from the Fringe’s Make it Happen program… which was one of the main reasons we ended up getting Jon, who was stuck in the UK, an exemption to come to Australia.”

Dugmore’s switch to making a one-man show in MANBO was partly out of necessity, after COVID once more pushed the members of The Latebloomers apart. He – like thousands of artists at this year’s Fringe – is hoping that a successful Adelaide Fringe season will mark a return to more normal programming, so he can seize the opportunities the festival brings.

“Fringe is a good platform to showcase your work for industry delegates… you want to continue to sell your works and give them life,” he says.

After a year of keeping MANBO mostly cooped up at home, it’s time for the flawed but loveable character to see the world.

‘MANBO’ is showing at Ukiyo in Gluttony March 8-14 and 16-20 and at the Town Hall in Kingston on March 4 as part of Adelaide Fringe.

The Business of Art is an InReview series about the development of performing arts careers and opportunities from Adelaide. The series has been produced with the support of Adelaide Fringe.

Read more of the series here.

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