by Robert Weinstein · August 13, 2014
The person I attended Xavier Toby - Mining My Own Business with arrived at the show a few minutes earlier than me and found Xavier Toby chatting with the audience. Toby – an Australian writer, storyteller and stand-up comic – explained that Australian audiences usually don’t show up to performances on time so he had gotten into the habit of warming up in the space before the show began. The American audience surprised him by arriving early so rather than leave, he chatted them up. By the time I arrived, he was answering questions from an obviously warmed-up crowd.
This introduction perfectly reflects the tone of Mining My Own Business, a storytelling show that follows Toby’s experiences as a mining site administrator in Australia. Toby is an affable performer, with an easy delivery and welcoming demeanor. He encourages audience participation, inviting them to ask questions as his story unfolds. It’s a clever and helpful technique, as his tale begs for follow-up and clarification.
And it’s a pretty interesting story: as a young man, Toby incurred a huge amount of credit card debt “following his dream” as a performer. After assessing his situation, he found he could either pay the debt gradually by taking a normal office job or pay it all at once by working in the mines for six months. The lure of paying the debt immediately was too strong so he opted for the month in the mines.
The show revolves around Toby’s efforts to fit in. From the time he gets on the plane to the mines, the miners never let him forget – as a male administrator – he is not one of them. They question his masculinity and play pranks that run from the verbal (many, many references to his lack of genitalia) to the downright gross (there is an amazing story about beef jerky covered with chili peppers that you best have a strong stomach to get through.)
Sprinkled into the stories are descriptions of the interesting people he met (a cocaine-dealing government employee), the administrative challenges he faced (safety induction courses and a rather meaningless job hazard form) and the difficult conditions that miners face (extreme isolation) These tales are enhanced by slides that present and support the landscapes Toby describes.
I got the sense during the show that the one hour running time was not enough to contain the number of stories in Toby’s arsenal. This was confirmed when he announced that even though he had more to tell, he needed to wrap things up.
Xavier Toby’s: Mining My Own Business is a scattered, messy show. It feels more like an evening spent in a pub than a fully realized piece of theater. But Xavier is a likable presence with some fascinating stories to tell. And some of the details are definitely unforgettable.