Review: JSMR at Trades Hall - Melb Fringe

Review by Emily White


Situated in a small alcove in an unassuming corner of the Fringe Hub, “JSMR" is not so much a show, as it is an experience. Once you pass through the curtains, Jessica Stanley - the ‘J’ in “JSMR” - is waiting to welcome you with a blanket and an offer to tuck you in. The whole experience is intimate and entirely wholesome.


Stanley brings a sense of ease to the room full of people who don’t know what to expect. She promises a weird time, but a nice time - both of which are promises she delivers on.


The design by Dann Barber is sensational. The hand-painted curtains are so detailed and create an aesthetic that is surreal, ethereal and fantastical. It feels like stepping into another world, even if you can still hear the music and chatter from the Fringe bar only meters away. I expected the sound-bleed to be problematic, as even with the headphones on it was prominent. But once Stanley got going on the journey through different styles of ASMR, I forgot all about the background noise because I was being taken wide-eyed on the ride of my life.


The show is structured as a choose-your-own adventure style experience, in which the audience chooses tarot cards that determine which styles of ASMR we are introduced to. The result is that each session will be slightly different, although often the bell will ring - signalling to Stanley that it’s time to move on - just as she’s getting to the juiciest part of whatever story she’s telling.


The sound design primarily features live foley created by Stanley with dual microphones feeding into the wireless headphones worn by the audience. This is what makes Stanley’s performance an “experience” - as you do experience sensations that are rarely evoked by traditional theatre. The physical response that your body has to different sounds is the whole point, and is also the reason why you will be kept on your toes the whole time.


“JSMR” is immersive and educational - Stanley’s passion for the subject matter is clear and she is successful in getting the audience on side, ready to put ourselves at the mercy of whatever strange and slimy sounds she wants to present us with. As someone who knew little about ASMR beyond its status as a meme, I left with a clear understanding of what it is, why it’s appealing, and why it’s maybe not so weird after all. I also finally know what a mukbang is now too. The way Stanley weaves her own experiences into the presentation of different styles of ASMR makes for a cohesive narrative, an easy entry-point for the audience to follow if they’re not familiar with this corner of the internet.


Stanley’s enthusiasm for ASMR is what makes the audience want to come with her through the experience, but she’s not just a cheerleader, and this isn’t just an ad for a misunderstood artform. Stanley engages with the form critically, commenting on the relationship between content creators, consumerism, and waste. She also raises an interesting question about why ASMR is so linked with connotations of shame.


Overall the experience was surprisingly pleasant, and pleasantly surprising. With an impressively high production value, and an educational side that may leave you with more questions than you started with, “JSMR" is a visceral experience that is likely to be the most engaging night at the theatre you’ve had in a while.

Image Credit: Sarah Clarke