Story Surprise: Lauren Jimmieson Craig and Anthony Craig

The Fame Reporter interviewed Australian Musical Theatre performers and kids entertainers Lauren Jimmieson Craig and Anthony Craig starring in their own self made children’s podcast, videos and more entitled Story Surprise, that teaches kids to accept others differences in a fun, musical and playful way.

Lauren and Anthony may have familiar faces. You might have seen them up on stage. Prior to the pandemic, both had careers they loved on stage in musical theatre. Lauren in Singin’ in the RainSweeney Todd and touring the world with Paw Patrol Live. Anthony starring in Scooby Doo LivePrivate Peaceful and Sunday in Park with George. Both featured in Bright Star in 2019 and then the pandemic hit!

With the world at a stand still, career opportunities ripped away and restrictions so strict even their wedding had to be postponed, the pair were adamant not to let the pandemic get the better of them. They took the opportunity to grab the reins and embrace their new found creative freedom. Story Surprise was created in lockdown in 2020 and very quickly grew to be a multifaceted beast! In their small Melbourne rental, the pair started writing, recording, editing and blasting out content. Videos, podcasts, skits – the works! 

The aim? Well, times have been tough. Story Surprise is for kids (and kids at heart). Lauren has a skin condition called vitiligo which gives her a unique appearance. She knows what it’s like to be different and so, the aim is to have inclusion and representation is at the forefront of everything Anthony and Lauren create.

For the first time, instead of fulfilling other directors’ visions, the pair are fulfilling their own creative dreams to make something truly special and impactful for families. Everything they do has an educational message disguised in jokes, fun and their unique brand of silliness.

In the performing arts, we currently have such little control over the outcomes in our current climate. Shows are being cancelled and postponed. Auditions axed due to restrictions. We’re all holding on tight and we look forward to the bright light at the end of the tunnel. Theatre will come back thriving!

For now, Lauren and Anthony are doing everything they can to pool their talent and experience to create true theatrical experiences in a Covid safe way – on the screen, and in your ears (podcasts). Story Surprise has plans to continue thriving beyond the pandemic. Watch this space!

We talked to Anthony and Lauren about the concept of Story Surprise, how they incorporate celebrating people’s differences in their podcasts and videos, the educational and topical subject matter they delve into with joy and more.

What sparked your interest in performing initially?
Well, I (Lauren) have been performing since I was about three years old when I started dance lessons. I loved being up on stage from the get go and never looked back.

Anthony says he enjoyed attention from a young age! Anthony studied film and TV but got jealous of the people acting! So after his course he decided to do Musical Theatre at the Con in QLD.

What is the concept behind ‘Story Surprise’ and how did it all come to fruition?
Story Surprise started off as a happy accident. When we went into lockdown in March 2020 and lost all our performing gigs we couldn’t sit still for too long. We’re super creative people and we’re always thinking of new things.

Our nephews live in LA so we decided to film a funny skit acting out one of our favourite kids books and send it to them to cheer them up. They loved it so we shared the video more widely. It was such a tough time for the world and people loved the joy Story Surprise was bringing.

Very quickly we expanded our videos to include not just storytelling but the full performance of these stories with jokes and costumes and fancy editing. Then we added craft and music. Before we knew it we were writing our own music and releasing it.

We also turned Story Surprise into a podcast for kids to provide some screen-free entertainment for families.

In early 2021 we had an opportunity to take all of our Story Surprise material created in lockdown and create a live 45 minute show! We were performing this before lockdown was reinforced and we can’t wait to get back to it when we can.

We love that you are showing kids it is ok to be different and celebrate it, how do you incorporate it into your videos and podcasts?
Across our content – music, videos and podcasts we strive to strike a nice balance of fun, silliness and education. We have a very unique brand of fun and silliness. It’s something that we’re both known for in our own careers so it was always going to be a huge part of what we do with Story Surprise.

There is so much content out there for kids so we really wanted to use our platform to make a difference. I (Lauren) have a fairly rare skin condition called vitiligo. In school I was bullied because of my unique appearance which drove me to cover my skin. It’s something I struggled with (and still do) in my life and career.

Story Surprise was the perfect opportunity for me to embrace my vitiligo and rock my skin to show kids that being unique is awesome!

This was an impetus to actively seek out books and themes with important messages for kids.

Inclusion is at the forefront of everything we do. We incorporate themes like mental heath, bullying, diversity with fun content!

What kinds of topics and subject matter do you cover in your fun content for kids and kids at heart?
Inclusion is at the forefront of everything we do. In some of our recent work on Story Surprise we’ve covered stories like ‘My Shadow is Pink’ by Scott Stuart which encourages kids to express themselves however they like and wear whatever makes them feel good!

We also covered ‘Betwixt’ by Hazel Edwards. This is a story about a non-binary child starting at a new school. These are a couple of examples. These are BIG themes for Little people. But it’s absolutely possible (and important we believe) to create content for young children on these matters. It comes down to a fine art in how we construct our scripts and how we put our content together so that the content engages and speaks to kids.

One in seven kids will experience mental illness. Story Surprise aims to support all kids so no one feels left behind or left out! 

What 3 performers dead or alive would you love to have a dinner party with?
OOH! That’s a tough one. 
Lauren – Elton John (BIGGEST FAN!), Doris Day and Beyonce! 
Anthony – Dick Van Dyke, Stephen Fry and J.R.R Tolkien

What is one of favourite productions you have ever been involved in and why?
For me (Lauren) I think Singin’ in the Rain was a bit of a bucket list experience. Stellar company and it’s just one of those shows that all dancers want to experience. I feel so lucky to have been a part of the Aussie Company.

What do you hope for the future of theatre in Australia?
Right now things are beyond tough. It’s been devastating to watch our industry fade away and what’s worse is the lack of support from the government. We are all incredibly tough so there is no doubt that we will come back stronger than ever.

What we’d like to see improve in future is more respect for entertainment and a better acknowledgement by government for everything that our industry gives. Not just on an economic level, we are the heart and soul of this country!

Fame Reporter Word Play

Spirit Animal
A – Duck
L – Turtle

Bucket list
A – mmm Bunnings. Which bucket should I get?
L – Write a children’s book

Story Surprise 
A – HEY! Welcome back to Story Surprise! (That’s how we open all our videos and podcasts)
L – Mick the Story Surprise teddy bear

Go-to Karaoke song
A – Bohemian Rhapsody
L – Wrecking Ball

New York
A – Concrete jungle where dreams are made of! 

Any secret talents
A – NO! …Not washing my hair.. heh heh heh
L – Being incredibly technologically challenged…. is that a talent? HAH!

Singin’ in the Rain
A – Bit wet
L – Our Japan season. It was magical.

Favourite song right now
A – Coloratura – Coldplay
L – Anything by Hayden Calnin

Dressing Room necessity
A – Don’t know haven’t been in one in a while… wah
L – A cup for your brushes… I always forget that!

Favourite Musical
A – Hadestown
L – Bright Star (I’ve loved it ever since Anthony and I got to do it at Chapel off Chapel)

Pre-show snack
A – Cuppa Tea
L – Ooh I go through phases… Umm, Apricot bites!

Celebrity Crush
A – Monica from Playschool
L – LOL, I’m Tik Tok obsessed at the moment. I’m loving therealrahulrai on Tik Tok. Not so much a crush as obsessed with their talent. They do skits, they dance, they can do it all and they’re hilarious!

Favourite song to sing
A – The Wine Song by Cat Empire 
L – Anything with killer harmonies!

Place you want to travel to
Both – Iceland

Future dream
A – Win an Aria…
L – Same… it was even in our wedding vows! Hah!

TV Show Binge
Both – Ru Paul!

Finally, favourite thing about performing
The energy and adrenaline you get. Bringing smiles to peoples faces. It’s what we breathe and live and we can’t wait to get back on stage! 

Thank-you Lauren and Anthony for joining us at The Fame Reporter and we wish you all the best for Story Surprise and all of the amazing content that you are producing so beautifully.

Story Surprise live performance at The Clocktower for Moonee Valley City Council. 18 May 2021.

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All photos – Supplied