ITS The Magnificent Finger Gunners!

The Magnificent Finger Gunners is a team born from fellow ITS graduates. ITS chats to director Ben O’Brien in-between duels and cattle rustling to find out more about the show.

In your own words who or what are The Magnificent Finger Gunners?

The Magnificent Finger Gunners are a travelling theatre troupe from the Old West of the 1880’s. In those days, you’d get these big travelling circus and theatre wagons, travelling from town to town. They’d put on a show for the locals and then pass a hat around. That’s the spirit of the Magnificent Finger Gunners – Vaudevillian, western thespians who are used to performing for a crowd with loaded guns. The performance itself is an entirely improvised story in the style of the great westerns. Love, death, striking it rich, starting a new life. We draw inspiration from anything and everything western and most importantly, a suggestion from the audience.

How do you prepare for a show like this? 

Well, believe it or not, there’s a lot of watching and reading of Westerns. Early on we made a master document full of every single western trope imaginable, all the best films, best characters, themes and historical references. When most people think of Westerns, they think of the obvious stuff; Shoot outs, desert towns, tumbleweeds, a sheriff. But there are so many great, unique stories out there that deviate from that standard spaghetti western. You’ve got snowy mountainous regions, swamplands in the deep south… We also all think of that classic, Texan Cowboy accent, but historically, the gold rush brought people from all around the world, seeking their fortune. Wealthy socialites from the cities, Irish, Dutch and German immigrants… There’s a wealth of characters and stories to be told and twisted for fun on stage.

It sounds like an incredibly fun show – how do you ensure it’s just as fun for the audience as it is for the cast? 

Well, I suppose that’s always a challenge for any live show. The beauty of improv is it’s so responsive to an audience and we’re not locked into anything. If the audience doesn’t like something, we’ve got the power to not only change tack on the fly but find a way to turn that audience reaction into a future laugh. The other thing is, things CAN go wrong. You’re constantly trying things out in the moment with a show like this, picking up new ideas from each other, dropping the ones that don’t work and running with the ones that make us laugh. And if the cast is having fun with that process, the audience usually is too.

With such a large ensemble… and no pressure to name everyone… what does everyone bring to the team? 

The cast is such a fantastic blend of personalities and performance styles, it’s like our own little Western themed Voltron. Some people are amazing character actors, some bring incredible physicality to the show. We’ve got story tellers, supportive players, even a couple of wild cards. When you’re trying to tell a consistent, hour long story, it’s important to give it time to breathe and develop naturally… But never take your foot off the gas pedal. Having a large cast helps share the load of that mammoth task but it really is a narrative juggling act.

How do you track down the appropriate costumes?

Well, digging through costume stores and raiding wardrobes is a great place to start. One member of the cast even tracked down a horse costume which looks fantastic and is incredibly hot to wear. He’s volunteered to be a sweaty mess for every single show and we’re all immensely grateful for the sacrifice.

Ben O’Brien is a Sydney based writer, producer and performer. He’s worked on the stage, radio, television and online.  Ben graduated from Improv Theatre Sydney in 2018 and is a regular performer as part of the ITS House Team Dragon Punch.

You can catch The Magnificent Finger Gunners at Sydney Fringe 27th – 29th at 6:30pm before A Streetcar Named Hot Tin Menagerie. The cast includes Anjana Anandakumar, Chris Burke, Charlotte Chimes, Damo Johnstone, Sam Kluge, Ben Mathews, Liam McMahon, Ben O’Brien, Harry Quast and Anna Summerhayes. Tickets here

Ben O'Brien getting wild alongside castmate Liam McMahon.
Anna Summerhayes displaying her finger gunning prowess.
The Magnificent Fingergunners debuted at their Level 5 grad show.