creativity, education, Monash, self care, Theatre

on starting your own company and working with friends

It is that time of year where students are leaving us and we are all just really hoping they don’t take our jobs too soon. 

Most years, as they get ready to leave us I send out an email filled with self-care tips sourced from the broader arts community. But this year’s cohort have had me rattle on about self-care a lot and since they are already filled with excellent collaborative teams I decided that this year’s parting email could be crowd-sourced tips on starting your own company. And I thought I would share it here too because the wisdom of the crowd is beautiful, thoughtful and generous. 

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AFTER HERO, photo by Sarah Walker

To kick them off, a couple of tips from me: firstly, talk about money! I think the biggest mistake I made early on was not spelling out what things like ‘profit share’ actually meant: it doesn’t mean we split 100% of the box office takings, we split 100% of the profits, so all the costs of the show are taken out of that. One simple conversation could have made that clear.

I would also advise that you follow up phone conversations with venues and organisations with an email:

‘Thanks for the phone call. Just to put in writing what we discussed…’ Leave a written record of everything.

Now for smart words from some generous artists:

Anastasia Ryan, production manager:

Contracts! Even if you’re doing it with your best mate, just a super simple 1 page thing saying what each persons job is, the expectations and the agreed money (if there is any) helps so much.

Nithya Nagarajan, neo-classical Indian dancer, producer and arts educator:

Go to grant writing info sessions, often hosted for free by City of Melbourne, Australia Council for the Arts and Auspicious Arts. And if you go into arts work, keep your arts administratior and performance maker hats very, very separate.

Rebekah Montague, playwright and (strange combo) financial educator:

Have a separate bank account for your art.

Izzy Roberts-Orr, poet, playwright and artistic director of Melbourne’s Emerging Writers Festival:

Clear communication, structured meetings if that’s your style, and a record – get things in writing (e.g. minutes / letters of agreement / emails clearly stating what’s happening) it feels silly having meetings / agendas / defined roles as you’re starting out, but before you know it you might have actual money on the table and need a bank account or be running projects at a scale where everyone needs to know their role in order to do it. Also if they’re your friends, make sure you have friend hangs outside of work! Plus space as friends to talk about your work practices if needed, and make sure you’re still nurturing each other in both your role as a collaborator and your role as a friend.

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FIGMENT, photo by Theresa Harrison

Tim Byrne, arts journalist:

Try your very best to temper ambition with a tiny bit of clear-eyed perspective. One (or two at the most) little shows a year, honed into perfection, are worth far more than some grand vision of cultural dominance. That ties into money too: the greatest art comes from thinking your way around obstacles, so treat lack of funds as a challenge. Oh, and don’t give all your time to your work, even if your work is your love. Get a walk in there, or some lying about watching trees. Perspective.

Patrick McCarthy, director and playwright:

I’d say most of the problems people run into early on (and even later) occur because not enough time was spent talking in the lead up to the project. Spend as much time as you can talking with your collaborators, about practical things like money, schedules, venues, personnel, marketing, publicity, insurance, etc. But also spend as much time, if not more, talking about methodology. How are you going to work together both in and outside of rehearsal, how will you communicate with each other, who has decision making responsibility around what elements of the work? Have some rules about how your process/room will operate (including things that need to be zero tolerance, even if they seem like they should be obvious). Schedule time to sit down and talk throughout the process, to see how everyone’s tracking and problem solve things that aren’t going well. Eat together. Have alone time if you need it. Have a review process once the season’s done to figure out what worked and what didn’t so you can adjust for the next show. Don’t let things fester.

Mohammad Hash, theatre and film producer, now living in Cairo:

Delve into diversity and create minimal sets that spell big works. Understand grant applications and go to as many arts talks as possible. Australia Council is fantastic support and always look for international opportunities. It worked for me.

Indira Carmichael, visual artist and community arts administrator and advocate:

MOUs (memorandum of understanding) are great if contracts between mates seems a bit heavy. It’s a good way of getting everyone on the same page. Sometimes you don’t realise that your motives for doing a show are different to others until it all falls apart.

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THE DRESSMAKER: A MUSICAL ADAPTATION, photo: Sarah Walker

Goldele Rayment, director and company director:

Don’t be afraid to let projects take time. There is less rush than you think. It’s less stressful and more satisfying to take a bit more time with development and forward planning. Be kind, be gentle, be generous but also learn it’s ok to say “no”. I don’t like that creatively, that’s not for me or please don’t treat me like that.

Pippa Bainbridge, venue manager and production manager:

Values. Interrogate what they are for you, and make sure they are aligned with those of your collaborators and of each project you work on. Values. Articulate them, share them, uphold them, tend to them…and you’ll never be disappointed with what is returned.

Mike Greaney, animator:

I think the thing that is really important to work out early on is set in writing the structure of ownership over the venture. Have the hard conversations at the start when you are talking about % ownerships of nothing, because once money and ego get involved down the line, those conversations become very difficult. Talk about these things with your collaborators as well, and make clear what they are trading their time for/ getting out of working with you.

Stephanie Speirs, producer, production manager and venue manager of the Fringe Hub:

When you agree to anything (a new venture, the mission/direction of your project, helping someone out, donating stuff/money/time) be explicit in what that agreement entails. If you can’t stomach writing things down yet, at the VERY LEAST make sure you’ve all said out loud what you understand by what’s been said, and clarify exactly what that means to you. Any project will possibly mean hundreds of hours of work for those involved – so be sure that everyone with a stake understands WHAT those hours of work are and WHO has agreed to do them. (Or if NO-ONE wants to do the work, then the project shouldn’t happen!)

Libby Klyse, performer, writer, manager:

Know who is the boss for each project. Someone needs to be the director and/or producer, with the ultimate decision-making and budget control.

Georgia Carter, performer:

Understand budgets and pay attention to the numbers. You need to have someone that understands it… and audiences don’t just happen. They take work and strategic planning is essential.

Ramona Barry, artist and writer:

Written agreements – I’ve seen many a friendship fall foul of business mistakes. Even if you are the very best of friends get it all in writing

Natalie Wadwell, arts administrator:

Get a shareholders/partnership agreement, friends don’t always make best business partners and skill sets should compliment not duplicate, talk about money. To add to that really talk about your personal and business values. Where do they see themselves and the biz in 1, 3 and 5 yrs time? Do it separately and then discuss. Have an exit strategy upfront and a plan of what milestones you need to hit to maintain working together.

 

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ALL THAT IS RIGHT, photo: Sarah Walker

Individually, these are great tips for professional practice. As a whole, they mean something even better: they mean that all of these artists want to see you succeed. They want to see you build partnerships and careers that are sustainable, caring, productive and healthy. It is easy to think that you have to fight your way into the industry (and it is a tough industry) but remember that people wish you well. Great artists support artists, advocate for artists, mentor artists and enjoy the successes of artists. Remember you’re not alone out there. Hold onto the relationships you have made and get ready to meet some amazing new people who are excited to see what you make next.

Wishing you all the best,

Fleur

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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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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.

Silence.

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.

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creativity, criticism, Theatre

on the ethics of criticism, hurt and making yourself vulnerable

This first appeared in Dancehouse Diary, Issue 8: Dance and Ethics

Listen. This is the hardest part: we, the artists, spend weeks, months or years creating something, crafting it as carefully as we know how. We offer it to the audience and we are proud. Then a critic comes in. They spend an hour with our work and become the authority.

This never stops being difficult but it is also incredibly beautiful. To me, this transfer of power, this ultimate act of vulnerability and generosity, is what live performance is all about. It says that we are willing to start a conversation rather than end it. It says that we do not make art for ourselves but for those who step into our space for one night only. In that moment, as we offer up our art to strangers, the work becomes live.

THIS CAN'T BE STOPPED, Chunky Moves, 2014, photo by Sarah Walker

Benjamin Hancock’s PRINCESS as part of IT CANNOT BE STOPPED, Chunky Move, 2014, photo by Sarah Walker

The ethics of criticism are complicated by the notoriously fraught relationship between artists and critics. I believe this stems from the mortality of our work. Live art is defined by its demise yet artists continually seek tangible proof of the impact of their work. A visual artist can return to their collection a year after their reviewers and, with time, perspective and a sleep cycle that has returned to normal, be able to form their own objective assessment of both their work and the dialogue that surrounded it. When all that remains is a critic’s condemnation, it can be difficult to hold onto your own understanding of your art. Making art makes us vulnerable and that is fine, we have the right to feel wronged. But do we have the right to demand silence? Do we have the right to request that a critic respond in a particular way?

The ethics of criticism is a two-way exchange between artists and critics that must take into account the rights of the audience to know what they are paying for.

What we expect from our critics depends very much on what we believe the role of the critic to be. If we believe it to be ‘pull quotes in exchange for free tickets’, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment and truncating a potentially valuable cultural exchange. If instead we look to a critic to continue a conversation that the artist began – to provide historical documentation of the work – to meet our art with the same intellectual rigour with which we created it – to provide a point of communication between artists and audience, we will be empowered to engage in a critical dialogue. We will also hold our critics up to a higher standard.

Personally, I want a lack of bias and writing that does not come from a place of anger. I want them to avoid cruelty. I want them to be in touch with the artistic landscape and I want them to love art, specifically the genre they are reviewing. I expect them to think hard and intellectually examine their emotive response at every turn. I do not want them to apologise for their opinions and I do want them to hold me to as high a standard as I hold them. I want us both to acknowledge that no single voice can declare a work a ‘success’ or ‘failure’ for to attempt to categorise performance in such a way undermines the fundamental purpose of art as a nuanced, emotive, response to and provoke for the world it issues from.

MARY POPPINS

MARY POPPINS

Yet writing such a list of requirements makes me feel like the Banks children in Mary Poppins singing what they want in a nanny with all the earnestness and naivety of youth. I write this knowing that I will, throughout my career, have my work critiqued by many, many people who will not live up to these expectations. I have been reviewed by people who consider themselves gatekeepers, surveyors of quality or purveyor of witty, sniping jokes at the artist’s expense. I have also been reviewed by a real estate writer who notoriously (but accurately) wrote of one of my plays that “the actor relies on her face and voice to express emotion.” (The Advertiser, 2013) Of course this is frustrating but I accept these reviews as part of the cultural noise surrounding art. Frequently such reviews can provide a starting point for further dialogue with my audience and the more conversations I can have, the better.

So if the ethical responsibility of the critic is to meet the artwork with all the nuance and self-interrogation that their ability and word count allows, what is the responsibility of the artist? Well, to let it happen. To encourage it and engage with it if we can. To look after ourselves and our collaborators. It can be easy to feel disempowered by the process of criticism but engaging with it as an equal, an an intelligent maker with their own voice outside of the stage, can help restore a balance and bring a sense of humanity back into a process that can feel de-humanising. But this is hard. Always.

In January the artistic director of Opera Australia, Lyndon Terracini, culled dissenting critics from the company’s invite list. This is not a new strategy. Many critics have told me of writing a negative review of a company and then “not being invited back until the leadership changed”. What is newsworthy is not Terracini’s actions but his position as a cultural leader, for as head of the most subsidised performing arts company in the country, he surely bears that title. What does it say about the state of our culture if the message coming down from such a leader is that questioning his artistic decisions is not allowed?

I do not believe that we have the right to silence our critics but, more importantly, I do not know why we would want to have such a right. ‘Culture’ is not art; it is an artistically engaged community and arts writing, dissent and argument are crucial components in this. A critic is a part of your audience and attempting to silence them is symptomatic of disengagement with and disinterest in your audience’s voice. I fear the long-term impact that such disengagement would have on Australia’s cultural landscape.

DOKU RAI, Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er, Arts House, 2012, Photo by Sarah Walker

DOKU RAI, Black Lung Theatre and Whaling Firm, Galaxy and Liurai Fo’er, Arts House, 2012, Photo by Sarah Walker

Note: I have a secret, slowly growing collection of unsent letters written to critics by various, often prominent Australian artists. These remind me that experience does not make it hurt less. If anyone has one of these letters tucked away on their computer, I am always grateful for the opportunity to read them and always incredibly careful to keep them secret. It helps me think about what people most want and are most hurt by in criticism. As someone who writes and speaks on criticism regularly I truly appreciate the privilege of being let into those moments and emotions. If anyone wishes to send me such letters or tell me what their criticism wish list, my email is fleurskilpatrick @ gmail.com.

Thank you to Angela Conquet for requesting I write this for Dancehouse Dairy. It brought me much delight. Thank you also to Sarah Walker for her beautiful photos.

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conversation, creativity, Guest Blogger, Theatre

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

A word from Bridget:

I believe that there is a restlessness to modern life, an overloading of the senses and that this leads to an unhealthy suppression of emotions. I’m a playwright. In my work my characters find escape through violence and I often have them commit violent acts. As an artist using violence as a narrative tool do I have any responsibility towards my audience, my work or myself?

Topping my list of Best Theatre Experiences of All Time are two pretty violent shows – Thyestes by The Hayloft Project and Tragedia Endogonidia by Societas Raffaello Sanzio. Did I enjoy these shows because they allowed me to access and purge repressed emotions? Or was my enjoyment more to do with aesthetics? I think back to Roy Orbison’s vibrato, theatre babes brandishing guns, the way the stage blood took its time to pool and expand across the blinding white stage space. I also remember enjoying how sick the shows made me feel. Maybe cool aesthetics gave me access to a deeper emotion, led me into the nightmare.

For the most part, I hate screen violence. I am extremely over seeing women portrayed as victims. I get pretty bored in action movies. My brain switches off. There are some exceptions to this (for example, I just held a David Lynch themed birthday party) but mostly when I watch yet another person killed on screen I wonder what the hell it’s doing to my psyche.

Baz Luhrmann demonstrating the appeal of babes, weapons and drama in his 1996 film Romeo+Juliet.

Baz Luhrmann demonstrating the appeal of babes, weapons and drama in his 1996 film Romeo+Juliet.

Thankfully, I grew up in a violence free environment both at home and in my wider community. This is a fact I find problematic when it comes to my enjoyment of violence on stage. Does my violence free past mean that for me violence on stage is a fetish? Is it dangerous? Or is it totally valid? Maybe even a necessity?

I have interviewed three Melbourne based theatre-makers: Daniel Lammin, Chi Vu and Rachel Perks about the different approaches to violence that they take in their work. These conversations will be published over three blog posts on School for Birds. Thanks Fleur!

Part 1: Conversation with Daniel Lammin

Daniel Lammin is a playwright and director. He also works as a film reviewer. Daniel’s work for the stage often explores real-life incidents of violent crime. We meet in the Malthouse courtyard for a chat but men in sequinned G-Strings keep running into our line of vision. This provides to be too distracting for the both of us so we settle for a park bench on Sturt Street.

Bridget: At one point during our dramaturgy internship with Playwriting Australia last year you said ‘I love violence’ and I was like, ‘I love violence.’ So, I guess I just want to talk to you about why you love it.

Daniel: I think that violence is one of the most exciting, dangerous and delicate emotional tools, or narrative tools, you can use in order to tell a story. A show I did last year, The Cutting Boys, ended in an act of murder, cannibalism and sex. I had to spend the entire time asking: am I justified in making this as blunt and extreme as it is? And if I had come to a point where I couldn’t justify it, not that everyone would agree with me, then I would never have done it. I feel that a lot of the time when people use violence it’s just to shock, because it’s kind of sexy. But, if your intention is just to be edgy or disturbing, or confronting, you’re only going to make work that only serves that purpose.

I’m keen to talk to Lammin about his thoughts on the difference between violence on film and violence on the stage. I tell him that Snowtown is one of the best movies I’ve ever seen but that I regret watching it because I found the violence so distressing.

Daniel: Violence doesn’t mean anything unless you’re seeing it through the eyes of someone else, through the eyes of a character, or the eyes of a community. If you were just watching the brother being killed in the bathtub in Snowtown, you would go ‘oh that’s horrific and disgusting’ and turn off. What makes that sequence so affecting, and so horrifying, is that his younger brother is watching, and then participating, and you’re watching the act through the relationship and the history that they have. It feels very dangerous making people watch a horrible act just for the purpose of shocking them.

snowtownicecream

A gentler moment from the 2011 movie Snowtown.

Bridget: You mentioned that you thought that violence on film could be more effective than stage violence?

Daniel: Yeah, I think that film can reach a level of reality a lot easier than theatre can. I don’t think you ever want a piece of violence on stage to really be completely realistic because that kind of turns people off. Maybe it’s that I’ve never found violence as much of a problem on film. Film also has the ability to play with genre. You can watch a film like Hostel even though that violence is stupidly graphic, but you can revel in that, because that’s what that genre does. Plus, with film there is a sense that it’s removed from you. If you watched Thyestes, on screen, you’d be like, oh that’s disturbing, but watching it a few feet in front of you? It’s right there, you’re watching living, breathing things sweating and reacting. It becomes something quite different.

Bridget: I loved Thyestes.

Daniel: It was one of the best things ever.

Our conversation moves to Ugly Mugs a show that was part of the 2014 Malthouse season.

Daniel: Making a piece of theatre that shows just the idea of violence towards a person, or a community, or a minority is kind of blunt if it’s not shown through the eyes of an actual person. Ugly Mugs was on at the same time as my show The Cutting Boys, and was about very similar ideas. I felt Ugly Mugs would have been a far more effective show if I had actually been made to confront the act. You’ve got a show about violence against sex workers. I want to see a show that makes me feel sick to my stomach about violence in the community against a sex worker and how horrific that is as opposed to –

Bridget: What about the argument though. Say, if you’re making an anti-war film, you run the risk of sensationalising war to make that anti-war film. Do you think maybe in Ugly Mugs, to have the depiction of violence could be seen as –

Daniel: Exploitative?

Bridget: Exploitative in a way.

Daniel: Yeah, I mean definitely, I guess it just comes down to how it’s handled. I think that it’s the job of the creator to sit back and ask if they are being exploitative. I did a short play years ago about the murder of James Bulger, the two year old who was killed by two ten year old boys in the early nineties. It was something I had always wanted to do because I found the whole thing so disturbing. But I skipped that step of actually questioning: is what I want this to do working? Is it effective in the manner by which I’m doing it? By accident it kind of was, but I learnt a big lesson. If you want to show that an act of violence is something that’s wrong, you need to make sure that you’re doing it in a way that it doesn’t exploit, and that your intentions are clear.

Bridget: When did you have the realisation that maybe it was exploitative?

Daniel: When it was in front of people, basically. When I was watching it with an audience, and seeing an audience react. I mean, there was no violence in it. It was the manner that the content was given to the audience that was uncomfortable. Enough people enjoyed and responded to the piece to suggest to me that I hadn’t made a massive mistake, but it scared me enough to go, there is a level of interrogation that I need to make sure I have if I keep wanting to do this.

Bridget: What’s the best use of violence that you’ve seen on stage?

Daniel: Barrie Kosky’s Women of Troy. It’s funny, because it was the first thing of his that I’ve ever seen and I’ve learnt that his shows are usually a lot more flamboyant and colourful and this was under fluro lights, stark, cold, blunt. There was a sequence in it where a woman was dragged into a locker, while the rest of the women were singing a Mozart Aria, she was trapped in there and raped by one of the guards. The woman comes out, she stands on a box with her underwear down around her knees, covered in blood, stands there and vomits –

Bridget: Fuck.

Daniel: – and by itself, well, that’s the point where you see most of the audience just get up and walk out. But he’d invested us in the plight of the characters, and in the plight of the narrative to the point where that happened and my brain just broke, because it was like seeing a succession of images that all amounted to something far more powerful.

Bridget: Were you in our dramaturgy class when Patricia Cornelius talked about needing to ‘earn moments’ from the audience?

Daniel: I think so.

Bridget: She said, you can’t give an audience a thing and say ‘deal with it.’ You have to lead them to it.

Daniel: I have this rule, with any of the disturbing things that I keep going back and making, that you have to make the audience laugh in the first five minutes. Because you’ve got to relax them to the point where they actually can ease themselves into what it is you have to tell them. And then they’re more susceptible. They’re more prone to listening to you. And they’re weakened so the punch in the face is going to hurt more. That’s what Stephen Spielberg does in Schindler’s List. He eases you in, makes you feel comfortable, and then assaults you with the most horrific images in humanity that you can imagine. And it is that thing, of earning the right to be able to do it. And I think generally in theatre that you have to earn big moments. You’ve got to earn a pause, you’ve got to earn a climax, and you’ve got to earn a twist. Patricia is completely right.

Bridget: Um, I’m really sorry to bring out a review of your work. The Rebecca Harkins-Cross review of The Cutting Boys?

Daniel: Yes! … Oh?

Bridget: At the end of the review she asks: What drives a theatre maker to lower us into the abyss? And I was wondering, from the way that you are talking, it doesn’t sound like an intention you have with the theatre you make, or is it your intention?

Daniel: With that particular show, it was a case of wanting to pull the audience right to the depths… because an act of two twenty-year old boys killing and cannibalising a sixteen-year-old girl is an act of complete inhumanity. I felt the only way to convey that inhumanity effectively was to take the audience to the darkest place I possibly could. I wanted it to be an unforgiving show. I had no illusions that people were going to enjoy the show. I couldn’t even watch sections of the thing because I found it so confronting. And it came out of my fucking head. When that review came out I thought, that is the question that needs to be asked of the theatre maker, certainly of me. In that particular instance, I felt like I had a justifiable reason. I loved that review. It was initially terrifying, but then it’s like, good, it’s an engagement with the work.

The Cutting Boys

The Cutting Boys. Image Phoebe Taylor.

Bridget: I’ve been wondering about Aristotle’s writing about catharsis in the Poetics, in relation to violence on stage. I’m a bit suspicious about whether or not catharsis can actually be a thing that has a social function. Do you think that violence in art creates a space for people to purge emotion?

Daniel: I think it definitely does have the capacity to do that, for people who want that. I don’t think everyone wants that. I do. But in terms of violence, it’s not just physical acts of violence, it’s emotional levels of violence. To choose the lamest thing off the top of my head. Something like, The Perks of Being a Wallflower. It’s preposterously emotionally violent, but I want to sit through that, because I want to have that catharsis. Some people don’t want that, and they are completely in their rights not to want that. And I would never want to force a violent show on someone. With anything I’ve done, I always make a point of making it very clear to people that this is not going to be fun. So you’re prepared enough before hand to know whether or not the show is right for you.

Bridget: It’s funny, my Grandma saw my play Hose and I was worried about how she’d feel that I’d written something so violent, and afterwards I asked her what she thought and she said ‘I saw things in nursing that you couldn’t even imagine.’ And I was like, ‘thanks Grandma’. But you know, humanity does have this darkness.

Daniel: Yeah, and that is the big reason why I love working with it, because it’s there. I actually want to be able to talk about the fact that yes, the world is a wonderful place, there are beautiful people in it, there are wonderful experiences, not everything is depressing, but you know what? Some people do really fucking horrible things to each other, and sometimes the way to learn how to deal with that is to actually just show it.

Just as I’m about to thank Lammin and let him return to rehearsals he throws a question back that shouldn’t catch me by surprise, but it does:

Daniel: Why do you love violence?

Bridget: Oh…!? … I think that’s what I’m trying to work out… Sometimes I get really angry and I throw shit and sometimes I have urges to physically hurt other people. Like, I have that, and I’m really ashamed of that, and I wonder if when I see violence on stage it allows me to express that.

Daniel: Stephen King wrote this book about horror, and his thesis is that good horror allows us to experience something that in a normal, moral society, we would not be able to. It allows us to actually be an enactor of violence, and to be a victim of violence and through doing these things, purge ourselves of the desire to do them. I’ve come up with the concept that as a theatre maker I want to hear what the universe sounds like. Everything I do is just built to answer that question. I’m writing a show about Ed Gein, he’s the guy that Texas Chainsaw Massacre and Silence of the Lambs and Psycho are based on. He was suspected of having murdered these women, and when the police confronted him about it they found his house was full of artifacts that he had made of women’s skin and body parts, but they were ones he dug up. I’m fascinated by how lonely someone must be that this is how they choose to fill their world. It’s inhuman, it’s impossible to comprehend, it’s like listening to the destruction of a star, or listening to the darkness that exists in the heart, because if I listen to this, if I can touch it for a fleeting second, I might understand the potential for violence between me, and potential in my friends, or my family or within anybody… … That’s a very big wanky concept.

Bridget: No, it’s great, it’s great.

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creativity, My own plays, personal, Sex

a year in moments (and a few numbers)

2014treelegs

At Abbotsford Convent, photo by my sister.

1.

“I think we should have sex,” he says. “I’ve seen your photos. You’re beautiful.”

“Okay. So you know those are – like – five years and five kilos ago, right?”

An acrobat balances on the handles of a bike. Round and round she goes. The crowd growls its delight.

“Should we kiss or something?” I ask.

“Nah, better not. I’ve slept with a heap of girls here. But sometime. If you’re keen.”

Ten months later we stand in the dark in an empty room staring out at a garden strewn with paper lanterns

“Are we in one of your stories?” He asks. “The awkward silence. It feels like this is going to end up in one of your stories.”

2.

“There’s this guy I’ve been seeing who I can’t stand. He talks about feeling energy through his fingertips and shit. You’d be perfect for each other. You’re so fucking whimsical.”

Out the window of our car, the landscape shudders with heat.

3.

There is a burn-off by the side of the road. We slow down to pass and I feel the heat through the glass, slow-roasting the left sides of my face. Above us, dozens of hawks dive through the air. They look drunk. Or high. Ecstatic with the giddy pleasure of the heat columns the fire produces and the thousands of insects it sends to slaughter.

4.

We drive through mist. He tells me about his wedding day:

“Everyone was so full of hope. And expectations. Not only were we expected to have this perfect marriage but we were meant to set an example to the world of what marriage should be. Jesus to His church. We’d borrowed your grandpa’s Volvo for the honeymoon. As we drove off, the car felt so big and she, so far away.”

The marriage has lasted twenty-five years longer than their religious conviction.

At work.

At work.

5.

I have been archiving for days. Weeks. Hour after hour, balanced on a small white stool. But that’s okay because I’ve discovered time travel.

Time travel is much simpler than we thought it would be:

I pick up a file and I’m transported to a time when someone born in 1975 was ten-years-old; when a 1981 baby was referred to as ‘Master’; when someone born in 1895 was a “spritely 90-year-old” rather than a walking miracle; when September 10th, 2001 was just another day and not the last day before the world changed.

Time travel is also more boring than we thought it would be:

On these days, made miraculous by my sudden transportation to their re-animated present, all that happened was that patients got their ear canals cleaned.

6.

In between patients I run to the toilet and spit bile into the bowl. My boss gives me knowing sideways looks. She clearly suspects pregnancy, a common plight amongst my demographic. I nurse my empty stomach and fantasise about sick leave.

7.

I dream of whales the size of skyscrapers leaping into the eye-blue sky in perfect unison. From my vantage point clinging to sandstone cliffs, they are like cities, rising and falling in moment, rather than millennia.

“They look like a screensaver,” I think.

Even unconscious I’m still an expert mood-killer.

8.

There is champagne. Bottles of it on ice and our full glasses on the bench. Next to fifty bajillion bobby pins. Next to flowers. Next to our awards.

Suddenly I’m sobbing in Danny’s arms, which is fucking dumb because, you know… award. Perhaps it has something to do with becoming unemployed (again) the same hour I win something. Perhaps is about with the way I spent my day reminding myself of all the times I had been a runner-up just to make sure that I wouldn’t be disappointed if it happened again. It probably has a lot to do with exhaustion.

Which is fucking dumb.

Two days later I’ll remember to be happy and I’ll be thrilled. I’ll remember the three years of work that went into it – how the structure and the characters’ motivations were the hardest of any I’ve had to grapple with – and I’ll be happy. And grateful. And relieved.

But that night my brain melts from my ears. I sag. My usually terrible memory is replaced by an even worse one and almost every face that congratulates me, that leans in and kisses my cheek, is a stranger.

Which is fucking dumb.

In Dalby, Queensland photograph by Gabriel Comerford

In Dalby, Queensland, photograph by Gabriel Comerford

9.

I ask Siri why we make art. She thinks I’m asking her to make out and suggests an article called ‘why nerds are unpopular’. She gets me.

10.

This year I worked on twenty different productions.

I saw eighty-seven shows in which six hundred and eleven actors performed.

I kissed five people and slept with two.

I ate ice cream five times.

I saw a doctor five times.

I slept without medication one hundred and one times.

I flew seven times.

11.

A fifteen-year-old boy physically picks me up and spins me around. He is tall and my feet swing like a rag doll. It is a beautiful moment. In the air, I stop being his mentor and director. We are just collaborators, celebrating the play we’ve made together. He sets me back down. We are laughing as his classmates swarm in for a teary group hug.

12.

We walk along the creek, mugs of mulled wine warming our hands. We lie on a bench and he reads bit of his poetry to the sky and I, stopping from time to time to say “what a wanker” or “pretentious bullshit”. The view above us is dizzying. Stars hang like an infestation. Birds watch us from under their wings. On the way home, we find wet concrete. I write, “Tony Abbott is a bit of a cock”. He writes, “make art.”

A parting message for Dalby.

A parting message for Dalby.

13.

Of the six-hundred and eleven actors I saw perform, eighty-four of these were people of colour. This sounds like a fair percentage but you have to look at where the numbers lie. Curated festivals that actively encourage diversity in their programming (Next Wave and the Melbourne Festival) are where the bulk of these numbers come from, both in terms of their cast sizes and their representation. Sometimes, during open access festivals such as MICF and Fringe, I seem to be wading through a sea of white faces. That’s not to say that these festivals are devoid of people of colour but where I am working, in the hubs, the stages are undeniably pale. Only the whitest make it to the centre of the island.

I didn’t see any one-man shows where a person of colour was that one ‘man’. I wonder about this. What is it about a single black man or a solitary asian woman that seems unrelatable? Or unentertaining?

It is the big casts that make me most uncomfortable. I saw a MacBeth performed by eighteen, glowing white faces. Worse still, I saw a musical with a cast of nineteen. The solitary Asian-Australian played the maid.

Most of the non-white performers can be found in shows about race. Colour-blind casting is apparently still a distant dream in Australia.

14.

I really should have warned the actors. I’m a terrible audience member when it comes to viewing my own work for the first time. I cower throughout act one and gnaw on my hand in act two. I feel shaken. Brittle. And totally thrilled. They accept my apologies and I learn to school my face and body for the comfort of actors and audience alike.

15.

I’ve cried nine times this year. I don’t just mean a couple tears. I’m only counting those unstoppable moments, when your insides feel hollowed out. Yeah, these are the kinds of thing I keep a record of.

17.

Through wood, her laughter sounds like sobs. I often peer around the kitchen door, anticipating tears only to see her wreathed in steam, laughing at Jane Austen as she cooks.

18.

We lie on the concrete in a sort of puddle of limbs, plastic cups of red wine close at hand. We are trying to harmonise but it is one of those nights when we seem to have forgotten every song we’ve ever heard. Which is fine. Because the acoustics are so good that the few notes we can string together sound angelic. And we have each other so fuck the world.

Some days I worry that I don’t have the words to express how much these two mean to me. But the way our voices blend despite their differences and casually find golden moments under the dark roof says it for me.

And if that fails, I give good hugs.

19.

At the airport. My mother says goodbye.

“I love you, my Fleur. I’m really glad that there’s you and me.”

20.

“Where are we flying to?”

“We’re just flying home to get something.”

“That’s a good idea.”

“Up, up the plane goes!”

“What can you see out the windows?”

“Nana filling the birdbath.”

“What colour is your plane?”

“It’s a red and yellow plane.”

“What colour is the sky?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do.”

“Lots of colours.”

“They’ve brought around the food. What have you got on your tray?”

“A little drink.”

“Shall we land now?”

“Yes.”

“Aaaaaaaand BUMP!”

“Again.”

With my niece.

With my niece.

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creativity, Theatre, thoughts, writing

on taste, art, directors and why

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

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

PLUS SIGN ATTACHED at VCA. Photo by Sarah Walker

PLUS SIGN ATTACHED at VCA. Photo by Sarah Walker

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

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

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

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

Why do writers need directors?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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