Category Archives: ART

Assemble Papers: adventures in design


When I wanted to write about Assemble Papers, originally it was going to be a plug: ‘look at this wonderful magazine, with its focus on the culture of urban living, high-density living, good design, ethical design, meaningful things and good architecture’. But the moment passed: the paper version of Assemble, sent to me by mail, is no longer the latest thing that Euge, Rachel and Pino have done.

Instead, these photos remind me of the wintery evening in Brussels when I returned home from the offices of the European Commission and found Assemble in my mailbox, full of photos of summery Melbourne, of wide open spaces, designer folk, Rob Adams, good coffee. It was the first time in my short life that I felt heart-breaking homesickness for a place that had never been home before.

The lightness of Melbourne life, the feeling of not-quite-freedom, but definitely-not-frustration. The open-mindedness, which hadn’t always been there, and a sense of style, poise and purpose, which intermittently always had. Assemble Papers is such a good magazine, filled with such ethics and beauty. Reading it always reminds me that we can do better than average, and than often we do. It makes me proud of Melbourne and, even, sort of, proud of Australia a little bit.

I was at those first meetings with Euge, when she was dreaming up, drawing up, this magazine, and my job was to try to shoot it down, game-test for all the problems before they actually occur. A few years on, she is doing such a marvelous job.










The Critic #03


This text was first published in September-October 2014, in The Lifted Brow 24 – The Medicine Issue.

1. in which we do not talk about politics

The first time the Critic saw a theatre work was in a squatted factory at sixteen, in Croatia. It was turn of the millennium, the wars had only just finished. A generation of young people was trying to say something about what had just happened, find its bearings, stop being children caught up in crossfire. And so the young people squatted one of the many, many, many defunct factories that littered Croatian cities, factories that had collapsed through disinvestment, bombing, road blockades, diminished purchasing power, and rampant corruption, the extent of which would only become apparent in the peace years to come. There was art in every one of the big, empty, barely cleaned rooms of the huge building. There was beer sold straight from the back of a van. There were punk concerts, there were vegan cooperatives, and there was a small performance, in the central courtyard, for free, on one of the nights. A group of drama students doing Biljana Srbljanović’s 1994 play Family Stories, or ‘Porodične priče.’

Srbljanović was a Serbian playwright, the most famous to emerge from the Balkans in the 1990s, but her work, like any other Serbian art, was unofficially banned in Croatia at that time. The Critic, who was not yet a critic, had never heard of her before. (The unofficial ban persisted for years, and Serbian writing, dramatic or otherwise, remained impossible to obtain in Croatia, even though Croatian and Serbian languages are as similar as the American and British variants of English. In 2010, scouring a bookshop for Srbljanović’s plays, the Critic was told that ‘they were not yet translated’. The shop assistant said that with a sad smile that indicated that even she was, perhaps, aware of the absurdity of what she was saying.)

Family Stories is a sophisticated, non-naturalistic dramatic text, in which a group of children, played by adult actors, meets on the playground to play house. Through eleven games, they enact eleven domestic scenarios rife with bullying, oppression, sexual assault, verbal and physical violence. The father tortures the mother, the mother tortures the children, and the children usually kill them by the end; and then they rise again, play another house, accumulating realistic wounds from previous deaths. The world of the play is a sort of hell, in which the same patterns of violence are endlessly repeated without respite, not even after death. It shows violence as a compulsion, and trauma as a self-perpetuating, senseless force.

The Critic read many learned analyses of Family Stories in the years to come, all of them sound and accurate, but not one had been necessary to understand the play that evening, in the courtyard of the squatted factory, performed rather simply, without a set or props. The effect it had on the sixteen year old girl who would become the Critic was immense.

For the first time, the Critic had seen a work of art that cut through the over-detailed confusion of real life, and had given her an understandable explanation of reality. Life itself was condensed into this play, life as she knew it – her bullying schoolmates, their violent parents, her unhappy friends, her unhappy parents, the crooked shadow of the recent war hanging over them all, neither near nor far—all the more clear for its abstraction, for its condensed metaphor. It felt like someone had finally found words to describe the world that the girl had experienced, but did not quite understand, like her first textbook explaining electricity. That her life would be so accurately rendered by a Serbian artist, considered practically an enemy in the war that had caused so much of that depicted trauma, added another layer of revelation. The closeness of experience had been uncanny.

Dusk turned to night as the performance finished. Afterwards, she and her bestest friends had stood around a fire, shaken and quiet, looking at each other like they were seeing one another for the first time, trying to say something more than: “It’s like that, isn’t it?,” but failing, returning again to this simple statement. It is like that. They were a gang, close in the way only sixteen year-olds can be, practically formative of one another: the girl who would become the Critic; Sasha, the boy who would become gay; Luka, the boy who would become a performance artist; and Helena, the girl who would become a heroin addict. For a long time, these would be the coordinates of her universe.

The Critic saw the same play at Griffin Theatre in Sydney in 2008, in a totally decent translation by Serbian-born Australian theatre-maker Bojana Novakovic. The production, by RideOn Theatre, was probably an improvement on the makeshift sketch she had seen at sixteen. However, in trying to stage faithfully a play understood merely as an important European contemporary work, the staging ended up being both naturalistically boring, and extremely haughty. It didn’t bother trying to make connections with Australia – if such a thing were possible, which it perhaps was not. Family Stories, however layered and metaphorical a text, was immediately recognisable as reality. This production was not. Continue reading “The Critic #03” »

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The Critic #02 (The Lifted Brow 23)


This text was first published in June-July 2014, in The Lifted Brow 23 – The Ego Issue.


Dave the Comedian was an everyman; which is a tautology, because every man wants to be a comedian, and there is very little space in Australia for a comedian who isn’t an everyman. The space of stand-up comedy is defiantly masculine in the most traditional sense. Adrienne Blaine compares the stand-up comedian to the personification of erection: the man conquers his audience with laughter the way he would sexually subsume a woman; it is “a social area where patriarchal promise of dominion can be easily realised.” Comedian Pete Holmes compared the daily challenge of stand-up comedy to the ongoing work a man puts into confirming his masculine, non-homosexual, non-effeminate identity in these, crude, words: “you have to keep doing it and keep proving it every day — get your comedy dick hard every day and fuck audiences.”

Every woman who has spent time with comedians off-stage has felt the terrifying, laborious pressure to find them funny, to laugh, to let them feel that they are strong, victorious, alpha—even though the affirmation of women is never as valued as the respect of other comedians, other men. Comedy, like politics, is patriarchy condensed. Christopher Hitchens, who always seemed to identify with the alpha male, and uphold the values of patriarchy, wrote in Vanity Fair in 2007 that women could not be as funny as men, because they did not evolve with the constant, evolutionary need to impress females at all cost. The ones who were funny – he conceded some existed – were “hefty or dykey or Jewish, or some combo of the three.” In other words, too masculine to fit neatly into patriarchal gender roles, sorry.

“Dying on stage” is that exactly: a strangely mesmerising witnessing of someone’s social power crumbling entirely into nothingness. Dave the Comedian died on stage in the first five minutes. His jokes about finding clitoris were terrible. He kept asking how much time he had left (much). He berated the audience for not laughing. He vomited, fell, and started bleeding. He got confused and repeated his act twice. He made fat jokes, rape jokes, gay jokes, Julia Gillard jokes, and made it abundantly clear how much he was trying to impress Wil Anderson. In terms outlined above, according to which stand-up comedy is the world order, the comedian pure erection, and the audience a vagina to be conquered, Dave the Comedian was a spectacle of emasculation.
But Dave the Comedian was the joke itself, woven together out of gunk of masculinity by Zoe Coombs Marr, member of Sydney-based female performance collective post and apparently excellent in drag.

Coming from the intellectually rigorous and mature culture of performance in Sydney – where, unlike in Melbourne, the link between independent performance and academia is strong and fruitful – post had created a body of work that made elaborate formalist jokes about what is supposed to happen in theatre, deconstructing formal devices of traditional dramaturgy and stage design, of character and text. In Gifted and Talented in 2006, they improbably blended over-ambitious mothers’ programs for their daughters enrolled in a variety of appropriately feminine activities with the torture routines at Guantanamo Bay. In Shamelessly Glitzy Work in 2009, they overlaid a conversation recorded, seemingly, during an acid trip, with every device of drama and illusion that theatre had, making a bizarre variety show that had an undeniable and persuasive, if entirely artificial, dramatic force. And in Oedipus Schmoedipus, at Sydney Festival 2014, they staged every important death in the Western dramatic canon, one after another. Coombs-Marr’s solo work, on the other hand, emphasised extreme awkwardness, of which Dave must have been the pinnacle of possible.

It was hard to pinpoint what made Dave feel like a work of genius. Coombs-Marr’s feeling for pacing, tone, and structure destroyed Dave’s masculine ego in every way possible – he was even revealed to be gay – without once coming across as mean. If anything, Dave accumulated sympathy as he accumulated failures. It was hard to tell if a woman could not bring the kind of hate to her drag that a man could, or if the audience, given a portrait without overt commentary, defaulted to pity instead of ridicule, a gesture of generosity they would not necessarily have extended towards failure of femininity. However, it was the exuberance of the ridicule that seemed significant: because Zoe Coombs-Marr herself was a small, queer woman who nonetheless filled the stage to the brim, Dave and all the men he represented were never the centre of the piece, but simply a pretext for dressing up, for play-acting. The more that the show departed from garden-variety awkwardness into bizarre, the more inventive Dave’s questionable comedy choices became, the more we were settled into watching a woman take the piss out of masculinity. Paradoxically, it was precisely in the act of drag that Zoe Coombs-Marr asserted a female voice in the room, a voice that became all the more distinct, the more accurately she was pinning down the image of the unsuccessful male comedian. Unlike much of feminist comedy playing around Melbourne Comedy Festival, the flavour of this show was not oppositional, not angry, not pushing against a narrowly defined female role; instead, it was as if it swallowed a narrowly defined male role and showed how much a woman can encompass. It was this generosity, ultimately, that resonated. It seemed premonitory and indicative: this is what feminism 4.0 would look like. Continue reading “The Critic #02 (The Lifted Brow 23)” »

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The Critic #01 (The Lifted Brow 22)


This text was first published in April-May 2014, in The Lifted Brow 22.


The Critic always saw theatre from the first-person point of view, because there was no other way. Perhaps because, as a woman, she never felt she was able to assume the universal point of view. The idea of it – that she could see the world unmarred by who she was – felt impossible. The Critic saw beautiful, young women on stage, often in various states of undress, and could see that these were erotic stage images, but not for her. She saw hysterical women, men who would sooner commit suicide than admit an error, she saw manly banter and regret, she saw many things the meaning of which she knew, but did not feel. Theatre being theatre, she also saw many extremely rich people treat servants or people of colour badly, while they themselves revelled in relatively trivial problems, and sometimes thought about how those servants or people of colour represented her ancestors more than the protagonists, how the story of her people was only ever told on the margins. The Critic, in other words, always knew that the theatre was not meant for her, that her eyes were not the bull’s eye of the audience target, even when the message arrived. Even when she was greatly moved.

Why did the Critic like theatre, then? Why did she make it her life to see theatre three, four, five, sometimes even ten times a week, if she felt like an intruder? Because the Critic, like many – perhaps most – women, felt like an intruder in most discursive social situations already, and had become accustomed to feeling like she was sitting slightly to the left and down in the audience – a feeling that did not disappear in those prestigious, central seats. Sometimes she was elated, or crushed, sometimes her life changed while sitting in those seats; but it was an expected gift, because she had not been the target audience, because the magic that was done on her was done almost by accident.

It is said that privilege is marked by assuming that your views are representative of everyone’s. Speaking with various male critics after shows, ready to judge always slightly faster, the Critic often asked: “Why are you so sure that your opinion is the right one?” It was a strange question to many. “I know what I like,” they sometimes answered, tautology imperceptible to them.

“But you aren’t everyone”, the Critic might offer, uselessly, because in a certain sense they were everyone: they were the bull’s eye, the eye that mattered, the eye to which the art was offered. Oh, the Critic was able to pontificate with the best, argue her opinions, be sometimes insistently praising, sometimes cruelly harsh, but it was qualified intellectual bravado, always aware of where fact ended and personal opinion began.

It was with great relief that the Critic found Nataša Govedić, European dramaturg and performance critic, writing: “I think that the critic-as-a-simple-observer has never existed. The critic is always biased, has always held values, ideology if you prefer – and there doesn’t exist, not has ever existed, a neutral critic. Therefore, it is only fair to honestly admit which values we uphold, and why we believe in certain processes, and why we participiate in them.”

It is paradoxical, then, that the Critic had studiously avoided having opinions on supposedly ‘minority’ arts, such as Melbourne’s Midsumma Festival of LGBT arts, considering it and her mismatched. They were, of course, but less than feared. The queer audience arrived to the theatres with the same layered thinking, palpably so – everywhere around her the Critic could feel a suspicious, reserved energy of distantiation, of mistrust. ‘Is this work going to hurt me, or will it finally say something I can agree with?’ To the extent to which the audience mood can read, this is what the Midsumma audience seemed to be saying. Continue reading “The Critic #01 (The Lifted Brow 22)” »

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Audio Stage, ep.5 : Julian Meyrick


“If we paid the true value for our cultural experiences, rather than the discounted value of buying American scripts and British scripts and doing those (because we don’t have to translate them and the fit is ‘good enough’, as it were, culturally speaking) […] we would realise that we’re free-loading on global culture. We’re taking that hidden subsidy that Britain and America do invest in their work and we nick it. That allows us to under-invest in our own dramatic culture.”
– Julian Meyrick

In the fifth episode, and our concluding episode in the season on history and documentation, we talk to Julian Meyrick, theatre historian, cultural policy analyst, and Strategic Professor of Creative Arts at Flinders University, joins Fleur and Jana in the concluding conversation on theatre histories and documentation.

I’m not going to lie, this was the best episode ever. We laughed so much, we went overtime, and so many important, intellectually provocative, informative things were said. I would love if I could make all of my students to listen to this, if I could, indeed, make everybody in Australia listen to our conversation. It is for conversations like this one that we started Audio Stage. To quote Mark Wilson, it makes me immensely proud and humbled, to be a part of this project, with Fleur and Kieran.

In fact, I am going to make an extended quotation right now, just because I loved this episode so much:

“On the whole people who are involved in art in Australia are not treated well. People who go into theatre have a hard time of it, and are also not treated well. So all they really have is what they can hang onto psychologically themselves. I suppose that if I was an accountant and not a very good accountant and somebody said “hey, you’re not a very good accountant!” I’m still going to go in on Monday and I’m still going to be an accountant and I’m still going to earn $170 000 a year or whatever. But I can’t go through that same logic as an artist and emerge unscathed. A) I’m probably not going to earn that kind of money and B) if I lost what little reputation I had, I’d be unlikely to earn any money at all.

Perhaps in the world of accountancy people make mistakes all the time and it’s not such a huge thing because life is a mistake full process. So is theatre-making, by the way, but the theatre profession as I know it is kind of in denial about that. People are harried, hurried and demoralised.”
– Julian Meyrick

Discussed in this episode:
the comprehensive history of Australian theatre in one minute and a half according to Julian Meyrick; projectors in theatre (so important); Australia’s horror of its past; Are we dumber than we were forty-years ago?; the cultural hangover called J. C. Williamson; Louis Nowra’s The Golden Age; Patricia Cornelius; cultural rights and cultural duties; should we be optimistic about careers in theatre?; and how in the world does a dramatic canon come about.

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.

Audio Stage, ep.4: John Kachoyan, Mark Wilson, Marcel Dorney


“We rely on this idea that there is an idea that is Australia. And actually we may not be prepared to admit that it’s a really disparate place – not only distance-wise.”
– John Kachoyan

In the fourth episode, Fleur had to go to a wedding (fortunately not her own), so I was left alone with three (three!) guests: John Kachoyan, Co-Artistic Director of MKA: Theatre of New Writing, Mark Wilson, independent theatre-maker, and Marcel Dorney, the Artistic Director of independent theatre ensemble Elbow Room. Fleur still appeared, however, due to our producer Kieran’s technology magic.

This episode was recorded during Next Wave festival, and came about because I ended up in an extremely interesting discussion with these three gents at VCA earlier that week, and thought it was the sort of conversation worth recording. And it was. I ended up with pages and pages of quotes from the conversation. Something fantastic happened in the studio during the recording, and we came away with a fascinating discussion, among some of the most intelligent, passionate and engaged young leaders of the Melbourne independent theatre community, of some really important questions facing the Australian theatre.

There are some extraordinary exchanges in there, and I really highly recommend this episode, because, unfortunately, Australian media space rarely shows a passionate, respectful discussion held at a really high intellectual level. My favourite part of the conversation is probably when we discuss the role of theatre in fostering a national conversation, and John asks if theatre is in any way adequate to deal with these issues. Aren’t we asking too much of theatre?

John: “But why have we assumed the responsibility for engaging in massive cultural battles?”
Marcel: “I don’t think that we’ve assumed it. I think that we’ve rejected it. I think that’s a huge problem.”

That, dear reader, is what we talk about this fortnight.

“At the end of Keating’s prime-ministership, he was talking about embracing complexity and multiculturalism, and the difficulties there. Howard’s masterstroke was to come in and say: “I want Australians to be comfortable about their past, their present and their future.” Which is to say, “we’re not going to talk about this anymore.” And I feel like, since that period, we have not had a robust national conversation. Where is the cultural discourse about any of this stuff? We’ve had the apology, great; but that is not the end. Kevin Rudd’s apology should have been the beginning of this, kind of, great evolution in the way Australians see themselves. But I think that’s failed.”
– Mark Wilson

Discussed in this episode:
the first European play ever performed in Australia, Oriel Gray’s The Torrents, the ‘state of the nation’ play, John Howard and Paul Keating, the curse of the binaries of ‘Australian’ and ‘unAustralian’, watching theatre for information, Barrie Kosky and all our greatest theatre exports, being allowed to fail, generational warfare, Sisters Grimm and Declan Greene, killing art with egalitarianism, Lally Katz, and the theatre-enhancing properties of cheap airfares.

“I would characterise the Australian experience as, unfortunately, having to reflect a majority, and a popular view – more than art is required to in other cultures.”
– Marcel Dorney

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.

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!

Audio Stage, ep.3: Angela Conquet


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


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


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.


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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