conversation, interview, intimate portraits, personal, Sex

on inspiring kisses, bull ants, daniel radcliffe, modelling, the beauty of being safe and the beauty of being constructed

Part four of my anonymous conversations on sex, gender and beauty

By Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker

- So if you could start by describing where we.

- We’re kind of sitting on the edge of bowl in this kind of mountainous valley kind of region. There’s a sheer face of lush green and hillocky, rushicky bits on the other side. There’s a nice view of the mountains though that crest in the valley there.

- What’s the most memorable kiss of your life? Do you have one where you’re like “That: that changed what kissing was.”

- When I was seventeen I moved to Melbourne. I’d just got into Monash but I’d also got into this program that the Australian Shakespeare Company had started up. Being new to Melbourne and not really knowing anybody I was just like “this is really cool. This is really lucky.”

During high school I’d only really come out to a few very close friends and one boy I had a massive crush on. And I kind of admitted that one day at a house party and he was just overwhelmingly flattered but sadly didn’t reciprocate.

- Was he gay?

- He was straight but I wasn’t sure because he had that very confident, thing where he was very comfortable with his sexuality and he kind of flirted a little bit and would wink at me a lot which was kind of nice to indulge in.

Um… So yeah, a very select handful of close friends and my mum and my dad and my brother and they were all cool with it but I wanted to wait until I moved down to Melbourne before I went public – as it were.

We started rehearsals for this Shakespeare show in April so it was before I’d even really gone public at Uni but I was like “I’m comfortable in this so I may as well put it out there and see how it goes.” So I kind of mentioned that I was gay and that was cool. Then this other guy in the group was just like “oh yeah, I’m bi, yadda yadda, yadda” and I was just like “that’s interesting” but didn’t really pay it much further heed.

I don’t know exactly how it escalated but over the next couple of days we were chatting and flirting and you know… We shared a few tram trips back into the city and I think we expressed that we were both a little bit fond of each other and then….

We’d just had a break. We were sitting outside and everyone was coming back into the theatre. He turned the corner and went into this little entrance room and then as soon as I rounded the corner to follow him inside he turned around and just kissed me on the mouth. It was just like… yeah. That was my first kiss with a man.

- How did it feel?

- Um… Surprising. In that I hadn’t expected it. Tingly. As they tend to. And kind of… incredibly inspiring and validating. There was this thing that I’d never been able to explore while I was younger and so it was kind of a new frontier. After being so unsure about how people in general would kind of perceive it and receive it, to have that validation of not only is it okay, but somebody’s interested in me. Interested in this way that I’d never explored before. And it was cool. Yeah. And it was quite a sweet little romance that lasted for just the duration of that production. And I’m still excellent good friends with him now.

- Was that his first kiss with a boy as well?

- I feel like it might have been. Because he hadn’t come out to anyone yet and our relationship was the catalyst to him coming out to his parents and a lot of his family. And they were the loveliest people you could possibly imagine. They were so cool and they were really expressive about how much they valued the fact that I was with him and the fact that this had acted as the catalyst for him opening up and expressing who he truly was.

- Was there a moment when you first figured out your sexuality? Was it sudden or was it a gradual thing?

- I think it was quite gradual. It had definitely been a long time coming.

I speak to some people who say they knew they were gay from “the day they were born” or when they were very young but…

I experimented in primary school but at that point you’re only starting your development as a sexual being, I suppose… At the very cusp of puberty. There were a small group of us who would… It’s so weird, now that I think back on it! There was one guy who kind of instigated it. Finding a secluded part of the school ground and just having a bit of a fiddle. It was kind of odd. But I kind of realised that was something I was kind of into. Yeah. And that kind of experimental thing led to –

Jesus! Bull ants! Oh we’re not sitting on a nest are we?

- I feel like we would have realised this before now if we were.

- Maybe it was just a little explorer one.

- We could just move a bit further. Shall we?

- We could sit on the steps over there! In the shade.

The sound of feet moving through long grass.

- Oh they don’t look like they’ll be very comfortable for backsides. I might take this bit of grass.

They settle back into it.

- Um… Yeah. Daniel Radcliffe was my first serious celebrity crush. I remember talking to my parents saying, “It’s really weird! I just feel like a giggly school girl whenever I think about him!” And they teased me for using such phrasing. Not in any kind of malicious, shaming way. It was just a bit funny.

As I progressed through high school, I noticed I was far more into guys than I was into girls. But then I fell head over heels in crush with this guy in my year. I was about fourteen. He was just beautiful. He had strawberry blond hair, a bit of a jock but a sweet jock! One of the quiet ones who wasn’t as performative about his masculinity!

- When do you feel most beautiful?

- I don’t know. The first thing that sprung to mind when you said that was my mum. But in a conceptual way of – like – feeling beautiful when I’m feeling loved. And safe. And held. Um… Yeah. Feeling important or significant, not in any kind of grand public way but feeling a sense of place and a sense that somebody values me or is kind of invested in that connection.

- That’s a lovely answer.

- Thank you.

In terms of physically, I don’t know. In a superficial way, when I look in the mirror and find myself attractive, it’s usually just when I’m feeling confident. Because there are times when I look in the mirror and I’m just like “Ugh. Really?”

- “That’s what I’ve got to work with?”

- But sometimes I’ll be in a great mood and I’ll just look at myself and be like “Yeah! Damn!” It’s weirdly fluid like that. I’ve never really held much stock in a sense of superficial beauty. This guy I’ve just been dating, he was a very openly and kind of proudly superficial person. He proudly labelled himself as such. For him it’s all about beauty and all about glamour.

I feel like there’s far more beauty in flaw and imperfection. Anyone can be beautiful. I’m far more interested in things that make you different. Things that make you unique. Like, my teeth are really crooked and I’ve got a little chip in one of my two front teeth. And I probably need to get a little bit of dental work done to neaten my choppers up but there are certain things that I’d never ever change because they are things that characterise me and that nobody else has. I feel quite comfortable in that. Feel quite comfortable in owning that.

In terms of being a performer, I’m not really interested in being the most beautiful auditionee and getting cast for that. I’ve got stories that I wanna tell and they don’t rely on that. I want to invest in what makes people different. I feel like that’s what makes people interesting. I feel like I’m rambling a little.

By Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker

Um… When do you feel most beautiful?

- Um… I feel like my answer is going to be really shallow after yours.

- Do it, man!

- Because yours is all emotive and mine’s “no, no! It’s when the light is a particular way and when I’ve just put on make up.”

I don’t know…. Yeah, it really changes. Sometimes I’ll just be a tiny bit fitter, like I will have gone for a five-minute jog, and I’ll come back and go “I am hot! That has done it. That has just tipped the scales.” But it varies so much for me.

I did modelling. I knew I had the potential to look beautiful when I had a whole team working on my face but I was also very aware that I didn’t look like that in real life. That beauty was something that no one saw when they were just looking at me walking down the street. People told me that all the time.

That was – That whole experience really shaped my perception of beauty and my physicality because – because – It never was “I’m beautiful so I’ll do this!” It was something that I absolutely just stumbled into when I was drunk. Literally. I was drunk and a friend had a camera. And it was at a time when I was still really young and still figuring out how I carried myself through the world and where my self-esteem was placed.

I had so many people say things about me in a professional way. I had one photographer say “you’re front’s a bit blocky. I’ll just photograph your back.” Then I had another photographer say, “You’ve got a manly back, I’ll photograph your front.”

- Kind of clinical, industry talk?

- Yeah! I’ve had so much said about And I’ve had photographers say I was heavier or not as toned as they wanted. Then I had members of the general public looking at photos saying, “She’s anorexic. That’s gross.” I had both things shouted at me.

I don’t think it was a damaging experience or anything but… It is difficult and bizarre to shape your own perception of yourself when everyone else is weighing in on this really public, vulnerable, naked self. It’s bizarre to figure out what beauty is after that. What beauty is when you don’t have a whole team and a thousand shots to get that one shot. So, yeah. I think it is something that still… troubles me.

And I also just think I’m really bad at dressing myself. I so seldom feel comfortable in my clothes. I just don’t think I’m good at that. I can’t do my hair. I don’t know how to do hair. There are these things that just… Argh! Wow! Yeah.

- Can I ask, following on from that, in what mode to you perceive beauty in others?

- Very different. Very differently from how I judge myself. I recognise beauty in others so immediately and it’s not this bizarre, glamorised perfected form of beauty that I perhaps expect from myself. I’m so aware of what has gone into making a photo shoot in a magazine. It’s not just the photoshop that people think it is. Image manipulation begins before the camera takes that photo. It’s about how the model holds themselves and placing the light at a certain angle that will thin them down. I know how manufactured that kind of beauty is so I don’t hold others up to that standard.

- So many people, especially in the gay subculture, strive for this manufactured perfection. Some people achieve that or achieve very near it but it’s just something that I’ve never had that much time for. While you’re striving to craft this image, you don’t spend any time developing your personality. Some of the most beautiful people that I know in that scene, there’s not that much to them. I’m not saying they are bad people but there’s not a lot of depth or complexity.

- The most beautiful people I know are like what you’ve said: their beauty comes from confidence. When you see someone who is so at ease in their body and in themselves – and I don’t mean that in an “Everyone’s Beautiful” kind of way but just – There’s something so sexy about someone that’s at home in their body and whose body feels lived in and relaxed and sensual – unashamedly so. That’s a sexy thing when you see that.

I know these are anonymous but I also know my own anonymity is basically non-existent in this series. With this in mind, this is a video of a shoot I was involved in back in 2008. It shows a whole team of people standing around commentating on and fixing things about the model. Perhaps it might explain things that my words were unable to. Thank you once again to my amazing interviewee and to Sarah Walker for her photos. 

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criticism, My own plays, Politics, Theatre

on arts funding, ‘idlers in art’, anger, survival and free tickets for media

I want to do something a bit different today. I want to respond to two things about money in the arts previously raised here and in the wider arts community.

Thing One: What arts funding looks like

This thought came out of Dave Lamb’s amazing letter to Mitchell Browne, which was posted on this blog back in September. The letter received a massive amount of interest and the comment section was fascinating (and include one very impressive conspiracy theorist). I am not going to re-hash why we need arts funding or what a tiny contribution taxpayers are required to make because Dave covered this beautifully. What I want to address is something that really intrigued me: in the comments I saw a lack of understanding about what arts funding actually consists of. It was expressed best by an American woman called Marie:

  • “Funding for the arts creates a false divide between “artists” and “everybody else”. He (Mitchell Browne) points out — correctly — that many, many people with ordinary day jobs are profoundly creative and artistic, but are unable to pursue those passions/interests/talents because the bulk of their time and energy goes to keeping food on the table. Then, compounding that frustration, a portion of their wages are confiscated to help support others who are fortunate enough to make their living doing what they love…. For a select group to set themselves apart as “artists”, and suggest that everyone else should limit their participation to the role of audience members, is highly offensive to the millions of gifted musicians, sculptors, playwrights, dancers, etc. whose circumstances require them to spend 50+ hours a week laying cement or staffing the local daycare centers.”

Marie responded very graciously when Dave and I wrote to her and much of what she talks about is discussed in the original letter but what comments like this one say to me is that there is a profound misconception about arts funding.

Promo image for HOSE and TINKERTOWN, MKA. Photos by Sarah Walker

Promo image for HOSE and TINKERTOWN, MKA. Photos by Sarah Walker

Here in Australia there are a tiny handful of fellowships (very hard fought for and incredibly well deserved by those who get them) that will fund an individual in their work. This is what the Australia Council website has to say about them:

  • “These Fellowships are a major initiative to support the professional development of outstanding artists working across the sector and across Australia. Over five years between 2011/12 to 2015/16, the Australia Council will award 10 fellowships for emerging artists (each valued at $100,000) and 13 fellowships for early career artists (each valued at $60,000).  These Australia Council Creative Australia Fellowships will provide financial support for artists across all artforms to undertake a program of creative or professional development.” – Australia Council 

So we are talking only 23 people in the country across all artforms getting such support between 2011 and 2016. Their money is paid out over a two year period so emerging artists are on $30 000 a year and established artists are on $50 000. By comparison, the average Australian full-time wage is $74 724 a year before tax.

But this isn’t where the vast majority of funding goes. It goes either into companies or individual projects.

To use the Melbourne Theatre Company as an example of a funded arts organisation, last year 9.3% of their income came from government funding (both State and Federal). 71.5% came from ticket sales. The rest is philanthropic, hires and corporate. (This information can be found here and I also exchanged emails with someone from the company in person.)

So less than 10 percent of their income is from funding and more than 70 is derived from tickets. This means the company has to work incredibly hard to keep their subscriber base subscribing. They are constantly being held accountable for their programming decisions. They do not have a safety net of a substantial income separate from their sales. If people don’t buy, they don’t exist. This, of course can means that it is very difficult for them to take artistic risks. So a state theatre that had, say 20% funding, would be able to make twice as many risks and would be able to lower their ticket prices further. Both of which would be bloody good things.

Promo image for NIGHTMINDS, The Electric Company, photo by Sarah Walker

Promo image for NIGHTMINDS, The Electric Company, photo by Sarah Walker

It is also worth mentioning that having company funding means that you are unable to apply for project funding. Which isn’t such a big deal for companies like MTC but for little companies, such as MKA, which is staffed almost entirely by volunteers and now receives tri-annual funding, this is the difference between being able to pay the creatives vs. everyone fitting shows around their part-time catering jobs. This is the current situation for any company receiving Organisation Infrastructure Funding from VicArts. Most grants come with a clause that you cannot apply for them if you receive multi-year government funding. This means that small companies have to chose between getting funding which covers their insurance, flights and taxes or money they can put directly into their productions and artists. Still not looking much like the fantasy of artists living comfortably off the taxpayers.

As Dave said, to get individual project funding, artists must clearly establish why they need funding in order to make the project happen, demonstrate their capability to bring such a work to fruition, explain exactly how every dollar will be spent and, crucially, justify how this project will contribute to the artistic landscape and the Australian community.

This year I spent a few months in regional Queensland, working on a funded project through La Boite. My role was to teach more than 80 fifteen-year-olds how to write plays. With these students as my collaborators, I wrote four plays in eight weeks, which the students then performed for their community. Among the participants were students who struggled with basic literacy levels, students with behavioural issues including verbal aggression and students who were completely disengaged from school. We created an opportunity for them to express themselves creatively and tell their own stories. They guided the process and were so proud of themselves. When people rail against taxpayer funded arts, this is the kind of work they are attacking.

And being part of a project like this doesn’t mean that I’m not working other jobs. Like almost every other artist I know, I am living below the poverty line and am constantly in search for that illusive flexible workplace that will permit me to run off to regional Queensland for eight weeks of theatre creation when the opportunity arises. Last year I worked for one of the most established and respected theatre companies in Australia, Bell Shakespeare and then, when that show had ended, I cleaned a bakery for $15 an hour cash in hand. This is about what I was getting paid thirteen years ago as a fifteen-year-old working in Pizza Hut when I lived rent-free in my parents’ house. Now I am an established artist and arts commenter with a Masters degree and rent to pay.

The perception of a community of artists comfortably living year in, year out on taxpayer money is very far from the truth. It is individual projects. It is horrible length gaps between commissions – too short for other employers to hire you and too long to live off what little savings you managed to acquire on the last show. It is working during the day and performing at night. It is immensely hard and the dilemma of how to balance of paid work and passion does not go away once you make art your main career and focus.

And we love it. Of course we do. On those days when we write plays with 80 teenagers or have people tearfully clutch our hands at the end of a performance to tell us how we changed something they thought unchangeable in their hearts we feel incredibly fortunate. But on other days, it can be difficult to feel fortunate. Those moments of pay off – both financial and emotional – are few and far between. Playwright Joanna Murray-Smith told my class last year that being a writer is a constant battle between your ego and your self-doubt. You have to make sure that your ego just comes out on top or you’ll never pick up the pen. When this self-doubt is coupled with crippling poverty, the battle can feel pretty uneven. Not David and Goliath, for that is the story of a little guy who only needed to throw one stone; artists must build and throw that stone again and again in-between waitressing jobs.

Promo image for CHOIRGIRL, Attic Erratic, photo by Sarah Walker

Promo image for CHOIRGIRL, Attic Erratic, photo by Sarah Walker

Thing Two: The Tickets

I want to give one other example of project funding, which will then lead into the other Thing I’ve want to re-examine.

The City They Burned received $10 000 from the city council. In practical terms, this knocked $10 off of the price of every ticket. In the Pre-Fringe season, this meant $24 a ticket compared to $34. That’s a big difference. It was also the little bit of financial cushioning we needed in order to be able to run a ‘pay as you feel’ night to ensure that no one was missing out on the work due to financial hardship.

Audience members saw the show without paying and, at the end, were asked to contribute what they could afford or what they thought the show was worth. The average ticket price that night was $19. Of course, some people paid much less than this, which was fine, but the interesting part of the experiment was that the people who would otherwise have received industry or media comps that night, decided to pay because the option was presented to them.

This leads me to the next point I want to re-examine. This was raised at a forum I hosted at Theatre Works, the ridiculously named Why Can’t We All Get Along Like We Did In Middle School: should critics get free tickets and, if they receive a comp, does that mean they are entering into a deal which states that a comp equals a review?

Plenty of artists have opinions on this, which is absolutely fair enough. As I’ve already stated in this article, making art is costly and hard. But. But. But I’ve seen over 80 shows this year and paid for perhaps 20 of them. (My running tally in my phone says I’ve paid for 14 but I expect that I forgot to record a few.)

Now, before you presume this makes me an arts writer who isn’t holding up my end of the bargain, let me assure you that any time I was given a ticket as an arts writer, I wrote something. This week I also emailed the artistic director of a theatre to ask about getting a media comp and, when I found out that the show was struggling a bit, instantly retracted my request and paid. The vast majority of my comps come from being someone’s plus one – someone working on or writing about the show/festival – or they come from the fact that I work three festivals a year, which gets me into most shows at Adelaide Fringe, Melbourne Comedy and Melbourne Fringe for free provided, I’m not taking the place of a paying audience member. You know how it works. You have received such comps too.

I am not writing this to end this discussion. I hope we continue to think about and discuss how we value and pay for our art and what the intellectual transaction is. But I think we all forget about our own free tickets when it comes to talking about critics.

Promo image KIDS KILLING KIDS, MKA and Too Many Weapons, photo by Sarah Walker

Promo image KIDS KILLING KIDS, MKA and Too Many Weapons, photo by Sarah Walker

Now, to state the obvious, I could never afford to pay for 80 shows a year. I am acutely aware that I am very, very fortunate to be the recipient of these tickets. Having access to this amount and variety of art helps broaden my awareness of what is happening in my industry, my understanding of what art is capable of and illuminates in a very immediate and practical way what does/does not work on stage. It benefits my art and my arts writing. Every time we put ‘artists passes free’ on a festival show or send someone we respect a comp, we aren’t only boosting our audience numbers or promoting ourselves, we are making an investment in the intellectual complexity and artistic wealth of our fellow markers.

And we are too generous. I’m all for artists at the very least asking for a donation from their fellow makers at festival time. I also think it is acceptable to offer reviewers only the one ticket, rather than two. But I do wonder, when we give so many of our tickets away to each other, why do we bitch about giving them to the people who may spend hours writing about it? And even if they don’t write about this show, they may write about the next one with an enhanced awareness of our artistic journey.

The City They Burned generated over 10 000 words of critical response (not including my own conversation with Cameron Woodhead) and the majority of these came from unpaid reviewers. I’ll always champion these people. I’ll always support “so-and-so with their blog that barely anyone reads anyway” because most of our best arts writers started as that so-and-so. And because I believe we need them. We want our arts writers to benefit like we do from seeing as much art as possible. We want their responses to deepen and complexify (not a word but I’m into it). I’m willing to invest in their artistic understanding, just as my fellow artists invest in mine.

Sarah’s photography can be found here. 

On a personal note: I’m heading to South Australia for a few months to save money whilst writing a new play. If you are reading this from Adelaide, yell out! I’d love to build more of a network in my home town and I am also planning on running a series of forums on criticism, gender and new writing there before Fringe takes over the city. 

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conversation, intimate portraits, Sex

on kissing, sex, gender, queer identity in straight relationships, oral hygiene and being a person

The third instalment in my ‘intimate portraits’ conversation series. The previous conversations can be found here. I’m sticking with Leonard Da Vinci sketches to illustrate these for a while. They are utterly stunning. 

da vinci womanshand

Kisses

- Describe where we are.

- We are sitting on the side of a hill surrounded by skeleton trees. The sky is moving pretty fast and there’s dead, white branches reaching into it and there’s undergrowth that has slowly made its way up to be about a third as tall as the dead trees.

- What’s your most memorable kiss?

- I think my first – like – very memorable kiss was with my first boyfriend when I was seventeen. We were in the kitchen at my mum’s house. I don’t know what I was doing. Probably cooking or something. And – you know – we were very awkward and teenage but at some moment I was kissing him and I pushed him up against the cupboard and was like “ohh”. It was the first time that a kiss had ever thrilled right through me. And I was like “ohh! That was like – fuck! That was really powerful and electric. That’s what every kiss should be like. That’s the one thing that you want to feel again. This is why we make out. I get it now.”

I remember a kiss that was a total surprise. I… I make friends with people very easily and sometimes it’s hard to know if people like me in a romantic or a sexual way. I’d just met this person and was – like – walking and talking and then we kissed and that was the moment of being like “yes! I was hoping it was this thing!” It was like winning. It was just winning. Like, our brains are having the best time and now our mouths are too. Awesome.

What about you? What’s your most memorable kiss?

- Um… well my first kiss was kind of hilarious just in how underplayed it was. Because I was seventeen and everyone else – all my other friends – had these big dramatic first kiss stories of “aw that was gross” and “aw slobber!” and “boys: eww! But I want more!” But my first kiss… I was at a party and everyone else was making out and doing all that stuff and then I knelt down to get something out of my bag and my friend snogged me and wandered off. That was the only sexual contact that person and I ever had. A few years later he said to me “you’re the only female friend that I’ve never tried to have sex with.” And I’m like “thanks, buddy. Makes me feel special.” But it was kind of great that it was a really underplayed moment.

- Yeah, for sure.

- My most joyous kiss – and I’m actually kind of surprised I didn’t go to this straight away – was with my first boyfriend and I’d wanted – I’d been – it was the first time – I didn’t –

I didn’t notice boys until I noticed this boy.

- Yeah, I remember that feeling.

- And and and I loved him for about ten months and he knew. We were in Year 12 and had the same frees and we’d go for – like – walks on the beach together every week. And that was just our exercise. Our unwind. Our little decompress. Then at Valedictory he kissed me. It was a really brief kiss but it was just so joyous. We’d just finished Year 12 and it was the start of something new and important and I fell over three seconds into the kiss. I lost my balance. But that was the start of what is still to date the most beautiful relationship I’ve ever had. There’s part of me that just goes “why was that when I was eighteen! I wasted that one on eighteen-year-old me and she fucked it up!” Not badly but just, I didn’t realise what a good thing I was onto. I think I just thought that all relationships were that good. Since then I’ve gone “oh. Some of them are average and some of them are quite shitty and none of them have been that beautiful since.”

da vinci swan

I don’t know. I think that probably my most memorable kisses were really the ones that were wrong. That were really… they shouldn’t have happened. And the electricity of the “shouldn’t have” and the sheer amount of emotions going on is just this incredible mix of self-hatred and – and lust and desperation and neediness all sort of rolled into one moment. Yeah. Hm.

- It’s weird how that burns into our brain, isn’t it?

I think there’s like an imp version of myself that definitely didn’t exist when I was a teenager. And to be fair, some of that was trauma from that first boyfriend and trying to reclaim my own sense of self and my own sexuality. Like, “okay. If I push myself out there and make decisions for myself and be quite aggressively sexual I can have control over that rather than being objectified. Or vicitimised.”

My friends from high school were like “whoa! What’s happened to you? You were not like this in high school. This doesn’t fit your personality.” And it kind of – it didn’t fit my personality because it was a reaction to what happened. But um… that version of me is a bit of an imp as well. So that might be drunk me going “This is a great idea! I’m just gonna go and pash that person! Or, I’m gonna sleep with that human and that will be good!”

Genders

- Did you have a moment where you figured out – was there a moment where you worked out your sexuality?

- I’m still figuring it out. I like girls and boys but I’ve never had the same kind of relationship with a woman as I have with a man. I’ve definitely been in love with women before but maybe I’ve been afraid of that in different ways.

- How is that fear different when it’s with a woman?

- I think maybe because the signals aren’t always as clear. It is more common for women to have close female friendships than for a man and a woman to have a close friendship. One of my absolute best mates is a guy and everybody is always like “oh surely you’re a bit in love. Isn’t he totally in love with you?” And I’m like, “no, not at all. He’s actually kind of like my brother.” But that level of closeness is seen as being really weird because he likes girls and I like boys so it’s not really allowed. So many of my female friends are queer as well and yet it’s just totally clear that we’ve never been attracted to each other and never would be.

- So being female makes it more acceptable to be not attracted to each other and close friends, even if you are attracted to each other’s gender.

- Yeah. So then when it is sexual I don’t really know how to address it. I’ve never struggled with that with men. I’ve talked about that with my guy friends as well and been like “I don’t see you that way” and they’re like “cool! Me neither.” “Great! Moving on!” But a lot of the time that doesn’t feel like it’s necessary with women or… or perhaps sometimes it’s because it is there so I don’t want to talk about it. So that’s a bit weird.

It is kind of nice at the moment being able to accept that part of who I am. That it’s okay to have that sexuality but be dating a boy.

I remember with my ex, who was the most masculine, fucking oppressed man, macho-person in the world and it felt really strange. I remember going to Queer events and going “I don’t think I’m meant to be here!”

- Because his gender identity reflected on you?

- Yeah, something like that. And I think it’s sort of the weird place that people who are bi or broadly Queer hold in that community… it’s seen as a bit of a weird, undefined space so nobody quite trusts it.

I think my current partner said something a while ago like “will I always be enough?” And I’m like “yeah. You give me everything that a woman would give me except a vagina and I really don’t miss that that much.” I’m very happy. (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that, I suppose he isn’t gonna know.)

Like me, he doesn’t have this strong behavioral or sexual gendered binary. Like, he’s kind of just a person. The same way that I am. Our body parts aren’t what define our sex life. Like, “great! We can use that!” but it’s kind of just a cool thing that they’re different. I feel like I would still love him if he was a lady. He has a very nice penis, though.

- Bonus.

- My partner before that, we had to be in a box of “this is the man and this is the woman and this is a hetero relationship and this is how it works.” He wasn’t a person, he was a man and I wasn’t a person, I was a woman, if that makes sense.

Why is there a sign for a yeti there?

- I don’t know.

da_vinci_embryos

Conditioning

- Anything you want to ask me?

- How do you think gender interacts with your sex life or your romantic life?

- I don’t know. I’ve been single for quite a long time now so…

I’m straight. I’ve slept with women but that only reaffirmed that I’m straight. I mean there’s stuff that’s fun to do that is fun purely because we’ve both got bodies and things feel good so I don’t mind. I’m sure I’d do it again. It’s not like I had sex with a woman and was like “oh my God, that was gross!”

- “Never again!”

- “I don’t want that!” It was just like “well I’ve done that and, ah, I still, ah, still find myself looking at men a whole lot more than women so…” I don’t know.

I feel very female and that being female is a big part of my identity. And I enjoy my femininity, for the most part. There are some things about it that I don’t like but it’s mostly sort of stereotypical ‘female’ things about women not putting themselves forward in their industry and not being as confident. Sometimes I look at myself and ask, “Is this because I’m a woman or is it just who I would always be, whether I was a man or a woman?” It is hard to know how much of that identity I should attribute to my gender and how much is just what the experience of being a person is. Being a complex, human, person. Yeah.

I grew up with incredibly strong, vocal, feminist parents but walking down the street I sometimes catch myself being weirdly 19th Century-downcast; not making eye contact with people or, if I do look up and make eye contact, I’ll apologise to the universe in general or to that person specifically. Is that just because I’m just weird and introverted or is that some conditioning thing? It is all very mysterious to me.

A fly buzzes.

- I guess what I mean by that is, in terms of interacting with people romantically or sexually – well in general but particularly in that realm because when you’re that close to a person and you have these expectations of each other. There is often a desire from both parties to make that person into the person you want to be with, or something. I guess that’s the thing I mean. Behavioral assumptions. I guess that was the problem with my ex: more “you can’t do that because you’re a woman and therefore you are weak and not capable of it” or “you shouldn’t do that because it’s not how women behave.” Or those sorts of things.

- I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship like that. I guess the closest I’ve come was one day when I was chastising my partner for not having cleaned his teeth for a long while and he came back with “well, you haven’t shaved under your arms!” “Yeah, I’m growing it for a photo! So there!” That was weird and still I look back at that and ask was that a warning sign that I should have seen? Him using that as a weapon against me felt pretty strange because it put shaving on par with teeth cleaning, as if to not shave made me unclean and smell bad. Because he hadn’t cleaned his teeth in multiple days. He went “I think I left my tooth brush in… wherever we had been” and I was like “we came back from there days ago… Have you not… That’s really gross!”

But that sort of – that was one of the very few times when I went “you have Gender Expectations of me!”

- I think that’s the ideal, isn’t it? I want to be seen as a woman but I want to be seen as an equal and for some people that doesn’t compute.

You know what you said about your first relationship being really beautiful and then not realising that other relationships weren’t always like that? I’ve had the opposite where I’ve had just a slew of really awful relationships and then finally gone “Oh my God! They don’t have to be like that!” You actually can just be with someone who likes who you really are and sees that person and doesn’t tell you what to do. That’s amazing. So. Maybe that came at a good time. Maybe I’m old enough to hold onto it now. Or to not expect anything less anymore. There’s a good start.

XIR157795

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Politics, Theatre

on jumpers for goal posts, first kisses, specificity, times of transition, pride and sleeping babies

There is a particular style of play that I call ‘YOU’LL WAKE THE BABY Theatre’. These plays are ‘well made’, usually British (although Americans and Australians imitate the style frequently), excessively wordy and, whatever other plot they lay over the top – be it aliens, mental illness, sport or spies – at their centre is always a deeply depressing heterosexual relationship. The best examples involve couples arguing in shouted whispers: QUIET! YOU’LL WAKE THE BABY! IT TOOK HOURS TO GET THE BABY TO SLEEP! YOU DON’T EVEN CARE ABOUT THE BABY! LOOK! NOW YOU’VE WOKEN THE BABY! NOW I’LL HAVE TO PUT THE BABY BACK TO SLEEP!

And know that in these plays, there will never be a moment when someone brings out a flushed-cheeked, bleary-eyed child from the bedroom cooing “look whose woken up” because in these plays, babies are not people. They are an extra layer of entrapment. They are added pressure. They are screaming bundles of ‘raising the stakes’.

I have begun on a tangent. The point I should actually be trying to make is that often ‘well-made plays’ slip into clichés because they are generic. At best, they are an exercise in plot rather than humanity and at worst, they aim to deliver ‘more of the same’ to punters for whom ‘more of the same’ makes for a good night out. They do not further our understanding of human connection because they stick to the stereotypes. They re-tread the same ground again and again and the baby sleeps on.

JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS, promo image from Red Stitch. Image James Ballard (I think)

JUMPERS FOR GOALPOSTS, promo image from Red Stitch. Image James Ballard

Jumpers for Goalposts is a ‘well-made play’, British, wordy, unremarkable in style, humble in content and it is an utter delight. So why does it work so well? It is a truism in writing that, if you want to make something have a wide appeal, you must make it specific rather than generic. Jumpers for Goalposts is the story of a team competing in an amateur ‘just for laughs’ LGBTQI football league in Hull. The playwright, Tom Wells, and Red Stitch’s production (directed by Tom Healey) have made this story personal, human, intimate and instantly relatable to their largely straight Australian audience.

The writing is beautiful, witty, self-deprecating, complex and incredibly sweet. (And actors, there be audition monologues a-plenty.) At every turn Wells works to make the story small and intimate, which only makes its emotional impact grow. What the writing begins, the performances bring home. The characterisation is detailed, sensitive and at times, utterly heartbreaking: my theatre date for the night teared up multiple times but they only got me once because I’m a hardcore motherfucker. That said, when Luke (Rory Kelly) and Danny (Johnathan Peck) kissed for the first time, I found myself clutching at my heart. The actors performed so truthfully that I felt instant recognition; a sense that I had kissed that kiss before. I remembered the delight of first contact, the incredulity that it is even happening and those beautiful tumbling emotions that fluctuate between sheer terror and grinning the grin of an ecstatic idiot. It was the kind of performance that instantly conjures nostalgia for those days of ‘firsts’: first touch, first kiss, first hands under shirts, first fuck, first mind-blowing terror that perhaps this feeling in your chest might be more than lust.

Beyond the skill of the writing and performances, Jumpers for Goalposts speaks with an urgency that many plays of this genre lack. Every day steps are made towards Equality. It seems that each month another country moves to legalise same-sex marriage (Finland being the latest to join the ranks) and politicians and organisations continue to incrementally work towards making their communities a safer place for LGBTQI residents. In some places. We live in a time where the safety and quality of life of minority groups is still very dependent on the location of the individual. To be a gay man in Hull is very different to being a gay man in London, Tokyo, Moscow, Abuja, Kampala, San Francisco or Toowomba. I’ve no doubt being a trans-person here in Melbourne still sees you face challenges to your safety, dignity, self-esteem and sense of self. In country Victoria it varies town to town.

What plays like Jumpers for Goalposts are able to do is to record this moment in time and speak to where their own community is at in their journey towards equality. I mean, this story comes at a time when you can have an LGBTQI football league in Hull but some of your players still carry scars from gay bashings. HIV is something that makes one adapt their life rather than prepare for its end and yet there is still a veil of ignorance when it comes to its effects on love and sex. This is a time of transition for this community and for the world. Theatre like this can make our epoch personal and real. It can make the specific, little stories of individuals part of a global experience and part of our communal heritage.

THE PRIDE by Alexi Kaye Campbell. Clearly I got excited by this page.

THE PRIDE by Alexi Kaye Campbell. Clearly I got excited by this page.

Sitting in Red Stitch’s iconic theatre, my hand to my heart, muscles aching from leaning forward continually for the ENTIRE SHOW (congratulations Tom Heeley and cast) I couldn’t help but be reminded of Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride which I had seen in the same space two years before. It too beautifully articulated a community in flux. The Pride articulates the experience of a community that is still searching for self-definition as it adjusts to safety and seeks respect.

Both plays culminate just as Pride celebrations are about to begin and their reflections on the importance of this day are beautiful reminders that the fight is not over. We haven’t finished evolving yet. We are Buffy’s cookie dough. Things are still difficult, sometimes dangerous but holyfuckingshit we’ve come a long way. The fight that brought us here, the bravery of its soldiers and hope for the future of our global community is something worth pausing to remember. Something worth pride.

Jumpers for Goalposts runs until December 20th. Go and see it. Darn good theatre.

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creativity, Theatre, thoughts, writing

on taste, art, directors and why

Well it is application season which means it is also rejection season.

This morning I received an email from the Royal Court in London saying that due to the number of applications they received they have decided not to consider the applications of people without work permits for the UK. However, because I really enjoyed writing parts of this application and because re-reading it reminded me of why I love this difficult industry, I’m going to share some extracts here. These were my answers to three of their questions in 250 words or less. Enjoy.

PLUS SIGN ATTACHED at VCA. Photo by Sarah Walker

PLUS SIGN ATTACHED at VCA. Photo by Sarah Walker

George Devine felt the Royal court should make work that was ‘in advance of normal public taste’. Please respond to this with reference to current tastes and how you would like to see theatre develop in the future.

I find it difficult to talk about the concept of ‘taste’. I think perhaps it is my Australian-ness that makes me shy away from the word. Here it is bad taste to talk of taste. But what I do know is that theatre should wait for no one. Theatre should lead rather than follow and should move its public forwards. Stasis is the death of art; shock and surprise our allies. Make them see something they have never seen before from an angle they did not think to look for. Make them feel wrong and right at the same time.

Theatre that has made me gasp is usually the stuff that has changed me. This is not always the case: to aim for gasp alone is to make shallow theatre that will not hold up to deeper evaluation or the passing of time.

I love the current trend of anti-drama that I am seeing on stages – works that climax almost imperceptibly or not at all. In Melbourne we are also currently in the midst of a boom of Queer Theatre, which illuminates assumptions, cultural stereotypes and gender expectations by casting colour- and gender-blind. What is so crucial and exciting about both of these styles is that they pray on our learnt assumptions about theatre. We know the shape of drama and watching it not happen creates the drama in our own bodies rather than on stage. There is safety and, therefore, complacency, in these traditions but power in their sabotage.

Why do writers need directors?

As a writer, I know how vital directors are to my own work, which is why I do not direct my writing. I believe in collaboration and what another pair of eyes can bring but more importantly, I believe that a script is always unfinished until it is performed. Scripts that feel too polished and perfected on the page often feel irrelevant on stage; disconnected from their theatricality, as if they do not need the audience to be there and could exist comfortably on paper. A director guides a writer’s work towards live-ness, coaxing it away from the realms of literary passivity and into the urgent world of live, lived in, responsive, awake theatre. A director is that connection between the literary and the live. They are a hinge between the words and the audience. Sitting outside of the work, they must attempt to examine the work as a spectator, interrogate as a critic and, most importantly, dream its possibilities.

As a director, I seek to serve the writing without holding it above all the other elements of theatre. I believe the greatest disservice a director can do to a writer is to deify their work and create a production that seems only to bow to the words, rather than elevate them.

Why do you think theatre is necessary in our world? And why do you want to work in theatre?

Viktor Shklovski said that art exists “that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stony”. I think of this a lot. I think about the power of art to re-awaken our innate wonder and to revitalise our understanding of the world around us. I believe this to be particularly true of theatre, which is built on a live exchange between artists and audience, making it perhaps the most human and immediate of art forms. People enter a space and give us permission to try and transform them. This never ceases to amaze and humble me. With the rise of technological connectivity, I believe that theatre has only become more sacred: it is one of the few places left where people disconnect from the virtual world and instead experience something immediate as a living, breathing community. I love also that theatre is an art form that comes with so much history and learnt expectations, which can be either met or manipulated to serve a message.

I began my artistic life as a classical singer. My art was entirely preoccupied with what was going on in my own body. It was solitary, precise and internalised. When I discovered theatre, I discovered collaboration and an art form so malleable that it can truly transform the world around us. It looks outwards. It makes the stone stony. Theatre has never stopped surprising me. It has never stopped feeling urgent, immediate and intensely personal.

Rehearsal photography for INSOMNIA CAT CAME TO STAY. Photo by Shauna Phoon

Rehearsal photography for INSOMNIA CAT CAME TO STAY. Photo by Shauna Phoon

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audience conversations, audiences, Theatre

in conversation: a love letter to sisters grimm

Look. I know this reads as a love letter to Sisters Grimm. I know that it runs the risk of becoming an “I-liked-them-before-they-were-cool-if-there-was-ever-a-time-before-they-were-cool-because-OMFG”. I know this. And I am fine with it.

This post is part of my ongoing series of audience conversations, recorded mere minutes after the applause. Often I try to grab strangers but yesterday Cat Commander, Daniel Lammin, Joe Brown and Elisa Ghisalberti were so animated by Calpurnia Descending that they started spouting outstanding responses before I had even looked around for interviewees.

“Okay, just hold that thought. No, just – Shut up! Clearly you are already being super smart so can I pull out the recorder?”

So this is a biased document. I haven’t grabbed randoms, I have recorded people whose love for this work and this company meant that they couldn’t shut the fuck up. And I’m fine with this. I’m fine with this because Sisters Grimm means something to emerging theatre makers on a personal level and because their success on national stages feels like a validation of what makes Melbourne’s theatre scene so unique, vibrant, ridiculous and important.

Here be spoilers. Here be biases. Here be excitement and some damn fine responses to an hilarious, complex and wonderfully trashy piece of theatre.

Calpurnia-2

Ash Flanders and Paul Capsis. Photo, Michele Aboud

Fleur:  So, what just happened? What was that?

Daniel: Calpurnia Descending. The new Sisters Grimm show.

Elisa: A multi-media explosion of – I don’t know! – of everything! It is kind of everything!

Daniel: It just starts off as a – as a – pastiche honouring of films like All About Eve or Sunset Boulevard and the 30s diva dramas and then turns into this really biting social commentary/satire and then there’s just an explosion of… stuff -

Cat: Which then kind of accelerates through time in our visual-cultural associations.

Daniel: The moment it started with that cut to black and then blare of sound and just that – that reminder of what you are in for! You’re about to walk into something that is big and ridiculous. You’re going to have to re-align your expectations based on that and it’s not going to give a fuck whether you’re up with it or not. It’s just going to do its thing.

My whole body hurts from watching it. That always happens when I see one of their shows. At the end of it, I’ve been kind of assaulted by ideas and images and feelings and just screaming with laughter the entire time and you just walk out going —- You need a moment to kind of physically realign yourself.

Fleur: How to transcribe Daniel Lammin doing his little zombie walk to demonstrate the physical exertion of Sisters Grimm?

Daniel: Whenever they do something intelligent they have to kill it at the very last second. Like “don’t – DON’T forget what we are doing. It is trash. It is camp. It is ridiculous.” They always just have to have a little sting in the tail.

Elisa: But then not at the end! Not at the end when you completely feel for Paul Capsis’ character. They could have easily killed that with a gag and they chose not to.

Daniel: It’s always the extraordinary thing with their shows: you always forget that there will be a moment when suddenly your heart will break. Like the moment in Little Mercy where you see that the wife is genuinely out of her depth because her child is the spawn of Satan or in The Sovereign Wife when everything is going to shit. There is always the human moment in it and I can’t wait to see what that’s going to be each time. Yes. By the ending you’re not laughing! It is devastating. The sight of Paul Capsis standing onstage for a good two minutes not saying anything, in his underwear and you’re like –

Fleur: Looking so strangely innocent in that moment, after being this knowing, calculating, if crazed diva throughout.

Daniel: But also taking advantage of the fact that what we’re watching is someone who we associate as an icon. The thing of seeing Paul Capsis take his costume off… It stopped being about the story and for a moment it was just watching this incredible performer we all know so well from such an incredible career just be… There.

Cat: And the visual trickery of both drag and just costume in general. Watching him in the beginning I was like “look at his fucking tight body. Look how ripped he is” and the way he holds himself, he just has this – like he – like he just lifts weights all day long. Then he takes his clothes off and you’re like “wow. There’s a soft, real human there.” And you feel so tricked and it just makes you empathise even more with him because you’re like “wow. Everyone is really, really human.”

calpurnia-descending-stc-2014-prod-photo-3678-photo-credit-brett-boardman

CALPURNIA DESCENDING photo by Brett Boardman. I think.

Fleur: A couple of you have mentioned the big ideas it is saterising or the big concepts going on. Talk to me about what those concepts are. What’s it about?

Cat: Well femininity –

Elisa: The performative aspects of femininity.

Cat: Or gender as a whole. And I love seeing a woman cross-dress. Love it.

Elisa: Oh god! More! Please. Yeah.

Cat: I think it allows you to comment more on gender when it’s not just your stereotype of “drag is men dressed as women and that’s funny!” No. Drag is social commentary because it allows us to reflect on how performative gender really is.

And I think it is about popular culture as well! Declan and Ash are such connoisseur of popular culture from way back to the beginnings of cinema that they are able to satirise what people value and what they find entertaining. And they are such entertainers.

Daniel: The expendable-ness of – Having watched the first three quarters of the show which is about an era and a time where to be a star, to work on a particular text, to be onstage, is such a sacred thing and then to have that assaulted with the most expendable, consumable shit? Like the sight of having Paul Capsis running through a video game? It was both incredible and utterly disturbing. All of a sudden the richness of the world you’ve been spending time in is just obliterated. Like at this particular point, fame, art, creation, everything is just kind of pointless and disappears at a moment’s notice. A click of a screen and all of a sudden it disappears.

Fleur: Joe, you’re sitting there looking thoughtful. What’s going on for you?

Joe: I’m hideously out of my depth. It usually takes me a little while to kind of digest. Yeah. I’ve never seen a Sisters Grimm show before.

Elisa: Neither have I!

Fleur: So tell me about seeing Sisters Grimm for the first time. I’m guessing you have heard a fair bit about them.

Joe: I’ve heard so much about them. So much about them.

Fleur: Is that what you expected to see?

Joe: Um… No. I expected the beginning. But then that slow, steady – not decline but – movement into this bat shit crazy territory caught me by surprise because it was so… It was more visceral than I was expecting. Far more visceral. It was… It was more than I was expecting as well. I was kind of expecting camp fun but it turned into something pretty real by the end.

Fleur: I think that is why we love them as a community: because they don’t just go for the gasp or for the laugh. If that was the case then they wouldn’t have stuck around. If it was only that joke. Like in the musical I saw last night, La Cage Aux Folles: the whole joke was just “they’re men! But in drag!”

Joe: Yeah. The first thing that came to mind when I saw this was Little One’s Neon show this year, Dangerous Liaisons. They stayed with that joke. They stayed with the “people in drag” and it was funny and I really liked it but looking back I’m realising that it didn’t have the movement that this one had.

The Production Company's LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Photo credit unfound.

The Production Company’s LA CAGE AUX FOLLES. Photo credit unfound.

Daniel: Has seeing Sisters Grimm at full force changed your perspective of what this style of theatre is capable of?

Joe: I think it has changed my perspective of what theatre can be. It was one of those ones.

Daniel: I think that’s the reason why they stick out in our cultural landscape: other people try to do what they do but Sisters Grimm knows where they come from. They know that trash and camp theatre come from being reactionary and being angry. It didn’t come out of being clever. It isn’t just about “hey, there’s men dressed as women and women dressed as men”. It’s about an idea that you have to rebel against something and every time you see their shows they make you feel. They make you think. Most people who play with camp and trash don’t understand that basic concept.

Cat: It’s not just queering of a classic text. It’s ripping apart layers upon layers of our own preconceptions of society and of culture. That – that – that’s what I get off on.

I met someone recently who said they left at halftime of The Sovereign Wife and I was just like “you are a fool. You are a fool.”

Elisa: Like if you left halfway through this, you’d just be like –

Fleur: “Yeah, I’m not really into that whole Noir thing – ”

Elisa: “I’d rather just see Joan Crawford.” Yeah!

Fleur: So it was also your first time seeing Sisters Grimm. Do you want to tell us about what you were expecting and what you got?

Elisa: Well see, I know Ash’s work. I know Declan’s work. I just haven’t seen Sisters Grimm before. But I think it was kind of what I was expecting because I know what they’re capable of. And because it is at The Malthouse I know I’m not going to come out traumatised.

Fleur: Is that a level of safety that you appreciate?

Elisa: I don’t need theatre to be safe. I don’t want to be scarred by it but I don’t even know how I could be. I don’t know what it would take! The stuff that I’ve seen! It’s like, if I was going to be scarred it would have happened already.

So they are doing their own thing but it is a safe theatre that they are playing in.

Daniel: The difference between seeing Summertime in the Garden of Eden in a shed as opposed to on the stage was extraordinary. In Theatre Works it just wasn’t quite as extraordinary because it wasn’t the same. I didn’t get to see Little Mercy at STC but I can’t imagine that not being in a shitty car park. It has been interesting thinking about this compared to their early work. In their mainstage work you probably couldn’t see Ash with his balls hanging out like in Cellblock Booty or a nun pissing in a priest’s mouth like in the original production of Little Mercy. It has been interesting seeing how they have transitioned and how they’ve been able to slip in their anarchy whilst also having to adhere to the requirements of a mainstage audience.

Fleur: I think ‘adhere’ is an interesting word with these guys because I don’t – I don’t know – I – I actually think – I feel like their work as a whole has definitely matured. I didn’t feel that same kind of depth and complexity back six – seven – however many years ago when I saw Mommie & the Minister

Daniel: Yes! Yes! Mommie & the Minister! That was extraordinary.

Fleur: Yes, it was a fucking delight! But I do think that this is a much more mature work and I’m fucking delighted to see it on that stage. I don’t feel like it has damped it. I think they’ve found a complexity that has moved beyond that gasp.

Daniel: They’ve had to find different languages.

Cat: It’s not just Sisters Grimm With Money; it is Sisters Grimm who have really thought about how they can really transcend that shed experience.

Fleur: Yet there is still an echo of the shed at all times. Part of what makes going to see Sisters Grimm so special for so many Melbourne people is that, even if you haven’t seen them before, you know that they have been massive part of our history throughout the last decade. The rise of these two creatives epitomises our re-invention as a community. They have come up through their car parks and sheds to the mainstage. And have worked fucking hard. I feel like it is such a validation when I see these guys on a mainstage. I feel like it is a validation from the mainstage theatre companies. Programming this company is them saying “yeah. We get what Melbourne is about. We get what is so unique and special about Indy theatre here in Melbourne. It is people like these guys.”

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, photo by Marg Horwell

SUMMERTIME IN THE GARDEN OF EDEN, photo by Marg Horwell

Daniel: It is interesting to see how Sydney audiences take them. Talking to my friends in Sydney who have seen “all their shows”, (They’ve seen three! Just the three they’ve had up there.) But there is that difference in terms of their perception of what Sisters Grimm is. To them, they are a mainstage company. They’re big and they’re polished and they LOVE them but it is a different perspective. They talk about Summertime and how big and beautiful and fluffy the set was and it’s like “well, you should have seen it in a shed with a broken down washing machine in the corner.”

Cat: With the “donation only” wine.

I think their work hinges on deep, deep intellect and skill in writing and skill in constructing theatre that works on many layers. That’s what I admire more about Declan’s work and specifically about his work with Sisters Grimm. I think him and Ash have the most incredible partnership. I can’t wait to see where they go.

Daniel: They demand that you participate. You can’t just sit back, be complacent and let it wash over you. When the screen is bursting with pictures of Ash flying over the world in a pink wig, you have to sit there going “what the fuck am I seeing” but also you have to go “where is this coming from? I have to engage with this work! It demands that I do because it is intelligent and important and exciting.”

Fleur: Final thought?

Cat: Pleasure.

Fleur: You all talked really, really fast. It’s going to kill me transcribing this.

Sisters Grimm, photo by Claryssa Humennyj-Jameson

Sisters Grimm, photo by Claryssa Humennyj-Jameson

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conversation, interview, intimate portraits

on unconscious flirting, tongues, being a man, julian blanc and making out with your dog

The second instalment in my new series of intimate, anonymous conversations with people about their gender, beauty and sex. I’m going with something different for images for this one. Enjoy Leonard Da Vinci’s beautiful anatomy sketches. It makes a sort of sense to me.

gabearms

Beautiful, beautiful

- Describe where we are right now.

- We are sitting on a beautiful, beautiful South Yarra park bench. It’s covered in bird shit. We’re in a park. It is warm. And we’re under a tree though! Which is amazing! And there are people out in the sun for some reason. I don’t know what she’s doing but she’s got amazing fluoro shoes on and there’s a big burly guy walking past with tatts and water bottles. I think that’s where we are.

- What do you think it means to be beautiful?

- I think ‘beauty’ is kind of the wrong word. I think ‘confidence’ is the word, isn’t it? That’s what we see. You know, physically people are more beautiful when they’re confident. Mentally people are more beautiful when they’re confident. And I don’t mean that they need to be brash but there’s a sense of togetherness and them being their own person when they’re…. FUCK! This sounds like a load of tripe!

- That’s okay. We’re warming up.

- We certainly are. I feel like it’s… Fuck. Fuck. I’m just trying to sound intelligent and I’m not.

- That’s alright. Next question.

- Well what do you think then! Because you’ve definitely got an opinion!

- I don’t know what I think. Last year, when we were working on ‘yours the face’, which was about modelling, one rehearsal the director turned to me and asked, “well, when did you first know that you were beautiful?” And I was like “I… still don’t. What?”

When I was doing… that stuff, people were never going “oh, of course you model!” It was always that “whoa! You look so different in the photos!” It was always with surprise.

- Of course. I remember years ago one of the jocks I was in class with, they’re like “oh yeah-no, that’s her! Yeah-no, you should see her on facebook! These photos! She’s very different! Really, she’s a babe!” I don’t know if that’s a compliment or if that’s a backhand or what is that?

- I don’t know. I think it’s not just confidence in terms of what you put out there. If I haven’t done any exercise for a long time and then I go for one run… Well then I’m pretty sure I lose four kilos in that one eight minute run.

- Oh you did. You definitely did. You lost all that weight and – God! – that defined muscle! I didn’t know I had that!

I went rock climbing the other day and I got back afterwards and I’m like “check out these guns!” And there’s just nothing there.

gabedavinci-butts-cropped

Flirting

- How do you flirt?

- How do I flirt? Terribly. With a drink or two in my system aaaand a cigarette in my hand. Um… that seems to be a pretty good way for me.

- Does that work?

- Sometimes.

- How do other people flirt with you?

- I’m terrible at noticing when someone flirts with me! I’m really bad at picking up hints. Then if someone’s flirting with me, and I realise someone’s flirting with me, well then game over. I become a klutz and I turn into the dag that I am. The best flirting happens when you don’t know it’s happening.

- When someone afterwards is like, “you two were getting pretty cosy!”

- Yeah totally! And you go “Oh really!” and you have a think and then the next time you see that person? Rubbish again.

- One night during a festival, this guy… I think… I don’t know. I don’t know.

- Go on! Go on!

- I don’t know if you can call it flirting or some – I think it was! It was! We were standing there talking for ages and my friend afterwards was like “so clearly you went home with that guy” and I go “no! Nothing happened so I walked away eventually.” And she was like “Nothing happened? You guys – that was like – you were like – all the signals were there!” And I’m like “were they? I mean he didn’t – he wasn’t attached to my face so…”

- That’s what flirting is, right? When you’re making out. When you’re actually in the act of doing it, that’s flirting.

- When you’re tongue is against theirs, that’s when I know! That’s a good signal!

gabeheart

Girls and boys

- When did you first start becoming interested in girls? Do you remember a moment where you were like “that’s a girl: I want some of that.”

- “Now I’m ready! I want to be in and around you.” Ummm… I was a late bloomer I guess. I don’t think I realised what girls were until much later. Having sisters meant that they were just people and now we grow up in a world where we’re not just people. We’re men and we’re women. We’re blokes and we’re chicks. And that’s pretty instilled into the way we are.

But I don’t know if I learnt that until well after high school. I – I never went out with anyone. I never kissed anyone until my last year of high school! Sixteen, seventeen… Seventeen! And then I don’t even know if kissing them was a thing I was interested in.

Then you go through a thing where you go, “Oh, you’re a slightly effeminate, emotional male, you’re clearly gay!” So I allowed myself to think of that. That didn’t work.

- Did you try?

- I kissed a few guys. But it never went any further than that. And you know what? I think everybody would agree with this: kissing is awesome! Doesn’t fuckin matter who! I’m pretty sure makin out with your dog would be pretty awesome in its own respect. Just getting those canine teeth and just wrapping your lips around them! Brilliant!

- Eww!

- But there’s a big difference between that and taking it further and whether you’d want to be emotionally connected to this person, physically…

So… I don’t think I ever really was interested in girls as such until I fell in love with one. And then that changed it. Immediately it was like “that’s right! They – they are different and, God, they are different in ways that I want and I want to be involved in and I want them to be different and I love that they’re different. I love that they’ve got different body shapes and that the way they think is different. I love being… being the man in a relationship and feeling like I’m taking care of someone! And then – you know – the role reversal and letting them take care of you. Having someone that you can emotionally connect with! Again, being the emotional human being that I am, that’s where my intelligence is: I don’t know maths or science but I can connect pretty well and I understand thought processes and stuff so to have a woman as your partner? Oh man! That’s so good!

So yeah. It wasn’t until I fell in love – Like I mean actually in love. And now I regret that entirely. I just wish I hadn’t of. I wish I was oblivious to it still. It would be much easier if we didn’t fall in love.

Festival

- What does it feel like – because I’ve seen you at festivals when you become a total object of desire – and it is partly because you are gorgeous –

- Heeeey!

- And it is partly also because… because of that festival atmosphere and that position that you are in. What does that feel like when you’re in that mode and you’re so attractive to women? How does that feel?

- I just feel like how I should feel. If that makes sense. That’s the most natural. Again, I don’t recognise it when women see me that way but I just have a – my vocabulary increases ten-fold! The things that I’m usually terrible at, like small talk and – I hate small talk by its very nature! It is small! – yet when I’m in the festival world it’s like it expands and all of a sudden small talk is actually really profound and great and funny and all of a sudden I’m funny! My God! I’m the least funny person I know! I hate it that women always say on dating websites and in movies “what do you look for in a… “ “A guy with a sense of humour!” It’s like, “well there goes me! I’m out! I’m totally gone!” And yet in the environment of the festivals and I’m running from venue to venue and making shows happen and surrounded by art and people –

- Gorgeous people –

- Gorgeous people! I become one of them. It’s pretty much that. That’s why I’ve kept on doing festivals although there is no career in it long-term. I don’t feel beautiful onstage. I don’t feel beautiful in the rehearsal room. I feel nervous and I feel like I’m being judged and that I’m judging. But then when I’m doing festivals which is entirely practical – I’m surrounded by arts but I’m just a facilitator – that’s fuckin beauty.

Chain-smoke and that becomes part of it.

Wear a vest and that becomes part of it.

I have a sense of identity –

I don’t wear suit jackets in my everyday life and I do there and it makes me feel (puts on a growly voice) like a man. (Laughs.)

gabeskull

Difference

- What do you think the differences are between men and women?

- I don’t think we have enough time to talk about the differences. They’re huge! And then every relationship is different and every man and woman is different but… Oh God! It’s so stupidly diverse!

I want it to be – I want it to be like Julian says. I want it to be as simple as that. Not that I want it to –

- That there is a formula?

- Yeah! But there isn’t one!

- Do you want that?

- I think inherently we all do, to some extent. A plus B equals C. It’s that easy. In their minds. And this is what he’s trying to teach these young lads that are inherently alone and struggling with their masculinity and being a boy.

Society is a real mix bag these days of partially trying to teach guys to embrace their emotional side, neglect your masculine side and then the media tells us it is all about being masculine. And they have no idea! They don’t have any support. There are no networks for them. There’s no avenue. We don’t teach each other like we used to. Like the Indigenous people, they would have men’s group and they’d go out hunting. That’s fucking great! Let’s do that again!

So here’s a guy who comes in and professes to do what they used to do, professes that he has the knowledge… Fuck me! I wish he was right and I don’t think it’s wrong for these young lads to hope that.

- What should we be teaching them?

- A skill that I am yet to have, which is a sense of ‘comfortability’ within oneself. I think guys should be taught how to be men so they can learn how to be human.

I regret that I didn’t have a male role model. I regret that. I feel sad that I didn’t have a guy who would take me out fishing and go… wrestling. That stuff is really important. Because you go, you take it out and then you’re able to be part of every other day. You’re able to be with women and just be fucking human.

I think we’re taught to be human first and then anything else after that. I think the fear with that is…

Did you ever watch Community? 

- Yes.

- You know the ‘Human Being’?

- Yes.

- That’s what we’re taught to be. That’s really wrong. That seems so wrong to me because we’re only going to get lost because we’re not that and yet we’re told that’s what we’re supposed to be. Then we get angry and annoyed and then that’s when we seek out people like Julian because this isn’t working.

- This isn’t working and this guy has a formula that says, “this is what it is to be a man, this is what it is to be woman and this is how these two things come together.”

- Again, I say all of this from a male perspective –

- From a heterosexual male –

- A heterosexual male perspective. And everything I say, again I cannot over-emphasis how fucking diverse everything is.

What about you?

- What about me in terms of Julian’s thing?

- Because when I said, “I would love a formula but I don’t believe there is one,” you kind of – you reeled. Because… you don’t believe in formulas?

- I don’t know. I – I don’t think I do. But I see why we want it. I think in a lot of ways it is actually easier to be female then male at the moment. And in a lot of ways it’s not. Like walking down the street yesterday and having a guy lurch towards me jerking his hand like he was masturbating. That’s not easy. That’s horrible. But I think perhaps it is easier to be comfortable in myself, in some ways.

- To be by one’s self. Within one’s self and female.

- I think at the moment we might have more complex ideas of what a woman can be than what a man can be. We do have a bit more multifaceted understanding of femininity. But I’m sure I say that as someone that is quite stereotypically feminine. I’m not remotely butch and I’m sure if I had been as a teenager than I would have a very different understanding of what “femininity” meant and what it means to be shut out of that club. But I think masculinity, the doors are… heavily bolted and the bouncers enforce the code with vehement paranoia.

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