Dead Puppet Society’s Ishmael || David Morton

The Fame Reporter interviewed Creative Director of Dead Puppet Society (DPS) and writer and Co Director of Ishmael, David Morton. Presented by Dead Puppet Society in association with QPAC, the return season of the acclaimed production will run from 19 to 27 May 2023 in the Cremorne Theatre. 

A ground-breaking production, Ishmael by David Morton wowed audiences and critics in its world premiere season at QPAC as a hero event of the 2021 Brisbane Festival.

A reimagining of the timeless novel, Moby Dick, the production is the creative vision of the internationally acclaimed Dead Puppet Society (Holding Achilles, The Wider Earth, Laser Beak Man) and melds captivating storytelling with live action, live filmmaking, an original score by Bec Sandridge and boundary-pushing visual theatre.

Following the QPAC season, Ishmael will journey to thrill audiences in Bundaberg, Cairns and Townsville.

We had the incredible opportunity to sit down with David and talk about what inspired Ishmael, what he loves about being Creative Director for Dead Puppet Society, how different ground- breaking technologies are utilised to tell the story and more.

Welcome to The Fame Reporter David, what was the vision behind the ‘Dead Puppet Society’ initially and what do you love about being Creative Director?
We first created Dead Puppet Society because we wanted to form a group of theatre makers who were interested in pushing the boundaries of the sorts of stories that are told on stage and reimagining the processes that are used to make them.

My favourite part of being the Creative Director of the company is helping to realise the creative vision of our team and collaborators; being able to oversee such a diversity of projects made in such different ways is a treat.

What was the inspiration behind the critically acclaimed production of ‘Ishmael’ and how it relates to the iconic story of Moby Dick?
Often when Dead Puppet Society is looking to make a new work we start with an existing text, or a story that has a place in the zeitgeist. Rather than simply adapting, our versions of these classic tales seek to mine them for their central themes and then twist and refresh these so that they have something to say for a contemporary audience.

In the case of Ishmael, we took the notion of our planet’s limitless bounty that is so prevalent in Moby Dick, and set our version of the story on a version of Earth that has been totally exhausted of its resources.

What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
Alan Rickman, Michelle Yeoh, Pedro Pascal.

What was the rehearsal and casting process like as the writer of the show and co-director?
Ishmael is a highly technical show. In addition to the ensemble cast bringing the stories of the characters to life on stage each night, they also play a part, along with our technicians, in creating the visual world of the show through manipulating cameras and miniature models of the sets and spacecraft.

This blending of live and digital performance opens up a whole heap of new opportunities, and embodies what we try to do at DPS in integrating form and creating cross-disciplinary collaborations, but it certainly means that rehearsals are complicated.

What has been your most memorable collaboration in your career thus far?
I honestly can’t name one that has been more exciting than the rest. We are so lucky at Dead Puppets to get the opportunity to work with such a breadth of artists and makers across such a wide spectrum of experience.

What is the most rewarding and challenging part about your role at Dead Puppet Society?
The most rewarding part of my position is seeing other artists and makers in full flight and trying to best position their work to shine.

The hardest is that while we’re incredibly lucky to receive support from so many sources, there are always more ideas than we have capacity to produce, and there’s a constant but very necessary tension between vision and the resources we have available.

In relation to the incredible technology implemented in the production including live filmmaking, miniature sets, puppetry, what makes this production unique to any other show you have been a part of before?
We’ve made a lot of shows that make use of projected content to aid in the world-building of our stories.

But Ishmael is the first time that the majority of this content is made live before the audience as a part of the show itself. It means you can watch the show on a couple of different levels.

There’s the story of the characters, but there’s also the act of telling the story through the various forms at play.

In terms of music in the show with an original score by indie pop musician Bec Sandridge, how does the music influence the story’s progression?
Music is always core to the stories that we tell at Dead Puppets. In fact, the score often exists in album form before we have a full draft of the script. Having the music so early allows its flavour to permeate throughout the entire show, and Bec’s score for Ishmael is no exception.

The music she’s written for the show is tied to the journey of our protagonist and is literally instrumental in building the mood and scope of the story.

How do you think the human condition is reflected in Ishmael, and what importance does telling compelling human stories through live performance have on society?
Ishmael is deeply humanist. It’s the story of three characters who have been wounded by corrupt systems who find themselves facing literal annihilation only to realise that the only means for their collective redemption is through each other.

What can audiences expect from Ishmael at QPAC, and what is your favourite moment in the show?
Audiences coming to see Ishmael can expect to be taken from their seats in the Cremorne Theatre and out into the inky black of space, along with all of the wonders and terrors it holds.

My favourite moment in the show is about fifteen minutes in where our characters leave the surface of dead-earth for the first time and begin their journey into the solar system. The imagery is stunning, and the music is relentless. That, and the final showdown between Ahab and her behemoth.

It’s live action and animation integrated like you’ve never seen before.

Fame Reporter Word Play


Bucket List
Border Collie

Any secret talents

Place you want to travel to
Isle of Skye

Moby Dick
The unknown

Future Dream


TV Binge

Best part about your job

Thank-you David for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for Ishmael at the Cremorne Theatre, QPAC.

Playing from 19 to 27 May 2023
Cremorne Theatre, QPAC

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