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, interview, Politics, Theatre

in conversation: riot stage on adolescence, global warming, frozen yoghurt and the end of the world

I saw Forever City mid-Comedy Festival, when the only time I could make it was during the school matinee. Every time I laughed, the four students sitting in front of me turned to stare, bemused at my reaction. The show was beautiful, complex, subtle, cynical and witty. With a cast of fifteen to nineteen-year-olds, Forever City told of the last days of our species, when planes fall out of the sky, survivors wash up on islands of rubbish, teenagers sell frozen yoghurt at malls and a dinosaur politely waits to be asked what extinction feels like.

Afterwards, I spoke to the cast about the creation of their work. I was very sick during this show so I must own that it was not the best interviewing I’ve ever done, but the artists said beautiful things. I think it is wonderful to hear passionate, intelligent young people talk about making theatre and the world around them so it was a delight to capture these words. Thank you to the cast and to their director and writer, Katrina Cornwell and Morgan Rose.

FOREVER CITY, promo image by Sarah Walker

FOREVER CITY, promo image by Sarah Walker

Fleur: How can I do this? I’m going to have no idea who is talking.

Mieke: Do you want us to say our names before we say something?

Fleur: Yes. Say your names before you say something and then we can hopefully drop it and I’ll just… randomly attribute stuff.

How does it feel to perform something like this?

Mieke: Not all of it is improvised but it is from improvised scenes that we’ve done in rehearsals and stuff. It’s really nice to feel like you are the characters. Well… except for Daisy and Marie. Daisy’s doesn’t copy me all the time and Marie’s not actually a dinosaur.

Fleur: No?

Yash: Really?

Mieke: Believe it or not.

Alanna: For some of us it has been a year basically since we’ve done the first workshop and it’s like “oh we really helped create this.” We were there for the beginning bit and now we’re here for the end. And even the people who weren’t there for the very, VERY beginning bit, we saw it through. That’s really nice. We created the script.

Fleur: And what do you want people to understand from it?

Mieke: I guess that, like, teenagers have thoughts too. I think a lot of people seem to assume that because we’re kids we don’t care about anything but ourselves and it’s actually that we do care about things. Yeah. If that makes sense. We are actually conscious of things and we do care.

Yash: Yeah and our obsession with the end of the world in our age.

Daisy: There are so many zombie movies. So many alien movies. As a culture, we think about this stuff all the time but we tend to think about it in very abstract ways that aren’t actually likely to happen. We tend to ignore things like Global Warming and the giant plastic island in the middle of the sea, the rubbish that we created, all that sort of stuff that could actually cause the world to heat up and… die.

FOREVER CITY, image by Sarah Walker

FOREVER CITY, image by Sarah Walker

Amelia: Yeah. It’s kind of like, as young people, we have to face adulthood and we have to face the global problems that have been put upon us. We are growning up and now we’re in a world where global warming is pressing and there are all these wars happening and the world is in a place of strife and we’re expected to be the next generation. We’re expected to be the future

Someone: “We’ve fucked everything up. Now fix it.”

Amelia: Yeah! We inherited these problems and we do feel a responsibility to have to change things but no one has taught us how to because no one knows how. I’ve always sort of seen it (the play) as a coming of age and who can handle coming of age into a world where we aren’t really prepared for.

Fleur: There is a sense of this epic scale to it all. Like, “yes, we’re working at McDonalds and we’re on the verge of extinction”. This isn’t going to be a question. I think I’m just making a statement that won’t lead to anything but that scale is beautiful. That you’ve got both these sort of tiny little moments and also this whole epic stuff and this sense of doom throughout. I loved the alarm going off the first time: a test for the alarm that signals the end of the world and everyone goes “oh no, it’s fine. It’s a drill. Now we can just go back to work. Have some more fro-yo.”

Where to next for you guys? If this was an introduction to making theatre from scratch, what do you want to do with those skills now that you have them?

Another someone: Do more of it.

A third someone: Work in Melbourne’s theatre scene. That would be great.

Yash: I’ll just grab any opportunity after this. Riot Stage gave us an opportunity but I don’t think others will. I think others will stick to a playwright. I don’t know but I think other plays are just “script” and “say it” and “emotion”.

Fleur: What do you want to make theatre about? What do you think is important to make theatre about?

Mieke: Something I would really like to write a play about is gender identity. Gender identity is something that (because I’m gender queer) is quite an important thing for me. It is something that I think a lot of people don’t understand. So that’s something that I’d really want to work on one day maybe when I’m a little bit older: writing a play about gender identity.

FOREVER CITY was made by Riot Stage youth theatre and performed at La Mama. 

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audience conversations, audiences, conversation, Responses, Theatre

on magic, nostalgia, first times and growing up

“I’m going to tell you something important. Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. The truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole world.” Neil Gaiman

“You are not my role model. You’re my warning.” Teenage Riot

It is that moment when you look around a theatre and see how white you and your fellow audience is as you settle in for some ‘Cultural Theatre’. At worst, it can feel patronising: like a tourist bus passing through the lives of real people. There is a similar sensation when I look at the audience of Ontroerend Goed’s Teenage Riot. The culture is Adolescence. We all feel affinity because we’ve been there. We backpacked the lush valleys of Adolescence. We camped out beneath the stars. We posed on hilltops. We took photographs. We treasure those prints. We befriended our guides, got ripped off in gift shops, had flings and smoked some weird tasting shit that made us vomit for two days straight but will we ever really Get It again? Are our prints too tinted with nostalgia to make out the faces and figures? Am I, at twenty-six, too much a foreigner to write about Teenage Riot?

I loved this show with all my heart because I love adolescence. If I had to assign a literary genre to this age, it would be magical realism: hyper-coloured in its vividness, evocative, sensual, terrifying, simultaneously impossible, miraculous and so, so every day.

It is Friday night. A night that screams for white wine. A night that smells of actors’ cigarettes. I have just seen Teenage Riot and I am outside the Malthouse with four inhabitance of Adolescence: Adrian (19), Joey (18), Lily (19) and Max (19). These four (three of whom I directed in their first year production) will soon have their visas revoked and will be banished from the land of the Teenager. I set my phone to record and, using Teenage Riot as a jumping off point, we talked about the show and the beautiful mystery that is ‘youth’.

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“We took photographs. We treasure those prints.” A photo by 17-year-old Matthew Lorenzon of 17-year-old Bonny (left) and 17-year-old me.

Joey: It wasn’t made for us. It was made for (or at) an adult audience. We weren’t the target audience.

Max: Its not shocking – like brutally shocking. Its like ‘can you handle this?’ ‘I guess so. Yeah. I can.’

School For Birds: I wonder what the age cut off is. Because there’s only seven years between you and I and I’ve clearly tipped over some line and I’m deeply moved by – nostalgic for those years and you lot are all going ‘yeeeeah, well…’ I wonder what the cut off is. A 23-year-old suddenly goes ‘fuck yes!’

Adrian: There were some things – like when she was lifting up her shirt or when the guy was talking about fingering – that weren’t really shocking to our age group. There were things that hit home for us – like when they were pointing out all their flaws… (the others agree) I thought that hit home for us a lot more than the fifty-year-old woman in the front row – although she can relate – because we are the same age, we probably think about that stuff a lot more than she does

Max: I feel like the taboo surrounding teenage sexuality just isn’t as powerful to me as it would be to a lot of the audience… I don’t know if I would ever be scared of that. Obviously I can’t speak for future-myself, but why would I possibly think that was a bad thing?

SFB: I think that’s the challenge of the piece. That’s why she ended with ‘come back to me when I’m eighty and I’ll still have this seventeen-year-old’s rage.’ It is a challenge to adults to not differentiate between ‘that was teenage me and this is grown-up me and therefore everything that teenage me did were the actions of a shattered, chaotic being.’

Max: I did a lot of really stupid things but I would never be like ‘oh it was a different person’. I did those things so I’d learn from those things. Growing up doesn’t mean being more correct. It’s not really like that. Everyone does really silly things. Like there is a picture of me on facebook wearing a fairy costume when I was a kid. Really, really weird. I got super pressured into it when I was in Year Seven because all my friends were girls. So that happens but that’s – like – a part of me. I’m not going to be like ‘that’s a separate bit. That’s a bit that I’ve transcended. I’m now not there.’

Joey: It is a continuum, not a break.

Adrain: You don’t turn one age and you’re a different person.

Max: That’s why this age is – like – my favourite. Because people forget it.

Lily: In a way you could say that it’s the worst age. It’s scary. You’re in-between two worlds.

Max: It’s fun.

Lily: It’s fun but it’s terrifying.

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Production photo for ‘Teenage Riot’.

SFB: I love teenagers and I love writing about teenagers. I think it is this beautiful, magical thing because it is this simultaneous – it is so –

Max: Everything is going on at once –

SFB: Yes! Everything is happening! It is this simultaneous ‘look at me!’ and ‘don’t look at me! Please God, don’t look at me!’ You’ll never feel that much about something again. That’s amazing.

Joey: People underestimate teenagers. They underestimate how interesting they are. Like I was – I am – so aware of being in this moment in my life and its confusing and terrifying.

There were bits in Teenage Riot where I wanted to say ‘yeah guys! Listen! Teenagers are awesome!’ Like when they said ‘oh she’s got a broken heart! That’s the end of the world at her age!’ Like, no! It’s allowed to be the end of the world! It is the end of the imagined world that she had in her mind. The way that adults can be so dismissive of teenagers, I really dislike.

Max: I fear that will eventually happen to me. That I’ll just be like ‘oh Boo-hoo’. My number one hope when I grow up is that I’ll always remember what certain feelings are. So it doesn’t entitle me to be patronising or be fully ‘I understand’ but… I get it. I get where you’re coming from. You’re not like an alien being. I didn’t start my life at X age. (Well, I did: at zero.) I never want to forget what those feelings were. Not necessarily that I want to deeply, deeply remember them all but I never want to forget that they existed.

Lily: When you are a teenager, there are so many things that you haven’t done before and I think you kind of forget that because the more times you do stuff the more monotonous it becomes but the first time you do anything it is bizarre. Like you cook a certain meal – its, like, weird.

Joey: Yes, the first time you do something by yourself –

Lily: Yes, being allowed to do something by yourself!

Joey: I think you have to go through that. The teenagers in the show – because they’re a couple of years younger (than us) – they’re at this point where they really want to be free and they’re pulling away but they still want to run home. To be honest, I think that never goes away. My sister is twenty-six and she still calls my mum in tears. (SFB makes a gesture of admission.) But it’s more so (when you are a teenager). You have to go through that to realise that you have this independence. It is scary but its cool. It is a tug of war. I guess. I don’t know what I’m saying right now.

Lily: You’ve left childhood but you’re not an adult. People are like ‘you need to be responsible now but you’re not allowed to be free.’ You just have to be responsible.

Joey: I don’t know how to be responsible.

Lily: It is weird because people expect things from you – you’re not necessarily allowed to be independent – but you’re still expected to act like you are. It’s weird.

Max: Glorification is such a big thing for most young men. I don’t know how it was for you… ?

Adrian: Yeah.

Max: Like before you’ve experienced something it is like ‘this is The Thing’ – like ‘The Goal’.

Joey: It is all very unreal.

Max: It’s like stories. It is the stories that people concoct of the dream of what it is.

Adrain: Because they don’t know what it actually is. Or they haven’t experienced what it actually is yet.

Max: Or, even if they have, there are all these extra layers of dream. Or fantasy. And for a long time they will be having this fantasy and it isn’t like they’re progressing through the fantasy with someone. They just sort of build it up until there has to be some kind of release. I think that’s where this sexual energy comes from. There is this release of what they’ve been building up to for ages. Years.

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Promotional photo ‘Teenage Riot’.

My deepest thanks to Adrian, Joey, Lily and Max for sharing these thoughts with me and for letting me record. I think you are all amazing and the world is a better place for having people like you. The conversation has been edited down significantly. The actual recording is more than 45 minutes long. Thanks also to Joey for supplying the Neil Gaiman quote.

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