Audio Stage, ep.3: Angela Conquet

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In the third episode, Fleur and I spoke to Angela Conquet, the artistic director of Melbourne’s Dancehouse, one of the most important institutions for contemporary dance in Australia.

I think this was our favourite episode so far: Angela speaks so intelligently and articulately about what makes Australian dance Australian, how easily dance is lost, how much effort it takes to keep it alive in memory, and what it says about a country not to recognise the urgency to remember its vanishing present.

“I think it’s the approach to space that really makes [dancers and choreographers] Australian. We have this joke in Europe: ‘Australian dancers are such space-eaters’. … With certain artists, I think it’s fascinating, you can tell from a mile away that they have an approach to space that’s completely different to what you see in Europe.”
- Angela Conquet

Discussed in this episode:
Russell Dumas, how much space Australian pedestrians take, reinventing hot water, RoseLee Goldberg not getting Australian dance, what it means to have or not have a revolution, Merce Cunningham, the historical importance of being seen at Avignon, and much else.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode on the website or here:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Audio Stage ep.2 : Alison Croggon on writing theatre history

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In the second episode, our guest is Alison Croggon, who needs no introductions: an author, poet and the most important contemporary theatre critic in Australia.

This was a really wonderful episode to record. Alison is such an intellectually rigorous critic, with an enormous knowledge of both the theatre and the literary canon, and talking with her is always an enormous joy. One of the beauties of recording a conversation is that it captures the tone of a person, something that doesn’t always come across in print, and Alison has this wonderful humour to her, a way of laughing while making a complex point. I hope you will enjoy this episode as much as we have.

There was a dominant myth, and it was a a nationalistic myth, and it was a very male myth, a very writer-centric narrative. And what I found when I was very young and talking to people (…) you just found things out. You know, the feminist theatre that was happening in the Seventies, and some plays by Peter Handke had their first English-language performaces in Melbourne. There was a lot of forgotten history that people talked about, that was never written down – and it was a much more interesting and a much more complex picture than was presented.
- Alison Croggon

Discussed in this episode:
the mutual dependency of blogs and independent theatre, Robert Brustein, when reviewers are incorrect, Requiem for the 20th Century, internet trolls (all men!), and the cowardice of anonymity.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

Introducing: our theatre radio, Audio Stage

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This is quite an exciting day, because today I am introducing the first episode of our podcast, Audio Stage.

A few months ago (not very long), I met Fleur Kilpatrick, who I thought was absolutely superlovely, and passionate about theatre in a way that felt very familiar, with a kind of passion and curiosity and zest and just all-round inquisitiveness that I loved. And so I asked if she wanted to do a podcast together.

Fleur answered: “I’ve always wanted to do a podcast.”

Which was great, because I felt the same way. So, very quickly, we found our producer, Kieran Ruffles, and before we knew it we were making a podcast. From Fleur’s experiences interviewing theatre practitioners, and my experience teaching at the VCA, we arrived at the idea of discussing certain topics around theatre and performance in as much depth as we possibly could muster. We thought: let’s do the opposite of the three-minute soundbyte promoting a show; let’s do a really long talk about a serious question. We were as self-consciously ambitious as DIY allows.

It has turned into a great experience, and I hope you will enjoy these conversations, of which there are many more to come. In the first block, we have opted for the question of historical memory and documentation, in many ways the first and basic question in the performing arts: how do we document and remember our fleeting, fleeting art, how do we forget it, and what art do we then make, from this place of remembrance or forgetting? Our guests have all been amazing, and we continue to have enormous amounts of fun.

“I don’t know that I’m convinced of the permanence of my work – which is a bit to do with the community, and how it works: what gets put on, what gets remembered and, critically, what gets printed, what gets published. Another reason why the New Wave, the 60s’ and 70s’ generation is so remembered and so written about is because they published friggin’ everything! If you’re going to go find a play, it’s going to be from one of those guys. Unless you pick up one of the Currency House programs, and even those are mostly those guys. And I say ‘guys’ because they are mostly guys, too.”
- Robert Reid

In the first episode, our guest is extraordinary Robert Reid, playwright, director, director of Pop-Up Playground and great populariser of performative play in Australia, and a PhD candidate in theatre history.

Discussed in this episode:
melodrama, vaginal knitting, “The Summer of the Seventeenth Doll,” stage directions: yes or no?, improbable character descriptions, and the potential historical value of internet comments.

New episodes will be released every 2 weeks, and we have made quite an effort to make them as accessible as possible, on a variety of platforms. Stay tuned and enjoy!

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes or Player FM, or listen on the official website.

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Like a Writing Desk

Two of my favourite things in the world are theatre and radio, which is why it was so exciting when Aden Rolfe emailed me to tell me his multi-awarded radio play Like a Writing Desk is about to air on Radio National.

I was in the middle of something else and very involved as it aired, so I am only listening to it now, and putting a link here in order to never lose it. As should you, because radio plays are almost certainly in the future of theatre, as well.

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‘How to tell the difference between a good play and a poor one’ in seven easy scenes

I just found something extremely merry-making.

Looking through my old, unsorted writing archives for a text I couldn’t find, I instead came across a gem of a project, something I had totally forgotten about.

In 2010, Aden Rolfe asked me to write something on playwrighting for the Emerging Writers Festival Reader, vol.2, which he was editing that year. Aden wanted something experimental and visually interesting. I thought it was a great idea.

So I wrote a sort of… I wrote something-like-a-play, about something-like-playwrighting – but stay with me here – except that during this time I was neighbours with Black Lung, and was regularly having dinner on their roof and discussing the physical limits of playwrighting with Thomas Henning. And so the article/play came out as a fairly demented piece.

I have no idea what the poor Emerging Writers, who bought the Reader, thought about it: whether they understood any of it, whether it even made sense to them. But Aden was happy, and I was extremely pleased with myself. At the time, I was a) too busy with finishing my Honours Thesis to really self-promote, and b) thought of it as tasteless and boorish. Consequently, I don’t think anyone knows about this piece! Even I had forgotten! That is, until I accidentally found it on my computer today, and spent the 2 minutes it takes to read in a fit of giggles.

For historical record, here it is. It is an embedded PDF, because the formating, you will soon notice, is important.

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Set design and metaphor

Nothing is quite as electrifying in theatre as a good stage metaphor, and no theatre discipline can do stage metaphor quite as BIG as set design.

I met Chloe Lamford last night – very beautifully and kindly, she treated my completely trashed-from-jetlag self with a discounted theatre ticket. Today, I am watching this trailer, which makes Katie Mitchell’s production of Lungs for Schaubuehne almost entirely about the set. Deservedly, I think. The way in which it creates metaphor is absolutely extraordinary.

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Next Wave notes

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Briefly, because I am immensely looking forward to this sleep-longer-than-five-hours I am just about to have: Next Wave is great. I cannot write too much, because, unfortunately, I have promised words to other people (and the blog will have to wait for now).

But I thought it would be worth saying, important to say, that Blak Wave is one of the most important, and good, and meaningful things I’ve witnessed in Australia in such a long time. It requires an essay all of its own. Each event I’ve been to has been a healing experience, requiring words I do not have so close to it, and so late at night. And that Madonna Arms by I’m Trying To Kiss You is the best piece of Australian writing I’ve seen staged in a very, very long time (years!). And that I saw something very beautiful tonight at White Face, something I’d like to have a conversation about.

And I am yet about to go to Overworld, but Sarah Aiken and Rebecca Jensen have blazed a huge trail already in young contemporary dance in Melbourne, and I am extremely excited. As I am about the extremely well reviewed Terminal (disclaimer: the makers of these two works and I used to all live together in Brunswick East, so I may be terribly partial). And then there is Natalie Abbott’s MAXIMUM. From where I am standing, it looks like the first outlines of the future of dance in Australia.

And finally, the second edition of Kids Killing Kids. (Again, a disclaimer: KKK is affiliated with MKA, and I am also affiliated with MKA.) It is a work which formally does not depart in any way from that classical form of documentary performance that NSW exports around Australia and the world (certainly there’s a name for the genre by now?), but it is still an important, I think, work, because of its thematic concerns, because it asks questions that we are usually too polite, or too scared, to ask.

I am not allowed to say much more here, so I am just making an invitation. Come.

It has arrived: a review in pictures (The Lifted Brow)

The postman brought it on Saturday.

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It is colourful.

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It has beautiful design.

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And me inside!

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It’s printed on paper (paper!).

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It folds in the middle (folds!).

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It’s a column.

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A regular column.

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On theatre.

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And life.

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On theatre and life. And love, and sex, and friendship, and everything around theatre.

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I am so proud.

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Shout-outs

Australian Script Centre has kicked off a new series of long-form essays on the state of the Australian theatre (playwrighting, but not just). The inaugural essay has just been published: it is the inimitable Alison Croggon, writing on the state of theatre criticism in Australia. The essay is long, exhaustive, and superb, and I cannot recommend it enough.

Meanwhile, one of the young and promising critics that Alison singles out for praise in the above essay, Jane Howard, has just launched a personal newsletter. (I must say I’m not sure how to link to something that exists via email, so I am linking to her blog announcement thereof, which is perhaps a bit lame.) Jane is in Melbourne to write about about Next Wave, the biennial festival of emerging artists that explicitly nurtures experimental work. From what I’ve read so far of Jane’s newsletter, it is as experimental and interesting as the festival itself. I also highly recommend.

Next Wave has also started, of course. I wish I had the time to engage in either long-form or experimental criticism, or both, of the many, many works that will be showing in the next few weeks. Unfortunately, between the two subjects I am teaching, and the two long commissions I need to finish, I feel like I’ll be lucky if I find time to tweet about them. Many things are going to be published in reputable media, of course – including my review of Next Wave – but with a bit of a delay. Meanwhile, enjoy Jane and Alison’s writings.

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The Conversation: Sex, rape and role models – how women in comedy perform

Adrienne Truscott (MICF)

Adrienne Truscott (MICF)

Two performance artists in this year’s Melbourne International Comedy Festival (MICF) – the UK’s Bryony Kimmings and American Adrienne Truscott – have a certain flavour of humour: it’s the knowing, self-deprecating humour of the culturally dispossessed, of survivors and victims. And yes, they’re both women.

Asking For It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! is Adrienne Truscott’s stand-up show about rape. In it, Truscott counters the stated prerogative of male comedians to tell rape jokes with a confronting routine in which she relentlessly does the same.

Her wit spares neither them, nor hip-hop artists rapping about date rape, nor Republican politicians expounding on “legitimate rape”, nor men in the audience.

Truscott also gets to explain why animal analogies are inadequate through progeny-eating gerbils. It is a bracing, uncomfortable, rewarding show. Is it funny, though? That depends on how you look at it.

The topic of “women in comedy” is endlessly controversial. Where are the women? Are there enough of them? Are women even funny?

The latter is apparently such a valid question that it has been regularly asked, with a straight face, by The Guardian, Huffington Post, Vanity Fair, The New Yorker and possibly every other major media publication.

British-American author Christopher Hitchens famously stated in Vanity Fair in 2007: they are not. Those that were funny, he conceded, were mostly “hefty or dykey or Jewish,” therefore practically men themselves.

Coming to this question from a performance studies viewpoint – as opposed to being an expert in stand-up comedy like Hitchens – the question seems almost otherworldly. Let me explain.

Origins of performance art

In the second half of the 20th century, artists’ interest in real time, real space, real human bodies, real human presence and real human experience resulted in the development of what we call “performance art”: art inextricably linked to the artist physically producing it.

Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present, 2010. (Andrew Russeth)

Marina Abramović, The Artist Is Present, 2010. (Andrew Russeth)

The practice originated in the visual arts scene of 1950s and 1960s America. In Europe, slightly later, it became known simply as “performance”, while in the UK, once it reached theatre artists in the 1980s and 1990s, it became known as “live art” (from art historian RoseLee Goldberg’s seminal history of performance art).

Performance art encompasses a wide range of practices but the two people that defined the term, almost to the point of cliche, are Japanese artist Yoko Ono and Serbian-born artist Marina Abramović. In the 1960s and 1970s, they let the presence of their own body make the artistic statement: Ono letting the spectators cut up her clothing in Cut Piece (1965); Ono and Lennon protesting the Vietnam War in a bed-in (1969); Abramović letting gallery visitors use various sharp objects, knives and a gun on her body in Rhythm 0 (1974); or leaning into a bow and arrow in Rest Energy (1980).

Performance art allowed feminist female artists to effectively challenge that standard object of representation in art – the female body. A living, breathing, talking, reacting woman could subvert, challenge, deconstruct the idealised notion of women as passive objects of beauty and desire. She could challenge the audience with her realness, and raise such taboo issues as menstruation, ageing, or sexual identity. The history of female art and the history of performance art are inextricably intertwined.

The vocabulary of performance developed by female artists emphasised solo performance, a strong element of autobiography or personal experience, veiled social critique, and interaction with the audience. Sort of like comedy, you see, apart from not being funny.

Except that it often is. It is no wonder that many women in this year’s MICF are performance artists, not career comediennes – the impulse behind these two forms is similar, and so is their flavour of humour. As Bryony Kimmings said last year in the London Evening Standard:

Women are funnier because we suffer more.

Consider Marina Abramović’s video work, in which she manically brushes her hair for 50 minutes, repeating the titular phrase, “Art must be beautiful. Artist must be beautiful”. If you don’t hear the sarcasm, you’re missing the point of the work. It is the same flavour of barbed sarcasm that Adrienne Truscott uses when she opens her comedy show with a bona fide rape joke, and stands in front of us naked from the waist down.

The vulnerability of their bodies is an angry statement, but this angry vulnerability is almost defining of women’s life. It does not preclude humour.

Bryony Kimmings

This strategy of escalating the sexualisation of the female body until it is funny also appears in Bryony Kimmings’ Sex Idiot at MICF where she performs a long interpretive dance sequence that mimics sexual intercourse.

Bryonny Kimmings in Sex Idiot. (MICF)

Bryonny Kimmings in Sex Idiot. (MICF)

Sex Idiot is an autobiographical journey through Kimmings’ relationship history while she is trying to inform previous partners of her positive STI test. It has that familiar emotional tone of self-deprecation, melancholy and wise acceptance – again, tone less akin to a mating call than to cotton-picking songs of American slaves.

It is also funny, outrageously so. But it is an emotionally complex humour: as Kimmings creates ever more hilarious performance artworks to honour each one of her previous relationships, we laugh at her disappointments, her poor choices, her wasted opportunities, her misapplied bravado. It is a journey that ends rewardingly, in rich introspection.

 

But the most extraordinary feminist performance currently showing in Melbourne is Credible Likeable Superstar Rolemodel, also created by Kimmings. Not officially a part of the Comedy Festival, but showing at Theatre Works as part of Festival of Live Art (FOLA).

It is a joint endeavour between Kimmings and her 11-year-old niece Taylor, in which they try to develop an appropriate role-model for tween girls. The show is emotionally hard-hitting in unexpected ways. It juxtaposes Taylor’s innocent preteen imagination with Kimmings’ adult protectiveness and cynicism, and it is sometimes very funny, and sometimes heart-wrenching.

Nothing like a dry treatise in sexualisation of children, it left everyone in the audience sobbing quite unashamedly. It is a powerful example of how the emotional nuance of feminist performance can deliver a deeply felt social analysis.

Australian academic Germaine Greer famously accused female artists of exhibitionism and narcissism. This is not so different from accusing women comics of only talking about vaginas and men. Vanity Fair may be right to say that, until very recently, all female comedy could be divided into two camps: self-deprecating or men-hating. But, to some extent, this should be a self-resolving problem.

As Gloria Steinem pointed out, feminism is inextricably related to telling stories women can recognise as being about themselves.

When talking about rape, promiscuous women and the sexualisation of children stops being a rebellious act, feminist performance will naturally move on.

 

Bryony Kimmings Sex Idiot runs until April 5.

Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model runs until April 6.

Adrienne Truscott’s Asking for It: A One-Lady Rape About Comedy Starring Her Pussy and Little Else! runs until April 20.

This article was first published in The Conversation on 3 April 2014, and is here reproduced under the Creative Commons Licence, more for my own archival purposes than anything else.

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