Fragmentary Response, history, Theatre

on years passing, cleansed and what i brought to sarah kane

Dear Birds,

I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long. Part of the reason is that any entry takes me a whole day, which is kind of a ridiculous use of my time. So today I have set a timer. I have exactly forty-five to write a first draft. This will be written fast and perhaps stupid. We’ll see.

Ready, steady… Go!

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Photo courtesy of the National Theatre, Copyright: Birgit Kahle

CLEANSED by Sarah Kane, directed by Katie Mitchell. Preview show at the National Theatre, London.

I think that my usual question – ‘what did I walk into this with?’ – is particularly interesting when asked of Sarah Kane.

I entered the theatre with this:

Sarah Kane’s name feels like shorthand for two key things in theatre.

1: For the modern. So cutting edge that it bleeds. Sharp, visceral, of this moment.

2: If you don’t see the genius of it, you are on the wrong side of history. You are the old, the squeamish, the weak, the establishment and you will eat your words some day.

With this in mind, know how surprised I was to have my friend turn to me at the end and say ‘it felt sort of old’. And I realised, I sort of agreed.

I say ‘sort of’ because of another thing that I brought into the theatre: a night spent in Aradale Mental Asylum, a massive, empty building that had not housed patients for more than ten years by the time I camped out with a sleeping bag, friends, my camera and more lenses than we would ever need. The instant I saw the set, I was reminded of that night and that space. The colour of the walls, rampant trees pressing against the window, the peeling paint, the damp floors, all of it called mind that building that was, above all other things, abandoned. This meant I viewed the entire work as a sort of echo. The power suits, the dated drug of choice (heroin), and the hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it-but-not-quite-of-this-moment-ness of it all made sense to me because unconsciously my night in Aradale had turned the figures before me into the echoes of sadness and madness past.

But I also understood what he meant. And I felt a strange guilt within me that I was not reacting to the work as I believed I was meant to: as something that spoke to me at a pitch too high for the old establishment types to hear.

I think that works like Kane’s play out in the bodies of the audience as much as in the theatre: the asking why we are so repelled or not repelled enough, asking what it would take to shock us, noting the moment when twelve people at various places in the theatre decided simultaneously to leave, asking why I did not leave then and what it would take for me to ever do so.

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Cleansed at the Royal Court, 1998, photo credit not provided

The work is immensely rhythmic – even acts of sex all seemed to last exactly the same amount of time – and acts of violence followed very specific patterns: guards enter, they bring in one prisoner then the other, there is a squeaking, the doctor rings an alarm, a guard walks to a corner, draws a pistol and shoots a rat, the guard brings back the dead rat and places it between the prisoners, a short exchange of dialogue, words like bullets, my shoulders tense, my face screws up and a prisoner’s fingers or toes or tongue are removed, the alarm is rung and the prisoners are taken away. It becomes a bit like a horrible cuckoo clock, on the hour popping out to sing its song and lop off toes. It is strange to view such extreme violence as predictable but Kane’s writing works in circles and we see the violence as an uninterruptable pattern.

Maybe I am on the wrong side of history. Maybe in five years I will return to this play as others have and I will see the urgency of it all. I’ll say, “Yes. Yes. This. Thank you. Yes.” Or maybe in five years it will feel five years older – five years further away from its moment of newness and importance. I wonder if the name ‘Kane’ will still conjure for young theatre makers the sense that this is meant to be a work for them and, if they don’t see how it speaks to this moment in time, that they have failed some test. Or maybe the name ‘Sarah Kane’ will mean a different thing to them. Maybe they will enter the theatre with ‘this was an important moment in theatre history’ rather than my (perhaps dated) baggage: this is the New and if I don’t think so I am the Wrong. Which is an unfair thing to attach to both a fourteen-year-old play and to myself.

I must also mention one other thing before my timer runs out: I saw this on a preview. I am sorry to be writing about a preview performance but I like to think my writing is so far from a review and so self-absorbed that I have not committed too large a sin. But I will say that I spent a fair bit of the play being condescending about the woman sitting two seats away from me, typing away on her laptop. I did my “a good reviewer never takes notes!” thing. My “how can you review if you are not allowing yourself to be part of the experience of the theatre?” thing. My “AND it is preview” thing. Naturally, at the end, when I walked past her, I realised that the woman was Katie Mitchell. I did not recognise her face (because I barely recognise my own face) but I certainly recognised her expression: the expression of a director at preview, and the way that she searched my face and that of others who passed for signs of how the work had played out in our bodies and minds. Well, Katie, it did strange things in there. It made me grope for words and question my every grimace and lack of grimace. It made me feel both too old and too young. It left me uncertain, which is the right way to leave the theatre.

Time is up.

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The Red Book Series, thoughts, Welcome to Nowhere

2015/a year in moments and numbers

1/ intro

The year starts scared. It starts in Adelaide. After months of applications and rejections in Melbourne, I flee back to my parent’s house. The year starts with me saying I won’t come back: Adelaide is a soft place to crumple. I wander their garden and eat snow peas off the bush. I wander down rivers with my dogs. I swim (flounder) in the ocean in borrowed bathers. I ride a borrowed bike through the streets. I feel very far away from everyone, including myself.

Then a phone call comes. It says “there’s a job if you want it. It is in Melbourne and you will have to be a brave, badass grown up lady.” And I say “yes”. And I go back to Melbourne. And the year is as full of bravery and badassery as I can make it.

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Photo by Sarah Walker

2/

Outside our dark wood room, a line is forming: 55 people, speaking Spanish. Someone has brought a Venezuelan flag. Others have dressed in the national colours. Behind the wooden doors in the hot, carpeted dark of our tiny theatre, the comedian is warming up as only a Venezuelan would: by teaching his theatre tech to salsa. Our nightly ritual of laughter, loud music, nerves and perhaps a touch of homesickness.

3/

A woman is shaking, screaming into a microphone. She wears a cape and trails red wool like menstrual blood from her underpants. She is tangled in her mic cable in such a way that I just want to run up on stage and explain to her proper cabling technique. (Has she never heard of Under Over?) On either side of her stand the silhouettes of soldiers with heads bowed. They are illuminated by a rainbow chase sequence and the words ‘Lest We Forget’ arch above the tiny stage.

An older woman comes around with a tray of vegetarian spring rolls. She wears earplugs and a glazed smile that seems to say, “I hate this but these people must be fed.”

The raffle is drawn. The prize is a basket containing spam, party poppers, medicinal tea, halal chicken stock and grass jelly. I don’t win. The woman screams on.

4/ some messages i received during my brief foray into the world of okcupid:

  • Hi there! You seem lovely and the robots apparently feel we won’t re-enact the thunderdome upon meeting, so I thought I’d say hello😀
  • Hello fellow cool person on OkCupid. Nobody around me seems awake at this hour (understandably). I’ve watched a bunch of movies tonight that have me too depressed to sleep, so I’m stuck browsing this site – occasionally consulting with my cat on my matches whenever she wanders into my room. We both agree you seem all right and are mathematically probably not my enemy.
  • You rock! Let’s gets married:)
  • Hi, I’m looking for a relationship where the lady gets to see others and I remain faithful. If that appeals please let me know.
  • Fancy meeting you here. Inundating yourself in the lower end of the human evolutionary spectrum and the inevitable associated six-pack pics?
  • If you search against your black and white photo it slams you right there. I give a lot of energy to see how real a person is. If I want to talk to fictional and characters, I can look from within. So when I truly want connect, I confirm they are not a spook.
  • don’t judge I was really drunk and it was with a couple and the guy actually got pretty territorial about her pussy, so I tried ass… but I am not a small guy, maybe only the head went inside, she jumped up ran to the toilet and never came out, it was awkward, so I left…
  • do you think we’ll go on a date? Or just see each other at rehearsal?
  • … and here I was thinking we got along so well! Take care Fleur, all the best x

5/ a girl in a manic up swing talks faster than i can listen

She tells me about her ex boyfriend:

“He had ‘lost soul’ tattooed on his eyelids and stars on his dick.”

It is such a majestic sentence and she is so overwhelming that I decide the night can’t be topped and I leave.

6/ things i learnt this year include:

  • How to wash my hair with baking soda and vinegar.
  • What ‘Shark Week’ means. (I was disappointed that it wasn’t an elongated American holiday celebrating sharks and all the contributions they have made to society.)
  • The difference between an electronic musician and a DJ.
  • How to syringe cough medicine down my dog’s throat.
  • What my natural hair colour is now.
  • That I have a grey hair.
  • My nephew’s name.

7/

January 12th: This photo arrives in my inbox.

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I carry it with me all year. This was the year of Felix. Of waiting for Felix to be here and safe.

Boxing Day 2015: For the very first time, we watch Felix sit up all by himself. He sways back and forwards and then slowly, slowly he topples to the right, drooling all the way.

8/ my 2015 resolutions:

  • Direct a play of my choosing. (Exit Everything)
  • Don’t complain about theatre as much as in 2014. (Turns out it is much easier when you are getting paid.)
  • Don’t post any old modelling photos or use them as profiles. (Nailed it.)
  • Spend less money on my hair. (Which was easy.)
  • Wear less make up. (Which was terrifying.)

9/ my proudest moments: one of three

Opening night of Kindness, by Bridget Mackey. Having followed that play through from her very initial idea, seeing it fully realised on stage makes me I cry in the dark. I reach back behind me and squeeze her hand as the audience applauds.

10/ some numbers:

  • 74: the number of theatre productions I saw.
  • 12: the number of theatre productions I paid to see.
  • 454: the number of actors I saw in productions.
  • 252: the number of actors that were women.
  • 52: the number of actors of colour.
  • 13: how many play readings I saw.
  • 15: how many productions or readings I worked on.
  • 10: how many scripts I assessed.
  • 272: how many nights I slept without medication. (I beat last year’s record – 103 – by May 17th this year.)
  • 55: the most nights I managed in a row.
  • 79: how many yoga classes I’ve been to since I joined my studio in June.
  • 12: how many OkCupid dates I went on.
  • 5: how many people I kissed.
  • 1: how many people whose hand I held as we slept.

11/ a question mark

“What are you thinking?”

I have a moment to decide how to answer. I decide to be brave, foolish, drunk and love-struck.

“I’m thinking we probably should stop going on these dates.

Or we could just make out.”

He says “hmm, interesting – ” or something similarly terrifying but in that moment, the playwright of the night, Declan Greene, appears. (Of course he does, for Declan must interrupt the hetero-normative, both on stage and off.) For five minutes we say words about theatre, his process, the immense complexity of his play and I am so proud and excited for him but all the while a question mark hang in the air over my head. The hyphen that sliced that response in two has lodged itself somewhere in my oesophagus.

Then Declan is gone, and the two of us make sounds like “hmm” and “so” and “yeah”. We walk. We walk away from the opening night dizziness and into the dark and yes, it is raining a little, just enough to make my hair ridiculous and my jumper smell of wet dog. We stop on Grant Street.

We say some words with our mouths. We smile with our mouths. It is the smile of two brave people who are about to kiss in the rain.

12/ an actual conversation i had:

“It is perfect but… I don’t think – “

“How much do you have?”

“He’s done the maths. It turns out, essentially nothing.”

“Well, how about this: I’ll give you the space for a cut of ticket sales. We’ll take 30, you take 70, plus whatever you get from the bar.”

“That is… amazing! But we still need a set… We don’t even have money for that.”

“What do you need?”

“The first act doesn’t need much but the second act is in a post-apocalyptic cave or something.”

“We’ll I’ve got a post-apocalyptic bunker in the basement. Some students built it for a film shoot. If you promise to get rid of it at the end, you can use that. Would that do?”

That was John Paul, giving The City They Burned a second Melbourne season.

13/ my proudest moments: two of three.

Sarah Walker reading at Women of Letters, blowing everyone away, making a room laugh and cry in turns. And there’s me not being even a tiny bit surprised by her amazingness (we’ve known each other a long time) but feeling so, so achingly proud to know and love that woman.

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Yoga by the Murray.

14/

In an effort to escape the fluorescent bulbs of our hotel room, he has filled the place with tea candles. The balcony doors are open. The tiny flames wriggle in the breeze. Mosquitoes vibrate against the fly screen. Out there in the darkening world, the river flows past us, giant and oblivious.

18/ driving down the freeway at night:

“We thought we could stay close with our Christian friends and just not be Christian with them. But in the end, we lost practically all of them.”

Behind us, the dogs are snoring.

I say “thank you”. I thank my father and my absent mother for the choice they made. I tell him I’m so glad to have grown up the way that I did.

“I think about it a lot; the choice you made. I think you were both so brave.”

And they were. We travel on, down a golden river of tungsten light.

15/ motion sickness

Facebook’s ‘On This Day’ feature leaves me with Tralfamadorian motion sickness: a sense of swinging between many different presents, haphazardly.

Up pops an alert and I am transported to a day on which my grandmother is still a part of my life. A day when I cut her nails and tease her for sleeping with a bag of old corks in her bed because she’s heard they help cramps. I take photos of flowers I’ve cut from her garden and I watch the news beside her and roll my eyes every time she calls Gillard ‘That Woman’.

Like someone in a dream, I cannot yell “The train is coming!”, “It’s behind you!” or “Time’s almost up!” The days tick by for Past Fleur and Past Flo. Days spent trying to stop her from eating so much chocolate and trying to stop her from waiting at her front gate for the taxi when she could just as easily wait inside. And then the days run out. Then miraculously begin again because time is no longer linear. Flo and Fleur, a year younger, begin their last year once more, moving obliviously towards oblivion.

16/ my resolutions for 2016:

  • To find what it is that I need in each project or job to do it joyously. Follow my joy. Work with joy. Articulate that joy.
  • Glorify balance rather than overwork.
  • Love courageously.
  • Go to yoga 180 times.

17/ yesterday

Sitting in the car outside of the pharmacy, I take my painkillers and cry.

18/ my proudest moments: number three

When I see what Emma Valente and co. did with my stage direction: ‘Maisy falls back on the bed. Stars come out on the covers and glitter across the stage. The two bodies seem to float in space. Galaxies collapse and are built in the creases of their arms and the softness of their bellies.’

 

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Photo by David Sheehy.

19/

On the other side of the world, a little girl is telling us about Space. She works her way through the planets with a useful fact about each one (“it has rings”, “it is very small”, “it has a volcano but the volcano is sleeping”). Once we pass Pluto we learn that comets are “sparkly” and that then there is the Milky Way.

“What’s the Milky Way?”

“It’s our galaxy.”

“What’s a galaxy?”

“It’s all sparkly and all together.”

“Do you tell your baby brother about space?”

“No. He’s too little to understand space.”

So am I, I think. Perhaps you have to be the right amount of little and big to be sure you know what a galaxy is. Perhaps Almost Four is the perfect age for understanding space.

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Photo by David Kilpatrick

20/ a word

It has been years since I used the word ‘boyfriend’. I am more comfortable with unfinished sentences and vague hand gestures.

Once, back in 2013, I said, “the guy I’m dating” in front of The Guy I Was Dating and he hissed, “we’re not dating”. We stopped doing whatever it was we were doing not long after that.

Which makes it seem like I was uncomfortable without definitions. Like I’ve spent four years longing for clarity. And I haven’t. I’ve spent four years longing to feel ready for clarity. And now I am.

‘Boyfriend’ still feels foreign. It feels italicised. Like an invitation for questions. Like it isn’t mine to use. Like I might be accused of mispronunciation, or cultural appropriation. It is so outside of me.

And yet, as anxious and unsure as I am every time the word leaves my mouth, I am so proud to be saying it. So proud to declare with those syllables that I care for someone and they care for me. That we can make out pretty much any time and hold hands in the dark of theatres. I say those two syllables with terror in my eyes and an increased heart rate. I say them ready to be corrected, rejected and neglected and yet I am not. I am smiled at, hugged, kissed, affirmed, celebrated. This is the year of complete sentences.

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fiction, mental health, Sex, thoughts, writing

some small and unfinished things from my 2015 journals

Flicking through the pages of my 2015 journals, I found these tiny bits of somethings that never went anywhere. Now they are going here because they seemed to want a home. They are completely and utterly unconnected from each other.

1/ (a short thought on blindness) (connected to nothing)

And sometimes she wondered how the world would be if all who moved through it were blind
If we groped our way along walls, hands seeking doorways

She thought how perfume might take the place of visual vanities
How subtly a man might scent each fingertip, showing off his skills at blending and complementing by running them under the nose of his mate

And sometimes she wondered if we would care more or less for our planet if we couldn’t see it
Is its visual beauty its saving grace or do our eyes, ranging far ahead of our feet, make us want?
Would we be more gentle if everything we experienced had to be touched, to be pressed against, licked, sniffed, listened to?

Sometimes she wondered these things
Sometimes she shut her eyes on quiet streets and walked in a straight line for as long as she dared
But it didn’t make her feel more connected to anything but herself and her fear and the sound of her feet

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Photo by Sarah Walker, of course.

2/ (unfinished) (a character sketch)

She’s called ‘Stephanie’ but hates it.

She’s short but not short enough to be mistaken for a younger child, which bores her as she hates being ten, being the eldest, being told to ‘grow up’.

Stephanie thinks of frogs that bury themselves in mud for six years. She wishes she could do that and emerge at the end of her adolescence fully formed. A grown up.

3/ (an old memory) (about no one you know)

“What do you find most attractive about me? Physically. You’re not allowed to say ‘my brain’.”

We’re in his bed. Possibly naked. I don’t remember. More likely he is in his onesie and I’m in some gigantic t-shirt and tracksuit pants he has lent me.

“You know who you’re talking to, right? You realise I have – like – zero facial recognition skills. I mean, I think your eyes are probably quite nice but if I looked away right now and then looked back and you had completely different eyes, I probably wouldn’t notice.”

“There has to be something.”

“There is. I just – I feel like there is something really specific and tangible you want me to say. Like ‘your arms’ or ‘your smile’ and I just don’t have an answer like that. Your arms make me feel safe. And not in some girlie, needing-to-be-physically-protected way. I just feel good when I’m in them. Like we’re doing okay. I like your hands because they make me stop feel self-conscious for as long as they are on me. And yes, I’m sorry, but I do fucking love your brain. It is an hilarious place to hang out in and it fires mine up. It turns mine on. You think so differently to me. Just as fast, just as bizarre but bizarre in a totally different way. I love how you think. How you make me think. And feel. And be. It is fucking sexy.”

But he wasn’t satisfied. And I get that. I do. He was having one of those days. One of those days when you don’t need to hear that. You just need to objectified. You want the answer to be ‘your body’ or ‘your arse’ or ‘your cheekbones, man I love your cheekbones!’ and I am shit at that.

But also, my answers were less about him and more about how he made me feel. And he made me feel good but that day I stopped being able to return the favour. And I got out of his clothes and his bed and his life and he went in search of someone better and I went back to paper and pen.

 

 

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history, Politics, world events

this week/month in your world

For a month now I have been gathering the news, making it as human and beautiful as I can, and releasing it on Facebook in weekly instalments. This has an experiment to see if I can make the news seem more relatable and immediate and to perhaps change my own relationship with it. I post them here to make them a little less ephemeral and to hold onto these very human moments. (I have abridged them a little, which I may regret when I go looking for them later. Each has one or two stories cut.)

This week – December 13th to 20th, 2015 – these things happened in your world:

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Demonstations in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Photo: AP

A boat was lost off of Indonesia. Or it wasn’t. It was carrying 122 people. Or 108. Or 118 – including 19 children and 10 crew members. And perhaps it sunk in high waves or perhaps it has simply lost contact with authorities. This is what the police are saying: That the engine has died but the passengers have not. That they are endeavouring to re-establish contact but the waves are very high. All we know is that somewhere in the ocean there are over 100 people – dead or alive – either on a ferry or off it and that somewhere on land there are many families unsure whether to grieve or anticipate grief.

Somewhere, a man cancelled his buck’s party in order to drink a beautiful, aged bottle of red wine with his fiancée and two of their closest friends. No tiaras, tutus or strippers were involved. Just four friends, four glasses, one bottle and some runny goat’s cheese. They toasted love, happiness, wine and goats.

In Bali, two men with grim faces and lose shirts signed papers, shook hands, apologised to Bali, Indonesia and the World and guaranteed the state a safe Christmas and New Years. The two men, ‘secretary-generals’ of rival Balinese gangs, were responding to a riot, which was started by their gang members inside Kerobokan Gaol and spilled out onto the streets. Four people were killed and another five hospitalised. Both gangs handed over weapons while knives, syringes, scythes and a saw were confiscated from the gaol.

Meanwhile in Turkey the president swore that the Kurdistan Workers Party fighters would be “annihilated” and Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish Party called for “honourable resistance”. “If they think they can make us take a step back by showing a tank gun, they are wrong,” he said. “We fear nobody but God.” 55 Kurdish resistance fighters have been killed in the last three days of urban fighting in Turkey.

This week, a woman was told that, “God only gives us as much as we can handle”. The woman cried and cried and cried.

Scientists told us they had found a bone. Well, part of a bone. From this fragment of thigh they told us that the little being weighed approximately 50 kilos, that it lived and died 14,000 years ago, that it shared the world with modern humans and walked upright but knock-kneed. From this shard they knew its knees touched when it walked. The things we can learn from a fragment.

This week – December 7th to 12th, 2015 – these things happened in your world: 

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Saudi candidate Amal Badreldin al-Sawari outside a segregated polling station after voting for the first time in her life. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

This week a little boy was teased by his big brother. The boy was teased because he had cried when he learnt that his kindergarten was closed for the day. It was closed because of pollution. Outside the boys’ grit-covered window, the city of Beijing declared its first-ever red-alert for pollution, ordered almost half its cars off the roads and advised schools and kindergartens to close. Outside that window levels of PM2.5, dangerous microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, reached above 300 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum exposure is 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Outside that window, masked faces moved through the murky world, life expectancies shortened, coal was burnt and people blew black and grey snot onto their white, white tissues.

Meanwhile, a Melbourne playwright wrote to a member of the infamous Phelps family on twitter. This woman, who had once exacerbated the grief of countless families by waving signs outside funerals declaring ‘God hates fags’, ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’ and ‘Planes Crash God Laughs’ responded to the playwright like this: “I couldn’t be more grateful for the kind, generous, amazing people we met after leaving – confounded all our expectations in the best way. The comfort and hope that came from that were wonderfully disorientating, & made our lives so much better.” She signed off the message with a bright red heart emoji.

This week, for the first time women voted in Saudi Arabia. This week, for the first time women were elected to local councils in Saudi Arabia. This week women’s right’s activist Sahar Hassan Nasief said, “Even if it were only one woman, we’re really proud of that. Honestly, we weren’t expecting anyone to win.” But 17 of the 900 Saudi women who ran for office, won. These seventeen were not permitted to speak to male voters in the lead up to the election and, like all Saudi women, they are barred from driving, from trying on clothes in shops, from entering cemeteries, from swimming, from going anywhere without male permission or a mahram (guardian) to chaperon them and from talking to men outside of their families. But despite this and despite the country’s Grand Mufti describing women’s involvement in politics as “opening the door to evil”, this week they voted and were elected. New politician Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi told the world “my whole life has been a struggle. I will be in contact with society, especially women, to deliver their voices and demands to the council. I promise I will represent her by all means.”

This week – November 30th to December 6th, 2015 – these things happened in your world:

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This week Japan told us that 14 ghost ships had washed up on their shores since October. The vessels, manned by skeletons with and without their heads, are part of a much larger fleet: more than 250 boats have arrived in the last five years. The World thinks they may be from North Korea. The World thinks they were fishermen forced out into deeper and wilder oceans by Kim Jong-un’s orders to catch more fish to solve the country’s food shortages. The World thinks Kim Jong-un is a crazed and dangerous dictator with little regard for the lives of his people. The World thinks many things. The men, who have been dead and lost so long that their heads roll around the floors of their boats, have final found a harbour.

On Saturday morning in Australia, a very happy small dog found the rotting leg of something very dead and carried it with her in her mouth for 100 meters until her owner saw the prize and, with a very high-pitched voice and much hand-flapping, made her drop it.

In San Bernadino, USA, a woman whose Facebook profile was still drenched blue, white and red in solidarity with far away victims of violence, died as a victim of violence. With her died a man who loved Renaissance fairs; a man who once coached a princess-themed soccer team made up of five-year-old girls; three people who had fled violence in other countries only to died in America; a man whose Christmas present from his mother was sitting on his doorstep; an avid gardener; a woman who once eloped; a man with tattoos of both his grandfathers and his first wife; a man with a tie clip of the Star of David; a woman with three sisters; a man with rainbow, gay-pride earrings; a man who donated doves to families who had lost someone so they could be released at funerals.

In south-west Victoria, the MS Portland has been moored for three weeks. Its crew are refusing to undertake their final voyage to Singapore where their ship will be sold and scrapped and they will be made jobless. Whilst their union fought the decision to replace the Portland with a foreign vessel and crew, a small koala wandered down the breakwater, climbed up the mooring rope and settled down for a nap. The crew were touched and he was been named ‘Comrade Koala’ by the union for his show of solidarity.

This week – November 23rd to 29th, 2015 – these things happened in your world:

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Julieka’s grandmother Carol Roe and mother Della Roe speak to reporters before an inquest into her death began. Photo: AAP Image/Angie Raphael 

This week in your world, Western Australia specifically, a coronial inquest was told how Yamatji woman Julieka Dhu begged for medical help from her cell in Port Hedlands. They were told how, a police officer said to a nurse at the Hedlands Health Campus that Julieka was “faking it” shortly before she went into cardiac arrest and died. Julieka’s family told the inquest that she was a victim of domestic violence and had been assaulted by her partner. She told her father “Dad, my man throbs me, he broke my ribs.” These broken ribs, untreated contributed to her death from septicaemia and pneumonia but Sergeant Bond made an entry into the custody system that Ms Dhu “appears to be suffering withdrawals from drug use and is not coping well with being in custody”. She was imprisoned for $3622 worth of unpaid fine. She was 22-years-old. Juliaka’s was 339th Aboriginal death in custody in the two decades since a Royal Commission delivered 339 recommendations for change. The vast majority of these recommendations were never implemented. “They shouldn’t have treated anyone like that, they left her there like a dog, to die,” said her father. The hearing will continue in two weeks.

Somewhere this week, man in his late-eighties, who had always vowed that his staffy would be his Last Dog, relented to his family’s urgings and went to the pound. He had not expected to outlive Last Dog but his heart had kept on beating whilst hers had fluttered away. He endured the silence of his house only a few weeks after her death before allowing himself to be loaded into his daughter’s car and driven to the local shelter. And now he is in his armchair with a dog smaller and yappier than he ever expected to love. But love her he does.

 

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News, Politics, world events

on a week of grief, horror, media and telling the story of humans

It wasn’t even a year ago that I wrote this:

I don’t want talk about Charlie Hebdo. I’ve been silent since the attacks happened. I don’t just mean social media silent: for three days I paced my parent’s house, listlessly agonising over four typed paragraphs, which I never posted. My mother kept catching me staring vacantly at bits of wall, my blank page or my muted computer screen. All I will say is that my un-ranted rant, still sitting on my computer ended with this:

“Je ne suis pas Charlie et je ne suis pas Ahmed. Je suis Australienne and I cannot begin to understand the full complexities of this horrific event from where I stand.”

I am still endeavouring to embrace and acknowledge my ignorance in all matters of world politics. Because my ignorance is a privilege: I am (still) that Australian, sitting in comfort and safety on the other side of the world, and the ignorance of terror is a blessing. But this week I found the voice I could not find in February. It is a voice struggling to understand what little I could possibly begin to understand but I want to struggle publicly. I’m sure that many of you are struggling also.

I’ve been writing a lot on social media and today I decided to gather what I wrote into one place along with a few new thoughts I’ve had in the last few days. My thoughts on terror, grief and the media are evolving constantly so I will lay my thoughts out in approximately the order that they came to me and then Fleur of Today will respond to the Fleur of Last Week in a letter about the linguistic differences between reporting on Paris and Beirut.

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Tributes outside of Le Carillon in Paris. Photo: Guillauma Payen

November 15th – Four days since the attacks on Beirut, three days since the attacks on Paris.

Just a gentle word: This is the second horrific attack on Paris in less than a year. It is also the second time I have seen friends turn from horror to… What I can only describe as a backlash in less than twenty-four hours.

You are right: the media does not cover all acts of violence and terror equally and this is terrible. But, when commenting on this, please do so with an awareness that there are probably French people in shock among your friends. There are people with family and friends in Paris and there are people for whom that city means a great deal and they are grieving. If you have a connection to a place, it can be an incredibly difficult thing to see it suffer from afar.

I don’t say this to imply that there are not people grieving for Beirut and that these horrors can be talked of with any less care or consideration but write and rage with sensitivity: we are talking about acts of extreme violence and these things must always be spoken of with care.

Personally, I have enough sorrow to spread between the acts of terror I have followed this week and right now, I don’t want to be told that I am grieving wrong. I am a person of Middle Eastern descent and the continued violence there never ceases to distress me. Believe me. Just tell these stories of our world with love and compassion and an awareness that we are all still reeling from the violence we have witnessed in the last few days.

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A man sits by a memorial to Paris in Rio de Janerio. Photo: CNN

November 18th – Six days since Beirut, seven days since Paris

I posted this comment attached to this article by Emma Kelly entitled “The media did cover the attacks on *insert country here*. You just weren’t reading it.”:

So this article is quite accusatory and aggressive but I think it is a good reminder: the media covers news from all around the world but some parts of the world get significantly more coverage than others because analytics show what we are most interested in reading. Remember that, in 2015, we are the media. News sites know what we read and share. It is our job to tell them that we care about our global community and that we want to know what is happening all around us. Read the international news. Share things you think your friends should know about to be thoughtful, informed and compassionate global citizens. Don’t just get angry at the media like it is something you have no power over. We have a lot of power over our media. We should use it.

I also want to acknowledge that part of the reason I think our society responds more to attacks in Paris is because it is a country we think of as safe. There is no denying that we are more ‘shocked’ (read as negative version of ‘surprised’) by these attacks because we presume these things happen all the time in Beirut.

We need to make it our duty, as media consumers and humans, to never normalise violence, wherever it is happening. As painful as it is (and it is very, very painful), we must retain our shock and horror. We must remember that violence is never every day. Never a way of life.

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Relatives grieve at a funeral procession in Beirut’s Burk al-Barajneh neighbourhood. Photo: Wael Hamzeh

 

Today, November 22nd – 10 days after Beirut and 11 days after Paris

Today (four days older and more informed) I responded to the me of the past.

Dear Fleur of the Past,

I don’t want to sound patronising because I know that you are trying hard and because Fleur of the Future will no doubt have a few things to say to me soon but the issue is more complicated than just whether or not the media is covering events. It is more complicated even than what stories consumers are sharing. Perhaps a good question to ask is why some stories are shared and others aren’t. What is it in the coverage of the Paris attacks that connects with our emotions so instantly?

I think there are many extremely complicated reasons but this is one that you, as a storyteller, should be aware of: The media tells stories of France/England/America/New Zealand/Canada/countriesthatwearequicktoassociatewith in a very particular and very humanising way. This is vastly different than the way it tells the stories of Syria/Gaza/Nigeria/Iraq/Afganistan/South Sudan/countriesthatweareslowtoassociate with.

Fleur of the Past, there are two key differences that I would like to bring to your attention. The first is the detail used in reportage of Paris. We hear about the cafes, the stadium, we know what rock band was playing: a clear picture is painted, a stage is set. Into this we put detailed portraits of people. We are told that the victims were mothers, fathers, fiancés, girlfriends, boyfriends. A twitter account sprung up (@ParisVictims) that pays tributes to victims as individuals. One tweet per devastating loss. Whilst 140 characters is far too few in which to sum up a life, you would be hard pressed to find a comparable level of individual treatment given to the Beirut victims in the English-speaking media.

So on the one hand we have a sparseness of detail and yet the reporting of Beirut suffered from an overabundance of clarifications, very particular details that often serve to make the victims seem less like individuals and more like a movement. In other words, the become more culpable for the violence enacted upon them. In other words, much reporting was linguistically guilty of subtle victim blaming. The New York Times tweeted “Blast Hits Hezbollah Stronghold in Beirut, killing dozens. Worst bombing there in years”. As far as I can gather, this was also the initial title of their article on the attacks although this was soon changed to the slightly less militaristic “Deadly blast hits Hezbollah area”, then to “Deadly Blast hits crowed neighbourhood” after readers’ enraged responses. It now reads “Isis claims responsibility for blast that killed dozens in Beirut”.

Less that 24 hours after the attack, an opinion piece in the Huffington Post stated that the tragedy was expected. “It was a matter of time before residents of Dahiyeh, the Hezbollah-controlled suburb of Beirut Lebanon, were bombed again.”

Fleur of the Past, you are right: the media are reporting on violent attacks in the Middle East but it is how they tell the story that should be worrying you. You were also right to feel capable of changing how you consume and share media. I stand by your sentiment that in 2015 “we are the media”. Just remember to search for the human details within the reporting and to ask about the language used to qualify acts of violence. Keep the media human. Keep your eyes open. Remember that what ‘the news’ is, are people.

Love,

Fleur of the Rapidly Disappearing Present

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Samer Huhu’s image is held up at his funeral by a grieving relative. Photo: Joseph Eid

November 21st – 9 days after Beirut, 8 days after Paris, the day of the Mali attacks

A week in your world

Many of you have posted in the last week about dissatisfaction with media coverage of world events. Here is my contribution to your newsfeed. This all happened in the world this week:

Indonesia has halted execution of death row prisoners due to its struggling economy but says it will resume killing once they sort their shit out. There are currently 138 people on death row including 57 for drug-related offences.

Meanwhile, in Melbourne a young woman announced on Facebook that she had been sober for a fortnight, which was bloody wonderful.

In Nigeria two female suicide bombers killed at least 15 people and injured more than 100 when they blew themselves up in a mobile phone market. One of the bombers was 11 and one was 18. Another suicide attack in another Nigerian city left 32 dead. To date 20,000 people have been killed in the Boko Haram uprising, which started four years ago.

Meanwhile, a little girl allowed to pick her own outfit for the day chose her Elsa costume. She was by far the happiest person in the Safeway supermarket.

A Palestinian man entered a shop in Tel Aviv selling Jewish religious items. He stabbed and killed two men who were praying there. The man told police that he entered Israel with the intent to kill Jews. An hour and a half later on the West Bank, another Palestinian man opened fire on a traffic jam killing 3 people, one an Israeli, one a Palestinian and one an American tourist. It was the worst day of violence for the city in almost 2 months. It had been a quiet week up to that point and check points were beginning to come down.

Somewhere, a woman named Barbara was introduced to her newest grandson via Skype. Both cried.

In the USA, more than half of the state governors of have refused to take any Syrian refugees into their states. The Federal government has attempted to reassure the states that the systems and checks they have in place are strong and the majority of the refugees are women and children, many of whom have been waiting more than two years to be settled. It seems that this is not an easy week to ask people to think sensibly and not give in to their fear.

After months of therapy, a 58-year-old man walked 6 meters into his wife’s open arms. A room of people cheered.

In Australia, 22 disease-free Tasmanian Devils, bred in Sydney, were released into the Tasmania bush in a bid to save their species. Since 1996 and the discover of the Devil Face Tumor, the devil population has plummeted to around 10,000 from an estimated 250,000.

And someone somewhere drew eyebrows on their dog.

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This Wednesday, Britain announced that it aims to close its coal-fired power plants by 2025, becoming the first major economy to put a date on shutting coal plants to curb carbon emissions. Meanwhile, the President of Kiribati, Anote Tong, visiting Australia ahead of the Paris Climate Change conference, has called for a global moratorium on new coal mines and coal mine expansions. He says even this will not save his island nation: “Yes it is already too late but I think this makes it all the more urgent that we do something about it,” I heard President Tong tell the ABC on Thursday as I ate my lunch in the hot, dusty dark of Tuxedo Cat. “We are running out of time,” he said. When asked what he would like to say to Malcolm Turnbull he replied “Talk to the scientists… We’ve gone too far. We are about to go over the edge.”

All this happened in your world this week. Tell me some other things, big and small, that happened also. Let’s stay connected to each other as people, as individuals, as caring and articulate global citizens. Thank you.

 

 

A massive thank you to Margaret Lloyd for the use of her computer. I broke mine a fortnight ago and the lack of computer has been driving my absolutely mad. I knew I couldn’t put together something this big via iPhone. I really appreciate the loan. 

I am going to try to write a news update weekly for the next two months. I want to know if this changes how I relate to the news and what it does for my friends. Let me know if you would like me to post them here or if Facebook is sufficient. 

 

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acts of violence, part 3: guest blogger bridget mackey in conversation with theatre-makers about violence.

Part 3: Conversation with Rachel Perks

Dear School for Birds Readers, it has taken me far longer than I would have liked to get this conversation with playwright Rachel Perks out into the world, please forgive me. Rachel Perks is a kick-arse feminist and all round talented human. I met up with Rachel back in March to talk about her play Angry Sexx for which she received the 2014 Fringe Discovery Award.

I began the interview by asking Rachel about her use of violence in Angry Sexx.

Rachel:  I guess I have a difficult relationship to violence. I consider myself to be a pacifist and I don’t advocate any form of violence in the real world. So, the fact that I write violent characters is definitely problematic for me. However, I feel like physical violence perpetrated by women is so unusual and controversial that it has such potency as an idea. Through the characters ‘Cathy’ and ‘Cybelle’ in Angry Sexx I was exploring the radical idea that in order to have a world of equality we would need to scrap everything and start again. Angry Sexx is this pretty sad story about characters who fight against their perpetrators in the same way they were oppressed. I get terribly nihilistic sometimes and I look around and I think there’s no way to change the system from the outside. You have to work within the system and use the ways that they are already set up.

Bridget: I think theatre is powerful because it offers a space where we can, at least on the world of the stage, shift dominant power structures.

Rachel:  Yeah, I mean, it’s a very subversive medium. I read recently On Rage by Germain Greer, which I found deeply problematic for a lot of racial reasons, but at the beginning of the book she talks about how by societal definition ‘rage’ is masculine and that our world is set up to perpetuate this idea from a legal standpoint – that men have inner rage and that women, I’m generalising, that women will provoke that rage and therefore, should have known better. And the Provocation Defence, I believe, no longer exists in a lot of societies. The point being that there is no such defence of women. Even on a societal, not just a legal level, rage is seen as unnatural for woman. Whereas I think – I am a woman and I am engraged regularly.

Bridget: But it’s like, if women are enraged it’s perceived as hysteria or psychosis.

Rachel: I’ve been reading this article about medication for mental health issues and having lots of discussions about that. And statistically women are more likely to be medicated for mental illness than men are. I don’t know if that’s because women are more open to being treated. It’s difficult to judge statistically those kinds of things. But yeah, it’s like that kind of underlying misogynistic idea that emotions are unacceptable and women have a lot of emotions. There are a lot of ideas coming into this. Someone raised this really interesting idea about self-harm with me. Statistically women are more likely to self-harm than men are. This person suggested that male self-harm is more about going out and finding someone to hit you – like punching a wall, this is male self-harm, this kind of expressive rage. Whereas female self-harm is internalised and inflicted on the self in a much more focused way.

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Ollie Coleman in Angry Sexx. Photograph by Sarah Walker.

Bridget:  There’s a distressing scene in Angry Sexx, where the character ‘The Wife’ talks to herself in the mirror while she’s self-inducing vomiting. I found this a really violent scene. It seems to me like ‘The Wife’ is what women become if they don’t have another outlet for their rage. Rage seems to be a toxic thing. And you don’t get rid of violence by perpetuating it. It seems people get addicted to violence so it happens in cycles.

Rachel: Especially if you are violent in response to the world or to a situation or a system, you’re going to continue to have those feelings. Violence might save the immediate emotion but it won’t change the problem. So you’ll continue to feel that anger and injustice in relation to the problem. I guess the play is semi-autobiographical, which is a dangerous thing to say considering the content. And at the time I was writing Angry Sexx I was running on this path where there were reports of women being attacked and molested. And these were repeated attacks over a series of months and writing this play was my act of violence. I will yell at people on the street if people yell at me. I know that must be really dangerous and stupid but I refuse to be limited in my expression in that way. And I think if more women did it we would have a different world. I just scream back at people. And actually, that act is so impotent and all of the actions that I could have are impotent, and so this play was my act of violence. In that I feel like an actual physical act of violence, like I said, doesn’t actually change the world or satiate the feeling. Theatre is often similarly impotent.  But it is my attempt to actually change something through expression.

Bridget: I think we’re constantly being told stories of female passivity.

Rachel:  I read this article about how a strong Female Hero character has to exhibit almost borderline sociopathic qualities in order to be ‘believable’ in a position of authority.  If a male character was like that you’d be like ‘that person is crazy.’ Then there’s the Female Character who is unnecessarily sexualised, where you’re thinking um… why is she not wearing anything? And then the one that I think is the most insidious is the Male Saviour Complex. Which is that narratively, a woman will be strong for a period of time and as reward for her strength she is given a man who will look after her so she no longer has to carry the burden of individuality. It’s every rom-com happy ending. It’s every fairy-tale. I think that it is in most stories we consider good stories. The only thing I’ve seen where I was struck by the diversion of that storyline was in Boyhood.

Bridget: I haven’t seen it.

Rachel: – I won’t spoil it.

Bridget: Do you think violence has a place on stage generally?

Rachel: I think literal representation of violence on stage is often awful, because it’s so hard to do well in any convincing manner. I, like you, really struggle with violence perpetuated against women in film.

Bridget:  There’s so much of it.

Rachel: There’s so much of it. It’s fetished, it’s glorified, it’s disgusting. It’s violence porn most of the time. I’ve really struggled with it recently, to the point where I’m not interested in consuming any of it. Because I feel it’s so often there without any discussion. If you have to put it there do it because you want to have a discussion, not because you want to shock people. I recently watched The Fall, with Gillian Anderson. I initially struggled because it’s the oldest crime story in the book, it’s a male serial killer, sexually assaulting and killing women, but the way that it’s structured and discussed is so beautiful. This is a bit of a spoiler but there’s this bit where Gillian Anderson, the head cop, is talking to a serial killer. He is not portrayed as this glorified, sociopathic, white male ego, where we’re all meant to have a crush on him, while being disgusted while he violently kills women. Which is the way that most of this stuff is done, either that or it perpetuates the monster complex, the idea that he’s somehow outside of society, instead of within society. Gillian Anderson’s character has this speech where she says to the serial killer ‘what you are doing is nothing more than age old misogyny. It is hatred against women and it is something that men have been performing since the dawn of time, and it’s disgusting.’ And I’m like fuck yes! No one has this discussion on screen. I guess, unless you’re going to investigate on a realistic level, why society continues to perpetuate and glorify violence against women, then don’t talk about it all.

Bridget: I’ll definitely watch it!

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Gillian Anderson in The Fall. 

Rachel: I struggle with violent stories being shown on stage if they’re shown in a way that isn’t trying to do something with that. But I write political theatre and I’m interested in political theatre. I’m disinterested in anything that uses anything in a way that isn’t trying to make a comment on the world, so that’s my prerogative.  Otherwise I don’t see the point of doing it, I really don’t. I don’t understand why anyone wouldn’t want to put on a play, that isn’t making strong commentary. It takes so much time, it costs so much money and so many favours, and so many friendships are tested in the processes. Why would you do it unless you really really really really wanted to change the world? As stupidly aspirational as that is.

Bridget:  Have you ever seen theatre which has motivated you to change the world? Or do you think, like we’re saying, in just presenting narratives that shift the power dynamic – well, for me anyway, that’s the way that theatre is powerful and political.

Rachel: I think I have. I think I’ve seen works that do it in more of a nebulous fashion, where they are more like a meditation on an idea, like Nicola Gunn’s Green Screen. I walked out of that and I felt like it was worth continuing to care, because I felt allied with someone else who was so honestly caring. I’d love to be able to make work like that, work that meditates rather than screams. And I think that’s just about continuing to make work. I remember someone telling me that you’ll only ever have one idea and you just keep making more and more sophisticated versions of that idea. Angry Sexx was my first play, the first play I ever put on and that was kind of the first way of talking about this stuff, and I’ll just keep making the play. And eventually it will become more sophisticated and more and more capable of changing people, where people will be less kind of affronted or put off side.

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Green Screen by Nicola Gunn. Photograph by Pier Carthew.

Bridget: Were people put off side by Angry Sexx?

Rachel: I guess the work was a lot about me having an opportunity to say stuff because I just couldn’t contain it. I had a lot of strangers writing to me, people who tracked me down and found me on Facebook, people saying that they felt in some small way changed by it. That they felt more aware, or a lot of women saying stuff like that had happened to them and it didn’t even cross there mind that it was something that they could protest, which was good and valuable and incredibly humbling. It’s a very scary feeling that you might have given someone an idea because it’s very hard to believe that you’re actually right. I felt really right that I was putting ideas out there but I started feeling really scared that maybe I was lying to everyone. Look, it went better in every single way that I could have possibly expected. And I felt like it made a tiny little ripple. So that was good.

Since this conversation Rachel has co-written the critically acclaimed We Get It with Elbow Room, and along with collaborator Bridget Balodis, has been selected as an artist for Next Wave 2016. You can see her skills in action at 45 Downstairs where she has been working as a dramaturg on Vicky Jones’ The One as part of the upcoming Poppy Seed Festival.

Afterword: I am incredibly grateful to Rachel Perks, Chi Vu and Daniel Lammin for speaking to me about their opinions on violence in theatre. Their insights have stayed with me throughout the year as I’ve watched, performed and written for the theatre. An important point that was brought up by all three writers was that theatre-makers must be able to justify the use of violence in their work, otherwise it’s just gratuitous. As to my own enjoyment of violence on stage, I think I’m still working that one out. Thanks Fleur for having me as a guest blogger on School For Birds. 

 

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letters, mental health, Monash, personal, self care

a letter: to new artists, graduates and emerging theatre makers

Dear graduates,

Congratulations. You’ve finished your degree and you are about to enter a truly wonderful industry. There is so much support and love within our community. There is playfulness, joy, adrenaline, terror, celebration and plenty of sweaty hugs in your future.

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But this is also an industry that values overwork, demands vulnerability and offers little stability. It is an industry with incredibly high rates of mental illness, stress, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Because of this, I can’t let you leave the relative safety of the university without saying a few words about self-care.

Depression, isolation and mania are woven into the mythology of arts. The concept of late-18th Century, romanticised melancholy, is still caught up in our ideas of how art gets made: that genius goes hand-in-hand with darkness and insanity.

Melancholy was also a state of being reserved for those who were intellectually and spiritually superior. Did you know that? Back in the day, not all people could experience all emotions. Grief, depression, sorrow, melancholy and even love – real grand, noble love – those were things reserved for the rich, the royal, the educated, the knighted and, yes, the artistic. The rest of us experienced drunkenness, laziness and malcontent. Isn’t that the most extreme form of elitism you’ve ever heard of? Some emotions are too complex for the rough of hand.

And I know: depression and melancholy are two different things today. One is an emotional state and the other is a mental illness. But I just had to say all that because history glorifies them and it weaves them into the mythology of my industry and that scares me. Accepting darkness as part of artistic practice can lead to some scary stuff.

It can lead to artists not seeking help when they need it. Not saying, “this doesn’t feel like a healthy way to work.” Not carving out a space for their own well being within their practice.

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These are some truths I know:

  • Art is too hard to feel shit whilst making it.
  • Art is too hard to make with people who do not respect you and your work.
  • Art is too wonderful not to do joyously.

As an artist, your mind and body are your tools. They deserve to be looked after. If, however, you are someone who struggles to justify spending time on yourself, look at it as time spent on your colleagues and collaborators: in this collaborative art form, the best gift you can bring to the rehearsal room, the thing that will give your cast and crew confidence, courage and a sense of freedom, is a mind and body that is ready to work.

Now is the time to put in place systems and practices that will help you create a sustainable career. This will look different for everyone (some exercises meant to lull me to sleep only served to make me lie awake thinking about how I was so bad at sleep that I needed exercises) so it is worth putting time and effort into establishing a routine that works for you. Prioritise this. Prioritise this now. Mid-crisis is not going to be the best time to work out a system.

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Here are some tips or pieces of advice that have helped me. They may not work for you but hopefully they might start you thinking.

  1. Enjoy the journey to where you are heading. You probably won’t graduate and instantly step into an established company or funded solo practice and that is fine. Enjoy. Be playful. Take the risks it is hard to take once you have money and a company behind you.
  2. Try to be inspired instead of jealous when your peers achieve.
  3. Know that your self-worth is not dependent on your creative output. If you are between projects, working slowly or taking time off art to ensure your financial stability, that is so, so fine. Every artist ever has done this. Remember that you deserve your own kindness and consideration whether you are making art or not.
  4. Listen to your body. I and so many other artists out there have bodies that tell them when they are working too hard. For me it is muscle spasms in my face and pain in my arm. As soon as I feel these things, I try to rectify the situation: get a massage, go for a walk, take a day off, have an early night. Your body knows when you are under too much stress. Listen to it. It is trying to tell you something.
  5. Prioritise sleep. Make time for washing. Do your food shopping. Pack your lunch. Have a safe, comfortable home or place to retreat to.
  6. Put an end to the work day. If you are free-lance it is so easy to let work bleed into your evenings then into your nights. This was what led to years of chronic insomnia for me. These days, I won’t work past 9pm and it has done wonders for me.
  7. Remember the goals of the project or job you are doing. It is not all encompassing. I am yet to see a project with the goal “save the world and permanently change the lives of every person who walks through that door.” Don’t tell yourself that the project is bigger than it is and set achievable goals for your art.
  8. Carve out time, even ten minutes, for your own creativity. When you are not doing creative work or when you are working on a project that isn’t your driving passion, it can be easy to become exasperated. On the days when I am busiest, I set my alarm and do ten minutes of fast creative writing. This is the most efficient way to remind myself of my creativity and of how exciting art can be.
  9. Go for walks. Pat dogs.
  10. Ask, “What do I need help with?” at the beginning of a project or job. Acknowledging that you don’t have all the skills is really important. Further, acknowledging that there are people around you who can fill in the knowledge you lack is vital.
  11. When working in fringe theatre on a project where you are undertaking many roles (say, actor plus set builder plus publicist or director plus designer) remind yourself that you are doing multiple roles. Know that this is a massive task and not something that would be demanded of you by a professional company. That’s fine – we all do it – but just acknowledging this can help. Remind yourself that you are justified in feeling tired and stressed. Sometimes we think there is something wrong with us when actually we are responding in exactly the way anyone would if they were to take on such a massive workload.
  12. Remember that your colleagues and the wider community are there to support you. No one wants someone else’s project to fail. Your friends and audiences walk into the theatre wanting to have an excellent night and enjoy the skill and effort you have put into the project. Don’t invent a narrative in which you are isolated and the people around you want you to fail. Stick to the facts.
  13. Build space for congratulations into your projects.
  14. Don’t be afraid of saying ‘no’. People will respect you for taking on the right kind and right amount of work.
  15. Don’t glorify being busy and overwhelmed. It isn’t something to aspire too.
  16. Forgive yourself.
  17. Remember that you’re not on this journey alone. Connect with your peers. Ask for help when you need it.

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And now, enjoy some tips from other artists:

Sarah Walker:

I try to make exercise one of the major priorities in my day. If I start the day going, ‘Okay, I’m definitely going to this 12:15 yoga class’, or ‘I’m going to swim at 8 pm’, it means that I schedule the rest of my life around that, and it makes me a happier person.

I find that work-wise, using the 52/17 technique is quite good – you set an alarm and work completely uninterrupted for 52 minutes, then have 17 minutes of totally different leisure – reading a book, going for a short walk, sitting in the sun, drinking a cup of tea – away from screens and from the place where you’re working. It feels quite decadent and recharges you for the next period of work.

I also schedule the occasional day off, where I’m not allowed to do work at all – it means that I’m productive in the days preceding, and I get to spend the whole day playing music, pottering around, drawing, cooking – being totally screen-free and totally outside my work headspace.

Also, knowing that being incredibly busy isn’t actually a sign that you’re succeeding – being able to get your stuff done and then clock off in the evening, to see friends, to have a glass of wine and read a book – that’s actual success, because it means that you have balance.

Nithya Nagarajan

Do not be guilty when you have to take up a non-creative job to provide for your monetary needs whilst you are making art on the side. Do NOT beat yourself up about it, and see it as an opportunity to use your transferable skills from the studio into the real world and the skills you acquire from the real world back onto the stage. Blur the binaries. They were always constructs anyway.

Chrissie Robinson

Understand that ‘doing well’ is easy when you’re ‘doing well’, so practicing the things that keep you grounded or that calm you is extra important when you’re ‘well’ so that you can automatically do them when you’re stressed and it’s harder.

Know your own stress early warning signs. You’re probably cleaning more/snapping more/ more annoyed at your mum’s SMSs than usual because you’re anxious, not because it’s actually dirty/everyone’s an idiot/your mother is actually insufferable.

Don’t be sanctimonious about being busy – the most functional and successful people are those that take the time for themselves. Also, it makes you ‘that guy’, and we love artists who have time for/interest in others’ ideas too. Be the person someone wants to go to to share excitement about their idea.

And don’t make ‘what are you working on at the moment?’ your only question. There’s more to life than just art and talking about the broader world will only improve your practice. And you.

Jana Perkovic:

Don’t spread yourself thin. Yes means yes. If you commit to a project, you have to give it your best shot. Therefore, be very careful what you say yes to, because you have to be accountable to each ‘yes’ you say.

Be mindful of staying kind and fair to yourself. Never compare yourself to your peers: remember we are all on an individual journey. Remember that you are not your work, and rejection isn’t personal: you are just not the right fit for the project. Cultivate long-term relationships. It is not competition, it is a community. Being an arts worker is a long game.

Anna Kennedy:

Remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun. Play!

Eloise Maree:

Keep going! We are the world needs artists – be brave enough to exist as one. xx

graduatesblak

All photos in this post are from Sarah Walker’s CLUTCH series. Her work can be found here.

 I wrote this for the Monash graduates of the Centre for Theatre and Performance but decided to share it publicly here because it isn’t just graduates that need to think about self-care. Look after yourselves!  

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