Alright, it’s time. A review round-up for Kids Killing Kids.
Quick background: myself and Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser (aka Too Many Weapons) created a documentary theatre work entitled Kids Killing Kids about our experience creating Battalia Royale with Sipat Lawin in Manila over 2011-12. MKA and the Q Theatre produced it, Bridget Balodis directed it, Mel Koomen designed it, and we performed it at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle and the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith over the last two months. Among other good things, we won the Melbourne Fringe Festival’s award for Best Experimental Performance. So there’s that.
The response to the show was fascinating - as JK Anicoche and Sarah Salazar from Sipat joked, we had our own baby version of the controversy surrounding Battalia. This sampling of reviews hopefully gives you some idea of how people felt about the work. (And all these dope images, of course, are by the extraordinary Sarah Walker.)
by Anne-Marie Peard
I thought Kids Killing Kids was astonishing; the friend I saw it with was astonished that I even applauded at the end. We’re not the only people experiencing such a chasm of differing opinion about this show that’s pushing buttons and forcing a discussion that extends way beyond the smugness of “is it good theatre?”.
As writers, they told it with a mixture of honesty and distance, created a structure and likely bent the truth to make the story better. Their story kept asking “and then what?” and they underscored it with a dilemma that has more questions than solutions.
Did they make a successful piece of art that should be celebrated or a piece of crap that continues to do harm?
They don’t answer this. And imply many more questions about violence, the western eye looking at the Philipines, their own skills, what the hell they were doing there in the first place, and whether they should have done or still do anything to address the criticism. Again, they don’t answer these questions, but the audience do.
It’s these answers that are making this one of the most talked about shows this festival. And this is the success of Kids Killing Kids. So many shows are forgotten by the time the first post-show drink is orders; this one is resulting in arguments and discussions and anger and elation. Any work that does this is damn good theatre.
Thank you Anne-Marie. And it’s true that this dilemma has more questions than solutions.
by Tim Richards
The story of Battle Royale is an undeniably interesting one, and the quartet expertly lead us through its history to a selection of live footage, its shock factor amplified by our psychological preparation.
The collective’s members seem sincerely torn by whether the work they created was harmful, and it’s a gripping tale; but they never do resolve the three questions they say were often posed to them: “Why here? Why now? Why you?” The result is a show that’s both fascinating and a little unfulfilling, posing more questions than it answers.
So Tim Richards from Issimo Mag feels that the show is a little unfulfilling as we pose more questions than we answer - on the flip-side…
by Jodi McAlister
This show offers no answers, and this is one of the main reasons it is so deeply interesting. It is not a defence of Battalia Royale, but rather a sincere exploration of what it means to make art and what happens when art assumes its own life. Does the artist have a duty to make sure their art is moral? How do you know when art becomes actively harmful? What is the role of the artist in a work like this, which has spawned a fandom so far out of their domain of control?
The fact that questions like these can be raised – questions which are fascinating in the critical sphere – in something which is itself art, is something I find truly amazing. I’m not normally a huge fan of meta-theatre, which I generally find self-indulgent, but Kids Killing Kids is genuinely exhilarating. It’s the kind of theatre which leaves you slightly breathless, the kind of theatre that gives you an adrenaline rush. It’s viscerally, as well as intellectually, exciting.
There seemed to be a split between those audience members who wanted us to answer the questions that we raised and those who preferred them to be left hanging. The truth is, we probably would have answered them if we could - but if we’d had those answers, we may well not have bothered doing the show in the first place. We certainly could have discussed the issues more deeply, but these are the challenges of condensing an incredibly complex story with lots of threads into an hour long show. Even to convey the basic facts - who, what, where, when - took so much time and required so much explanation, that if we’d wanted to get into more in-depth discussions, it would have been a two-hour work at least.
And maybe it should have been. But certainly when we were making it, we never considered that people would want to sit through two and a half hours of this story. Things you learn, hey.
by Myron My
The production of Kids Killing Kids is slick: the writing is sharp and the flow of information is smooth and well-thought-out. However, I did have a problem with the emotive but obvious pauses and silences and questioned their dramatic purpose being in conflict with their authenticity. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the four people involved, but such theatrical devices remind me I am watching a deliberate performance rather than sharing this real-life experience with them.
But perhaps this is the point. Is it a documentary? Is it theatre? Either way, MKA: Kids Killing Kids is going to leave any artist with a lot of questions about the complex roles we play in creating theatre and what boundaries we should and should not cross.
Man, what do you do with this? Myron’s right, there is a natural tension between theatrical devices and a simple retelling, but how do you do a simple retelling to an audience of strangers, night after night? You can’t tell a story to a group of 50+ randoms the same way you’d tell a group of friends a story around a dinner table. How to resolve this?
Sydney Arts Guide
by Mark Pigott
The theatre group Too Many Weapons have produced a fascinating and intriguing drama. It is an engrossing documentary substantially narrated live but also includes videos, slides and audio clips augmenting the performance. Whether it is a documentary or a play is irrelevant as it is such a great piece of theatre.
The presenters explain their feelings about the somewhat out of control developments that continued to snowball. Their exposition is a very thoughtful piece of theatre reflecting on theatre. They examine the purpose of theatre and their responsibility to the audience and the cast members with candour and honesty. Too Many Weapons’ script is excellent, Bridget Balodis’ direction is sharp and Melanie Koomen’s design is exactly what is required.
Mark Pigott meanwhile comments on our candour and honesty. There’s a split here, between audiences accusing us of being deceitful and audiences commenting on our sincerity.
The four theatremakers - David Finnigan, Georgie McAuley, Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr - give a tag team lecture on their exploits, complete with slides and recorded segments. It’s delivered with a sense of barely controlled elation, both from the intensity of twentysomethings living overseas, as well as the wild success of their play and the controversy it generated.
That lens seems slightly inappropriate given the playwrights were so ignorant of the country they were working in they did not realise it had real child soldiers.
I’m all for artistic freedom, but with it comes responsibility, and I wish the show had a more sober and sophisticated reflection on what that responsibility might be. If it had been clearer on the importance of knowledge in cross-cultural collaboration, and the ethics of representing violence in art, it might have seemed less self-indulgent.
And given how confronting the play was, you can’t help wishing you were seeing that, rather than being told about it. Documentary theatre has an obligation to drama and there’s little in the show that wouldn’t have been just as suited to television or even a long essay.
This review, when it came out, jarred with me. Not really for the first and second paragraphs (I appreciate that Cameron felt our retelling was too lighthearted, and I respectfully disagree) or the last paragraph (I 100% agree, we wished we could’ve shown you guys Battalia Royale rather than our pale retelling of it, but it was just not possible), but that third one: ‘I wish the show had a more sober and sophisticated reflection on what that responsibility might be.’ I’m not being facetious when I say I don’t fully understand what that means, or what Woodhead is suggesting.
I got in touch with Cameron, and he was kind enough to meet with us for a cup of coffee to discuss the work in more depth. He had a lot of interesting feedback, which I think was a lot richer and more constructive than what appeared in print, but sadly I wasn’t taking notes and can’t reproduce any of it from memory. But: a huge thanks to him for taking time out to unpack his critique in person - was really valuable and I appreciate it hugely.
by Meg Watson
Written and performed by the playwrights as a unique combination of documentary, lecture and narrative, Kids Killing Kids has some obvious tensions. To start with, you want to see the blood. You can’t help but feel desperate for the action and mayhem on those streets — the exhilaration of the experience. But instead, you are kept at a distance. Everything is methodical and sanitised. When there is blood, it is handled delicately in a glass jug with a lid — those on stage wear plastic ponchos and take the time to lay sheeting on the ground before a controlled usage.
This is all so excellently deliberate though. Through each step of the story, the audience is positioned alongside them. We are polite tourists trying to respect the Filipino culture while being pushed around Manila’s gritty streets. We experience the success and the failures of the show as the writers explore their role and seek absolution from it. The retelling is so honest, precise and relatable, the performance can effortlessly springboard from violent civil war to the straight-up hilarity that is six-year-old street kids krumping to Lil Jon.
For all this ambition, Kids Killing Kids comes together seamlessly. In just over an hour it addresses our fascination with violence, the problems with cross-cultural collaboration, an entire nation’s political history, and the role of theatre itself. Who would have thought such a beautifully surreal and thought-provoking story would involve little more than some milk crates, a few plastic blood packs, and an OHP?
Excellently deliberate - this is where I think it’s worth tipping my hat to Bridget Balodis, who is a kind of crazy maestro all unto herself. If this show had been left to the four of us writers, it would have been a kind of shambolic rambling story, which might have been occasionally curious but probably mostly quite inane. It’s thanks to Bridget’s outside eye - not to mention Mel Koomen’s exquisite design - that comments like ’seamless’ kept emerging.
by Andrew Fuhrmann
It’s a lo-fi but lovingly made production, with overhead projections, dance numbers, YouTube clips from the original Batallia and lots of t-shirts with nonsensical slogans ‑ apparently a big thing in the Philippines. Our hosts, the four writers, are engaging and open, and the fact that they are not natural performers gives the whole thing an artlessness that easily convinces us of their honest desire to confront the issues raised by their adventures in cross-cultural collaboration.
But is this show perhaps too artless? It’s informative, and it’s very fair ‑ though brief ‑ in framing the different arguments around Batallia’s depiction of violence, but we get very little insight into how the experience might have impacted the four playwrights, apart from pulling down their naivety. There’s a lot of description ‑ of the show and the aftermath ‑ but where’s the debate, even among themselves? Where’s the heat? Where’s the personality? There is passion here, but it remains unarticulated, stifled by facts, figures, summaries and a kind of remnant touristic awe. Perhaps Kids Killing Kids at some point needed to go in a more lateral dramaturgical direction?
Still, it is a remarkable story, and as it’s unlikely ‑ alas ‑ that we’ll ever see anything so visceral and controversial as Batallia Royale in Melbourne, we should at least give thanks for this fascinating insight into the ongoing power of theatre to excite, confuse and dismay.
Perhaps we did need to go in a more lateral dramaturgical direction? I don’t know - and god knows what that would have looked like - but yes, maybe Mr Fuhrmann’s right. Where’s the heat? Where’s the personality? It’s not much of an excuse to say that there was heat, and personality, and passionate debate, happening between the four of us, and the members of Sipat, and it continued all through the rehearsal process and through three seasons. Should we have staged some of those debates, those arguments between the four of us? But it would have felt weird and artificial to dramatise those conversations on stage. But maybe that’s not what Fuhrmann means when he says a ‘lateral dramaturgical direction’. I don’t know.
by Suzanne Sandow
Kids Killing Kids is one out of the bag and not to be missed due to questions of ethics and Theatre Making it broaches, particularly in regard to unwitting appropriation. This work sits right on a cultural pulse, albeit, seemingly inadvertently. Hey sometimes, creative choices have a strange way of emerging from the ether, don’t they?
This doco/drama presentation reminds us that Theatre is rooted in ritual and the incredible power the medium of Theatre can actually hold - but seldom elicits - certainly in the West.
‘The work sits right on a cultural pulse, albeit, seemingly inadvertently.’ This is very true. While we didn’t set out to do this show purely for our own benefit, none of us really anticipated that there would be this much debate and conversation around it. This story has some resonance with Australian theatre-makers in 2013, apparently.
This documentary style production provided a platform for the group to go back and reflect on the accidental spectacle they created. It raised questions of the nature of violence, onstage and off, the spectacular power of social media and the responsibilities that come with artistic expression. While the writers seemed aware that there were big questions to be answered, their reflections - at least in this work - mostly remained shallow, much like their motivations for heading to the Philippines in the first place. I found Kids Killing Kids and the story of Battle Royale troubling, but it was certainly compelling. It definitely made for entertaining and thought provoking theatre. Even so, I didn’t leave liking these guys all that much.
As Sam said, throughout the show we carefully build a case against ourselves, so when people walk out at the end hating us, that’s sort of a victory. Which is a weird feeling. When you consciously, deliberately tell a story in which you are the bad guy, and people respond at the end by saying ‘you’re a bad person’ - well, it’s not as good as when people began rigorously asking why we chose to tell the story that way, but fair enough, Jofacekillah, fair enough.
School for Birds
by Fleur Kilpatrick
I applaud Too Many Weapons for not retroactively justifying themselves. It would be so easy with hindsight to say ‘yes, yes, that is exactly what we meant, that is what we were saying’! Instead, they let us see their bewilderment as their bloodbath became a cult hit. When the performers asked repeatedly ‘why are we doing this? Why here? Why now?’ they did not have a good answer and still do not.
And still do not. Though I’m not gonna lie, doing Kids Killing Kids nudged me further towards the ‘we did the right thing’ side of the debate. But that’s another blog post and not for now.
Works like Battalia Royale are important because they remind us of our primitive selves, allow us to dissolve the bullshit that our brains play us every day and just be. Be nerves. Be adrenaline. Be out of control. And then go home, have a shower, kiss our lovers and sleep it off. The complexities come, of course, when the actors can’t do the same. When the hundreds of people demanding that you die start to get to you. Kids Killing Kids digs into the heart of theatre, of art itself – to what lengths are we willing to go? There are no clear answers in the show because there are none outside it.
If I’ve learned anything from the critical discourse around this show, there are no clear answers, full stop. But thank you all for weighing in, and thank you everyone who came to see it, and thanks so fucking much to Glyn Roberts, Katrina Douglas, Mel Koomen, JK Anicoche, Sarah Salazar, thank you Melbourne Fringe, Crack Theatre cats, the JSPAC guys, thank you thank you Bridget Balodis, and so much fucking love to Jordan Sam and Georgie.
Okay, let’s do the next one.
This week I travelled to Canberra for two of the most stimulating and exciting days I’ve had all year. The Australian Academy of Sciences hosted a two-day conference / workshop as part of the Australia 2050 project, which I was lucky enough to participate in.
Australia 2050 is a collaboration between a group of scientists (some Fellows of the Academy, some not) who are searching for useful ways for Australians to think about and engage with their future. Their motto (or at least a refrain I heard repeated several times) is that ‘The future is uncertain, contested, and ultimately shared.’ We all have our own perspectives about what the future will hold, whether these are consciously articulated or not. These differenf perspectives often lead us to disagree on what is important for our country, what are the challenges we must face and how should we address them.
Scientists are in the business of thinking about the future, of making predictions and testing those predictions against the facts. However, the 2050 team were conscious of the fact that the science community is only a small sector within Australian society. Scientists may have useful tools for thinking about and understanding the next few decades, but they possess no secret knowledge about the future hidden from the rest of us, and no authority to insist we follow their advice.
With that in mind, the aim of the 2050 project (at least in this phase) was to invite people from other sectors of society to contemplate these questions, and to offer their skills and knowledge in this area to help us tackle them. The workshop consisted of 60 people from around Australia, from scientists to industry heads, from journalists and cultural commentators to politicians, from military personnel to artists. It was an intimidating crowd to be a part of, but also a huge privilege to see a cluster of incredible minds grappling with some big and challenging questions.
image by adam thomas
2050 is 37 years from now. In an eqivalent span of years from 1913 to 1950, there were two world wars, the world’s balance of power shifted dramatically, technology such as cars, aeroplanes, and new industrial practices transformed every level of society, and two huge superpowers were preparing to fight a global nuclear war. Across a similar span, in the 37 years since 1976 society has been drastically transformed by the rise of new technology like personal computers, mobile phones and the internet, globalisation has linked every nation on the planet politically and financially into one tightly connected super-society, and culture has shifted rapidly to embrace new artforms, media and lifestyles that would seem deeply alien to people in the mid-70s.
What I am saying is that a lot can happen in almost four-decades: trends can pick up or slow down, massive shocks and crises can hit us at any time, and unexpected things like ideas, technologies and political/social movements can arrive out of left field and knock the whole course of history on to a different track entirely.
No-one knows what will happen between now and 2050, and if you think you do, I respectfully put it to you that you are mistaken. Nevertheless, the fact that we don’t know doesn’t let us off the hook in terms of thinking about it - the future we get will be, in large part, the future we make. We’re not only experiencing it, we’re also creating it. We can’t predict the many bizarre shifts and shocks we’ll experience between here and the middle of this century, but yet we can’t afford to go forward with our eyes closed. We need to be seeking to build the best possible future for our country while being ready and prepared to handle the worst: how else can we leave our descendents a legacy we can be proud of?
One of the paradoxes in this field of science (as I understand it) is that you can’t predict the future, yet you need to plan and prepare for it. How do you resolve this tension and think constructively and usefully about things you have fundamentally no knowledge of?
The Australia 2050 team are practiced ‘future-thinkers’, which means, quoting from their website:
Thinking about the future has become a recognised discipline within social science and business studies. It is also called ‘strategic foresight’, ‘futures-thinking’, ‘futures studies’ and a range of other names. It has been used by businesses, governments, communities, and by both biophysical and social scientists at local, national, geo-regional, and global scales.
The discipline of futures-thinking is based on the assumption that no-one can predict the future, but if we draw on insights from the past and present we can forecast a range of future possibilities that can improve our ability to prepare for future challenges and opportunities.
These ‘future possibilities’ are also called ’scenarios’, and the starting point for this two-day workshop was a cluster of scenarios. Four alternative visions of Australia in 2050 were proposed to us, each exemplifying a particular trend: Growth, Collapse, Restraint and Transformation. Over two days, we worked in small rotating groups to grapple with these four scenarios, doing our best to articulate what it might concretely mean for Australia to ‘collapse’ or ‘transform’, what the consequences of these changes might be for politics, economics, culture, the environment and the arts, and how we might conceivably travel to that destination from where we are in 2013. It was hard, demanding mental and creative labour, and it felt often as if we were only scratching the surface of what these different visions might mean.
The point of the workshop was not, though, to map out four fleshed-out science fiction alternative futures. Rather, our brief was to generate ideas and speculate broadly, populating these four scenarios (and every point in between) with meaningful and concrete examples. Not just projecting a future based on graphing trends, but rigorously visualising a range of different potential outcomes.
The next stage for Australia 2050 will be to absorb and somehow synthesise the 500+ ideas that were captured over the two days on laptops scattered around the Shine Dome. This content will be the basis for a wider series of public engagements as the 2050 team begin conversations with stakeholders from all backgrounds, all round Australia.*
nothing says future like holding your conference inside this weird edifice
An opportunity to get to take two days out and consider the broad arc of the future was always going to be a pleasant experience. What I wasn’t anticipating was how much I learned, how many weird and feasible and brilliant ideas were unfolded in my hearing, and how lovely and generous the whole crew were. Huge thanks to everyone involved for an extraordinary experience.
And now the tricky bit: trying to digest and make sense of it all. I will be chewing on this, for a while.
image by adam thomas
*I’m stoked that an earlier iteration of this most recent workshop was held in Canberra in March as part of the You Are Here festival. Footage from the event is online here, and I pinched a couple of Adam Thomas’ photos of the event for the above post if you’re curious as to what a public forum about the future might look like (though judging from this most recent experience, they don’t all look the same).
andrew galan, the man hisself, image by adam thomas
This week I had the wild-at-soul privilege of performing at an extremely special event - Mr Andrew Galan launched his first book of poetry, That Place of Infested Roads, at the Phoenix this week. Launching any kind of book, anywhere at any time, is a pretty rad achievement, but this one sat particularly close to my heart as Andrew has been carving out a really phenomenal voice and style over the last few years, and I’m excited that this book can act as a kind of snapshot for where he’s at now. In two more years he will have changed completely, this much we know for sure.
Right now though, Mr Galan’s poems are weird unsettling stabs from the outside. He strings together disparate images in a strange, halting, sometimes stumbling flow. Sometimes stanzas rush and surge and tumble, and then trip you when you come to the end of a line and realise the poem has shifted under your feet.
There are dense clusters of references - pop culture, high culture, places and people - but knowing who or what Galan is referencing doesn’t by any means decode the poems - he uses these symbols in counterintuitive ways that confound any simple readings. Sci fi authors such as Frank Herbert, J.G. Ballard and Ray Bradbury take part in eerie military actions amid ’squeezebox drone’, just to take the first example I find when I open the book.
What I love about Andrew’s writing is that it circles around a deep, passionate, almost scary emotion. There’s so much heat and urgency in what he’s writing, you know it straight away. At the same time, he never wades in and announces anything directly, never gives you the answer to what he’s striving to express. Reading his work, and listening to him perform it (which is a whole other visceral experience) forces you to switch off certain sense-making parts of your brain and try instead to see and feel the ideas he’s unpacking.
A few lines from one of my favourites in the collection, ‘S.T. Picard’:
Two-AM, a rust stop sign
beside a rough wheelbarrow
that has just one handle
the other wood is lost
on an island of men missing
parts of limbs, parts of faces, parts of hearts
she ministers the wounds of these casualties
from eleven dimension midnight alley knifings.
She is S.T. Picard
she puts high-heel boot on
ahead of dark leather boot on
at will caffeine appears in her hand
triple fire, she is leaving
lemon in the sheets
with a hiss and a purr
Anyway, this is not a review nor was meant to be, this is just me expressing my appreciation and admiration to one of the most distinctive and exciting artistic voices in the ACT scene, as well as one of the warmest and most generous people I’ve ever worked with.
For the launch, Andrew gave each performer a poem from his book to interpret and perform. Mine was ‘The upstairs food court’, an image-rich depiction of (what I took to be) the second level food court of the Canberra Centre shopping mall. It’s a sparse, measured poem with a devastating final line.
a less good dude, also imaged by adam thomas
My approach was to type out the poem into a word document, then sit throughout the performance adding in new lines, comments, snippets from other poems, scraps from the conversation around me and the MC interludes. And then I performed that. It worked well on the night but it’s not something that holds up well after the fact, I think, because it relies so much on the circumstances of the night. Still, there were some lines I enjoyed - this is one.
2am on an island full of men
missing parts of faces parts of limbs parts of hearts
she puts high heeled boots on
once and twice so she does not violate relativity
and if you’re lying where the mice have crept
the animals wept
amelia burned and slept
the pack of rats lived
the soap encrusted bathwater tap
cause this is her
carcass to carcass
give them the things
that they deserve
give them the shots of caffeine
the magic mystery
the last clutch of the redhead scratch
the amazed the head on the pillow
and with each precise stilleto
I see galan poised there in a courtyard in madrid
we might all be symbols
and adam says well that was the best thing
is it a personality that wounds me? when we met at andrew’s place to eat ice cream?
Jess Bellamy is one of those people who is not just a brilliant writer and a fucking hilarious observer of the world, she’s also a compassionate and beautiful mind with an extraordinary creative impulse. Her writing is incredible. Her writing is incredible. Her writing is incredible. Seek her out.
The only problem with Jess is that she lives in Sydney, and I don’t, and consequently we don’t get to see each other or collaborate or hang out as much as I’d like. We’ve worked together for the last couple of years on a series of insane pop culture triologues with Hadley (Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl and You Are Here vs Teen Makeouts) and we were in Manila together in August working with Sipat on LoveNOT, but still. Few and far between.
THEN: two weeks ago, I was in Sydney for a couple of nights, staying at Jess’, and we took a morning out and sat in a cafe with Jack Kerouac’s list of Belief and Techniques for Spontaneous Prose. I don’t want to proselytise about Kerouac, you either dig him or you don’t, but I should acknowledge that I think he’s incredible, and one of the reasons I write at all. The list of Belief and Techniques is basically a set of commandments for how to write, which is as exciting and inspiring as words ever get.
Anyway, Jess and I sat and talked through the list, and then we sat down next to each other and wrote, and what we wrote we have now compiled into a single script, entitled JESS AND DAVID READ KEROUAC’S ESSENTIALS FOR SPONTANEOUS PROSE. The two pieces, hers and mine, run along parallel lines, each touching on different elements of our conversation and moving at different speeds, highlighting different moments, retelling parts in different voices, and feeding back to the list itself.
Included in the script is Kerouac’s list itself, so I won’t include it here - but what I will include is a couple of short lines from Jess’ piece. There’s so much in there, I don’t know where to start or what to say about it except I’m so fucking grateful to get to write with people like Jess, to share this sort of work. Dig this:
Today is Tuesday the 8th of October 2013 and it is nicer to start my day with that than with a Hebrew prayer and today is an important day, important enough for me to sit up and stretch and name it so. Here are the things that matter to me on this exact day, in the order that they catch up with the swimming turtle and fish in the ocean of the DJ with attitude:
- French toast with salted caramel
- New sprigs on my plant to celebrate spring
- The perfect amount of sun for everything
- A horizon that warps and bubbles a little with excitement.
There is chaos and it will be ok or it will not.
There is fear and it will be ok or it will not.
There is uncertainty and it will be ok or it will not.
There is panic and it will be ok or it will not.
- and in the same way that gramophones displaced the local performance artist by allowing a few singers to be mass-produced and thereby gain a disproportionate share of the market, so we’ll do the same for hairdressers
- I’m into your ideas, these are great ideas
- because at the moment, the reason there are hairdressers everywhere
- there are hairdressers everywhere
- that’s right!
- that’s right
- because you can’t mass-produce a haircut the way you can mass-produce a pop record. think back to 1890, if you wanted to hear a band you’d have to wait til the local band did a performance somewhere you could get to. then with the advent of the gramophone you could just buy a copy of the recorded music by one of the established best bands in the game and that was it, why then would you pay money for your local band any more
- I don’t know why you would, you wouldn’t
- and that’s when a few key artists gained a massive slice of the pie, and it wasn’t necessarily the best artists that came out on top, it was just the artists who happened to be well situated when that technology became available
- it was a revolution in the production and consumption of music
- a revolution
- a revolution not paralleled in the world of hairdressing
- well yeah, the hair industry is still trapped where the music industry was pre-1890, there are good hairdressers and bad hairdressers, but for most customers it’s not a question of who’s the best, it’s a question of who’s accessible
- so what you’re proposing is to mass-produce the best haircuts on the market
- record those best haircuts to a recording device
- the equivalent of a microphone
- yes but not a microphone, obviously, then people will be able to buy the best haircuts on the market, anywhere, instantaneously
- that seems like the most sensible idea
- it’s the only idea, really, that I have
- the challenge for me is visualising what that would look like, mass-produced haircuts
- well like imagine a pop record but for haircuts
- yeah I get the analogy, I’m just not sure how it translates
This last Manila trip should not have happened. Why. Why did it happen. What is wrong with me.
A few weeks ago, I went to the Philippines to collaborate on Sipat Lawin’s new massive crowd-sourced performance piece LOVE: This Is Not (Yet) A Musical. I’ve been collaborating with Sipat since 2009, most massively over 2011-12 for Battalia Royale (with the rest of the Too Many Weapons collective), but this one was different, because for this one there were 20 other Australian artists with me.
I should not have gone. I have no job, no real means of employment. If you’re keeping track, I make a living by moving piecemeal from project to project, earning a fee from some of them and not from others, and trying not to own too many things. I probs don’t earn enough to go to the Philippines for ten days in July and pay rent for the remainder of the year.
This is the thing, right: last year I’d invited photographer Sarah Walker to come to Colombia with Chris and myself. She couldn’t do it, so we began discussions about a possible trip to Manila this year (see her dramatic reconstruction of the conversation here). And then at a point during the planning phase of the trip, I thought I’d extend the invitation to a few other artists to see who else might want to visit. I thought one or two people might jump on board - in fact, pretty much everyone I emailed said yes. So, 20 people.
That sounds like it was a bad thing: it was fucking incredible. For one, the artists were the most amazing troupe of human beings you could hope to take anywhere. They are all extraordinary collaborators, fantastic human beings and proactive, restlessly creative individuals. They are my favourite kind of people. For two, Sipat totally rose to the occasion. Rather than flipping out and asking me what the hell I was thinking, they billetted all 20 of us in their own houses (huge shout outs especially to JK Anicoche, Sarah Salazar, Joelle Yuvienco and Teresa Barrozo), and they brought us in to the creation of LoveNOT in the most generous, kind-spirited way.
The best thing for me was that I wasn’t actually heavily involved in the artistic collaboration myself - I was really just responsible for the logistics (and everyone more or less took care of themselves, so there wasn’t much of that). That meant I got to stand back and watch as 20 of my favourite Australian collaborators began making work with 40 of my favourite Filipino artists.
TYPHOONS: 3. The first one hit a few days before we arrived and dissapated, the third (Cyclone Nando) veered north and hit the coast of Taiwan instead, but the second one, Cyclone Maring, hit Luzon square in the northern provinces and dumped a hefty amount of rain on top of us. 48 hours holed up at JK’s house eating Yellow Cab pizza by candlelight, reading Pinoy Cosmopolitan and bad erotic fiction, is a very special kind of cabin fever. We were all safe, though Sarah Walker spent a bonus six hours in Kuala Lumpur, and Nick Delatovic and I had to do a 2am trek across the ebbing floods to collect her from Manila airport.
POOL PARTIES: 3. Two of them happened in the venue for LoveNOT (a health spa / swimming pool complex in Quezon City) and one of them happened under an extraordinary waterfall near (not at) Pagsanjan Falls.
RIZAL FOUNTAIN RAPS: 12. The Too Many Weapons tradition of recording spoken word performances whenever, wherever we go on tour blew out spectacularly this time round, with more than half our collaborators jumping on board and filming their own.
NEW COLLABORATIONS SPARKED: ?. So in a real sense, the reason for doing a massive international exchange like this was not just to contribute content to LoveNOT, though that was amazing and a huge privilege to see it come about. It was about making connections so that things can continue to flow between those two scenes. The Philippines is close, close, and I just want the barriers to become more porous. In practical terms I mean, I want more international collabs, more projects, more tours, more exchanges, more learning, more fighting, more making things happen, more making things happen, more making things happen
more things happening
So we’ll see.
In the meantime: a huge shout out to Sarah Walker for all the photos, massive love to JK and Sarah and all our Sipat lovers, and the following Australians for jumping in without hesitation or fear:
(all these gorgeous pics by sarah btw)
image by adam thomas
I don’t know this but I think it: in the course of your life you get maybe five truly great creative partners. I’ve been lucky, I’ve had so many extraordinary collaborators, and some extremely productive working relationships, but by any measure my partnership with Yolande Norris was one of the all-time best. We got some cool shit done. I learned so much from her. She is one of the raddest people I know. And this weekend she’s kicking off her first major arts project since hers and my final You Are Here festival in March: Dig.
Bloom is a festival showcasing the best of the vivid arts community based at Gorman House Arts Centre (of which Lande is Program Manager). Since 1981, Gorman House has been the base for countless Canberran creatives (including me and everyone I ever did theatre with from 2001-06), and right now it’s undergoing a whole crazy renaissance with Lande and Joseph Falsone at the helm.
From Alice McShane’s dope BMA article about the festival:
Meeting in the sunny courtyard of Gorman House amidst the buzz of its weekly market, it’s clear what Norris is so excited about when it comes to the imminent celebration of this iconic artistic site. At once inviting and secretive, this hub of creativity feels like a serene refuge despite its close proximity to the city’s centre. The very walls of this former youth hostel and current artist residence allude to countless untold stories, and beautiful works to be discovered. With two very distinct past lives, the unique history of Gorman House plays a vital role in Norris’s mission to reconnect Gorman House and Ainslie Arts Centre to their communal roots.
Starting its life as a public service hostel in the 1920s, Gorman House went through decades of housing young people, with Norris likening it to ‘a uni residence’, explaining, ‘It would have been really fun, it would have been crazy, and for a long time it was women only as well. It would have been kind of wild.
‘So even though Gorman House is heritage, which makes people think of [an] old, nice and lovely vibe, it actually is a place where young people gathered for years and years and years, so we’d like to remind ourselves of that. That it is a place where people would come for entertainment and to spend time with one another.’
image by sarah walker
So this week I’m opening a theatre show in Melbourne. I’m in a show, the show’s in a theatre, you can buy tickets, there’s an opening night and (presumably) a closing night. It’s classic theatre, which, as a dude whose shows have more recently been on in cafes, bookshops and swimming pools, is strange for me. There’ll be printed programs, lighting cues and a bow at the end of it. It is the real deal!
It is called Kids Killing Kids and it’s about theatre, violence and the Pinoy people. More specifically, it’s about the Battalia Royale project we did with Sipat Lawin in 2012, and what that experience taught us about the Philippines and the weird realities of cross-cultural collaboration.
(Also, yes, the acronym, we get it, but what you might not be aware of is that KKK means something slightly different in the Philippines. Just sayin.)
The Time Out article by Andrew Fuhrmann is an extremely good background to the production, and one of the best written articles about a show I’ve been involved in, ever. Dig:
It’s a dilemma few other Australian playwrights will ever face. On the one hand a salivating audience of thousands, on the other, a serious case for censorship that goes well beyond cultural conservatism. What was it about the Philippines that so energised the arguments?
Presented by MKA — Melbourne-based theatre of new writing — Kids Killing Kids uses documentary footage, interviews and photos, as well as testimonials from members of Sipat Lawin, to tell a very personal story about four over-confident foreigners who wandered into Manila and inadvertently helped create theatre history.
image by sarah walker
Kids Killing Kids is the work of the Too Many Weapons collective, a collaboration between myself and writer / performers Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser. We’ve been working together as a quartet since November 2011, and in that time they’ve become some of my favourite artists, collaborators and human beings, so it is a total pleasure to be joining forces with them.
We’re lucky enough to be working with two other amazing artists: Bridget Balodis (of No Show) has come on board as director and Melanie Koomen is designing it. Mel’s design aesthetic is fantastic (we have our own forensic mindmap of the creation of Battalia!) and Bridget’s vision and practice as director is really fucking inspiring. I’m so so grateful to both of them for coming on board, and for throwing huge amounts of time and energy into making this thing a thing.
Plus the experience of working with a real, trained director! Kids Killing Kids features ‘blocking’, ‘vocal projection’, ‘body language’, ‘expressivity’ and all the other things listed in the Wikipedia entry for ‘Acting’. So it’s the real deal, honestly.
image by sarah walker
Kids Killing Kids is being co-produced by MKA and the Q Theatre in Penrith. Huge shout outs to Glyn Roberts from MKA and Katrina Douglas from the Q - they’ve gone so far above and beyond for this show that it’s bizarre calling them producers, they’re almost more like collaborators. Suffice to say, it wouldn’t be happening without them, and they are both smart and good looking.
The show has three seasons over the next five weeks:
Melbourne: In the North Melbourne Town Hall (the fringe hub) as part of the Melbourne Fringe: Friday 20 September - Thursday 3 October, every night except Monday.
Newcastle: As part of the Crack Theatre Festival on Saturday 5 October. (Doubly exciting for me, as it’s my first time back at the festival Gills Schwab and I co-founded since retiring as co-director in 2010).
Sydney: At the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith, from Wednesday 16 - Saturday 20 October.
image by sarah walker
Also, on other MKA-related news: Founding co-director Glyn Roberts has departed the company, and in his place, Tobias Manderson-Galvin has appointed a stellar crew of artists and producers to take over the reins. I’m excited to announce that I am MKA’s new Creative Associate (International).* Googling my new MKA colleagues was pretty intimidating - this is a pretty all-star team, and I am pysched to be on the list. Word up to Glyn, tho, the dude is a magician.
image by sarah walker
* you understand what that is exactly as much as I do; let’s figure it out together, yo.
It’s not often you finish projects. Actually, you know, finish something. And arguably, things are never done, only put aside. But sometimes I think you can make a case that you’ve taken a thing from first principles to a place of relative completion.
So here’s this: Finnigan and Brother Spend A Month In Colombia.
In July 2012, Chris and I went to Medellin, Colombia, to spend five weeks in residence at Campos de Gutierrez, an artist space curated by Andres Monzon in the foothills of the Andes. We wrote a bunch of new songs and performed an array of gigs in galleries and community-arts spaces around the city.
Upon return, we recorded all 25 of our new songs at the RMIT Studios in Melbourne, produced by Nickamc. The three of us selected 10 songs from the 25 and Nickamc began editing and mixing them into an LP.
Filmographers Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr (filmographologists?) directed the video for our putative single Move To Canberra, featuring a swarm of awesome and generous cats. The clip went up on Youtube and got something in the order of 850 views or some number that was sufficient to warm the hell out of our cockles.
And then we played a launch gig at Smiths Bookshop a couple weeks ago, presenting seven songs from the record, supported by the extraordinary Paul Heslin and Amelia Filmer-Sankey. And like 90 people showed up. And it was just lovely.
image by adam thomas
Now there’s a couple of other things to let loose - there’s a couple of songs from Colombia we’re planning to release, plus the video from the live gig, plus an exciting remix or two, but for now, I’m calling it: our first record is DONE.
Now I’m a kid who knows virtually nothing about music, so massive thanks to everyone who shepherded Chris and I through this. Thanks to everyone who listened to and/or downloaded the record (from the Bandcamps, if you so desire). And thanks massively to Chris, who it is as always a massive pleasure to be brothers with.
Lastly, a couple quick thoughts about the record from the two of us.
CHRIS: It would be have to be Skyspike. I like the murky, bassier production and David’s slight white-boy rap esque delivery complements the music perfectly.
DAVID: Definitely Crashing Pipes. Chris’ guitar on that one is so trippy and melancholy I have at times forgotten to say my lines because it’s so captivating. And it’s pretty honest about where I was at.
MOST FUN TO PERFORM
CHRIS: Fireflies is probably my favourite to play because I can make a different euphoric pop ending to it with every single play. And pop is fun.
DAVID: It’s only been appropriate to perform Christian Music Festival twice, but both times it’s been all kindsa stupid fun.
DAVID: Nickamc would insist it was our cover of the Spin Doctors’ Two Princes, but I’m really into that effort. Christmas Is The Time has jarred with Australian audiences as much as it weirdly worked in Colombia - maybe we coulda anticipated that?
CHRIS: I don’t know if it was our biggest mistake, but that video we shot in Colombia where David quoted excerpts from the 1997 film ‘Gattaca’ while filming the cow in the paddock didn’t really seem to make the final cut of… anything.
DAVID: The Altavista gig, where we played just before a community theatre troupe depicting South American politics through the medium of tramps fighting over scraps of newspaper. Or the Mantana que Piense gig, where we played just before a touring Latin American folkdance showcase. Basically any gig organised by Gustavo Gil, the man is a wonderful genius.
CHRIS: As I was being pushed and shoved down a Melbourne laneway, whilst bound and blindfolded, at 12.13am, by two men I had met less than an hour ago, I began to reflect on the way Finnigan and Brother had impacted on my life over the past twelve months.
Now we’re into a quiet phase of activity, but we’d like to give you a nudge, if you will: the next Finnigan and Brother gig will take place at This Is Not Art in Newcastle on Friday 4 October. It’s the 10th anniversary of Critical Animals and we’re playing at the launch of their commemorative journal, Critical Animalia. We are doing a tribute to the Skywhale, whatever that means. But the main thing is, Critical Animals is running a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for the journal, and you can contribute. Indeed you must contribute! Go there now.
Eavesdropping is a professional skill. I don’t know a lot about playwrighting but I’m sure of this. Most of the time I’m in a public place I’m listening to what’s happening at the table next to mine, or two seats back, or behind me in the queue, or wherever.
There are many important skills in the playwriting game and I’m not gonna lie, eavesdropping might be the only one I’ve developed any chops in. For most writers, the obvious next step once you’ve collected a bunch of raw material is, what will you do with them? Will you turn them into a play? Not just collecting raw material but, the sculpture and architecture of a well-crafted play. These are the skills I am terrible at.
That said, if you want some glimpses into some people’s lives, without any artifice or attempts at framing, here you go. Snippets of conversations, taken from the world. This is a collection of seventeen eavesdropped snippets. In the mix there are three grabs from SMS exchanges with Jack Lloyd, Jess Bellamy and Max Barker and one transcribed Katy Perry interview. These are not technically eavesdropped conversations, but what’s the point of making your own rules if you can’t break them?
I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know. I don’t know.
Download Eavesdropped Conversations Play.doc