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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Politics, Sex

Many of you are not Australian so perhaps you are unaware of the murder of Gillian Meagher last year in my home city but if you are Australian or Irish (Jill’s country of origin) you will know every detail of the case. Jill Meagher’s murder touched my city deeply.  She was walking home after a few drinks with workmates in Brunswick.  The distance was very small (barely a few hundred meters) but after leaving her friends she was brutally raped and murdered by Adrian Bayley and her body was dumped in a shallow grave.  A week after her disappearance 30 000 people walked down the main street in Brunswick in her memory and to speak out against violence towards women.  To reclaim the streets.

Her murderer turned out to be a man with significant history of sexual violence who was on parole at the time after raping several sex workers.  This week he was sentenced to life with a 35-year minimum non-parole period.   This is far from the maximum sentence for such crimes.

Her incredible husband, speaking to ABC said this of the sentencing:  “I don’t know what the maximum penalty is for if it’s not for that man. I don’t know who else could fit the bill of a maximum sentence for rape than Adrian Ernest Bayley…. This man is unrepentantly evil. He’s been let off too many times by our justice system…  It sends out a really dangerous message to society, I think, if you do this. I mean, I’m aware that his previous victims in the previous case before Jill were sex workers and I’ll never be convinced that that had nothing to do with the leniency of his sentence, which as I said, send as 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.””

Tom Meagher. What an amazing man.

In a recent interview, an unnamed stripper whom Bayley used to visit and simulate strangulation on said tearfully that she thinks about “how if it had been me, the publicity wouldn’t have been the same. There wouldn’t have been 30,000 people walking down Sydney Road because of it. There wouldn’t have been this massive uproar about it and trying to find out who it was and trying to find her body and things because there is that attitude that she’s just a stripper, she’s just a sex worker, she’s a slut it doesn’t matter.  I’ve thought about that a lot of times.”

I can’t help but think back to Slaughterhouse Five (Kurt Vonnegut, 1969 one of my favourite books in existence) in which a trashy sci-fi writer writes of an alien race who come down to earth and see that the New Testament is full of loops. They can see, with their outsider’s wisdom that the intent of the Gospels is to teach people to be merciful, even to the lowest of the low but, what they really teach is that before you kill somebody, you’d better make sure he isn’t well connected. Christ didn’t look like much but he was the son of the most powerful being in the universe.

So they write us a new gospel. One where Jesus is a total bum with no connections but he says all the lovely, puzzling things he said in the other Gospels. And one day the people amuse themselves by nailing him to a cross and planting the cross in the ground because, well there couldn’t be any repercussions, could there? Jesus was a nobody. The Gospel of the Plumber’s Friends-shaped aliens told us so. But just before Bum Jesus died the heavens opened and there was thunder and there was lightening and the voice of God came crashing down and he said ‘Hey’ and he said he was adopting Bum Jesus as his son and giving him full powers and privileges of The Son of Creator of the Universe. He said ‘Bum Jesus will punish horribly anybody who torments Bum Anybody from now until all eternity.’

It is heartbreaking how little consideration is given to the rape of sex workers. My heart goes out to Tom and Jill’s family but it also goes out to the sex workers, the homeless and the addicts who are seeing this as further proof that nobody cares what happens to them.

We are living in horrifically misogynistic times.  Hatred of women is rife.  Victim-blaming is still a big part of our culture.  In Australia, our female Prime Minister (our first ever) is regularly objectified and sexualised.  (If you are not up to date on Australian politics, try googling ‘Julia Gillard menugate’ but, be warned: if you have a moral bone in your body, it will enrage and sicken you.) One in four women will be sexually assaulted in their lifetime.   In America, someone is sexually assaulted every two minutes.  A couple of months ago we were visited by a peeping tom.  He watched me through my bedroom window until my housemate coming home surprised him and he ran off.  That he was getting off on seeing me completely unguarded terrifies me and his sense of entitlement, to invade my home and privacy sickens me to this day.   We now have a big padlock on our gate.

Last night, friend of mine told me that she had been having panic attacks all week.  She went to her therapist who told her that women all around Melbourne have been exhibiting similar PTSD-like symptoms recently and that she and her fellow therapists have been inundated.  The combination of the sexual vilification of our Prime Minister and the sentencing of Bayley filling our papers and news outlets has just reminded women all over the city/country how unsafe we feel.  Even the most powerful woman in the country is abused in sexually explicate terms.  Whether you disagree with her policies or not, this should be unacceptable.  It is shameful.  It shames me.

I want to draw your attention to an incredibly important project going on right now on the Internet.  It is so timely and so important.  These are students from beautiful Oxford University holding up signs explaining why they personally need feminism.   Read it and speak up.     

 

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