interview, My own plays, Theatre, writing

angus cerini: welcome to nowhere, love, terrorism, doubletap, masculinity and storytelling

I’m currently working on a production called Welcome to Nowhere Monash University and the Coopers Malthouse: I am one of five playwrights commissioned to write this new work and I am also the artistic coordinator of the Monash Academy of Performing Arts. It is such a pleasure to be a part of this process and to be supporting artists who are such inspiring and integral parts of our community: director Emma Valente, designer Eugyeene Teh and playwrights Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. The five writers were given the concept ‘Welcome to Nowhere’ and asked to explore the concept of liminality. Emma Valente deliberately left the topic very open and the resulting writing tells of aliens, terrorism, celebrity, grief and a disappearing township.

As part of the lead up to the show, I had students interview the artists involved for the Monash website. The resulting interviews were long, beautiful and full of fucks. (Fucking playwrights.) I created shortened, clean versions for Monash but they are too good not to share with you longform. So enjoy. Part One is Claire MacAllister and Jordan Broadway’s interview with Angus Cerini. 

Angus Cerini, photo by Vikk Shayen

Angus Cerini, photo by Vikk Shayen

If we go back to the start of it all, how did you respond to the brief for Welcome to Nowhere? Was there anything that drove you towards writing in regards to the Sydney Siege?

I heard about the inquests and that idea of being told to sit – being in the moment you know you’re about to die, or the moment the bullet literally explodes your head. That tiny instant of time as ‘Welcome to fucking heaven, hell, purgatory, nothing’. Welcome to nowhere. Nowhere and everywhere. What would it feel like? You can’t do that to an audience so what about love? Elongate that fraction of time where love gets in. Beating the fuck out of terrorism, beating the fuck out of that with love. It’s saying, “it’s terrorism and evil” and then saying, “you’ll never destroy love”. Just try your luck, Satan. Go fuck yourself.

When you’re creating a piece of writing, do you find it easy to then hand it over to a director for the process of mounting the work?

You can’t ever completely trust a director. In this process, I’ve walked out of the room entirely. To me, it’s liberating to go, “Emma, I give you full permission to make whatever the fuck you want” because it’s more about you guys. I like the idea that my piece is challenging, but that Emma’s not going to be absolutely petrified of what the playwright’s gonna make. You’re gonna want to do justice to it. It’s a performance text, there are characters, and to me, there’s a story about two men, two lovers. To me, the idea of romance meeting terror – that’s a kind of ‘everything’. That feels like a drama. Maybe it’s like a bit of love.

What made you realise that you wanted to pursue making theatre?

I got trapped. I just want to say some shit about the world. It is generally easy to put on a show when you think about it. A film you need a lot but a piece of theatre – I think storytelling is quite primary to it too. And I’ve been trying to do that when I write more and more, create a story, because if there’s a story, there’s a narrative. I think an audience will go to really horrible places but you’ve gotta give them a bit of a breather. Neighbours does that. The dog gets hit by a car, then they’re at Lassiter’s and someone’s on a date. Then there’s a kidnapping, and then we’re at the beach having a fucking sing-a-long. It’s the classic sort of ‘you follow every bad scene with a happy one’.

Angus Cerini in RESPLENDENCE, photo by Sebastian Bouges

Angus Cerini in RESPLENDENCE, photo by Sebastian Bouges

So how did your company, Doubletap come about, both the group and the name? How did you start working with those collaborators?

Susie Dee was a lecturer of mine. She came to one of my shows and I was like “I need you to help me, I want to work with you”. I also went to university with Marg [Horwell]. The term ‘Doubletap’ denotes two rounds, two bullets firing in quick succession and it’s considered the most effective way to kill someone. So the first bullet kills them, the second shot makes sure they’re dead. It’s about being ruthlessly efficient. So I imagined theatre like the first bullet wakes you up, the second bullet kind of makes sure you fucking feel something.

Based on the work you do that examines masculinity in modern culture, do you think you’re a feminist?

I don’t know. I remember I wrote a play and put a show on and the two lots of feedback were – “why don’t you write plays about women?” and “it’s good you’re writing about men because you can’t write about women because you’re not a woman”. I’m always trying to figure out what it is to be a man. I think women can communicate with each other, which men do but in a different way. Back when I was growing up, it was such a redneck thing. Now, there are boys dancing. You would not have got that when I was in school. Maybe theatre can change things. Even if it’s just these tiny little voices, a few of them. It’s not that suddenly we’re going to change the world but maybe we can be part of change in the world. I think that’s why I’m so cynical. I’ve found it interesting that I’ve been expecting someone to assume I’m gay for writing about two gay characters, based on those people in the café. It didn’t need to sit there but it did. I felt it there. Two people love each other, one is thinking of the other one as he’s getting killed. That’s just about treating people with respect.

In terms of implementing change, is there anything that you think that young theatre makers should be keeping in their minds?

I’d love to write the kinds of plays that get a massive audience. But every time I try, it’s just shit. I think you should just find your voice. In this country, we don’t have the population, the funding, the philanthropy, the respect for art that you’ve got in Europe. You can either really make a lot of money in this country by either going completely commercial or completely Marina Abramovic. Your lot in life is to have good and bad periods. It’s not a meritocracy. It’s obvious to me that I’m doing this because I can’t help it. I’ve tried to think about what else I might do, but I’m still doing this shit, which suggests that I don’t really have a choice. You’ve got to just do what you do and work at it. You never know where the person sweeping the floor will end up so be nice to everyone.

Is it strange to think about getting better when you’ve been doing this for years?

It gets harder and harder. When you first make a show, it’s the best thing. But with each show, you’re already whittling things away before you get to the next show. Craft is absolutely crucial. Fall back on your craft. I love getting old, you can just look back on your past work and say, “Yeah, that was terrible”.

Do you still get stage fright?

Yeah! Have you ever had that thing on stage where you’re looking at yourself and the audience, you’re outside yourself, watching yourself perform? That’s just part of the game isn’t it? No wonder everyone just gets pissed and fucks everyone else in the green room. I started writing to be seen as an actor. I wrote a play thinking people will see me as an actor and they’ll cast me. Now I’m a fucking writer. What the fuck’s that about? I’m more of a playwright than a performer now. Wait, am I giving you guys a pep talk? Am I an elder statesman right now? Am I like a mentor? Have you got any more questions or can I go back to my gardening?

Of course you can.

Angus Cerini, photo by Simon Schluter

Angus Cerini, photo by Simon Schluter

Welcome to Nowhere runs September 24th-October 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse. Bookings are at the Coopers Malthouse website and at The Melbourne Fringe website

audiences, criticism

‘everyone’s a critic’: a talk

On Sunday I spoke at Scratch Warehouse’s second Artistic Spread event: bring a plate of food and they will bring three visual artists, three performers and three artists to speak about what they do. Because I’m a shameless self-documenter, I recorded it and today I thought I would share it as a sort of audio School for Birds post, as it is mostly about what I do on this blog and why I do it.

Those who regularly read me will see that I plagiarised myself terribly and at the beginning I also sound a little hesitant as I’m not reading from my notes but I really enjoyed putting this together. I think it may have kind of surprised everyone with how ridiculously poetic and academic it got but all the more reason that I think you birds will like it.

Covered in this talk: criticism, empowering your audience, how I conduct post-show audience conversations and what I’ve learnt from them, The City They Burned and how to engage with criticism as an artist.


Speaking at Scratch's Artistic Spread #2

Speaking at Scratch’s Artistic Spread #2. Looking pained about stuff.

“Artists don’t set out to make work that is either good or bad. Most set out to make you feel stuff. Think stuff. To knot your gut, to dry your mouth, to water your eyes, to clench your fists, to find words and images and sounds and sensations to express those things that are either too big or too small for us to realise on a daily basis.

… With this in mind, know how inadequate a response ‘Yeah I really liked it’ is.”

Why does the word ‘critic’ denote a professional and ‘enthusiast’ reek of amateurism? I think ‘enthusiast’ is a much better word for what I do: I enthuse about art. I think it is sad that enthusiasm sounds like a less intellectual or rigorous response.

Thank you to Kieran for helping me with this audio.

audience conversations, Theatre

the last supper: an audience conversation

In the National Gallery of Victoria, Daniel Lammin, Anastasia Ryan and I sit at a table, eating dead men’s meals and talking our way through Reckless Sleepers’ THE LAST SUPPER. The ceiling is high. The table cloth is white. In front of us is a plate of chilli dogs and a jar of pickles.

Screen Shot 2015-07-16 at 9.37.21 am

FLEUR: Ana, what just happened?

ANASTASIA: Well, we just ate some last meals and heard some last words.

FLEUR: Daniel?

DANIEL: With his mouth full. Mmm! I’m eating someone’s last meal. There’s something very strange about the idea that this thing you’re holding in your hand and putting in your mouth is essentially what someone requested as the last thing they would ever do.

One of the actors offers us Champagne.

DANIEL: Oh no thank you.

FLEUR: Oh if I had a – Had a suitable, less red wine-y vessel, yeah!

ANA: You know what, I will have a little bit. I refused you the first time but I’m gonna have some now.

FLEUR: Thank you!

DANIEL: And I’ll just keep eating the Last Chilli Dogs.

FLEUR: Were there last words that particularly got to you?

ANA: The Anastasia one got to me because that’s my name. It was very odd.

FLEUR: The whole Russian Tsar’s family really got to me because it was so violent and then there was the fact that the assassins left the room, had a moment to reflect and then came back and killed children.

ANA: I thought Hiroshima was the strongest moment. Because it was comical but then you had to step back and go “What would have happened?”

FLEUR: It was the suddenness of it.

DANIEL: And the banality of what they were saying.

ANA: And that the first one was “What have we done?” and then everything else was just normal things that you would have a conversation about.

FLEUR: “What have we done?” was very famously said by the pilot who dropped the bomb. He said, “My God, what have we done?”

ANA: And I guess the contrast between hearing that and then hearing all of these common-place, every day things that you would hear all the time… So many people at once.

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

DANIEL: We heard all these famous last words and then we would come to someone we had never heard of, a prisoner who was executed, and you don’t know what their story is. You’ve never heard of them before and all of a sudden you’re having their meal put in front of you and it’s the full stop of a life and I don’t know anything about that life.

FLEUR: I think it humanises people. Everyone has a last word and a last meal, whether they know it is their last or not. They will have that. They will say that.

One that I found particularly moving strangely was Eva Braun. I don’t believe in ‘evil’. I think that that word distances terrible human actions from humans. It tries to make the horror we are capable of something outside of our humanity but if anyone is evil, that’s getting about as close to it as you can get. And that her last words were ones of love (“I do.”) is an incredible thought.

DANIEL: A declaration of commitment to loving one man more than anyone else in the whole world, knowing you’re going to die straight afterwards. Your last statement on this Earth is to say “I love this man and I want to spend whatever eternity I have with him forever.”

FLEUR: What would your last meal be?

ANA: We were talking about this before… (With her mouth full of someone’s last pickles) The man I was sitting with was a vegetarian. He wondered, would he order a steak for his last meal. I don’t know. It is hard for someone in our position to imagine getting to the point where you know the exact moment where your life will end. I think until you’re in that place it is almost impossible to know what you would do.

FLEUR: Daniel, a bowl of fruit was sat down in front of you. I think a peach is a nice way to go out. There’s something about a peach that just says ‘zest for life’.

DANIEL: The chilli dogs were the ones I was just like “Oh my god!” There is half of you going “Oh my God, I really want that” and half of you that’s going “That belonged to someone. That was a decision that somebody made!”

To be honest – assuming she was still alive and if I ever got into the position – I’d probably ask for my grandmother’s meatloaf. Something that actually meant something. I want something with significance. Something that means something.

FLEUR: Even the people who didn’t get a meal, they were still sitting in front of an execution number. It gave this sense of these voiceless masses all around you. This is the most stupid sentence but so many people have died.

I was in the rehearsal room the other day and I’m working on this play that has quite a lot to do with death. There is a new bit of text about the time the government of India introduced flesh-eating turtles to a river because of “corpse overpopulation”. It is an incredible term. “Corpse overpopulation.” They are getting out of hand. They are taking over. There is this sense from The Last Supper that so, so many people have died and every one of those deaths has been a trauma to someone.

DANIEL: The numbers sitting in front of us represent a person who has been killed. Deliberately. Deliberately killed.

FLEUR: Yes! And I really got that. The work never comes out editorialises and says, “We’re anti-Death penalty” but the fact that so many people have died and then so many of those have been killed deliberately and… thoughtfully… Enough people die because of the universe, because of how our bodies work and then some of them we go out of our way to end deliberately. It is a – It is a – Horror.

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Have you ever heard someone’s last words?


ANA: No. Maybe without meaning to.

DANIEL: Oh! Yes! Yes, I have. Well not heard them but I’ve read them. I was the last person that Stuart spoke to before he died. I got – as far as the police can tell – I got the last text message. So… Yeah. I mean, I don’t know if he said anything himself but kind of. Yeah. I guess so. I’ve never thought of that. That’s fucked.

FLEUR: Sorry.

DANIEL: No, that’s alright!

FLEUR: I was there for my grandmother’s last words in the middle of the night but I didn’t realise they were her last so I didn’t – I don’t really know exactly what they were. It was just me and a nurse and her. I checking if she was in pain. I’m pretty sure the last time she was conscious I asked, “What’s your pain out of ten?” and she couldn’t answer. She was on too much morphine. Then I asked “Are you in pain?” I think her last words were “No pain.” I think. It is strange to be like “Oh. They were the last ones and they passed me by.”

DANIEL: Just because they aren’t profound, does that mean that they are any less significant? In some ways the ones that are less profound are the ones that are more significant.

FLEUR: It is impossible for me to ask you what would you want your last words to be but what do you think you would want them to express?

ANA: I like the fun ones, to be honest. Humphrey Bogart’s was my favourite. “I should have stuck to scotch instead of switching to martinis.” I’d like to go with something sassy like that. Yep.

DANIEL: I’d want – I think I’d want to say “thank you”. Something like that. “Thanks. That was great.” I don’t ever want to be reincarnated. I don’t want to come back. I don’t want to do this again. It was hard enough to begin with. I don’t want to come back and do it all over again. Imagine, imagine, imagine coming back but losing all the memories of people and experiences and the things that you’ve done. Having to start all over again. No! So yes, kind of on the lines of “Thanks. That was really good.” I hope. I hope it will be.

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

Photo: Heidrun Lohr

FLEUR: Any last thoughts on this experience tonight?

ANA: I found it really meditative. Less performative and more kind of a washing over. An impression. I enjoyed that a lot. I think it will bring up a lot of thoughts later. Maybe when I’m going to bed tonight I will think about something that they said tonight and be like “hmmm”.

DANIEL: Yeah. I mean death is one of my favourite subjects to think about. Not in a kind of morbid way but I’ve always been fascinated by it. It is the inevitable thing. It is the one thing that is a given in every single person’s life, that we are going to die. And the acceptance, how we accept that, how others accept that, how society accepts that, the idea that it is not necessarily a negative – it can be a positive. You can either be ripped from someone and taken way too soon or it can be the perfect full stop to somebody’s life. The end of the story. Every good story has to come to an end. I always get frustrated with TV series and books that never fucking end. When you end I will know what you meant. I will know what you were doing. So that idea of an ending being kind of beautiful and necessary. Yeah. That’s my wanky thing.

FLEUR: Are you going to eat that last corndog, Daniel?

DANIEL: I can’t. I can’t eat any more. I’ve already eaten a hamburger, half a peach and three chillidogs. I can’t eat any more.

FLEUR: So many last meals. Thanks, guys.

audience conversations, audiences, conversation, Theatre

shit: an audience conversation

Theatre in Melbourne is good right now. Painfully so. Shit, which closed yesterday, is not an easy play to watch but it is urgent, funny, vicious and heartbreaking. I loved it so much and wanted so badly to imprint it on my brain that I went back a second time to see it, bringing my friend (the producer of the Audio Stage podcast), Kieran Ruffles, with me. At the end of the show we sat down in the foyer and, with Paul Simon crooning away in the background, reflected on what we had just seen.

SHIT photo: Sebastian Bourges

SHIT photo: Sebastian Bourges

Kieran: The bit that particularly got to me was when one character asked the other two “When’s the first time you had sex?” and they both completely arced up at her: “You never fucking ask that. What’s fucking wrong with you? You never fucking ask that.”

I started thinking of all the reasons you wouldn’t ask that of a woman in that milieu. And then I thought more about it and thought maybe you shouldn’t ask that of any women – or maybe you shouldn’t ask that of anyone. But the prevalence of sexual abuse, rape and attacks amongst women is statistically demonstrably much higher.

I remember that point in my mid-teens or early-twenties when some women started to open up to me about attacks or abuse or rape that had happened to them and I realised that they were not in the minority. It is in fact something that happens to most women growing up: some form of sexual abuse or inappropriate touching by a relative or a close family friend or straight up date rapes. Guys that they trusted that they still see!

Now we’ve really diverged off the show but to stir that up? That’s… that’s something.

Fleur: That’s what you walked out of there thinking about?

Kieran: Yeah. That was one of the stronger moments for me. I also really – I found it really cool the way that the writing was able to imply that one of the characters was transgender and yet again the milieu that the character was existing in was not one that would be able to recognise that or acknowledge it for what it is. Instead they did that thing that’s you’re really, really not supposed to do with transgender people: “Show us your genitals and prove it”. That was a pretty hard-core moment of transphobia. That was kind of intense. But to get to the point where the character could express it? Just enough to get torn down? Yeah.

Fleur: They’ve created this atmosphere, this world, where they’ll never take themselves seriously. Any moment of revelation, fragility or honesty is dismissed instantaneously.

Kieran: I think they can take each other seriously but sympathy and compassion are not in the lexicon and a nuanced understanding of issues is actively discouraged.

Fleur: I thought Peta Brady’s performance was remarkable the whole way through. All of them were but Peta I found particularly fascinating because she balances that roughness and a similar level of street toughness but it is so much bravado. There is desperation and neediness under it. She vocalises what the others won’t: “I thought we’d be together. I thought they’d let us stay together! We need to stay together! I can’t – Can’t – ” There is this absolute desperation – this need to have someone tell her what to do and take control of her life.

Kieran: That moment of realising that they might be separated from each other represents almost the maximum cruelty that you can imagine being visited on these characters: to be denied understanding of a peer. Yeah. And. Yeah. The most hopeful character is the one who can’t believe that would happen and the other two are equally but oppositely convinced that that is exactly what’s going to happen.

Fleur: I think she names her plays so well, Patricia. I know it is a funny thing to mention but she does. That this title, SHIT, is plastered over these three women is such an interesting provocation to the audience as they come in. Like, go on. Think of them as shit. Think of them as total shit. They do! They think of themselves as that.

Kieran: Yeah. I didn’t realise that’s where the name came from until today. Until I was reading the one-paragraph blurb about the show. I sort of thought “alright. Wow. We’re going to be confronted by something that is very much about class as well as whatever other – “ and perhaps it is entirely about class!

Fleur: And the invisibility of a particular group of people! I think in a way she wants them to feel quite foreign on this MTC stage and to this audience. There’s a sense of “we’re going to stand in front of you, talk in Aussie accents and be so clearly of this place and time and yet dare you to judge. Dare you to question yourself as you judge us.” I think she wants us to make them alien and other, so that once we’ve pushed them as far from ourselves as possible, hopefully we’ll stop and ask how we can justify this alienation and their invisibility.

Kieran: Yeah, yeah! Within this hardcore vernacular we’ll reveal these layers of nuance to these characters, reveal –

Fleur: Such humanity!

Kieran: Such humanity, yeah!

Fleur: Such ravaged tenderness.

Kieran: Mmmm. That’s good. I like that.

Fleur: Yeah. So do I. I must remember that. Yeah.

Photo: Sebastian Bourges

Photo: Sebastian Bourges

Kieran: Yeah. The presence of men throughout – the absent presence of men –

Fleur: Yeah, how is that as a man to watch? Represent your whole gender, please!

Kieran: Yeah! Sure! No worries! No. Fairly early on I realised that the men that were going to be talked about in this play were the type of men I’ve had to grow used to hearing about and not taking it personally. You can drive yourself completely nuts with that shit as a guy. Constantly trying to go “No, but not all men!” There’s a hashtag now and by its use you will be known to be a bit of a douchebag. I don’t need to stand up and yell “hashtag notallmen”. I can just go “enough men that this needs to be talks about again and again and again. Clearly enough.” So, yay there’s exceptions! Boo there’s a rule to have an exception to. Like, fuck. I I I I don’t have to take it personally but I do have to let it show me my gender. Show me the acts of people that share my gender. Yeah.

Fleur: It also doesn’t paint a good picture of women, either. The women that they speak of other than themselves? These bitches that try but aren’t sincere…. I’m not saying that they talk about women in quite the same way but everyone who is an outsider to them is such an outsider to them. They’ve created this team – this tiny team – and – Not “they’ve created”, the world has made them into this tiny team and everyone else is on the other side. Which is understandable when you’ve suffered the kind of abuse, neglect and trauma that young people coming up through the foster system are regularly exposed to.

Kieran: Yeah, look I think the work doesn’t like any men or any women particularly. The work does not like the central characters, those central characters do not like other women and they don’t like men particularly either. That’s the whole point of the ‘Caitlyn’ character, right? They invent a person who is just nice. She is mythical. She shares some characteristics with some real women that they’ve met but is in no way based on any real women that they’ve met.

Fleur: But one of them has met a Caitlyn before and found her a bit weird when she did meet her. Caitlyn is a caricature of someone who tries to hold you – to love you and save you – in a really futile, symbolic way that means nothing to you when you are so far gone that acts of love are just confusing.

Kieran: No I think they posit Caitlyn as a genuine possible solution. Just one that has never happened. I don’t think she is posited as the mirage of comfort. But no one is coming off well. Male or female. Humans are all a bit shit.

Fleur: Well I don’t think it is that humans are all a bit shit. It is that all humans these women have come into contact with are shit. Like in that part where they talk about: “Is anyone really kind?” “I think they might be.” “Well name one.” “I can’t.” Somewhere out there is kindness but it’s never going to brush up against them. They know that it exists – they’ve seen it at a distance – but never been able to put their hands on it and really get a true understanding of what it actually means to be treated with kindness or dignity or love or respect.

Kieran: I don’t know, it feels more like some kind of societal myth that they are participating in: The Good Person. They know that they definitely are not good, that no one they’ve ever met is and yet it comes through that they still kind of believe it is possible. But it is in some rarefied other world that they don’t participate in. They don’t live in.

Fleur: Let’s leave it there. That’s heaps for me to type. You’re not allowed to say anything smart after I turn this off.

Kieran: That’s good. I really tried to concentrate my smart comments.

Fleur: So smartness ends right – three, two, one – now!

Photo: Sebastian Bourges

Photo: Sebastian Bourges

Kieran Ruffles is a musician, radio producer and producer of the podcast, Audio Stage, which I host with Jana Perkovic. We are currently in the second season and are focusing on responsibility and ethics in art. The first episode of the season featured the playwright of SHIT, Patricia Cornelius, along with fellow playwright Melissa Reeves. The most recent episode, launched today, features Jane Howard and Richard Watts talking about the ethics of criticism. 

creativity, My own plays, Theatre, writing

on beginnings, honey, sweat, venetian blinds and ali g

I am in the midst of re-writes for two scripts with two more on hold. In this moment where every document I open screams for completion, patience and courage, I’ve been thinking about the beginnings of plays: those moments when a character walks onto the page and moves in to your life.

I don’t write about my own work too often (although this blog is full of arts writing so personal that the whole exercise may be termed narcissism) but today I want to talk about the beginnings of some of my plays. I thought about asking other writers to contribute but, in the end, I decided to go full narcissist. There is a romance to beginnings and these memories I treasure. In this moment when four of my babies are paused, caught in indecision and fear, I want to return to these memories and recall the joy of falling in love.

Unicorn, begun December 9th, 2010

I was living on the second story of an apartment block where only trees could peer in my window. Because of this I often forgot to lower the blinds. One day I remembered midway through getting changed, but when I tried to close it, the venetian broke, as they seem designed to do. I managed to fix it and the blind slowly jerked down. I imagined what the trees were seeing: my naked body slowly disappearing in a series of jolting moments. Suddenly it wasn’t the trees that were my witness, it was a boy named Kit. The greenery became tropical, the atmosphere sweaty and then I was gone too. Instead of me it was a nameless woman, fifteen years his senior and he watched her with religious devotion. I wrote this:

“By night, she seemed to glow. In that city of sunburn, she was the whitest person I had ever seen and this was part of her mystique: how she managed to avoid the crumbling and peeling of skin which we all suffered six months of the year. She did not seem to tan or burn but she did grow a fine mist of freckles across her face in the time I watched. A token gesture of her initiation into the community; a traveler coming to rest. … Her blind was problematic, to say the least, so each night she disappeared in a series of sudden jolts.  Bang: the top of her head disappeared, cutting off the left eye. Bang: with an irritated tug she would correct the slant and the right side would catch up, both eyes out of the picture. Bang: my television screen was limited to the neck down. Bang: navel. The last I would see was a slither of milky thighs before this too blinked out. The mass has ended. Peace be with you.”

Kit and his neighbour became a short story and then a novel but, having never written a novel, I eventually gave up on the idea but not on Kit. He became the boy in the midst of the Vietnam War who decided that men were all doomed and became a woman. The milky neighbour and his voyeurism were cut but it was in the writing of this scene and the jerks of that blind that I came to understand Kit: always outside the window looking in, seeing the poetry in everyone else’s body and feeling the chemistry in his own.

A self-portrait in that room.

A self-portrait in that room.

I spent years on Unicorn and it was never staged. But I never tried very hard. I owe a lot to this text. I learnt a lot and loved a lot. The text is steeped in death and the notebook it is written in also contains the writing I did at the bedside of my dying grandmother. The deaths, fictional and real, laced together. Something I initially wrote for my grandmother’s found its way into the play when I cut it from her eulogy.

ALBA: I was thinking how – When you die and when you love your family as much as our dads loved us – how dying must be like – like you were reading this really amazing book and – like – you were really into the story and you knew all the characters as well as you knew yourself and then someone came along and tore out the ending. Like, you know these characters – the people you love – are going to go on and on but you’ll never read it. And I was thinking if I were to die, that’d be the thing I’d be most sad about. Not knowing how they end.


KIT: If your dad could hear you now – what ending would you tell him?

ALBA: I don’t know. I haven’t got to the end yet, have I?

Yours The Face, begun January 1st, 2013

Emmy and I met on a train, passing through snow-covered English paddocks.

My grandmother had just died and I was in England staying with my sister and her family. I was finishing Unicorn when a photographer I greatly admire proposed I write a text that he project images over. I had to turn down the offer but the idea of writing about the creation of photos stuck with me.

“I work hard to make my letters all fancy and shit. I write ‘Nan I am England.’ And I have to go back and put a little arrow and add ‘in’ and that pisses me off. ‘I am in England and I’m working hard and every other person speaks a different language but they all seem to get each other like as if they’re all speak the same.’”

“I work hard to make my letters all fancy and shit. I write ‘Nan I am England.’ And I have to go back and put a little arrow and add ‘in’ and that pisses me off. ‘I am in England and I’m working hard and every other person speaks a different language but they all seem to get each other like as if they’re all speak the same.’”

Emmy came to me on the train and, since I could not write to my own grandmother, I wrote a postcard to hers.

To find Emmy’s voice and differentiate her from the other character, Peter, I initially tried to write her phonetically. It was a disaster and Raimondo Cortese told me she was sounding like Ali G but those embarrassing attempts did help me find her.

I found her a long time before Peter, who now almost dominates the play. He is charismatic and an over-talker but I find it very touching and poignant that she came first for, despite his bluster and her perceived passivity, she is powerful one. She survives everything thrown at her.

Blessed, begun January 28th, 2013

I was in Adelaide housesitting and two playwright friends, Cat and Sharon, had roadtripped over to hold an impromptu writing retreat in my parent’s house. Think of an Adelaide summer. Think of the dogs lying under the table, stretched as long as they can stretch so as to press their bodies against the tiles. Outside the grape leaves wilt. Inside I play a song by Elbow, Jesus is a Rochdale Girl, and then set a timer for fifteen minutes. That’s how long we have to write a response.

MAGGIE: This place stinks. GREY: It’s you’re ciggie. MAGGIE: Not even. It stinks through the smoke. That’s one hell of a smell you got goin on here, you know that? GREY: Do now. MAGGIE: Should empty your bins. GREY: I will. MAGGIE: Should clean your teeth. GREY: Okay. MAGGIE: Should get some shit from the supermarket, pour it down the fuckin drain and just run the taps full blast day and night for a week. That’s what you should do. GREY: Fine. MAGGIE: And that’s not me bein some neat freak, tight cunt, highly strung whatever. That’s just basic fuckin hygiene, that is. Dunno how you live like this.

MAGGIE: This place stinks.
GREY: It’s you’re ciggie.
MAGGIE: Not even. It stinks through the smoke. That’s one hell of a smell you got goin on here, you know that?
GREY: Do now.
MAGGIE: Should empty your bins.
GREY: I will.
MAGGIE: Should clean your teeth.
GREY: Okay.
MAGGIE: Should get some shit from the supermarket, pour it down the fuckin drain and just run the taps full blast day and night for a week. That’s what you should do.
GREY: Fine.
MAGGIE: And that’s not me bein some neat freak, tight cunt, highly strung whatever. That’s just basic fuckin hygiene, that is. Dunno how you live like this.

At the top of the page I write the lyrics: “I celebrate and mourn… Jesus is a Rochdale Girl… Got a house that you can smoke in.” Beneath it I write the first five pages of Blessed. The characters are labelled ‘A’ and ‘B’ but by the end of the day they have names and a completed first scene. Today, many drafts later, that scene is almost identical to the one I wrote that first day.

Other parts of Blessed I sweated over. The structure was so, so difficult. I remember telling Bridget Mackey that it was the hardest thing I’d ever written and she told me I said that every time. Sometimes it feels like a play grants you a win. This first day was that win. Blessed seemed to be telling me “I’ll give you this one. I’ll pour this one out like honey because you need a win now and you will need a win in the future. When you are utterly confused, re-read what I’ve given you and remember that we’ll get there.

I remember hearing once from a novelist who believed that if, on your first day of writing you don’t write fifteen pages then you probably aren’t inspired enough to write that novel. I don’t believe that. I’ve spoken here for three relatively pain-free beginnings. They were pain-free because they all began with a character whose clear voice made itself known to me. Those that begin with a concept are harder to start and usually I have to come at them sideways.

For WILDS, I carefully read the book it was inspired by and after each chapter I made myself write a scene or monologue as a response. I feel like I sort of tricked myself into writing these. I told myself they were just ‘moment’, just me processing what I’d read with no pressure to actually write something usable. By the end of the book I had 27 moments of theatre, many crap but some exciting. Some that revealed to me who and what I was dealing with.

I haven’t had one of those honey days in a while. It’s been sweat days for months and that’s okay. I’ll fight it out. Because there are things I want to say and I know I’ll find a way to tell them eventually. Some days it is nice to remember that not every page is a hard one. That plays want to be written and will sometimes help you along.

Dramaturgical Analysis, Responses, Theatre

dream home: on desperation, alienation, passivity and the smell of meat

DREAM HOME by Emilie Collyer, directed by Luke Kerridge

THE LOBBY Give people a space to arrive into. It doesn’t have to be a lobby. It can be a passage. An alcove. If you arrive in a living space, that space will become transitional; a thoroughfare on the way to other rooms.

In many ways, I fear writing about Dream Home. My initial response was not intellectual. It was physical. It brought out a symphony of nervous ticks. In the foyer afterwards I interrupted conversations to turn off neglected power points and I left Northcote Townhall drumming the most calming rhythm I know:

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5

The play was the theatrical equivalent of a long string of jumpy, obsessive twitches. Emilie Collyer’s jolting words were wound so tight that they spasmed in the mouths of the actors, all of whom had the desperate look of creatures attempting to pass for human with varying levels of success. The production and text combined to create an alien world, made stranger by its familiarity; more claustrophobic by its open plan dining rooms. It was so unified, so absorbing that I was sucked into their rhythmic convulsions:

1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 3 4 5 1 2 1 2 1 2 1 2 3 4 5

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

THE KITCHEN The kitchen has to be functional. It is, above all else, a workspace. Be careful of the size: there is a fine balance between cluttered and a space so big that you will have to walk back and forwards as you move from appliance to bench space. Remember that this room will mostly be used at night. Lighting is important. You don’t want shadows.

So this couple built a house instead of a child, a house that is simultaneously their dream and the end of dreaming, their triumph and demise. Their childlessness is built into its very joins and rivets. Possible futures, possible children and possible romances have been sealed behind the new wall, which glows with unfulfilled promise. This is a house that must be occupied. It demands inhabitants, guests and the latest appliances, that melt cheese to the perfect texture.

It made me think of an aeroplane: all those people tied to specific, labelled chairs, fed individually wrapped pieces of food and mass produced pieces of entertainment to keep them happy and make them forget how helpless they are and how far away the ground is.

In many ways, I found the characters as individuals to be somewhat irrelevant to Dream Home. They were part of the fauna of this world but it was the house that held my attention. Structurally too, an argument could be made for the eradication of almost any of the guests, for each opened a narrative almost too big to explore. Every one of them was the outsider in their own particular way. And yet, their collective presence adds greatly to the script. Yes: a play could be written about a couple and their movie-star friend or the architect who sees through their walls or the young woman who arrives bleeding on their doorstep, the soldier whose body is betraying him or the ravenous young man. Each of these stories could be separate and yet it is the community they create – a community made up entirely of mismatched pieces of humanity – that creates the bizarre and intoxicating atmosphere of danger, regret and sex, cloaked in the smell of cooking meat. The presence of Dean, a man born whole and hungry from within the walls of the house, further adds to the sense that all conversations and all actions are being manipulated by the building itself.

I write like this today because Dream Home made me feel like I was wandering in and out of rooms at a party, dipping into conversations, hoping to find one that did not reek of desperation. No such luck. What makes this ensemble of characters work is that they illustrate that this is not an illness contained to one room or one couple: the house infects all who enter it.

THE BEDROOM Light is important in all rooms but in the bedroom it is crucial to get it right. Try having windows on multiple sides. This will mean that the room changes with the seasons. Ideally, you want fresh air. You want a sense of calm and generosity. You want peace.

Guests never arrive in Dream Home. They appear or are discovered as if a giant child’s hand has reached into their dolls house and added another misshapen plastic figurine. It gave me the sensation that only Wendy and Brian were real; that perhaps the rest of their world was invented.

And there was something toy-like about them all: a soldier, a celebrity, a comedian, an architect and a hungry stranger. The characters are nuanced and complicated, all beautifully performed and yet all are somehow less than they could be, for they have found themselves in the house of No Possibilities. The house of Stick To Your Script. Each seems caught in a life defined by how others perceive them. Now, like dolls, they are coming apart at the seams.

The characters are working so hard to be the men and women they think they should be, the failures of their bodies is tragic and strangely inevitable: Wendy’s ‘inhospitable cervix’, the soldier’s weeping eye, Brian’s shuddering which no amount of running will still, the architect’s frothing mouth, Elise’s bleeding knee and Irene’s womb, so quick to produce daughters to hate her but never giving her a son and a reason to leave acting.

The soldier, played beautifully by Ben Clements, I found particularly fascinating. Like the other invited male guest, the architect, he is nameless and defined by his profession but his is built on physical strength. The other men treat him as a giant of unimpeachable masculinity and yet this body they idolise is betraying him. Whilst he still easily overpowers Dean, the fact that he has to hints that this will not be the case for long. Perhaps it is his one weeping eye that enables his escape. In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is King.

Emily Tomlins and Jackson Trickett, photo: Pia Johnson

Emily Tomlins and Jackson Trickett in DREAM HOME, photo: Pia Johnson

THE BATHROOM Keep the things most used closest to the door. You don’t want to walk through puddles to get to the hand basin. You’ll want a sensible amount of cupboard space. It is easy to let bathrooms get cluttered. Each person has so many things.

In Dream Home there are gendered spaces and conversations. Traditional concepts of masculinity and femininity are ever present but no one seems quite able to fill them. Elise, the comedian, pines for an image of female friendship that she has never experienced whilst Brian, beer in hand, rambles on about wars he will never fight.

BRIAN:            But we can’t all fight. You know, there’s other ways to contribute. Be a man… I run but it’s… Well I track the kilometres and I’m getting fit.

I feel I could write a room of this house for every character, for each opens their own door. Any argument or theory I form excludes one of them because this is the home of outsiders. But the bathroom is Irina’s space. Irina’s passivity is distressing to the viewer and the sex between her and Dean feels like a violation of everyone implicated, including the audience.

DEAN:               Gestures to Irina You know she’ll let you do anything to her. Any position. All you have to do after is tell her she’s beautiful. And you don’t even have to do that.

Irina views her passivity as strength. As the celebrity, she appears to move through the world with power and control and yet her methods of maintaining this illusion are entirely based on yielding her body and choices to other people. Her career began the day she lay inside a mermaid tail slick with her own blood without complaint for hours on end. She tells this story with pride, as if distilling pearls of wisdom. This is an attitude I’ve seen and heard many times. “The model was such a trooper. She twisted her ankle getting out of the car but we still shot for another five hours. She just put ice on it during touch ups.” I wish I were exaggerating. I am not. The glorification of passivity, compliance and willingness to work through pain is everywhere in creative industries. In Dream Home, Elise, the young comedian, calls this mentality what it is:

IRINA:                      You know who I am, right?

ELISE:                      Of course. You’re amazing.

IRINA:                      Thank you.

ELISE:                      The way you’ve been exactly what they want you to be.

Olivia Monticciolo as Elise performs this scene with absolute sincerity and naivety, which is what makes it so convincing. There is another version of this play, a simpler version performed by another actor paired with another director, which shows Elise as manipulating the older women with a deliberate viciousness. This innocence is part of the character’s trajectory. That she ends up with the house and child of other women is not a victory born of maliciousness, it is a tragedy, avoidable if only she had the mistrust of Wendy.

From the very start, Wendy knows all is not well. Emily Tomlins’ performance is beautiful and heartbreaking. As the only character truly aware of the dangers of their world, she becomes our grasping point; the person whose eyes you want to meet at that party before mouthing, “let’s get out of here”. I got the impression that, moments before the play begun, Wendy’s reflection had reached out of the mirror and slapped her. “What are we doing here, Wendy? This isn’t what we wanted.”

THE DECK A lot of people make their deck too narrow for what they want to use it for. They need to be deep and generous to be habitable. A deck is the connective tissue between the indoors and the outdoors. A transition into the rest of the world.

In the last season of 30 Rock, Jenna Marony and her partner, Paul, invent the fetish ‘Normaling’. They go shopping at Bed, Bath and Beyond and “shop for home necessities in front of everybody” without climaxing once. Slowly it dawns on them that perhaps this isn’t a fetish. Maybe it is just their lives now.

I think artists have both a deep fascination with and a horror of normality. Let’s be honest: most of us come from some version of blissed-out suburbia. Perhaps this is the reason that someone will always bring a Gregory Crewdson photo to an initial design meeting. His images confirm that we are right: suburbia is a fantasy built on thin, cracking ice. Dread or magical escape await below the surface.

We return to suburban bliss again and again because it is both what we know and what we fear. Are we ‘normaling’ or are we normal? Perhaps a bit of both. But here lies the purpose of art: to make alien the familiar and familiar the alien. As you pull out of the driveway and look back on your Dream Home, think of Viktor Shklovski:

“Habitualisation devours works, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war… and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make one feel things, to make the stone stoney. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known.”

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

Thank you to my architect father, David Kilpatrick, for his willingness to let his extensive knowledge and always thoughtful practice be turned into jaunty little tidbits of advice in a dramaturgical essay. One of his beautiful buildings, the Aldinga Beach Children’s Centre just received a national commendation. He creates beautiful spaces for children and I am very proud of him. Always.

Texting with Emilie Collyer this morning. Thank you to Emilie for sending me the script and for making something so complex and beautiful.

Texting with Emilie Collyer this morning. Thank you to Emilie for sending me the script and for making something so complex and beautiful.

conversation, criticism, interview

laura davis: on comedy, personal attacks, reviews and misogyny

I write so much about the beautiful, positive aspects of critical culture but last week I was at a friend’s house and Laura Davis, award-winning comedian, bonsai grower and all-round fantastic lady, started speaking about how she experiences criticism in the comedy industry. What she said was so compelling that less than a week later I was sitting opposite her with a microphone. This isn’t about the joys of critical culture.This is a different story. And it is important. It is about what it is like to be a solo performer in an incredibly brutal industry. I wish I could convey her tone of voice, which was so blasé as she spoke of rape threats and reviews rife with misogyny. She just gets it done. She makes comedy. And she is fucking good at it.

Laura’s most recent show, Ghost Machine, recently won Best Independent Show at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) and is returning to the Butterfly Club for a brief season June 2nd to June 7th. If you are in Melbourne, go and see her work. She is a fierce and hilarious storyteller. I’m so happy to bring you this interview.


GHOST MACHINE, photo: Esther Longhurst

FLEUR: In the early days of your career, how did you cope with the opinions of others?

LAURA: I realised what I was walking towards. I won the Raw Comedy competition in Perth and was being sent to the national finals here in Melbourne. It is a huge part of the industry and yet it is a very small thing. Essentially it is just people trying five minute sets, doing their first, second, third gigs and being judged on that. I won and there was just a tiny little news article online announcing it. Friends started saying, “Don’t google yourself. Don’t look anything up online. Don’t type your name in.” And I was like “Why? Why not?” “Just don’t.”

So I didn’t. I didn’t until I got back form the national finals but when I got back it just felt a little bit unfair that everybody had been reading these things and I was not involved. So I googled it. And about half an hour later I vomited.

It was probably people that I knew, people in the industry and friends of people who didn’t win. It is a very small community in Perth and it was just a very long thread of hate speech: very misogynistic disgusting opinions on my body, some threats, “I hope someone rapes her so she learns a lesson” and stuff like that.

I’d just turned twenty. By the time I did the Raw final it was my fifth gig. That has – It has never happened when a man has won that competition. That scrutiny was because a woman had won. People didn’t like that. And, you know, if they didn’t like me that is totally allowed but I remember at that particular point going “Ah. This is going to be personal forever.”

I speak with my voice. With my face. That’s what I like about the art form but, at the same time, any criticism is very targeted and very personal.

FLEUR: Yes. I feel like the difference between theatre criticism and comedy criticism is that if someone doesn’t like your show in theatre, they don’t like your show. If someone doesn’t like your show in comedy, they don’t like you. As a human being.

LAURA: Yep. As a person walking around in the world. As the product of your parents.


PILLOW OF STRENGTH, photo: Stevie Cruz Martin Photography

FLEUR: How did that early experience inform how you went forward?

LAURA: I think it was good in a lot of ways. It just felt… It was a shallow lesson to learn. It wasn’t cutting or brutal. I remember it did hurt and it did make me feel sick that people had been so preoccupied with me. But in your first shows, you get reviewed and you still don’t really know what you are doing and they are very personal criticisms. I think I just got to learn fast that it really doesn’t matter. It is one person’s opinion.

I remember doing my first solo show and being nervous about getting the reviewers in and then going “Oh. It’s just one guy.” Like, they sit in the front row and it is just one man. And if we hung out, I might not like him either.

This year I told the reviewers “no” a whole bunch. All the other years I’ve always gone “Everybody! Everybody come! Of course, please review for your blog!” I’ve had a few negative experiences of that. One said, “With her brightly coloured poster and high-pitched voice you would expect Laura to be this and she’s not.” I can’t help what my voice sounds like. It’s just my voice. I’m not comping them to come and write what they think I should talk about.

FLEUR: To me, a lot of what criticism is about is having this documentation of your work and audience and engaging in this critical dialogue. I feel like you don’t trust them to have a dialogue that you have an interest in participating in.

LAURA: There is a comedy reviewer, Steve Bennett. When he comes to review my shows, I’m interested in his opinions because he reviews all the shows in Edinburgh and all the shows in Melbourne. He is one of the only people in the industry that actually reviews comedy. I know he has seen my previous work and I know that he has seen everybody else’s work in the country and the UK so I’m interested in what he thinks of it. If what you’re trying to make isn’t translating and you get reviews that are all confused than it is fair enough to doubt yourself.

FLEUR: What don’t you want to see in a review?

LAURA: Please don’t mention anything that I can’t help. Please don’t mention that I’m young unless you have a point as to why that relates to anything. Don’t mention that I’m female: my name is a girl’s name so people will be able to infer that themselves. Don’t mention what I’m wearing. Don’t refer to me by my hair colour! “The brunette enters the stage!” Don’t refer to any woman by their hair colour!

Don’t critique the venue. I didn’t mind people mentioning it for Ghost Machine because it was part of the show and added a lot to the experience but if it is just in a little theatre, just know that the comedian is paying a ridiculous amount of money to hire that space. There were 580 shows in MICF this year and that’s how many venues we need to find. You get what you get.

Don’t just compare them to other comedians that you like or don’t like. Don’t go “Oh she was good but she was not like this one that I really like!” That’s fucking useless. Don’t give away my punch lines. Don’t butcher them if you do.

Don’t make assumptions. Last year’s show was a personal story about an abusive relationship but don’t write extrapolations on my character based on that: “Laura must be this now because she was this.” “Because of her nature as this, Laura was in this relationship.”


LOOK OUT, IT’S A TRAP!, photo: Stevie Cruz Martin Photography

The Age this year gave me 4 stars, which was nice but there were big gaps in her attention. In the review I could tell that she was not listening for parts of it. There’s one part where I’m drinking from a large bottle of ‘wine’ but it is water and I say that. I say, “This is water, by the way. I can’t drink any alcohol. It makes me too introspective.” In her review she writes “Laura stands there shrieking and swigging from a bottle of cheap wine” and you’re like “No. No. I relationally explained exactly what was happening and, whilst I’m loud, I’m not hysterical.” She wouldn’t participate. There are a lot of audience questions in that show. They are not mean and they are not intrusive but they are part of the show. I had asked several people around her and I turned to her and asked “How about you?” And she goes “Oh no!” and points to her notepad. So you can’t participate in the show that you’re reviewing?

FLEUR: You can’t be a part of this thing when the whole experience is being a part of it?

LAURA: Yeah. That really frustrated me. To have her ignoring the show because she was focusing on writing the review.

FLEUR: Going back to that incident after the Raw Comedy. I just think it is fucking gutsy to read all of that and just go “well, this is what my industry is” and keep going. I can’t imagine enduring that at such a young age.

LAURA: I wanted to do stand up so badly. It just felt unfair to go “Well these people think this so therefore I can’t do what I want to do.”

The industry is brutally personal so you just have to learn to deal with it. It has only been seven and a half years that I’ve been performing. These days there aren’t a lot of social consequences that you can deter me with. I’ve had a room of 2,500 people hate me when I know that I have to perform for fifteen minutes to get paid and I’m only at five. You just have to accept that 2,500 people don’t like you today. They don’t like you and you’re not sure why but you’ll work it out later.

It is the same with reviews. If you tweet at me and say something nasty and then ask me out, I can make a pretty good guess about what you’re like as a person and whether or not I value your opinion. If you are too uptight to participate in my show when I ask you a question, I’ll factor that in when I read the review. That feels like the best way to do it: factor in someone’s personality. If you have an old creepy man who wants to ask you out in a review, factor that in when you read his criticism saying that you were short, shrill and frumpy but he would still like to bang you. And if a woman is screaming at all the venue staff that she is menopausal and then writes that you are too young, it is probably because she is menopausal and she hates the fact that you are “too young”.

The only joke I had for that was that if I’m too young she should come back and see it again because I’ll be older then. She’ll like it more and more every night by a fraction.