JSMR - Melbourne Fringe

‘JSMR’ // Jess Stanley and Melbourne Fringe

‘JSMR’ was unpredictable.

Life can be chaotically busy sometimes. Without realising, our work, school, sport, and social calendars tend to fill up rapidly. The hustle and bustle of daily life can be great for motivation, but it can also leave us feeling drained. This is why taking quiet time for ourselves is so important. It is a message that Jessica Stanley is spreading this year at the Melbourne Fringe with her show, ‘JSMR’. Stanley promises audiences a reprieve from the noise of daily life with 45 minutes of peace and quiet. And tingles.

After a successful digital debut at last year’s Melbourne Fringe, Stanley is returning to the festival, reviving the Art Unbound Award-winning ‘JSMR’ as a live stage show. As the title suggests, Stanley is a fan of ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response). ASMR is the term given to a feeling of relaxing tingles a person may experience when they encounter certain triggers such as whispering, tapping, and hand movements. The phenomenon has become a juggernaut of sorts on YouTube over the past decade with millions of videos available. Often used to help people relax, fall asleep, or alleviate anxiety, ASMR videos have also become a prominent genre on Twitch and TikTok. While ASMR is mostly associated with online videos, Stanley has crafted a live show that aims to relax audiences in much the same way.

Presented in a makeshift tent within the alcove of the Fringe’s Festival Hub, audiences are likely to immediately be struck by the stage’s intimacy. Much like the computer screen a person may watch ASMR on, Designer Dann Barber provides the narrow confines of the ‘JSMR’ stage with a feeling of cosiness. A striking mural of 1920s-inspired mystical images gilds the stage’s back wall, providing the small area with a sense of grandeur. Ten chairs face the stage, each adorned with a pair of wireless headphones and snuggly blankets. A box, in a similar vein to the fortune-telling Zoltar machine, stands lonesome on the stage. Barber succeeds in creating a whimsically calming atmosphere befitting of an ASMR-centric show. As audiences take their seats and wrap the blankets over their knees, a hushed anticipation hangs in the air.

Keeping with the mystical motif, Stanley enters wearing a bohemian outfit. With a gentle, reassuring voice, she invites audiences to pick between six pairs of specially designed tarot cards. Each card represents a certain trigger associated with ASMR. Drawing the curtains of the box, Stanley unveils a binaural microphone, connected wirelessly to each set of headphones. Whispering and tapping back and forth, Stanley slowly lulls her audience into a calm reverie. Each five-minute tarot trigger is performed in turn, with a gentle gong signalling a transition. Triggers range from haircutting roleplays to guided meditation and bedtime stories to mukbang. While not every trigger works to its fullest extent, Stanley’s dedication and humility throughout her performance only aid in their calming effects.

Moving the show from a digital format to a live one is no easy feat. However, Director Sarah Clarke succeeds in doing so by demonstrating a well-founded understanding of ASMR and its intimate nature. Clarke frames each trigger’s narrative as its own little jigsaw piece in the greater puzzle of ‘JSMR’. In directing Stanley to be equal parts calming, vulnerable, and humorous, Clarke saturates ‘JSMR’ with delicate nuance. This is particularly demonstrated through the show’s occasional inclusion of triggering content which, in less capable hands may be noted as inappropriately jarring, but here is treated with respectful consideration. Both Clarke and Stanley understand that while the show is meant to be comical, at its heart it aims to provide comfort to anyone needing respite from stress. 

Stanley’s affection for entertainment is evident throughout ‘JSMR’. She relishes in her ability to make audiences smile and chortle. However, it is Stanley’s appreciation for the art form of ASMR that provides her performance so much heart. A number of her trigger skits are inspired by events from her own life. Even with the noise from the outside Loading Dock Bar, Stanley manages to captivate her audience with her soothing and intimate storytelling. Even when only speaking in whispers, Stanley’s warm performance speaks volumes.

Life can be hectic at times; there can be no two ways about it. In these instances, taking a quiet moment for yourself is not only recommended but also justified. Jessica Stanley’s ‘JSMR’ is a celebration of these moments. She invites her audience to relax, unwind, and be mesmerised by her tingle-inducing show. Stanley will whisper away your worries for 45 minutes, and by the end of the show, you’ll be singing her praises. Loudly.

‘JSMR’ performs until Friday, 21 October 2022 at the Festival Hub in the Victorian Trades Hall, Carlton. For more information about this or other Melbourne Fringe shows, or to purchase tickets, visit their website.

Photographer: Sarah Clarke

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