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. 

dsc_1549

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.

dsc_1830

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.

dsc_1678

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.

dsc_1928

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.

dsc_1785

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.

dsc_1727

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. 

Advertisements
Standard
fiction, mental health, Sex, thoughts, writing

some small and unfinished things from my 2015 journals

Flicking through the pages of my 2015 journals, I found these tiny bits of somethings that never went anywhere. Now they are going here because they seemed to want a home. They are completely and utterly unconnected from each other.

1/ (a short thought on blindness) (connected to nothing)

And sometimes she wondered how the world would be if all who moved through it were blind
If we groped our way along walls, hands seeking doorways

She thought how perfume might take the place of visual vanities
How subtly a man might scent each fingertip, showing off his skills at blending and complementing by running them under the nose of his mate

And sometimes she wondered if we would care more or less for our planet if we couldn’t see it
Is its visual beauty its saving grace or do our eyes, ranging far ahead of our feet, make us want?
Would we be more gentle if everything we experienced had to be touched, to be pressed against, licked, sniffed, listened to?

Sometimes she wondered these things
Sometimes she shut her eyes on quiet streets and walked in a straight line for as long as she dared
But it didn’t make her feel more connected to anything but herself and her fear and the sound of her feet

fragments2015

Photo by Sarah Walker, of course.

2/ (unfinished) (a character sketch)

She’s called ‘Stephanie’ but hates it.

She’s short but not short enough to be mistaken for a younger child, which bores her as she hates being ten, being the eldest, being told to ‘grow up’.

Stephanie thinks of frogs that bury themselves in mud for six years. She wishes she could do that and emerge at the end of her adolescence fully formed. A grown up.

3/ (an old memory) (about no one you know)

“What do you find most attractive about me? Physically. You’re not allowed to say ‘my brain’.”

We’re in his bed. Possibly naked. I don’t remember. More likely he is in his onesie and I’m in some gigantic t-shirt and tracksuit pants he has lent me.

“You know who you’re talking to, right? You realise I have – like – zero facial recognition skills. I mean, I think your eyes are probably quite nice but if I looked away right now and then looked back and you had completely different eyes, I probably wouldn’t notice.”

“There has to be something.”

“There is. I just – I feel like there is something really specific and tangible you want me to say. Like ‘your arms’ or ‘your smile’ and I just don’t have an answer like that. Your arms make me feel safe. And not in some girlie, needing-to-be-physically-protected way. I just feel good when I’m in them. Like we’re doing okay. I like your hands because they make me stop feel self-conscious for as long as they are on me. And yes, I’m sorry, but I do fucking love your brain. It is an hilarious place to hang out in and it fires mine up. It turns mine on. You think so differently to me. Just as fast, just as bizarre but bizarre in a totally different way. I love how you think. How you make me think. And feel. And be. It is fucking sexy.”

But he wasn’t satisfied. And I get that. I do. He was having one of those days. One of those days when you don’t need to hear that. You just need to objectified. You want the answer to be ‘your body’ or ‘your arse’ or ‘your cheekbones, man I love your cheekbones!’ and I am shit at that.

But also, my answers were less about him and more about how he made me feel. And he made me feel good but that day I stopped being able to return the favour. And I got out of his clothes and his bed and his life and he went in search of someone better and I went back to paper and pen.

 

 

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

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

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

FLEUR: Where are we?

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

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

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

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

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

FLEUR: What is your time period?

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

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

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

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

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

Our food is brought out to us.

WAITER: Mushrooms?

HANNAH: That’s me, thank you!

WAITER: Aaaaand chilli scrambled eggs.

FLEUR: Thank you!

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

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

The recorder goes off.

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

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

The recorder comes back on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FLEUR: My play? Perhaps?

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

FLEUR: I really will.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HANNAH: Was that deliberate?

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

Standard
conversation, intimate portraits, Sex

on not wanting to frighten, not expecting the call and some norwegian guy

It has been a while, poor, neglected bird. I have lovely theatre-y things to feed you but I also have a deadline that I really don’t want to fuck up. I am no Douglas Adams. I don’t “love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. I am very into grinding to a halt on top of them with such abruptness that my seatbelt leaves bruises. So until you can smell burning rubber, have another anonymous conversation with another beautiful human being. 

The Empty Chair, Dena Cardwell

The Empty Chair, Dena Cardwell

Fleur:  Describe where we are?

Him:    We are in a… I’ll call it a ‘courtyard’. There are some buildings behind us from… well they want to be the 18th Century but they’re not quite. There’s a gallery on one side and the back of the museum building on the other. They’ve also managed to wedge in a little car park down the side. And this rather nice tree! What is this tree?

Fleur: A green one. With some with rough bark and it seems to have dropped a little scattering of cigarette butts under it. Yeah.

Was there – was there a kiss that’s lifted the bar? That’s made you go “oh, they could be all that!”

Him:    Any number! Um… Let’s see.

A long, long pause. We’re talking at least a minute here.

Him:    I’m having to search the archives. I’m really not trying to be coy. It’s just coming across that way.

Another long, long pause. I take off my shoes.

Him: There was one in particular that I suppose was very different because it was quite unexpected and out of the blue and out of my league, so I thought. So certainly my defences were down.

Fleur:  So what happened?

Him:    There was a phone call from out of the blue saying, “do you want to get a coffee,” which was a shock in itself. I’ve never been the type that people would call so that sort of put the nerves up right from the beginning. Even then there was still a sense of self-doubt as to whether anything was actually happening: “This can’t actually be anything more than a coffee, can it? That’s not what’s going on.” It was somebody who I’d been interested in for some time but had never really been able to acknowledge it at all. Then suddenly the head was on my shoulder and she sort of looked up at me and… there she was.

Fleur:  How did it feel?

Him:    It was a bit of an over-load of sensation. Not even just the physical sensations actually but just my own response to her interest as much as the kiss itself was something that I wasn’t really expecting. It was quite overwhelming.

Fleur: Are you still the guy who’s surprised to be called? Are you still just as shocked?

Him:    Sometimes. Yeah. I think we change. We change more than we think in some ways and less than we think in others. In some ways I feel more confident than I did ten or fifteen years ago and in other ways I’m always surprised that those feelings of surprised do come up quite regularly and I realise that I’m surprised I’m surprised still. I think “oh really? Are we still doing this? God help us all.”

At the moment I’m thinking that continued efforts to try to fight it actually make it worse. Because you make a duality of it so your efforts to work against it give it extra strength. You’ve given your doubts so much of your attention whereas if you focus on other things – the things that you might actually be good at, things that make you worthwhile, things that make you a person – that’s a better way of going. Ultimately that’s what you are. That’s what you have and people are attracted to that or not and that’s not really your call. Does that make sense?

Fleur:  Yeah. Absolutely.

I think there’s an inherent awareness among decent, sensitive men that their presence in and of itself can be a frightening thing. How do you navigate that?

Him: It just gets too difficult to even think about at times. My boundaries of impinging on other people’s comfort are so wide that require visas so the idea of even nudging into that is a bit of a confrontational thing for me to deal with, before we even get to anybody else. It’s also…

I’ve walked home at night and there’s been a woman twenty meters in front of me who I can tell is clutching her handbag more tightly because I’m walking behind her just because I’m a guy walking behind her and it’s midnight. So then I start thinking about the six-foot male syndrome of going “Right. This woman rightly or wrongly (in her perspective, rightly) is seeing some largish guy walking and fearing the worst. Which is completely legitimate.”

Fleur: That’s probably about as long as I can sit on grass for. My legs are just hating me right now.

We get up to move. I slap my legs a lot and hate my grass allergy. I switch off my recorder and say something like:

Fleur: I hope you don’t mind me saying this and I don’t want to… objectify you or anything but when I was asked to do more of these and asked who I wanted to interview I said “I want more straight men. They are the group that feel the most… mysterious to me.” I guess they talk to me less about their gender and sexuality than straight women or queer friends.

Him:    I find it strange to be representative of that group. (I switch back on the recorder as we walk.) I find it strange to be a representative of that group. I grew up being influenced by all things British pre-1950. Then I landed at primary school and it’s like “what are you people doing?” It was a different world and I had no idea how to interact with it. I would watch these guys kind of strut around the school yard and go “One: you’re an idiot. Two: what even is that?” It just looked like this enormous act.

Fleur: You’re still saying good stuff so we’re sitting down here.

We sit at a terrible plastic table in the loudest, windiest place to ever. I hate Fleur of the Past. Total jerk move.

Him: Okay.

Fleur: So you’re saying you’ve just never associated with being part of this group that is The Heterosexual Male. That’s just not your people.

Him: Not in this country, anyway. In other countries they read me very differently. Often times in this country I don’t particularly get associated with a group called “Straight Male” but in other countries I do. The first time I went to the UK and Europe, people gave some sense of reading me with some kind of straight sexuality. Yeah. Rather than being this kind of odd, quirky, off in my head somewhere, bater-ish male whatever. Which still is how I pretty much feel here.

Fleur:  Is that because other countries have a more multifaceted understanding of what it is to be male than Australia?

Landscape with figure, Russel Drysdale

Landscape with figure, Russel Drysdale

Him:    Ummmm. Yes but I would also say it’s historic. Um. I think this country was founded on a couple of particular versions of the founding myths that perpetuate themselves through a lot of external activity and a lack of investigation of certain aspects of the way the world and country works. That is not to say that that’s not present in other countries but there is a different sense of identity that plays out in other places.

Okay. Really, really base-level example: I was in Norway and I called up this guy who – I don’t know! I think I was supposed to stay at his house or something like that. I’ve forgotten that now. But I call him up from the airport, this friend of a friend of mine. And I was sort of talking to him and saying “hey, this is me, blah, blah, blah” and he says in this – the perfect irony of this guy saying this in a Norwegian accent – he says “Oh! You sound so masculine!” That was the first time! I was twenty-seven or twenty-eight and that was the first time anybody had ever said that. Ever.

I did a demo reel over there for a voice-over job. I did it in an English accent because that was the usual thing. And here as a voice-over artist I get bank ads and insurance commercials. There they said, “Oh, he sounds like James Bond!” I’m like “Who are you people?” So there was this total, strange re-defining. And it wasn’t about being Australian either because my English accent at that point was pretty pinging. I really got the phonetics down. There was something else going on just to do with the way I was being read. The difference was palpable all across the board. And I don’t know how much of that was just my own internalised perception of whatever that I play out here – a self-fulfilling prophecy maybe – I’m sure there’s probably an element of that – but the standard definition of masculinity in this country sort of puts me like this.

He puts his hands far apart.

Him: This is my experience. In terms of attitudes, in terms of approach and appearance. In terms of income? Absolutely.

This is going to sound how it sounds. The low point of that for me was when I had a former partner who gave me an income target for me to be acceptable.

Fleur:  Wow.

Him:    That was the kind of extreme spots version. “Wow, this exists!” I was kind of living in this dream world of love conquers all. That sticks in your head. There is definitely that element of income and material status as a display of masculine identity. Absolutely. And I don’t buy it. I just don’t buy it.

There were reasons for her saying that. Don’t get me wrong. She’d been brought up in this sense of precariousness that meant that she felt she had to have a certain financial baseline to feel any sort of sense of safety or security so I’m not – I’m not saying that was wrong for her. But I’m saying it does play out.

The wind roars. A gust sends all the chairs moving across the courtyard like a shitty fleet of plastic ships.

Fleur: We’ll try ending again.

This time we manage it.

Standard
conversation, intimate portraits, Sex

on the challenge of bisexual identity, reconciling one’s own masculinity, grindr racism and off soy chips

Another anonymous conversation

The Setting

– Describe where we are.

– We are in a park. There’s – like – surprisingly lovely green grass. There’s a plane flying overhead. This is an audio recording, I didn’t need to say that. Oh wait, it’s getting transcribed.

There’s one of those weird early 90s playgrounds that’s entirely vivid McDonalds-coloured plastic and it’s kind of amazing. I’m kind of really into that aesthetic. There’s also this weird sketch old dude with a really fat shih tzu. Me and Fleur have just had a long conversation about whether we’d be able to run from him and we’re pretty sure that we could.

There’s also one of those coin-operated barbeques, which hold an incredibly fond place in my immigrant heart. We honestly couldn’t believe when we moved to Australia that there were coin-operated barbeques. That’s fucking amazing. That’s the most Australian thing. Like, how are you meant to deal with that? That’s insane.

Yeah. And that’s where we are.

By Sarah Walker

By Sarah Walker, as usual

Men kissing men

– Tell me about kissing men in public.

– Ha! God dammit, Fleur! Um… I mean I guess you would just dive straight in with that.

– Yeah.

– Look, I guess I have an anecdote: My boyfriend moved continents this week. It’s weird when you find yourself as a bi-sexual man, who has kissed girlfriends goodbye at the airport, getting anxious about how you grieving a partner leaving is going to play out in the public sphere. Yeah…

It was a pretty grim day. I mean, I cried a bunch but I was pretty okay by the time I got to the airport. We were hanging around waiting for the gate to open and then it opens and suddenly he’s not okay. And he just looks at me, hugs me and says, “Just promise me you’ll take care of yourself,” and then bursts out with tears hugging me in this airport.

I was wearing this t-shirt that said “Thieves in the Night” and the security guard had already told me off and there were these two random, rat-tailed bogans who thought it would be appropriate to tell me off for it as well. And they were sitting just there and here I am, getting hugged by this crying man. He pulls back and he kisses me.

There’s something about kissing men in public that just is completely transcendentally affirming. Like, you know that you’re absolutely not meant to and going through the back of your mind you’ve simultaneously got these images of people getting bashed post-Pride but, at the same time, thanks to your Wikipedia addiction, you’ve also got the Bash Back! slogan going through your head. It’s this weird place where you’re so ready for it and you’re also so ready for what will happen when it ends and when nothing happens it just… Yeah. It’s something else.

And I guess that’s my anecdote. It’s feeling anxious about kissing my boyfriend at the airport while wearing an inappropriate t-shirt with a bunch of scary, rat-taily people watching, and it being totally okay.

– Do you remember the first time you kissed a guy in public?

– Oh my God! I’m not sure that I do! Wait! No, no, no, no, no! Oh! Wait! Ahhhh… Yes! I do! I do! It was the only New Years party I’ve ever thrown. It was 2009. There was this friend who I’d been crushing on as a teenager who I’d kind of forgotten about but he turned up. And we kind of did that thing where eighteen-year-old heavy-scare-quote “straight boys” do where we joke kissed.

He tasted like cigarettes and Jack Daniels and it was the most surprisingly erotic mix. God help me: if you smoke a pack-a-day and drink whiskey, I’m there for that! And it’s bizarre because it wasn’t meant to mean anything but it was really nice, actually.

– So at that point, you’re still thinking of yourself as straight? Was that the bizarre part?

– No!

I’m bisexual. Oh and I’ve always known that I liked guys and girls and I’m reluctant to tell stories about my sexuality to start with because I think that is a narrative that straight people expect of us and want to hear. I think that they want us to be like “no! No, I am so sure of myself!” because it re-affirms that their heterosexuality is sure and set in stone in the way that our society says that it should be.

Look, I found myself attracted to men first, then I found myself attracted to women but this was all in my very early teens. But for a long time I really just hated men. A lot. Most of my early romantic longings were for women but most of my early sexual longings were for men. I mean, look: men are bastards. Don’t get me wrong. We are.

I think at that point I thought of myself as “Straight Plus.” It was this thing where I was like “loooooook: more than likely gonna end up in a relationship with a woman because girls are just wow. But guys are stupidly attractive.”

– I know, right!

By Sarah Walker, as usual

By Sarah Walker, as usual

The challenge 

I’m really interested by that idea of straight people wanting a queer narrative to be a particular way.

– Yeah, it wasn’t something I really thought of until I read Shiri Eisner’s book, Notes on the Bisexual Revolution. Shiri Eisner is a fantastic, gender queer, bisexual, badass, Israeli author. She talks about it a lot in the context of transgender people’s narratives and, talking about how men especially want you to tell them that their gender is stable. She goes on to talk about it in the context of bisexuality, which is obviously how it most pertinently relates to me.

But I mean, it is challenging! Straight people are challenged by this because this is stuff that’s contentious in the light of how we frame this hegemonic straightness in our society. “Yeah, no, no, no, you have to be one thing.” It’s not how it works. At all, actually.

I think fluidity of sexuality is a kind of dangerous concept sometimes. My sexuality isn’t really that fluid at all. It’s been the same for a while. But, at the same time, it kind of is. I feel like a lot of these terms are designed to destabilise bisexual identity – Anyway! I don’t know where I was going with that but yeah.

– That sounded like a good sentence that you just threw away at the end there.

– I’m sorry.

– That’s fine!

Reconciling by disowning

I was thinking about what you were saying about men being bastards. How do you reconcile your own masculinity with this sense that – That’s such a big question!

– No! It’s a big question but it’s a big question that I’ve been asking myself a lot. Yeah – Look – Honestly – I think – Like – What I’ve been slowly coming to terms with is – I’ve been basically…

Reconciling your own masculinity is actually mostly dealing with your own internalised misogyny. If we’re honest. Like – it is. Like –

Oh God, I have another fucking anecdote:

So my brother got married and he had a Buck’s Weekend. Let me just repeat that: Buck’s. Weekend. In a little country town.

The other fun thing to preface this with is that my brother is a – My brother is not a dick but he is a moderately conservative Christian. Like, he’s a really cool guy but he fucking loves Jesus! And also, had absolutely no desire for there to be any strippers. At all. He was like, “look. First of all, I think it’s gross. Second of all, I’m getting married. I don’t want to see another woman’s vagina ever again. That’s literally the point.” And I was like, “I don’t think it is. But that was a cute sentence.”

He had one other gay co-worker. We drove up together and we drove back together. We’re good mates now. I’m not incredibly masculine but his co-worker is just a glorious, glorious dude. He has wonderful blue hair, he’s in a long-term monogamous relationship with another man and just completely fucking owns his gender performance in a way that – like – I am not at a stage that I can do.

So it was this fascinating thing having drunk straight men tell me that they liked me more because I was less “girlie”. That was the first thing. And I was like, (puts on an overtly effeminate voice) “Well, first of all darling, she’s exhausted! She’s fucking tired! She’s had a long fucking day hanging out with you dickheads. And you’re sitting there drinking your UDLs and drinking all of her Coopers Pales and it’s fucking tiring her out, Darling! It’s so tiring! It’s exhausting! She’s practically aching for a drink.”

(He returns to his regular speaking voice.)

And it became this thing: we both just ended up using female pronouns for the entire weekend, which was incredibly fun. They got really angry about it at one point. There’s nothing like someone yelling at you that they accept you but you’re being really fucking annoying that tells you everything you need to know about how straight masculinity works. So that was really fucking funny.

So I guess that’s how I reconcile my masculinity. Like, fuck, I am a man. I just don’t think that being a man is anything to be proud of. I am a man. I am a gross, sweaty, hairy man and I food poisoned myself as a vegetarian by eating soy chips I’d left in full sunlight on my desk for two weeks. I’m a disgusting twenty-something dude but there is nothing to be proud of in that. Like, actually at all.

I guess my big thing has been coming to terms with understanding that there is absolutely no reason for me to defend that or have any interest in perpetuating my own masculinity. And yeah, when I’m confronted with people who do that, my basic response is just to be as feminine as possible because, like, shit! Like, actually fuck it!

Oh, another story from that weekend! There’s a shit load of textas around and one of the shitfaced guys decides he wants to tag the house. So it’s this old surfer sort of hostel thing. White weatherboard house. So he tags on the side of the house in blue texta “Gay House” then, after about thirty seconds, realising he is in mixed company, hastily scribbles it out. And that’s it: that’s my effect! That is the effect that I have had. Someone who is enough of an idiot to draw on the side of a fucking house was like “oh, I probably shouldn’t say ‘gay.’” That is my good in the world.

– You have carved a safe place that is those three inches of weatherboard on that weird surfer house.

– Fucking funny. It was one of my favourite of my brother’s telling off rants. He cares for intellectually disabled children for a living and he was like “I have never had to tell one of my kids that it is not a fucking good idea to draw on a fucking wall, you fucking idiot.”

I’m making this sound like it was no big deal! I’m pretty sure I cried at least once that weekend. I had to build myself up to it for weeks. I watched drag queen insult videos for a solid week beforehand just to prepare myself. I think my favourite one was from Veep – this isn’t even a drag queen insult but it’s great: “You’re like Frankenstein’s monster if Frankenstein’s monster was made entirely out of dead dicks.” That was probably my favourite insult I dished out that weekend. But it was pretty fucking horrific. Fun times.

That’s how – that’s how I reconcile my masculinity: by actually disowning it most of the time.

One of my own photos. From many year ago. I regret the martini glass.

One of my own photos. I regret the martini glass.

– What role does feminism play in your life?

– Look, okay, feminism isn’t my space to intrude on. Which is to say, I’ve read a lot of feminist texts and I love them to bits. I owe a shit load to feminism but I’m not going to call myself a ‘feminist’ purely because that is their space. I’ll call myself a decent fucking human being who espouses the same beliefs! But honestly it’s a space for women to be allowed to speak without men present. It’s so important that women have these spaces. Feminism plays a huge role for me in terms of how I educate myself but I do honestly believe that there should be spaces that women are allowed to go without men.

– Do you think that there should be a space for men just to be amongst other men?

– You mean the entire world!

– Well done.

– I’m sorry but all spaces are men’s spaces by default in our society.

– Are there conversations though, that men should be having amongst themselves?

– Absolutely. I mean I can’t speak for straight men – I’m not even gonna pretend – but yeah, as gay men we need to have some serious conversations about race and misogyny within gay circles. Absolutely. I mean gay men who think they get a pass from being a white man because they are gay shit me the fuck off because most of them are still misogynistic pricks. And if Grindr has taught me anything, it’s that there are plenty of racist gay men. It’s fucking horrific. “You don’t want three billion people? Three billion people disgust you sexually?” Wow. What a nuanced fucking worldview, you cunt! I’ve so got zero time for any of that. And we need to have those conversations really desperately in gay circles.

And misogyny is a huge deal. I think this is because a lot of gay men are very protective of their masculinity because that’s a reasonable response to have when people are trying to feminise you in society: to try and sure up your masculinity. I mean, women do this, too. They do! “No! I’m not a silly woman! Look at me in this blazer!” I don’t know. I actually don’t know. I assume there are blazers. But it is actually a reasonable response… if you’re fucking twelve. We need to get to a point as a community where we are less precious about what straight people think of us. It is such an issue. Yeah. This is a bad direction for our identity to go in. We’re enforcing the same systems that made us feel like shit when we were kids. It’s just not acceptable. That’s my feelings. On that.

I’m upset now! I get bummed out when I talk about queer identity politics. I need to remember that a significant number of people I talk to about this whole-heartedly agree with me. Just because dickheads with muscles and haircuts on Grindr are as big dickheads as people with muscles and haircuts outside of Grindr doesn’t necessarily write off a significant amount of wonderful people. It doesn’t.

Hello 2015. Nice to meet you. Let’s be friends. 

Speaking of friends, go and check out Sarah Walker’s website for more of her outstanding photography. She is also running a year-long project called The Art Olympics, which is all about pushing us to work outside of our comfort zone and in different mediums. Go and sign up. 

Thank you to my outstanding interviewee. His words were a delight. 

Standard
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.

Standard
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. 

Standard