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.