Jeff Achtem has Awesome time clowning in Swamp Juice

Jeff Achtem.
Jeff Achtem.

JEFF Achtem is more at home in a room of clowns than feeling any natural fraternity with a room of puppeteers, despite being the artistic director of Bunk Puppets.

“A lot of people when they think of shadow puppetry get these images in their head that maybe my mum or dad was a famous puppeteer or I grew up in Indonesia,” Achtem said.

“I came in to puppetry quite late. I started clowning as I left school and was performing a lot, in everything from street theatre festivals to corporate gigs, just finding and learning about performing non-verbally.

“A clown has to do something on stage, either juggle or play music or something, and it usually goes terribly wrong, which is the essence of a clown show; I was drawn to the idea of a clown doing a puppet show.”

Canadian Achtem moved to Australia a decade ago after he “gelled with Melbourne’s creative arts scene”.

“It was a period in my life where I just went where the wind blew me,” he said.

“I was doing a lot of performing and getting the occasional gig in Australia and soon stopped coming on temporary visas and started coming on more permanent visas.”

He started Bunk Puppets four years ago, creating an association of freelance performers, makers and artists, and will bring his one-man show Swamp Juice to Awesome International Arts Festival for Bright Young Things in October.

Swamp Juice is very much this live cartoon aesthetic, so we have this very simple plot of a man in a swamp encountering all these creatures,” Achtem said.

“I don’t want to give too much away but it spirals out of control and becomes this big cacophony of characters chasing after him. It’s not Macbeth, it’s not a plot-driven piece, but more about the simplicity and beauty of using very simple objects to make these characters really come alive and interact in the swamp. And just when the action is peaking, everyone gets glasses and it goes in to 3D.”

Achtem said the show was suitable for audiences seven years and older and demanded a level of willingness to experience on behalf of the audience.

“This definitely isn’t Dora the Explorer,” he said.

“If you have to give a pop culture reference, it’s sort of South Park meets Dr. Seuss in a Looney Tunes world. It ticks along those boxes with a Mr Bean silliness.”


What: Bunk Puppets – Swamp Juice

Where: Studio Underground

When: October 3 to 7


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