it’s a pretty special week in canberra
I’ve thought a lot about what I’d like to say
how best to put forward my perspective
what I’d say to rebut critics
but I’m too busy to get involved in the debate in a critical academic sense
and anyway there’s great people out there already fighting the good fight
so I’m just gonna say this:
BITCHIN IS TEMPORARY
SKYWHALE IS 4 EVA
skywhale cake by leader of the skywhale army hannah mccann
PS I just committed to performing a cycle of Skywhale poems at This Is Not Art later this year. I know. I know.
A few weeks ago I performed at the Front Cafe as part of a night entitled CJ Bowerbird and friends. The excellent CJ Bowerbird is the current Australian National Poetry Slam champion, and he was launching his new selection of poems before touring them to several literary festivals round China. Also on the bill were Omar Musa, Yes/No and Julia Johnson, and all round it was a fucking good night. I don’t honestly have words for what CJ pulled out, but I will say that he convinced me that evening of the value of a good extended poetry set. I think the slam / short readings showcase format is fine, but it’s like musicians only ever being able to play at open mic nights - sometimes you want a good 40 minutes to settle into someone’s groove.
image by adam thomas
I did the opening set of the evening, a collection of all new material. The highlight, judging by crowd response, was my mash-up of Omar and CJ’s winning poems from the 2008 and 2011 National Poetry Slam championships. But one of my favourite pieces from the night was a short new poem I performed at the end of the set, presented here more or less without comment:
but everything I’m saying is hers
everything I’m saying is a quote
one way or another
she said well done
you’ve done really well. residency overseas, grant, congratulations
I said thanks
I wish you’d got - some of that
she said I don’t want it
I didn’t really want it that much
I had other priorities
like life stuff
I didn’t want to be always doing this arts thing
I didn’t want to be the one behind the mic
I wanted to be the girlfriend
I said you know you deserve this as much as I do
she said no of course I don’t
you deserve it
there was no-one else who tried as hard as you
no-one as smart as you
no-one as creative as you
no-one who gave more generously of themselves
no-one who got overlooked because they weren’t pushing their own agenda
no-one who got overlooked because of their
I said I didn’t ask for this
I didn’t ask them to give this just to me
but they didn’t offer it to you
and there wasn’t enough to share
what good would it have done to turn it down?
I can’t fix the whole system by myself
so I didn’t turn it down
and then I grew a beard
because I had everything else I needed to make it in this country.
image by adam thomas
Ah, so Chris and I are releasing an album in June
it will be our first album
it was written last year at the beautiful Campos de Gutierrez in Medellin, Colombia
recorded and mixed by the inestimable Nick McCorriston
The film clip for our first single* Move To Canberra
is being recorded by Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr
aka Jordan and Sam of numerous things
Tonight we had a production meeting to talk through the clip
and a number of my video ideas did not make it in to the final script
so, here are the things you won’t see in our upcoming video:
- A handful of snakes
- A martial arts class for kids aged 5-8
- A disgraced general being executed by firing squad
- A bird in a small room flying madly around a girl’s head
- A couple dancing in their underwear in the freezer section of the supermarket
- A kayak rolling in heavy waves
- A schoolteacher firing an arrow at a moving target
- A wave of 40 or more kisses
The challenge for me is, is it possible to film a 3:53 video without including one or all of these elements? Sam and Jordan think, yes. So stay tuned.
*what is a ’single’ in 2013, I don’t think I fully understand.
rad images as always by gills schwab
It’s rare to have a project where I don’t feel out of my depth a good proportion of the time, but Pea! I felt, very, out of my depth.
What happened was this: barb barnett and Gillian Schwab of serious theatre approached me and asked if I’d be interested in writing a script for a childrens’ theatre show they were developing for the Street Theatre. I said no, no, I don’t know how to write a script for children, it sounds hard. They said, well it is hard, but we’ll help. And then they showed me Hans Christian Andersen’s Princess and the Pea.
The Princess and the Pea is a story we’re all familiar with, more or less. There’s a princess, forty mattresses, she feels the tiny pea through all the mattresses, she’s a real princess. And most of us, or at least me and most of the people I’ve spoken with, assume that there’s more that we’ve forgotten. There’s not. It’s a 150 word story, with no moral or point or logic that I can see. And it has somehow weirdly become a pretty iconic part of our cultural landscape. So the deal was: adapt it for children.
It was actually a pretty lovely writing experience. It was a commission from the Street Theatre, via Serious, and that meant I was working to a brief put together by barb and Gillian, with extensive support from both of them and dramaturge Peter Matheson.
But children! I don’t know anything about writing for children. It is really difficult! I mean I don’t know anything about writing for adults either, but if I write about things I care about in a way I think I’d find interesting, well, it sometimes works and sometimes does not. But chilluns: what are they into?
Here is what I think chilluns are into:
queen: Gregor, why aren’t you married? You’re old enough, you should be married! It’s ludicrous, the way you’re not married. If you don’t marry the Kingdom will be left to the thieves and the wolves from the Wild Western Wood. Wolf-thieves! Thief-wolves!
gregor: I haven’t met the right girl, that’s all.
queen: What do you mean, ‘the right girl’? What about the World Princess Showcase we hosted? We had twenty eligible princesses visit the castle! Don’t you want to marry one of them?
gregor: None of them were quite ‘right’.
queen: What about Princess Ariel of Yass? She’s very pretty.
gregor: She’s very selfish.
queen: Princess Nala of Bowral is extremely rich and powerful.
gregor: She’s greedy and she doesn’t share.
queen: What about Princess Jasmine of Wagga Wagga? She’s very clever.
we see princess jasmine.
jasmine: Suppose that each book is 500 pages long. Five hundred pages times 2,000 characters per page gives one million character spaces per book, so there are 100 to the power of 1,000,000 possible books in the library.
gregor: But she’s so lazy.
jasmine: Gregor, can you turn this page for me? I just can’t be bothered to do it myself. Is it lunchtime yet? I’m going to bed.
queen: Princess Belle of Mittagong was very nice to you.
we see princess belle.
belle: Oh Gregor, you’re so handsome! And clever, and funny, and I just love the way your hair sticks out in all directions!
gregor: She was nice to me but she was mean to her servants.
belle: Cook! This sandwich is terrible, take it back. Maid! My skirts aren’t ironed properly, do them again. Guard! My kingdom isn’t big enough, go and invade our neighbours.
As always, lots of fumbling around, false starts, some very patient people telling me things that look obvious in retrospect, and I gave them a final draft a couple of months ago. And last week the show took place. And Gillian’s design was utterly beautiful, and barb’s direction was extraordinary, and between them they tightened and lifted and solved all the awkward moments in the script. And Cathy Petocz and Josh Wiseman punched it out with all kinds of style and panache. And it seemed to go down well.
Here is what Frank McKone said:
If there is one lesson which should be taught to all young Australian children, surely it must be irreverence. Pea! does it nicely. On the other hand, children’s theatre must treat its trusting audience with respect – as indeed should all theatre. Pea! does this too. The Hive Program at The Street Theatre encourages new writing and, with dramaturgical assistance, offers a season on stage. David Finnigan’s work in Pea! is perhaps the most assured and sophisticated product that I have seen so far from The Hive.
Serious Theatre and writer David Finnigan’s “Pea!” playfully references centuries of popular culture. In an age of over-protection it is great to experience a real fairytale, one that begins with a baby abandoned in the wood to be brought up by wolves and thieves. This tale’s happy ending includes not just a royal wedding and a vanquished dragon, but also plenty of wealthy travellers for the thieves to rob.
And Peter Wilkins in the Canberra Times said some really lovely stuff too but I lost that copy of the newspaper and it’s not online so you’ll have to take my word for it. Anyway the moral of the story is basically those lines from Snow:
World is suddener than we fancy it.
World is crazier and more of it than we think,
CHILDREN BE CRAY YALL
thing about cancerra is
we have prettier artists
better looking in both a classic and interesting sense
we make better art
we try harder and care more
we have no wannabes hanging around the scene wasting everyone’s time
we’re more thoughtful passionate switched on and excited
we’re less complacent
we don’t have a reputation to fall back on
we’re more tenacious and we hold ourselves to a higher standard
and we’re more polite, we avoid calling out artists from bigger cities for being lazy and careless
we’re cooler and further ahead of the curve
we have more faith in our own choices and don’t need the congratulations or reinforcement that artists in other scenes beg for
we have better sex
to the extent that we need those few hundred kilometres distance from the other metropolitan regions in order that you not be disturbed by our raucous excited moans
while sydneysiders and melbournites prod confusedly at one another’s private bits
we share our joy without reservation
but we’re happy for people to curse us bitterly
we welcome all sour outsiders to say what they can
and we send them to the empty triangular potemkin village south side of the lake
show them round some empty museums and a carpark or two
then send them on their way thinking they’ve seen it all
what we got you can’t have unless you ask for it
and you can’t ask for it if you’re stupid
and that’s how this works
So, while I’m flooding full of all sorts things, I thought I’d just check in on this spread of internettery to let you know where I have been active.
christmas lane at you are here. image by rohan thomson.
First of all, the You Are Here festival, now only FOUR WEEKS AWAY, which is eating up every second of my life and I’m not even at all upset. The program’s now online, sink your teeth into it, and especially into my secret excitement highlight events:
Also, here is me talking about the gRage series, which is perhaps the coolest bit of curating I’ve ever done or will ever do.
dead dj joke at you are here. image by adam thomas.
Aside from that, I’m delighted to say that our man Sam Burns-Warr just edited together a clip of highlights from the Battersea Arts Centre performance of Modelling Play. So if you want to see what exactly we were doing in London all those months, in 3 minutes with no talking, now’s yr chance.
Other arts stuff: MKA are producing 22 Short Plays at the Adelaide Fringe in a few weeks as part of the package of shows they’re touring there.
I’m performing on stage at the Front Cafe on Thursday 7 March as the weak/wonky leg of a high-powered Poetry Tripod alongside national slam champions CJ Bowerbird and Omar Musa. The gig is the launch of CJ’s new full-length spoken-word performance, which he will subsequently take on tour to the Ubud Festival and around China. Pretty exciting, and I am pretty feckin honoured to be one of the invited support acts.
all about tayswi. image by adam thomas.
Lastly, if you’re at the You Are Here festival and you’d like to see me perform (as well as frantically scramble around tearing my hair out over bin deliveries and AWOL artists), Hadley, Jess Bellamy and I are rounding off our trilogy of terrible Disney-inspired spoken word events with a show entitled YOU ARE HERE VS TEEN MAKEOUTS - roll to Lonsdale Street Roasters at 5.30pm on Friday 15 March if you have no sense of propriety and you want to hear Taylor Swift get honoured, critiqued and lambasted all in one frenetic burst.
I have a complex relationship with christmas, which is possibly why the You Are Here festival this year is featuring a day-long christmas-themed music festival in a carpark (including the Beep Test), and so it’s probably fitting that I wait until January 9 to mention on this blog that, uh, Finnigan and Brother have released a christmas single. On our Bandcamp, which we have, like
everyone everywhere a legitimate band. It’s called Christmas Is The Time, and it’s the first release from the album of music and poetry we created in during our residency in Colombia in July.
While at Campos de Gutierrez, Chris and I realised that we would not be doing justice to our time in Latin America if we didn’t produce at least one Cumbia track. So, this is it - Cumbia, or as close as Finnigan and Brother get. Chris came up with the tune, which was surprisingly effective, and our beloved Campos curator/guardian Andres Monzon did the translation for us. So it is thanks to Andres that we could perform such traditional seasonal banter as ‘Coming from the North Pole!’, ‘Tiny elves!’ and ‘Lots of presents please!’ in Spanish. This song weirdly became our most recognisable number while we were over there, with people who attended our gigs pointing to us and singing ‘Papa Noel, Papa Noel!’ Everyone needs an anthem.
Christmas is the Time is backed with Because, which features one of Chris’ most lovely guitar riffs (and possibly the one which is closest to some of his solo work as Fossil Rabbit). The first song we wrote during our stay in Medellin and one which kept growing and shifting throughout the residency, Because captured some of our confusion and ambivalence about going all the way to South America to write this album, as well as some of the strange and beautiful moments we experienced along the way. I’ve included the full poem below, in case anyone’s interested.
This two-track single release is thanks to the sterling efforts of senor Nick McCorriston, who wrangled a studio for Chris and I to record the album in and has produced and mixed our entire glutted output. Thanks to Nickamc’s wisdom hard work and prowess, we are anticipating the release of the full LP in April.
In the meantime, I sneakily posted one additional track to the Bandcamp, which will not be making it onto the record. One afternoon at Campos, Chris let slip that he had stumbled on the chords to the Spin Doctors’ 1993 hit Two Princes. By chance, I’d been listening to this track and thinking about the possibility of taking the song’s story further, using it as the basis for a spoken-word story. Without further ado, we went downstairs and recorded a cover. Our version was recorded at the Phoenix Bar in Canberra during our August 2012 homecoming set at Bad! Slam! No! Biscuit! It’s… well, it is what it is.
Anyway, all these tunes are free to play and download if you fancy - and for those who might be interested, here is the text of Because.
why did you come here?
why did you come here and what do you want?
why get on a plane to colombia?
why not stay at home and make something real and solid and lasting?
because the waterfall by the road
because shots of aguardiente burning my tongue
because dogs leaping over barbed wire fences
because cumbia in a taxi going past roadside bars
because corn tamales for breakfast wrapped in parcels of leaves and jam made in a benedictine monastery
because the dawn fog over medellin and the stone power station on the hill
because the rooftop party and the storm that breaks overhead
because of a sickness that says I can never be content where I am
always searching around for some new thing
because of a laziness that says never make something that lasts
only keep running for the next project
because of a fear that keeps me moving
that if I stop it will all fall apart under me
because half of life is breaking what i have
and the other half is trying to put it back together
because buenos aires airport on a winter night
because sound artists playing laptops and bamboo flutes in a gallery patio
because stoned and mumbling awkward spanish on a balcony
because to test ourselves against some kind of measure we don’t know what
because a chorizo stand by the side of the road
eating corncakes and salsa in the streaking headlights of cars
because the farm workers come to the window and listen while we rehearse
because the way the guard with the shotgun eases back on his heels
because the priest stops his sermon in the huge church and looks at me
this is what he knows
this is what I know
we’re both human
because late night shouted conversations in the taxi
and are there reggaeton clubs in canberra?
and where did you learn to grind?
and there was a girl in year 9 with hair down to her waist who danced so low she could mop the floor with it
and this song’s called the night of sex
and this is on a CD called reggaeton 2012 we bought off a vendor at the traffic lights on calle 43
because they surrounded a military base in cauca and forced the soldiers out
they hurled rocks at the president
placed explosives on the landing pad for his helicopter
because in this district pablo escobar bought 500 houses for poor families, microwaves and all
because of the feeling that takes you over every time you see the fasten seatbelt sign
because of waking up at 5am in a strange place terrified and lonely and lost and confused and knowing there’s no other way to be
because the wild coffee plants growing in the path
because the sparks from the fire swirling overhead
because the faster you run the faster your problems keep pace
and all you can do is keep running
keep it together
and know that something good is gonna happen
because I can’t stand still
because half of life is breaking what i have
and the other half is trying to put it back together
Well it is December 11 and I am back in the Cancers, scrambling madly to catch up on the You Are Here Festival front. I’ve been back in Australia for a few days now, trying to get on top of jetlag and return to being some sort of productive human being.
From now until March 2013, the biggest thing on my plate is the third installment of You Are Here, the festival I co-founded in 2011 thanks to a commission from Centenary of Canberra Director Robyn Archer. Along with Yolande Norris, Hadley and a swathe of other geniuses, You Are Here has somehow survived two iterations to make to 2013, and I am once again producing and curating for it. This time, the team of curators has expanded to include Vanessa Wright, Sarah Kaur and Nick Delatovic, with Karmin Cooper in charge of Operations. The festival has been quietly gathering steam over the last few months, as different curators have locked away particular events, but now we’re all back in the city and focused entirely on March, things have just drastically ramped up.
So, but before I get too caught up in YAH (and Boho’s new show Word Play which I’m co-producing and Serious’ new show Pea! which I’m writing), I need to very quickly explain what I’ve been doing the last two and a half months.
After leaving Manila in mid-September I headed to London to join my fellow Boho compatriot Muttley (David Shaw) and three members of Applespiel (Nathan Harrison, Nikki Kennedy and Rachel Roberts). The five of us spent September, October and November in residence at University College London’s Environment Institute, developing a new interactive performance based on the science of climate and systems modelling. For five days a week over ten weeks, we researched, experimented, created and discarded a sizeable amount of performance content, before finally narrowing the work down into a 55-minute interactive performance for a playing audience of around 20.
Modelling Play is a Boho project feat. Applespiel, but while in London we were the very grateful guests of the charming folk from Coney, a theatre company which creates interactive performances of all kind. In our final week in London, we were also in residence at the Battersea Arts Centre, presenting a public scratch season of the work in progress.
We documented the development of the show very closely on our project blog, so I won’t try to rehash it here too much. The only thing to say is that from a starting point of climate and systems modelling, the show evolved to become a hands-on simulation of a music festival. Seated around a table, the audience are invited to curate, construct and then manage a three-day festival for 10,000 punters somewhere in the countryside. As well as coping with financial and sponsorship pressures, the audience must deal with flash floods, fence-jumpers, food poisoning, technical difficulties and artist tantrums, in their quest to pull off the most exciting and memorable festival in living memory.
Nathan wears a Kanye, Rachel wears Rihanna, Nikki wears the Rolling Stones and mine just says GIRLS ROCK
The work still has a long way to go, but the response we got to the public scratches from the UCL and Battersea Arts Centre audiences were really encouraging. So I think, on balance, we’ll go ahead with this project, and try to take it further. When and where and how, we’re not too sure of yet. So this is a watch this space kinda note.
Also it’s nearly christmas, and a few days ago Nickamc sat Chris and I down to explain that Finnigan and Brother will be releasing a christmas single. Not up for negotiation, it is what is happening.
A couple of nights ago Muttley and I got back into London from Spain and heading to my temporary lodgings in Elephant and Castle it felt very much like a coming home. London sucks you in that way, as everyone in the world but me already knew. But be that as it may, I’m halfway through my stay here this time and consequently halfway through the Modelling Play development.
Myself, Rachel, Nathan, Muttley and Nikki presented the first public showing of the piece last week. It was an interesting showing in the sense that what we showed was never intended to form part of the final work. It was a proof-of-concept showing, where we created a full-systems model containing a series of connected interactive toy models. The system we chose to model was ‘Bateman’s Vegas’, a fictional coastal town on the east coast of Australia. We had ten people come along to take part and share their thoughts with us, and it was a really interesting afternoon. It wasn’t a success (it wasn’t intended to be, and it certainly didn’t surprise us in that respect) but in many ways it worked better than we thought, and we learned a great deal from the experience. There’s more discussion and video footage from the showing on the Modelling Play blog, if you’re interested.
Following the showing, we trekked over to Essen, Germany for Spieletag, the world’s biggest boardgame festival. Two days of boardgamery and learning everything we could about that medium, in order to better understand the intricacies of tabletop interactivity. Now back in London and about to get into phase two of the project, which culminates at the end of November with two scratch showings at the Battersea Arts Centre, November 29 and 30.
Meanwhile, in Canberra, the other half of Boho (Jack and Mick) are about to present a showing of the other new Boho work (we are having a good year I think) exploring epidemiology. Conceptually Transmitted Aphasia explores the outbreak of a new disease which infects ideas and spreads through language. That’s taking place 12pm Saturday 27 October at the CSIRO Discovery Centre - details on the Boho website.
So, two things! First of all, what happened in Manila this time round. Secondly, where am I now (London) and what is that about.
me and georgie and jordan back where we belong
A pretty extraordinary fortnight in Manila, madly scrambling across the town in pursuit of the Sipat Lawin Ensemble for the third season of Battalia Royale. Myself and the other BR playwrights - Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser - christened ourselves the Too Many Weapons collective and held a symposium about the project at the CCP, before attending several weeks of runs at Museo Pambata on Roxas Boulevard.
It was utterly amazing - possibly the most visceral performance experience of my life. Not because of the script - if anything, the script was the one part of the project that really frustrated me, because seeing what an extraordinary and unique creation Sipat had produced, I wished we could go back and rewrite the thing from scratch to better fit their work. But in every other respect, it was a massive punch to the emotions.
this is what we look like after a massive punch to the emotions
One part of the stay was something that now seems quite major in retrospect - Ness Roque had proposed after the last run the idea that the audience might be able to stop the play at a point. JK and I chewed over that idea in conversation and then I scripted a new interactive sequence, in which a number of the audience are able to cal a halt to the action at the halfway mark if they so choose. It’s turned out to loom pretty large in people’s experience of the show in the last couple of weeks.
I’m gonna avoid doing a long emotional blurt here, but I want to gather (for those who are interested) a selection of some of the interesting reviews which have cropped up around this season.
Bloody Hell! (Philstar)
Royally Beaten (Philstar)
Beyond Battle Royale (Punked Noodle) - this is the best review I’ve ever gotten. just sayin.
RUN FASTER (Sabong, Food and Random Musings)
A Rambling Eulogy (Write Drunk Edit Sober) - a pretty amazing unpacking of audience psychology within the show
Life and Death (GMA Network) - featuring an interview with me -
Epic Live-Action Game Performance (When In Manila)
Blood Flood! (Lakwatsero)
Post-Battalia Royale Experience Realisation (Lakwatsero)
Psychotic Killers and Slutty Students (Twentysomething Tales)
Highly Recommended Street Theatre Experience (Flaircandy)
Battalia v3 (Life is Kulayful)
A Slice of Death (Because It’s Awesome)
And especial thanks to Marguarita Buenaventura from the Philstar for this line in her Royally Beaten review: ‘I now sport a bump on my right temple that throbs whenever I blink and a permanent paranoia towards all flying objects within my periphery. Thanks, Battalia.‘
WE DO WHAT WE CAN MARGUARITA. (also, sorry you got hit in the head with a samurai sword.)
The other business of the trip was for Jordan, Sam, Georgie and I to write and record a series of terrible hiphop tunes and radio plays and to create a collaborative album entitled The Greater Manila Audio Experiment.
THIS IS OUR ALBUM COVER (thanks Jenny Chua)
Now, part two!
For the last week and a half I’ve been in London, working on one of the two new Boho Interactive shows. Jack and Mick are in Canberra at the moment getting into the thick of the epidemiology project (about which more here). In the meantime, Muttley and I are in London working at the University College London Environment Institute. Alongside Nathan Harrison, Nikki Kennedy and Rachel Roberts of Applespiel, we’re starting on the development of a new show with the slightly awkward working title of Modelling Play. Rachel elegantly described Modelling Play as ‘a participatory tabletop performance work in progress’, which captures it as well as anything.
our community garden game.
Modelling Play is a creation in partnership with UK company Coney, as well as the UCL Environment Institute and Tipping Point UK. At the moment we’re in the thick of building a slew of interactive models and testing out all kinds of settings, mechanisms and lessons. If you’re interested, you can check out the project blog, and see examples of the sorts of things we’re creating. We’re building toward a short residency at the Battersea Arts Centre at the end of November, at which we’ll share the end result of whatever it is we create. And who knows what that will look like? Not me, except that it won’t be a model of a community garden (cause that was stressful).