audience conversations, conversation, criticism, personal, Responses, Sex, Theatre

in conversation: f. by riot stage youth theatre

When I came to record audience conversations of F., (my first in a long time, apologies) my SD card was full of a previous conversation: 

Interlude 1: Setting, an outdoor courtyard of a Geelong cafe. A confused 90-year-old sits with her granddaughter. 

Her: What’s that?

Me: It’s a microphone recorder.

Her: Oh really.

Me: Yeah. You were telling me such good stories on the –

Her: Pardon?

Me: You were telling me such good stories in the car on the way here so I thought –

Her: Was I?

Me: You were.

Her: I don’t think I was.

So my SD card was full the night I recorded with random audience members for F. and I only recorded two incomplete conversations, presented here with interludes from my grandmother. 

Know that this production resulted in some beautiful conversations, not all of which I was able to capture. Know that I feel privileged to have had these conversations with these articulate young people, reflecting on growing up with the internet in the 21st Century. Know that I was thrilled to have been so provoked and unsettled by the teenagers of Riot Stage and that it was a delight to see them owning their voices and stories. Know too that my grandmother would never in a million years understand any of it. 

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 1: Setting, sitting on the floor of a corridor outside the theatre. Two eighteen-year-olds, who have never seen theatre like this before, sit holding hands. They have just finished year twelve exams. 

Me: So what just happened in there? What was there?

Nelly: That was confusing at times!

Me: What do you think happened to you?

Zac: Just discussing issues sort of facing teenagers and that. Yeah. And just the chaotic vibe of it and yeah it’s… you can sort of relate to it I suppose. Um. Yeah.

Nelly: We’ve seen school musicals and stuff but it’s not like that at all. Our school plays are like Pride and Prejudice and stuff. This is like, really different.

Zac: Seems much more relevant and real I suppose. Much more relatable than the perfect pictures that TV and that paint.

Me: Big question but how do you feel about the internet? It’s our whole lives, I know.

Zac: Me and her sort of started being friends on the internet. We were in the same class but I was really shy. I just won’t talk but online I was really loud.

Nelly: Like he had two personalities.

Me: So if it was thirty years ago, when introductions were all walking up to someone and asking them to dance at a mixer, you’d never have talked.

Zac: Nup. That’s why the Internet has a lot of negative aspects but at the same time, it’s very useful in connecting people. We wouldn’t have this connection without it.

End conversation 1.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude: 

Me: You were talking about Nelson and your uncles playing cricket.

Her: Was I?

Me: Yeah. Did granddad play any sport?

Her: Oh… He usually played golf.

Long pause.

Me: Did you ever try golf.

Her: I don’t think so.

Me: Those sons of your must have got it from somewhere.

Her: Do they play golf?

Conversation 2: Setting, a square of lawn outside the venue. My legs are pink with grass allergy and will continue to sting for an hour afterwards.

Me: What happened to you in there?

Jules: I think I was reminded of the distance between being a young adult and being a teenager. And what it’s like to be a teenager. It’s amazing how much you forget even in a couple of years. I’m twenty-two and it was amazing just to be like, there’s definitely –

A parade of motorbikes roar past.  

Me: We’ll give them a moment.

More motorbikes.

Jules: Okay. Rude.

We wait. They pass. We resume.

Jules: I just thought it was a really beautiful representation of being a teenager.

Doug: To me it was sort of this mish-mash collection of snippets, just reminding you of what it’s like to be a teenager. And I mean, I’m 19 so I’m closer to being that teenager but there’s still that incredible distance that forms when you hit uni and you leave that whole high school mentality. I think this did a really good job of reminding me of that and how it feels to be in that claustrophobic environment. It reminds you of all the weird things teenagers do and how their brains work.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

When I was a sixteen-year-old I didn’t know how to express myself very well. It was a lot like in the show, you’d have characters just switching topics almost on a dime, just talking awkwardly. It was a lot like that. Now I find it a lot easier to structure what I’m trying to say and separate my thoughts.

Me: Could you express yourself better online?

Doug: Yeah, I think so. It was useful because it sort of gave me time to think about what I was trying to say.

Jules: It is this weird Schrodinger’s Cat thing of being heard and not heard. You can scream into the void but there might be someone listening. If you feel like you can’t express yourself properly at high school or with you friends or family, you end up with this strange sort of dynamic where you simultaneously might have someone hearing you and understanding you and saying ‘it’s gonna be okay’ but you also have this freedom just to say whatever you want because there might not be anyone listening. It is a strange dynamic.

Interlude: 

Me: When you were a teenager, working on the farm. What did you do for fun?

Her: I think they took me shopping with them. Thursday was a shopping day. I don’t know if it was much fun.

Me: Did you like reading?

Her: I never did very much reading.

Me: What was your favourite thing about Granddad?

Her: Granddad?

Me: My granddad.

Her: Your granddad? He was away at the First World War, granddad. He didn’t have a very happy life afterwards.

Me: That’s your dad? Is there anything you remember doing with him?

Her: No, I don’t think so.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 2:

Me: I really loved the scene early on: the two boys chatting with the text behind them and just how understated it was: ‘I came out to my parents, we had tacos,’ that kind of thing. I’m 30 and this was a great reminder how, in such a short time, what was a big deal has changed and become a regular part of adolescence. Still, there are people for whom coming out is a big deal and is traumatic and has frightening and very real consequences, but for a lot of young gay people, that’s not the toughest part of being a teenager. The main difficulty for that teenager was just being a teenager: being caught in that land between autonomy/self-realisation and that childhood dependence on others.

Doug: I remember when I came out to my mum and she just turned to me and said ‘oh I know’. I was like ‘oh okay.’ I was fifteen or sixteen. I’d been expecting more drama I guess. She’d always been very accepting but yeah it was… odd.

I think the scene that’s sticking with me the most is with the two girls that were sitting watching porn and just that raw discussion of sexuality and their vaginas. When you’re a teenager with a trusted friend and you haven’t really explored these things before, you just talk about it. She was talking about how she wanted to change how her vagina looked and stuff – that really introspective stuff that adults are a lot less likely to just let out because it comes rooted in insecurities and things like that. I used to talk a lot about things I didn’t feel great about. Mostly to close friends, a lot of them I only knew through the Internet, which I think really helped. Like, I don’t really know this person, so it won’t matter as much if I just talk openly with them.

Me: The first time I saw porn I was talking to this guy a couple of years older than me on Nine MSN. He was this gay guy –

Jules and Doug: Oh MSN!

Me: And he was like ‘this is the kind of guys I like’ and he sent me this link. Suddenly my screen was covered in all these naked women. I worked out ages later that I must have got a pop up but at the time I was like ‘he’s a gay guy, he would know what men are’ so I was looking at them going ‘so these are men… so he likes men with make up and… boobs and small thingies’. They were so clearly female bodies. Very naked, very female. But I didn’t have any idea what gender they were. The colour scheme was not what I associated with naked women. It was all pink and gold and shiny and slippery and just… didn’t look like the naked women I’d seen in my life. And I wrote to the guy and was like ‘this is the kind of men you like?’ And he was like ‘yeah’ and I was like ‘men with boobs?’ and he was like ‘what? Men like the men I sent you!’ We worked it out after a while. But that was my first experience of Internet porn: just not even knowing what I was looking at.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Doug: I got tricked. This was in primary school. It was one of those gags that was going around. People were saying ‘if you go to redtube.com, it is like youtube but it’s in HD!’ So I hopped on our family computer that was out in the living room at the time, typed in redtube.com and up came these… not youtube videos. It took me a second. I scanned the page and I started scrolling down and I was about eight or nine, I think. I’d just been given permission to use the computer –

Me: And you blew it, straight away.

Doug: I blew it straight away! I scrolled down and I saw all these images that I didn’t really understand. My dad came over and understandably he was sort of ‘what are you doing?’ I told him that I’d been told this was HD but it didn’t look like the youtube videos I normally watched. He closed out of the browser and we had a little talk about what porn is. I think he just said ‘it’s videos of people having sex on the internet’. My parents never glossed over things. They never talked about genitals with weird words, it was always ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’. I think I was probably four or five when I asked where babies came from and they just straight up told me.

Me: I remember asking what ‘cunt’ was and my mother said ‘it’s another word for vagina’ in such a matter of fact way that I thought for years it was a more polite word – like the medical terminology! Not that it came up in conversation because it didn’t but yeah, I was like ‘oh, that’s the grown up way to talk about vaginas! Good to know!’

Interlude:

Me: Look at that. They’ve got a chandelier hanging in the greenery. Looks like you might be able to find some monkeys here.

Her: What’s that?

Me: I was just saying, it looks like you might be able to find some monkeys here.

Her: Oh.

Silence. Knives and forks clatter. 

Me: What are you most proud of?

Her: Oh. (A long pause.) I guess… most proud of family life. Mum and dad and the family. Mum kept the family together really. Dad was good too but… aftermath of the war, I think. He drank a lot of alcohol which was a worry, not only to mum and myself but the rest of us.

Me: Was that part of the reason you never drunk alcohol?

Her: I suppose it might have been part of it but I never took a liking to it anyway. Anything I tasted I never liked. You wonder how anyone could ever like it.

Conversation 2:

Me: I think the scene that really wrecked me was the scene with the two actors on opposite sides of the stage. The first night I was sitting with two straight men and they were watching the boy and I was watching the girl. I really noticed the different ways our heads were turned. I think that is a scene that is so heartbreaking for both characters but you do experience it very differently as a male or female. I don’t know. And I don’t know how different it is as a gay man either. I think a lot of heterosexual men move through the world with this deep fear of taking advantage of a woman.

Jules: I didn’t know where look: whether I should watch one of them, whether I should not watch any of them and just listen. I thought it was really interesting that they chose to make it very dubious as to what actually happened but very clear that she didn’t want it. I feel that that’s a situation that happens all the time and far too –

End conversation 2, with a full SD card.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude:

Her: We had two or three horses we used to ride. Might have been more than that at times. The neighbours – they lived four or five miles up towards the boarder and eh – they had a lot of shetlands. They were half broken-in and they used to pass them on to us to ride. Some of them were very good to ride but others were very cheeky.

Me: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds hard work.

Her: I forget how many we would have ridden all together.

Waiter: Spinach and feta borek?

Me: That’s me. And the lamb is here.

Waiter: And would you like a knife and fork with that one?

Me: Would you like a knife and fork, grandma?

Her: No. Thank you.

Waiter leaves. Silence.

Her: A knife and fork would be handy.

End interlude. 

F. is by Riot Stage and was presented as part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival of 2016. It was directed by Katrina Cornwell, written by Morgan Rose, performed by a cast ranging from 15 to 19. 

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conversation, creativity, history, interview, My own plays, Theatre, Welcome to Nowhere, writing

daniel keene: welcome to nowhere, voices you don’t hear, furniture, instinct and voluntary amnesia

This is part three of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Chris Edwards and Sophia Riozzi interviewing Daniel Keene. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. Editing this down to a consumable-length nearly killed me. This is such an immensely generous interview from Daniel. So enjoy this beautiful contribution from Daniel, Chris and Sophia.

Daniel Keene, photo: Piper Huynh

Daniel Keene, photo: Piper Huynh

What brought you to writing?

I was supposed to be being a teacher, but I just started working in the theatre, at La Mama and places like that in Melbourne. I started off as an actor but I was a very, very poor actor, and I knew that I just wasn’t very good at it. So I thought well perhaps I can try directing, and that was my second mistake because I wasn’t very good at that either. I did a bit of lighting design, and that wasn’t particularly good, but I still wanted to work in the theatre. I started working on texts that weren’t mine. I would edit, like dramaturg them and other people would perform them, and that just led me to writing.

I came into the theatre because I wanted to work in the theatre but I didn’t know in what capacity. And then it took a few years to understand that what I could do was write. Having worked as an actor and doing a little bit of directing and designing and that sort of stuff, I found it really useful when I started to write because I knew what it was like behind the stage, so that became really handy.

Do you have any central themes or ideas that you always go back to writing about?

I suppose I do but in a way it’s kind of up to somebody else to identify them.

When I first started going to see the theatre, I got very tired because I never saw any working class people on stage. All I saw were middle class people, and I come from a working class family so I didn’t see anybody on stage that I recognised. I couldn’t understand why those sort of characters didn’t have the space and time on stage, so I started writing about those kinds of people because they were the people I knew, that I grew up with, that I related to. And then, as I continued to write and became a more established artist, I was no longer in that milieu, I was now living as an artist, but I’m still drawn to those sorts of people. People who I feel don’t have a voice, and so I try to write plays that articulate things that aren’t normally articulated.

It’s also the fact that people seem to think that the only interesting stories are about people who are themselves kind of interesting somehow, like I’m a nuclear physicist or I’m a university lecturer or I’m a whatever you are. But a guy who works in a factory or, a woman who works in a kitchen, they can have just as interesting lives and their stories can be just as profound. That’s an old cliché really, but I really believe that. I want to write about those sorts of people.

Is that something that led you into the Keene-Taylor theatre project?

The Keene-Taylor project started off as a really pragmatic thing. I’d seen Harriet Taylor’s work around Melbourne, and she’d seen my work, but we’d never met. She wrote to me and asked if I have anything that needed directing, and I’d written about four very short plays that I didn’t know what to do with. I wrote them because formally I was really tired of writing large dramas that had three acts or five acts, because the machinery of a large drama is quite demanding, you’ve got to get it to work in a certain way. And I thought, why can’t I write a play that’s only five pages long, and not be afraid of its length? Why can’t it be ten minutes long, more like a theatrical poem more than a drama? But then who’s going to do a play that’s five minutes long? I mean, nobody.

Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman in Keene-Taylor Project's A FOUNDLING, 2001 Photo: Jeff Busby

Robert Menzies and Dan Spielman in Keene-Taylor Project’s A FOUNDLING, 2001 Photo: Jeff Busby

But she had a desire to do my work so I showed her these short things. We mounted the first season at the Brotherhood of Saint Laurence Warehouse, because we had no money, no funding, no support or anything, so that was the only place we could get for free. But we ended up with really fabulous actors like Helen Morse, and Paul English, and Malcolm Robertson, and all these amazing actors who wanted to work with me and with Harriet. We had a great cast but no money, so no set, no lighting, no anything, so we developed this aesthetic.

When we went into the warehouse at the Brotherhood, the warehouse was full of old furniture and once a week anybody who needed a bed or a desk or a chair or something could come and take it for free. So when we went into the warehouse, we weren’t allowed to move anything, or to get rid of anything, it had to stay in there. So we decided not to bring anything in, no set, we’d just use whatever was there. If there were twelve wardrobes and sixteen beds that’s what we’d use, but of course every week it changed, because they would go and new things would come in. We developed an aesthetic where we’d just use whatever was to hand, and we’d use no theatrical lighting we’d just use whatever was in the warehouse, just light bulbs and things like that. That became our kind of trademark, and it was great fun working like that, having nothing except what was there. You couldn’t choose to have things; it was just all we’ve got is this so we’ll just use that.

It gave me enormous freedom because I could set a play on a street corner, or in a boarding house, or in a bar or something, it didn’t matter because all it was going to be was a couple of kitchen chairs and a table, so we could make up anything we liked. And because of the location and because of what that place was and the people it serviced, the people it helped, that kind of determined a lot of the stuff I was then writing about. I’d already been writing about that anyway, it just kind of focused it really strongly.

Having been a director, is it hard for you to take a step back in the rehearsal room?

No, I really like that, because once the play is finished, it has so many drafts, and by the time it’s finished I know it, I could probably recite it backwards. I think that if I’ve done a really good job I can just let it go completely. It’s not my job to direct it or perform it or design it. I like the moment that I hand it over and say, ‘well okay that’s your responsibility now. You make something out of that.’ I often enjoy coming to see work of mine and I don’t recognise it. The best thing ever is when I sit in an audience and I forget that I wrote it. I’m just watching something else. That doesn’t happen that often but when it does it’s incredible, because it’s become another thing.

I try to move on as quickly as possible to something else and forget about what I’ve just done. There’s a thing that actors talk about – ‘voluntary amnesia’. If you’re an actor and you’re playing Hamlet, you’ve learnt it and you’ve performed it, then you’ve got to do another play. You don’t want to still be remembering, you have to forget that role and then launch into the next one. So I tend to do that as much as possible: once I’ve finished a play, I’m finished with it. I try not to revisit it, it’s finished, and then I do something else.

With Welcome to Nowhere, how did you respond to the prompts you were given?

And then the idea was interesting, this ‘welcome to nowhere’. That for me translated into a moment of transition between one place and the next, hence the play I wrote. I came up with the idea of this transition fairly quickly. I thought that was a nice place to start because it’s got a little bit of tension in the situation. But then it took me a very long time to know who were these characters and how many were there and what were they waiting for. Then I tried to come at it at a kind of oblique angle, so it’s not like they’re waiting to get into military school or something: it’s something had already happened but hadn’t quite finished. They’re all waiting for that process to be over, which is the collecting of the ashes and the reunion between the three of them, and like most plays I write there’s no resolution at the end. There’s probably a possibility of resolution, but the audience has to kind of imagine.

WELCOME TO NOWHERE in rehearsal. Photo: Piper Huynh

WELCOME TO NOWHERE in rehearsal. Photo: Piper Huynh

Another trend between a lot of your plays is there’s always an excerpt of a poem at the beginning, could you give us some insight into how that began?

A lot of writers do that. You find it at the start of a lot of books. I’ve always looked to poetry as a stimulation and inspiration and to find clues, to find ideas. When I came up with the notion of the play, I revisited a whole lot of favourite things of mine that I thought were somehow connected with that feeling that I was having. Because when I imagine a play, the first thing that happens is I feel an emotional landscape. It’s just a general feeling of what emotional and intellectual ground it will cover, like imagining a piece of music. Then I have a look around, at people I’ve read a lot, and see if there’s something that will stimulate or that somehow connects to that feeling, that may help me then think further or develop further that idea. And also for people working on the play: it’s kind of a little invitation.

So with your playlet Ash for Welcome to Nowhere, there are these preoccupations with family and loss and grief, so how did you arrive at those themes?

They’re not necessarily conscious. Once I understood that the play was about some kind of transition, then the situation was – ‘Okay it’s a room and there are people waiting in it. Who are the people? I don’t know, a man and a woman. Who are they? I’ve got no idea. What are they saying? They’re waiting for the third person’ – I try not to decide anything beforehand. I don’t say before I start writing ‘This will be about a brother and a sister and another brother, and they’ve been separated’ – I don’t do that.

I have a blank sheet of paper, and then I wait until I can hear somebody. I sit there and I wait until I hear somebody say: “Do you think he’ll come?”, so I write that down. I just know this is what’s being said and it’s making sense to me. This feels like it has a rhythm and it’s leading somewhere and its actually progressing. Then after a page or ten pages or something at some point, I have a sense of ‘Oh okay it’s a brother and a sister and they’re waiting for the other brother’, that’s what it’ll be. So I go back to the start, now knowing this. But I’ve got there by writing.

Once I’ve done that, then I know who they are, and then I’ll start the real work, which is to construct the play. Instinct is the first thing, but intellect is the second thing to use, to then shape that into something that works, that has the right cadence, that makes sense, that has an emotional logic, that contains ideas. That’s the second part of the work.

Then if I end up writing about families? – Well 90% of the world’s drama is about family one way or the other. They make great plays. Families are full of departures and homecomings, which are great dramatic things, so I’m lead to it instinctively.

Playwrights Angus Cerini, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose, photo: Piper Huynh

Playwrights Angus Cerini, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose, photo: Piper Huynh

What kind of advice would you give to students like us making this transition in to the world of theatre?

I’m not anyone to ask advice about that.

I think that what everybody needs to do if they want to work in the theatre is learn how to be theatre makers. Learn everything you can learn about the theatre – how do you do lights? How do you build sets? What does design mean? How does sound work in the theatre? – All of that, even if you just want to be an actor. It’s really important to understand how all those things work, and how they cohere.

Find your cohort. Find the people you’re going to work with. Begin to find them now, when you’re a student, because no piece of theatre is made by one person. It’s always made by a group of people. I think the most important thing you can do is find your allies, find your cohort, find the people you want to work with. It’s a matter of elective affinities; find the people you’re drawn to and that you want to help create theatre with. If you can do that, then you’ll have somewhere, once you leave this place you’ll have a context you’ve made for yourself. To finish a course that’s to do with theatre and then to go out into the world just as a single person, I think is really difficult. It’s not possible. I think it’s better to begin now to imagine the sort of work you want to make and whom you want to make it with, because that’s how theatre is made.

Welcome to Nowhere runs Sept 24-Oct 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse.

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conversation, Dramaturgical Analysis, history, My own plays, Sex, Theatre, writing

on yours the face, the middle ages, romance, rape culture and evolving language

So my family are amazing. I live with my sister, Hannah Kilpatrick, who is currently a PhD candidate for the Centre for the History of Emotions. The night after seeing my play, Yours the Facewe sat down in a cafe to explore the themes and interpretations from the perspective of her wonderful brain. I am trying to create some kind of a document after each of my shows that discusses the work and the dialogue around it in a creative way. This is mostly to challenge myself. It is incredibly difficult to be both an artist and an arts commentator and commentating on your own art is the most difficult thing. So, of course, I like to give it a shot. Warning: This post includes a discussion of rape and sexual violence within the context of my script and throughout the Middle Ages. 

FLEUR: Where are we?

HANNAH: We are in Journeyman. We are having coffee because we just did lots of upside down yoga.

FLEUR: So I guess I’m trying to create some kind of document about my own work each time. Last year it was Cameron but this time I thought it might be really interesting to talk to you because your angle is so different. Do you want to explain what you do?

Detail of the devil dragging souls to hell, TAYMOUTH HOURS, England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century

Detail of the devil dragging souls to hell, TAYMOUTH HOURS, England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century

HANNAH: I spend lots of time in front of a computer staring at a screen, which has Latin or Anglo-Norman or Middle English manuscripts on it.

FLEUR: What is your time period?

HANNAH: Mostly 14th Century but contextualising it for a couple of centuries before that.

FLEUR: I’m very flexible with my language. I believe that language is there to be evolved and used and rolled around in. Working in your time period, you see that perhaps more than most people because you see language evolve before your eyes. You’re academic work is at a time before English was standardised and then it was standardised for quite a long time and now it is very rapidly becoming difficult to keep standardised again. Who you say that’s true? I think in this last fifteen years, we’ve had more rapid linguistic changes than in the last…

HANNAH: No, I wouldn’t really say that. I’d say that what’s happened is that for several hundred years we’ve only seen one form of English: the standard central written English. There were of course all the other languages, which were spoken and also written in more marginal ways. In many ways the 20th Century did iron out a lot of regional variations, partly because of the spread of literacy but also because of the spread of things like television and radio, which enforced things like Received Pronunciation on the BBC. There was also the death – or relative death – of so many Italian dialects with wars and migration and being in regiments with people who aren’t from their town or region: it gets flattened out into one broad, general language.

Even before that, rise of the printing press ironed out those variations by making it possible to have one central controlled language. In English, in particular, most English printing presses were in London so it is London English that is going to win out. In one sense, the printing press flattens out the language but on the other hand it opens it out to more people in terms of literacy and availability.

The internet is doing something very similar now in terms of access and bringing different people from across the world together to form tiny little linguistic communities, that have nothing necessarily to do with the language they were brought up with. You develop your own slang, your own ways of shaping sentences, your own forms of punctuation. They’re all written based! They are not about pronunciation! Nobody really knows, for example, how ‘meme’ is pronounced, or ‘gif’.

Our food is brought out to us.

WAITER: Mushrooms?

HANNAH: That’s me, thank you!

WAITER: Aaaaand chilli scrambled eggs.

FLEUR: Thank you!

HANNAH: So at the same time you’ve got the flattening out and the opening up of language. And of course we know how that worked out with the printing press but we’ve yet to see how that’s going to happen with the Internet. I think right now, we’re still at the stage of opening up and seeing what possibilities are out there.

FLEUR: Yeah. Let’s pause for a moment while we eat our breakfast.

The recorder goes off.

THE KINGHT'S TAKE from Chaucer's CANTERBURY TALES, 15th Century Manuscript

THE KINGHT’S TAKE from Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES, 15th Century Manuscript

The recorder comes back on.

FLEUR: Okay. Breakfast was eaten. It was very nice. So if I were to re-focus a bit on Yours the Face…

HANNAH: But I haven’t finished going on about things!

FLEUR: I’m sorry, I know. But that was purely to introduce you and what you do and what you think about. We’re meant to be talking about ma play!

So the other day we received a very positive review that very much overlooked the issue of consent within the play. It talked about the scene in which a girl was photographed naked, unconscious, drugged as ‘romantic’ and ‘touching’ and referred to her as ‘asleep’. Do you want to talk a bit about the historical context behind consent?

HANNAH: Yes, not just the question of consent but also the question of waiving consent: that it could appear romantic to that audience member that this should happen.

I been reading the Confessio Amantis by John Gower – well a tiny part of it because it is massive. This is a part where he retells a story from Ovid. It is the story of Philomela: her sister, Procne, marries this man, Tereus, and they go to live happily over in Thrace but she wants to see her sister so she sends her husband back to get her from her parents. Tereus falls in love with Philomela and rapes her and then, so that she can’t tell anyone, cuts out her tongue and locks her up in a prison.

The interesting thing to me is the framing of that story: obviously Gower thinks this is a horrible thing but the comments that the women make on it are “How could your betray your marriage vows to me like this?” and “How could you cheat on my sister?” Effectively, the problem is spouse breach. It is said in the framing narrative, “Don’t attempt to get love this way.” The implication seems to be that this is love. It is just the wrong way to go about it.

A caption beneath reading, 'et tient le wodewose & rauist un des damoyseles coillaint des fleurs', translation: 'And the wodewose caught and ravist one of the damsels collecting the flowers.' From the TAYMOUTH HOURS, England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century.

A caption beneath reading, ‘et tient le wodewose & rauist un des damoyseles coillaint des fleurs’, translation: ‘And the wodewose caught and ravist one of the damsels collecting the flowers.’ From the TAYMOUTH HOURS, England (London?), 2nd quarter of the 14th century.

There is a hunting metaphor running throughout the story. Tereus shows up in the form of various animals – he is a falcon, he is a wolf, he is a lion, he is a ravening beast – and she is the creature crushed in the falcon’s claw but… What was I talking about?

FLEUR: My play? Perhaps?

HANNAH: Yeah, your play. Yeah, the point is that this is framed as a hunting story and he is only wrong about this because he is not married to her and he is married to someone else so he can’t marry her. But it is still called love, framed as love. You have that idea that rape – sex – counts as love. It is something enacted by the man. She is saying ‘no’ – of course she is saying ‘no’, she should say ‘no’ – and you also have that image of the hunting metaphor running through a lot of romances of the Middle Ages and of much later as well. The point I’m getting to in a round about way – that you’ll probably have to edit substantially –

FLEUR: I really will.

HANNAH: – Is that there is this conceptual framework for romance as a hunt: for the woman to flee and the man to pursue and that’s the way the story is meant to go. That this is how heterosexual relationships work: if she wants to be caught, the woman has to flee. If she wants to marry him, if she wants to be a wife and not just somebody to be bedded and tossed aside, then she has to say ‘no’. She has to say ‘no’ repeatedly whenever she is asked until society (ie: her parents, her father, her brother, her male guardian) passes her on. I have seen the argument made that this is where we get our concept of modern romance.

FLEUR: That she keeps saying ‘no’ and he has to take this as a ‘yes’.

HANNAH: He has to assume that it is or can become a yes and that she must resist and he must pursue. That’s the premise, this argument goes, for the whole of Western, heterosexual romance since then.

We stop the recorder again. We go home. I tell Hannah that we have to actually talk about the play at some point. Bless.

FLEUR: Okay. So the play itself. Any thoughts on that?

HANNAH: Um… The word ‘romance’. You’ve been saying that some people have been watching this and seeing ‘yes, yes, yes’. It is struck me as I was watching it that part of the reason for that might be the word ‘Romance’, which comes from a particular kind of genre but also it is also certain a kind of expected narrative arch. It has always been the man acting and the woman being acted upon. Of course that changes a bit more recently. We do want to see the strong female character, although we do still have a fairly limited understanding of what that means but we still have the man initiating the action of the relationship and her receiving it. I think this makes a genre expectation – this expectation of how the story will play out in our minds – whenever we see this sort of thing.

It is very interesting when you put both those voices into one body. Part of the reason people might be seeing this story primarily from the masculine point of view is, well you obviously have a masculine body there, but in some wasy the male character’s voice is more persuasive more quickly in terms of getting you around to his point of view. Perhaps this might be different for a non-Australian audience, not because of the Australian accent but because of the Australian personality: more casual, more active, ‘come on in and share my story, be part of this story’.

But it’s not just that. It is a very gendered thing. Because he is very open and accessible and she is ‘standoffish’ in some ways. She is that glass face. We are focusing on her as a surface. We have words like ‘glass’ and ‘stone’ and ‘mummified’. Those images give a real focus to the surface and we are very aware that something lies below it but we don’t get invited into that. It takes a very long time to access her.

FLEUR: She is also very passive, as well. And that was a really deliberate choice on my part. I mean, there is ‘yes’ in this play, but it is not ‘enthusiastic consent’. It is “And I let him because he had a mouth and so did I” and okay fine, if you really want me to say that I want you, I’ll say that I want you. Also, he is very grossed out by her when she stops being passive. When she does reveal what’s underneath he wants to carry her away from his body.

But I think his accessibility is a really interesting thing, in terms of how people relate to him. He is a personable guy; we do want to like him –

HANNAH: Even when he’s talking about “I could break her bones while she’s lying there”.

Roderick Cairns in YOURS THE FACE, photographed and designed by Sarah Walker

Roderick Cairns in YOURS THE FACE, photographed and designed by Sarah Walker

FLEUR: Yes! And some people can’t look past the casual, chatty tone. They can’t necessarily see that. And not many sexual assaults are this evil villain creeping around the streets at night being obviously the villain. It is usually someone who is known to the victim and it is often not brought to the police: not every case of a non-consensual action on another body is punished or even condemned. That’s what I wanted to show: she wakes up naked and they both know something is wrong but then these people then just go on with their lives. His actions are never questioned. And it is interesting how some people read that as being obviously incredibly fucked up and some people don’t because he was chatty, he was personable, we couldn’t see the almost lifeless body that he was standing over and no one wakes up and says, “You did a bad thing”.

HANNAH: Yes, and even in its darkest forms, the villain gets his comeuppance. We are very used to at least to some kind of acknowledgement within the story of “yeah okay, that was a bad action” and then there is a result. There is an acknowledgement within the text. And you are right: she is so passive that she isn’t the kind of person who I think would make that call, even on him let alone making it explicate to the audience.

And yes, her passivity does seem to make her fit perfectly into that ‘damsel’ role in some ways but also because she is on a pedestal, almost literally. She is the subject of the gaze. She is what everyone focuses on: the physical surface of her skin. I think even the first time that she spoke she said something like “the aim of every photo is to appear as if you are holding something back: that there is some kind of mystery” so –

FLEUR: “Make them think they haven’t got it all even if they have got it and you haven’t got a piece of your skin left to yourself and they’ll come back. They’ll want that last piece of you.”

HANNAH: Yes. That withheld ‘yes’ at the same time as they are in fact getting everything that she has, because at that point she thinks she is nothing but the surface as well.

“That last piece of you.” Peter Pan? The kiss at the corner of Mrs Darling’s mouth that Mr Darling could never get?

FLEUR: Oh yeah, yeah, yeah. A bit of Peter Pan always has to make its way into my writing. That was one of the subtler.

HANNAH: Was that deliberate?

FLEUR: No, but I love that you found some Peter Pan in it. Well shall we leave it there? That was beautiful. Thank you! We meandered to my play eventually!

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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. 

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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

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

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!

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.

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conversation, Guest Blogger, interview

acts of violence, part 2: guest blogger bridget mackey in conversation with theatre-makers about violence

Part 2: Conversation with Chi Vu

Chi is a Vietnamese-born writer and director. Chi and I did our Masters together at the VCA and I really appreciated this opportunity to talk to her about the use of violence in her work.

Chi starts our conversation by telling me that she doesn’t actually enjoy watching horror.

Chi: I think I’m only willing to put myself through the process of watching horror movies, to get my emotions messed with, if there’s a purpose to it. If I feel like the director and the screenwriters have a point they’re trying to make through the violence. If it’s just gratuitous violence then I get really angry. I try to avoid seeing those kinds of movies by asking around before hand: have you seen this movie? Is there a point to the violence? I do that to make sure that what I put myself through is for a reason, rather than simply feeling disturbed about it, but then not getting anything more out of it. I guess in some ways it’s like people who go through an ordeal. You would go through that, take that big risk, if you thought it was worth it for some reason. So I think movies are like that.

 I ask Chi about her approach to horror and violence in her play, The Dead Twin.

TheDeadTwin-3371

An stunning image from Chi Vu’s The Dead Twin, photo by Jave Lee.

Chi: Director Deborah Leiser-Moore and I are exploring the trauma of war, and how when the older generations have gone through trauma, it’s actually quite violent to ask them, ‘Hey what happened, can you tell me?’ Because they often don’t want to re-live that, which they would have to do in order to tell you. But the younger generation wants to know: what was it like during the war and why are we here? That search for the truth can be a real act of violence against the older generation, even though it’s not done with malice. So sometimes there is just silence around the whole topic. Sometimes the older generation thinks that this is better for the the younger generation – because it will set them free of the horrors of the past. But it doesn’t work that way, because the children are haunted, regardless. Marianne Hirsch studied the children of Holocaust survivors. She came up with the idea of postmemory: that the second generation ‘inherited’ memories that the older generation experienced which are so vivid it’s almost like your memories. So you are haunted by that trauma. Deborah’s other performance works also look at war trauma, especially those of ex-soldiers from around the world. I’m really excited to be working with her on this piece.

But also, the secret story to The Dead Twin – and I don’t mind if people don’t interpret it like this at all – is about repressed identity, whether it’s cultural or linguistic, or some other repressed identity. I feel like the Vietnamese side of me is like a twin that some people with a mono-cultural or monolingual mindset don’t want to acknowledge as a really important part of me. And they could be Vietnamese or Anglo-Australian. For example, you might get some first-generation Vietnamese person who’s conservative who thinks you should be writing in Vietnamese or else it’s not valid. And it’s like: well I don’t. I can read it, but I don’t write it in the way a monolingual person would. I will write in a way that a bilingual or ‘translingual’ person would. And does that make my work not relevant to people around the world? I don’t think so. So one of the traumas I’m exploring is the expectation that ‘You should be one of us, and only one of us, and not also part of something else,’ which I find really violent to my psyche.

Chi explains that the use of genre in her work is not about the horror or about the violence.

Chi: I’m using horror because it’s a genre that allows me to explore how people cope with being really vulnerable. The Dead Twin lets you feel what it’s like when you live in another culture, or when you are part of an oppressed minority, you do feel this extra level of vulnerability. So the horror genre works when you’ve got generally likeable characters who are put in vulnerable situations.

Bridget: There’s a review of your novel Anguli Ma that was published in The Australian that identifies the way you fuse two worlds together, which I find interesting. The review says “Chi finds a perfect chemistry between Australia’s history of serial killers in decrepit suburban wastelands and a refugee community’s repressed memories. It is genuenly terrifying.”

Chi: Yeah, I mean, I’m definitely not writing within a Vietnamese lineage. Like if you compare me to someone who’s in Vietnam writing about anything to do with ghosts, the supernatural, killing, etcetera it’s very different. So it is very much this way of trying to talk about issues, but being somewhat responsible to a minority community as well. So, on one hand, you can spend your whole life just writing celebratory works that say ‘culturally diverse people are lovely, multiculturalism is great, look at us get along together’ and you know, there’s certainly a place for that. But I just got to a point where, for that particular work, I wanted to write about violence in the community, but in a way that wasn’t going to give the Andrew Bolts of the world free rein to say ‘look at these horrible people, why do we let them into the country?’

Chi: How do you achieve violence in your work?

Bridget: I think Kindness is violent in a sense that there’s no catharsis in the piece. There’s a character who’s clearly suffering but the other characters ignore her suffering. For me it is important to tell that story that way, in order to put the audience in the older woman’s position. There’s no relief from her suffering. The play is set in an office and I think there’s violence in doing a repetitive job day in day out, that in order to do it you’re repressing something about your humanity.

Chi: So, how have you seen theatre do violence differently to film?

Bridget: I think it could be something about the spectacle that theatre can achieve. What I like about Romeo Castellucci’s work is the atmosphere that he creates. You sometimes don’t know why it’s violent. It’s kind of like watching a David Lynch film and you’re watching it going, I’m so terrified right now and there’s nothing actually terrifying on screen.

Chi: Or they are all terrified of a fingernail.

Bridget: Exactly. But I think at the moment in my work, I’m not really using violence – or horror – as a narrative device. But my characters have violent urges because they want to get out of the situation they are in.

Chi: I think in theatre people don’t expect to actually see the gore or the monster, whereas in film, we are sort of expecting it at some point. I made myself watch Seven recently.

Bridget: I’ve never seen it.

Best images for facebook timeline cover Se7en Movie Se7en,Movie

At the scene of the crime in David Fincher’s 1995 movie, Seven.

Chi: I mean, it was out in the nineties. And I know people who’ve said: don’t watch it, it’ll change you forever. The fear of actually watching the film is quite massive. So I made myself watch it. And really, you don’t actually see any acts of violence. It’s the consequences of the violence that are so terrible. It’s totally like Oedipus Rex in that way. The violence happens off screen, we hear about it. And Seven, sure, there are some images of people who are dead, but we don’t see them being killed. So, in a way, that’s probably more theatrical than other films, like The Shining.

Bridget: I actually love The Shining.

Chi: I think it’s actually an amazing metaphor of colonisation of Native American Indian land. But yeah, in The Shining we are there with the characters as they’re being chased by a guy wielding an axe.

Bridget: Yeah.

here's johnny

…Here’s Johnny! (The Shining, 1980)

Chi: We’re in that present moment, we don’t just hear about it afterwards. So yeah, The Shining’s probably more like a horror film whereas Seven feels more theatrical – it’s still an amazing film with an amazing script. I remember watching The Shining with someone who was about ten years younger than me, and she was like, ‘Oh yeah, it’s a bit slow’. I think in some ways that points to why Seven is slightly dated, in that back in the mid-nineties there wasn’t YouTube, so these things in the film were truly shocking, but now…you can just go on Youtube and…

Bridget: Watch a person’s head get cut off.

Chi: Yeah, you know? It’s almost like you have to be really conscious to avoid seeing these things if you don’t want to see them. So then somehow that changes what an artist has to do to comment on violence.

Bridget: Yeah. Maybe this is an impossible question for anyone to answer. What would you like your audience to come away from The Dead Twin thinking about?

Chi: Just to back track a little bit. I remember being dragged to see a zombie film, and the subtext of that zombie film was The Iraq War. And I remember sitting there in the cinema, sitting through watching people being eaten, no cut-aways, just remaining with the humans being eaten alive by the zombies. And I was thinking: I can only remain in this seat because these are zombies and I’m watching a zombie film. If the movie was a realistic version of what is going on in Iraq, I wouldn’t have been able to stand it, I would have had to walk out. So in some ways, the artificiality of a genre helps you to experience things that you wouldn’t otherwise be able to sit through.

Bridget: Yeah, I think that’s true.

Chi: So, I guess I would like the audience to be engaged with the characters and the story and the stunning visuals that Deborah and the actors conjure up. And that’s it. If people want to find other meanings in the work, we can have that discussion too.

Chi Vu’s play The Dead Twin will be presented as part of Flight: A Festival of new Writing (Yes, Fleur and I are both presenting work in the Festival too!)

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conversation, interview, Politics, Theatre

in conversation: riot stage on adolescence, global warming, frozen yoghurt and the end of the world

I saw Forever City mid-Comedy Festival, when the only time I could make it was during the school matinee. Every time I laughed, the four students sitting in front of me turned to stare, bemused at my reaction. The show was beautiful, complex, subtle, cynical and witty. With a cast of fifteen to nineteen-year-olds, Forever City told of the last days of our species, when planes fall out of the sky, survivors wash up on islands of rubbish, teenagers sell frozen yoghurt at malls and a dinosaur politely waits to be asked what extinction feels like.

Afterwards, I spoke to the cast about the creation of their work. I was very sick during this show so I must own that it was not the best interviewing I’ve ever done, but the artists said beautiful things. I think it is wonderful to hear passionate, intelligent young people talk about making theatre and the world around them so it was a delight to capture these words. Thank you to the cast and to their director and writer, Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose.

FOREVER CITY, promo image by Sarah Walker

FOREVER CITY, promo image by Sarah Walker

Fleur: How can I do this? I’m going to have no idea who is talking.

Mieke: Do you want us to say our names before we say something?

Fleur: Yes. Say your names before you say something and then we can hopefully drop it and I’ll just… randomly attribute stuff.

How does it feel to perform something like this?

Mieke: Not all of it is improvised but it is from improvised scenes that we’ve done in rehearsals and stuff. It’s really nice to feel like you are the characters. Well… except for Daisy and Marie. Daisy’s doesn’t copy me all the time and Marie’s not actually a dinosaur.

Fleur: No?

Yash: Really?

Mieke: Believe it or not.

Alanna: For some of us it has been a year basically since we’ve done the first workshop and it’s like “oh we really helped create this.” We were there for the beginning bit and now we’re here for the end. And even the people who weren’t there for the very, VERY beginning bit, we saw it through. That’s really nice. We created the script.

Fleur: And what do you want people to understand from it?

Mieke: I guess that, like, teenagers have thoughts too. I think a lot of people seem to assume that because we’re kids we don’t care about anything but ourselves and it’s actually that we do care about things. Yeah. If that makes sense. We are actually conscious of things and we do care.

Yash: Yeah and our obsession with the end of the world in our age.

Daisy: There are so many zombie movies. So many alien movies. As a culture, we think about this stuff all the time but we tend to think about it in very abstract ways that aren’t actually likely to happen. We tend to ignore things like Global Warming and the giant plastic island in the middle of the sea, the rubbish that we created, all that sort of stuff that could actually cause the world to heat up and… die.

FOREVER CITY, image by Sarah Walker

FOREVER CITY, image by Sarah Walker

Amelia: Yeah. It’s kind of like, as young people, we have to face adulthood and we have to face the global problems that have been put upon us. We are growning up and now we’re in a world where global warming is pressing and there are all these wars happening and the world is in a place of strife and we’re expected to be the next generation. We’re expected to be the future

Someone: “We’ve fucked everything up. Now fix it.”

Amelia: Yeah! We inherited these problems and we do feel a responsibility to have to change things but no one has taught us how to because no one knows how. I’ve always sort of seen it (the play) as a coming of age and who can handle coming of age into a world where we aren’t really prepared for.

Fleur: There is a sense of this epic scale to it all. Like, “yes, we’re working at McDonalds and we’re on the verge of extinction”. This isn’t going to be a question. I think I’m just making a statement that won’t lead to anything but that scale is beautiful. That you’ve got both these sort of tiny little moments and also this whole epic stuff and this sense of doom throughout. I loved the alarm going off the first time: a test for the alarm that signals the end of the world and everyone goes “oh no, it’s fine. It’s a drill. Now we can just go back to work. Have some more fro-yo.”

Where to next for you guys? If this was an introduction to making theatre from scratch, what do you want to do with those skills now that you have them?

Another someone: Do more of it.

A third someone: Work in Melbourne’s theatre scene. That would be great.

Yash: I’ll just grab any opportunity after this. Riot Stage gave us an opportunity but I don’t think others will. I think others will stick to a playwright. I don’t know but I think other plays are just “script” and “say it” and “emotion”.

Fleur: What do you want to make theatre about? What do you think is important to make theatre about?

Mieke: Something I would really like to write a play about is gender identity. Gender identity is something that (because I’m gender queer) is quite an important thing for me. It is something that I think a lot of people don’t understand. So that’s something that I’d really want to work on one day maybe when I’m a little bit older: writing a play about gender identity.

FOREVER CITY was made by Riot Stage youth theatre and performed at La Mama. 

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