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March 6, 2024

When the family business is show business

From 'road school' to baby roos, we draw the curtain open for a glimpse of life on the festival circuit with family in tow.

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  • Images: supplied
  • This article was produced in collaboration with The Garden of Unearthly Delights.

The Garden of Unearthly Delights is a big hit with families, so it’s not unexpected that some performers bring theirs along, too. Curious about life on the road, we caught up with a couple of them.


The Garden of Unearthly Delights wraps up late on Sunday, 17 March 2024
Find a show here


Mario the Maker Magician

Family magic

This Adelaide Fringe marks the first visit to Australia by Mario Marchese and his tour manager/wife Katie.

His show for kids Mario the Maker Magician is deliberately loud and seemingly chaotic, with robots, science, magic and making from scrap materials.

“The mantra of the whole show is do what you love, use what you have and have fun,” Mario says. “We like to instil that in the kids’ minds everywhere we perform, and our two kids are a reflection of that, too.”

The entire family spends about seven months of the year on the road, while Mario performs at international Fringe festivals and US theatres and schools. Katie says, after years of touring, transitioning between being away and at home is less about packing, more about the emotional preparation.

“There’s always a little bit of apprehension and excitement,” she says.

“You don’t know what it’s going to be like, but then the second we’re on that plane or in the car, all of that melts away and you just go with it.

“That going with the flow is the best part – once you get into that mind frame of ‘everything’s good’, you kind of take things as they come.”

Home is Nyack, New York (population 7265) and they return about every five weeks to allow 12-year-old Gigi and 9-year-old Bear to catch up with friends in person. As Mario says, “the business changes according to the children’s needs”.

Meanwhile, Gigi and Bear do ‘road school’ year-round.

“We try not to look at it as the bookwork being schoolwork and everything else is play,” Katie says. “Our travels feed into subjects, like social studies and humanities, and we learn so much about the places we visit.”

Just a wee lassie and laddie working the Edinburgh Fringe

This year, the New York State curriculum includes references to Australia and they’ve been integrating it into real life while in Adelaide.

“We’ve never seen a kangaroo in our lives. Like the kids have gone nuts,” Mario says.

“I think Bear’s favourite thing was at Cleland Wildlife Park and there was a baby kangaroo that literally followed him around for ten minutes.

“You have to understand in New York, all the zoo animals are so far away from the humans, so to be right up close… we keep talking about that.”

Musical director of LIMBO – The Return Sxip Shirey has his wife and son on tour with him while he performs at The Garden of Unearthly Delights, so the two families have been hanging out together. Bear also has a chess buddy in magician Charlie Caper, who he started playing against at Edinburgh Fringe.

Meanwhile, Gigi is connecting with other crafters. “She just finished crocheting a giant baby hippo – it’s like three and a half feet tall. Now, she’s walking around with it everywhere, meeting other people who crochet,” Mario says, adding she loves the freedom she’s been given to go into the festival crowds and engage with people as she hands out his show flyers.

The kids have also been introduced to production by the tech crew at The Roundhouse where Mario is performing. Gigi has picked up some lighting skills while Bear has been learning about sound. Mario says the crew’s kindness and the abundance of “good people” wherever the family travels is mind-blowing.

“Those are the things that fill my heart with so much hope and give us the energy to rock these shows.”


The Pinky Pie Party

If only this were our ‘take your kids to work day’

Self-confidence is something 7-year-old Alba Lorca has in spades. She is the daughter of The Garden’s co-director Sarah Stewart and Rowan Smith of Strut & Fret, the production company behind LIMBO, Blanc de Blanc and other sell-out shows. He is also festival director for Grapes of Mirth, working with comedian Merrick Watts on the events and on An Idiot’s Guide to Wine – Volume Two, which kicks off this weekend.

Alba hosts The Pinky Pie Party, spinning the decks and overseeing the fun at the only Fringe show by kids for kids. It’s her second year of doing these weekend daytime dance parties and she says there’s a planned order to each one, with the big dance tracks interspersed with giant soap bubbles, confetti angels and a balloon drop.

“Then we do pie in the face.”

Comedian Tom Gleeson was recently pied, as was Geraldine Hickey. The willing recipients (aka ‘special guests’) are all performers in The Garden, but lately Alba has included Rowan among them.

“I get my 10 seconds in the sun where I get up on stage … and that’s plenty for me,” Rowan says of being in the spotlight.

He and Sarah have been taking Alba to work since she was 6-weeks-old and she knows the drill.

“The Garden of Unearthly Delights has one rule – that kids under 18 can’t be there past midnight,” she says.

The family live in Melbourne, with Rowan and Alba coming across for the Fringe on weekends.

“Because Sarah’s working in Adelaide and so am I … it’s like adding a third member to the touring party that is our family,” Rowan says.

“It makes Alba feel more involved … and means the reason she’s going is for her, not just for us, which makes it more fun.”

Promo shot? Check!

Last year when Alba was in prep (the Victorian equivalent of reception class), they would take the 6am flight on a Monday morning to get to school on time. But this year, they’ve decided that Sunday night flights are easier on them all.

The show is as much a party for Alba as it is for the audience, and she’s had friends from Melbourne, Sydney and Adelaide attend.

The pre-show routine includes having her face painted – last weekend it was a unicorn design – and helping with the setup, including the soundcheck.

“I want to also check all the specials effects, like the sparklers.”

Then post-show, there’s sweeping up the huge piles of confetti… and Alba’s after party with friends.

“Usually, the post-show comedown is you go on the Funhouse and the Skydiver. Lots of the carnival rides,” Rowan says to Alba.

Talking to Alba, it’s apparent that she’s already casting a producer’s eye over the show, enjoying the changes instigated this season and the show’s evolution up to now.

But a question about her favourite thing about performing elicits a pure 7-year-old response.

“It’s probably seeing all my friends come too.”

The Garden of Unearthly Delights is in Kadlitpina Rundle Park until 17 March. Find more info on shows here.

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