personal, Responses, Theatre

on waiting, loving, competing and the bachelor s17 e5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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All photos by Sarah Walker

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

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mental health, Politics, Sex, Theatre, Uncategorized, writing

A moratorium on the killing of actresses

Okay. What if, for one year, no actress was killed or raped?

I’ve been thinking this for a while. For the last two years I’ve been looking around, often on opening nights, often with wine in my hand, and wondering ‘If I were to ask her right now how many times she’s been killed on stage, what would her answer be?’ Often. I forget. The first time I was 18. Strangled. Stabbed. Shot. Drowned.

Two years ago, I decided to stop writing her death and violation. I didn’t suggest that others do this because there are plenty of valid reasons to depict these horrors on our stages. These stories are a massive and hideous part of our society and isn’t it the role of art to examine darkness and demand change?

Well… yes.

But maybe my awareness is already raised. Maybe I’m reading enough accounts of real assault and violation happening off our stages and on them. I am bearing witness. Maybe paying money to see that actress have her knickers pulled down or that one pulled by her hair (carefully choreographed of course) feels gratuitous when a man really could assault actresses in front of an audience of 2000 on a Melbourne stage in 2014.

Actors are gutsy people. And most know how to look after themselves in the wake of dramatised violence. I have nothing but respect for the women who can do this and stay sane. I couldn’t. So I’m not saying this because they need my protection, by any means. But maybe the support would be appreciated.

Because ours is not the only industry where violence against women happens. But for better or for worse in the last 12 months female actors have been on the front line. They have been incredible and we have all benefitted from their courage and determination. And some people have praised them. Others have called their courage a desperate attempt to make money, grab fame, jump on bandwagons.

Now I know my ban won’t happen. Theatres have programmed their seasons and you’ve signed your contracts. Maybe you’ve even pre-booked. But for a second just imagine a world where we said to female actors ‘thanks. I think you’ve done enough. We won’t ask you to not only be the loudest voices, not only to put your jobs on the line and risk your professional relationship but also to physically represent the violence of our society nightly. How about we do this other play. These other twenty plays in which you get to survive and thrive. Take a break. We’ve got this.’

It won’t happen. And fuck, imagine how much of the canon would disappear instantly if it did. But I like imaging a world where it might.

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audience conversations, conversation, criticism, personal, Responses, Sex, Theatre

in conversation: f. by riot stage youth theatre

When I came to record audience conversations of F., (my first in a long time, apologies) my SD card was full of a previous conversation: 

Interlude 1: Setting, an outdoor courtyard of a Geelong cafe. A confused 90-year-old sits with her granddaughter. 

Her: What’s that?

Me: It’s a microphone recorder.

Her: Oh really.

Me: Yeah. You were telling me such good stories on the –

Her: Pardon?

Me: You were telling me such good stories in the car on the way here so I thought –

Her: Was I?

Me: You were.

Her: I don’t think I was.

So my SD card was full the night I recorded with random audience members for F. and I only recorded two incomplete conversations, presented here with interludes from my grandmother. 

Know that this production resulted in some beautiful conversations, not all of which I was able to capture. Know that I feel privileged to have had these conversations with these articulate young people, reflecting on growing up with the internet in the 21st Century. Know that I was thrilled to have been so provoked and unsettled by the teenagers of Riot Stage and that it was a delight to see them owning their voices and stories. Know too that my grandmother would never in a million years understand any of it. 

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 1: Setting, sitting on the floor of a corridor outside the theatre. Two eighteen-year-olds, who have never seen theatre like this before, sit holding hands. They have just finished year twelve exams. 

Me: So what just happened in there? What was there?

Nelly: That was confusing at times!

Me: What do you think happened to you?

Zac: Just discussing issues sort of facing teenagers and that. Yeah. And just the chaotic vibe of it and yeah it’s… you can sort of relate to it I suppose. Um. Yeah.

Nelly: We’ve seen school musicals and stuff but it’s not like that at all. Our school plays are like Pride and Prejudice and stuff. This is like, really different.

Zac: Seems much more relevant and real I suppose. Much more relatable than the perfect pictures that TV and that paint.

Me: Big question but how do you feel about the internet? It’s our whole lives, I know.

Zac: Me and her sort of started being friends on the internet. We were in the same class but I was really shy. I just won’t talk but online I was really loud.

Nelly: Like he had two personalities.

Me: So if it was thirty years ago, when introductions were all walking up to someone and asking them to dance at a mixer, you’d never have talked.

Zac: Nup. That’s why the Internet has a lot of negative aspects but at the same time, it’s very useful in connecting people. We wouldn’t have this connection without it.

End conversation 1.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude: 

Me: You were talking about Nelson and your uncles playing cricket.

Her: Was I?

Me: Yeah. Did granddad play any sport?

Her: Oh… He usually played golf.

Long pause.

Me: Did you ever try golf.

Her: I don’t think so.

Me: Those sons of your must have got it from somewhere.

Her: Do they play golf?

Conversation 2: Setting, a square of lawn outside the venue. My legs are pink with grass allergy and will continue to sting for an hour afterwards.

Me: What happened to you in there?

Jules: I think I was reminded of the distance between being a young adult and being a teenager. And what it’s like to be a teenager. It’s amazing how much you forget even in a couple of years. I’m twenty-two and it was amazing just to be like, there’s definitely –

A parade of motorbikes roar past.  

Me: We’ll give them a moment.

More motorbikes.

Jules: Okay. Rude.

We wait. They pass. We resume.

Jules: I just thought it was a really beautiful representation of being a teenager.

Doug: To me it was sort of this mish-mash collection of snippets, just reminding you of what it’s like to be a teenager. And I mean, I’m 19 so I’m closer to being that teenager but there’s still that incredible distance that forms when you hit uni and you leave that whole high school mentality. I think this did a really good job of reminding me of that and how it feels to be in that claustrophobic environment. It reminds you of all the weird things teenagers do and how their brains work.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

When I was a sixteen-year-old I didn’t know how to express myself very well. It was a lot like in the show, you’d have characters just switching topics almost on a dime, just talking awkwardly. It was a lot like that. Now I find it a lot easier to structure what I’m trying to say and separate my thoughts.

Me: Could you express yourself better online?

Doug: Yeah, I think so. It was useful because it sort of gave me time to think about what I was trying to say.

Jules: It is this weird Schrodinger’s Cat thing of being heard and not heard. You can scream into the void but there might be someone listening. If you feel like you can’t express yourself properly at high school or with you friends or family, you end up with this strange sort of dynamic where you simultaneously might have someone hearing you and understanding you and saying ‘it’s gonna be okay’ but you also have this freedom just to say whatever you want because there might not be anyone listening. It is a strange dynamic.

Interlude: 

Me: When you were a teenager, working on the farm. What did you do for fun?

Her: I think they took me shopping with them. Thursday was a shopping day. I don’t know if it was much fun.

Me: Did you like reading?

Her: I never did very much reading.

Me: What was your favourite thing about Granddad?

Her: Granddad?

Me: My granddad.

Her: Your granddad? He was away at the First World War, granddad. He didn’t have a very happy life afterwards.

Me: That’s your dad? Is there anything you remember doing with him?

Her: No, I don’t think so.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Conversation 2:

Me: I really loved the scene early on: the two boys chatting with the text behind them and just how understated it was: ‘I came out to my parents, we had tacos,’ that kind of thing. I’m 30 and this was a great reminder how, in such a short time, what was a big deal has changed and become a regular part of adolescence. Still, there are people for whom coming out is a big deal and is traumatic and has frightening and very real consequences, but for a lot of young gay people, that’s not the toughest part of being a teenager. The main difficulty for that teenager was just being a teenager: being caught in that land between autonomy/self-realisation and that childhood dependence on others.

Doug: I remember when I came out to my mum and she just turned to me and said ‘oh I know’. I was like ‘oh okay.’ I was fifteen or sixteen. I’d been expecting more drama I guess. She’d always been very accepting but yeah it was… odd.

I think the scene that’s sticking with me the most is with the two girls that were sitting watching porn and just that raw discussion of sexuality and their vaginas. When you’re a teenager with a trusted friend and you haven’t really explored these things before, you just talk about it. She was talking about how she wanted to change how her vagina looked and stuff – that really introspective stuff that adults are a lot less likely to just let out because it comes rooted in insecurities and things like that. I used to talk a lot about things I didn’t feel great about. Mostly to close friends, a lot of them I only knew through the Internet, which I think really helped. Like, I don’t really know this person, so it won’t matter as much if I just talk openly with them.

Me: The first time I saw porn I was talking to this guy a couple of years older than me on Nine MSN. He was this gay guy –

Jules and Doug: Oh MSN!

Me: And he was like ‘this is the kind of guys I like’ and he sent me this link. Suddenly my screen was covered in all these naked women. I worked out ages later that I must have got a pop up but at the time I was like ‘he’s a gay guy, he would know what men are’ so I was looking at them going ‘so these are men… so he likes men with make up and… boobs and small thingies’. They were so clearly female bodies. Very naked, very female. But I didn’t have any idea what gender they were. The colour scheme was not what I associated with naked women. It was all pink and gold and shiny and slippery and just… didn’t look like the naked women I’d seen in my life. And I wrote to the guy and was like ‘this is the kind of men you like?’ And he was like ‘yeah’ and I was like ‘men with boobs?’ and he was like ‘what? Men like the men I sent you!’ We worked it out after a while. But that was my first experience of Internet porn: just not even knowing what I was looking at.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Doug: I got tricked. This was in primary school. It was one of those gags that was going around. People were saying ‘if you go to redtube.com, it is like youtube but it’s in HD!’ So I hopped on our family computer that was out in the living room at the time, typed in redtube.com and up came these… not youtube videos. It took me a second. I scanned the page and I started scrolling down and I was about eight or nine, I think. I’d just been given permission to use the computer –

Me: And you blew it, straight away.

Doug: I blew it straight away! I scrolled down and I saw all these images that I didn’t really understand. My dad came over and understandably he was sort of ‘what are you doing?’ I told him that I’d been told this was HD but it didn’t look like the youtube videos I normally watched. He closed out of the browser and we had a little talk about what porn is. I think he just said ‘it’s videos of people having sex on the internet’. My parents never glossed over things. They never talked about genitals with weird words, it was always ‘penis’ and ‘vagina’. I think I was probably four or five when I asked where babies came from and they just straight up told me.

Me: I remember asking what ‘cunt’ was and my mother said ‘it’s another word for vagina’ in such a matter of fact way that I thought for years it was a more polite word – like the medical terminology! Not that it came up in conversation because it didn’t but yeah, I was like ‘oh, that’s the grown up way to talk about vaginas! Good to know!’

Interlude:

Me: Look at that. They’ve got a chandelier hanging in the greenery. Looks like you might be able to find some monkeys here.

Her: What’s that?

Me: I was just saying, it looks like you might be able to find some monkeys here.

Her: Oh.

Silence. Knives and forks clatter. 

Me: What are you most proud of?

Her: Oh. (A long pause.) I guess… most proud of family life. Mum and dad and the family. Mum kept the family together really. Dad was good too but… aftermath of the war, I think. He drank a lot of alcohol which was a worry, not only to mum and myself but the rest of us.

Me: Was that part of the reason you never drunk alcohol?

Her: I suppose it might have been part of it but I never took a liking to it anyway. Anything I tasted I never liked. You wonder how anyone could ever like it.

Conversation 2:

Me: I think the scene that really wrecked me was the scene with the two actors on opposite sides of the stage. The first night I was sitting with two straight men and they were watching the boy and I was watching the girl. I really noticed the different ways our heads were turned. I think that is a scene that is so heartbreaking for both characters but you do experience it very differently as a male or female. I don’t know. And I don’t know how different it is as a gay man either. I think a lot of heterosexual men move through the world with this deep fear of taking advantage of a woman.

Jules: I didn’t know where look: whether I should watch one of them, whether I should not watch any of them and just listen. I thought it was really interesting that they chose to make it very dubious as to what actually happened but very clear that she didn’t want it. I feel that that’s a situation that happens all the time and far too –

End conversation 2, with a full SD card.

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Photo: Sarah Walker

Interlude:

Her: We had two or three horses we used to ride. Might have been more than that at times. The neighbours – they lived four or five miles up towards the boarder and eh – they had a lot of shetlands. They were half broken-in and they used to pass them on to us to ride. Some of them were very good to ride but others were very cheeky.

Me: Yeah. Yeah, that sounds hard work.

Her: I forget how many we would have ridden all together.

Waiter: Spinach and feta borek?

Me: That’s me. And the lamb is here.

Waiter: And would you like a knife and fork with that one?

Me: Would you like a knife and fork, grandma?

Her: No. Thank you.

Waiter leaves. Silence.

Her: A knife and fork would be handy.

End interlude. 

F. is by Riot Stage and was presented as part of the Poppy Seed Theatre Festival of 2016. It was directed by Katrina Cornwell, written by Morgan Rose, performed by a cast ranging from 15 to 19. 

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Dramaturgical Analysis, Fragmentary Response, history, personal, Politics

nic green’s trilogy, naked bodies, badass babes and a feminist heritage

trilogy crowd

Trilogy

A before thought:

I’d been told Trilogy was like a festival; a joyous, celebratory riot of female flesh.

I needed that. I bought a ticket instantly.

The last few weeks have been awash with general-purpose sorrow. Perhaps it is just the cold sinking in through my always-too-thin clothes (I never learnt to layer) or perhaps the constant grey above me just seeped in.

But there was something else: I’ve been grieving my body.

I used to berate my body constantly. I was young then and just learning to live out of home, just working out how to feed myself and who I was without a school uniform.

I remember being pretty confident in my body for a while there. Not ‘confident’ so much as ‘unthinking’. Then I emerged from teenage-hood and took off my clothes for cameras and things change. My body changed – I got thin and sleek and hairless – but I also became much more aware of it. I saw myself from every angle. And it was mostly a good sight although I still apologised to photographers every time I took off my clothes:

“Sorry, I just ate lunch.”

“That’s okay.”

“Thank you. Sorry, again.”

But I’m learning something about aging and bodies: accepting your body isn’t a one-time thing. You don’t make peace with it once at twenty-two, tick that off your list and get on with your life. For some of us – perhaps all of us, I don’t know – as your body changes you need to accept it again and again.

And again.

Hello, Body

This is who you are right now, hey?

Yeah

This is who I am right now

You good with that?

Working on it

Same

 

My colleague told me the work filled her up. Re-plenished her. I wanted that.

I want a lot of re- words in my life right now:

Restore, renew, recharge, reward, replenish, reinvigorate, requestion, re-forgive, re-embrace.

Those are some big ‘re’s to ask of a piece of theatre.

trilogy five

Trilogy

A during thought:

Watch me swing from emotion to emotion

Beaming

Crying

Beaming again

I oscillate wildly

Eyes and mouth wide

 

The sight of those bodies

Dozens and dozens of them

A mass of joy and fearless flesh

Filled me up

 

The total miracle that a woman’s body is

Not just because it can ‘be life’

(Although, what a privilege it was to see one of the makers perform pregnant)

But because it bares her

Bodies that carry women through this world

Holy shit

trilogy kicks

Trilogy

The first act culminates in an incredible dance party. At interval we wondered at the positioning of this moment so early in the piece: you couldn’t top that. We had simply never seen anything like it. How could any sight or words match it as a final image?

By the end of the work I knew why we started with this dance of pure delight.

As a feminist and female artist, I often ask myself how do I tell stories of female victimisation without making females the victims. Over the course of the next two acts we saw incredible footage of Norman Mailer attempting repeatedly to silence and shame Jill Johnston (“Come on, Jill. Be a lady.”), we heard grief, rage and truly terrible statistics on sexual violence. I cried when the performers intoned ‘2016’ again and again. The number seemed suddenly so very big, the years so innumerable and yet here we are, still hurting. Still being hurt.

But the overall feeling that one takes from this work is joy, strength and power. The performer never appear disempowered. They are whole-heartedly empowered, their bodies strong, their voices loud, their vision clear, their heritage known.

Women are gutsy motherfuckers. So why did they start with the biggest single image in the show? We needed to set a tone of love, courage, joy and strength. They started by stating a fact: women and their bodies are badass. Got it? Good. Okay. Lets go.

 

An afterthought:

I left the theatre with the desperate urge to call my mother. The feminist who raised me, whose strong body and bore three feminist daughters, whose mind is fierce and whose heart is massive. I spoke to her at the bus stop. “I wish you had been there. I would have loved to see that with you.” Beside me, another woman was on the phone. “There was – like – fifty naked women! Dancing! And the singing! I wish you had seen it!” And I just knew she was talking to her mother too. This was a show that made you want to call your mum, share this with her and thank.

It made me want to thank a lot of women. And myself. And my body. It carries me through this world. What a miracle that is.

 

Feminism: demonstration for women's voting rights in London: Suffragette discharged by the police. - Published by 'Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung' 12/1906- 04.1906

London, 1906, Published by ‘Berliner Illustrirte Zeitung’

I saw Nic Green’s Trilogy at Artshouse in Melbourne. I thank them for programming this incredible and important work.

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Fragmentary Response, history, Theatre

on years passing, cleansed and what i brought to sarah kane

Dear Birds,

I’m sorry I haven’t written in so long. Part of the reason is that any entry takes me a whole day, which is kind of a ridiculous use of my time. So today I have set a timer. I have exactly forty-five to write a first draft. This will be written fast and perhaps stupid. We’ll see.

Ready, steady… Go!

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Photo courtesy of the National Theatre, Copyright: Birgit Kahle

CLEANSED by Sarah Kane, directed by Katie Mitchell. Preview show at the National Theatre, London.

I think that my usual question – ‘what did I walk into this with?’ – is particularly interesting when asked of Sarah Kane.

I entered the theatre with this:

Sarah Kane’s name feels like shorthand for two key things in theatre.

1: For the modern. So cutting edge that it bleeds. Sharp, visceral, of this moment.

2: If you don’t see the genius of it, you are on the wrong side of history. You are the old, the squeamish, the weak, the establishment and you will eat your words some day.

With this in mind, know how surprised I was to have my friend turn to me at the end and say ‘it felt sort of old’. And I realised, I sort of agreed.

I say ‘sort of’ because of another thing that I brought into the theatre: a night spent in Aradale Mental Asylum, a massive, empty building that had not housed patients for more than ten years by the time I camped out with a sleeping bag, friends, my camera and more lenses than we would ever need. The instant I saw the set, I was reminded of that night and that space. The colour of the walls, rampant trees pressing against the window, the peeling paint, the damp floors, all of it called mind that building that was, above all other things, abandoned. This meant I viewed the entire work as a sort of echo. The power suits, the dated drug of choice (heroin), and the hard-to-put-your-finger-on-it-but-not-quite-of-this-moment-ness of it all made sense to me because unconsciously my night in Aradale had turned the figures before me into the echoes of sadness and madness past.

But I also understood what he meant. And I felt a strange guilt within me that I was not reacting to the work as I believed I was meant to: as something that spoke to me at a pitch too high for the old establishment types to hear.

I think that works like Kane’s play out in the bodies of the audience as much as in the theatre: the asking why we are so repelled or not repelled enough, asking what it would take to shock us, noting the moment when twelve people at various places in the theatre decided simultaneously to leave, asking why I did not leave then and what it would take for me to ever do so.

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Cleansed at the Royal Court, 1998, photo credit not provided

The work is immensely rhythmic – even acts of sex all seemed to last exactly the same amount of time – and acts of violence followed very specific patterns: guards enter, they bring in one prisoner then the other, there is a squeaking, the doctor rings an alarm, a guard walks to a corner, draws a pistol and shoots a rat, the guard brings back the dead rat and places it between the prisoners, a short exchange of dialogue, words like bullets, my shoulders tense, my face screws up and a prisoner’s fingers or toes or tongue are removed, the alarm is rung and the prisoners are taken away. It becomes a bit like a horrible cuckoo clock, on the hour popping out to sing its song and lop off toes. It is strange to view such extreme violence as predictable but Kane’s writing works in circles and we see the violence as an uninterruptable pattern.

Maybe I am on the wrong side of history. Maybe in five years I will return to this play as others have and I will see the urgency of it all. I’ll say, “Yes. Yes. This. Thank you. Yes.” Or maybe in five years it will feel five years older – five years further away from its moment of newness and importance. I wonder if the name ‘Kane’ will still conjure for young theatre makers the sense that this is meant to be a work for them and, if they don’t see how it speaks to this moment in time, that they have failed some test. Or maybe the name ‘Sarah Kane’ will mean a different thing to them. Maybe they will enter the theatre with ‘this was an important moment in theatre history’ rather than my (perhaps dated) baggage: this is the New and if I don’t think so I am the Wrong. Which is an unfair thing to attach to both a fourteen-year-old play and to myself.

I must also mention one other thing before my timer runs out: I saw this on a preview. I am sorry to be writing about a preview performance but I like to think my writing is so far from a review and so self-absorbed that I have not committed too large a sin. But I will say that I spent a fair bit of the play being condescending about the woman sitting two seats away from me, typing away on her laptop. I did my “a good reviewer never takes notes!” thing. My “how can you review if you are not allowing yourself to be part of the experience of the theatre?” thing. My “AND it is preview” thing. Naturally, at the end, when I walked past her, I realised that the woman was Katie Mitchell. I did not recognise her face (because I barely recognise my own face) but I certainly recognised her expression: the expression of a director at preview, and the way that she searched my face and that of others who passed for signs of how the work had played out in our bodies and minds. Well, Katie, it did strange things in there. It made me grope for words and question my every grimace and lack of grimace. It made me feel both too old and too young. It left me uncertain, which is the right way to leave the theatre.

Time is up.

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interview, My own plays, Theatre, Welcome to Nowhere, writing

fleur kilpatrick: welcome to nowhere, aliens, influences, beginnings

The final Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interview: Emily O’Connor and Olivia Bishop interviewed me. Which feels terribly narcissist to post an interview with myself but I guess my usual entries are just me shouting at the internet without the guiding hand of outside interviewers so let’s just embrace it. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan Rose. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. So enjoy!

Photo: Piper Huynh

Photo: Piper Huynh

What brought you to writing, and why specifically theatre? Did it start with other kinds of writing?

I came to theatre really young, so it was first form that I feel in love with. I arrived in theatre by being vindictive. I’d had just a really horrible traumatic experience changing schools, and so I was like “I know, I’ll write a play about it and make people feel really guilty”. That was my whole motive! So this play won the South Australian State Theatre’s Young Playwright’s competition, and the prize for that was that they spent a week workshopping my play with a group of professional actors, a dramaturge and a director, and then they did a staged reading of my play. It was truly terrible.

What was it about, what was it?

It was about me being an angsty teenager and having my life ruined by these teachers! It was just entirely to make them feel bad. I knew it was bad at the time. I have a really clear memory of being like “the instant this week finishes, I’ll never read this again, but I know what a good experience it is”.

I’d been a classical singer and that’s so internal. It’s so about what’s going on inside body. Workshopping for a week just made me aware of what an incredibly collaborative art form theatre was. That week was such a gift. I came to Melbourne to study singing and I was like “Why am I doing this? This is terrible, this is so much more boring than theatre!” And so I dropped out of that six months in, and have been doing theatre ever since.

You direct and occasionally perform in things as well, but is there something about writing that really draws you to it? I mean, which do you prefer?

Um, I don’t know if I should say which I prefer because then people will only hire me for that…

I love both writing and directing because they use really different parts of my brain. I direct from a place of uncertainty and I enjoy that. But you kind of more charismatic in your uncertainty. You’ve sort of got to come in and be like “look, I don’t quite know yet but I know how we’ll figure this out”. With writing, I kind of love that I get to just try and work my stuff out myself, and people around me support that. I don’t have to lead. I can just embrace that unknown. What was the other part of the question? Which do I prefer and…?

Yeah, what is it about writing that draws you to it?

I think I write theatre because I love both words and the visual. I love having the opportunity to create images through other people. I really enjoy stage directions. I don’t write them often, but when I do I try to create emotive, poetic, impossible ideas for people to play with. They are as much an offer as dialogue.

I love how collaborative theatre writing is. A lot of the time there’s this expectation that writers write in isolation in this cabin in a wood somewhere. And I mean there’s still a lot of writing that’s lonely and private and has to be but playwriting is like you tried to be an introvert and failed… Its the most collaborative form of writing there is. And I love that. I’m so needy as a writer. I have my group of friends that I’ll just be like “Hey, can you come over? I just – I just really need someone to read this to me, right now, and I have dogs and cups of tea on offer. That’s what I got for you”.

When you are writing, do you find yourself putting on that director’s hat and being like, “This is how I envision this piece” before its even workshopped?

I’m really proud of the fact that I don’t. I think being a director has taught me to have immense faith in directors. I love leaving things incomplete. I think a good script should feel unfinished on the page, because that’s not the form it’s meant to exist in. I’m really proud that I embrace that, and that I’m good at leaving that space, and leaving room for a director.

Moving on to Welcome to Nowhere can you tell us a bit about your process? What prompts you might have been given, or what first inspired you to start writing the play?

I could probably show you… Actually no I don’t have that book with me. I drew a map. I got into mind maps, I drew a map with lots of little pictures and arrows, like… to try and figure it out. And I drew a picture of an alien. I just… It seemed that the most liminal or Between Space you could be in was not knowing which planet you’d end up on. Mars One had been on my mind because of a really beautiful podcast that I’d listened to, which was this girl talking about waiting to find out if she was going to Mars. There was something so human, and casual about how she talked about it, but I’m also like “who the fuck wants to leave this planet?!” That is so weird to me. I think it’s really good to start with a question like that: “Who would this person be?” The other element of it is that it’s a one-night stand. I feel like those are kind of liminal spaces as well, particularly after the sex has happened: “… And now we just…”

The mind map I drew when I first started thinking about the concept of 'liminality'.

The mind map I drew when I first started thinking about the concept of ‘liminality’.

“Are you staying over, are you leaving, are you…?”

“Oh I’ve got… I’ve got… a thing tomorrow morning. I mean I could… No, it’s a bit later, it’s like 10, that’s fine I can… Do you mind if I… stay…?” There’s that weird kind of uncertainty as you wait for morning that I think is really interesting. I liked smooshing those two uncertainties together like that.

Then whatever I write is often influenced by what I’ve been reading, or seeing. I feel like the beginning is quite influenced by The Ritual Slaughter of Gorge Mastromas. That chorus was really intriguing me: how you tell a story communally. There’s other influences which you guys have noticed, some of which I wasn’t necessarily aware of but don’t surprise me: Slaughterhouse Five is my favourite book. I’ve read that so many times. I wasn’t necessarily thinking of it at the time but I kind of loved that Emma saw Slaughterhouse in it.

I know that you said that you like to keep the directing and the writing separate, but when you’re writing the characters do you envision them? Like with this did you visualise, um, mannerisms, or maybe what the alien looks like, or… was there kind of that sort of process? Were they based on real people at all, or are they sort of just…

Well, at the beginning I really didn’t even know what gender they’d be. I wrote them as A and B. When I showed the first draft to Emma I went “I feel like I really want A to be a girl, just because I don’t see female characters like that very often.” Then I’d written about ‘dick’ so B had to be a guy. The alien took me a little while longer. I think you guys saw a draft where it was called ‘alien/scientist’. I wasn’t quite sure where that was sitting for a little while; was it going to be an alien or a scientist? Then in rehearsal Leticia (the set designer) said it was about curiosity. Hearing that really influenced the final drafts. The idea of the alien’s curiosity about them as well as Henry’s curiosity about Maisy and Maisy’s total lack of curiosity about anything Earth-bound. That really help me shape it.

Apart from curiosity, what are the other key themes that are dealt with in ‘Inertia’?

Space… Inertia: momentum or a lack of momentum was really interesting to me. That opening scene is all about Maisy knowing things and doing all this stuff and what an amazing, driven, young person she is. And then you see her and she’s just stopped and stuck. Being in stasis like that really interested me… Um… Yeah.

I think that’s also just me totally embracing nerdiness! It’s the nerdiness thing I’ve written. The big romantic speech? The most romantic thing in my head was making out under whalebones at a museum! But how hot is that?! …So yeah that’s kind of, I think it’s sort of embracing the beauty of trying for something bigger than you. And that’s maths, that’s science, that’s space, that’s all that stuff. And I think there’s a lot of parallels in science and art. They are both about trying to understand the world around you.

Obviously because I’m playing the alien I’m quite fascinated with that character. I guess I’m still in the process of figuring out what the alien is. I was wanting to ask you, as a device what does the alien serve as?

I think that from the beginning, a lot of the writing has been about being watched. Of Mars being watched, then Maisy being watched, and being willing to put herself on what’s basically a life-long reality TV show. I wanted a sense of someone watching them constantly. But also this alien is from a planet that has been watch for as long as we’ve been able to look up. An earlier draft said something like “we’ve explore Mars with our minds for so long and now we’re actually going to put our feet there”. Maisy’s going to be the invader. Maisy’s part of an invading force.

In a way, Maisy’s going to take on the role as the alien.

Yeah, Maisy will become the alien. I think it’s interesting to think of someone from a civilisation on the brink of being invaded just watching and not actually taking any steps to stop it. Just observing this moment of transition… this moment… this liminal moment before the next stage of our relationship with their planet.

And then to think that we on earth will be able to look out into space and think that there are people out there looking back at us!

Totally!

It’s terrifying!

Going back to the actual writing of ‘Inertia’, did you come across any challenges that you hadn’t come across writing other plays?

I often struggle to write short plays because I try to cram in too many things. That’s concepts and forms or devices. I had to really be careful of that. For a little while there the space of six scenes I had four totally different rules for how the universe of the play worked. So there was the chorus narrating; there was Maisy and Henry interacting; there was this speech by this scientist and there was also projections of video games and all sorts. And then there was also this like weird sex scene that I’d written as the scientist narrating it as a rocket launch, calling out what hormones were being release when and stuff like that! It was really nerdy. It was horrible.

Oh God! I’m a bit glad you cut that out!

(Laughter)

In our pyjamas.

In our pyjamas. One of us is drunk.

Yeah. It’s only going to be about 20 minutes, and that’s very disjointed to have four totally different stylistic things in such a short play. That’s a thing I confront each time I have to write something short… because I’m just not good at… at being that clear.

Being concise and…

Yeah being concise both in terms of thoughts and themes and also in styles and how I want to tell a story because I love changing styles.

Last question: a bit of a silly one, a bit cheesy but…if you were stranded on a desert island and you only had one thing you could take with you, what would it be?

Probably lip balm cause I’d just feel like I’d get really annoyed at having dry lips!

I was expecting like, ” Pencil and paper to write down a memoir!”

Nah, I’m sticking with lip balm.

Welcome to Nowhere runs September 24th-October 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse. Bookings are at the Coopers Malthouse website and at The Melbourne Fringe website.

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interview, My own plays, Welcome to Nowhere

morgan rose: welcome to nowhere, hurricanes, collaboration, stepping back and learning how to do all the things

This is part four of the Welcome to Nowhere Playwright interviews: Eliza Quinn and Max Paton interviewing Morgan Rose. I am one of five playwrights commissioned by Monash University to write this new work along with Angus Cerini, Zoey Dawson, Daniel Keene and Morgan. As part of the process, I’ve had student actors interview the creatives. When I suggested this, Max and Eliza immediately asked to speak to Morgan. They had both just seen her MTC Neon Show: Lord Willing & The Creek Don’t Rise and wanted to understand more about Morgan’s creative process and the writing of that work. So enjoy this beautiful contribution from Morgan, Max and Eliza.

Morgan Rose

Morgan Rose

What brought you to writing?

I was always interested in writing. I wrote a lot when I was little, and then kind of abandoned it. I found theatre and was like “Oh, well I won’t do that writing thing anymore”. I started as a performer and then worked my way through all the things like director or producer, but then somehow ended up back at writer. When I came to Australia, I always would write little bits and pieces if we needed to for plays, and then people just kept asking me to do that all the time, so I did.

Do you have any central themes or ideas that you keep coming back to in your writing?

I think I do, but I don’t realise that I do. It’s like “Oh fuck I wrote about that again, whoops”. I write about fucked up relationships a lot – it just always ends up being that. Weird relationships too. Like something really bizarre happens – a man eats his girlfriend, or a woman falls in love with a dolphin, that kind of thing. I realised the other day, and I don’t know if this counts as a theme, but everything I’ve written in the past two years has ended with everyone walking away and leaving a man alone on stage to deal with his shit. I was like “What the fuck?”

And because I don’t live in my home, I find I write a lot about being out of place, being somewhere you don’t necessarily belong.

From the start of your writing process, just having the germ of an idea, to the finished script, how much would you say a piece changes over the course of that?

I feel like it can change pretty drastically. But I feel as I’m writing more and more and figuring out how to write more and more, I’m more certain at the beginning now than I was before. Before I’d just have this little idea, just see what happens and write. Now I know to maybe sit with that idea and do some more planning. If you think about it longer before you just dive in, it gets easier. And so, as I’m growing as an artist I think maybe my ideas are a little more solid, more fully formed and less wobbly.

When you write for theatre, are you seeing every single moment of it on stage?

I do. I know plenty of people don’t, but I definitely always see it on stage and that’s something I’m really interested in, in my work – the form of theatre. I never want to ignore that it’s happening on stage in front of an audience. That’s precious to me. I don’t want it to be a film, I don’t want it to be set in a real place: I want it to be set in the very strange place of theatre.

LORD WILLING & THE CREEK DON'T RISE, photo: Sarah Walker

LORD WILLING & THE CREEK DON’T RISE, photo: Sarah Walker

Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to write Lord Willing & the Creek Don’t Rise?

I lived in New Orleans during the hurricane when it hit. I evacuated, which is actually why I left. Then the news story came out a year after the storm and I guess I felt immediately drawn to it, and connected it with theatre – it’s like this metaphor. There’s a flood, and there’s a person consuming the person they love, and it was this fucked up, but very innately theatrical story. It was also about something I felt very personally about, which was this city in a first world country, that was just left to fend for itself. It was so fucked there, after the storm. It was so bad. And having been a part of that, in whatever way, I felt really angry. I felt like most people didn’t really understand what had happened and the extent of how bad it was. I thought that this story was a good way to try to explain that.

In Lord Willing, did you want to explore the fallout of this event?

Lord Willing was inspired by this real story, but I stopped researching halfway through because I didn’t want to tell this person’s story. It inspired something in me, to tell a story, but it’s not a biopic. I feel like this man got pushed into this horrible place by all of this shit that went down. Everyone will focus on this one event – “Oh you did this horrible thing, you did this horrible thing” – but what’s behind that? What’s the build up? That’s what I was interested in. Less in the actual disgusting horrible thing that happened and more in what came before it.

Is it hard to step back in a rehearsal room and let your work take shape?

Because I come from this collaborative background, Lord Willing was the first time I’ve handed over a script and said “Here, do it, and I’ll just be over here”. That was really hard, because I was like “I know all these things about it and it has to be this way!” And Kat (Henry) was like “Actually, you know, no, I’m the one directing it”. She’s brilliant, and thank God she was directing it, because I have directed but I am not a director. Lord Willing was a weird, new experience for me but we got through it and figured it out. But a lot of the getting through it was me realising “This is Kat’s thing now, and I have to let it be her thing, calm the fuck down Morgan, she knows what she’s doing”.

Do you feel like there’s something you wanted people to take from Lord Willing, or do you feel it’s entirely up to interpretation?

It’s important to me to not tell an audience what to think. I think about that when writing, I try not to spell it out. What Lord Willing is about for me is that this kind of shit could happen to any one of us. I’m not capable of saying that we’re all capable of eating our lovers, but if put in a fucked up enough situation, you can do things you never thought you were capable of.

Morgan's recently play at Theatre Works, VIRGINS AND COWBOYS. Photos: Lachlan Woods

Morgan’s recently play at Theatre Works, VIRGINS AND COWBOYS. Photos: Lachlan Woods

How did you respond to the Welcome to Nowhere brief?

We had to write something about an in-between space, so I did some brainstorming and thought of a million ideas. What I narrowed it down to was a story about a bunch of people whose town disappears: they wake up and their town is gone, they’re just in this desert and they don’t know how or why. I wrote another one that was about how we communicate online; that relationship we have with people around us but it’s all in this nowhere place. I wrote little bits and pieces of those and sent them to Emma and said “Which do you want?” And so we went with the town disappearing – it had more of a story while the other one was episodic.

Any final words of wisdom for a pair of super cool young uni students such as ourselves?

Learn how to do all the things, especially in theatre. If you’re a performer, don’t rely on just being a performer and auditioning and letting other people do it for you – know how to do the applications, know how to get the money yourself, know how to put on a show. Even if you’re the performer and you say “I’m going to hire this director so that I can play Hamlet”, be able to do that because not a lot of people can put together a production, to put together all those pieces and make it happen. The people that can do that are the people that have a show!

Welcome to Nowhere runs September 24th to October 3rd at the Coopers Malthouse. I’d love to see you there. I am so fucking proud of this show and all the artists involved. 

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