Were you a teen in the 90’s lusting after a copy of Microsoft’s encyclopedia software ‘Encarta 95’, but all you got was a cheap knock-off version instead? No? Well that’s what happened to Michael Williams and the experience traumatised him enough to inspire his new multimedia comedy show: Escape from a 90s Educational CD-ROM as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2017.
The concept is original: young Williams is given a ‘Hello Learning Aussie Edition 1994’ for his birthday in 1995. Through a culmination of unfortunate circumstances (e.g. a lightening strike and corrupted files) Williams is transported into the world of the CD-ROM itself and remains there until the year 2017.
He befriends characters within his new digital home, but this doesn’t stop him from plotting elaborate escape plans when he isn’t busy writing musicals to the tunes of national anthems (the only audio files available on ‘Hello Learning’). When deadly computer bugs threaten to destroy the program Williams is forced to accelerate his escape plans.
This show is remarkable: It makes use of a lovingly crafted animation, projected on a large screen in the ACMI games room. The animation represents the internal world of ‘Hello Learning’ complete with little digital guides, 90’s retro Microsoft aesthetics, robots and elaborate encyclopedic entries. It is a little mind-boggling how much time and effort went into creating this.
Williams interacts with the screen in extremely clever ways. At one point he ‘enters the screen’ and steals all the food from the painting ‘The Last Supper’ (by stepping behind the screen while a digital version of himself goes in and clears the table). He is in constant dialogue with an animated character, meaning his timing in response to the recording is flawless.
The comedic value of all this is stellar. Notably many audience members were familiar with ‘Hello Learning’ and laughed out loud at various times in response to software in-jokes. Those who weren’t in the know still got their belly full of laughs thanks to hilarious Australian cultural references, exceptional comedic timing, great story telling and inspired encyclopedic entries.
It is the attention to detail and craft that makes this show a stand-out from the crowd and William shines in his role of a 34 year old ‘Superstar Learner’.
This is definitely one to add to your ‘must see’ list.
Claudia B. is a German/Kiwi graphic designer and illustrator who has been living and working in Melbourne for the last six years. She enjoys a good glass of scotch and the occasional pole dancing class. Claudia also helps donate proceeds from notthispussy.com.au to charities in support of women’s rights, refugees and climate change.