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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conversation, intimate portraits, Sex

on kissing, sex, gender, queer identity in straight relationships, oral hygiene and being a person

The third instalment in my ‘intimate portraits’ conversation series. The previous conversations can be found here. I’m sticking with Leonard Da Vinci sketches to illustrate these for a while. They are utterly stunning. 

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Kisses

– Describe where we are.

– We are sitting on the side of a hill surrounded by skeleton trees. The sky is moving pretty fast and there’s dead, white branches reaching into it and there’s undergrowth that has slowly made its way up to be about a third as tall as the dead trees.

– What’s your most memorable kiss?

– I think my first – like – very memorable kiss was with my first boyfriend when I was seventeen. We were in the kitchen at my mum’s house. I don’t know what I was doing. Probably cooking or something. And – you know – we were very awkward and teenage but at some moment I was kissing him and I pushed him up against the cupboard and was like “ohh”. It was the first time that a kiss had ever thrilled right through me. And I was like “ohh! That was like – fuck! That was really powerful and electric. That’s what every kiss should be like. That’s the one thing that you want to feel again. This is why we make out. I get it now.”

I remember a kiss that was a total surprise. I… I make friends with people very easily and sometimes it’s hard to know if people like me in a romantic or a sexual way. I’d just met this person and was – like – walking and talking and then we kissed and that was the moment of being like “yes! I was hoping it was this thing!” It was like winning. It was just winning. Like, our brains are having the best time and now our mouths are too. Awesome.

What about you? What’s your most memorable kiss?

– Um… well my first kiss was kind of hilarious just in how underplayed it was. Because I was seventeen and everyone else – all my other friends – had these big dramatic first kiss stories of “aw that was gross” and “aw slobber!” and “boys: eww! But I want more!” But my first kiss… I was at a party and everyone else was making out and doing all that stuff and then I knelt down to get something out of my bag and my friend snogged me and wandered off. That was the only sexual contact that person and I ever had. A few years later he said to me “you’re the only female friend that I’ve never tried to have sex with.” And I’m like “thanks, buddy. Makes me feel special.” But it was kind of great that it was a really underplayed moment.

– Yeah, for sure.

– My most joyous kiss – and I’m actually kind of surprised I didn’t go to this straight away – was with my first boyfriend and I’d wanted – I’d been – it was the first time – I didn’t –

I didn’t notice boys until I noticed this boy.

– Yeah, I remember that feeling.

– And and and I loved him for about ten months and he knew. We were in Year 12 and had the same frees and we’d go for – like – walks on the beach together every week. And that was just our exercise. Our unwind. Our little decompress. Then at Valedictory he kissed me. It was a really brief kiss but it was just so joyous. We’d just finished Year 12 and it was the start of something new and important and I fell over three seconds into the kiss. I lost my balance. But that was the start of what is still to date the most beautiful relationship I’ve ever had. There’s part of me that just goes “why was that when I was eighteen! I wasted that one on eighteen-year-old me and she fucked it up!” Not badly but just, I didn’t realise what a good thing I was onto. I think I just thought that all relationships were that good. Since then I’ve gone “oh. Some of them are average and some of them are quite shitty and none of them have been that beautiful since.”

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I don’t know. I think that probably my most memorable kisses were really the ones that were wrong. That were really… they shouldn’t have happened. And the electricity of the “shouldn’t have” and the sheer amount of emotions going on is just this incredible mix of self-hatred and – and lust and desperation and neediness all sort of rolled into one moment. Yeah. Hm.

– It’s weird how that burns into our brain, isn’t it?

I think there’s like an imp version of myself that definitely didn’t exist when I was a teenager. And to be fair, some of that was trauma from that first boyfriend and trying to reclaim my own sense of self and my own sexuality. Like, “okay. If I push myself out there and make decisions for myself and be quite aggressively sexual I can have control over that rather than being objectified. Or vicitimised.”

My friends from high school were like “whoa! What’s happened to you? You were not like this in high school. This doesn’t fit your personality.” And it kind of – it didn’t fit my personality because it was a reaction to what happened. But um… that version of me is a bit of an imp as well. So that might be drunk me going “This is a great idea! I’m just gonna go and pash that person! Or, I’m gonna sleep with that human and that will be good!”

Genders

– Did you have a moment where you figured out – was there a moment where you worked out your sexuality?

– I’m still figuring it out. I like girls and boys but I’ve never had the same kind of relationship with a woman as I have with a man. I’ve definitely been in love with women before but maybe I’ve been afraid of that in different ways.

– How is that fear different when it’s with a woman?

– I think maybe because the signals aren’t always as clear. It is more common for women to have close female friendships than for a man and a woman to have a close friendship. One of my absolute best mates is a guy and everybody is always like “oh surely you’re a bit in love. Isn’t he totally in love with you?” And I’m like, “no, not at all. He’s actually kind of like my brother.” But that level of closeness is seen as being really weird because he likes girls and I like boys so it’s not really allowed. So many of my female friends are queer as well and yet it’s just totally clear that we’ve never been attracted to each other and never would be.

– So being female makes it more acceptable to be not attracted to each other and close friends, even if you are attracted to each other’s gender.

– Yeah. So then when it is sexual I don’t really know how to address it. I’ve never struggled with that with men. I’ve talked about that with my guy friends as well and been like “I don’t see you that way” and they’re like “cool! Me neither.” “Great! Moving on!” But a lot of the time that doesn’t feel like it’s necessary with women or… or perhaps sometimes it’s because it is there so I don’t want to talk about it. So that’s a bit weird.

It is kind of nice at the moment being able to accept that part of who I am. That it’s okay to have that sexuality but be dating a boy.

I remember with my ex, who was the most masculine, fucking oppressed man, macho-person in the world and it felt really strange. I remember going to Queer events and going “I don’t think I’m meant to be here!”

– Because his gender identity reflected on you?

– Yeah, something like that. And I think it’s sort of the weird place that people who are bi or broadly Queer hold in that community… it’s seen as a bit of a weird, undefined space so nobody quite trusts it.

I think my current partner said something a while ago like “will I always be enough?” And I’m like “yeah. You give me everything that a woman would give me except a vagina and I really don’t miss that that much.” I’m very happy. (I hope he doesn’t mind me saying that, I suppose he isn’t gonna know.)

Like me, he doesn’t have this strong behavioral or sexual gendered binary. Like, he’s kind of just a person. The same way that I am. Our body parts aren’t what define our sex life. Like, “great! We can use that!” but it’s kind of just a cool thing that they’re different. I feel like I would still love him if he was a lady. He has a very nice penis, though.

– Bonus.

– My partner before that, we had to be in a box of “this is the man and this is the woman and this is a hetero relationship and this is how it works.” He wasn’t a person, he was a man and I wasn’t a person, I was a woman, if that makes sense.

Why is there a sign for a yeti there?

– I don’t know.

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Conditioning

– Anything you want to ask me?

– How do you think gender interacts with your sex life or your romantic life?

– I don’t know. I’ve been single for quite a long time now so…

I’m straight. I’ve slept with women but that only reaffirmed that I’m straight. I mean there’s stuff that’s fun to do that is fun purely because we’ve both got bodies and things feel good so I don’t mind. I’m sure I’d do it again. It’s not like I had sex with a woman and was like “oh my God, that was gross!”

– “Never again!”

– “I don’t want that!” It was just like “well I’ve done that and, ah, I still, ah, still find myself looking at men a whole lot more than women so…” I don’t know.

I feel very female and that being female is a big part of my identity. And I enjoy my femininity, for the most part. There are some things about it that I don’t like but it’s mostly sort of stereotypical ‘female’ things about women not putting themselves forward in their industry and not being as confident. Sometimes I look at myself and ask, “Is this because I’m a woman or is it just who I would always be, whether I was a man or a woman?” It is hard to know how much of that identity I should attribute to my gender and how much is just what the experience of being a person is. Being a complex, human, person. Yeah.

I grew up with incredibly strong, vocal, feminist parents but walking down the street I sometimes catch myself being weirdly 19th Century-downcast; not making eye contact with people or, if I do look up and make eye contact, I’ll apologise to the universe in general or to that person specifically. Is that just because I’m just weird and introverted or is that some conditioning thing? It is all very mysterious to me.

A fly buzzes.

– I guess what I mean by that is, in terms of interacting with people romantically or sexually – well in general but particularly in that realm because when you’re that close to a person and you have these expectations of each other. There is often a desire from both parties to make that person into the person you want to be with, or something. I guess that’s the thing I mean. Behavioral assumptions. I guess that was the problem with my ex: more “you can’t do that because you’re a woman and therefore you are weak and not capable of it” or “you shouldn’t do that because it’s not how women behave.” Or those sorts of things.

– I don’t think I’ve ever had a relationship like that. I guess the closest I’ve come was one day when I was chastising my partner for not having cleaned his teeth for a long while and he came back with “well, you haven’t shaved under your arms!” “Yeah, I’m growing it for a photo! So there!” That was weird and still I look back at that and ask was that a warning sign that I should have seen? Him using that as a weapon against me felt pretty strange because it put shaving on par with teeth cleaning, as if to not shave made me unclean and smell bad. Because he hadn’t cleaned his teeth in multiple days. He went “I think I left my tooth brush in… wherever we had been” and I was like “we came back from there days ago… Have you not… That’s really gross!”

But that sort of – that was one of the very few times when I went “you have Gender Expectations of me!”

– I think that’s the ideal, isn’t it? I want to be seen as a woman but I want to be seen as an equal and for some people that doesn’t compute.

You know what you said about your first relationship being really beautiful and then not realising that other relationships weren’t always like that? I’ve had the opposite where I’ve had just a slew of really awful relationships and then finally gone “Oh my God! They don’t have to be like that!” You actually can just be with someone who likes who you really are and sees that person and doesn’t tell you what to do. That’s amazing. So. Maybe that came at a good time. Maybe I’m old enough to hold onto it now. Or to not expect anything less anymore. There’s a good start.

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conversation, interview, intimate portraits

on unconscious flirting, tongues, being a man, julian blanc and making out with your dog

The second instalment in my new series of intimate, anonymous conversations with people about their gender, beauty and sex. I’m going with something different for images for this one. Enjoy Leonard Da Vinci’s beautiful anatomy sketches. It makes a sort of sense to me.

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Beautiful, beautiful

– Describe where we are right now.

– We are sitting on a beautiful, beautiful South Yarra park bench. It’s covered in bird shit. We’re in a park. It is warm. And we’re under a tree though! Which is amazing! And there are people out in the sun for some reason. I don’t know what she’s doing but she’s got amazing fluoro shoes on and there’s a big burly guy walking past with tatts and water bottles. I think that’s where we are.

– What do you think it means to be beautiful?

– I think ‘beauty’ is kind of the wrong word. I think ‘confidence’ is the word, isn’t it? That’s what we see. You know, physically people are more beautiful when they’re confident. Mentally people are more beautiful when they’re confident. And I don’t mean that they need to be brash but there’s a sense of togetherness and them being their own person when they’re…. FUCK! This sounds like a load of tripe!

– That’s okay. We’re warming up.

– We certainly are. I feel like it’s… Fuck. Fuck. I’m just trying to sound intelligent and I’m not.

– That’s alright. Next question.

– Well what do you think then! Because you’ve definitely got an opinion!

– I don’t know what I think. Last year, when we were working on ‘yours the face’, which was about modelling, one rehearsal the director turned to me and asked, “well, when did you first know that you were beautiful?” And I was like “I… still don’t. What?”

When I was doing… that stuff, people were never going “oh, of course you model!” It was always that “whoa! You look so different in the photos!” It was always with surprise.

– Of course. I remember years ago one of the jocks I was in class with, they’re like “oh yeah-no, that’s her! Yeah-no, you should see her on facebook! These photos! She’s very different! Really, she’s a babe!” I don’t know if that’s a compliment or if that’s a backhand or what is that?

– I don’t know. I think it’s not just confidence in terms of what you put out there. If I haven’t done any exercise for a long time and then I go for one run… Well then I’m pretty sure I lose four kilos in that one eight minute run.

– Oh you did. You definitely did. You lost all that weight and – God! – that defined muscle! I didn’t know I had that!

I went rock climbing the other day and I got back afterwards and I’m like “check out these guns!” And there’s just nothing there.

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Flirting

– How do you flirt?

– How do I flirt? Terribly. With a drink or two in my system aaaand a cigarette in my hand. Um… that seems to be a pretty good way for me.

– Does that work?

– Sometimes.

– How do other people flirt with you?

– I’m terrible at noticing when someone flirts with me! I’m really bad at picking up hints. Then if someone’s flirting with me, and I realise someone’s flirting with me, well then game over. I become a klutz and I turn into the dag that I am. The best flirting happens when you don’t know it’s happening.

– When someone afterwards is like, “you two were getting pretty cosy!”

– Yeah totally! And you go “Oh really!” and you have a think and then the next time you see that person? Rubbish again.

– One night during a festival, this guy… I think… I don’t know. I don’t know.

– Go on! Go on!

– I don’t know if you can call it flirting or some – I think it was! It was! We were standing there talking for ages and my friend afterwards was like “so clearly you went home with that guy” and I go “no! Nothing happened so I walked away eventually.” And she was like “Nothing happened? You guys – that was like – you were like – all the signals were there!” And I’m like “were they? I mean he didn’t – he wasn’t attached to my face so…”

– That’s what flirting is, right? When you’re making out. When you’re actually in the act of doing it, that’s flirting.

– When you’re tongue is against theirs, that’s when I know! That’s a good signal!

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Girls and boys

– When did you first start becoming interested in girls? Do you remember a moment where you were like “that’s a girl: I want some of that.”

– “Now I’m ready! I want to be in and around you.” Ummm… I was a late bloomer I guess. I don’t think I realised what girls were until much later. Having sisters meant that they were just people and now we grow up in a world where we’re not just people. We’re men and we’re women. We’re blokes and we’re chicks. And that’s pretty instilled into the way we are.

But I don’t know if I learnt that until well after high school. I – I never went out with anyone. I never kissed anyone until my last year of high school! Sixteen, seventeen… Seventeen! And then I don’t even know if kissing them was a thing I was interested in.

Then you go through a thing where you go, “Oh, you’re a slightly effeminate, emotional male, you’re clearly gay!” So I allowed myself to think of that. That didn’t work.

– Did you try?

– I kissed a few guys. But it never went any further than that. And you know what? I think everybody would agree with this: kissing is awesome! Doesn’t fuckin matter who! I’m pretty sure makin out with your dog would be pretty awesome in its own respect. Just getting those canine teeth and just wrapping your lips around them! Brilliant!

– Eww!

– But there’s a big difference between that and taking it further and whether you’d want to be emotionally connected to this person, physically…

So… I don’t think I ever really was interested in girls as such until I fell in love with one. And then that changed it. Immediately it was like “that’s right! They – they are different and, God, they are different in ways that I want and I want to be involved in and I want them to be different and I love that they’re different. I love that they’ve got different body shapes and that the way they think is different. I love being… being the man in a relationship and feeling like I’m taking care of someone! And then – you know – the role reversal and letting them take care of you. Having someone that you can emotionally connect with! Again, being the emotional human being that I am, that’s where my intelligence is: I don’t know maths or science but I can connect pretty well and I understand thought processes and stuff so to have a woman as your partner? Oh man! That’s so good!

So yeah. It wasn’t until I fell in love – Like I mean actually in love. And now I regret that entirely. I just wish I hadn’t of. I wish I was oblivious to it still. It would be much easier if we didn’t fall in love.

Festival

– What does it feel like – because I’ve seen you at festivals when you become a total object of desire – and it is partly because you are gorgeous –

– Heeeey!

– And it is partly also because… because of that festival atmosphere and that position that you are in. What does that feel like when you’re in that mode and you’re so attractive to women? How does that feel?

– I just feel like how I should feel. If that makes sense. That’s the most natural. Again, I don’t recognise it when women see me that way but I just have a – my vocabulary increases ten-fold! The things that I’m usually terrible at, like small talk and – I hate small talk by its very nature! It is small! – yet when I’m in the festival world it’s like it expands and all of a sudden small talk is actually really profound and great and funny and all of a sudden I’m funny! My God! I’m the least funny person I know! I hate it that women always say on dating websites and in movies “what do you look for in a… “ “A guy with a sense of humour!” It’s like, “well there goes me! I’m out! I’m totally gone!” And yet in the environment of the festivals and I’m running from venue to venue and making shows happen and surrounded by art and people –

– Gorgeous people –

– Gorgeous people! I become one of them. It’s pretty much that. That’s why I’ve kept on doing festivals although there is no career in it long-term. I don’t feel beautiful onstage. I don’t feel beautiful in the rehearsal room. I feel nervous and I feel like I’m being judged and that I’m judging. But then when I’m doing festivals which is entirely practical – I’m surrounded by arts but I’m just a facilitator – that’s fuckin beauty.

Chain-smoke and that becomes part of it.

Wear a vest and that becomes part of it.

I have a sense of identity –

I don’t wear suit jackets in my everyday life and I do there and it makes me feel (puts on a growly voice) like a man. (Laughs.)

gabeskull

Difference

– What do you think the differences are between men and women?

– I don’t think we have enough time to talk about the differences. They’re huge! And then every relationship is different and every man and woman is different but… Oh God! It’s so stupidly diverse!

I want it to be – I want it to be like Julian says. I want it to be as simple as that. Not that I want it to –

– That there is a formula?

– Yeah! But there isn’t one!

– Do you want that?

– I think inherently we all do, to some extent. A plus B equals C. It’s that easy. In their minds. And this is what he’s trying to teach these young lads that are inherently alone and struggling with their masculinity and being a boy.

Society is a real mix bag these days of partially trying to teach guys to embrace their emotional side, neglect your masculine side and then the media tells us it is all about being masculine. And they have no idea! They don’t have any support. There are no networks for them. There’s no avenue. We don’t teach each other like we used to. Like the Indigenous people, they would have men’s group and they’d go out hunting. That’s fucking great! Let’s do that again!

So here’s a guy who comes in and professes to do what they used to do, professes that he has the knowledge… Fuck me! I wish he was right and I don’t think it’s wrong for these young lads to hope that.

– What should we be teaching them?

– A skill that I am yet to have, which is a sense of ‘comfortability’ within oneself. I think guys should be taught how to be men so they can learn how to be human.

I regret that I didn’t have a male role model. I regret that. I feel sad that I didn’t have a guy who would take me out fishing and go… wrestling. That stuff is really important. Because you go, you take it out and then you’re able to be part of every other day. You’re able to be with women and just be fucking human.

I think we’re taught to be human first and then anything else after that. I think the fear with that is…

Did you ever watch Community? 

– Yes.

– You know the ‘Human Being’?

– Yes.

– That’s what we’re taught to be. That’s really wrong. That seems so wrong to me because we’re only going to get lost because we’re not that and yet we’re told that’s what we’re supposed to be. Then we get angry and annoyed and then that’s when we seek out people like Julian because this isn’t working.

– This isn’t working and this guy has a formula that says, “this is what it is to be a man, this is what it is to be woman and this is how these two things come together.”

– Again, I say all of this from a male perspective –

– From a heterosexual male –

– A heterosexual male perspective. And everything I say, again I cannot over-emphasis how fucking diverse everything is.

What about you?

– What about me in terms of Julian’s thing?

– Because when I said, “I would love a formula but I don’t believe there is one,” you kind of – you reeled. Because… you don’t believe in formulas?

– I don’t know. I – I don’t think I do. But I see why we want it. I think in a lot of ways it is actually easier to be female then male at the moment. And in a lot of ways it’s not. Like walking down the street yesterday and having a guy lurch towards me jerking his hand like he was masturbating. That’s not easy. That’s horrible. But I think perhaps it is easier to be comfortable in myself, in some ways.

– To be by one’s self. Within one’s self and female.

– I think at the moment we might have more complex ideas of what a woman can be than what a man can be. We do have a bit more multifaceted understanding of femininity. But I’m sure I say that as someone that is quite stereotypically feminine. I’m not remotely butch and I’m sure if I had been as a teenager than I would have a very different understanding of what “femininity” meant and what it means to be shut out of that club. But I think masculinity, the doors are… heavily bolted and the bouncers enforce the code with vehement paranoia.

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conversation, intimate portraits

on flirting, mirrors, sex, tummies and being really, really ridiculously good looking

I am fascinated by conversation. Two weeks ago I decided to start a new project where I record and transcribe conversations that aren’t about theatre (for once). Rather, they are anonymous conversations about gender, beauty, sex and sexuality. This is the first one. Enjoy. 

selfear

Flirting

– Describe where we are.

– We’re in your bedroom. I’m trying to lie down without putting my feet on the bedspread so I’m going to take off my shoes so I’m using my abdominal muscles less. We’re on your bed in your apartment. The curtains are closed. The bed is covered in clothes.

– I put some things away yesterday. So. Um… how do you flirt?

– I don’t know! I think this was the thing I just missed the class on. I was so busy at high school being good at school and doing extra-curricular activities and – and I just never –

People I know figured out how to talk to boys and I just didn’t. I was friends with some boys but we just did things like talk about Vivaldi and be in musicals together and awkwardly lust after each other but not be able to do anything about it.

There was a boy that went – That was in a high school near me and we sort of – Would sort of flirt at each other awkwardly on MSN and then I remember he drove me home from a party or something. He walked me to my door, hugged me and then left and then later sent me a message saying “Why didn’t we kiss?’ And I said “Well because you – When you want to kiss somebody you kind of have to hug them for longer than one second. You’ve gotta kinda hold on for a bit.” And he was like “Ahhh. Yeah. Right. Yeah.” And then we just never – nothing ever happened. He dated one of my friends and then – and I’ve never got better at that!

I got to uni and I was just like “What are these things with penises?” I don’t know! I just… Every time I’ve ended up hooking up with somebody or dating somebody or anything it’s been because I’ve just been really awkward and then somebody’s kissed me. And usually it’s like “How did this happen? Why am I naked? You’re touching my boobs! What?” Yeah.

– How do you think you’re meant to flirt? Do you have a conceptual idea of what’s meant to happen?

– I feel like you are meant to sort of hold eye contact with people and smile at them in a sort of sexy way. You’re meant to be a little bit mean to them but not too mean.

– I think you’re meant to touch them like –

– Oh yeah, yeah! Apparently if you touch people… Yeah.

– Just like “Oh you’re so funny that I’m touching your thigh.”

– Yeah. And I – And I think I’ve experienced that as a person being flirted at where someone’s touched me and I’ve been like “Oh! Yeah, that’s nice! Being touched by people’s pretty good, hey!” Yeah.

The Mirror

– The days when you look in the mirror and you think “Yeah! I’m smashing it today!” Can you articulate – Like, at the time are you aware of the things that are working? What makes you feel more attractive than other days?

– Some part of me is pretty sure it is just the light.

– Oh totally!

– Like I’ll do my makeup and be like “YES!” And then I’ll move to another mirror and be like “NO!” And I’m just like, “is my entire self-worth entirely lighting?”

– I think this often. When I’m putting on makeup in my room, I don’t have lights anywhere near my mirror so I use a light sort of reflected into the mirror and it’s always really unflattering and I’m always like “Goddamn it! What am I doing?” Then if I move into natural light or just top lighting I’m like “Aw yeah! Look at ma chin! Look at my jawline!”

– There’s a time of the day when I just shouldn’t go into the bathroom because the light –

– What time is it?

– It’s – it’s like late-ish afternoon. I’ve just recently figured this out! Don’t do that! Because the light just shines through at such a way that it makes me just appear immensely hairy.

Both laugh.

– That’s brilliant.

I think sometimes um, like if I’m side lit it just makes me really aware of having hair on my face which I’ve never – It’s not a thing I think about! And I often think about this about movie stars because they have to be lit in all sorts of ways and I wonder if they just – What’s it called? De – delip – delipadating – dilapidating – dilapidated – epilating?

– D – d –

– It definitely starts with ‘d’. You can buy de- delapitory?

– Delapitory? Yeah. Yeah. (Guys, it is totally depilatory. That went on far too long.)

– Whatever! But no I wonder if they have to – like – wax their whole faces all the time! Or they put creams on them to – like –

When I was young I went through a period of shaving my (inverted commas) ‘sideburns’. Like, that area in front of my ear where hair grew. Cos I just – was like “Uh! I don’t think there’s meant to be hair there cos that’s kinda my face” and I’d shave it and it would get all stubbly and someone once asked me if I shaved it – a girl at school – and I was like “NO! Of course I don’t!” Well yes, I do. But I wouldn’t tell anyone about it. Yeah.

It’s a funny thing.

selfempty

Being really, really good looking and skin

– What does it mean, do you think, to be really attractive?

– I don’t want to be one of those people who are like “Uh! I’m so unattractive!” but, you know, I’m not – I’m not conventionally – No one would ever look at me and be like “What a beautiful person that is!” But for people who are quote-unquote ‘conventionally attractive’ – The sort of people that my brother dates! These women! They just look like they model for – like – Ripcurl! They’re just exactly what you’d expect an early-twenties boy to like. They’ve got long hair. They’re tiny! They’re always tall and have these legs that go on forever and boobs but not huge boobs and no hips to speak of and they just flounce about wearing anklets and tiny shorts and yeah. I wonder what it would be like, being the sort of person who would walk down the street and have people look at you and know that what they were thinking was “that person’s attractive.” Not even in the way that women experience people being like “You’re a woman, therefore I have the right to comment on your body” but just someone being like “Wow! What a babe.”

This guy I know has a blog and he talks on the blog sometimes about “I locked eyes with this girl at Uni today, had a bit of a perv, knew it was mutual.” And just him knowing that I find so fascinating. I’ve never known – Never known that someone was looking at me and thinking I was a babe. Even when someone is like sitting on me and saying, “I think you’re a babe” I’m like “Ahh, they probably don’t though.”

That knowledge! I wonder if that would fuck you up a bit! I think those beautiful people must find it really hard to age. To stop being that person.

– I – See – I was so unattractive as a teenager. Just – so unattractive.

– You discovered eyebrows and I feel like that’s really changed your life.

– It really – It really did. I think it must be a very different experience being someone growing up knowing they were beautiful.

– I think you’d be so self-conscious. When you looked in the mirror as a teenager, did you look in the mirror and think “Oh my God! I’m so unattractive” or did you just go like, “Oh yeah, that’s my face”?

– I don’t think I ever saw my face. For a decade I only ever looked in the mirror to look at how my skin was doing that day. I never took in the entirety of my face. It was always, “where are they today?”

Both laugh.

– Yeah, I remember that!

– I don’t think I pieced together my face as a whole. I remember after our school formal we were looking through the photos and there was a photo that literally had half of my face in profile just peaking into the edge of the frame. One of my friends was like “Whose that? Oh it’s you! You’ve got a really nice shaped nose!” And she was surprised and I was surprised and I feel like I wasn’t the only one that never looked at my face as a whole. I… And maybe this is totally incorrect because of course I can’t know what other people were thinking and seeing but I – my self-image was so caught up in my skin that I feel that no one else ever looked past that either.

And my skin wasn’t even as bad as I’m sure I’m making it sound! Like, my face wasn’t out of shape or disfigured!

selfblue

Ageing and sex

– How do you feel about ageing? And I don’t so much mean like eighty-year-old ageing. I mean like getting to the point where you’re like forty-five and being like “Whoa. Got a lot of wrinkles.”

– It’s this funny contrasting thing because my profession has such a long internship and I can’t fucking wait to be old enough for people to trust me to know what I’m doing. And that’s such a big thing. When I think of being forty-five my first thought isn’t “my skin will be worse”. My first thought is “I will know so much more than I know now and people might pay me for that knowledge.”

– Not a bad pay off, is it?

– It’s a fucking amazing thought.

– I sometimes think about my body post-having a child. In my mind, I don’t imagine getting married and having a child and being with that person forever. I imagine more “Oh sorry. We’ve been sleeping together for four months and now I’m pregnant. And ah – ”

– “Thanks for the sperm, see ya.”

– “Thanks.” And so I – I always think that I will be dating after I’ve had a child. And I sometimes think about that moment when I get undressed for the first time in front of someone that’s not seen me naked before. And I don’t think of it with horror. I think about it with – Will I at that point when I take my clothes off my post-baby body, go “God the me of the past was an idiot for undressing with the lights off!” Will I go “Why didn’t I celebrate this body?”

– I find the whole nudity-sexual partner-discomfort thing interesting because I’ve had a lot of conversations with people where they are just like “I just can’t. I don’t like the idea of someone seeing me naked because I don’t like my body and I get really self-conscious during sex to the point where sometimes I don’t want to have sex because they’ll have to see me naked.” I’m not slender and there’s a lot about my body where I go “God! I wish it wasn’t like that!” But I kind of hit a point in my life where I’d had sex with a bunch of people when I was heavier than I am now and no one complained about that.

I think we do this weird thing where we think that people don’t know what our bodies look like because we can’t see them from all angles all the time and so we sort of go “Oh my God! They’ll know this about my body.” They kind of – They probably know already! And they still want to have sex with you.

– See I know this too! I know intellectually that there’s – I’ve thought back on and gone “did I judge that person’s body while I was… on it?” No! I just did the sex!

– I remember the first time I slept with someone who wasn’t a tiny, skinny, wizened man because they were an artist and they didn’t eat enough because hey, my life. I slept with someone who had a bit of a belly and I remember giving them head and looking up and being like “Whoa! There’s a stomach in the way of the trajectory of where my eyes usually go” but I wasn’t like “aw gross” I was like “That’s fun!”

I remember I tried on a top once and I was like “I don’t like this because it hugs my figure and makes me look heavy. The guy I was with was like “I really liked that on you because it made you look curvy.” And I was like “What? That could be a good thing?” I felt so stupid! That had never really occurred to me that someone could be like “Fuck yeah! I love that!” instead of being like “I’d love it if there were a bit less of that.” Which is so… Oh my God! Way to take the media into my own brain but I –

But despite all that, when I’m having sex with a person, I don’t think I’m ever like “We can’t do this position because then you’ll see my stomach.” I’m usually too busy being like “Hey! Touching naked people!” and celebrating that! I’m proud of that fact. I’m really pleased that is part of my thought process. I’d really hate to be in the position of being frightened of someone else seeing my body. When I’m in the process of getting undressed I’m sometimes a bit like “Uh! It’s happening!” But once I’m naked it’s like “Well, they can see me and they’ve got an erection so it’s going to be fine!” It’s not like they’re making apologies or backing towards the door because I have a stomach and there are some stretch marks in my life. I feel like I’m glad that I’ve hit that point where I’m like “You are fine with seeing me naked and you still want to put your penis in places. That’s great. Let’s just roll with that.”

Thank you to the other talker. The photos in this post are all old self-portraits of mine. I decided that, as this was a very different thing, I should illustrate it differently, so I’ve given Sarah Walker’s archives a break for one week. Apologies for the nudity. 

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audience conversations, audiences, Politics, Theatre

in conversation: on richard ii, julia gillard, sexualised language and why we are so a-political

RICHARD II made me incredibly proud. I was proud that this work was being made in Melbourne, being made by an independent company, MKA, and being supported by programs like Speak Easy. Most of all I was so very proud that Olivia Monticciolo and Mark Wilson just won’t shut up. I was proud that they grabbed Shakespeare’s text with their teeth and dragged it into our ugly present. This is independent theatre at its best: vicious, dangerous, entertaining, hilarious and completely of this moment in time. Not to mention that both performers are incredibly addictive. You just want to see more. 

RICHARD II surprised, delighted and angered me at every turn. I think the quality of the dialogue that emerged from it shows just how hard these theatre-makers are working and how hard they are making their audiences work. So here is my contribution to this conversation. I grabbed two lovely young women I’d never met before and put a microphone in their faces. The two were Tori Ball and Louise Mapleston and they had plenty to say. Thank you to both these two, to Josiah Lulham for doing the introduction, to Sarah Walker WHO TYPED A THIRD OF THIS AND MADE ME INCREDIBLY HAPPY IN DOING SO and, of course, a massive thank you to Mark and Olivia. Seriously. Thank you. Keep fucking shit up. 

RICHARD II promo image by Sarah Walker

RICHARD II promo image by Sarah Walker

FLEUR: Tell me what you just saw. What happened to you just now?

LOUISE: I had a bit of a giggle and a lot of thoughts. It kind of brought me back: it was very obvious about Julia Gillard and the Labour split and I guess I hadn’t really thought about it in a long time, and it’s kind of cool now we have the space and a way we can kind of look at the whole ordeal in retrospect.

TORI: I think it was very Australian. They were so passionate, and then towards the end they were just like “Ah, we’ll just have a cup of tea and not worry about it”. I think they were really making a point about how we think about politics.

FLEUR: As in we build up to something great and then undermine ourselves?

TORI: Yeah, by just choosing to not actually follow through and do anything.

FLEUR: Why do you think we do that? What makes that uniquely Australian?

TORI: I’m not sure we’ve ever had any motivation to actually have to put ourselves out there. I dunno. I feel like for a couple of generations, it’s been pretty safe here, relative to other countries.

FLEUR: There’s been a thought that I’ve heard thrown around this year that part of the reason we are as we are as a nation is that other countries have been defined by fighting against a colonial power, whereas our defining moment as a nation was fighting for that power.

TORI: I think that’s relevant but, even though we’re still fighting for others people’s power, that moment was so long ago. I don’t know if we still identify that way.

LOUISE: I think we do. If we’re looking at the English coming into Australia and colonising things, in Richard, she [Olivia Monticciolo as Gillard/Henry] was there already. She was already there, and he was like “Fuck off bitch, fuck off bitch, I’ve already got this”, like, taking something. I think that showed the greediness, and I think it showed extreme sexism. I mean, sexism’s just everywhere, but there’s a real vocabulary of slang and words that we use in this show that really show that as well.

FLEUR: What sort of words? Say some bad words for me.

LOUISE: Oh, mate. (Laughter) Like ‘cunt.’ ‘Cunt’ is huge. ‘Fucking bitch,’ and things like that. After travelling a little bit, I’ve noticed that we definitely use those words a lot more than other countries. I don’t know if we use ‘cunt’ a lot more, but it is in a very aggressive way.

TORI: Totally. Our culture is so absurd in the way that we’re so willing to use those terms derogatively.

LOUISE: But everyone went silent when they made a joke about “Oh yeah, well my dad’s alive”. Everyone was laughing at calling her a fucking bitch and things like that. This person is right there in front of us but this guy’s already dead. Why do we have more respect for the dead than the actual humans living here right now who are being discriminated against?

Olivia Monticciolo, production photography by Sarah Walker.

Olivia Monticciolo, production photography by Sarah Walker.

FLEUR: The moment that I found really interesting in terms of the sexism was when I’d forgotten she was female. As you do, because it’s not particularly extraordinary. They started the play by saying “I have a vagina, you have a penis” so they wanted us to remember but then I just slipped back into thinking of her as a character – as a leader – rather than as a woman. Then there was the moment when he got the numbers. He started yelling, “I’ve got the numbers, bitch. Suck on that! Suck on my numbers, bitch!” And suddenly it was so overtly sexual and degrading again; inescapably man vs woman in that moment.

TORI: That’s interesting. I didn’t even think of that. For me it was more a reflection of what I think a lot of people are frustrated by: how temporary our politics are.

LOUISE: It just seems so childlike. I guess that’s the whole point is that our politics is still so child-like. It is still a whole lot of adults insulting one another.

FLEUR: I guess it reminded me of that moment in politics when you go “really? Is she still having to be the Woman Leader and not just the Leader?” Yeah. Yeah, she is actually.

LOUISE: In terms of relating it back to the story, I think it is so clever. King Henry who took over, he was seen as a decent human.

TORI: I could see it coming. The change. How the power would change but I didn’t expect the transition to the Julia Gillard thing. That was really interesting.

LOUISE: Except her dancing! That was where I went “what is going on?”

TORI: I thought that was like her day-dream/nightmare moment.

FLEUR: The lap dance moment?

TORI: With Mark dressed as Julia Gillard. Yeah.

LOUISE: And sort of oddly arousing as well.

FLEUR: Oddly arousing? I’d call that extremely arousing. Laughter. Scrap that. [Totally didn’t scrap that.]

I feel that moment was where we got to go “here is the image of this woman” and it is all butt and tits. And nose but she came out butt first. It was just reminding us, this is how this woman is portrayed. Was portrayed every day in the newspapers; every day in the cartoons.

TORI: I guess it is going to be a long time before we can talk about politics without physical differences coming into it.

Mark Wilson and Olivia Monticciolo, production photography by Sarah Walker.

Mark Wilson and Olivia Monticciolo, production photography by Sarah Walker.

LOUISE: Whenever Mark was onstage as King, it was always rather grand – spotlight and ‘look at me’ – and he had those gold pants on but it wasn’t overtly sexual or anything like that. I guess that really shows the difference between this ‘female king’ and the ‘male king’. The seriousness of it. You didn’t take her seriously but you took Mark seriously –

TORI: Even though he was acting like such a child?

LOUISE: Yeah because he had that grandeur and this authority about him.

FLEUR: Someone said to me as it ended that we in theatre have this conversation all the time: “why isn’t more political stuff happening on the mainstage?” and then we come here and this is perhaps the most political stuff I’ve seen on the stage in years.

TORI: Yeah. To represent a former political leader as they did, that’s pretty ballsy!

FLEUR: Yes and to be so in this moment! And in last year but so much of it is this week and in this moment, right down to the mention of the terror alert. Why do you think we’re not seeing more people confronting politics head on in our theatres?

TORI: Short answer? Part of me wants to say that the majority are quite disengaged by our politics. Maybe it is that the section of our demographics that are engaged are quite polarised. It is hard for them to unite to make or see something.

LOUISE: Yeah, the first thing that really comes to mind for me is accessibility. Personally I have no issues with seeing political theatre but I’m probably considered a left wing, yuppie-type. But are people going to be offended if they see these things?

TORI: It’s like “why not? Why not make this?”

FLEUR: I think that is partly about our Australian-ness. I think it comes back to what you said at the start about “oh this is a big point we’re going to make! Awww actually let’s not quite make it.”

LOUISE: Tim-tam and a cup of tea.

FLEUR: Yes! There is something there and there is something about our reluctance to show how seriously we’re taking ourselves. I’m sure this isn’t just an Australian issue but issue-based theatre has kind of a dirty name here because people go “I don’t want to be beaten over the head with an issue”.

TORI: Yet this is actually a space where people are invited to experience it in their own way. It is probably one of the best ways to talk about it.

FLEUR: Yes. It is a metaphoric space. It allows us to create the space we need for these questions.

LOUISE: I guess another risk is looking at the newspapers and larger audiences who aren’t just involved in the little Fringe niche is how they will react to it. It could potentially bring a bad name –

FLEUR: Mark has done worse.

Lou: I heard.

TORI: I just want to see it again because there was so much I didn’t have space to think about because they had so much to say.

LOUISE: I’d recommend it to my mum. She doesn’t know a thing about Shakespeare but she’d really engage with the content and the politics. She’s not particularly arty but I think she would get a lot out of this show. It would make her think.

Mark Wilson, production photography by Sarah Walker

Mark Wilson, production photography by Sarah Walker

FLEUR: And one more question absolutely to finish: could you just say your name and what you do. So like “My name is Fleur and I’m a playwright and theatre director and I fell down last week and grazed my knee and it made me feel like I was eight years old.”

TORI: I’m Tori. I’m an arts student and it was really windy when I cycled today. It was tough.

LOUISE: I’m Lou. I’m a social work student and I really love jazz music.

FLEUR: Thank you so much guys. Holy shit.

You can find Louise here, MKA here and Sarah Walker’s photography here. 

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audience conversations, audiences, conversation, Politics, Sex, Theatre

in conversation: audience on adrienne truscott, rape jokes, blame, shame and comedy

On Sunday I saw Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It: A One-Woman Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else at Adelaide Fringe. On the way out the door, I grabbed three audience members to interview. In true festival style, these ‘average punters’ turned out to be artists themselves, visiting from Edinburgh: Juliette Burton, Lizzy Mace and Frankie Lowe. Sitting beneath the Little Big Top in the Garden of Unearthly Delights, we talked for twenty minutes about the show, rape culture, rape comedy and victim blaming. Be warned, this conversation was born of a show that began “So, who here has been raped? Okay. Who here is a rapist? Well now statistically that can’t be true.” It is full on stuff so please proceed with caution. Your mental health is important to me.

 

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From Robin Thicke’s controversial ‘Blurred Lines’

SFB: Can you describe what you just saw?

Juliette: Well we saw Adrienne Truscott come onstage, very quickly strip and perform most of her show half naked from the waist down. That’s a literal description of what we just saw. On a deeper level, she was toying with constructs in comedy that deserved to be toyed with.

Lizzy: And with constructs in society. She was really examining the whole rape culture –

Frankie: Last Edinburgh Fringe that was a really, really hot topic. There were quite a few comedians in the UK making rape jokes and it divided opinion: a lot of people saying “you should never make jokes about that” and other people saying “you can make a joke about anything.” I think that was the key point that everyone agreed with: “if it’s funny, you can make a joke about anything.” The problem with all these rape jokes was that they weren’t funny.

Lizzy: A subtler way I’ve heard people talk about it is that it depends who you’re making the butt of the joke. If you’re making the victim the butt of the joke, that’s not cool but if you are making the rapist or rape culture the butt of the joke…

Juliette: It is the intention and the accountability of the joke. Is the intention to put the victim down? If you’re honest with yourself as a comedian is your material trying to make them small and you big? You have to be accountable.

Lizzy: That thing about whether something is funny or not is what annoyed me with the Daniel Tosh thing. I followed that when it all happened. Saying to a crowd “wouldn’t it be funny if she got raped by five guys now?” There is nothing funny about that!

Frankie: Jokingly alluding to someone getting raped is not actually humour.

Lizzy: That’s not alluding to it! That’s almost inciting people to do it. That’s not right on any level. Just because he’s a comedian, he doesn’t have a license to say that is okay.

Juliette: That’s not even lazy comedy. There’s lazy jokes about blondes or women or – Adrienne made some lazy jokes in there but she was doing it tongue in cheek. Like “women: we’re terrible at maths.” That’s not a joke and that’s the point. The jokes were those intelligent, witty, clever, creative ones. And I loved her use of music.

SFB: Like having us enter to Blurred Lines.

Frankie: As soon as we walked in I was like “perfect choice”.

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Adrienne Truscott is one half of the notorious ‘Wau Wau Sisters’. Seen here performing at the Sydney Opera House. Photo: Alan Pryke Source: The Australian

Lizzy: What you were saying about “lazy comedy”: doing an open mic circuit around London, you can go to an open mic night where there will be seventeen new comedians and they are all trying things out. Sixteen of them will be making the laziest jokes about rape, incest and paedophilia to have some kind of shock factor. The ironic thing is that it’s not even shocking to say that any more. They’re not even finding unique or funny things to say. It can really grind you down if you’re doing that circuit and you have to sit through that.

Juliette: We’ve seen comedians here who shall remain nameless, partly because I can’t remember their names, who’ve been amazing but there were others making the same old kinds of jokes –

Frankie: Hackneyed racial stereotypes –

Juliette: Yes and just very much set-up, punch-line, gag. Nothing intelligent, nothing witty but people were loving it because they were drunk and they were used to that kind of comedy. It is people like Adrienne who are trying to do something different, which divides opinion but pushes comedy forward.

Frankie: That’s what I liked about her. It’s not just “I can make rape jokes; I’m a girl.” It is taking on the whole culture: humour around rape, gang rape, university life. There are lots of university websites back home in England which are incredibly popular and they are legitimising rape. (SFB: I’m guessing Frankie was referring to student-run, frat-type websites, not to official pages.) They say “it’s just banter” but it’s not banter because it is actually happening in universities. You can’t say that is playful, harmless fun because people are reading things like that and having it drilled into their head that it is okay, in some way.

Juliette: Women in comedy still have to deal with the question “are women funny?” YES they are! Well this kind of show is really good for women in comedy. She’s not only being brave because she’s A Woman In Comedy – that’s beside the point – it doesn’t matter that she’s a woman – it’s the fact that her content is so clever and witty and confrontational –

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Mat Fraser and Julie Atlas Muz in performance

We’ve just seen someone come out on stage wearing nothing on her lower half. (Back home) there is Mat Fraser who is a thalidomide man. He performs erotica in the UK and has won awards for it. He comes out on stage with his massive cock hanging out and he’s told us he doesn’t feel vulnerable with that out. He feels vulnerable when he takes his prosthetic arms off. That’s the thing for him.

For women, I do think there’s a relationship between the clothes we wear and the messages that we’re sending out. But why the fuck should that message be about anyone but us? Anyone outside of our bodies? If I choose to wear a short skirt and I choose to get really drunk, that is not inviting rape. That’s not inviting anything. We’ve been to bars around here and men have just not stopped. There have been certain bars where men have just come up to us and been like “hey! Hey! Hey! Hey!” And I’m clearly ignoring them and…. Anyway.

SFB: Did you hear about Jill Meagher in the UK?

Lizzy: No.

Frankie: Jill Meagher?

SFB:  Jill Meagher, yeah. She was an Irish woman living in my hometown, Melbourne. She was brutally raped and murdered a little over a year ago. It was a very big thing for us. It provoked massive marches – taking back the night marches – calling for an end to violence against women. It really scared Melbourne but, in my most cynical moments, I think part of the reason that case touched such a nerve with us was that – even with very left-wing people who are never going to actively blame the victim – there is often a tiny little subconscious bit of the brain that does judge. With Jill Meagher, there was absolutely no way you could put any part of it on her. I think that shocked everyone that they couldn’t distance themselves from it by judging. They couldn’t say “she was drunk, she was this, she was that…”

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Memorial march September 30th, 2012 down Sydney Road

(I have written previously about Jill Meagher here but I’ll also add to this now because it is such a difficult and delicate topic, and my statements need more explanation. I think this judging is almost a defense mechanism on the part of society because it is too painful to think about and hurt about every reported rape with the same intensity with which we thought about Jill Meagher. Assaults and rapes against sex workers barely cause a ripple. It is now known that Jill’s killer, Adrian Bayley, had a long history of assaulting exactly these kinds of marginalised women and, as Jill’s husband, Tom said, the meager sentences Bayley received for these previous assaults “send a very disturbing message. What it says to women is ‘Be careful what you do, ’cause if we don’t like what you do, you won’t get justice.’ And then what it says to people like Bayley is not, ‘don’t rape’, but, ‘be careful who you rape.’”)

Frankie: When you say “there’s a tiny bit of the brain,” do you mean when parents tell their sixteen-year-old daughter, “would you mind covering up a bit?” They are not saying “you deserve to get raped” or “you’re going to get raped” but there is that kind of protective –

SFB: Yes. Things like saying “what was she doing out there alone at 3am” or “you have to be careful”. The kind of language that just creeps in.

Juliette: There are two things there. There’s the fact that women who get raped generally are not the women in the short skirts who are drunk. They are raped by people who know them. I’m saying that and it sounds way too normal to say “oh you get raped by people who know you” but yeah, you do. It’s not about how you’re looking. You’re not begging for it. There’s a relationship of trust already built up.

SFB: Yes, and another statistic is that, by the end of our lives, one in four women will be a survivor of sexual assault so when you are talking about rape in a room, you must know that you will have people in that room who have been through it.

Juliette: It is one of the last frontiers: talking about and admitting to sexual abuse, that’s really difficult.

But another point that I was going to make about victim blaming and the way that you dress…

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Lizzy: It is like there is some responsibility put on you to protect yourself by dressing –

Juliette: Oh and that idea that men are not responsible for their actions!

Frankie: Yeah. It is disrespectful to men as well. It says that if a girl puts on a short skirt, we’re unable to control ourselves. That whole “I’m helpless now! I have to rape you!” If anyone thought that about me I’d think “who the fuck do you think you’re talking about?” It is entirely the responsibility of the individual.

Juliette: So it’s not only offensive to women, it’s offensive to women or men.

Frankie: It’s just incredibly offensive to human beings.

SFB: Society can all say “rape is bad.” We can all agree on that but it is that last frontier; getting at that last hidden judgemental bit of the brain. And as soon as you put something inside an arts festival, you know you’re playing to an almost entirely left-wing room and so you’ve got to push them a little bit further to provoke them. In coming out naked and drinking the entire time and remember, the show’s not called Asking For It, it is called Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It. It depends how you interpret that apostrophe.

Lizzy: Yeah, so she’s labeling herself.

SFB: Yes. She’s labeling herself to challenge us. We sit there and it is like she’s prodding all these left-wing people in the room saying “go on. Just say that I’m asking for it. I fucking dare you. Come on.”

Juliette: Yes. It is ‘a one-woman rape about comedy’. That’s funny. That’s clever. That alone is clever to me. To other people it is possibly offensive and that’s okay. If they want to go and see the hackneyed comics and have easy laughter and know when you’re meant to laugh because here comes the punch line, that’s fine. But I am really happy that I saw that. It certainly got us talking and it’s made me think and I hope it will make us produce more awesome shows in the future.

SFB: Thanks guys. I hope so too.

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Promo image for ‘Adrienne Truscott’s Asking For It’

Adrienne Truscott’s challenging, thought-provoking show runs in Adelaide until March 16th at the Garden of Unearthly Delights before transferring to Melbourne where it will be playing March 27-April 20th.

Juliette and Lizzy’s show is Rom Com Con at the Bake House Theatre and finishes March 16th in Adelaide.

Juliette’s solo show is When I Grow Up at Channel 9 Studios and finishes March 15th in Adelaide before transferring to Melbourne where it will be playing March 27-April 20th. 

Lizzy’s solo show, Overlooked, plays at the Austral Hotel until March 16th.

think I got them all.

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