Thursday, December 29, 2005

Old School Daze Part 2

And so we stand poised at the edge of 2006, 2005 still gripping our coat-tails but feeling its fingers beginning to lose hold as we strain towards our new friend...isn't it time to reflect on the year that was?

Of course it is. The year that was, in this case, was 1930, when I was just a wee bit of a thing in rural Massachussets. A country determinedly blind to the threat of Depression, a nation letting itself slip like a 40-something businessman who's two-decade marriage has gone to ruin. We danced those dark days - oh, how we danced. And, naturally, it was the dance of children, for I was entering my early teens and, as a wise songstress later put it, I was "not a girl, not yet a woman" (or a man). We called our dance The Flibbertigibbit, and it failed to make waves. But even now when I meet one of my old school chums (ever more rarely, I'm afraid), one or the other of us will inevitably launch into a spirited rendition of our untimely jig and we will both fall about laughing. To paraphrase Jesus: where two or more of us are gathered, The Flibbertigibbit will be there. It was a bit like The Running Man, now that I think of it.

Thoughts like these take me back to my old school photos, and I've dug up another one from these days in Crook Neck, Mass., USA. Ah, here 'tis.

I was absent this day, oddly enough. I think I had a bad case of quinsy that day, but it could equally have been a dose of scrumpox or Bronze John. I was a veritable treasure trove of archaic ailments, all once common but oddly lacking from contemporary medical dictionaries. In less than three years in my youth, I managed to suffer from trench mouth, La Grippe, grocer's itch, croup, bloody sweat, dock fever, dropsy of the brain and many good old bouts of the horrors.

Anyway, before you began prying into my private life in such a fashion, I was discussing my schoolmates. Let's have a closer look at some of the kids.

Have you ever noticed how every class has at least one dirty kid? Kind of like Pigpen from Peanuts. He was always my favourite. Just living free. So this kid here was called Dirk, and we all knew him as Dirty Dirk for obvious reasons. Also because he often exposed himself to other children.

Ah, Jemima. Paler than most, on account of an anaemic disposition which was eventually to be the end of her, she also saw a wasting of the brain which had many side effects. You can see here the tea towel she always insisted be draped across her head at a jaunty angle. She insisted it would come into fashion but I don't think it ever took off.

Beatrice here was quite the character. She always insisted that she was in fact a well-known gossip columnist for the New York Times, and suffered the humiliation of our derision and scorn at these outrageous claims. But what do you know? It turns out that when this photo was taken, Betty was in fact 43 years old and one of the most talked-about writers at that esteemed publication. We never could understand what she was doing in our class, but suspect a kind of Fast Times at Ridgemont High undercover deal.

Hmm. Now this might seem a bit distasteful for modern audiences, but you have to understand that we did things differently then. Nowadays, with access to modern medical facilities and vaccines and so on, it's hard to remember what it was like in the grip of a depression with no such things as antibiotics, regular meals or even clean water. But we stuck together. So gasp if you will, but I think it was right that we included Eric in our school shot, even if he had been dead for seven weeks. I mean, we kept him in class that whole time. After all, his parents had paid his tuition in full.

This is our teacher, Mr Singh. In retrospect, I do question the wisdom of employing a twelve year old Indian boy as our teach, but he arrived with very good references which included time spent teaching at Princeton, Harvard and MIT. The teaching staff was limited, and they could use all the help they could get. Also, Mr Singh's teaching style was pretty much limited to throwing paper planes at us, taking our lunches and starting singalongs (with songs we never knew the words to).

Gretel may be confusing to you younger folk. You see, back in the day, it wasn't uncommon for actual fairy folk to sign up for class. In this case, Gretel was a bridge troll. I don't know what she ended up doing, but then I haven't been back to Crook Neck for some time.

Anyway, there you have it. My memories have begun to fade over the years, so I felt it might be worth putting these down for posterity. Carpe Diem, and all that ("seize the carp", I believe).

Friday, December 23, 2005

A Very Christmas Viewing

Herewith for your Yuletide perusal, a selection of Xmas-themed television programs playing over this merry weekend:

The Twelve Days of Christmas Eve
Gets the award for title that makes no logical sense. Also it's an "action-adventure" which actually makes it sound intriguing.
Lello: Christmas with the Strongest Man in the World
Because when I'm tucking into my family lunch, I often think "the only thing that's missing is a strongman"
Mr St. Nick
Too many appellations there.
Santa Claus Conquers the Martians
I've actually wanted to see this extremely loopy 1964 film for a while. Santa apparently has a reindeer called 'Nixon'. Also teaches us that "Four kids using ping-pong balls and soap bubbles can take on one grown man who is armed with a disintegration ray."
Inspector Rex Christmas Special
Speaks for itself.
I'll Be Home for Christmas
There are actually two versions of this playing tomorrow on the same channel. Directed by different people in 1997 and 1998. Either that's one HELL of a title, or it deserved/required a remake REALLY quickly. Though I do notice that the 3.40pm version is "comedy" and the 11.10pm version contains "adult themes". Oo er.
A Carol Christmas
I'm guessing they thought that would be a genius bit of word play, and don't you just bet the main character is named Carol? Since it stars Tori Spelling, however, we'll never know because nobody in their right head would watch it.
Salty Love
Not Xmas-themed that I'm aware of, but surely not appropriate fare for 3pm on a Saturday.

Have a good holiday and don't forget to sing Happy Birthday for Jesus.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Well, no. But if you tell 997,720 of your friends/associates about this site, you could be that lucky person.

Apparently it's lazy to do this, but I thought I'd take the slack option today and let you know some of the odd things about visitors to AHFLV.

The most common way people find this site is by googling "Very Confused Woman". WHAT DOES THIS MEAN? IT IS MAKING ME VERY CONFUSED! (but not a woman - note to self: get chromosomal DNA check)

Others have found it by googling, amongst other things:
"Tsubi Book Launch" (huh? They have a book? What reason could they have for having a book?)
"How to Sing Low" (Awesome, good luck and let me know how you go)
"The hidden meaning in the play until someone wakes up" (I've never heard of it, but I think the hidden meaning is this: crime doesn't pay. If not, how about: there is no such thing as Santa)
"Sociophobes" (fair enough)

That's all. Oh and also:

Monday, December 12, 2005

Something in Store

I'm not a superstitious person. At least, that is, I don't think of myself as one. Never throw salt over my shoulder, no problem stepping on cracks, will open a hundred umbrellas indoors and a black cat crosses my path several times a day (thank you Pete).

Although, now that I think of it, I do have certain superstitions I adhere to, but they're ones I've either made up myself or adapted from existing beliefs. For instance, if I spot a five-cent coin I have to pick it up; if I drop one I have to let it lie. Other denominations aren't affected.

Also, I've long feared saying "good luck" to someone. This might have started with the whole don't-say-good-luck-to-an-actor thing, but has since been expanded to incorporate everyone. At the same time, I do find myself saying it but always feel a little bad when I do. If whatever endeavour I'm wishing them luck in goes awry, I'll probably blame myself. But what's the alternative? "Bon chance"? "I wish you well"? "Knock 'em dead"?
All of which is in no way a relevant preamble to the fact that I went to see this guy last night:

Young Angus Cerini's This Thousand Years I Shall Not Weep finished up last night at The Store Room and, well, it was quite the corker. I hadn't seen Angus perform for a few years (probably not since Uni, even) so I was looking forward to catching it. Solo show devised in collaboration with Kelly Ryall on sound, it was a barrage of sucker punches that didn't necessarily make sense but kept you intrigued the whole time. It told a few intercut stories, one of a "peacekeeper" in Iraq who commits an atrocity, another of an anaemic kid who is given a disease during a routine blood transfusion, and a framing device wherein a politician makes some broad claims which set the rest of the show in contrast.

It's a hard show to follow - the various threads don't add up to an overall picture, and the physical intensity of the thing makes Cerini look like a balled fist undergoing electro-shock treatment. But you can't deny the power of it, or the seriousness motivating what you see. Anyway, it's over now, so you don't get to see it at all I suppose.

After the show it was a bit of a 2005 break-up party for The Store Room over at the Pinnacle, where (as usual) the spread was outstanding. If you ever get the chance to go to a function or something there, step over your own grandmother to get to it.

What a dry post. I'm tired.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Golden Rough/Holy Maloney

Wednesday of this week must have seen some kind of astral confluence, water contamination or chemical imbalance of my brain as I got it into my damn fool head to attend not one, but two theatre shows on the same night (Wednesday night, as mentioned). How I managed to finish work at 6pm, get to Carlton to see Golden Chains at La Mama by 6.30pm and then over to North Melbourne to see Billy by 8pm is quite the miracle. Thank you non-denominational deity. How I managed to fit in a sit-down meal somewhere in there is even more incomprehensibel. Plus I dashed into the supermarket to pick up an onion, a lemon, baby spinach and some other stuff. Didn't throw any of it during either show.

Golden Chains...well, I'm not sure what to say about this one. It's physical theatre performed by a solo artist (Kath Papas) with recorded voices delivering text from Pushkin's Folktales as well as more contemporary documentary stuff. There's live percussion, too (very well delivered). But I wasn't quite sure what I was watching. Papas is a good presence, and has always seemed like a nice and professional person when I've seen her. And the show's creator Elissa Goodrich has done good work, too. But it wasn't apparent what linked the many components of the piece. Apparently Russia has something to do with it. By if there's one thing worse than being able to second-guess why every single artistic decision has been made, it's not being able to take a punt on any of them. I've since heard that the show was originally intended as part of La Mama's most recent Season of Explorations, and I think that would have been a more appropriate venue. Just because, well, this feels like a work in progress, and it probably needs some time to ripen.

Billy has had a looong time to mature, and writers Sue Gore and Bill Garner know their historical stuff. They specialise in solidly researched plays which unearth lesser-known events and characters from Melbourne's past (The Ishmael Club was a winner which was picked up by the then-Playbox for a more mainstream season). In this case, they've picked up on the story of Billy Maloney, a "larger-than-life" character who helped get women the vote, fought for the 8 hour workday, spoke up for free speech etc etc. He was a parliamentarian of the most idealistic, utopian sort, and the play does a good job of painting him as a candidate for secular sainthood.

It's also a very weird experience for a relatively young 'un like me (not giving too much away there, obviously, since the mean audience for political/historical theatre is hardly that of The OC). Within a few minutes, we were standing on our feet singing along to a rousing old time tune of solidarity. What? At least I knew that I was hardly in for a dry old lecture.

And yes, it's a very enjoyable piece which left me with a spring in my step. That word, rousing, really is an apt one: I couldn't help but curse the current government and wish we had more fellas like that Billy Elliot, I mean Maloney around these days to fight the good fight. If the play is to be believed, he certainly accomplished more than any pollie of nowadays, and it's a depressing thought. I have to disagree with some when I suggest that the panto/music hall style of the play is perfectly appropriate: okay, it gives us a cardboard greasepaint version of an undoubtedly complex figure, but the play isn't seeking to open up an unproblematic window into another era or a subtle psychologising of a historical personage. It's trying to make you think about today's political climate, and about how in some ways we're far worse off than we might have been a century ago. Which is a fair aim. If it sometimes accomplishes this with exaggerated or ham-fisted acting, or creaky conventions, no matter. Gore and Garner are trying to rouse you, perhaps to action, and if they managed to literally rouse their audience to their feet every night, I imagine that we can't call this project an entirely unsuccessful one.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Site for Sore Eyes

Hi there! Hello.

No, there's not been much activity here of late, but I just thought I'd pop in to let you in on a development:

Pat and Joel now have their own site! It's at:
Plastic Acoustic

Why? Well, three (3) reasons:
Firstly, popular demand meant that their adventures could no longer be housed here, and this site was never meant to be devoted to funny-looking mannequins and dolls, frankly.
Second-like, there's not that much arty/opening type stuff going on, so this site will be quieter over the summer.
And third, well, some people find Pat and Joel a bit scary and nightmare-inducing, so I thought it best if we quarantine them. You can always look them up if you want, but you don't have to.

The new site will feature all kinds of adventures in emoting, as well as your regular cast of characters and a whole bunch of new friends you've yet to meet (thanks to those who submitted their own photos, especially Our Man in Tokyo who took his own).

That's all, see.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

A Festival of Carnage

It's not often that AHFLV offers up music as part of your daily digestibles, but since the better part of four days was spent at last weekend's Queenscliff Music Festival, it's probably worth a mention. Only problem is: I've just gotten the photos back, and Something Is Afoot. Let us review the evidence:

Look in the bottom right corner of the frame:

Someone has gotten a little too festive in their frolicking, perhaps? That's what I thought, until I turned to the next shot.

Something is definitely amiss here. Why has nobody noticed this mysterious figure lying in their midst? And why do I have no memory of said figure?

Jiminy Crickets! It's almost as if a conspiracy of silence is keeping this mystery from surfacing? What horrors are being perpetrated under the mantle of an innocent music festival? WHAT HORRORS?

Even the beach isn't safe. Was this figure washed ashore, or did they attempt to reach the relative safety of the waters only to be cut down mere metres from its edge?

And what of this poor soul? Was he scrambling down a sharp embankment to escape his pursuers and lift the lid on the dark secrets lurking beneath Queenscliff's sunny facade? Or was he thrown bodily over the edge, finding this bench anything but the calming place of rest it is supposed to be?

But my biggest shock came when I reached the shot I'd taken once back in Melbourne. With one frame still remaining on the roll of film, I snapped off a quick image of Edinburgh Gardens in North Fitzroy. Here is what came back:

The horror has followed me home. Could it be within me? Don't think so (hope not).

I'm waiting on the photos of my fellow travellers, and will let you know if they shed any light on this gruesome enigma.

Also: what the music at the Festival was like.

Friday, November 18, 2005


I sometimes wonder what I would do if my chosen profession hadn’t chosen me. With age comes the wisdom that there is much in this world at which I would prove hopelessly inept, rather than passable mediocre (which is what I am now). But something of the invincibility of youth remains, which is why I am quite unreasonably certain that if (and when) called upon to “step up”, I could (and will) be able to do the following:

- Drive a burning double-decker bus
- Withstand a bullet to the arm/knife wound to the stomach
- Save a child/animal from a house afire
- Win a game of high stakes poker against international criminals
- Leap from an out-of-control motorcycle heading cliff-wards
- Wrestle a shark (not a crocodile or alligator, though)
- Win the Eurovision Song Contest
- Defeat any kind of rabid dog
- Land a small single- or twin-engine plane
- Swim out from a rip
- Survive on grass and twigs and things

I’m not entirely delusional. There are many, many things I know I couldn’t do. If I got into a fight with a robot, any kind of robot, I’m almost absolutely certain my fleshy human ass would be whupped. Also, I don’t think I would be able to play guitar like a pro just because I was onstage in front of millions. And as a friend pointed out the other day, I will never, ever be a wetnurse.

But as I was saying, if things had taken a different turn career-wise, there are a few jobs I think I would be both capable and happy to do:

Sewing machine repairs: I have no experience with sewing machines, but given a little training I think I would like to run a little shop somewhere fixing the things up. Do such shops exist? I think they must.

Ad copywriter for breath mints: I saw an ad for breathmints the other day and thought hey – I could do an adequate job doing that. It would be good to have such a focus too. Just breathmints.

Tending the gardens in the middle of traffic islands: If I ever have to do community service for crashing a burning double decker bus into a kindergarten, I think I’d like to do this.

Elevator Attendant: obvious really.

Designing book covers: wouldn’t that be the sweetest deal? Especially for airport novels. Do you know anyone who does this? What a job.

Crossword composer: They probably have computers for this nowadays.

Fact checker: This might get boring after a while, but you’d learn some facts in the meantime.

I also like to think I’d be a good photographer, but despite learning at school for years and years I was never more than average. Unlike those at the RMIT Photography graduating exhibit I went to the other night.

It’s on at Fed Square in the Atrium to the NGV (I think that’s what it is) and some of the stuff is awesome. The opening was a pretty lavish affair, much bigger than a lot of openings I’ve been to lately and certainly unexpected for a student thing. Very high-falutin’. The exhibition is on for a while longer, all day and night, and it’s free, so wander by. I don’t think the photos are for sale, but if you like something give the photographer a call and hire them for a big international shoot which requires them to travel all over the world.

Or else.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Old School

Do you remember the days of the old school yard? That's the question posed to me by this guy Cat Stevens on one of his old LPs. I don't know if it was addressed to me personally, but I have two cats and so this uniquely qualifies me to answer this poser. Also, I knew a guy called Steven once (actually his name was Stuart but close enough in my book. The book is called WHY I AM RIGHT. It's a page-turner.)

Contemplating Cat's query, I was motivated to dust off the old photo album and reacquaint myself with my old school chums and chumettes. Here's a photo of my class as we looked way back in 1914. Good times, good times. I'll walk you through them.

What a winsome bunch.

This is Gustav. We always thought he was a little strange - notice that he is the only boy wearing a completely different colour suit to the rest of us. He thought he was a bit special that way. Also, his eyes weren't so much eyes as oversized blackcurrants. We never spoke about it. It was one of those things.

Carmelina was another odd one. Mainly because she wasn't all there - this photo does a good job indicating how she was more fuzzy apparition than actual person. She ended up working at David Jones, I think.

Dudley here was probably the meanest-ass mofe I've ever met. He would just as soon stick you with a screwdriver as look at you. We, all of us, had our "Dudley Stories", usually about how he'd torn off one of our toenails or shoved a rusty spoon between two of our vertebrae at recess. Whatever happened to Dudley?

Man, I had the hots for Juanita. She never even acknowledged my existence. Looking back at her hair in this picture, I'm actually now beginning to wonder if she wasn't kind of unbalanced.

Jeremy. Insisted we call him 'Emperor' for three years, then dropped it.

Marion played the tuba. Ended up going on postal in a Coles.

Clarissa was named "Most Likely To Die Of Consumption" but she's still going strong and re-married last winter!

Funnily enough, I don't remember this guy at all. My notes state that his name was Tommy "Knuckles" Tonito but it just doesn't ring a bell. Huh!

And of course our teacher, Sister Geoffrey. We never, ever thought to question this somewhat unusual name. Now it all makes sense.

So anyway, that was my youth around the time of the Great War. We were mostly sheltered from the reality of that particular world event.

Eleventh Hour Theatre are currently performing Australia's first production of Shakespeare's King John, and it's a humdinger. Go see it if you like Shakespeare, and don't if you don't. But it's not just the Bard on offer: what you actually get is a bunch of World War I officers and nurses in a military hospital putting on their own production of King John to pass the time. It's hilarious: watching actors play non-actors playing historical characters adds layers and layers to what was probably a pretty dry text to begin with. And they go for the entertainment angle, too, featuring lots of gags based on bad acting, funny accents etc. But underneath it's a very strong and insightful rendering. Anyway, I've already written a bunch of reviews elsewhere so I can't be bothered go over its strengths again. Suffice to say, little Gustav, Juanita and Jeremy (and the rest) would have loved it.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Look Who's Stalking

Ah, the lessons of life. Or better yet, the lessons of Hollywood. Anyone growing up in the past century (I'm guessing that's most of you) will know deep in their hearts that's the real classroom is right there in front of the silver screen, and that TV is the most important homework. It's where we learn the vital secrets of human interaction, of courage and shame, desire and fear. It's where we discover ways to interpret the subtleties of interpersonal communication, and how to hot-wire a car. How to knock out a guard and steal their clothes. How to laugh at random barnyard animal attacks.

And of course, it's how we know that whenever someone says "I love you", a kiss will probably follow. And if someone says "I will love you forever", you just know they're going to end up dressed in a bloody wedding gown putting an axe through the bedroom door as they scream "YOU PROMISED! WE WILL BE FOREVER IN DEATH!"

It's just one of those things you wouldn't know if it weren't for the movies.

We've all seen The Woman Before, the new show by Theatre @ Risk. Slotting neatly into those tracks carved into the road by Fatal Attraction, Play Misty for Me and any number of truly awful but compulsively watchable straight to video releases (usually titled a mix 'n match of "lethal/fatal/deadly/crimes of" and "passion/obsession/the senses/erotica") it features all the standard elements: neat family unit of Daddy, Mummy and teenage son; creepy woman from Dad's past turning up unexpectedly; hints at pre-existing familial tensions underlying the veneer of domestic bliss; increasingly crazy behaviour from the intruder; various attempts at seduction by said intruder; lots of murder and bloodshed and stuff to wrap up proceedings.

It's highly watchable since the plot unfolds quickly and economically along the lines of a Hollywood thriller, and there's some outstanding direction by Chris Bendall. I liked the performances given, too. But I'm just unsure about the play itself. The writer, German Roland Schimmelpfennig (translates as 'mouldy penny' - now you know) is one of the most performed playwrights in his home country, and wrote Arabian Night, also produced last year by the same company. Now, that was one hell of a show - a line from one of my reviews is used in a lot of publicity material printed by the Risk folks (apparently a line from a different review of mine is going to be used in the next brochure from one of Melbourne's big theatre companies - hallowed doors will open). And I can't say I've seen such a consistently good output from another group in the last few years. Bendall's got the goods, it seems.

But at the afterparty of The Woman Before's opening night, one playwright told me it was the most angering, misogynistic thing she'd seen in ages. A director disagreed; thought is was a metaphor for the main character's fear of women, stuff like that. And an actor friend didn't like it much because he thought the performances were lame. None of these were my reaction. But I can see merit in all of them.

What I think is this: it's a play worth a look. It's weirdly archaic in its way, and gestures towards other texts (some reviewers even invoked Medea) without necessarily adding a new twist on them. But it is a rip-roaring ride of a thriller of a horror of a play, and I think that in terms of pacing and direction, some other local theatre people could learn something from it. It's certainly not flawless (God, far from it) but its flaws are kind of as interesting as its strong points, and probably as instructive.

It's like Hollywood in that way, too.

Friday, November 04, 2005


It's always a pleasant surprise to be able to review two openings in one hit. That's the case with this week's Melbourne premieres of Tess de Quincey's Nerve 9 and Yumi Umiumare's dasShoku Hora! The shows are completely unrelated, technically, but share a common thread which can only be described as CRAZY BRAINMELTING MONSTER WOMAN!

Nerve 9 is really, really difficult. Academic. Theoretical. Abstract. And last night someone told me that a friend described it as one of the most boring shows she'd ever seen. I think that's a bit harsh (although, you know, each to their own). But it certainly wasn't a hot bucket of giggles. My plus-one confided to me afterwards that when it began, in near darkness with just a miniscule dab of light grazing what seemed to be someone's neck or back as pulsing, dark beats flooded the space, she "was seeing things you can't imagine." And when the light eventually spread to reveal the black-clad, awfully contorted form of de Quincey, she thought she was "seeing a monster!" This meant in all seriousness, from a grown adult.

Funny, since my reaction afterwards was something like waking from a nightmare (I don't mean that figuratively - as in "what a nightmare of a show"). I couldn't remember a lot of it, and some I didn't want to think about for some reason, and the hour I'd just sat through seemed completely disconnected from the bright world of reason once the lights had come up. I'd been lulled into a kind of trance-like sleep state by the performance, and during that time some scary stuff was happening which must have seeped into my brainstem. The show itself seemed inspired by notions of the abject body, the body we can't confront directly, with its awful interior and its gaping holes and uncontrollable bits and its inability to be rendered in speech. While de Quincey jerks around like a creepy doll from some Eastern Bloc experimental animation, the air is filled with the sound of heavily edited and visceral vocalisations (popping, breathing, groaning etc) and noises like unearthly insects cracking their knuckles and flexing their cartilage. Icky, entrancing and bewildering.


A different monster showed its face at the Malthouse last night when Yumi Umiumare uncovered an equally insane but far more engaging creation: dasShoku Hora! gives us a wretched old Japanese hag coming down from her mountain, all screams and writhing and birthing two shaggy men-freaks who proceed to rut and crawl and howl. Over the next hour the crone morphs into a freaky eroto-Hello Kitty character, a spray-tan karaoke ganguro girl, the faceless woman of Japanese folklore and a whole lot more I can't even begin to understand. There's a lot of horror, but it's all done in a certain style I last saw in Moira Finucane's Gotharama (Finucane is dramaturg on Hora!) whereby the monstrous is portrayed with such glee and sheer exuberance that you can't help being infected despite the yuckiness being offered up to you. It's very physical, often incomprehensible but more fun than a sponge cake covered in red blood and lollies being shoved down your gullet (to take an image from the show). Also, it was great to see Yumi and cohorts writhing all over people in the front row, shoving their crotch in the face of Malthouse staff, dry humping people who'd worked on the production and interrogating a Japanese woman over her fashion sense. Crazy crazy nights.

After Nerve 9 it was a weirdly fruity white wine (again, not metaphorical usage of 'fruity'), some cheesy/curry/something balls, veg spring rolls, veg sushi, veg rice paper rolls - my goodness! Very fine. After dasShoku Hora! it was time for me to rush home to bed. But I'm sure a good time was had by all.

I'm off to see Theatre @ Risk's The Woman Before tonight, and since it concerns an obsessive Fatal Attraction-type scenario, I'm guessing that this week's theme will continue unabated.

Wednesday, November 02, 2005

Read all about It.

Last Friday I was one of a handful of Melbourne folks to turn up to a not-very-highly-promoted press conference with Chloe Sevigny, the nonchalant star of movies like Boys Don't Cry, Kids, Melinda & Melinda, American Psycho and one of my favourites, The Last Days of Disco. She's perhaps better known as someone you kind of recognise but don't know where from, and needless to say she's equal parts glamour and complete dag.

The conference was a little confused. Nobody quite knew why she was here, including perhaps herself, and the afternoon was characterised by hugely endearing pauses where nobody (guest/interviewers alike) knew what to say.

"Who are your favourite Australian fashion designers?"

"[Pause] Uh....]

[Long look from Tsubi robots, er, guys sitting next to her]

"Tsubi. Of course."

After the questions were done with, we went out for some photos, and she was sort of befuddled when we asked her to hold up a fist and give us something tough-looking. She did a double-take and said "what is this for???" before pulling the least-tough tough-face you could imagine.

Then my photographer gushed "I'm moving to New York next year; I want to live in the East Village!" and Chloe returned with a "uhhh..." and so we ran off (not literally).

The encounter was exactly as I'd pictured it, and Chloe lived up to my expectations as someone so ordinary that they have no reason for being famous. Outstanding stuff.

It's partly this that makes her, according to the press release, and "It Girl". My definition of an "It Girl" is someone whose level of publicity far outstrips their level of actual activity - that is, someone who receives a lot of press but hasn't done much lately to warrant it. I've sent some questions to Ms Sevigny following up on this:

Q: What does it take to become an "It Girl"?
Q: Is there an annual membership fee?
Q: Do you get discounts at stores?
Q: Do you know other "It Girls"? Do you get together for pajama parties?
Q: Is there a secret handshake? Underground lair?
Q: Could...I "It Girl"?

She has, thus far, not responded.

I live in hope.

Friday, October 28, 2005

Brit Pop

image copyright penny stevens
The launch/"lunch" for the new NGV exhibition British Art & the 60s took place yesterday, and though the starting time was listed at 11am, a late-running Mary "It ain't an opening less I'm there" Delahunty meant we didn't actually get to tour the art until around midday. The downtime was supposed to be filled a) schmoozing and b) eating and drinking, but I a) didn't know anyone there and didn't feel like striking up random conversations that early in the day (as opposed to the maybe one minute a day when I might be in that mood) and b) wasn't in for 11am pre-work pink champagne or food which I couldn't eat, seeing as how there was no veg catering. I did, however, as always, feel like using long sentences crowded full of nested clauses. For this, I apologise.
The other thing we were directed to do was have a look at the accompanying exhibit, BritPrint, which was a bunch of stuff from 90s UK artists. I really like that generation (with the exception, on moral grounds, of Damien Hirst). And the Tate Modern is my favourite gallery in the world. Ooooh how I love love love it, and get all squishy when I think of it. And I don't even like art that much.
But I like the 60s even if I never got to see them first hand, so I was looking forward to this show. So was the NGV staff member in the photo above, I think, since it gave her the opportunity to wear orange tights to work. I am afraid that nothing will ever give me that opportunity (working on it, thought).
The art on offer is all pretty good stuff, enough to interest anyone with a passing fancy for pop art, Swinging London, rock, photography or the beginnings of the kind of art that people these days love to hate (see Tate Modern, again). More importantly, wandering through an art gallery for an extended period (more than just a few minutes) reminded me of the eerie feeling of peace I get after doing so. I don't think that art heals or anything, but walking around a big light echoey space where nobody is speaking particularly loudly, or even acknowledging your presence, has a placating effect. Probably the same with cathedrals, now that I think of it, and cemeteries, the beach, you know. Probably less so prisons and military bunkers. Shopping malls, for some people, can have the same effect, for similiar reasons.
But that was yesterday, and today is today. Where I have just returned from a press interview with this lovely lass:

Thursday, October 27, 2005


Is it over? Can I go now?

Yes, after 17 days, as many events and a total of around 20 hours with my derriere en-chaired in a Festival seat, my Odyssey is over.

It was fitting that my Melbourne Festival experience (tm) ended with Malthouse Theatre's Odyssey, then, despite plans to see things afterwards. A heavy dose of flu smacked me upside the viewing capacities early Saturday morning, which ruled out the 12 hour line-dancing cowboys of Lone Twin which I'd hoped to catch a peek at Saturday afternoon, and by the time the MIAF wrap party rolled along that night I was well into the realms of sickness-inspired delirium. In fact, I apparently had a number of phone conversations that night of which I have no recollection.

But Friday night was the Odyssey, and it, well, it wasn't what I'd hoped. It was entertaining enough, sure. There was a lot going on, and it didn't really feel like it's two-hour-plus running time, but I have to agree with a few people I spoke to afterwards who couldn't really work out the point behind it. It was more a collection of images which seemed motivated by visual interest, rather than a pressing story with the kind of dramatic drive that would explain the epic's abiding popularity over a few millenia. I'm not that familiar with the text, but I know the gist. In fact it would be hard not to, seeing how much contemporary stuff has used it as a base or inspiration. But a lot of scenes seemed not to say "look how we've interpreted this bit", instead saying "look how we've dressed this bit". Half-goddess of sex and death Circe in Nazi drag! Athena as a sailor-suited child! Me as a confused spectator!

I didn't think it was at all bad (unlike one friend, a drama teacher, who had to leave at interval in disgust). But I didn't think it was that good, either. It didn't really occasion much of a response, to be honest. I was hoping for a dramatic reaction, but couldn't muster one (Geoffrey Rush and Robert Menzies sat behind me, and I was gunning for them to come out with a bold comment once the lights came up, but they left in absolute silence. No help there, fellas!)

Maybe it was only because I'd had such a great festival with more than a handful of highlights; maybe I was spoiled. If I'd seen The Odyssey sometime earlier in the year, it would probably have stood out a lot more. As it is, though, it didn't.

And with that, I put the whole Festival to bed, turned out the lights and shut the door.

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Terrible Twenty

So I done got tagged (BAAAM!) by the preternaturally talented wellspring of hotness, and I therefore have to tell you, uh, 20 things about me…I think…testing 1-2, testing…can you hear me up the back?

1. I don’t speak the way I write. If I met someone who spoke the way I write, I don’t think that I would particularly like them.

2. I don’t have a driver’s licence, but I’m an excellent driver.

3. I’ve been a vegetarian for around five or six years, and haven’t seriously missed meat once.

4. Upon meeting me, people often assume I am a) younger than I am b) gay c) very arrogant d) distracted or e) a combination of the above.

5. b) is exacerbated if it’s the night of the Eurovision Song Contest, the one night a year you’ll find me jumping up and down like an excited schoolgirl at the prospect of bad glittery costumes, cheesy music and Unbridled Displays of Enthusiasm.

6. Other mistaken impressions I’ve encountered: I’ve been told someone had assumed I was a 42-year old man from my phone voice; I’ve been told that I look “much less sarcastic” than they’d expected; I’ve been told I will be famous by a taxi driver, but he was probably gunning for a tip.

7. I miss my Dad.

8. My internet bookmarks include a page devoted to photos of abandoned Icelandic farm houses; Jesus of the Week; Sexuality in Geography; Stuffed Animals: Transcultural Objects in the Bedroom Jungle; a broken link entitled “Why Look at Artificial Animals” and another broken one (perhaps more disturbingly) labelled “DJ Flavor Dav is a Gusher at Crème City Pop”.

9. I have spent far too many years writing a thesis partially focused on This Little Dude. I have even met him in person and have a note he wrote for me.

10. I once took a plane from London to Paris with around $2 to my name, no phone, no contacts over there and no accommodation planned. I got by thanks to the kindness of strangers, for which I am grateful.

11. It’s really hard for me to seriously dislike someone.

12. I have two cats, Peter and Molly. Peter also goes by the names Fang, Yerosha, Punkin Pete, Poida and Brutus. Molly is pretty much just Molly (sometimes Molly Bloom).

13. I have many regrets; they help make up who I am.

14. For a year or so in my early twenties I had an amazing, unbeatable memory, which arrived out of the blue. It went back to wherever it came from later on.

15. I am terrible with song lyrics/lines from movies. I cannot retain them, no matter what. Occasionally one will slip through the gap, but I doubt I could get through a single song from memory without pausing to think.

16. Similarly, if I’m introduced to you I will forget your name before the air on which it is carried has even left the vicinity. I’m sorry, but it’s true. I’m working on it.

17. I could happily live out my days in a small house reading books and gardening, writing things and occasionally going out for a walk. I am improbably aged in that way; I was born an old man.

18. My body is 95% water, the rest composed of skin, hair and good old fashioned gumption.

19. I once forgot my own birthday.

20. I fear the worst and hope for something better, just like you and everyone else.

I don’t have anyone I can tag, but if I did I would probably do so. Because these things, lists, are important:

If listed, our vital emotions can last every moment.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Rising Up, Coming Down

Amajuba - Like Doves We Rise opened on Tuesday night and, well, I'm not sure of my reaction. Speaking to another attendee today, I had an interesting conversation which included something along the lines of "I feel terrible saying this, but...".

I don't feel so bad saying it, but it hammered the point home: this is a show which conveys the true stories of five young performers from South Africa, and often includes personal experiences of such a horrible atrocity that I can't imagine going through the same things and surviving intact. But does that make it good theatre? Of course not. The power of these stories is undeniable, as is the awe-inspiring level of vocal ability displayed in both charismatic, attention-grabbing monologue and harmonic singing. But in some senses Amajuba is the perfect contrast to Le Dernier Caravanserail: much shorter, logically structured (chronological and split into five sections, each a separate story from a different performer), and most importantly, employing minimal theatrics or devices. It's an attempt at honesty, at letting the story speak for itself, and the presence and talent of each actor isn't obfuscated by distancing effects or unnecessary spectacle.

The upshot? I found it hard to engage with a lot of the show. I found it interesting, important, challenging and at times disturbing. But these are all overused terms that have largely been emptied of meaning by the fact that reviewers frequently fall back on them when unable to dredge up more original ways of interpreting an experience. Amajuba might be all these things, but it didn't knock my socks off in the way some of the other Festival shows have. And though I might "feel bad saying this", I don't know that I should (or even if I really do).

The other niggling issue I had was when I read that the show has never been that appreciated back home, despite the acclaim it accords all over the rest of the globe. I wondered if this was because, as is noted at the beginning of the show, the stories presented aren't exceptions in South Africa - they're typical. If so, it makes me fear for the possibility that what the piece offers some audiences is nothing deeper than novelty value, exoticism that doesn't actually allow an engagement with the issues at stake. Certainly, I didn't get a complex sense of the history or politics of the country beyond what I already knew. I might be making the error of attempting to read other's reception of the show, though. Don't want to do that.

Finally, I was troubled that so many reviewers describe the show as "uplifting" above all else. It wasn't uplifting to me. It was grim, horrific and sometimes deeply depressing. The music was soaring and hugely emotive, but it seemed as often to be attempting to express great despair, rather than acting as a way out of it. The performers, like the title's doves, do rise above their situations, but describe it as always staying a part of who they are, not something to be left behind. I don't know what I left behind upon exiting the theatre. Still trying to work it out.

Play Fighting

Have you ever been kicked in the head by a dancer?

I haven't but I was set to pondering this question on Saturday evening. The show was Shelley Lasica's Play in a Room, the venue was the very plain State Theatre Rehearsal Room at the Arts Centre. There was a sense of urgency upon approach as my co-patrons and I dashed from the Black Box Artist's Lounge (where no one had been checking our passes to see if we were allowed entry) to the dank bowels of the Arts Centre, passing ushers and staff who whipped out walkie-talkies into which they spat dramatic phrases: "We've got three more!"..."Hold the doors!"..."This is Jack Bauer, get me the president! I don't have time to explain, dammit!".

When we hit the floor (which is where we had to sit, being latecomers and all) the show kicked off, although it wasn't a good twenty minutes until the first potential head-kick arrived. The show itself features about a dozen dancers under Lasica's guiding hand, but their skills and styles are so different that it doesn't really add up to a coherent piece. It's another step in a developing work which has been going through various permutations for half a decade now, adding dancers and sequences and altering earlier ones. I'm not sure what the through-line is, and as some reviews have put it, it kind of makes you feel like you're on the outside of a conversation trying to pick up what others are talking about. I couldn't really get that much of what was underscoring the show, but there was plenty of good stuff, especially the bits featuring the always-impressive Jo Lloyd, an impressively improving Tim Harvey and long-time collaborator Deanne Butterworth. Some dancers were underutilised, in my view: Luke George, Julia Robinson and Brooke Stamp have proven themselves before, but didn't get a chance to shine today.

I was sitting right next to the door, cross legged on the ground, and at one point shifted my knee up a bit to rearrange myself. Exactly then, the very talented Ms Stamp flew past EXACTLY where my knee had been, and I realised that I could have been the victim of a contemporary dance-related injury (CDRI). I'm sure Brooke was in control and knew what she was doing, but it got me thinking, and when dynamo Jo Lloyd got very close with the high kicks I began to get a bit scared.

A few inches wrong and I'd be eating sole for supper.

Which wouldn't be that bad - as long as it didn't seriously hurt, it would be the kind of fun to be able to tell people where that footprint which lasted a week really came from.

What other arts-related injuries, inconveniences and humiliations would you be amendable to? Consider - would you care to be:

- Beaten by a drummer?

- Framed by a photographer?

- Pinned by a dressmaker?

- Painted into a corner by a visual artist?

- Yelled at by a mime?

- Made toe-y by a ballerina?

- Written off by a poet?

All of these things can be arranged.

Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Naked New Yorker Fails to Get a Rise

Sometimes, as is only natural, I allow my mind to wander. It's usually during one of those rare interludes in the otherwise hectic mad rush of my busy schedule, between appointments with visiting dignitaries, in the glorious moment after defeating a disguised assassin who's tried to garotte me in an elevator, or when one of those 60-second ad breaks comes up on Channel 10 (they were made for astoundingly busy people such as myself). And sometimes, during these brief lulls, my mental meanderings take me down the path not taken, and I wonder what life would be like if I had no chosen an existence devoted purely to the advancement of good and the promotion of positive images of Steve Guttenberg to combat the stereotypes.

What if I'd gone with my early leanings and become an actor?

Then it could have been me lying naked as the day I was born on a sweet bed in a plush hotel room in a foreign country as fifteen onlookers pretend not to be checking out my penis, and all the while I'd be pretending that the fact that most had paid money to be in this hotel room with me while I lie naked isn't, in fact, kind of very creepy when you think about it.

Welcome to Showcase, a kind-of semi-solo performance from Richard Maxwell's New York City Players. It's kind-of semi-solo because the guy in question (James Fletcher) is accompanied by another actor dressed entirely in black and invisible beneath the costume, but the other is more of a prop than a performer as such. Nude man plays a businessman lying alone with his shadow (the dude/dudette in black) and thinking over stuff. He talks us through it, but a lot of it is stuff that you think about but don't necessarily say to others, not because it's shocking or strange but because it won't really mean much to them. We get plenty of that in this performance.

And it's delivered in this curiously flat manner, part of the NYC Players' style, which works only because the actor in question has a fantastically rich and interesting voice, but fails to get you really involved in the story being told (in fragments, elliptically and very very cryptically). If you want me to care about what you have to say, give me something to work with.

I don't mean to say that this was a bad show, but it was the sort where I spent plenty of time thinking about better shows I could imagine putting on. In fact, I spent most of the way home writing these shows in my head, and had to quickly put them down in print when I arrived back at the house. I suppose that's something I do enjoy from shows: when they inspire me. But not when it's despite, rather than because of the ideas they present.

Showcase is a bit of a 'huh?' and, I suspect, will provoke a lot of a 'meh' in response. Short and sweet, it's a showcase for little more than the...interesting talents of its star (and no, I actually do mean his acting talents).

Monday, October 17, 2005

Caravan of Courage

I was a little wary of Le Dernier Caravanserail (at the Royal Exhibition Buildings) for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it had been talked up like nothing else, and that instinctively causes me to recoil from the hype and take a distanced attitude towards a show. Nothing's that good, I think. Sometimes I'm wrong. I'm glad when I am.

Secondly, there was something discordant about this show: it's meant to be an exploration of the human experience of forced migration, dislocation, refugees, the loss of homelands, etc. Pretty serious stuff. Probably pretty dark in many places. But I also knew that the most impressive thing about the show is its sheer scale - a gargantuan set, dozens of performers, 12 shipping containers worth of materials and a total running time of around six hours. This sounded oddly familiar...and it was only when I remembered the name of the theatre company behind it that things clicked into place. Theatre du Soleil. Holy crap. Is this the theatrical arm of Cirque du Soleil? Was I about to see the dramatic version of a bunch of gaily painted clowns zipping around on stilts and talking "meaningful" rubbish about the human condition? When I recalled further that Le Dernier Caravanserail featured the cast never actually touching the floor, the hackles went up.

Pleased to say that my opinion was mostly just stupid reactionary thinking.

This is an epic show in every sense, but the three hours of Part 2 (the half that I saw) flew by. It had the feel of an action film, with plenty of dramatic escapes, horrific and sudden executions, gunshots, swarms of people teeming across the landscape or singular figures huddled in cold streetlamps. Some of the most memorable scenes were most effective not just for their realistic portrayal (you'd swear there were invisible helicopters beating down the waves in the opening scene) but for their basis in reality: hard to believe the refugees climbing through the Channel Tunnel to try to leap onto passing trains, or the Caucasian peasants dodging searchlights and machineguns to clamber over the border into Germany, or the Afghan film buff gunned down by the Taliban for obtaining 8mm versions of classic Hollywood movies...all true stuff, though.

There's something here to move anyone, although my initial worries weren't entirely quelled. I'm still wondering if you can do justice to such an important theme by making it so spectacular. Should I be gushing about the visual thrill of a show tackling genocide and mass displacement? Should it have been so exciting and moving and unprecedented? Or is the appeal to the physical and the emotional too cheap, to ideologically dangerous? Plenty of theorists have argued that political theatre can't tug at the heartstrings without becoming manipulative, and though there are token Brechtian moments where we see actors moving the set around (etc) that stuff is pretty standard theatrical convention these days.

Still, I couldn't help but agree with one critic's declaration: Amanda Vanstone and her cronies should be made to attend this show. Hell, everyone should.

There's an extra two shows Tues & Wed this week. Sell your kidney to get a ticket.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Party (Visual) Arty

If it's not yet obvious, I've been going on a bit of an arts binge of late. Let's blame my enabler, the Melbourne International Arts Festival, with whom in past years I've had the odd brief dalliance without fully committing myself. 2005 has seen this inflate to a full-blown self-destructive relationship of all-or-nothing attendance, all most certainly winning out over nothing. I came to realise the depths I had sunk to when I surveyed my experiences with the Festival's visual arts component.


I'm first confronted by Van Sowerwine's colossal images of dolls-gone-bad fronting the Republic Towers on the corner of Latrobe and Queen St, and it's a great way to kick off this bender - I'm NOT EVEN INDOORS and I'm sucking down the art. I'm a big fan of Van's stuff and it's great to see it in such a public space, even if strong winds and the limitations of the space (you can generally only show three pieces) keep the thing from really blowing the roof off. But the preceding exhibit was by Barbara Kruger, so she's in good company. The works in question follow Van's developing theme of childhood/toys/sinister ambiguity, with raised fork and slashed shirt making the doll in question something to keep hidden from the kids. Kids? What kids? It's time to PARTY!

Yeah, time to kick this thing into GEAR! WHAT'S A PARTY WITHOUT THE "ARTY"?

After the Republic Towers experience, I hit the road and headed off to Justin Harris' Theatre for One: The Late Great Libido Opera and hell, for $2 it's a bargain basement arts shindig. You know what? I had $1.90 on me, and I'd left my ATM card at home. What to do? Here I am ready to PARTY and I'm shortchanged! Is it wrong to haggle with an usher? Has anyone, ever, uttered the line "can you spare ten cents mate? I just need it for an arts experience, I swear"? I decided to let fate do the hard yards and headed towards Fed. Square (the venue in questi0n), hoping to spot a shiny dime on the way.

There once was a time when I could rely on this. In my late teens, if I ever needed to make a phone call and was ten cents short, I'd always find some shiny silver by the roadside. Is it a sign of the times that I spotted not a single coin between Sowerwine's exhibition and Federation Square? That, or a sign of potential vision issues I should have checked out.

Eventually I see Harris' thing, and it sets the party going! NO UNDERLYING MEANING! NO SUBTEXT!

Just a solid commitment to THE PARTYING.

It's Theatre for One, which means one chair and the show is entirely devoted to me. The show? It's a small-stage projection of videoclips composed and graphicised (I just made that word up) by Harris, and the tunes are KICKING. He's animated a bunch of dancing and music-playing silhouettes to accompany the music, and within seconds your shaking that good thing to the blaring-horn, plucking-bass, smashing drumkin feel of the show. What's that you say? Time to push this Festival party to 11? HELL YEAH!

Fiona Tan's Saint Sebastian GUTTED me with its dual projection images of Japanese women lining up for a traditional archery festival. It's art, BUT IT'S ALSO TIME TO PARTY, PEOPLE! I was air-punching my way through the entire thing.

Then: to ACCA. The Australian Centre for Contemporary Art you philistines! I was sweating and nervous all over when I walked into ACCA this week; after all, I'd been on this binge for a while, and now I was heading into the dragon's lair. I hit Callum Morton's Babylonia first, and yeah, it hit the spot.

A BIG motherfreakin' rock, into which you wander to find a The Shining-style expanse of mirrored hotel room doors, behind each of which is a bizzaro soundscape. Can you dig it? (Hint: yes you can).


The Lights Out at ACCA.


An exhibit in which the artist takes (Martin Creed) three rooms of the gallery, and simply turns out the lights. That's it. Capisce?



It's an arty party, right?

Friday, October 14, 2005

The Problem Being, Namely:

Tuesday night's Melbourne Festival show was IRAA's Private Eye, a one-on-one show in various hotel rooms of the Grand Hyatt Hotel. By one-on-one, I mean one audience member and one cast member, sharing a room, or a couch, or a bed, or a scotch, or personal stories. Not one for the sociophobes,but despite this it's also one of the most intense, original and personally affecting experiences you're likely to have in the name of theatre. I left shaking. And by the love of all that is good, I want nothing more than to reveal what happens during the show, but to do so and have someone read it who might have already scored a ticket would be criminal. It's like The Sixth Sense of live theatre It's completely sold out, so there's not even any chance to tell you to go out and buy one if you haven't already. So what do I do? Two things: firstly, I say bad luck if you miss the show. And secondly, I am beginning to wonder if this Festival Is Becoming A Problem. I've seen a lot of stuff in the past week or so. And I've been cramming in more than is probably healthy. So I decided to give myself a quick and easy test, devised a few decades ago by some government health official.

1. Do you attend arts events because you have problems? To face up to stressful situations? (Do you think that it relieves anxiety?)
No. That's ridiculous. Nothing arty ever solved anything. It's just a bit of fun, and I can stop whenever I want.

2. Do you go to the theatre when you get upset or angry? Or when other people hurt you? (Do you think it helps to remove pain?)
Of course not. Although the comfortable chairs and soothing low lights do seem to make all my worldy worries just...slip away...

3. Do you go alone as well as with friends? Or do you often prefer to go to shows alone?
Well, I do go alone quite a lot but only because my friends have mostly stopped. More because of the bad experiences they've had than anything else. Soft. They're soft. That's it.

4. Is your work life starting to slip? Are you missing work because you can’t get up in the morning after going to arts functions? (Does it also effect other areas of your life?)
Funny that - I have noticed that some mornings are a lot more painful than others. Also, there are some days when I sit at my desk and all I can think about is getting out of there for a quick visit to one of the inner-city galleries. Just during lunch, or something. No one would know.

5. Have you tried to stop attending...or attending less - and failed?
No, I'm sure if I tried to stop I could. Next question.

6. Have you begun to visit art galleries before work, to "calm" yourself for the day/event?
Ooooh, yeah. That sweet, sweet first viewing of the day is the best.

7. Do you consume your arts events as if to satisfy a great thirst?
Hey! That's exactly how I'd describe it! It's like I run around all over the place and just can't get enough of it! And then I fall over and when I wake up, I just want some more ART!

8. Do you ever have loss of memory due to your viewing?
Not that I can recall. Although there was this time that I found myself standing alone in a puddle under the Westgate at three in the morning, my torn clothes hanging limply in the chill breeze and my hands clutching a mud-spattered program for an MTC show. No idea what was up with that!

9. Do you avoid being honest with others about your attendance?
Only because they wouldn't understand. They're so quick to judge! So I tell them I'm going out boozing instead.

10. Do you ever get into trouble when you are at arts events? (Examples: fighting, compromising sexual situations, etc.)
Is that unusual?

11. Does your attendance cause injuries?
I suppose. A numb ass, callouses from fingering through programs, opening night ego, atrophied chin from too much stroking, ground molars from cabaret, a disproportionate sense that "all the world's a stage" and I'm currently going through it. Also I suffer from Playwright's Whack - this is a little known condition whereby playwrights feel the sudden urge to smack me across the back of the head.

12. Do you believe (be honest) that "sitting through the whole thing" is some type of achievement or something to boast about?
That's pretty much the foundation for my entire sense of self-worth.

So - do I have a problem? Is it a problem if no one else is getting hurt by it? Should I seek professional help (from some kind of professional and accredited Philistine!!!)

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Small Metal Subjects

Saturday's show was Small Metal Objects and lordy mamma, it's a humdinger. In fact, it's already clambered its merry way into my top-whatever list for 2005, and looks set to stay there. What was so good about it? Well, the main thing was the setting: the audience sits on a raked bank of seating at one end of the Flinders St Station concourse, and looks out across the expanse of humanity wandering past. In turn, that same expanse of humanity is looking right back. And somewhere out there are the actors, wearing mics which are piped through a set of headphones each audience member wears, along with some very neato original music. The awesomeliness of this cannot be understated.

When we sit down, the music being shunted through our headsets is the theme from Shaft, which was kind of disconcerting. No explanation offered, but none really required I suppose.

And it took about two minutes to become engrossed in the people walking past. So I decided not to review the show, but to review the general public as put on stage during the performance. There were literally hundreds, but here are the ones that stood out to me.

OLD MAN IN OVERSIZED COWBOY HAT: You walk with unerring confidence, your oversized cowboy hat perched atop your head like a sundial. That thing is massive, man, and yet you amble at a lackadaisical pace that speak volumes. Still, still, I know nothing about you. Except this: you are comfortable in your skin, amiable in your demeanour, and uninterested in the 60 or so viewers staring at your passing. Respect.

EXHIBITIONIST BOGANS IN SUITS: Why is it that you feel we are here for your own enjoyment? We are trapped, it's true, and will not move. But we're not here for you. It should be plainly obvious that we're here for a reason which extends beyond you. Nonetheless, we accept and appreciate your attempt to entertain us with your dancing, your prancing, your maxing and relaxing, because you are a young white male, and feel that the world has been created in order to provide you an audience. Dance away, white boy, and we will laugh nervously at you, though not always with you.

INTERVENTIONIST TEEN: As one actor seeks out another, he asks strangers if they are 'Gary'. They are not, of course, 'Gary', although they might be Gary (or Garry). But you, cheeky fella, answer yes, I''m Gary (or Garry) and therefore exhibit a willingness to enter the drama. Have you seen us watching? It doesn't appear that you have. You're just ready to participate in the drama called 'life' (see: Fiction). Onya for it.

ADDLED-LOOKING GUITAR MAN: You wander across the playing space to speak to those in the front row. Something is happening behind you, something people have paid to see, but you are oblivious to this. You seem to want money. You seem to have had things bad, a life of difficulty etched into your face. You seem to want some money to get through the night, but you are given a flyer instead. You return, later, and give the flyer back to your correspondent. No money exchanges hands.

GOBSMACKED YOUNG GIRL: You are COMPLETELY FREAKED OUT by this show. You stop and look around, as if cameras are filming your disbelief. Are they? Who the hell knows. But you seem to wish you were there with a friend who could share your incredulity as you ponder the odd spectacle of nearly a hundred folk gazing across the concourse. You speak for all of us.

MAN IN MOTORISED WHEELCHAIR: You slide across the space, just chilling, and give us a cool nod.

AMUSED STATION PERSONNEL: You stand there, having seen it all before, yet having seen us approximately - never.

INTERESTED OLD WOMAN: Upon spying us, you become intensely interested. You wander over to the ushers and ask what is happening. They tell you. You nod and watch for some time, but lacking a headset you are unable to fully testify to the story unfolding. You exhibit some traits which suggest that you would be considered mentally disabled, but you also seem to understand the show in a way that eludes paying customers.

Back to Back, the company behind Small Metal Objects, is largely composed of actors considered to be intellectually disabled, but any prejudices this might raise are offensively wrong. This is one of the most powerful pieces of this year's Festival, and opens up its audience's eyes to the profound humanity of both its participants and the everyday commuters who make up the backdrop to this fascinating drama. See it. For the love of god, see it. These are objects worth the paying price.

Monday, October 10, 2005

Seeing Green

Friday night saw your faithful correspondent attending Green, one of the 'highlights' of the Melbourne International Arts Festival, and I'm pleased to say that it was a far-less-than-sellout crowd. The piece is best known for its use of live animals on stage, and while choreographer Saburo Teshigawara has been vocal in proclaiming the barnyard content as a way of exploring man's relationship with nature, it turns out that the cows, rabbits, ducks and goats are little more than visual interest in a show lacking much interest at all. If you're deeply involved in contemporary dance, you might get something from the extremely formalistic and repetitive performances here; if you're not, you're more likely to feel as tired and abused as a goat tethered to a pole.

Now, I have to get this out of the way: I was pretty open to the intentions of this show, and went in with a positive mindset. I'm generally of the opinion that animals shouldn't be used purely for our entertainment, for the same reason babies or the elderly or disabled folks shouldn't be put on stage for their 'cute' factor: it's an issue of consent, and if someone can't consent to being displayed for all to see, then you've got no right putting them up there. All of the hype about Green as an investigation of animality and humanity's position within the natural world had me hoping, but in the end this was as investigative as an Anne Geddes calendar. And if the reports I heard today are correct, the animals were doped up before the show, and despite the fact that the performance itself was pretty narcotic, that just ain't on, Saburo. Why do you need to drug them? Because they might not act the way you want, otherwise.

Because they might not want to be there.

I know that plenty of you aren't as interested in animal rights as I am, so here's a more compelling reason to avoid the show: it is, and I don't want to get all academic and jargonistic on your asses here, BOOOOOOOORING.

Boring enough to lull certain audience members to sleep, as I noticed (I stayed awake, but barely). And all of that zzzzzing had me thinking back on that old pet topic of mine, Boredom.

I've had a long interest in boredom, and what makes us bored. It's been a good five or so years since I began to wonder about boredom, and there's a good reason for it. Very few people address the topic directly, but when you have to sit through show after show it helps to think about why and when you get bored. And, more importantly, what this whole boredom thing is really about. I don't have any real answers, but I do have some random and disconnected observations, which is my usual modus operandi.

Firstly, most people think of boredom as something caused by a lack of stimuli; a response generated negatively, when there's, well, nothing to respond to. We get bored because there's nothing going on.

I'm not sure that this is the case. People complain that all sorts of things are boring, inane, mindless, uninteresting: Big Brother, Australian Idol, commercial radio, Shakespeare, trance music, BBC drama, jazz, etc. But there are massive audiences for all of these. So are these audiences finding something others miss? Or are they more easily interested?

There are a few writers who see boredom in a different light, and I tend to side with them. They argue that boredom is an active response to the world, rather than a passive one. Boredom isn't caused by a lack of stimulation, but is something else entirely.

Patrice Petro has argued that boredom arose most visibly in the period between World Wars, when disaffected youth began performing boredom as a response to an increasingly monstrous world. This makes sense to me, since the bored attitude of teenagers can be seen as a way of actively responding to a world which just won't listen.

If you look at the social situation of someone who proclaims themselves bored, you can often glean a relationship between that situation and the thing they describe as boring. A Grumpy Old Man finds reality TV dull. A music hound can't see any interest in Top 40 radio. A kid yawns at the Greek classics. These are all active responses to things that, despite what their fans say, are positioned within a complex social structure of class, wealth and accessibility. And even though my last post declared, in a Bloody Messy fashion, the usefulness of useless and boring theatre, I don't hold any hope for the theatre as a vehicle to bust through these boundaries. People find theatre boring for a reason, and it's all to do with who they are. Boredom is entrenched in our cultural being, and I think that boredom should be investigated as a key to ourselves as much as anything else.

So: when I declare Green to be boring, I want you to know that I'm doing so from a specific, culturally located position. It doesn't speak to me. It doesn't interest me. And my boredom might partially be an active reaction to what I see as an ambiguously abusive use of animals in a dance work.

Or it might just be because the show is boring. Like I said, I'm still working through this stuff.

Friday, October 07, 2005

Bloody Mess


No, you're not having flashbacks to college or the time you got home from school early to find the folks having "mummy and daddy's special time" (well, what did you think they were doing?).
The show is Bloody Mess and it's appropriately titled. I won't review it here, and even though it was opening night there was no function as such, since the Melbourne Festival (of which it's a part) was having its own opening night do up the road and you don't compete with something like that. So I won't review the afterparty.
But I will say this: if you don't like theatre, go see it (if you can get a ticket). Or don't, actually. Whatever. It's your life to live. And if you do like theatre, go see it too. I actually LOLled as the kids would say, as opposed to lolled (my head into my armpit from boredom - more common reaction).
It was only once that I laughed out loud, but I don't normally do that anyway so it was a bit of a shock. "What is this odd barking emerging from my spit faucet?" I thought. It was a reaction to this bit:


The show could have been an exercise in sub-undergrad Desperately-Seeking-Python "it's funny because it makes no sense!" type humour. It somehow managed to be something completely other. And it was about theatre, and kind of was theatre, but not as you (probably) know it.

It had me wondering what it is that I think theatre is, which is something I've been mulling over occasionally in the past few days. Apparently I like theatre but I don't like everything I see. I wasn't aware of either of these facts. I had an inkling, I suppose. But neither of those statements is completely accurate.

And then one of my favourite theatre writers/bloggers posted a few thoughts on a similar topic, and I felt inspired to do the same.

Firstly, I think that most theatre is unimportant. I think that it's profoundly and almost irredeemably trivial and irrelevant. This isn't a bad thing, though; in fact, I think one of the most important features of the theatre is, paradoxically, its lack of importance. I can't really think of many life lessons I've learnt from the theatre, and it's pretty rare that I've been educated on something or had an essential opinion altered on anything crucial or had an experience that I'll take to the grave. I know a lot of people who are passionate about the theatre and rave about it in a way that I love, but can't quite understand. I'm not dissing those who do have more powerful responses to shows, but for myself it's frequently a struggle not to begin veering off the highway towards the sleepy hamlet of slumberton.

I could just be jokey and write that I like the theatre because it gives me the rare chance for a good bit of shut-eye, but it's true. The theatre I most enjoy (and even moreso contemporary dance) gives me a bit of space to think about other stuff, and hopefully sets up just the right kind of atmosphere to short-circuit the rational, language-oriented part of the brain that runs the shop for most of the time, allowing the other parts to come out and play. That's why I say that really good dance can be so good, because while a part of you checks out what's actually happening in front of your eyes, another part is comparing your own experience of movement and your body, another part is mentally kicking back to the music, and yet another part is wondering whether cats could jump on a trampoline. All of this is trivial and doesn't say much about the situation in Rwanda or how to kick it to our government or anything, but it's why I like it. Spaces in which to think unmotivated and disinterested thoughts without feeling like you're wasting your time are fewer and fewer. This is also why the art/entertainment divide is largely irrelevant to me.

I don't enjoy watching Shakespeare performed. I don't mind reading him. But I could never see another of his plays performed and I wouldn't feel like I'd missed anything. Again, no slight intended to those who find grand and timeless themes played out in his words.

I don't want to see a David Williamson play. Maybe in thirty years I will, if I'm living a comfortable existence with a good income and kids I feel I should be concerned about.

Also, I'd be happy if I never see another show set in a 'nowhere land' featuring nameless characters or everyman/woman and an empty stage and a soundtrack of wind. Desolate landscapes and disconnected, alienated individuals might have spoken to me if I was, you know, living fifty years ago in the ravages of a postwar world without certainty or belief, but if that stuff spoke to me deeply in middle-class Melbourne I'd be fooling myself or, worse, patronising/romanticising those for whom that stuff did mean something.

I don't mind shows which at first glance don't seem to be trivial or unimportant, but I think that the very structure and history of the theatre can render important issues trivial. It's a history of exclusion and there's no better way of proving it than having you look at the audience, and how the history of the audience has been one of increasing discipline and restriction. It doesn't help to open up the theatre to those traditionally denied a spot in the pews; we just need to realise that the particular mode of viewing demanded by most theatrical institutions isn't compatible with the aims of some theatremakers who want to rattle cages/rage against the machine/etc.

So I'm a theatre critic, sure, but only barely. I don't want to put the 'crit' into mediocrity, dig? I don't like it when a critic spends most of a review summarising the plot (not looking at anyone) because plots are for cemeteries. And I don't want to convince people that they should go to the theatre if they already hate it, since (if it's not obvious yet) I don't think that the theatre, in its current form, is a necessary thing.

The reason I enjoyed Bloody Mess so much is that it seemed totally aware of all of this: it knew that it was a theatre show, and revelled in it, and made fun of the egos and seriousness of the performers, and the idea that we can 'have our souls touched' by a performance (while maintaining total respect for the desire for said touching). It was gloriously, knowingly bad and all the better for it. It was disposable, which made it Very Important Indeed.

Friday, September 30, 2005

They Think He's a Righteous Dude

Sometimes I wonder if there are any creationists living up in Darwin.

Creationism used to be a really easy target (Bill Hicks: “Ever notice how Creationists look really un-evolved?!”) but the focus these days has mostly switched to Intelligent Design. ID claims that because the universe is really, really, really, ridiculously complex, it can’t just be a bunch of dumb molecules and energy &c. SOMEONE MUST HAVE MADE IT SO.

The good thing about IDers is that they allow room for dinosaurs. This is an important point that many modern religions fail to consider. Creationists and Scientologists alike kind of lose a lot of props from the GP when they argue that God or Xenu or whatever put dem bones in the ground just to test our faith in God or Xenu or whatever. These people often test our faith more than a bunch of carbon dated fossils ever will.


Intelligent Design has been Big News in the US, where lobbyists have successfully demanded that ID be taught in schools alongside evolutionary theory. They argue that since evolution is just a belief, ID has as much of a claim to what I call "rightness" or "trueosity" as evolution. SMACKDOWN!

I don't really care what's taught in schools, since most of it isn't retained for long afterwards, and even less is applicable to what scientists call "The Real World". And it's odd that those in favour of evolutionary theory (the one based on evidence, logic and shit) are so whiney about how it can't be questioned. A working knowledge of evolution isn't going to help me in my ongoing battle against a corrupt local council that can't understand why I just want to be left in peace with my twelve cats and my vegie patch and my flaming backyard effigy of Richard Grieco.


But can you dig it every week of the year?

Brendan Nelson, Federal Minister for Edumacation, has endorsed the teaching of ID in high schools, probably justifying it with something about freedom of choice and all that. He justified the destruction of University Unions along these lines, too. And obviously teaching a science specifically based on a particular religious conviction isn't nearly as bad as, say, wearing a headscarf or anything.

Inventing your own explanation for the Universe and stuff has always been a good pastime for lonely people who are too shy to go to bars and too stupid to work out how to get onto the internet. The general lack of imagination is a drawback, with Intelligent Design pretty much applying current scientific principles to established beliefs.

About the only new Reason For Everything I want to hear about these days is one involving a giant underwater dancing frog who mediates an interstellar war between two dudes in bear suits. The brown bear is a good guy who gives out hugs like they're going out of style (which they totally aren't) and the pink one is loveable but always getting into trouble. There's this cop who catches the pink bear speeding and what do you think happens? You got it: in the clink with pink bear!

I'm here to blow your mind!

Carn Nanna, give your Lord a cuddle.

I'm not even a bear! I'm a pig!

Tell that to the County judge, motorhead.

You might laugh at my creed and think us foolish, while you're running around looking at monkeys and thinking "he looks oddly like grandpa". Well I guess me and my fuzzy brown Lord will have go have icecreams while you at the zoo. By yourself. Without super excellent hug-giving and fast-driving gods as buddies.

Sounds like a reasonable basis for a religion to me. At our last mass I took some snaps (not strictly encouraged at church meetings, admittedly).

Anyway, if you're looking at faith and thinking "Wella wella wella, I could get into that but what's missing is some kind of mime-based gospel preaching" look no further! Finally, K&K Mime has arrived to spread the good word without, you know, using words and stuff. But it's still good hand-clapping foot-stomping fun.


Don't skip the intro.