Category Archives: published

Audio Stage, e.3, ep.3: Bojana Cvejic, and some thoughts

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Bojana Cvejić has long been one of my intellectual idols, a dramaturg and performance scholar whose books, articles, and lectures show one of the most exemplary engagements with philosophy in the performing arts. Together with that other Bojana (Kunst), Cvejić thinks deeply, rigorously, and uncompromisingly about contemporary dance as a system, not merely of signification, but of production; of social relationships, modes of authorship, modes of creative and intellectual labour, modes of being, modes of citizenship -in her analysis, all are produced and reproduced in the arts just like they are would be on the factory floor. Bojana Cvejić’s enormous mind handles it all simultaneously, the ethical and the aesthetic and the pragmatic and the ideological. Reading her is always a pleasure. Speaking with her was momentuous.

“To affirm another politics of authorship means to control the conditions in which value is produced.”

What makes Cvejić particularly beautiful to listen is that she is not one of those thinkers who will throw a lot of ideas in the air as equally weighted possibilities, which cheapens them even when they have been thought through rigorously. Cvejić asserts, posits answers. Her thoughts form slowly and carefully and accurately, and listening to her is like watching a very large edifice – say, a bridge – being built from the bottom up, thought by careful thought, until an entire perspective on the world has sprung up.

“Artists… lack political education. I think it’s unclear to everyone what it means to be a citizen – this sense of belonging, of entitlement, of claiming, how one could be part of decision-making.”

In this conversation, which is so precious to me, Bojana charts the path that contemporary dance, as well as many kinds of participatory performance, have traversed since Bel and Le Roy’s experiments in the late 1990s, from collective authorship to participation and immersion. And this sentence keeps resounding in my mind: “I think it’s unclear to everyone what it means to be a citizen”.

Of all the art forms, theatre is singular in how closely it is related to participatory democracy, and yet how deeply, on the ground, it is immersed in what we might, for a lack of better word, term ‘narcissism’. There was a time when participatory performance offered the dream of restoring to theatre that dimension of political participation, that sense of agora; of us all coming together as people with rights, agency, ethics. To those of us interested in what it means to come together in real space, those of us who know the work of Brecht, Piscator, Boal, there was a sense that theatre was remembering its own political agency. And I still believe that theatre can play that role (as does Bojana, I believe): there have been performances recently, like Hot Brown Honey, like Zoe Coombs-Marr’s Trigger Warning, like Elbow Room’s We Get It, that left such a trail of electricity behind them: we were there, together, and something was happening in the room. At its finest, there is still immersive performance such as Miguel Gutierrez’ Deep Aerobics, which harnesses our being-there-together to make us angry and sad and armed for political change. But too often, theatre invites us to an evening of self-indulgence; of forgetting, rather than engaging, with the world.

The shift between coming together in public for a protest, and coming together for a flash mob – and a flash mob, it bears repeating, exists mainly on social media afterwards – that is the shift that Bojana talks about. Could it be that the immense precarity of our lives, the precarity of our jobs, our housing, our social safety nets, and our relationships, results in a kind of collective nervous breakdown, in which the selfie, the public performance of the self, is genuinely confused for personal agency? I don’t know. But between the extremes of performance where participation is measured in selfie numbers, and the aloof self-absorption of the solo, there is a hypothetical, if rarely utilised, middle ground, in which performance could still be a space of collective agency.

This is what we talk about today.

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I started Audio Stage because so often our conversations, in the arts, remain short and snappy and commercial: we put on our best faces to sell our shows, and we sell it as entertainment and as inoffensive and as fun, fun above everything. And yet, we are not doing justice to Australian art when we do so. We are not doing justice to the personal, political, moral, and imaginative quests that our artists are actually undertaking. To give an artist a large space, to let them speak about what they do and how with a greater grounding in our society – that is why these long conversations happen.
We hope you enjoy them.

Discussed in this episode:
Marx, dance in museums, who authors dance?, Xavier Le Roy’s early works, creating new values, dancers associated with certain choreographers – are they ‘damaged goods’?, collaboration vs collectivity, Marcel Mauss and social choreography, “I’ve done Vietnam, I’ve done the Paris Ballet Conservatory, I’ve done Wall St.”, the high-paying executive who gives it all up to find out who he is, ‘selfie-expression’, choreography as a cottage industry, YouTube, and remember when we used to think we could decide to make a viral video?

Listen to the episode:

You can subscribe to Audio Stage in iTunes, find us on Facebook, or listen on the official website.

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Dance criticism, writing, and discourse

I’ve just realised that a video exists of the panel I joined, at Australian Dance Forum 2015, with the brilliant Matt Day, Jordan Beth Vincent, and Vicki van Hout, to discuss the relationship between dance and writing. Chair Ashley Dyer navigated us fantastically, and we had a really good time.

All the really thorny questions get raised – can you review dance is you can’t dance?. what is the value of a review?, can dance professionals write?, how do you write about dance? – and at the time we felt we discussed them extremely well.

Hope you enjoy.

Published in 2015/2016

THE GUARDIAN
Audience takes centre stage in pioneering virtual reality dance film, review of Stuck in the Middle With You virtual reality film, a collaboration between ACMI, Sydney Dance Company, and Gideon Obarzanek, 7 March 2016
Festival of Live Art review – nudity and confessions on the outer edges of experimental theatre, review of the first week of FOLA, 8 March 2016
Vitesse review – Australian Ballet serves ambitious contemporary triple bill, review of Australian Ballet’s contemporary bill, 15 March 2016

REALTIME
Francophone dance; a difference, RealTime 131, Feb-Mar 2016, Belgium/Germany/France column #06. Includes: two works by Kevin Trappeniers and Daniel Léveillé.

THE LIFTED BROW
The Critic #04, in the episode ‘ANZAC’, The Lifted Brow 25, The Relaunch Issue, 1/2016
The Critic #05, in the episode ‘Depression’, The Lifted Brow 26, 2/2016
The Critic #06, in the episode ‘Break-Ups’, The Lifted Brow 27, 3/2016
The Critic #07, in the episode ‘Tony Abbott’, The Lifted Brow 28 (The Art Issue), 4/2016
The Critic #08, in the episode ‘Rebounds’, The Lifted Brow 29, 1/2016

Some overdue house-keeping

What a year it has been, dear reader. I have been writing a lot, but I have not been so good at keeping track of it on GS. Apart from The Critic, my column for The Lifted Brow, which I have been dilligently tracking here, here are the other articles I have had published this year:

The Guardian:
Review of Chunky Move’s Depth of Field, March 16, Dance Massive 2015.

Review of Rawcus’ Catalogue, March 18, Dance Massive 2015.

Review of Roslyn Crisp’s The Boom Project, March 23, Dance Massive 2015.

Dancehouse Diary:
An Ethics of Touch, Dancehouse Diary #8 / 2015.

RealTime:
Review: Dance Massive 2015, RealTime 126. Includes: Atlanta Eke’s Body of Work, Tim Darbyshire’s Stampede the Stampede, Motion Picture by Lucy Guerin Inc, MEETING by Antony Hamilton.

De Keersmaeker’s dance of ever more simple movement, RealTime 125. Belgium column #01. Includes: Augustus ergens op de vlakte (August: Osage County, by Tracy Letts), by Tom Dewispelaere and Stijn Van Opstal at KVS; Partita 2, by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker/Rosas; Golden Hours (As You Like It) by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker, Kaaitheater.

The deep roots of revelatory performance, RealTime 126, Belgium column #02. Includes: Le sorelle Macaluso by Emma Dante; Sonja by Alvis Hermanis.

Unburdened Australians in an adventurous mix, RealTime 127, Belgium column #03. Includes: For Your Ears Only by Dianne Weller at Beursschouwburg; Into The Big World by David Weber Krebs at Kaai Studios.

Going for the burn, RealTime 128, Aug-Sep 2015, Belgium/Germany column #04. Includes: Foreign Affairs Festival; Angélica Liddell & Atra Bilis Teatro: You Are My Destiny (lo stupro di Lucrezia); Barbarians by Hofesh Shechter Company; Deep Aerobics by Miguel Gutierrez.

Regaining equilibrium, RealTime 129, Oct-Nov 2015, Belgium/Germany column #05. Includes: Tanz im August, Berlin; 6 & 7 by TAO Dance Theatre; SCAN by Rosemary Butcher; Occasion III by Isabel Lewis.

The sad truth about time travel

This article is the first thing I ever published after moving to Australia – it was published in 2007 in a Central European (Czech, I think) magazine called Plotki. For some reason, I didn’t have it archived on GS until now.

Mother used to recoil in horror remembering her younger sister saying, in full-force adolescent renaissance, Things aren’t like in your time! This was the moment of truth; mother was not at the forefront of history anymore. Mother was just one of the generations that got it wrong.

I understand my mother now. Things aren’t like in my space anymore, and Marx already established that space is time. The inevitable march of history means some societies are ahead and some are limping, looking at their backs. That’s why we have economic development: to even out time.

Things aren’t like in your time

My Australian parents-in-law and I went out for lunch to a Croatian restaurant. It was “traditional cuisine” right in the middle of Melbourne, Australia; the waiters wore national costumes and folk music was playing. I never returned. It placed my food squarely in some long-gone time.

Parents-in-law try to relate to my life, find things in common and, in a sense, we have a lot in common. We are mentally the same generation, they perhaps only slightly younger. They tell me about great-aunts and uncles. One in particular was legendary material; she learnt to cook from her mother, they say, like everyone in her generation. I remember my parents’ notes on the stove. After three hours taste the beans. Add paprika if necessary. I say nothing.

The age-old tradition of markets has recently been revived, here, so I buy unmediated food. Parents-in-law once came to lunch. I sat down with them over a big bowl of beans to shell. They observed very curiously, asked what kind of beautiful beans they were. I don’t think we’ve ever had them. I had to tell them brown [borlotti] beans look like that, purple, spotted and shiny, before they are canned. They wanted to help and asked how one shells beans.

Parents-in-law, instead, offer me only vaguely Asian food. None of that meat-and-two-vegetables stuff; that’s tradition, that’s passé. Father-in-law is proud how mother can cook anything, from Lebanese to Japanese, only if she has the recipe. (They haven’t learnt to cook from their parents.) They will happily tell you how certain people traditionally eat a cold dish in summer, a heavy dish in winter, and always cook from scratch, but then they will happily disregard it all and assemble a vegetarian substitute-turkey for their summery Australian Christmas.

Generations of the New World

In countries like Australia, people come to terms with their society by stereotyping each generation into results of market research. Baby boomers of the post-war, Generation X of the nineties, Generation Y of today, things I always thought were a crude joke, are a serious matter here. Government policies are based on fears of all baby boomers retiring together; all Generation X-ers refusing to have children; all Generation Y-ers being caring and kind. It is demographics gone science-fiction. Even the generation coming up has already been defined. The name is still undecided, however it is certain they will be scarred by their pessimistic, detached X parents.

There are many things this generation of twentysomethings, of people who look precisely my age, does not know. Market analysts will tell you. They do not know hardship. They do not know poverty. They do not know insecurity. They do not know political instability. They do not know welfare state. They do not know wartime. They do not know their own grammar and they were never educated for general knowledge, but for the labour market. They have never played on the street as children, never had to walk to school, protected from the unimaginable evils of the outside world, from the kidnappers and paedophiles. They are, thus: self-absorbed, naïve, simplistic, yet generous and well-balanced, natural-born givers. They are optimistic, and yet they do not take anything too seriously.

The older generation grumbles: the kids are delusional, they have never had it so easy, we went through real hardship. We lived through the fear of the nuclear winter, we had to buy our own houses. (We had jobs for life, free education and social welfare.) We had to play on the street!

I know insecurity, poverty, political instability, surreal inflation, welfare state and wartime. I know grammar and have general knowledge like shit itself. I played on the street. I am from another time, now romanticized. Where I come from, gay rights are not passé and Third-World poverty lives around the corner. Thus, I am not this Generation Y. I am reckless, selfish, pragmatic, organized, I cook from scratch and I am still concerned with the old-fashioned: politics, feminism, philosophy.

But not changing the world. Instead, my priority in life is to forget that nothing is solid, believe in stability. Sometimes it seems Australians of my age don’t really believe in war. Could it be that I, deep inside, don’t believe in peace?

History fast-forwarding

There is a plausible explanation. I was born in a time heaving with history. I was born in a country that went through a historical transformation, the discourse went, in order to right centuries of historical wrongs. Croatia was a realization of a thousand-year-old dream, the megaphones were ringing, hundreds of years of history were fast-forwarding in those few years of my childhood. We had a quarter-century worth of inflation condensed in two years, a historical excess of death, the packaging and marketing changes in confectionery that had been pending for fifty years all occurred together. Enough events to inspire two hundred years worth of folklore, and pathological behaviour that will fuel a century of sociological research. I saw everything change, then change again.

I then found myself in a country with no past, country galloping into an optimistic future. Ten years ago is ancient history, I am told by people who roll eyes at the nineties. Their entire written history is shorter than the last outburst of ethnic paranoia in the Balkans.

Sometimes I feel like some modern-day Orlando who has witnessed human history. I have covered the period from pre-historic tribal hatred to iris scanning at airports. I watch neo-realist films with deep nostalgia, seeing my own childhood in those children running up and down car-less streets, barefoot and skinny, free from the overprotection of some other, idler, more suburban parents; and yet I am equally fluent in post-modern angst.

Time travel wears you out. I am not at the forefront of history anymore. I am, truth be told, somewhat tired. I have, accidentally, become the stereotypical migrant from the poor East, standing in the corners of old, black and white photos with a sour face. I get irritated over little things: dishes unwashed, lunch uncooked, train cancelled. I have an order that needs to be kept. The order gives me space for sanity. Mother used to be the same, coming home from work, snapping at some dirty dishes, some precious food that she had plans for, and that I had eaten without notice. Mother herself had lived through some heavy history.

Not all is lost, though. I hear proposals to listen to “traditional knowledge” of pre-modern people, and find a way to live without air-conditioning, cars and frozen food. This is a cause for optimism, because they might make a full circle one day, and from past I will emerge in the future.

The other night I was told about cutting-edge environmentally-friendly engineering: external shutters on windows to keep the heat out! I admitted it was a brilliant idea. They manufacture them now, although they still have not invented a mechanism to keep the shutters closed, but windows open underneath. I have offered to find contacts among the carpenters in rural Croatia. The technical solution of our village houses and their funky shutters might be exactly what they need.

The Critic #03

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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)

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

1. IN WHICH WE ARE INTRODUCED TO DAVE

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)

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

1. IN WHICH EPISTEMOLOGY IS DISCUSSED

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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‘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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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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