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!

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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.

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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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history, Politics, world events

this week/month in your world

For a month now I have been gathering the news, making it as human and beautiful as I can, and releasing it on Facebook in weekly instalments. This has an experiment to see if I can make the news seem more relatable and immediate and to perhaps change my own relationship with it. I post them here to make them a little less ephemeral and to hold onto these very human moments. (I have abridged them a little, which I may regret when I go looking for them later. Each has one or two stories cut.)

This week – December 13th to 20th, 2015 – these things happened in your world:

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Demonstations in Diyarbakir, Turkey. Photo: AP

A boat was lost off of Indonesia. Or it wasn’t. It was carrying 122 people. Or 108. Or 118 – including 19 children and 10 crew members. And perhaps it sunk in high waves or perhaps it has simply lost contact with authorities. This is what the police are saying: That the engine has died but the passengers have not. That they are endeavouring to re-establish contact but the waves are very high. All we know is that somewhere in the ocean there are over 100 people – dead or alive – either on a ferry or off it and that somewhere on land there are many families unsure whether to grieve or anticipate grief.

Somewhere, a man cancelled his buck’s party in order to drink a beautiful, aged bottle of red wine with his fiancée and two of their closest friends. No tiaras, tutus or strippers were involved. Just four friends, four glasses, one bottle and some runny goat’s cheese. They toasted love, happiness, wine and goats.

In Bali, two men with grim faces and lose shirts signed papers, shook hands, apologised to Bali, Indonesia and the World and guaranteed the state a safe Christmas and New Years. The two men, ‘secretary-generals’ of rival Balinese gangs, were responding to a riot, which was started by their gang members inside Kerobokan Gaol and spilled out onto the streets. Four people were killed and another five hospitalised. Both gangs handed over weapons while knives, syringes, scythes and a saw were confiscated from the gaol.

Meanwhile in Turkey the president swore that the Kurdistan Workers Party fighters would be “annihilated” and Selahattin Demirtas, the leader of the pro-Kurdish Party called for “honourable resistance”. “If they think they can make us take a step back by showing a tank gun, they are wrong,” he said. “We fear nobody but God.” 55 Kurdish resistance fighters have been killed in the last three days of urban fighting in Turkey.

This week, a woman was told that, “God only gives us as much as we can handle”. The woman cried and cried and cried.

Scientists told us they had found a bone. Well, part of a bone. From this fragment of thigh they told us that the little being weighed approximately 50 kilos, that it lived and died 14,000 years ago, that it shared the world with modern humans and walked upright but knock-kneed. From this shard they knew its knees touched when it walked. The things we can learn from a fragment.

This week – December 7th to 12th, 2015 – these things happened in your world: 

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Saudi candidate Amal Badreldin al-Sawari outside a segregated polling station after voting for the first time in her life. Photo: Fayez Nureldine/AFP/Getty Images

This week a little boy was teased by his big brother. The boy was teased because he had cried when he learnt that his kindergarten was closed for the day. It was closed because of pollution. Outside the boys’ grit-covered window, the city of Beijing declared its first-ever red-alert for pollution, ordered almost half its cars off the roads and advised schools and kindergartens to close. Outside that window levels of PM2.5, dangerous microscopic particles that penetrate deep into the lungs, reached above 300 micrograms per cubic meter. The World Health Organisation’s recommended maximum exposure is 25 micrograms per cubic meter. Outside that window, masked faces moved through the murky world, life expectancies shortened, coal was burnt and people blew black and grey snot onto their white, white tissues.

Meanwhile, a Melbourne playwright wrote to a member of the infamous Phelps family on twitter. This woman, who had once exacerbated the grief of countless families by waving signs outside funerals declaring ‘God hates fags’, ‘Thank God for Dead Soldiers’ and ‘Planes Crash God Laughs’ responded to the playwright like this: “I couldn’t be more grateful for the kind, generous, amazing people we met after leaving – confounded all our expectations in the best way. The comfort and hope that came from that were wonderfully disorientating, & made our lives so much better.” She signed off the message with a bright red heart emoji.

This week, for the first time women voted in Saudi Arabia. This week, for the first time women were elected to local councils in Saudi Arabia. This week women’s right’s activist Sahar Hassan Nasief said, “Even if it were only one woman, we’re really proud of that. Honestly, we weren’t expecting anyone to win.” But 17 of the 900 Saudi women who ran for office, won. These seventeen were not permitted to speak to male voters in the lead up to the election and, like all Saudi women, they are barred from driving, from trying on clothes in shops, from entering cemeteries, from swimming, from going anywhere without male permission or a mahram (guardian) to chaperon them and from talking to men outside of their families. But despite this and despite the country’s Grand Mufti describing women’s involvement in politics as “opening the door to evil”, this week they voted and were elected. New politician Salma bint Hizab al-Oteibi told the world “my whole life has been a struggle. I will be in contact with society, especially women, to deliver their voices and demands to the council. I promise I will represent her by all means.”

This week – November 30th to December 6th, 2015 – these things happened in your world:

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This week Japan told us that 14 ghost ships had washed up on their shores since October. The vessels, manned by skeletons with and without their heads, are part of a much larger fleet: more than 250 boats have arrived in the last five years. The World thinks they may be from North Korea. The World thinks they were fishermen forced out into deeper and wilder oceans by Kim Jong-un’s orders to catch more fish to solve the country’s food shortages. The World thinks Kim Jong-un is a crazed and dangerous dictator with little regard for the lives of his people. The World thinks many things. The men, who have been dead and lost so long that their heads roll around the floors of their boats, have final found a harbour.

On Saturday morning in Australia, a very happy small dog found the rotting leg of something very dead and carried it with her in her mouth for 100 meters until her owner saw the prize and, with a very high-pitched voice and much hand-flapping, made her drop it.

In San Bernadino, USA, a woman whose Facebook profile was still drenched blue, white and red in solidarity with far away victims of violence, died as a victim of violence. With her died a man who loved Renaissance fairs; a man who once coached a princess-themed soccer team made up of five-year-old girls; three people who had fled violence in other countries only to died in America; a man whose Christmas present from his mother was sitting on his doorstep; an avid gardener; a woman who once eloped; a man with tattoos of both his grandfathers and his first wife; a man with a tie clip of the Star of David; a woman with three sisters; a man with rainbow, gay-pride earrings; a man who donated doves to families who had lost someone so they could be released at funerals.

In south-west Victoria, the MS Portland has been moored for three weeks. Its crew are refusing to undertake their final voyage to Singapore where their ship will be sold and scrapped and they will be made jobless. Whilst their union fought the decision to replace the Portland with a foreign vessel and crew, a small koala wandered down the breakwater, climbed up the mooring rope and settled down for a nap. The crew were touched and he was been named ‘Comrade Koala’ by the union for his show of solidarity.

This week – November 23rd to 29th, 2015 – these things happened in your world:

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Julieka’s grandmother Carol Roe and mother Della Roe speak to reporters before an inquest into her death began. Photo: AAP Image/Angie Raphael 

This week in your world, Western Australia specifically, a coronial inquest was told how Yamatji woman Julieka Dhu begged for medical help from her cell in Port Hedlands. They were told how, a police officer said to a nurse at the Hedlands Health Campus that Julieka was “faking it” shortly before she went into cardiac arrest and died. Julieka’s family told the inquest that she was a victim of domestic violence and had been assaulted by her partner. She told her father “Dad, my man throbs me, he broke my ribs.” These broken ribs, untreated contributed to her death from septicaemia and pneumonia but Sergeant Bond made an entry into the custody system that Ms Dhu “appears to be suffering withdrawals from drug use and is not coping well with being in custody”. She was imprisoned for $3622 worth of unpaid fine. She was 22-years-old. Juliaka’s was 339th Aboriginal death in custody in the two decades since a Royal Commission delivered 339 recommendations for change. The vast majority of these recommendations were never implemented. “They shouldn’t have treated anyone like that, they left her there like a dog, to die,” said her father. The hearing will continue in two weeks.

Somewhere this week, man in his late-eighties, who had always vowed that his staffy would be his Last Dog, relented to his family’s urgings and went to the pound. He had not expected to outlive Last Dog but his heart had kept on beating whilst hers had fluttered away. He endured the silence of his house only a few weeks after her death before allowing himself to be loaded into his daughter’s car and driven to the local shelter. And now he is in his armchair with a dog smaller and yappier than he ever expected to love. But love her he does.

 

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

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

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

Daniel Keene, photo: Piper Huynh

Daniel Keene, photo: Piper Huynh

What brought you to writing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

WELCOME TO NOWHERE in rehearsal. Photo: Piper Huynh

WELCOME TO NOWHERE in rehearsal. Photo: Piper Huynh

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m not anyone to ask advice about that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLEUR: Where are we?

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

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

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

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

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

FLEUR: What is your time period?

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

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

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

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

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

Our food is brought out to us.

WAITER: Mushrooms?

HANNAH: That’s me, thank you!

WAITER: Aaaaand chilli scrambled eggs.

FLEUR: Thank you!

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

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

The recorder goes off.

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

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

The recorder comes back on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLEUR: My play? Perhaps?

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

FLEUR: I really will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HANNAH: Was that deliberate?

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

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