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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Fragmentary Response, history, Theatre

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

Dear Birds,

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

Ready, steady… Go!

cleansed_picture__gallery_image

Photo courtesy of the National Theatre, Copyright: Birgit Kahle

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

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

I entered the theatre with this:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

cleansed royal court.jpg

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

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

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

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

Time is up.

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Fragmentary Response, Responses

fragmentary/inadequate thoughts: a love note to the bacchae and gutsy young women

These were the notes prior to speaking about The Bacchae with Richard Watts on Smart Arts.

I do not want to contribute to the plethora of too short reviews so I have decided to deliberately present my notes as fragmentary thoughts. I want to acknowledge this is too small a space to discuss a show but I hope these add something to the conversation.

The Bacchae

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

There was a moment five minute/two breaths in that made me wish it was acceptable to fist pump/barrack/yell ‘fuck yeah’ in theatre. I am Dionysius, son of Zeus. If you don’t believe me, I will punish you. My excitement was full bodied. I stuttered/salivated/shuddered in my seat. Smashing the mundane/modern up against the sublime/mystic will always make me lose my shit.

This is a piece of theatre that takes place in the audience as much as on the stage. You must think/confront your own intellectual/emotive responses to the assertive/blatant/disturbing/joyous sexuality of young women. Confidence just rolls off this stage. They were gutsy/strong/100 percent on board with this artistic vision. This scared people. In a world where young female bodies drape across our billboards/drop from the sky if you wear Lynx/are just a click away/everywhere, those that look back/own it are still dangerous.

I was there for a Q & A on Wednesday night – “I have a daughter/I wouldn’t want to see her doing this/how old are you/the older the better, I say” – and they were having none of it. These young women, still growing into their bodies/sense of self/sense of feminism, made it immensely clear that they chose to stand on that stage/put those costumes on their bodies/move those bodies in a particular way.

It is the trope of Greek tragedies: things happen off stage and men run/drag their broken selves in to describe the horrors they have seen. so the ecstatic Dionysian fervor of the women is told through male voices/witnessed through male eyes. Here these voices are almost completely removed. Instead, we watch the women in all their badass/fuck off power.

I won’t forget this. This one is staying.

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

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criticism, Fragmentary Response

fragmentary/inadequate responses: antigone, perhaps there is hope yet, jurassica, separation street

These days this blog doesn’t see a lot of writing about specific shows. (Actually it doesn’t see a lot of writing full stop because argh.) The bulk of my show responses now end up on Triple R’s Smart Arts, where I do a regular segment with Richard Watts. In preparing for this, I usually write several pages of notes and it recently occurred to me that perhaps artists might enjoy having some of these notes made public so as to have something in writing.

I do not want to contribute to the plethora of too short reviews so I have decided to deliberately present these as fragmentary thoughts. I want to acknowledge that the one paragraph of space I will give each show is inadequate. I will reach no conclusions in this word count and form no judgements but I hope these add something to the conversation. Call them love notes. Call them whispers. Call them poorly punctuated. Call them inadequate, fragmented responses to a tiny portion of the immensely thought-provoking art this city and its artists are producing.

ANTIGONE, photo by Pia Johnson

ANTIGONE, photo by Pia Johnson

ANTIGONE

This is what I walk in with. Politics. The horror of politics without room for human dignity/compassion/awareness of suffering.

This is what I walk out with. “Why does tragedy exist? Because you are full of rage. Why are you full of rage? Because you are full of grief.” Anne Carsons.

This production feels urgent/relevant/pressing, cheek-flushingly/mouth-dryingly/knuckles-whiteningly so. No, not because of phrases like ‘off-shore’ (which are a direct translation from the Ancient Greek) but because this is a moment in time when grief/rage resonate. The city/state/country throbs with it. So should our theatres. This one does. Tonight, this one does.

PERHAPS THERE IS HOPE YET, photo:

PERHAPS THERE IS HOPE YET, photo: Theresa Harrison

PERHAPS THERE IS HOPE YET

This is what I walk in with. Dissatisfaction with the spectacle of large-scale circus and its audience’s manic need to clap at every moment of splendour as if to say yes/yes/i saw/you did that and i saw it/you flew high. Applause stops thought/breaks phrasing/rewards performers and audience alike for the completion of their task/concludes our emotional/intellectual investment. I also bring with me a curiosity as to how circus could speak of climate change.

This is what I walk out with. What happens when you make circus small/immediate? What is the impact on the audience of ‘chamber circus’? We see/feel/empathise with the fragility/vulnerability of their bodies. We ground the spectacle in humanity. Every joint crack/sweat drip/jaw clench is registered in our own bodies. Framed as a dreaming on climate change, this vulnerability/deliberate endangerment/repeated callousness/ignorant disregard for their own/each other’s well being becomes an analogy for humanity in all our wilful ignorance of the future and what the shattering of glass/rising of oceans will do to us all.

JURASSICA

JURASSICA

JURASSICA*:

This is what I walk in with. A memory of my grandmother’s last night of consciousness. Sitting with her waiting for morning and her children to arrive. I didn’t say “goodbye”/“I love you”. I kept thinking there would be another moment. Her last words were mine alone.

This is what I walk out with. What would it be to watch this work through a different set of eyes/hear through a different set of ears? Ones that hadn’t heard a grandparent’s last words. This work hits/stabs/strikes a place within me that makes it impossible to deny how much our viewings of family narratives are shaped by our own narratives/families.

Red Stitch’s new focus on Australian writing places freshly developed scripts on the same stage as international works with much more money/time poured into their development. A big ask. The readiness of this script/how it sits beautifully within their season is a testament to the writer and the company’s process.

Seeing a bi-lingual play presented without apology or subtitles temporarily puts the audience in the position that many migrant families exist in on a daily basis. Households with a cavernous divide running the length of the living room/an unmissable crack in the plaster/snarling gap in the stairs. Parents who came to this country to provide for/protect/shelter their children and, in doing so, sacrificed their own relationships/ability to communicate with these children.

SEPARATION STREET, photo: Greta Costello (I think)

SEPARATION STREET, photo: Greta Costello (I think)

SEPARATION STREET:

This is what I walk in with. If your understanding of children’s theatre is still pantomime, you are living in the wrong century. And the wrong city. Melbourne is bringing it.

This is what I walk out with. An acute sense of being the outsider to the story and to childhood. This work begins with a literal separation. Adults take one path and kids another. It was a beautiful analogy for parenting. We are a step out of time/behind/in front of/creating/shaping the world for them. When they step into it we sit behind glass and watch them explore its alien surface alone. We can only watch. And cry. We can do that. I did that. I cried at the bravery/curiosity of these tiny/playful explorers.

Mr and Mrs Darling and Nana rushed into the nursery too late. The birds were flown.

SEPARATION STREET, photo: Greta Costello (perhaps)

SEPARATION STREET, photo: Greta Costello (perhaps)

*I saw Jurassica on a preview night and spoke about it with the permission of the company and director. 

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