Infused with ideas of accepting all people, protecting the planet and effecting change in a vulnerable world, Laser Beak Man – which was nominated for four Helpmann Awards – is about a superhero with a difference.

Artistic director of Dead Puppet Society David Morton describes the work as an uplifting and humour-filled adventure that explores staying true to yourself and the importance of radical inclusion.

“He a superhero, but not the typical strong man. Yes, he’s got the cape but he’s a superhero with a difference.”

David Morton, artistic director of Dead Puppet Society

“The world of Laser Beak Man extends way beyond what we have in the play,” he says. “In our version, Laser Beak Man, in the opening moments, loses his powers because of some mistakes that he made in his past. So we touch on Laser Beak Man’s origin story, where he met his best friends at kindergarten and then how he first discovered he had this superpower.

“Our show is about what happens when those friends feel wronged and come back and decide they’re going to take his powers from him. And how, after a massive soul-searching journey to get his powers back, he wins them back over.

“He a superhero, but not the typical strong man. Yes, he’s got the cape but he’s a superhero with a difference.”

Sharp first drew Laser Beak Man when he was 11. Diagnosed with autism at the age of three, Tim’s future was declared bleak by a child psychologist who declared he would, “be a burden for the rest of his life and he will end up in an institution”.

Tim’s mother, Judy Sharp, refused to accept the doctor’s view and began intensive therapy for her son. One day, seeking ways to communicate with him, she began drawing stick figures. Tim was entranced. Drawing became a way for the pair to connect. A year later he picked up a pencil and drew an elephant, his first drawing. His verbal skills rapidly evolved and a world of communication and creativity opened up.

David Morton (left), artistic director of Dead Puppet Society, puppet Laser Beak Man and Tim Sharp, who created Laser Beak Man.

David Morton (left), artistic director of Dead Puppet Society, puppet Laser Beak Man and Tim Sharp, who created Laser Beak Man.Credit:Attila Csaszar

Two decades later, Tim and his art have achieved a global, cult-like status. He has shown work in international art festivals and exhibitions, been part of documentaries and a book, Double Shot of Happiness, and, with Judy, given motivational talks, including a TEDx talk at the Sydney Opera House in 2014. When Laser Beak Man debuted on ABC TV, Tim became the first artist with autism to have an original artwork transformed into an animated TV series.

The humour in Sharp’s art stems mainly from a play on words. Take Laser Beak Man and The Barbie Queue, which features 15 Barbie dolls lining-up for a sausage barbecued by Laser Beak Man. Or Flat White, showing Laser Beak Man driving a steamroller over an Anglo man outside a cafe. In Butterflies, Laser Beak Man hurls a slab of butter out the window, and in Sweet Dreams he flies on a magic carpet dispensing waves of lollipops and sweets across houses at night.

Morton, and executive producer of Dead Puppet Society, Nicholas Paine, were already fans of Tim’s work when they met him and Judy in 2013 at the Powerhouse arts centre in Brisbane. A three-year collaboration to bring Laser Beak Man to the stage began soon after.

“The process of making this show exactly mimics what the message in the show is,” Paine says. “The method of inclusion where Tim is an active collaborator in the creation of the work and his ability is equal to ours and his talent. We don’t see any of his disability as a holdback for what a fantastic artist he is and his ability to make great work.”

Laser Beak Man features 35 original puppets built from laser-cut, ink-soaked balsa wood.

Laser Beak Man features 35 original puppets built from laser-cut, ink-soaked balsa wood.

Morton says it felt like working with a collaborator who had been working on the show for 20 years. “Whenever we were unsure what a character would do, Tim knew,” he says. “Whenever we were unsure about what a thing should look like, Tim always knew. We were all trying to do justice to his world and his creation and it made for such an extraordinary experience because we all had something to work for.”

With 35 original puppets, each hand-built from laser-cut, ink-soaked balsa wood, the show features a team of puppeteers from Australian and the US and is accompanied by live music composed by Sam Cromack of Ball Park Music.

“It plays like a rock concert with a story,” Morton says. “Laser Beak Man doesn’t speak, something Tim was very insistent on, so the band express a lot of the emotion and the narrative role of him as a character through the music.”

Despite the puppets and big, bright colours, Laser Beak Man works best for audiences aged eight and up. “The humour in it is very adult,” Morton says. “Not in a way that’s too rude for young people but adults love this show because it’s witty and so funny and the pop-rock score that goes with it is unbelievable. It’s a feast that crosses the generations and, for 10- to 12-year-olds and their parents, it will just tick every box.”

Laser Beak Man is at the Sydney Opera House, January 8-12, sydneyfestival.org.au

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