Award winning comedian and Joy 94.9 broadcaster Wes Snelling will be camping it up – literally – in his show about life in a caravan park and tells Michael Magnusson about the return season of his musical comedy Kiosk at the Ballarat Cabaret Festival.
“There’s nothing like walking into the caravan park at dusk and seeing the lights in the caravans light up and hearing the conversations,” says Wes Snelling.
“It’s quite beautiful.”
Maybe not for everyone but those sights and sounds were part of his formative years as a teenage kiosk attendant in the Kyneton Caravan Park in country Victoria.
Now one of Melbourne’s most popular performers and host of Joy 94.9 drive program Tuesday Cheer, Snelling is delving back into his teenage trailer park years for a revamped version of his one-man show Kiosk.
Based on his observations as a “chubby, camp, child” working at the caravan park run by his father, Kiosk is a light hearted recollection of some of the characters and daily goings on at that now vanished park. Winning a Moosehead Award at the 2009 Melbourne Comedy Festival, Kiosk has travelled as far as New York and is now set for the Victorian countryside that inspired it. In fact, Snelling even hopes to bring the show to Kyneton after the Ballarat season.
Snelling said Kyneton has blossomed into a beautiful town, but it was not like that when he lived there. He left at his first opportunity, escaping as soon as could drive and had a car. Since then the Calder Freeway Bypass has made Kynteon popular with commuters who can easily get to Melbourne. The closure of the caravan park becomes a feature in the new version of Kiosk and Snelling’s recollection of the old park residents.
“I never wanted to portray these characters in the show to ‘take the piss’ out of the residents of the town or the park. That was never the intention,” he adds.
“These were the people I’d live with after school. The kiosk was attached to the house, I’d work in the kiosk after school until nine o’clock every night, and then some, if toilet rolls were needed for the amenities block or someone was having a drama and setting fire to a caravan and we had to go and put it out.”
“Yes, these are some of things that happen in the show,” he adds.
Snelling would run the kiosk every day after school. At one time there were 99 ‘permanents’ and to the confused teen they became family.
“One of the reasons they became my family was that as a, slightly effeminate, you might say, chubby child, I didn’t have a massive amount of friends. I was defiantly an outcast and so were all of these people living in the park.”
In Kiosk Snelling plays multiple characters, including a 12 year-old version of himself as the show’s MC recreating a day in the life of teenage Wes, working behind the counter and talking about the characters before Snelling the performer turns into them.
“I was very shy,” Snelling said of himself as a teenager. And you kind of watch. You watch, you listen, and you learn from people.”
“They were the people I’d observed over the years. I don’t mean people I’d creepily observed like stalking them, more like social commentary.”
His daily observation of the park’s denizens and later re-visiting the park made him realise there were different levels and layers to them but they shared a similar reason for living there.
“At the time Kiosk was originally written I spent a night in the caravan park before it closed and took it all in.
“It really hit me then that there was such a deep-seated reason why people live in caravan parks, it’s a want to be social.
“It’s a community.”
“It’s not that much cheaper to live in a caravan park than in a one bedroom apartment in the country so most people chose to live in a caravan park to have access to other people on a daily basis.”
After the caravan park finally closed in 2010 Snelling wanted to ‘re-boot’ the show to see how relevant it was and restaged it finding that it was indeed relevant.
Even people who knew nothing about Australian caravan parks enjoyed the show, as he discovered when he took Kiosk to New York.
Snelling added that the American venue was humble but exciting because it was the same place where Jack from the US sitcom Will & Grace did his show Just Jack.
He said half the audience was Australian and the other half American, but they loved it because it struck a chord with them because everyone has either been to that caravan park or to a caravan park like it.
“There was the novelty that it was Australian and they were Australian characters.
“But, apart from the accent, they were identical to the characters you would get in permanent style caravan parks in America.”
Kiosk. Ballarat Trades Hall, Downstairs. 24 Camp Street Ballarat, October 12 and 13. Information and bookings: ballaratcabaret.com
(Image) Wes Snelling in Kiosk. Photo by James Penlidis.