Dramaturgical Analysis, Fragmentary Response, history, personal, Politics

nic green’s trilogy, naked bodies, badass babes and a feminist heritage

trilogy crowd

Trilogy

A before thought:

I’d been told Trilogy was like a festival; a joyous, celebratory riot of female flesh.

I needed that. I bought a ticket instantly.

The last few weeks have been awash with general-purpose sorrow. Perhaps it is just the cold sinking in through my always-too-thin clothes (I never learnt to layer) or perhaps the constant grey above me just seeped in.

But there was something else: I’ve been grieving my body.

I used to berate my body constantly. I was young then and just learning to live out of home, just working out how to feed myself and who I was without a school uniform.

I remember being pretty confident in my body for a while there. Not ‘confident’ so much as ‘unthinking’. Then I emerged from teenage-hood and took off my clothes for cameras and things change. My body changed – I got thin and sleek and hairless – but I also became much more aware of it. I saw myself from every angle. And it was mostly a good sight although I still apologised to photographers every time I took off my clothes:

“Sorry, I just ate lunch.”

“That’s okay.”

“Thank you. Sorry, again.”

But I’m learning something about aging and bodies: accepting your body isn’t a one-time thing. You don’t make peace with it once at twenty-two, tick that off your list and get on with your life. For some of us – perhaps all of us, I don’t know – as your body changes you need to accept it again and again.

And again.

Hello, Body

This is who you are right now, hey?

Yeah

This is who I am right now

You good with that?

Working on it

Same

 

My colleague told me the work filled her up. Re-plenished her. I wanted that.

I want a lot of re- words in my life right now:

Restore, renew, recharge, reward, replenish, reinvigorate, requestion, re-forgive, re-embrace.

Those are some big ‘re’s to ask of a piece of theatre.

trilogy five

Trilogy

A during thought:

Watch me swing from emotion to emotion

Beaming

Crying

Beaming again

I oscillate wildly

Eyes and mouth wide

 

The sight of those bodies

Dozens and dozens of them

A mass of joy and fearless flesh

Filled me up

 

The total miracle that a woman’s body is

Not just because it can ‘be life’

(Although, what a privilege it was to see one of the makers perform pregnant)

But because it bares her

Bodies that carry women through this world

Holy shit

trilogy kicks

Trilogy

The first act culminates in an incredible dance party. At interval we wondered at the positioning of this moment so early in the piece: you couldn’t top that. We had simply never seen anything like it. How could any sight or words match it as a final image?

By the end of the work I knew why we started with this dance of pure delight.

As a feminist and female artist, I often ask myself how do I tell stories of female victimisation without making females the victims. Over the course of the next two acts we saw incredible footage of Norman Mailer attempting repeatedly to silence and shame Jill Johnston (“Come on, Jill. Be a lady.”), we heard grief, rage and truly terrible statistics on sexual violence. I cried when the performers intoned ‘2016’ again and again. The number seemed suddenly so very big, the years so innumerable and yet here we are, still hurting. Still being hurt.

But the overall feeling that one takes from this work is joy, strength and power. The performer never appear disempowered. They are whole-heartedly empowered, their bodies strong, their voices loud, their vision clear, their heritage known.

Women are gutsy motherfuckers. So why did they start with the biggest single image in the show? We needed to set a tone of love, courage, joy and strength. They started by stating a fact: women and their bodies are badass. Got it? Good. Okay. Lets go.

 

An afterthought:

I left the theatre with the desperate urge to call my mother. The feminist who raised me, whose strong body and bore three feminist daughters, whose mind is fierce and whose heart is massive. I spoke to her at the bus stop. “I wish you had been there. I would have loved to see that with you.” Beside me, another woman was on the phone. “There was – like – fifty naked women! Dancing! And the singing! I wish you had seen it!” And I just knew she was talking to her mother too. This was a show that made you want to call your mum, share this with her and thank.

It made me want to thank a lot of women. And myself. And my body. It carries me through this world. What a miracle that is.

 

Feminism: demonstration for women's voting rights in London: Suffragette discharged by the police. - Published by 'Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung' 12/1906- 04.1906

London, 1906, Published by ‘Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung’

I saw Nic Green’s Trilogy at Artshouse in Melbourne. I thank them for programming this incredible and important work.

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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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Dramaturgical Analysis, Responses, Theatre

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

DREAM HOME by Emilie Collyer, directed by Luke Kerridge

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

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

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

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

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

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Tomlins and Jackson Trickett, photo: Pia Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRINA:                      You know who I am, right?

ELISE:                      Of course. You’re amazing.

IRINA:                      Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

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

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

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

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audience conversations, conversation, Dramaturgical Analysis, Theatre

audience conversation: the unspoken word is joe and the ritual slaughter of gorge mastromas

On Sunday Bridget Mackey and I saw two shows back to back, Zoey Dawson’s The Unspoken Word Is Joe and Denis Kelly’s The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas. We interviewed each other about them in the car between shows. It is worth mentioning that both of us are very, very happy with seeing shows that ‘upset’ and ‘sicken’ us, as these did. Please do not take our reactions as any kind of condemnation. We were so very into it.

Show One: The Unspoken Word Is Joe

Fleur: Okay. We’re recording. And we’re recording as we drive from one show to the next.

So what just happened?

Bridget: We just saw The Unspoken Word Is Joe, a play that’s been around for a while although that was the first time I’d seen it and I got a bit upset by it.

Fleur: What was it that upset you?

Photo: Sarah Walker

Photo: Sarah Walker

Bridget: I think it’s because… Well because I’m a writer and it’s really hard to make work. It’s really hard to see a fictional writer, who I know is a real writer making fun of herself and her own indulgences, but I also know that they are my indulgences too. I think we do have to laugh at ourselves and I was kind of annoyed at myself for getting upset by it.

Fleur: But it is a painful play. We’re laughing at the same time as being disturbed. I do wonder what the experience is for someone not within the industry.

Bridget: I don’t know. I don’t know. Is that how people outside of theatre generally see theatre people? As this indulgent, over the top little world of drama queens and –

Fleur: And all sleeping with each other. I’m pretty sure that’s a key component in the outsider imaginings of theatre. I was at a Monash Student Association awards night last year and they announced Student Theatre saying “we come to student theatre to change the world” and a guy at the next table whispered “and have group sex”.

Bridget: Well yeah. That too.

Fleur: Column A, Column B.

The thing that distresses me watching this play – And I think it is a good kind of distress! I’m not saying I’m distressed and I don’t think this theatre should be happening! I think this is a very intentional trauma! But something that distresses me in it is that it is very specifically about the female artist as the hysterical woman.

Art comes from a place of vulnerability. I think, “Is this the only way women can be perceived as being vulnerable? To be this hysterical, blabbering, public, humiliating, self-loathing, women-loathing mess?”

But it’s also interesting because it makes her the very stereotypically female mess whilst, at the same time, making her the sexual aggressor and other things that women don’t get to be all that often. That silhouette of her wrapped around Matt Hickey is fucking amazing.

Bridget: And she’s – not only the sexual aggressor – but she is confident, in her own way. In her own work! She does hold power over other people because of that. She’s saying to the male actors “I’ll put you in that role”.

(After thought: I just want to add that, while this is true, this is a line that gets a laugh of derision from the audience.)

Photo: Sarah Walker

Photo: Eugene Teh

Fleur: I think so often about what Joanna Murray-Smith said to us during our Masters: how being a writer is a constant battle between your ego and your self-doubt and you’ve got to make sure that your ego just wins or else you’ll never write again. This play is the moment where this writer’s ego loses the battle.

Bridget: The direction is pretty great. That moment where Natasha reads out that monologue and is lit so beautifully! It is a really stunning. Like, you do really connect to that monologue. Even though you’ve heard it before, there’s also this moment of “But theatre is magic. It can be powerful.” You can still be fooled by it and connect with it even though it is in the middle of a show that you know is a play within a play and you know it’s fake and you know the joke.

Fleur: I think that moment is so important because, as you are blown away, the ‘writer’ hiding under a chair with her knickers hanging out. She is in this moment of absolute surrender to her neuroses and absolute emotive chaos but we can still be fooled, still love and still have that moment of falling into something created from a place of messy, chaotic, fucked up-ness. From that fucked up-ness can come this moment where someone is just glowing – just glowing up there. Yeah.

Shall we leave it there? And we will re-convene in a few hours.

Play two: The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas

Fleur: Okay. This is Fleur And Bridget In The Car, Part Two. So, just as the show was about to start again after interval, you said –

Bridget: I said, “I’m actually really worried”. I know one other work by the playwright really well – Osama the Hero – so I knew from the very start of the play “he’s not giving us this information to be nice. He’s giving us this information and he’s going to use it to fuck with us.” I mean, I think what I like about his writing is that you don’t know where it’s gonna go. It goes to surprising places so I was kind of terrified after interval. I was just like “You’re just going to do something! Something awful is going to happen to us.”

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson

Fleur: Which is actually a really – It is actually surprisingly rare in theatre to really be surprised by the text at every turn. Like that wonderful moment when she says, “Because I have stopped time.” Each time you figure out what this play is…

You know, you begin the play and it’s this group narrative. And it’s beautiful. A beautiful act of storytelling. And actually the text at that point reminds me of The Virgin Suicides. There’s something about that almost mystical beauty of adolescence that’s both ugly and gorgeous at the same time. It makes me think particularly of this moment where a boy expresses his love for this girl by stepping off the roof of his parent’s house. He stands on the edge of the roof, declares, “I love her”, jumps, falls all of a meter and a half, dusts himself off and walks away, sated because he’s found a way to express it. Something about the description in that first act made me think of that: the beautiful ugliness of children and young messed up, desperate love.

So you think that is what the play is. And then it changes and becomes this weird corporate… thing. And then it changes again and becomes this mystical thing –

Bridget: And then it is almost gothic!

It is really refreshing to see something that is epic. Well not, like, epic but a tragedy, like a Greek tragedy. But at the same time there’s nothing really epic about it. He’s just a very bad man. He’s a very bad, selfish man. The resistance of the play to settle in any one style is like the confusion of trying to understand a world in which some people have nothing and some people have everything. And there’s this disconnect with that.

Fleur: At the end I was thinking about the title of the play and why it was called that. And partly I feel like again it is Denis Kelly finding another way to surprise us at every turn because what is says is “I’m gonna kill him. I’m gonna kill him in this ritualised, destructive way.” I think it’s the slaughter of goodness. The ritualised destruction of any goodness – of any skerrick of the person that we were introduced to in that first act. That Gorge is slaughtered over the course of the play. But because of the set ups in the scenes, we are kind of waiting for him to die. And it feels a bit of an anti-climax and I’m into that in theatre. I like the dissatisfying ending because that means it defied my expectations.

So how did it make you feel?

Bridget: I mean I felt pretty sick watching it but I enjoy that. I think it is rare that theatre really makes you feel something that strongly. It was kind of the same feeling as watching The Wolf of Wall Street! And they didn’t give us any answers as to why he was this bad. There’s nothing we can do about him being like this and that seems true to life.

Fleur: Wolf of Wall Street is a really good analogy because there is no reason for those people to be as ugly and selfish as they are either. In this play I feel like that mystical element gives an optional out: “Oh we could blame the gods. Would that make you feel better? We could blame them.”

Bridget: Yeah! But it’s a club! It’s a secret club that they are in once they choose to be in it.

Fleur: And there is no point in the play where we see him using his powers. Everything that we see after that deal is immensely human because people are bad enough on their own without being able to stop time.

I make a sound that I’m going to describe as a series of consonants. Something like “Grrllllk!”

I don’t know how I’m going to transcribe that noise I just made. Thanks Fleur of the Past.

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson (I presume)

Photo: Jodie Hutchinson (I presume)

Bridget: It was on such a big scale without being a melodrama.

Fleur: Yeah. It is a step beyond the world. Despite being just the span of one man’s life, it feels bigger than that. Such good writing.

Bridget: He’s so fucking good. So fucking good. It made me excited about theatre.

Fleur: Yeah. It’s one of those scripts that makes me want to run and write. I want to surprise people! I want to have people leaning forward as I continually did throughout this text, even on second viewing!

Bridget: I’ve been trying to find alternatives to drama or to the main stage family drama and I’ve been thinking about how things can be epic and important without being that kind of a work and I think this play succeeds in doing that. It’s about something really important but it’s told in such a surprising way. I feel like the writer has tried to think about the audience’s experience of it.

Fleur: And yet, it also feels almost effortless at times. I feel that the first section was written on one of those beautiful days when you sit down and a first draft just pours out of you. There is such a flow to it. It doesn’t feel laboured. Its one of those light days of writing when it is just skipping out and you’re saying yes to everything that comes into your brain.

Bridget: Yeah. I can get out here!

Fleur: No it’s alright! I can get you closer because there’s the U-turn spot up a bit further.

Disclaimer: Bridget Mackey and I both work with MKA: Theatre of New Writing, who produced The Unspoken Word Is Joe.

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Politics, Theatre

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are Buffy’s cookie dough. Things are still difficult, sometimes dangerous but holyfuckingshit we’ve come a long way. The fight that brought us here, the bravery of its soldiers and hope for the future of our global community is something worth pausing to remember. Something worth pride.

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

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Responses, Theatre

the note on my arm read: applause is the ogre of poetry/smasher of phrase and disruptor of metaphor/fuck you*

The secret police are knocking on Shostakovich’s door. Those three sharp, dissonant chords ring through the State theatre and jolt me to the core. ‘All is not well. Never relax. Never let your guard down. They will come for you, Dmitri, as they came for your friends.’ On stage, a man picks up an inanimate body and, with difficulty, drapes it across his shoulders. The prone woman, limbs askew, presses him towards the ground. He gathers a second body. His knees shudder. He gathers a third. His whole being is shaking now. Brittle, broken limbs emerge from every angle. His burden outweighs him. The dead pile up. The police knock again – those heart-stopping chords. And the audience applauds, congratulating the performer on his physical strength.

opuscarry

Listen: I feel that in writing about OPUS I am hovering dangerously close to a ‘stupid audience didn’t get it’ post and my respect for audiences is something that drives both my theatre and writing. I don’t want to write that they didn’t get it because I think that they did. Any ‘getting’ is valid.

You don’t have to know how many of Shostakovich’s friends were disappeared during the Stalinist purges. You don’t have to know how he lived in fear for years and how brave he was to continue writing his music, music that said again and again ‘all is not well. Something is rotten here.’ You don’t have to know this to feel for the twisted, juddering bodies onstage and to feel hear the urgent desperation in his music.

I think the incongruity I found between audience response and my own was because OPUS is more than a mix of genres: it is a mix of learned etiquettes: circus and classical music. I could feel Circa fighting against this. Their choreography deliberately distances itself from the ‘Ta-Daa’ moment, which is such a traditional part of the performer-audience interaction in circus. One image flowed into the next, working with the movements of the music. They endeavoured to create something that we process as complete entity, rather than a series of separate moments punctuated by our hands. Yet still, this is how it was punctuated.

opus all

A woman rises out of a sea of bodies. Rather than strike that ‘Ta-Daa’ pose, her arms claw at the air, as if she struggles against not only gravity but the inevitability of sinking back into the mass of people below. And applause. And that is fine. I keep telling myself that is fine…

But lay this image on the music of an incredibly brave political composer, who grieved through his music – grieved when it was still dangerous to do so – and I wonder if applause is adequate. Shostakovich survived the Stalinist purges and World War II. He survived and he wrote his 8th String Quartet in 1960 in the still-rubble strewn Dresden, dedicating the work to “victims of fascism and war”. The feared nighttime knocking still haunted him and those three sharp chords intrude again and again. … And “Bravo!” yells a man somewhere to my left. circa and debussy string quartet opus

Is it that I am more trained in classical music than in circus? Is this why I am preferencing my own polite, well-trained music audience response over that of the height-equals-applause audience? In doing this, am I trying to strip circus of its very circus-ness. Isn’t recognising and rejoicing in human possibility the very essence of this art? Certainly Circa retain spectacle and those dangerous, breath-catching moments. It was some of the most stunning circus I have ever seen and the Debussy String Quartet made me tear up multiple times. I just wonder whether audiences’ expectations and learnt behaviours are going to hold circus back from becoming a medium that transcends shock and awe.

Circus-makers are ready to transcend it: Circa’s Artistic Director, Yaron Lifschitz said in the program “I want (our work) to exist beyond words – an actual, powerful, seismic theatrical event that moves you, without you being able to say why.” The medium has become one of complexity, maturity and depth. But I feel there is still an echo of the crowd pressing into the freak show tent, unaware that the bearded lady is singing. What they are seeing has closed their ears to the possibility of beauty.

The ‘knocking’ starts at 12’36 in this recording. But listen at least from 6 minutes at because 6’18 begins one of the most heart-stopping motifs in 20th Century music.   All production photos are by Justin Nicholas. 

*Drunk Fleur got melodramatic with her note-taking.

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conversation, creativity, Dramaturgical Analysis, interview, Theatre, writing

in conversation: mark wilson on narrative, surprise, shakespeare and whatever this song is called

Two weeks ago I sat down with theatre maker Mark Wilson for a chat. He is the creator of Unsex Me which I discussed on the blog with audience members  last month. He is an actor, director, writer and dramaturge and is currently undertaking Playwriting Australia’s dramaturgy internship with me at MTC. Mark’s passion for theatre is contagious and his delight in rigorous intellectual interrogation of art left me elated. He is a joy to talk to and, while it can be hard to convey tone in a transcript, know that there was a whole lot of laughter, consumption of brownies and self-decricapting grimaces. So picture this: a cold, rainy day. We are upstairs at the Malthouse, two pots of tea between us. We begin. 

 

SFB: Tell me what you’ve been thinking about this week, Mark Wilson. What’s been on your mind?

Mark: I’ve been thinking about narrative or plot.

SFB: What about narrative or plot?

Mark: They’re not very interesting to me but sometimes you need it to be the vehicle. The theme.

I saw a film last night and it is a lot about how fucked Ireland is and I thought it was an appallingly made film. After, my aunty said to me “well wasn’t that the most profound film you’ve ever seen?”. I had to say “I can appreciate that the themes were there but I didn’t think it was well made.” I closed my eyes with boredom a few times. It was so achingly sentimental.

SFB: Good for the soul, isn’t it? Achingly sentimental? Don’t we all just want a story, Mark? Don’t we all just want a nice beginning, middle and end?

Mark: Maybe that’s what we want but it’s not what we all need.

SFB: What do we need?

Mark: We need to think about the world.

SFB: So when you read a play that excites you, what is it that’s working for you?

Mark: Well if it is an old play, it’s when characters start reflecting. If it is a new play it is about surprise

SFB: Do you get surprised in old plays?

Mark: Very rarely. I get surprised by the ideas characters express but the plots, almost invariably, are not surprising.

SFB: What surprises you in new plays?

Mark: Form. And… the surprising attacks of angles. Yeah. Often it is a formal shift. Suddenly we are all dancing.

SFB: Yes, seldom is my surprise the actual plot. If people are trying to surprise me with a plot – if that is their big reveal, that some guy has been dead the whole time – well then narrative is the least surprising surprise you can have.

Mark: Narrative: Uuuuughh!

SFB: I don’t know how to transcribe that sound. Just a lot of ‘u’s I think. And some ‘gh’s.

Mark: I think a ‘gh’. I’m a big fan of the ‘gh’.

When a playwright thinks that narrative is their whole job, you’re in trouble. If it’s not working often my first impulse is to get on the floor with it. I want to get on the floor with some good actors. I think my problem is that I look at scripts not as the final thing but as the start.

SFB: I think that’s how people should look at a script. I think a lot of the time a script that is polished and perfect doesn’t leave space for theatre. Sometimes they are beautiful to read on the page and you don’t need to stage it.

Mark: Somebody said that about F. Scott Fitzgerald. He couldn’t write a screenplay because he finished them. The directors he worked with (who eventually kicked him off) they had a movie in their head and their needed something more exciting from the screenwriter but Fitzgerald would deliver a magnum opus in screenplay form, which is useless.

Photography by Sarah Walker as part of her fabulous series, Clutch

Photography by Sarah Walker as part of her fabulous series, Clutch

The best Shakespeare I’ve ever seen hasn’t been Shakespeare.

SFB: What was that?

Mark: The Ostermeier Hamlet. It started with this slapstick burying of the king. They kept on dropping the coffin and it was raining and slippery and the guy who was burying it was doing that kind of dance when you’re like (demonstrates making robot sounds).

SFB: Popping. I’m addicted to So You Think You Can Dance. I’m sorry. Very embarrassing.

Mark: Yes. So they just threw any form, any theatrical technique that they needed at that moment. The most extraordinary moment was Laertes has returned and Hamlet is doing a soliloquy and then he stops and he says, “Laertes thinks I have wronged him. Have I wronged Laertes?” He waits then he asks it again: “Have I wronged Laertes?” Nothing. He asked it a third time and then somebody in the audience yelled out “Ya!” And Hamlet dove into the audience, climbed over the seats and was screaming at this guy in German. Then somebody on the other side yelled out in English “No! No, you haven’t wronged Laertes!” And instantly Hamlet was climbing over that way, screaming in English. So everybody was talking about it and Hamlet was reflecting on what was being said and then slipped back into the Shakespeare. It was extraordinary.

SFB: Holy shit.

Mark: Holy shit! Yeah.

A friend of mine said “nothing that is five-hundred years old can mean the same thing now as it did when it was written.” And Artaud said “if Oedipus Rex (or whatever play) isn’t working for your audience, it’s not the fault of your audience. It is the fault of Oedipus Rex.” That was big. For me. That the text, which I love, which has fed me, does not work on its own. Peter Brook said that at the beginning of his career he wanted the text to speak for itself but now he realizes the text can’t speak.

Mark laughs.

But a friend was saying that it is fucked in Melbourne because nobody can just do a show. They have to be having all these formal enquiries and that can totally isolate the audience.

SFB: I get that. And I still do love narrative. More than you, I’m sure. I still just like to tell a good story. But I am a very happy theatre-goer. It takes a lot to make me not like a show. I go in excited. You have to fucking pummel me to make me unhappy. Shows that everyone else hated I just go “they told me a story! They sung me some songs! Things were pretty! I’m happy!”

I guess I’m trying really hard to be the dramaturge slash arts writer who doesn’t bring their personal tastes with them. Which is hard because I’m also trying to be an artist who has to be full of personal taste. But I’m trying to ride that balance. I try hard to go into every show saying, “In every production there will be something that I could not have done.” That’s tricky. Sometimes. Sometimes you come out saying “well I couldn’t have done any of that because I wouldn’t have done any of that, would I!” So it is hard.

Sarah Walker, from Clutch again

Sarah Walker, from Clutch again

So you’ve been thinking about narrative and plot.

Mark: I’ve been thinking about narrative and plot. I’ve been thinking lot about this. And about race and how we deal with this stuff onstage.

SFB: Was there a conclusion? Did you find out how we deal with it onstage?

Mark: No. Badly. Nakkiah Lui’s article in The Guardian was interesting. She said we need two types of revolution. The first is allowing and actively casting people who are not white as characters that where race and ethnicity doesn’t matter and the other is an increased amount of material on stages that actively represents the lives of those who are not all white and middle class.

SFB: It is difficult. I said to Danny (Delahunty) before we cast The City They Burned that if we end up with an all white cast I’ll punch us. I’m keeping a tally of all the shows I see this year and I’m keeping a tally of how many actors are in each show and how many are not white. I can’t write a play for nine actors and have them all represented as white. But who do we get at the audition? We see over a hundred people and I think we had two or three non-anglo actors audition for us. But then the company, Attic Erratic, started casting Norm and Ahmed and suddenly these diverse actors all come out of the woodwork. Does that mean that these actors are out there and not coming to these auditions because they presume that they won’t –

Mark: You bet. They presume, understandably, that they won’t be cast as the universal. And it is ridiculous. The word ‘ethnic’ we don’t apply to white people. White people are not ‘ethnic’. What? What? Yeah. Yeah man. What the fuck! We’re neutral. White man is neutral.

The new Star Wars' cast

The new Star Wars’ cast

SFB: I listen to a podcast called Popculture Happy Hour. I’d avoided it for a long time because I know nothing about pop culture but it is fantastic and I’m totally addicted, despite not knowing any of the movies they are talking about. It is just such good discussion. They did one when the photo of the new Star Wars came out and it was a table full of white men, basically. Then people started getting defensive and saying “we didn’t give you the photo to audit” and these guys on the podcast said “that implies that they are two separate things: looking at the photo and seeing that they are all white men.” It’s not an audit if that is the first thing you notice. That is just us looking and seeing the obvious.

Mark: Yes, that stuff is alive politically. And yet we chose not to engage with it.

SFB: There was another story I heard on a different podcast (I can’t remember which, maybe Snap Judgement) about a boy at a segregated school. One day the nun walked in, took down the crucifix and put up a new one with a black Jesus on it. All the kids were staring at her in shock and she says “Jesus would have probably looked more like you then me” and walks out. All these kids are just… minds blown and this guy, who is now an adult, says “still, whenever I think of Jesus, he is black, like me.” And that was such an empowering moment for him as a man, when Black Jesus came to stay.

Mark: Wonderful.

What’s this song called?

SFB: No idea.

Mark: I love this song.

We both listen in silence.

Mark: I think it’s those people who dressed like hippies on the front of their first album.

SFB: Remember me saying a few minutes ago that I know nothing about pop culture? Yeah, still true.

We listen.

So Mark, why theatre?

Mark: Why theatre? Oh no! Well real time, real space is shared. That’s fundamental. I think what fourth wall naturalism doesn’t understand is that we are all sharing the same place at the same time. Stop pretending we’re somewhere else. For me, a piece of theatre that doesn’t acknowledge its theatricality has failed already. Even texts that fundamentally do, like Shakespeare, I’ve seen appalling productions that try to pretend that we’re not here. Are you serious? Are you serious? Come on. Yeah. Real time, real place, same space, we’re sharing something. It’s an event. People come together. It’s that old phrase: we are a socially constructive form. I like that a lot. But then I also like “no, fuck that, I’m an individual in that room!” I guess I want it both ways.

SFB: I’m just firing short things at you now. So what does the term ‘responsibility’ mean for you within your art?

Mark: Yeah, yeah, okay. Responsibility. I think we have a social responsibility. I think we need to acknowledge our advantages in life. Our social and economic advantages. I think that theatre needs to do that in the way that we tell stories. You know, everyone shits on some of these playwrights but they write an unproblematic middle class world, that’s fucked. Like Marcel said in the paper today “we always say that theatre can do anything but we do an awful lot of plays set in middle class living rooms.” I think the responsibility is about how we present the world. Because all the world’s a stage and a stage is all the world. That’s why I find well plotted, complete-unto-themselves plays so boring: they’re assuming that they can present everything; that they are a complete world. Well no, actually. I’m drinking peppermint tea. Somebody picked that peppermint tea. I’m enjoying the fruits of their underpaid labour. And yeah I might be a filthy socialist of the old sort –

SFB: Look at that beard, of course you are.

Mark: Look at this beard! But then look at my pink pants. Yeah. I think it is irresponsible to answer questions and not ask them. The theatre is the place to ask.

SFB: Okay so you’ve said a lot about what we are doing wrong in theatre, how do we fix it? I’m sorry! I’m sorry! What a bitch. Who asks this stuff?

Mark: I think we need to stop producing mediocrity and things with small ambition. I don’t care that it was a hit on the West End two years ago and someone wants to be in it and it will sell tickets, why is this happening? A real interrogation of the social need. I’m not talking about being didactic, I’m talking about asking interesting questions. Why are we doing yet another play that can sit nicely and not offend? It is fucked. It is fucked. But on the other hand, I’m talking about the majors here, and there is a big audience who doesn’t share my taste and that’s fine. That’s totally fine. But my God, when they see an Arthur Miller that should be the best God damn Arthur Miller that anyone in Australia can produce. If not, then there is something wrong.

But really dramaturgy is the thing. And I don’t mean ‘dramaturgy’ as script development. I think that reducing dramaturgy to fit that definition is one of the most appalling things in the world. Why are we doing the piece? Who is it speaking to? What does this choice that we’ve made mean in relation to the text and the audience? That is the thing that needs to fix theatre. Why, beyond economics, is this the play we’re doing? But I also understand that there are enormous pressures in programming but let’s just say that if I was running one of these big houses that question would be asked a lot. And then it would be a question to marketing – “how would you sell this?” – as opposed to a question to the literary department – “how would we sell this?” What!?

I don’t know if anything I’ve said today represents my thinking at all. I don’t know if it’s true. I don’t know if I believe it.

SFB: You’re my fave. And on that note.

Mark: On that note.

 

Sarah Walker’s beautiful work can be found here. But then you all knew that, I hope. 

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