personal, Responses, Theatre

on waiting, loving, competing and the bachelor s17 e5

I don’t think I’ve ever seen an episode of The Bachelor but I must have imbibed it somewhere along the way. Because every time a rose appeared on the stage of the Mechanics Institute in The Bachelor S17 E5, every time the music stated the exact magnitude of the drama, every time The Bachelor asked ‘can I steal you’ or a girl turned to the camera to call another girl ‘fake’, I recognised it. This world is simultaneously alien and deeply familiar.

It is July, 2018. I am in Australia. On the other side of the world The Bachelor is between seasons and Bachelor Arie Luyendyk Jnr. is engaged to Lauren Burnham, the runner up of Season 22. As they plan their wedding, a motley crew of contestants in Melbourne stare into the audience. They are here for love. They are here for a rose. They are here to win and they are “not about to be bypassed by some other lady making a better connection with him.”

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Watching them, this video pops into my mind: David Bowie and Mick Jagger, Dancing in the Street with all the music stripped away. The sound of breathy lip syncing and the shuffling of their feet make their once explicable actions (they are shooting a music video) ridiculous, hollow, painful; two grown men writhing, sexlessly in the night.

Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose’s production sits in the silence, the waiting and the weirdness of love as game show and lovers as candidates. In this version of The Bachelor, the images that burn aren’t the kisses – performed on loop like terrible gifs, two beings lip at each other, too little and too much – it is the contestants waiting in silence.

It reminds me of images of American high school dances: the girls not chosen, the rejects, sit in a row along the side of the gymnasium. But this is worse than that: Each time Sean leaves (‘can I steal you away?’), The Others are made non-people by his absence. We feel how disinterested a TV camera would be in their silent, uncomfortable wait. Without the presence of the man they are competing for, these women will be left on the cutting room floor. But in this production they are centred. The Bachelor told through the female gaze is all about the waiting, the silence and the unasked questions:

Why him? We see nothing to recommend Sean as a human being. In fact, this production makes him and everyone around him barely human. The stage is full of half-people: more role than reality.

Why her? For the duration of the show, I forget that there will in fact be a winner of this season of The Bachelor. (Catherine. It was Catherine. She sat on his lap.) There was no way in which to distinguish the competitors on that stage and no reason for him to chose one over the other.

It reminded me of a brief stint on OkCupid: each time I went home I would think to myself, “yes.. I could see him again.. Or, never again.”

37095150_10155153967871362_2300415059609780224_o“Habitualisation devours work, clothes, furniture, one’s wife, and the fear of war… and art exists that one may recover the sensation of life; it exists to make the stone stony. The purpose of art is to impart the sensation of things as they are perceived and not as they are known. “ Viktor Shklovski

After 22 seasons, The Bachelor is part of our DNA. That’s why I recognised the music, the straight-to-cameras, the yearning. Our habitualisation to its tropes has made it seem like a reasonable form of entertainment and made us accept that, when someone says ‘this is the man/woman you’ll be competing for’, we’ll be ready: we will not be bypassed by some other lady/man/lovesick human building a better connection than us. This production makes us all David Bowies and Mick Jaggers dancing in silence.

Last night, frying zucchinis, I had a moment of shock. Shock that there was a man cooking beside me and that, of all the people in the world we could have cooked zucchini with, we had chosen each other.

Later. We went to bed and read our books beside each other. Later – this morning – I wrote these words when I was meant to be drawing a naked woman but my astonishment at love outweighed my desire to get my money’s worth from my Sunday life drawing class.

I think of Sean and Catherine. What a power imbalance they started their relationship with! Six months of being told ‘I could chose someone else.’ Could you ever cook zucchinis with the man who put you through that? What is a relationship like when the competition has been so obvious? When you have been lined up again and again with a group of ever-diminishing women, knowing that this man may be about to send you away from him, can you read a book next to him in bed?

She is in this relationship because she auditioned, fought hard and won. He is in this relationship because he was the one she fought for. So maybe that’s the difference: in the real world you both audition. You both fight hard and maybe, if everything lines up you both win.

And I think of the moments we’ve all been left on the cutting room floor. I mean, at least Lindsey, Ashlee, Desiree, Lesley, Tierra, Daniella, Selma, Robin and Jackie got to milk a goat, see Glacier National Park and drink champagne along the way. At least they got to look in the camera and say ‘I’m angry’, ‘I’m shocked’, ‘that bitch’, ‘This hurts so bad’. In life we lose in silence.

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All photos by Sarah Walker

I am friends with Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose but don’t worry: I would have written self-indulgently about cooking zucchini and competitive love even if I had never met them. 

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audiences, criticism, Dramaturgical Analysis, My own plays, Responses, Theatre, writing

brutality, brittleness and some merciless gods

So I’ve been thinking a bit lately about what we can ask of our audiences. About hardness, culpability and the hurt that words can bring. A few weeks ago I saw Roslyn Oades’ Hello, Goodbye, Happy Birthday and I felt so grateful to see a piece of theatre that was new, innovative and at the forefront of its field just be gentle. New and innovative so often means jagged.

I’m aware that theatre happens both onstage and in my body – the body of the audience – and I am aware that the theatre that is me goes through phases: sometimes I can take whatever you have going and other days, for whatever reason, I am more brittle.

Last night, at Merciless Gods, I was brittle from muscular pain and painkillers. This brittleness (and my fun drug cocktail) in no way clouded my vision: I saw a stunning production. I saw actors perform with incredible control, intensity and generousity. I saw a lighting design that made me gasp and I heard words that cut. And I was shaken because it was hard and jagged and I was brittle and tired.

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Charles Purcell in Merciless Gods. Photo: Sarah Walker.

A few weeks ago, I wrote this scene (edited down here) for my new play, Whale. I doubt it will make it to the final or even third draft because dramaturges seldom have time for this sort of wanky self-doubt, but this scene was in my head last night.

WRITER:

I think I need a break

Does anyone else need a break?

MAN:

Are you okay?

WRITER:

How much is too much to ask of theatre?

MAN:

I’m not –

Sorry

Not following

WRITER:

Like

We want it to be relevant and have a message

We want it to say the big things but

Like

Right now relevant means fucked

It means

Give them a shitty night

I just

Think that maybe there needs to be a moratorium

Maybe we need to ask our audiences

Do you want us to be relevant and frightening

To put shitty decisions on your lap and force you to feel culpable

Or do you want to come here and forget about it?

MAN:

Okay I hear you

I just think

Now you’ve started

Maybe you need to finish this one

Okay?

You can write a comedy next year

Would that make you feel better?

Yeah, that’s definitely not going to make it to draft three.

Every time I ask people these questions, their answers blow me away. So – prompted by Merciless Gods but in no way entirely about that show – I wanted to give people a chance to answer the questions that I keep coming up against. Here, in an act of beautiful generosity, artists and critics answer my questions:

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Photo: Sarah Walker (again)

How much is too much?

Sarah Walker: You know, I think there really isn’t an answer to this question. Because I’ve seen shows that have depicted horror – true horror, but they’ve cared for the audience in that space. Given them a sense of power. Whether it be to politically empower people – say, this is happening but it can be stopped and you can do something to stop it, or to just fight horror with love, with hope – to say, just feeling is an act of rebellion. Loving is a weapon against hate. Those are the shows that have justified their brutality. I think the problem comes when a show brings you darkness but doesn’t give you a way out. That is the work that shuts people down. That makes them feel powerless.

Myron My: I don’t believe there can be such a thing in theatre because ultimately it is all make-believe. As long as it’s done with care and respect. I think it’s important that while we yearn for love and happiness it’s really important to explore and reflect on the darker elements of life, and what better way to do it than through theatre.

What purpose does brutality serve of our stages?

Eliza Quinn: I think sometimes its the escapism of theatre that can feel brutal – like “Oh, I just spent two hours in this nice warm theatre and I went into a totally different world that made me feel something that might have been vaguely euphoric or sublime, and now I’m outside and it’s cold and wet and I don’t know how to reconcile what I saw in there with what I know is happening out here.”
Sometimes it’s like a performance is asking too much of me by being so wonderful and joyful. Then I exit the theatre and go home and turn on the news and there is no joy.
Like I feel as though the performance or text or whatever didn’t give me any tools with which to navigate the world outside. And I ask myself if that’s the point of theatre? If it is there to give you the tools to deal with the real world or if I should just be grateful that a whole lot of people put in so much effort to entertain me. Sometimes it feels like I am asking too much of theatre.

Sarah Walker: I think of all artists, theatremakers particularly feel this responsibility for their work to interrogate, to challenge and to reveal. We’re okay with film being entertaining and silly and comforting, but I think theatremakers feel like that isn’t enough – feel like they have to ask the big, awful questions with their bodies and their text. Perhaps it’s something about the liveness of theatre – the reality of the human figure sweating and fretting and heart-beating in front of you. Something about that dynamic seems to force us to try to create work that makes people feel, and it feels wrong or cowardly to just make people laugh or feel delight. It’s not, of course. The ideal work is one, I think, that acknowledges that the world is terrifying and brutal and cruel, but reminds us that there is beauty, there is hope, and that we can cultivate those energies and emotions in a way that isn’t just ignoring the bad.

What did the brutality of Merciless Gods do to you?

Bridget Mackey: I think that we should see brutality on our stages. There’s a brutality that exists in our world and I think that we should be made to look at it. I think that Christos Tsiolkas is a writer who makes us look at things that we, as a society, don’t want to look at. And Little One’s production of Merciless Gods has skilfully dramatised the quality about Tsiolkas that I appreciate. To be honest, there’s a brutality to my own desires. I’m talking about both sexual desires and things I’d like to do or say when I’m angry or frustrated. Of course, I am sometimes ashamed of these things and don’t act on them. Sometimes I act them out in a safe way. I figure other people are the same. So, I think the stage is a good place to explore darkness and brutality. Sometimes when we look at things closely we see them for what they are, and realise we are not alone in our experiences.

Sarah Walker: When Stephen and Dan were interviewed on Smart Arts, they both used a word to describe the stories that made up the show, and that word was ‘tender.’ And I feel like that was what I took away from that production – this sense of profound tenderness. I will admit that I watched it partly through a camera lens, which always distorts my experience of a production. But what I felt during those vignettes wasn’t the stark, clinical slap of brutality. It was the ache of love, of longing, of people desperately trying to figure out what it was to be human. What it meant to be alive in a cruel world that took things away that you cared for. So many of those characters were just aching – aching, but in the space that absence or pain carved in them, that ache became something of substance. Became love that filled the hole and defined it. My overwhelming takeaway was that humans can be hideous, but they can also be so, so tender. So human. And that that love and tenderness wasn’t just a response to pain. It was a force just as strong as the horror. There was something I found comforting in it, because I’ve felt that pain, that loss. Not in the circumstances of the characters in the show, but I recognised those feelings. And knowing that we all feel those things – it helps to make us feel a little less alone. And the more complex pieces – Petals, for example, still had moments of profound beauty. Pete Paltos singing, his voice filling that huge space, brought beauty to a monologue that is otherwise horrifying. That a character who could be so brutal could also be so beautiful was meaningful, and complex, in the way that the world is complex.

Have you seen a show that has asked too much of you?

Jessica Bellamy: I have seen shows that asked too much of me, but for me, that “too much” was along the lines of: pretend you can empathise with the couple trying to buy a house, give a shit about that wedding, laugh at those jokes that to you are not funny, not relatable, not coming from a world that empowers you. The last show that asked too much of me was The Odd Couple. I sat in the middle of the theatre, surrounded by a room of half-tittering and half-snoring white hairs and I felt tears run down my face because I knew this sort of theatre and this sort of “comedy” is what so many people want, and what I should be reaching for if I want to make the sweet big money out there one day, but does it have to be within a tapestry of middle class sexist bullshit? When I see plays like this, where the wise and witty and weird are mocked and ignored, I think: theatre can be a bully sometimes. Theatre should be a refuge and a solace, but plays like this just remind me I am not welcome. There is no place for me in a canon like this. I did not find Merciless Gods brutal. I found it refreshing, honest, sad, ugly and beautiful. I heard voices that we do not often hear, do not listen to, that get lost under the weight of those who are amplified too often.

Merciless Gods is by Dan Giovannoni from the book by Christos Tsiolkas​ and directed by Stephen Nicolazzo. It is playing at Northcote Townhall until August 5th.

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Brigid Gallacher, Photo: Sarah Walker (as always)

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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. 

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Fragmentary Response, Responses

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

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

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

The Bacchae

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

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

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

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

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

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

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

THE BACCHAE, photo by Pia Johnston

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Responses, Theatre

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

DREAM HOME by Emilie Collyer, directed by Luke Kerridge

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

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

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

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

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

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

DREAM HOME, promo image by Sarah Walker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Tomlins and Jackson Trickett, photo: Pia Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

IRINA:                      You know who I am, right?

ELISE:                      Of course. You’re amazing.

IRINA:                      Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

Gregory Crewdson, from his TWILIGHT series

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

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

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

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audiences, dance, Responses, Theatre

on failing as an audience, atlanta eke, philippe genty and wordlessness

I write a lot about the joy of being in the audience – how I love to love theatre and how often I lean over to the person beside me and whisper “I’m so fucking excited” as the lights fade to black. Today I want to talk about my failings as an audience member.

Back in 2009 I saw Philippe Genty’s Lands End. It was a performance of exquisite grandeur: an eloquent, wordless love letter to the imagination. At the end of the performance, the young couple beside me tentatively offered their hard-earned meaning making.

“Is that right? Is that what it meant?”

“Absolutely! If that’s what it meant to you!”

Genty's LANDS END. Photographed by Pascal François.

Genty’s LANDS END. Photographed by Pascal François.

I remember how philanthropic my words felt at the time. I was standing at the gates of Possibility, barefoot and smiling, my words a sweeping gesture at the castles and hills around me. “My kingdom is yours!” I proclaimed. “Wander where you will! The only rule is No Rules.” I went home imagining the adventures the pair would have with my words as their permission slip. (All the metaphors!)

I thought of this exchange two weeks ago when I saw Atlanta Eke’s Body of Work at Dancehouse. The piece is stunning; equally as eloquent as Genty’s but without the grandeur. This was small, tight, fierce, uncomfortable, mesmerising in its persistent self-examination, witty, distressing and obsessive, with a deep undercurrent of wrongness and impending destruction. Body of Work is the foreshocks of a human earthquake. It is rats fleeing, dogs howling and a sky full of birds. It did things to my body, knotted my gut, locked my joints and left me a raw, miserable ball.

But here’s the thing: I was already that miserable ball when I walked into the theatre. I will always feel like an outsider in dance. The fact that I’ve become something of a resident outsider for Dancehouse in recent months – as the non-dance member of an assessment panel, host of a forum and writer of an article for Dancehouse Diary – hasn’t lessened my feeling of being the alien in the room. If anything, the more I learn, the more aware I am of the disconnection I have from my body and my inadequacies at translating dance into a verbal or written responses.

Eke's BODY OF WORK. Photographed by Gregory Lorenzutti.

Eke’s BODY OF WORK. Photographed by Gregory Lorenzutti.

Now I do not write about these two incredibly different shows to draw a comparison between them – for they were worlds apart and aimed to elicit very different emotive responses from their audiences.

It also doesn’t matter why they produced in me such incredibly different emotions. Lands End was wordless (I think: it was a long time ago) and I happily drifted through its visual poetry without their familiar tether but when Atlanta exchanged nine words with her tech mid-way through Body of Work, I clung to them like a lifeline. I counted them. Literally. I treasured them. I emblazoned them on my brain and across her body. But many days I’m fine without words. It could have been that one was part of a dance festival instead of an arts festival or it could have just been that I was having a bad week; a week in which again and again I asked myself what possessed me, an introvert, to push myself into a field that demands extroversion; a week in which I envied visual artists their quiet galleries. Perhaps it was that, as an arts writer, I feel responsible when I lack an instantaneous eloquent response to art.

Whatever the reason, I was made Other by Atlanta’s work and it is good to be Other. It reminds me of the bravery of those who take a punt on an artist or art form they have never experienced before. Art worlds develop their own dialects, verbal, visual and physical, for which there are no dictionaries or travel guides. In asking someone to enter these worlds, we are asking them to prepare to feel underprepared.

Eke's BODY OF WORK. Photographed by Gregory Lorenzutti.

Eke’s BODY OF WORK. Photographed by Gregory Lorenzutti.

I think of the people I interview for this blog: those travellers sans Lonely Planet, under whose noses I wave my mic recorder mere minutes after they have crossed the boarder back into their home land. “What happened to you? What did it mean? Be the anthropologist!” I ask, well-meaning jerk that I am. If someone had done this to me after Body of Work I probably would have burst into tears. “Don’t ask me. This isn’t my first language.” After a calming gin and tonic, I might venture an interpretation immediately followed by the self-depreciating “Is that right? Is that what it meant?”

I know I entitled this “my failings as an audience member” and I know that I did not ‘fail’ Body of Work. It made me feel. A lot. Almost too much. And I am engaging with it, questioning myself and interrogating my intellectual and emotive responses perhaps more ruthlessly than a sane person should. But it made me feel like a failure. A shaky, foolish, voiceless heap taking up a seat that should have been given to someone more deserving. And you know what? I have room in my heart for work that does this to me.

So shake me to the core. Leave me the outsider. Batter my ego. Knot my gut, lock my joints, catch my breath. Anything that leaves me still picking up the pieces two weeks after the fact is a wonder. Fucking bring it.

PS. I had a friend read this to check if it was self-indulgent self-flagellation. It passed his test but I apologise to anyone who found it like wading through an ocean of angst.

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Responses, Theatre

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

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

opuscarry

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

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

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

opus all

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

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

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

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

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

*Drunk Fleur got melodramatic with her note-taking.

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