personal

2016// a year in moments

January // I write a letter to Sarah. I don’t send it for another ten months.

Dear Sarah,

Otis Redding sung me down into London with a voice like tears. I found him on the aeroplane’s playlist called ‘Western Pop: The Latest Pop from the World’s Biggest Stars.’ Also on the list were Bette Midler, Duran Duran and a group called ‘Purity Ring’. London appeared like a ring of candles encircling the horizon. Otis purred to Old Man Trouble.

In the town I’m staying in, there is a statue with its head and half its chest lopped off. My sister guesses casually that it may be the work of Cromwell’s men. Now it stands guard outside the Pizza Express. History is so visible here. Even the violent, ugly parts.

Love, Fleur.

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England. With family.

February // I wander into a museum, tucked inside a university in London.

It is one of those working museums, with desks pushed up against glass cabinets and the notes of students and researches covering every surface not already covered with Eygtian relics. I find the coffin of a woman named Nairytisitnefer. Written on a piece of paper beside it is a translation of the hieroglyphics craved into it.  The paper says that these were words spoken by Nairytisitnefer, who was true of voice. She said this: that she got her heart from the house of hearts and her soul from the house of souls but that “the mind of Nairytisitnefer belongs to her, and she is content with it.” I loved that.

Back in Australia, my mother walks up on stage to collect the Jill Blewett award on my behalf from the Premier of South Australia.

March // I give up counting.

Usually I count how many times I sleep without medication, times I see a doctor, shows I see, times I cry, people I kiss, books I read, scripts I read, productions I worked on. By March I was already too tired to count.

This month I call 65 passionate young people and tell them they will not be a part of Slaughterhouse Five. I call 10 and tell them they will be.

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Lonely Company, brand new in 2016.

April // I’m walking down an empty corridor and then it is no longer empty.

Three meters away, a young woman turns a corner and we see each other. Our eyes meet for a millisecond, we avert our gazes, both say ‘sorry’ and walk on. After, it occurs to me that this is perhaps the most female interaction ever: None of this myth about women competitively judging each other with a glance. This is women: We share a space for a moment, make no physical or emotional contact, mutually apologies for our presence in this corridor/world and walk on.

May // We are working on the final scene of Slaughterhouse Five.

It’s the first time we’ve looked at it so I’ve asked the actors to bring in something it made them think of. We go out onto the lawn, sitting in a slightly lopsided circle to make space for Liam’s wheelchair, and this beautiful group of young people respond to a massacre, 71 years old. We pass around print outs of paintings, people read poems from their iphones and I play Lark Ascending by Vaughan Williams and from The Singing Tree, by Kate Seredy. Then we read the final scene of Slaughterhouse Five. 

And somewhere in there was springtime. The corpse mines were closed down. The soldiers all left to fight the Russians. In the suburbs, the women and children dug rifle pits. We were locked up in the stable in the suburbs. They left us there. We ate the hay. And then, one morning, we got up to discover that the door was unlocked. The Second World War in Europe was over.

We wandered out onto the shady street. The trees were leafing out. There was nothing going on out there, no traffic of any kind. There was only one vehicle, an abandoned wagon drawn by two horses.

Birds were talking. One bird said, ‘Poo-tee-weet?’

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Slaughterhouse Five. Photo: Sarah Walker

Things I learnt this year //

How to sew scrunchies.

That my bosses support me, even when a crazy man emails them saying that I’m the worst thing ever.

That my boyfriend loves me.

How to edit audio.

Every word of Not Throwing Away My Shot from Hamilton.

That The Macarena was a 1993 pop hit and not, as I had previously thought, a folk dance.

June // I blocked someone.

Facebook opened a new page and showed me a list: the three people I have blocked, including the newest addition. There, in the midst of my frustration, I saw a beautiful thing: those other two names, both of which I’d given barely a thought to in eight years. ‘Oh yeah,’ I murmured, ‘I guess that was a shitty, sad moment eight years ago.’ I love time and how it passes. I love knowing that one day I’ll probably come back to this list again, look at the third name and think ‘oh yeah, I guess I remember when that happened’ before getting on with the rest of my day.

This month my niece and I build a museum. We careful position toy dinosaurs on Duplo blocks, make a tiny doll’s house into a café and she writes a sign: Welcome to Museum. Like the Adelaide museum, we need a giant squid, so make one from ribbon and a blue wooden block. We suspend it in an empty glass, using a chopstick and a rubber band. I don’t know which of us is more proud.

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July //  My mother and I, on a couch in Adelaide.

We are studying four photos of the Beirut convent where my great-great grandmother, Thekla, was raised. Thekla was just three when her mum froze to death in a vineyard and now, here we sat, my mum and I, studying the four photos in the book for signs of what her life was: the Germanic dorm rooms, with their straight lines of identical beds, the orphan’s embroidery, the nun with her tight press lips and tighter habit.

“I hope they were kind to her, that little girl,” said mum, and we both cried a bit.

2016 resolutions //

To find what it is that I need in each project or job to do it joyously. Follow my joy. Work with joy. Articulate that joy. This actually worked wonderfully. While there were still projects I struggled to find the joy with, I did seek it out. This resolution also played a big part in how we made Contact Mic: we begun by asking what we all needed from the project in order to do it joyously and used the answers to create a work flow.

Glorify balance rather than overwork. I think I did quite well at this. I was still very busy but there were also mediation and picnics.

Love courageously. Nailed it.

Go to yoga 180 times. Did not nail it.

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Favourite man. Photo by Sarah Walker.

August // A man screams at me over the phone.

‘Who even are you anyway?’ I tell him he knows who I am. I am Fleur, we’ve met and I’m the artistic coordinator for the Academy. ‘Well that’s just a title!’ He retorts. Then, a moment later ‘so you’re the one who would be making this decision?’ Yep. So I guess it isn’t just a title. He yells some more and eventually I tell him that I will not continue the conversation and will email him with my decision. He yells ‘don’t you dare hang up on me’ as I hang up. I’m surprised by how unshaken I am.

September // A message from Liam pops up on my Facebook screen.

It tells me this isn’t Liam. That Liam is dead. Could I let people know? I write back some words – love, sympathy, thoughts – and facebook tells me that Liam sees them. But I don’t think that is true.

I write to students. I tell them Liam is dead. That he is no longer in pain. That it happened yesterday. I ask them not to post about it publicly until the family do because that’s the kind of thing you need to remind people these days. I tell them I’ll keep them posted about the funeral.

I cry a bit, a couple of short, confused sobs. I walk down the street with an empty shopping bag. I return with an empty shopping bag.

I go back and read Liam’s last message to me. Back when he really was Liam.

I’m out of hospital and the surgery went well. Unfortunately there is no good news on the cancer front, but such is life. My breathing is still a bit dodgy but slowly getting better.

Sorry I’m just really distracted by this election. I think safe schools is so important. If I had had safe schools in my school I would have been more comfortable being my authentic self earlier. I would have understood that I wasn’t alone and isolated and that there were so many people like me all around. I also don’t want to die without the right to marry. Sigh. I don’t know.

Anyway, just had to vent. Thank you so much for checking in! Very kind. I think of you often and slaughterhouse! This actually reminds me, I was going to message but forgot but wanted to say thank you for havjng me on the production. You took me as an AD despite havjng little practical experience, and I really appreciate that opportunity. I really hope I was of some help and I just felt so happy being involved with such a talented and kind creative. It was truly a beautiful and intelligent piece.

I cry a lot then. I go back to the students. I write ‘This is shit. I’m so sorry. I’ll organise flowers.’ And I do.

I drive across the city. I am hugged by beautiful, teary women and then they do their vocal warm ups and I warm up the lights and we do a show. I am drinking at the op desk, shutting my eyes between cues and taking deep breaths. I thought he had more time.

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My favourite moment of theatre I made this year. Photo: Sarah Walker

October // I go for a drive.

It is dark and the streets are almost empty. I’m actually very calm. I pull into a side street next to a Synagogue because it looks at good a street as any to sit in and be quiet. To listen to Dan Savage on the last of my phone battery, take deep breaths and try not think about the yelling and crying I left behind. My mum calls. I say it’s fine but I need to go because my battery is low. I say I’ll go home soon. Then I sit some more. Dan Savage chats on, talking sex and politics until the screen goes dark. I drive home. The next day I make an appointment to see a counsellor.

November // We cook dinner.

I shell the broad beans, he blends the hummus, I roll out the flat bread, he mixes the salad dressing. We smile a lot. We clink glasses. We eat. We finish and we drive to the opening night of a show I’ve worked on for three years. In the car I say thank you for the lovely, distracting dinner. I say let’s make this a pre-show tradition. I say really though, making art is weird. I say, but in a way I’ve already done my job and peers have already said I’ve done it pretty darn well. I say I just hope I like it. I say hold my hand, please.

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Contact Mic. Kieran, Sarah and I.

2017 resolutions //

See friends on purpose and for no reason. If I have a nice conversation with someone, tell them I enjoyed it and organise to make it happen again.

Budget. Save money and then spend it going to England.

Create less waste.

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My niece wrote her first sentence in 2016.

December // We enter the room.

My face tries to cram thirteen different emotions on it at once. I tear up. The room is full of light, sound and finches. Perhaps fifty finches fly about, landing on beautiful, coathanger structures hung from piano wire. Each tiny landing adds to the soundscape. We sit on the blond wood floor. We watch the birds. We hold hands. We watch new people enter the room and try to cram multiple emotions onto their faces. And I feel so, so lucky for a year of sights, adventures and experiences with this man.

 

Ending and beginning.

I end the year with $4500 debt and a persistent Internet stalker. I also end it with a development of a new play for the State Theatre Company of South Australia locked in. I end it with 12 episodes of a podcast I have made with two of my dearest friends under my belt and 12 applications from playwrights wanting to work with Lonely Company in my inbox. I end it running Lonely Company with two of my other dearest friends. I feel very lucky in my collaborators.

I start 2017 hopeful and pretty calm. In an hour I’ll ride a bike to a New Years party and I’ll smile a lot, kiss a lot and supervise the barbecuing of haloumi and mushrooms. I’ll probably be asleep by midnight or at least 12.30. I’ll wake in the morning to a new year with old friends and maybe some new ones. And I’ll do my best.

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December 30th, 2016

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

in conversation: f. by riot stage youth theatre

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

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

Her: What’s that?

Me: It’s a microphone recorder.

Her: Oh really.

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

Her: Pardon?

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

Her: Was I?

Me: You were.

Her: I don’t think I was.

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

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

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Photo: Sarah Walker

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

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

Nelly: That was confusing at times!

Me: What do you think happened to you?

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

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

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

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

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

Nelly: Like he had two personalities.

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

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

End conversation 1.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude: 

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

Her: Was I?

Me: Yeah. Did granddad play any sport?

Her: Oh… He usually played golf.

Long pause.

Me: Did you ever try golf.

Her: I don’t think so.

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

Her: Do they play golf?

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

Me: What happened to you in there?

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

A parade of motorbikes roar past.  

Me: We’ll give them a moment.

More motorbikes.

Jules: Okay. Rude.

We wait. They pass. We resume.

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

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

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Photo: Sarah Walker

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

Me: Could you express yourself better online?

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

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

Interlude: 

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

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

Me: Did you like reading?

Her: I never did very much reading.

Me: What was your favourite thing about Granddad?

Her: Granddad?

Me: My granddad.

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

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

Her: No, I don’t think so.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 2:

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

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

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

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

Jules and Doug: Oh MSN!

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

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Photo: Sarah Walker

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

Me: And you blew it, straight away.

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

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

Interlude:

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

Her: What’s that?

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

Her: Oh.

Silence. Knives and forks clatter. 

Me: What are you most proud of?

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

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

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

Conversation 2:

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

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

End conversation 2, with a full SD card.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude:

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

Me: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds hard work.

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

Waiter: Spinach and feta borek?

Me: That’s me. And the lamb is here.

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

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

Her: No. Thank you.

Waiter leaves. Silence.

Her: A knife and fork would be handy.

End interlude. 

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

Standard
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.

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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

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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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letters, mental health, Monash, personal, self care

a letter: to new artists, graduates and emerging theatre makers

Dear graduates,

Congratulations. You’ve finished your degree and you are about to enter a truly wonderful industry. There is so much support and love within our community. There is playfulness, joy, adrenaline, terror, celebration and plenty of sweaty hugs in your future.

graduatesjimmy

But this is also an industry that values overwork, demands vulnerability and offers little stability. It is an industry with incredibly high rates of mental illness, stress, anxiety, depression and even suicide. Because of this, I can’t let you leave the relative safety of the university without saying a few words about self-care.

Depression, isolation and mania are woven into the mythology of arts. The concept of late-18th Century, romanticised melancholy, is still caught up in our ideas of how art gets made: that genius goes hand-in-hand with darkness and insanity.

Melancholy was also a state of being reserved for those who were intellectually and spiritually superior. Did you know that? Back in the day, not all people could experience all emotions. Grief, depression, sorrow, melancholy and even love – real grand, noble love – those were things reserved for the rich, the royal, the educated, the knighted and, yes, the artistic. The rest of us experienced drunkenness, laziness and malcontent. Isn’t that the most extreme form of elitism you’ve ever heard of? Some emotions are too complex for the rough of hand.

And I know: depression and melancholy are two different things today. One is an emotional state and the other is a mental illness. But I just had to say all that because history glorifies them and it weaves them into the mythology of my industry and that scares me. Accepting darkness as part of artistic practice can lead to some scary stuff.

It can lead to artists not seeking help when they need it. Not saying, “this doesn’t feel like a healthy way to work.” Not carving out a space for their own well being within their practice.

graduatesgale

These are some truths I know:

  • Art is too hard to feel shit whilst making it.
  • Art is too hard to make with people who do not respect you and your work.
  • Art is too wonderful not to do joyously.

As an artist, your mind and body are your tools. They deserve to be looked after. If, however, you are someone who struggles to justify spending time on yourself, look at it as time spent on your colleagues and collaborators: in this collaborative art form, the best gift you can bring to the rehearsal room, the thing that will give your cast and crew confidence, courage and a sense of freedom, is a mind and body that is ready to work.

Now is the time to put in place systems and practices that will help you create a sustainable career. This will look different for everyone (some exercises meant to lull me to sleep only served to make me lie awake thinking about how I was so bad at sleep that I needed exercises) so it is worth putting time and effort into establishing a routine that works for you. Prioritise this. Prioritise this now. Mid-crisis is not going to be the best time to work out a system.

graduatesroddyflying

Here are some tips or pieces of advice that have helped me. They may not work for you but hopefully they might start you thinking.

  1. Enjoy the journey to where you are heading. You probably won’t graduate and instantly step into an established company or funded solo practice and that is fine. Enjoy. Be playful. Take the risks it is hard to take once you have money and a company behind you.
  2. Try to be inspired instead of jealous when your peers achieve.
  3. Know that your self-worth is not dependent on your creative output. If you are between projects, working slowly or taking time off art to ensure your financial stability, that is so, so fine. Every artist ever has done this. Remember that you deserve your own kindness and consideration whether you are making art or not.
  4. Listen to your body. I and so many other artists out there have bodies that tell them when they are working too hard. For me it is muscle spasms in my face and pain in my arm. As soon as I feel these things, I try to rectify the situation: get a massage, go for a walk, take a day off, have an early night. Your body knows when you are under too much stress. Listen to it. It is trying to tell you something.
  5. Prioritise sleep. Make time for washing. Do your food shopping. Pack your lunch. Have a safe, comfortable home or place to retreat to.
  6. Put an end to the work day. If you are free-lance it is so easy to let work bleed into your evenings then into your nights. This was what led to years of chronic insomnia for me. These days, I won’t work past 9pm and it has done wonders for me.
  7. Remember the goals of the project or job you are doing. It is not all encompassing. I am yet to see a project with the goal “save the world and permanently change the lives of every person who walks through that door.” Don’t tell yourself that the project is bigger than it is and set achievable goals for your art.
  8. Carve out time, even ten minutes, for your own creativity. When you are not doing creative work or when you are working on a project that isn’t your driving passion, it can be easy to become exasperated. On the days when I am busiest, I set my alarm and do ten minutes of fast creative writing. This is the most efficient way to remind myself of my creativity and of how exciting art can be.
  9. Go for walks. Pat dogs.
  10. Ask, “What do I need help with?” at the beginning of a project or job. Acknowledging that you don’t have all the skills is really important. Further, acknowledging that there are people around you who can fill in the knowledge you lack is vital.
  11. When working in fringe theatre on a project where you are undertaking many roles (say, actor plus set builder plus publicist or director plus designer) remind yourself that you are doing multiple roles. Know that this is a massive task and not something that would be demanded of you by a professional company. That’s fine – we all do it – but just acknowledging this can help. Remind yourself that you are justified in feeling tired and stressed. Sometimes we think there is something wrong with us when actually we are responding in exactly the way anyone would if they were to take on such a massive workload.
  12. Remember that your colleagues and the wider community are there to support you. No one wants someone else’s project to fail. Your friends and audiences walk into the theatre wanting to have an excellent night and enjoy the skill and effort you have put into the project. Don’t invent a narrative in which you are isolated and the people around you want you to fail. Stick to the facts.
  13. Build space for congratulations into your projects.
  14. Don’t be afraid of saying ‘no’. People will respect you for taking on the right kind and right amount of work.
  15. Don’t glorify being busy and overwhelmed. It isn’t something to aspire too.
  16. Forgive yourself.
  17. Remember that you’re not on this journey alone. Connect with your peers. Ask for help when you need it.

graduatescake

And now, enjoy some tips from other artists:

Sarah Walker:

I try to make exercise one of the major priorities in my day. If I start the day going, ‘Okay, I’m definitely going to this 12:15 yoga class’, or ‘I’m going to swim at 8 pm’, it means that I schedule the rest of my life around that, and it makes me a happier person.

I find that work-wise, using the 52/17 technique is quite good – you set an alarm and work completely uninterrupted for 52 minutes, then have 17 minutes of totally different leisure – reading a book, going for a short walk, sitting in the sun, drinking a cup of tea – away from screens and from the place where you’re working. It feels quite decadent and recharges you for the next period of work.

I also schedule the occasional day off, where I’m not allowed to do work at all – it means that I’m productive in the days preceding, and I get to spend the whole day playing music, pottering around, drawing, cooking – being totally screen-free and totally outside my work headspace.

Also, knowing that being incredibly busy isn’t actually a sign that you’re succeeding – being able to get your stuff done and then clock off in the evening, to see friends, to have a glass of wine and read a book – that’s actual success, because it means that you have balance.

Nithya Nagarajan

Do not be guilty when you have to take up a non-creative job to provide for your monetary needs whilst you are making art on the side. Do NOT beat yourself up about it, and see it as an opportunity to use your transferable skills from the studio into the real world and the skills you acquire from the real world back onto the stage. Blur the binaries. They were always constructs anyway.

Chrissie Robinson

Understand that ‘doing well’ is easy when you’re ‘doing well’, so practicing the things that keep you grounded or that calm you is extra important when you’re ‘well’ so that you can automatically do them when you’re stressed and it’s harder.

Know your own stress early warning signs. You’re probably cleaning more/snapping more/ more annoyed at your mum’s SMSs than usual because you’re anxious, not because it’s actually dirty/everyone’s an idiot/your mother is actually insufferable.

Don’t be sanctimonious about being busy – the most functional and successful people are those that take the time for themselves. Also, it makes you ‘that guy’, and we love artists who have time for/interest in others’ ideas too. Be the person someone wants to go to to share excitement about their idea.

And don’t make ‘what are you working on at the moment?’ your only question. There’s more to life than just art and talking about the broader world will only improve your practice. And you.

Jana Perkovic:

Don’t spread yourself thin. Yes means yes. If you commit to a project, you have to give it your best shot. Therefore, be very careful what you say yes to, because you have to be accountable to each ‘yes’ you say.

Be mindful of staying kind and fair to yourself. Never compare yourself to your peers: remember we are all on an individual journey. Remember that you are not your work, and rejection isn’t personal: you are just not the right fit for the project. Cultivate long-term relationships. It is not competition, it is a community. Being an arts worker is a long game.

Anna Kennedy:

Remind yourself that this is supposed to be fun. Play!

Eloise Maree:

Keep going! We are the world needs artists – be brave enough to exist as one. xx

graduatesblak

All photos in this post are from Sarah Walker’s CLUTCH series. Her work can be found here.

 I wrote this for the Monash graduates of the Centre for Theatre and Performance but decided to share it publicly here because it isn’t just graduates that need to think about self-care. Look after yourselves!  

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creativity, My own plays, personal, Sex

a year in moments (and a few numbers)

2014treelegs

At Abbotsford Convent, photo by my sister.

1.

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

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

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

“Should we kiss or something?” I ask.

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

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

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

2.

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

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

3.

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

4.

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

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

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

At work.

At work.

5.

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

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

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

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

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

6.

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

7.

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

“They look like a screensaver,” I think.

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

8.

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

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

Which is fucking dumb.

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

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

Which is fucking dumb.

In Dalby, Queensland photograph by Gabriel Comerford

In Dalby, Queensland, photograph by Gabriel Comerford

9.

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

10.

This year I worked on twenty different productions.

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

I kissed five people and slept with two.

I ate ice cream five times.

I saw a doctor five times.

I slept without medication one hundred and one times.

I flew seven times.

11.

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

12.

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

A parting message for Dalby.

A parting message for Dalby.

13.

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

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

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

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

14.

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

15.

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

17.

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

18.

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

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

And if that fails, I give good hugs.

19.

At the airport. My mother says goodbye.

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

20.

“Where are we flying to?”

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

“That’s a good idea.”

“Up, up the plane goes!”

“What can you see out the windows?”

“Nana filling the birdbath.”

“What colour is your plane?”

“It’s a red and yellow plane.”

“What colour is the sky?”

“I don’t know.”

“I think you do.”

“Lots of colours.”

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

“A little drink.”

“Shall we land now?”

“Yes.”

“Aaaaaaaand BUMP!”

“Again.”

With my niece.

With my niece.

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conversation, interview, intimate portraits, personal, Sex

on inspiring kisses, bull ants, daniel radcliffe, modelling, the beauty of being safe and the beauty of being constructed

Part four of my anonymous conversations on sex, gender and beauty

By Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker

– So if you could start by describing where we.

– We’re kind of sitting on the edge of bowl in this kind of mountainous valley kind of region. There’s a sheer face of lush green and hillocky, rushicky bits on the other side. There’s a nice view of the mountains though that crest in the valley there.

– What’s the most memorable kiss of your life? Do you have one where you’re like “That: that changed what kissing was.”

– When I was seventeen I moved to Melbourne. I’d just got into Monash but I’d also got into this program that the Australian Shakespeare Company had started up. Being new to Melbourne and not really knowing anybody I was just like “this is really cool. This is really lucky.”

During high school I’d only really come out to a few very close friends and one boy I had a massive crush on. And I kind of admitted that one day at a house party and he was just overwhelmingly flattered but sadly didn’t reciprocate.

– Was he gay?

– He was straight but I wasn’t sure because he had that very confident, thing where he was very comfortable with his sexuality and he kind of flirted a little bit and would wink at me a lot which was kind of nice to indulge in.

Um… So yeah, a very select handful of close friends and my mum and my dad and my brother and they were all cool with it but I wanted to wait until I moved down to Melbourne before I went public – as it were.

We started rehearsals for this Shakespeare show in April so it was before I’d even really gone public at Uni but I was like “I’m comfortable in this so I may as well put it out there and see how it goes.” So I kind of mentioned that I was gay and that was cool. Then this other guy in the group was just like “oh yeah, I’m bi, yadda yadda, yadda” and I was just like “that’s interesting” but didn’t really pay it much further heed.

I don’t know exactly how it escalated but over the next couple of days we were chatting and flirting and you know… We shared a few tram trips back into the city and I think we expressed that we were both a little bit fond of each other and then….

We’d just had a break. We were sitting outside and everyone was coming back into the theatre. He turned the corner and went into this little entrance room and then as soon as I rounded the corner to follow him inside he turned around and just kissed me on the mouth. It was just like… yeah. That was my first kiss with a man.

– How did it feel?

– Um… Surprising. In that I hadn’t expected it. Tingly. As they tend to. And kind of… incredibly inspiring and validating. There was this thing that I’d never been able to explore while I was younger and so it was kind of a new frontier. After being so unsure about how people in general would kind of perceive it and receive it, to have that validation of not only is it okay, but somebody’s interested in me. Interested in this way that I’d never explored before. And it was cool. Yeah. And it was quite a sweet little romance that lasted for just the duration of that production. And I’m still excellent good friends with him now.

– Was that his first kiss with a boy as well?

– I feel like it might have been. Because he hadn’t come out to anyone yet and our relationship was the catalyst to him coming out to his parents and a lot of his family. And they were the loveliest people you could possibly imagine. They were so cool and they were really expressive about how much they valued the fact that I was with him and the fact that this had acted as the catalyst for him opening up and expressing who he truly was.

– Was there a moment when you first figured out your sexuality? Was it sudden or was it a gradual thing?

– I think it was quite gradual. It had definitely been a long time coming.

I speak to some people who say they knew they were gay from “the day they were born” or when they were very young but…

I experimented in primary school but at that point you’re only starting your development as a sexual being, I suppose… At the very cusp of puberty. There were a small group of us who would… It’s so weird, now that I think back on it! There was one guy who kind of instigated it. Finding a secluded part of the school ground and just having a bit of a fiddle. It was kind of odd. But I kind of realised that was something I was kind of into. Yeah. And that kind of experimental thing led to –

Jesus! Bull ants! Oh we’re not sitting on a nest are we?

– I feel like we would have realised this before now if we were.

– Maybe it was just a little explorer one.

– We could just move a bit further. Shall we?

– We could sit on the steps over there! In the shade.

The sound of feet moving through long grass.

– Oh they don’t look like they’ll be very comfortable for backsides. I might take this bit of grass.

They settle back into it.

– Um… Yeah. Daniel Radcliffe was my first serious celebrity crush. I remember talking to my parents saying, “It’s really weird! I just feel like a giggly school girl whenever I think about him!” And they teased me for using such phrasing. Not in any kind of malicious, shaming way. It was just a bit funny.

As I progressed through high school, I noticed I was far more into guys than I was into girls. But then I fell head over heels in crush with this guy in my year. I was about fourteen. He was just beautiful. He had strawberry blond hair, a bit of a jock but a sweet jock! One of the quiet ones who wasn’t as performative about his masculinity!

– When do you feel most beautiful?

– I don’t know. The first thing that sprung to mind when you said that was my mum. But in a conceptual way of – like – feeling beautiful when I’m feeling loved. And safe. And held. Um… Yeah. Feeling important or significant, not in any kind of grand public way but feeling a sense of place and a sense that somebody values me or is kind of invested in that connection.

– That’s a lovely answer.

– Thank you.

In terms of physically, I don’t know. In a superficial way, when I look in the mirror and find myself attractive, it’s usually just when I’m feeling confident. Because there are times when I look in the mirror and I’m just like “Ugh. Really?”

– “That’s what I’ve got to work with?”

– But sometimes I’ll be in a great mood and I’ll just look at myself and be like “Yeah! Damn!” It’s weirdly fluid like that. I’ve never really held much stock in a sense of superficial beauty. This guy I’ve just been dating, he was a very openly and kind of proudly superficial person. He proudly labelled himself as such. For him it’s all about beauty and all about glamour.

I feel like there’s far more beauty in flaw and imperfection. Anyone can be beautiful. I’m far more interested in things that make you different. Things that make you unique. Like, my teeth are really crooked and I’ve got a little chip in one of my two front teeth. And I probably need to get a little bit of dental work done to neaten my choppers up but there are certain things that I’d never ever change because they are things that characterise me and that nobody else has. I feel quite comfortable in that. Feel quite comfortable in owning that.

In terms of being a performer, I’m not really interested in being the most beautiful auditionee and getting cast for that. I’ve got stories that I wanna tell and they don’t rely on that. I want to invest in what makes people different. I feel like that’s what makes people interesting. I feel like I’m rambling a little.

By Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker

Um… When do you feel most beautiful?

– Um… I feel like my answer is going to be really shallow after yours.

– Do it, man!

– Because yours is all emotive and mine’s “no, no! It’s when the light is a particular way and when I’ve just put on make up.”

I don’t know…. Yeah, it really changes. Sometimes I’ll just be a tiny bit fitter, like I will have gone for a five-minute jog, and I’ll come back and go “I am hot! That has done it. That has just tipped the scales.” But it varies so much for me.

I did modelling. I knew I had the potential to look beautiful when I had a whole team working on my face but I was also very aware that I didn’t look like that in real life. That beauty was something that no one saw when they were just looking at me walking down the street. People told me that all the time.

That was – That whole experience really shaped my perception of beauty and my physicality because – because – It never was “I’m beautiful so I’ll do this!” It was something that I absolutely just stumbled into when I was drunk. Literally. I was drunk and a friend had a camera. And it was at a time when I was still really young and still figuring out how I carried myself through the world and where my self-esteem was placed.

I had so many people say things about me in a professional way. I had one photographer say “you’re front’s a bit blocky. I’ll just photograph your back.” Then I had another photographer say, “You’ve got a manly back, I’ll photograph your front.”

– Kind of clinical, industry talk?

– Yeah! I’ve had so much said about And I’ve had photographers say I was heavier or not as toned as they wanted. Then I had members of the general public looking at photos saying, “She’s anorexic. That’s gross.” I had both things shouted at me.

I don’t think it was a damaging experience or anything but… It is difficult and bizarre to shape your own perception of yourself when everyone else is weighing in on this really public, vulnerable, naked self. It’s bizarre to figure out what beauty is after that. What beauty is when you don’t have a whole team and a thousand shots to get that one shot. So, yeah. I think it is something that still… troubles me.

And I also just think I’m really bad at dressing myself. I so seldom feel comfortable in my clothes. I just don’t think I’m good at that. I can’t do my hair. I don’t know how to do hair. There are these things that just… Argh! Wow! Yeah.

– Can I ask, following on from that, in what mode to you perceive beauty in others?

– Very different. Very differently from how I judge myself. I recognise beauty in others so immediately and it’s not this bizarre, glamorised perfected form of beauty that I perhaps expect from myself. I’m so aware of what has gone into making a photo shoot in a magazine. It’s not just the photoshop that people think it is. Image manipulation begins before the camera takes that photo. It’s about how the model holds themselves and placing the light at a certain angle that will thin them down. I know how manufactured that kind of beauty is so I don’t hold others up to that standard.

– So many people, especially in the gay subculture, strive for this manufactured perfection. Some people achieve that or achieve very near it but it’s just something that I’ve never had that much time for. While you’re striving to craft this image, you don’t spend any time developing your personality. Some of the most beautiful people that I know in that scene, there’s not that much to them. I’m not saying they are bad people but there’s not a lot of depth or complexity.

– The most beautiful people I know are like what you’ve said: their beauty comes from confidence. When you see someone who is so at ease in their body and in themselves – and I don’t mean that in an “Everyone’s Beautiful” kind of way but just – There’s something so sexy about someone that’s at home in their body and whose body feels lived in and relaxed and sensual – unashamedly so. That’s a sexy thing when you see that.

Thank you once again to my amazing interviewee and to Sarah Walker for her photos. 

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personal, Politics, Responses, Theatre, thoughts

on bureaucracy, subtlety, hyprtxt and a naked body

I was booked in to see three shows last night but only managed two because they utterly devastated me.

I still don’t really have words to express why The Defence at MKA’s HYPRTXT Festival upset me as much as it did. It was intentional: the playwright wanted us to be uncomfortable to highlight some very pertinent issues in our industry. But there was something about watching the events unfold as an audience laughed hysterically that left me utterly shattered. And I want to apologise to the actors, all of whom did excellent work: I was sitting in the front row and I’ve no doubt my face was radiating an aura of ‘don’t you say another fucking word’. Sorry.

In the light of my (rather extreme) emotional reaction, I’m going to respond in a slightly unusual and immensely personal way.

Image

Image by Sarah Walker and graphic design by George Rose

Three thoughts inspired from a night at HYPRTEXT:

Thought One. On The Grace of Officials.

One day, when I was fifteen, I attended an event ran by an organisation which provided legal aid to asylum seekers. At the end of the talk, I walked up to them and asked if there was anything I could do to help. It turns out there was. A week later my dad took me to their office where we picked up a dictation machine and three cassette tapes. As the lawyer handed them over she paused and looked at my dad. “I hope your daughter is open-minded,” she said. “She is going to hear some very extreme stuff.” And I did.

These were the tapes of asylum seeker hearings and every hearing I transcribed ended with asylum being denied, which was why this group now had the tapes, so as to assemble a defence for a re-hearing. (They could not be called ‘re-trials’ because, apparently, the refugee was not on ‘trial’ despite all evidence to the contrary.)

Look, the horror of the individual cases does blur together. The voices were coming from a compound in the middle of a desert via webcam, through a translator sitting in a room in Adelaide with a thick Middle Eastern accent, through a tape recorder and into my ears. I know there were rapes, death threats, dead families, torture and humiliation. What I remember more clearly than the terror was the bureaucracy. We were swimming in it.

“Please place your hand on the Quran and swear – ”

“I can’t.”

“Why?”

“He says to me, ‘you know! You are a Muslim. You tell them!’”

“I’m sorry?”

“He has not washed. He cannot touch the Quran when he has not washed.”

They tried for quite a while, these men in Adelaide, to wash the hands of a man in Woomera but in the end the request proved too complicated for the system and they had to proceed without an oath. He was handcuffed, you see. For the whole five hour hearing. This was not usual practice but he was ‘a trouble maker’.

This exchange has stuck with me for twelve years. The irony of expecting a man to be devout enough to swear an oath on his holy book without taking into account the needs of a devout man. A devout, hand-cuffed man in the middle of a desert. And yes, there were moments of humanity. Moments when men pleaded for their freedom and safety but it was the bureaucratic inhumanity that I most clearly retain.

And in the end, appropriately enough, my job vanished in a cloud of bureaucracy: the group lost access to tapes. New rules dictated that, instead of being given to the defence team, they would be sent to Sweden (I think Sweden, somewhere a very, very long way away) where an accent analyser would determine that perhaps the man came from a town two towns over from the town he said he came from. That he was a liar because his accent told a slightly different story than his words did.

The morning after Howard was re-elected for his third term I went for a walk. I wandered through the suburbs and asked, “Who are the people voting for this system? Do they know? I hope they don’t because what does that say of my countrymen and women if they know and still say ‘do it.’”

Image

Photo source, The Age. The photographer is Peter Mathew.

Thought two. The Defence.

We had exchanged about six emails and the word ‘nudity’ had never been mentioned. When he first asked me to take my clothes off I agreed because he said I could have my back to the camera. It was implied nudity. When he asked me to turn around, I hesitated but did it because it seemed easier.

After a few minutes, he paused to bring in some new props (a mirror, I think) and I told him I was surprised by the nudity and would be more comfortable with clothes.

He told me he was disappointed.

I told him my profile said I didn’t do nudity anymore.

He told me that he had seen photos of me naked so just assumed it would be fine.

It wasn’t.

Look, it’s not a big deal. In the end. Worse things happen every day. But it was one of the last shoots I ever did. And I didn’t share the photos. And my throat felt tight for days. And scanning over my old portfolio I had a lot of memories of not feeling in control of my own body. And assuming it will be fine is not how we make art. I’m sorry but it’s not.

syboro

Image by Syboro, not the photographer in this story

Thought three. Issue-based theatre.

Listen. We demand of artists that we address issues head-on. It is central to our idea of ourselves as an artistic community: that we are brave and urgent. In his speech at the National Play Festival last week, Andrew Bovell’s said “the question for us, as writers, is what story will we tell each other”. He said “the fight for the soul of our nation continues” and that we as writers, thinkers and artists must be “up for the fight.”

And yet, say the words ‘issue-based theatre’ and people will screw up their faces. It is too unsubtle for us. Conversations can be blatant and loud and we wear our politics on the tip of our tongues and on the front of our shirts but we expect of our art not to ‘hit us over the head with a message’. We demand a subtlety that is, perhaps, impossible when faced with issues of this magnitude.

These plays were not subtle but fuck it. Bring it on, guys. Shout it loud. Just maybe give me a cup on tea and a hug at the end because you crushed me.

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