Writings belong of David Finnigan

‘You should never go into a relationship without being prepared for it to end’ – Finnigan and Brother love advice

September 19, 2014 on 2:54 pm | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

So as of this week, I’ve arrived in the UK with Muttley, Nikki, Nathan and Rachel, to kick off the final development for Boho’s Best Festival Ever, coming up at Battersea Arts Centre and the London Science Museum in a couple of months.

At the moment, though, I want to talk about the new Finnigan and Brother double-single: Hey Kid 606 Remix This / Roadkill.

IMG_5346 copy 2 image by zoya patel

Over winter, Chris and I got together and wrote two new tracks, and through the kindness of his heart, we managed to swing Reuben Ingall (Mr D. DJ Joke himself) as producer. We put together a double-single, available for free/what-have-you on the Bandcamps.

For Roadkill, we collaborated with Bec Taylor of Canberra’s premier sex-pop quartet Fun Machine. Bec came on board to add percussion and vocals, but also worked pretty closely with us to develop the song from our initial sketch into what you hear on the single. It was a really lovely collaboration, partly because Bec is just heaps lovely, and partly because she helped draw us into a way more pop / rock sound than we’ve ever had before. The result – well, ABC radio presenter Alex Sloan described it as ‘erotic’, which, maybe you should make up your own mind.

tumblr_n9qd7tVo8t1qe5wezo3_1280 copy me and bec – image by reuben

(also before you do anything else, Bec’s new outfit Glitoris is playing in Canberra this month and you have to check them out, because holy shit)

The other track is entitled Hey Kid 606 Remix This, which is partly between an homage to Mr 606, but maybe more than anything it’s a love song about state surveillance, cryptocurrencies, online misogyny, Facebook memorial pages, RFID cat flaps, e-cigarettes and the Hottest 100.

Shane Parsons directed the Hey Kid 606 video, which is a one-take walk through Civic just after midnight on a Thursday, from Mooseheads to Academy. Which, for anyone in the wider world, is a fairly iconic Cancerra walk. Also featuring a cameo from F&B collaborators Nick Delatovic and Amelia Filmer-Sankey, bless their lovely hearts.

Also I cannot help but quoting Mess and Noise’s write-up about the single, where they try to pinpoint our influences: ’Finnigan and Brother are a Canberra duo that don’t really sound like anyone else.’

You can grab the music for any price on our Bandcamp – or listen to it for free – go on it can’t hurt.

tumblr_n9qd7tVo8t1qe5wezo1_1280 copy chris playing the guitars – image by reuben

If you’re curious, I thought I’d share a few lines from Hey Kid 606 Remix This:

‘hey uh, so I’m thinking about getting together with someone, but I’m not really sure if a committed romance is right for me. what do you think are the crucial ingredients for a good relationship?’

I think, uh, you should never go into a relationship without being prepared for it to end
plan the break up before you hook up
and be prepared to end it well
with respect, kindness and honesty

I think you need to know yourself
know what you need sexually, emotionally
and to be able to communicate that to a partner

I think you need a shared sense of humour
you need to be able to laugh at yourself
esp in a bedroom setting

you need a bit of money
for luxuries, trinkets
you know, to show each other a good time

online dating may seem a little artificial
but making a dating profile prompts you to think about your best qualities
and challenges you to put them up front

it’s important to be with someone you can trust under pressure
and for that reason it’s great to get to know someone in a challenging setting
like on a mountaineering course
or backpacking somewhere remote

you need to cultivate a sense of sexual ruthlessness
I know it’s counter-intuitive but
there’s nothing hotter than being able to trust each other enough to be sexually selfish
to take what you need from them and trust that they’ll do the same from you

sometimes you just need to get smashed together
trip acid and listen to bieber records

Teen Makeouts at the Queensland Poetry Festival

September 1, 2014 on 9:13 am | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

leopardbynes copy

So this weekend last, in Brisbane for the Queensland Poetry Festival. Not as a poet, though I’d love to claim it, but as one third of pop-culture haranguing trio Teen Makeouts, for an event entitled Teen Makeouts Hates Poetry.

Teen Makeouts consists of Hadley and Jess Bellamy and me writing long rambling screeds about various Disney films, ruined child stars, trashy club music for 11 year olds, and so on. I told a version of our origin story to Tessa Rose in an interview for the QPF blog:

I wrote a blurb for a spoken word event at the 2011 You Are Here festival featuring me, Hadley and Ira Gamerman, in which I promised we would explore the history of Disney Studios and the culture of animation it had produced. Hadley wrote a new Disney-related piece about the Shakespearian origins of the Lion King, but neither Ira or I bothered to write anything new, nor did we even try. Hads was insufferably smug about the whole thing, so it seemed wise to give him just enough rope by doing the whole thing again, but for real, and with Jess instead of Ira, because Jess is the better Ira.

The first real Teen Makeouts performance was Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl in 2012, our triptych of reviews of lesser Disney movies (Selena Gomez in Monte Carlo, Lindsay Lohan in Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen and not-Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls 2), which we subsequently published as a FREE-TO-DOWNLOAD digital zine! Whatever that means.

Download Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl.pdf (28mb)

We’ve performed at the 2012 and 2013 You Are Here festivals in Canberra and the 2013 Bondi Feast festival in Sydney, and this weekend we were charged with ruining a poetry festival. QPF director Sarah Gory knew full well what she was getting, which is presumably why she programmed us for 10pm Saturday night after all the real poets had finished.

(The real poets btw were amazing, highlights included Warsan Shire, Cyril Wong, David Stavenger. Beautiful stuff, honest and gentle and blistering and hilarious and true. So much respect, so many shout outs, all the incredible cats that make beautiful shapes out of their words.)

We were introduced by poet / cabaret star Matt Hetherington, fresh from his turn on The Voice, and then the show kicked off with a powerful rendition of Miley’s Wrecking Ball by a young man with a recorder.

2014_queenslandpoetryfestivalimage by Cyril Wong

Jess pulled out an extraordinary fist-pumping feminist manifesto celebrating/chastising Amanda Bynes, envisioning a future in which Bynes fought through the mysogynist culture surrounding her films and owned her own wonderful craziness, bringing hope and self-confidence to young women everywhere.

Also this video, jesus.

Hads unfolded a brutal recap of the bleak Oprah-produced reality TV show which follows Lindsay Lohan as she leaves rehab and attempts to get her life and career back on track, and got right into what it is that makes Lindsay such a force of nature, and circled around her pathological relationship with cameras.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 1.35.07 PM copy

My piece started out thusly:

it’s dawn
and justin bieber is in prison.

the sun is already burning hot on the concrete
the mournful cry of zebras in the dawn
a lone hippopotamus sounds a low bass note
it’s a hot day on the savanna

bieber sits with his head in his hands
there’s a scraping sound and a shaft of light pierces the room
footsteps on the concrete floor
and the smell of coffee

scooter braun sits down next to bieber on the hard stone
slides a steaming polystyrene cup over to justin

- this is it, justin.

bieber says nothing

- justin this is it.

(nothing)

- justin they want to give you the squad.

(still nothing)

- the firing squad, justin.

justin looks up, a single lock of blond hair falls over his perfect brow, and in his eyes well a deep agony

- what can I do, scooter?

- nothing, justin. unless…

- unless what? stop dancing around it scooter, what is it?

- justin there’s a higher power here who happens to want something which you’re in a unique position to provide. read this. they’ll get you off free of charge, but it’s going to involve work.

- what do they want me to do?

- first of all, to assemble a team.

montage sequence showing the team being assembled
Bieber recruits each of them in some kind of spectacular sequence
Ariana Grande is skiing in the Colorado Rockies and Bieber is waiting for her at the top of a chairlift
5 Seconds of Summer are filming a new clip where they play monks in a medieval monastery which gets attacked by vikings, and Bieber walks in mid-shot just as the director yells action
basically gets all the best and most relevant stars of the last 18 months
gathers them together in an abandoned film studio in hollywood and then finally reveals their mission

 

a frown creases niall from 1 direction’s youthful brow as he adjusts the bright orange material around his torso.

- I don’t like this, bieber. why are you making us tape all this plastic explosive to our chests?

- shut up niall from one direction, snaps bieber

- he’s right, justin, you need to let us know what this job is. where are we going? what do we need to do?

- alright, taylor, I’ll give you the full brief. niall from one direction, keep stuffing your shirt with those nails and ceramic shards. Now, in a few minutes we’re going to be getting on a plane to palo alto, california.

- silicon valley…

- that’s right, iggy azalea, silicon valley. and do you know who lives in silicon valley? apple. facebook. twitter. microsoft. amazon. yahoo. google. and we’re going to be paying each of them a little visit…

 

okay so I’m not gonna do that
I had this idea I stole from Glyn Roberts about narrating a heist film where the thieves were all popstars
which I’ve spent most of the last month working on
but a couple of days ago I just decided to throw it out

the concept was, bieber has committed some crime and he’s going to get put to death unless he and his team pull off this do or die mission
where they arm up and lead this attack on the headquarters and infrastructure of google and facebook and twitter and apple and so on
bring down the corporations that run the english-speaking web and destroy as much of the internet as they can
basically a group of the world’s most famous people breaking the machinery of fame

the notion was that these celebrities were going to destroy celebrity itself
the concept of celebrity
the idea that you could be known outside your network of family and friends and acquaintainces – get rid of it
and there were some philosophical conclusions I was going to draw from that
about the nature of fame, where it comes from, why we’re drawn to it etc

and I was all set to do this idea
and it was more or less good to go
but I was not able to stop thinking about this interview from the second justin bieber documentary:

interviewer: have you been in love?

justin: have I – of couse I’ve been in love. I think being in love is the most powerful thing ever.  it’s an extreme feeling… being in love.

interviewer: have you ever had your heart broken?

justin: …yes. yes, definitely. that’s, that’s, even – I would say that’s about even just the same feeling. As much as it is to fall in love – like in that – just that explosiveness, that fire, when you break up from that, if you give them everything, if you break up from that, it’s the same type – it’s like that clenching feeling, like AHH, like this is my feeling: ‘oh I love her so much, ahhh,’ but then it’s the same feeling when you break up, it’s like ‘ohhh’ like ‘this hurts, this hurts so deep’, it’s just the same emotion, but flipped backwards.

and then from there we went on a very different tack.

Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 1.36.28 PM copy

It would be a lie to say that we had the audience in the palm of our hands, but I think I can say, some people seemed to really enjoy it. So: worth it, why not?

And the festival is beautiful – huge props to Sarah Gory and Tessa Rose and all the other QPF cats – and I’m grateful to them for having us, and for Fortitude Valley for filling with beautiful drunks as soon as we spilled into the night, and to poets and popstars and all the other gorgeous wrecked humans under the moon

rehab punk

August 20, 2014 on 8:31 pm | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

carn_roo

an interviewer and a band

int – you guys rehearse a lot?

- nah we have a lot of trouble just all of us getting together, everyone’s got jobs, lives, you know

int – are you making money?

- no we’re paying to play, when you work it out, with petrol money, all that noise. and, sometimes we don’t get paid for gigs even when they promise we will.

- yeah we like to point to rebecca when that happens and say ‘our guitarist is pregnant, what are you, not gonna pay us?’

- yeah that doesn’t usually work though

int – are you still able to play even though you’re pregnant?

- I don’t know why that would stop me

- yeah that’s a fucking awkward question, dude. you wanna rethink that one?

int – okay I’m sorry. can you talk to us about the carnivorous kangaroos in your community? the rat kangaroos?

- that’s just a thing we deal with

int – yeah but I think you’ll agree, most bands don’t have to deal with that level of animal aggression in and around their rehearsal space.

- it’s an australian thing, right? they’re fucking scary but they’re not evil.

- I think you mean that most people in big cities don’t have this problem, yeah? I don’t think I encountered roos like this living in canberra

- beasts, I think is the technical term for them

- monsters, yeah

- I mean, it’s not unique to australia, though, right? there are communities in alaska and canada – like in british columbia – where they have grizzlies right nearby. and it’s the same deal, you drive nails and spikes into window and door frames so they can’t get in through your entrances, and you’re fucking careful with how you dispose of rubbish.

- and you never step outside the house without a rifle

int – how big do they get?

- they, ah, three metres?

int – three metres, jesus

- yeah they tower over you.

- and they eat anything

- yeah I think they used to be predators mainly, like, hunting diprotodons and so on

- those giant echidnas as big as sheep

- christ, those things

- anyway, they used to hunt more naturally I think, but now they scavenge whatever they can get, which is just about anything

int – do they eat humans?

- nah, they’ll fuck you up though if you get in a clincher with them

- lev’s aunt squared off with one a little while ago, that was intense

- yeah, my aunt was leaving the house at night and there was one that must’ve been just under her car, and when she went to open the door it just launched at her, ripped this big chunk from her arm, you can still see, it’s a nasty cut

int – what happened?

- well she shot it. she had a rifle on her, she shot it. there’s still, you can see the scorch marks on the bottom of the car where the bullet passed by. this is a couple of years ago now.

int – can you talk a little about the music you play? would you describe it as punk?

- I wouldn’t describe it as punk, no.

- we do a Clash cover, but that’s, just a good pop song, and I don’t think we’re particularly, you know, we don’t thrash around or break our guitars

int – you’re pretty intense on stage, though, you’d agree? I’ve certainly seen you smash equipment in gigs.

- and this is part of the reason we don’t get fucking paid when the venues say they’ll pay us!

- I blame rebecca, she kicked a hole in that amp in that darlinghurst gig

- I did, yeah. that’s not punk, though, I was just pissed off.

int – so you formed in rehab?

- we’re still in rehab.

- technically. if we could afford it we’d be in rehab. we’re not exactly getting full bed and board and therapy and such.

- but yes, we’re still living on-site.

int – so you formed as, what, outreach? were you formed by the rehab clinic?

- actually you know what, they didn’t seem that eager to take credit for us at first. but now, you know, they’re all about it.

- depends on the day, depends on the gig. sometimes they love us, sometimes they’re just like, keep your head down

- I mean it’s a fucking risk, isn’t it? nine days out of ten we’re a great fucking advertisement for the place – ‘you don’t need to be drug users to play music and be a great band, anyone can do it, addicts can be rock stars’ etc, but then when one of us relapses…

- but then what do they expect? we’re not, I don’t know who’s an example of a perfect band, but we’re not that. we’re not perfect. we’re not even very good.

- we’re good at music.

- yeah I fucking love our music. but we’re not superhuman. we’re addicts.

int – is it helpful being in a group of fellow addicts?

- well it’d be harder being on your own in a band full of regular people, sure.

- I don’t know, I don’t think of it like that. we’re not a support group, we’re a band. we’re friends. we play together because we want to play together, that’s all.

- yeah but that’s a bit facetious, though, right? because it does affect us, it does make a difference, it’s not like we don’t think about it. and it’s part of what people are interested in about us.

- it makes it fucking grim when someone relapses

int – do you want to talk about what happened to karen?

- no

- no

int – alright, well can you tell us, do you have a message at all? are you trying to get a message out there?

- I don’t know, honestly. maybe ‘love each other’?

int – seriously?

- seriously, I don’t know.

- we could play you a song

- yeah, if there’s a message, it’s in the music, it’s not something we can necessarily write an essay about separate to the songs

int – alright, well, yes please – I got the recorder set up, if you guys want to play a tune.

1024px-Red_kangaroo_-_melbourne_zoo

Vampire Play 10 year anniversary

August 9, 2014 on 9:00 am | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

 image by robyn graf

August 2014 is a kind of creative anniversary for me: it’s exactly ten years since Bohemian’s production of my script Vampire Play.

This show was a major milestone of my theatre practice – Vampire Play was my then best script, the 2004 production was one of the biggest shows of Bohemian’s first incarnation from 2001-06 (along with The Dumb Waiter / Quiet Time and Titus Andronicus), and it was perhaps the first play I did that was successful on its own terms.


image by grant stoops

Vampire Play emerged from an RPG module I devised as a teenager but I never got the chance to run, in which warring gangs of the undead fought one another in the tunnels of the London Underground. When my friends and I left school in 2000 and formed a theatre company, I stopped thinking about RPGs, but after a couple of years of writing and producing our own shows I found myself returning to the idea, and thinking about repurposing it as a play.

Having never visited the London Underground, I made the decision at some point to shift the setting, sewers and subway systems and all, to Canberra, despite the fact that Canberra has nothing remotely resembling a subway system or any kind of train network. Creating an entirely fictional additional layer to the city for this play instantly opened up a whole other dimension for my writing. Since I first began writing, all of my work has focused in one way or another on Canberra, but in writing Vampire Play I found a way to begin to describe the scary and complex city I experience, not the weird neutered monochrome Canberra so many other people seem to see.

(This attempt to reimagine and describe alternative visions of Canberra in order to reflect the city’s inherent strangeness has been a regular feature of my work ever since – Finnigan and Brother’s track Move To Canberra is another example.)

Instead of planning out the script and then writing it, I instead spent many months over 2002-03 scribbling down scraps of dialogue, scene ideas, thoughts and notes, in one overstuffed document. Only in the final stages of the process did I start assembling them into one piece, and extracting a group of characters from the mess of ideas. (I’ve recently returned to this approach with my scrapbook blog for my new script Kill Climate Deniers.)

The script, like most of my stuff, is available for free download, and there are no performance rights or costs if you want to produce it. As always, if you’re interested in producing one of my scripts, just give me a yell and let me know.

Download Vampire Play as a word doc.

image by 'pling

finn: kiinalaisia ilotulituksia, senkin hölmö vanhus!  (chinese firecrackers, you old fool!)

The story of Vampire Play goes something like this:

Since building an underground train network, Canberra has become a hub for vampires, who are able to hide from the sun 24 hours a day in the tunnels and sewers, and find ready prey in the swarms of human passengers travelling from Tuggeranong to Gungahlin. The city has become so overrun by vampires, in fact, that they are fighting among themselves for hunting territory, claiming stations and train lines for their exclusive domain. Gangs of the undead are forming, carving out territory and defending it tooth and nail, until eventually they are overrun by other competitors.

In this brutal and unstable landscape, gangs emerge and collapse incredibly rapidly, sometimes in the space of days. Vampire Play traces the rise and fall of one gang – the Vampire Gang – whose total existence and occupation of Dickson Station lasts just under an hour.

image by 'pling

The Vampire Gang has four members: incompetent leader and music fanatic George Bekken (Gina Guirguis), 130 year-old crippled big-game hunter Manson Lane (Jack Lloyd), recently killed teenage board-game prodigy Karen Blacksmith (Alison McGregor) and a 30,000 year old Cro Magnon vampire named Bones, who has spent the last thousand years in a coma at the bottom of the Pacific Ocean (Max Barker).

Arrayed against the Vampire Gang are members of rival gangs including the leader of all-female Caecus Venatricus gang, blind control freak Gwen Malkin (Hanna Cormick) and the brutal Finnish-speaking leader of the Tapeworms, known only as the Finn (barb barnett).

Because the story ends badly for all of the protagonists, I made the decision to run the play backwards, with each scene occurring chronologically earlier than the one that came before it. In this way, the play starts with sole survivor George Bekken sitting on a beach on the south coast of NSW at dawn, waiting for the sun to come up over the waves and fry her, and works its way back over the course of the night to the Vampire Gang’s chaotic emergence the previous evening, when a train full of Caecus Venatricus smashes into Bones just underneath Dickson Shops.

image by 'pling

The script was nominated for the Queensland Premiers Literary Award, which was a bolt out of the blue for me at that stage, and is still pretty surreal. The judges described it as:

…A mod-gothic fantasy of vampire gangs in the tunnels of Canberra fighting for life and territory… Pop-cult influenced and market savvy, this play gives us an original vision and voice… A writer to watch.

(‘Market savvy’ in this case probably referring to the plays regular and explicit endorsements of Capital Chemist, my first time actively promoting that franchise in my work.)

Vampire Play was my first experience working with a dramaturg – the excellent Paschal Berry, who would later tip me to the Philippines and the work happening in Manila. Jan Wawrzynczak and Linda McHugh at Canberra Youth Theatre offered us a bundle of in-kind support (including differenc coloured printing paper so we could distinguish between drafts of the script), Sylvie Stern from 2xx offered help with publicity and ‘pling took extraordinary photos (unless otherwise mentioned, all these pics are courtesy of ‘pling). I didn’t realise it at the time – we were so used to doing our own thing – but this was a signal that older artists were interested in what we were doing, and that we weren’t operating in a complete bubble as we’d imagined.

image by 'pling

Bohemian’s production of the show brought together a really tight crew of artists from the community of indie theatre-makers centered at that time around Gorman House and companies like Bohemian, Opiate, NUTS and BKu. Founding Bohemiate Nickyj (Nick Johnson) directed it, bringing the work to a vivid, surreal life. Of the other Bohemians, Jack performed as Manson Lane, Mick Bailey did the sound design and Muttley designed the four different collectable programs. Boho co-conspirator Nickamc did the lighting, and Robyn Graf created the striking poster and flier images (see top of this page), as well as stepping into a variety of smaller roles alongside performer Angus Nicholson.

The show ran for two weeks at the C-Block Theatre in Gorman House over August 2004. Selling out an 80 seat theatre for a two week run doesn’t sound like a big achievement (especially given we reduced the number of seats to 64), but the audience response was hugely positive – so far beyond any of my previous attempts that it felt like a massive breakthrough. We made our money back, and a bit over – enough that Bohemian could finally pay Jack back for the massive quantity of transparent gauze curtain he bought for our 2002 production of The Woman in Black.

image by 'pling

bekken: what is all this junk?

manson: prescription drugs.

bekken: Manson, we may have hit the jackpot. There must be hundreds of dollars in prescription drugs here.

manson: there’s no street value for this crap. seretide and pulmicort. These are asthma preventers.

bekken: yes but mersyndol. Dolosed. And Canestan.

manson: wowee, a whole tube of Canestan. Shame I don’t have thrush.

bekken: what’s that?

manson: Telfast, 180 milligrams. Antihistamine for severe hayfever and skin rashes. What?

bekken: it’s got pseudoephidrine in it. Pseudoephidrine. It’s a stimulant.

manson: bekken, we are the living dead. medicine does not work on us.

bekken: give me those.

From a scriptwriting perspective, Vampire Play is generally pretty terrible: there’s no character development, I had trouble (still have trouble) writing dialogue where more than two people are involved, it’s over the top and incredibly hard to stage (shout outs still to Nickyj for figuring out how to stage train crashes, characters burning to dust and a vampire being blown apart by fireworks stuffed into a gash in his stomach, onstage). Nevertheless. There are things that this play proved to me were possible, things that worked which I have kept returning to since, and things that I personally really enjoy about it and always have:

•  It’s cruel.
The script is brutal, malicious and cold. Humans are tortured then murdered and characters are subjected to great pain and despair, for no other reason than for fun. There is no hope. This cruelty was/is important to me in my work, it was a feature of oceans all boiled into sky and it was a major part of my contribution to Sipat Lawin / 2MW’s adaptation of Battle Royale. I couldn’t articulate the reason for this cruelty back then (I’m only a little better now), but it shone through and I’m glad.

image by 'pling

•  It’s energetic.
I like my theatre cruel and also joyous (one of the reasons I’m so glad Jackal picked Titus as Boho’s sole Shakespeare production). While the characters are subjected to great torment, they (at least some of them) go about their days with passion, excitement and laughter. Enthusiasm. The moral, if there is one, has something to do with the fact that life – my life, your life, anyone’s life – is pointless and horrible and savage and meaningless and over-too-soon/drawn-out-in-suffering, but Life – the huge, complex, chaotic, unstable and infinitely detailed sweep of organisms struggling to continue existing – is beautiful, glorious and utterly indestructible.

The characters in Vampire Play all suffer excruciating miseries and defeats, but the system – the endless fractal warfare between gangs of vampires for territory and human prey – continues to churn, throwing out countless new innovations and wild encounters even as it mercilessly chews through its individual participants.

capsicum spray

•  It’s about the setting.
Earlier scripts of mine were more focused on the setting than the characters (Quiet Time and Chosei: Frozen Shape spring to mind), but Vampire Play proved to me once and for all that this was a viable way to write. The characters in Vampire are all two-dimensional cartoons with a back-story, a demeanour and not much else (sometimes not even that). The star of the play is the war in the Canberra underground with its rapidly evolving battlelines, protocols and traditions, an emerging mythology of legendary gangs and battles, and its own radio station (an idea stolen variously from Jeff Noon’s Pollen, 1979 film The Warriors and Mick Bailey), with the laconic DJ Mute commentating on the violence and playing a mix of classic rock and roll.

image by 'pling

•  The play is a mixtape.
Every script I write has a distinct soundtrack, at least in my head. When writing or devising a new play I usually listen to one particular genre or group of artists, and that soundtrack provides the aesthetic and energy of the work. I’ll always be able to recognise the bits of the script written to the pattern of a particular beat, or a scrap of dialogue stolen from song lyrics. My early scripts were written to a very specific musical accompaniment – w3 w3lcome the future was more or less a roadtrip mixtape – but it was Vampire Play where the soundtrack became an explicit part of the world of the play.

Snippets of Mute’s radio show were heard throughout the show, and the song selection was a big part of the Vampire Gang’s journey. The soundtrack included:
The Stooges – 1969
The Who – The Good’s Gone
John Lennon – I Don’t Want to be a Soldier
The Rolling Stones – Gimme Shelter
Chuck Berry – Roll Over Beethoven

The idea of play-as-mixtape is now almost a fixture in my work. Oceans all boiled into sky was written to an experimental electronica / glitch soundtrack, Underage House Party Play was a collection of favourite party anthems from when I was a teenager, and Kill Climate Deniers features a playlist of exclusively late-80s/early-90s House and Techno club hits.

vampgang

bekken: next we start franchising. I want some baby vampires to call me Mother Bekken. I want about fifty little Vampire Gang members trotting all round the north side.

bones: You want to make more vampires?

bekken: I want to make – I want – I don’t know what I want to make! I want to take ordinary commuters on their way home from work and instead of letting them watch the same old crap on the television, or download the same old shit off the internet, I don’t want them to drift asleep on the couch because they had a glass of wine after dinner. I want to show them something different.

bones: You want to show them your teeth.

bekken: I want to show them my teeth.

image by 'pling image by nickamc

Okay so what is the point of this extended nostalgia trip?

I’m aware of how indulgent this reflection is, revisiting a decade-old project and evaluating the lessons and skills I learned from it. At the same time I believe that there’s some value in the exercise, to see how my concerns and aesthetic have shifted or remained constant over the last ten years.

What jumps out at me is that I am still fascinated by the same ideas and I still gravitate toward the same stylistic approaches as my 21 year old self. My concerns and aesthetic have not changed in the slightest since Vampire Play (although I hope I’ve improved technically). What has changed since 2004 is that many other things (people, experiences, projects, ideas) have influenced me, taking those concerns and that aesthetic and directing them toward different ends.

When I was 21 I was desperately committed to the practice of making theatre. At 31 that commitment hasn’t lessened in the slightest, but it’s deepened with a greater sense of care and responsibility, an awareness that theatre is (or should be) a means to an end. Theatre is a tool that artists use to raise people’s consciousness, to communicate ideas, to connect people together, to make the world a better place.

Looking at the script again, there are facets of the Vampire Play world-building process I want to return to – the pleasure of constructing a self-contained universe that’s complex, exciting and provocative enough to draw audiences in to it. Similarly, it reminds me of the shameless indulgence of working in a genre: the familiar scaffold of plot and character, the opportunities to subvert and distort the genre tropes, and the clear hook with which to draw an audience in. This is something I’m exploring again with Kill Climate Deniers, but I’d like to delve even deeper.

 image by nickamc

Lastly, digging up the photos, artwork and miscellanea from the 2004 production reminds me of the incredible group of collaborators involved in that project, and in the Canberra indie theatre community more generally. The DIY-theatre scene that existed in the city over 2001-07 was driven by so much excitement, dedication and generosity (and a total lack of technical skill), and I’m stoked to have been a part of it.

The reason I’m still making theatre, still in love with the artform and still excited by the possibilities is because of the incredible momentum of that community, the generosity of all those collaborators. Every time I look back I feel grateful to everyone who was part of that scene, however long or deeply.

Shout out to Canberra, is what I’m saying.

 image by nickamc

 

All images courtesy of ‘pling except where I’ve noted otherwise.

Essentials of Spontaneous Prose at Bondi Feast

July 28, 2014 on 6:30 am | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

kerouac

The last three weeks in Sydney has been Bondi Feast, which is Phil Spencer / Tamarama Rock Surfers’ annual winter festival out at the Bondi Pavilion. It’s a pretty lovely occasion, heaps of shows, forums, events and gigs all right by the sea.

Last year, Hadley and Jess and I performed Teen Makeouts one night, and it was utterly unnecessary and also lovely. This time around, the extraordinary Gin Savage directed a production of Jess and my piece Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose As Read By Jessica Bellamy and David Finnigan.

I don’t really know what to say about this – in fact I won’t say anything, I’ll just let you read it here if you like. Basically, Jess and I wrote a play in response to Kerouac’s guide for how to be a writer. It’s a list of rules and ideas that I found pretty inspiring, and we talked about them and wrote about them, and that is the play.

Two writers talking about writing is (to my mind) pretty unstageable, so it was totally delightful that Gin Savage took this on as a project, and with a whole array of lovely collaborators, she made it into far more than the text we wrote. The audience were seated around a pool of water, into which was projected animations, in which was dispersed dry ice, and on another wall an overhead projector sending up Kerouac’s rules, and over it all a beautiful soundtrack and two actors playing the part of Jess and myself.

Jodi McAlister wrote a lovely review of it on her Theatre From The Backseat blog:

Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose is a gentle, contemplative, rich piece of theatre. Actually, I’m not entirely sure it’s technically “theatre” per se (but then we would get into a whole debate about what constitutes theatre and there would be definitions and stuff and no one wants that). It’s certainly not theatre in the traditional sense. It’s more akin to a radio play, but it’s not quite that either. I wondered for a while if it would have been best as prose – I think I certainly would have liked to read it, because there’s a lot in it and I’m sure I’ve forgotten a bunch of stuff – but on second thought, I think theatrical conceit added a lot to it. We as audience sit around a pool of water, watching and listening as conversations and snippets of stories ripple across its surface.

One of the stories Scheherazade tells in the Arabian Nights (I think that’s where I remember it from!) is about a man who, entranced by a pool of water, sticks his head into it. While his head is in the water, he lives lifetimes: he conquers cities, defeats dragons, rescues princesses, all that kind of thing. When he removes his head from the water, only a few seconds have passed. (This story was part of Kenneth Slessor’s inspiration for Five Bells, BTW.) It’s easy to imagine that the pool of water in this show is the same kind of pool – full of infinite stories.

In this case, the stories were framed by, or came from, or maybe even emerged in spite of, Jack Kerouac’s guideline for writers, which are being discussed and talked through by two writers sitting in a café. Normally, I would find a show about two writers sitting and talking about writing unbearably self-indulgent – and there is certainly an element of indulgence here – but one of the things I really liked about this show was the way that stories kind of kept crowding their way over the top of the rules for prose. The two writers describe the best way to get close to the story, a kind of monstrous creature which you must submit to. There was one line which described language not as a dress you can pull off but as a tattoo, something imprinted on you, something bound to you. And yet in the midst of this, story is happening anyway without much interference from them – they are distracted by people sitting a few tables away, wondering if they’re getting married or divorced.

There’s a Daoist meditative ritual called zuowang – literally, sitting and forgetting – where you sit and stare into water and forget all your training and education in an effort to learn simply to be, to return to a state of pu (lit. “uncarved block”), which is the natural state of humans. I was reminded irresistibly of this during Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose, staring into the limpid pool that was our theatre. Many of Kerouac’s rules were kind of about this: removing barriers and preconceptions and pretensions to literary technique so that you were able to face the story in a kind of pure state. I don’t think we as audience ever exactly achieve a meditative state – there is way too much to think about in this – but there is something very enchanting about staring into water and letting words bubble over you. It removes a number of the barriers that usually stand between audience and language in the theatre. There seems to be an inherent contradiction in Kerouac’s rules, in that rules in general seem to be figured as a kind of restraint. I think Jack Kerouac’s Essentials of Spontaneous Prose is fascinating in its theatrical realisation of this idea.

It was intense to watch – I’d forgotten how personal it was, and how specific to the time and place we wrote it, and the people and situations we wrote it about. I found myself really caught up in the feeling of having other people hear these intimate details about my life, and them being shared with a group of strangers, and that group of strangers having (mostly) no idea that it was my (our) stories they were hearing.

I found myself hoping like crazy that other people could glean some insight from these personal tales.

Mostly though, I was so grateful that it was happening – grateful to Phil Spencer for producing it, grateful to Ginny for making it happen, grateful to all the artists / performers / creatives involved, grateful (always grateful) to Jess for being such an incredible collaborator, grateful to all the people whose stories we borrowed.

And also I came out of it wanting to write. So that’s a thing.

Also, while we were hanging out, Jess and I shared with each other our drafts for our new Teen Makeouts pieces, which we are performing with Hadley in Brisbane next month at the Queensland Poetry Festival, because POETRY, motherfuckers. Apparently.

Studio notes while recording the new Finnigan and Brother EP

July 20, 2014 on 7:21 am | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

Photo on 19-07-14 at 1.47 PM #2

Chris and I are in the studio this weekend with Reuben Ingall, who is producing the new Finnigan and Brother EP. I wanted to call it Finnigan and Brother Winter In Canberra 2014, but Chris has vetoed it owing to it being a terrible idea. What will we call it then? Will we borrow a title from our list of potential band names? (probably)

Right now Chris is recording guitar lines for the new Finnigan and Brother ‘single’ – though when I say single, you best believe I don’t know what that word means or what I’m talking about. He and Reuben are using the guitar to replicate various electronic percussion effects – ‘a static wash side-chained to a kick drum’ – all I know is it sounds like the new Ital Tek record and I’m happy.

This is one of the best parts of the process for me. I get to sit here and listen to music get assembled, and be a part of it, but at this stage I’m mostly just along for the ride. Meanwhile I’m trying to edit some of the lyrics, capture the key ideas and lose some of the dross. I’m not a great editor, so this is a tricky part of the picture for me.

online dating may seem a little artificial
but making a dating profile prompts you to think about your best qualities
and challenges you to put them up front

it’s important to be with someone you can trust under pressure
and for that reason it’s great to get to know someone in a challenging setting
like on a mountaineering course
or backpacking somewhere remote

Recording one track over two days is a pretty delightful experience, in part at least because Reuben is an extraordinarily capable producer with a good understanding of our aesthetic. It’s also bringing it home to me how ridiculous it was for us back in 2012 to record the entirety of Finnigan and Brother Spend A Month In Colombia and the Psychic Radio EP – 18 tracks – in one day. So many props to Nickamc for rolling with us and somehow pulling that off.

This approach, on the other hand, is giving us room to focus on the details, try out different ideas, assemble a palette of effects and sounds specific to this song, and structure them thoughtfully. I got to have multiple attempts at recording vocal sections, and Reuben has even multi-tracked my voice to emphasise certain lines (‘RFID cat flaps’ and ‘e-cigarettes’). All of which is delightful.

This is part of a 3 track EP we’re putting together for release in a month or so, including a collaboration with Bec Taylor and (hopefully) a studio version of one of the tracks we debuted at Bad Slam in March this year. Mr Shane Parsons is working with us on a video for this track, the so-called single, which is, I guess, a love song?

you need someone who makes your heart beat faster
mix tapes
nightclubs
great gigs
nights at home
playing GQ on the EQ full volume in the shower

More soon, yo.

Photo on 19-07-14 at 1.48 PM #2

The future is uncertain, contested and ultimately shared

July 14, 2014 on 4:38 pm | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

So in early 2012 (what’s that, about 2 and a half years ago?) I was awarded a Churchill Fellowship to research the interface between contemporary science and the performing arts. It was (still is) one of those totally unexpected moments where everything you’ve done so far somehow adds up to something far, far greater than you could possibly have anticipated. I’m hugely lucky, and hugely grateful.

Over January – March this year, I travelled to 13 cities in North America, Europe and Asia (travelling only east) meeting with groups and individuals doing interesting things at the intersection of arts, science and policy. I met with around 50 people, each of whom gave me a good portion of their time and chatted with me about interesting projects and big ideas.

The two big threads that emerged from the writing were the cross-disciplinary fields of Experiential Futures and Systems Gaming, both of which are loose terms intended to capture some interesting work emerging in recent years from collaborations between scientists (futures scholars and systems scientists) and artists (of all kinds, but focusing on the performing arts in my analysis). Both these fields, in my mind, offer really interesting opportunities to open up the dialogue around big issues and challenges.

The end result is a report capturing some of the more examples of this kind of practice I encountered on my travels, a case for how they might be employed more broadly to shift the national conversation on broad challenges such as climate and global change, and a bit of a how-to guide for science-artists.

The report takes its name from a line in Mike Raupach’s introduction to the Australian Academy of Science’s Australia 2050: Living Scenarios book: ‘We face three basic realities: the future is uncertain, contested and ultimately shared.’

The report is hosted as a pdf on the Churchill Trust’s website, but I’ve also made it available as a wordpress blog, for ease of reading. Go on, get amongst it:

uncertaincontestedandultimatelyshared.wordpress.com

There’s plenty of people and organisations that I need to thank and acknowledge in the writing of this, but I’ll leave it to the Acknowledgments section.

If anyone has any thoughts or comments or feedbacks, I’m keen to hear it – keep me in the loop.

 me in NYC – image by pep pe

New writing: Seizure, Boho and Kill Climate Deniers

July 1, 2014 on 8:36 am | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

‘No time for poetry but exactly what is’

Aight then in the spirit of Jack Kerouac’s Essentials For Spontaneous Prose, I’m not going to waste time with an elaborate update of what’s been happening recently, it doesn’t matter. I just want to mention three things that I’ve written, which I’d like to invite you to take a look at if you’re interested.

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Firstly, I was commissioned by Justin Wolfers to write a piece for the online journal Seizure, as part of his Alt Txt series. The series consists of works about the internet, many of which were in the Alt Lit style. I don’t know much about Alt Lit – hella ignorant finig – so I wrote a personal essay on a topic very dear to my heart: the ways in which we curate and personalise our computers and online identities.

There’s nothing here that hasn’t been said already, and more elegantly, by writers like Aleks Krotoski, Doug Rushkoff, Anab Jain or the New Aesthetic blog, but at the same time it was a pleasure to get all these thoughts out and in one place, and to have the privilege of working with Justin as an editor. It’s entitled I Have Friends Who Are Growing Gardens, and you can read it, if you like.

There’s a degree to which I try to scrub my online persona clean – at the very least, to try to be aware of the traces I’ve left online. But the worst of it is, it’s not even up to me. In a majority of cases where someone has been fired or arrested for an incriminating photo or an unfortunate anecdote that surfaced on social media, it wasn’t them that posted it but their friends.

We are implicating each other all the time, and it is harder and harder to opt out.

I don’t doubt that there’s enough material on my website and social media history for a sufficiently motivated muckraker to find a bit of mud to fling at me, but even if I vigorously scrubbed my online havens clean, my online presence is much more than just the data I’ve personally uploaded – I’m a node in a larger network. Each of us is a data point in the bigger picture of our community, referenced and located by the people around us as much as by ourselves.

Honestly, no matter how much I think and hear about it happening, I find it almost impossible to connect what I say to my laptop in the privacy of my own home to the idea that hundreds and thousands of people could end up reading it.

Screen-Shot-2014-03-27-at-6.10.44-PM

Secondly, I spent last week as a participant in a CSIRO workshop entitled Modelling Planetary Boundaries. As the only non-scientist in the room I didn’t have a lot to add, but it was thoroughly mind-blowing and really one of the best weeks I’ve had in years. What this group of physicists, ecologists, meteorologists and economists were seeking to do was to model the entire human-earth system. Not just that, but their aim was to include social processes in this model, so that human behaviour and society was intrinsically a part of the earth-system.

In response to that eye-opening experience, I wrote a blog post on the Boho website explaining (as best I am able) why you’d attempt to create such a model and how you go about it. This is especially exciting for me because of how it links into Boho’s Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster, which is about to kick off in London in just over two months’ time.

One idea which has been gaining significant traction in recent years is the idea that we have recently moved into a new geological epoch: the Anthropocene. This is a period in the earth’s history in which humankind has become one of the most significant drivers of the planetary systems. For decades, if not centuries, humans have been altering the composition of the earth’s atmosphere, changing the biosphere by driving species extinct and transporting new species around the planet, altering the activity of river systems and changing land use, all at a global scale.

In hundreds of million of years’ time, when humanity’s existence has been reduced to a thin smear of rock in the geological record, future species or alien visitors will still be able to detect our presence through the spike of radioactive minerals resulting from humanity’s nuclear weapons tests.

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Finally, I recently stole (another) idea from Declan Greene. When we first met back in 2009, Declan showed me an early draft of a play he was working on entitled Pompeii LA. The 2012 Malthouse production was a stunning piece of theatre, but one of the things that most impressed me about the early draft was that Declan was quite consciously aggregating the content out of a project-specific tumblr, kind of like a digital scrapbook.

I decided to borrow the idea wholesale, and for the last few months I’ve been collating bits and pieces on a blog as the basis for a new script entitled Kill Climate Deniers. Evolving out of discussions with director Julian Hobba, the first draft had a reading at the Street Theatre last week, and it is ridiculous and overblown and badly written and yet, and yet I quite like it. So if you’re curious, have a glance at the blog. If nothing else, there’s a good selection of late 80s / early 90s club music on there.

 

What if we invited climate deniers to describe what piece or pieces of evidence it would take to change their mind on climate change? Make the criteria as loose as they like, they can name it. And if they can’t articulate any piece of evidence that could convince them, then they have to accept that they’re not debating?

Wouldn’t work. Not worth it. They’re not arguing a position, they’re arguing to make noise, to stall us, to prevent us doing what needs to be done. They need to be worked around.

And if they can’t be worked around, they need to be removed.

By ‘removed’, I don’t mean killed.

Get amongst it – killclimatedeniers.tumblr.com

 

‘My chest hurts from watching that’: A Wake/Kids Killing Kids reviews

May 27, 2014 on 6:15 am | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

awake09 image by Sarah Walker

So A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is now DONE. Nine of us (Ninya Bedruz, Sam Burns-Warr, Ness Roque, Georgie McAuley, Alon Segarra, JK Anicoche, Jordan Prosser, Sarah Salazar and myself) gathered in Melbourne with director Bridget Balodis, designer Melanie Koomen and stage manager Cameron Stewart, and told the story of Battalia Royale for the last time – well, nine last times – as part of the 2014 Next Wave festival.

I’m hugely grateful to Next Wave – to Em Sexton and Meg Hale – and to Stephen Armstrong from the Playking Foundation, for making it happen. I’m grateful to everyone who was part of it: it was a pleasure to stand there on stage with you cats and share the story. I’m grateful to everyone who came along – it was a kind and generous audience, and lots of good and thoughtful conversations after the work. And I’m grateful it’s finished.

Now what did the critics think? Rebecca McLean Chan from the Australia Council described the work as ‘a thought-provoking and important public debriefing’, which is nice. Alison Croggon wrote about it for ABC Arts, which was exciting for me cause I think Croggon’s a genius and it’s the first time she’s seen any of my work. She said:

A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is a return of theatre company MKA’s hit from the Fringe Festival. I missed that incarnation, although I didn’t miss the controversy… I don’t know what the initial show was like, but here it was Sipat Lawin that held your attention, with the Australians playing the role of naïve fools on the edges of a history of violence that they barely understand.

This performance raises a bundle of knotty questions. Among the most vexed are the models of cross-cultural collaboration and its parallels with colonisation, and the morality of the representation of ultra-violence. Here the members of Sipat Lawin articulate their ambivalences: on the one hand, the violence of the show spoke to the unacknowledged colonial violence that runs through the bloody history of the Philippines; on the other, what does it mean when an audience is screaming for the murder of a child? How does fantasy relate to reality? Is it brutalising to so faithfully enact ultra-violence, or can it be politically empowering in a society in which memories of actual violence are actively repressed? A Wake didn’t answer any of these questions, which are turned over, discomfortingly, to the audience; but the passion of Sipat Lawin in addressing them gives the lie to any easy answers.

This is a true thing, and I have to give a shout out here to Ness, Ninya, JK, Sarah and Alon, who brought such a hard and uncompromising honesty to the show every night, it really left everyone stunned. Motherfuckers can act.

awake10 image by Sarah Walker

Rebecca Harkins-Cross from the Age liked it not at all:

More questions are raised than answered, leaving vexing gaps in the most pressing areas: how did they decide upon this problematic text? Did they discuss the potentially traumatic ramifications of performative violence before they undertook the project? Sipat Lawin wanted to confront their society’s normalisation of violence by showcasing it excessively, but surely enormous crowds whooping for characters to die wasn’t the reaction they envisaged?

I’m still bemused as to whether this is an ingenious way of igniting debate, or a cautionary tale about the perils of clueless cross-cultural collaboration. I was left wishing I’d seen the original production instead.

I didn’t get a lot from this review, honestly, but all good – people are welcome to dislike things. The article, though, was upstaged by the cheeky sub-editor who accompanied it with the following image and caption:

niceworksubeditor

HEY SUB-EDITOR, WE LIKE YOUR STYLE, WANNA JOIN A THEATRE COMPANY?

Finally, Fleur Kilpatrick wrote an extraordinary post about the show on her School For Birds blog, where she invited two audience members to discuss the show with her immediately upon leaving the theatre. Their conversation was thoughtful, generous yet rigorous. They were particularly on the ball with regard to the form of the show, intelligently interrogating our choices in terms of how we put it together. I can’t help quoting a short sample:

Josiah: One question that came up (a question they tried to engage with last time when it was just the four of them without the Sipat Lawin ensemble and didn’t really have an answer for) was ‘why make this work?’ Having seen their show I now approach a lot of shows with that question. Why now? I get that you are adapting Oscar Wilde to the stage or I get that you want to re-stage a Patrick White play or I get that Stephen Sewell is really interesting but it is a play from the 80s so why now? It is a very useful critical question that I brought away from the last season. It is so great to have the Sipat Lawin ensemble here because I feel like you have much more of an understanding of the ‘why.’ That wasn’t very well represented in the last one.

SFB: I think deliberately. They almost played up their naivety. They are four incredibly cluey makers but I think they played up the blundering white kids thing. They played that up and I think that was partly them not wanting to appropriate the story that wasn’t theirs to tell: the experience of performing Battalia Royale night after night and engaging with the audience as fellow Filipinos. I think they deliberately played that naivety out of respect for their collaborators, and that was incredibly brave and selfless of them because it provoked more heated discussion than if they had played themselves as all-knowing. But it meant audiences might leave questioning their motivations and their sanity.

This time I felt really satisfied by their engagement with the work. And they got to me. My chest hurts from just watching that. My breath isn’t right yet. It affected me physically.

Josiah: Some of the testimonies from the Sipat Lawin ensemble were heart-breaking. One of the actresses talking about playing her role and asking ‘why is the audience cheering? I have a character who is very real to me. I’m getting brutally murdered on stage and this audience is cheering for my death. That feels wrong but, at the same time, I want to continue making this work.’

I was watching her get tears in her eyes and I’m like ‘oh my God!’

Boom panes.

awake08 image by Sarah Walker

Now as always, whenever I finish a show, I put on this Out Hud track and say out loud the vocal snippet which opens it.

 

9 hours til opening

April 30, 2014 on 9:10 pm | In Uncategorized | Comments Off

awake01

Funny feeling about to open A Wake: Kids Killing Kids for the Next Wave festival tonight. I’ve never felt quite like this a few hours before opening a show, ever. I think it’s because my motivations for doing a show have never been the motivations I have for doing this one, and that plays out in all sorts of ways.

For background: A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is a live documentary theatre collaboration between Too Many Weapons (myself, Georgie McAuley, Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr) and the Sipat Lawin Ensemble (represented here by JK Anicohce, Alon Segarra, Ness Roque, Ninya Bedruz and Sarah Salazar) telling the story of the Battalia Royale project that took place in Manila over 2012.

Last year, the blessed cats at MKA produced the first version of this work featuring just 2MW, which toured to the Melbourne Fringe, Crack Theatre Festival and the Q Theatre in Penrith. Following that show, Sipat produced their own documentary response to Battalia, entitled A Wake, which was performed earlier this year in Manila. Now, the two shows have been stapled / delicately woven together into one creature with the amazing acronym of AWKKK.

awake03

This production owes a lot of thanks to a lot of humans – firstly to MKA and Glyn Roberts, who took our initial idea for a slide night about our Philippines holiday and gave us the framework to turn it into a much bigger and real-life theatre show, and then to other supporters like Katrina Douglas from the Q Theatre, Chris Ryan, Nick Atkins and Jenni Medway from Crack Theatre Festival, Felix Preval from the Melbourne Fringe, all the mad lovers.

That work triggered conversations between Sipat Lawin and Next Wave director Em Sexton and Stephen Armstrong from Arts Centre Melbourne, which led to an invitation for Sipat to come to Australia and take part in Next Wave. That invitation set in motion the creation of A Wake, and from there the decision to integrate A Wake and KKK into one multi-faceted mega-show, the Man O’War Jellyfish of documentary theatre. If you want a clearer rundown of the creature, roll to Eleanor Zeichner’s article about it in Exeunt Magazine.

AWKKK includes the masterful work of designer Mel Koomen and stage manager Cameron Stewart, and the whole thing is once again directed by Bridget Balodis. Bridget was responsible for turning KKK from a long-winded series of essays into a tight theatre show, and once again she’s managed to tie the diverse strands of the story into a single unified slice of jiving performance, with dance. I am super grateful to all these human beings, I’m not putting logos on this blog post, this is actual thanks from an actual human being to all the human beings who have helped make this thing happen.

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So what’s going on in my head? First of all, I’m not at all concerned about the audience or critical response. We have a story to tell, and we’re going to tell it as best we can, with generosity and love and welcoming the audience in. Bridget Balodis is an amazing director and she has built a fantastic framework to support us in telling this tale, making it live and breathe and giving us our best shot at getting it across to a bunch of strangers. It might still fall over, it might not work, but we will try our best, we will try our absolute best, and that’s all there is for us to do.

But in a funny way, I’m not searching for approval from the audience. I’m not looking for audiences to pat us on the back and say they thought it was good, or fun, or interesting, or anything like that. I’m not fussed if critics praise or condemn the form or the content of the show. Critical discourse is oxygen for my theatre-making normally (and this show is all about critical discourse) but for this particular show, it’s not part of the equation. Critics are just people to whom we’re telling the story, no more and no less.

Also, this show is never touring again. Nine performances (starting tonight) and that’s it. For good. There are lots of reasons for that – probably the major one being that it’s an extremely personal piece referring to a particular time and place, and past a point it would be dishonest to return there. So we won’t. And that means we’re not interested in hustling for further tours, future opportunities, trying to win over venue presenters, promoters and curators. That’s a frequent part of doing work as an independent artist – you create something you’re proud of, you naturally want to see it have a future life, as well as trying to source other gigs and opportunities to keep your practice moving. But here we’ve created something we’re proud of, and we’re sharing it to the audiences at Next Wave, and that’s it. Presenters, promoters and curators are just people to whom we’re telling the story, no more and no less.

For me, there are two real reasons why I’m doing this show: to honour the other people on stage and to honour the story.

awake04

Doing the earlier version of this show last year (as Kids Killing Kids) was a lot of talking about the Sipat Lawin Ensemble without ever actually featuring Sipat in the story. We couldn’t speak for them, and so we focused the story on us – on our own limitations as white, western collaborators. Well and good. But for this season, thanks to a lot of support and love from Next Wave and the Playking Foundation and such, we have JK, Alon, Ness, Ninya and Sarah onstage with us. The technical term for this is fuck yeah. We are a bunch of friends and collaborators from two countries talking together and hanging out onstage and sharing what went down between us, and it is intense and emotional and fun.

And also and importantly, this production is the last chapter in the story of Battalia Royale, which began five years ago when I met JK and Alon and Ness and Isab and the rest of the crew in Penguin Cafe in Malate at the beginning of 2009. That experience has swelled up and consumed a good chunk of the last few years, in a lot of unexpected and significant ways, and at last here and now I can trace that arc from beginning to end, with the people who were there and part of it with me, and tell the whole ridiculous story. And it’s an interesting story (I think) and I’m pleased to be telling it in style, complete with three projectors and a small city of milk crates.

So my entire headspace at this point is not ‘what can I get from this show?’ or ‘what will people think of this show?’ or anything like that. All I’m thinking, 10 hours out from opening, is: ‘I will do my very best to tell this story well and share it with the audience and support my friends I’m on stage with’.

What I’m saying is, A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is probably the first really honest piece of theatre I’ve ever made. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.

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