Throwback Thursday

Wonthaggi Theatrical Group – Little shop of Horrors

22 September – 2 October 2016, Wonthaggi State Coal Mine

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2016 Little Shop of Horrors

 

On Thursday last week I attended the opening night of Wonthaggi Theatrical Group’s (WTG) 2016 production of ‘Little Shop of Horrors’, directed by Karen Milkins-Hendry. Ten years ago, I shared Wonthaggi’s stage with my two best friends in the very same production, directed by Karen Milkins-Hendry. The experience I had on  Thursday was un-real.

First of all, the production is an absolute delight. Milkin’s Hendry has taken the Musical to it’s limits – developing it’s characters and setting with a focus on intriguing, engaging and captivating the audience. The production was absolutely magnificent with strong performances all round, fabulous vocals, a smashing band and sensational puppets (you have to go and see this show!).

As a ten-year anniversary production, Milkins-Hendry honours her earlier work by providing moments to reflect the 2006 production. The subtleties of a picture, direction, or moment in imitation of the 2006 production play a tribute to the earlier performance, and importantly reflect on the 10 year journey of WTG.  The current Little Shop production opens a new performance space; it is the first production hosted at WTG’s venue at the State Cole Mine. This invaluable venue is the product of years of volunteer work: dreaming, planning, building, applying for grants…the hours are countless and the work is often thankless. WTG’s new venue paves the way for a bright future in performing arts locally and is the perfect venue for this anniversary production.

In addition to the amazing performance and venue, for me the experience was more sublime than the entertainment and excitement of those in the audience around me as I wasn’t only transported to the fictional Skid Row – I was literally taken back in time.

2006 was a big year for me. At the end of 2005 I had decided between Advanced Marine Biology and Musical Theatre – choosing to take a position at the Victorian College of the Arts (VCA) in pursuit my dreams to be a Musical Theatre performer. While studying at the VCA I landed my first lead role as Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors with Wonthaggi Theatrical Group. Little Shop gave merit to my decision to follow a performance pathway and fed the creative motivations of Rory, Will and I. From this we went on to write and create several comedic, raucous and fun-filled theatre pieces for our hometown audience and eventually branched out into our own niches. On Thursday night I had a very rare experience of re-living the beginning of it all.

The gratitude hit me like a rock. I am so lucky. Lucky to have landed those opportunities at exactly the right time. Mostly, lucky to have such amazing and special friends. Now, ten years on, I realise how unique those friendships are. I also realise more than ever the value of community theatre. Without community theatre I simply would not have had the courage to dream, or the support to realise those dreams. Today, community theatre plays a different role in my life – one where I hope I can help inspire and motivate young people, and where I can express myself and indulge my passions for music and performance.

It’s been a long time between blogs and I hope to close the gap for good.

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2006 Little Shop – Rory, Will and I

 

 

platFORMING young playwrights project – EOI

Platform

Are you anywhere between curious to passionate about the idea of writing for performance?

 

If so – this could be for you.

 

This is a networking and skills development opportunity for six young writers 16 -18 years of age.

 

Across the second half of 2015 you will get to spend face to face and online time with lead artist; dramaturge and performance maker Nina Barry Macaulay who will work with you as a young playwright.

 

Nina began her connection with Platform while studying Dramaturgy at Melbourne University in 2013. She has since worked with Platform during the past two years and has extensive experience in playwriting, direction, performance, immersive theatre practice and dramaturgy. She is strongly committed to supporting the development of younger theatre creators. See http://ninabm.com.au/about/ to find out more about Nina.

 

KEY DATES:

 

Must attend:

  • In person Saturday 4th July 1pm to 5pm
  • Skype meeting Tuesday 21st July 7pm to 8:30pm
  • In person Saturday 1st August 11am to 2.30pm
  • Skype meeting Tuesday 25th August 7pm-8:30pm
  • In person Saturday 12th September 10am – 4pm
  • Skype meeting Tuesday 6th October 7pm-8:30pm
  • In person Friday night 16th October Presentations 7 pm – 9.30pm

EOI platFORMING young playwrights

 

How do I get involved?

 

Please complete the below four questions and return a short EOI (expression of interest) statement by email to info@pyt.org.au with the subject line subject line “platFORMING young playwrights EOI”.

 

These questions will help us get to know a little more about you.

 

  1. Please give us a 20 – 200 word example extracted from one of your favourite pieces of writing (yours or someone else’s) and answer the following questions in 300 words:
  • What do you like about it?
  • Why is it your favourite?
  1. Why do you write? Or what makes you curious about writing? 300 words max
  2. If you could write a speech for anyone in the world (past or present, real or fiction) who would it be and what would they say? 300 words max.
  3. Is there any other information you would like add?

 

Deadline is Sunday 28th June, 2015 and all applicants will be contacted on Tuesday 30th June to discuss the outcome. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Platform’s Executive Producer Rose Godde by email (rose@pyt.org.au} with “platFORMING young playwrights” in the subject line.

Meeting Thomas Banks

SLTB

I met Thomas Banks in 2014 through my work with Platform Youth Theatre. I had heard and read so much about the man, and even spoken with him on the phone before I first met him, and I remember feeling nervous. I was nervous because despite having heard so much about him, I didn’t know what to expect. I knew that Tom was young and gay and from regional Victoria. I knew he was talented, having read some of his writing and seen him perform. I also knew that he was born with cerebral palsy. I was also nervous because I had been asked to work on an adaptation of his play, The Power of Love (2010), and I have never worked on someone else’s story before, let alone a story so real and important, but also so foreign to me. I haven’t had a lot of contact with people with disability, and so like many of us I suffer a little from that awkwardness that comes along with being confronted by something we don’t know or understand.

 

Thomas was polite, happy, easy to talk to and comfortable. My nerves vanished.

 

I was invited to work on the Thomas Banks project as dramaturge, to re-examine and adapt the several existing stage versions of his story. I drew upon my experience working with interactive audience engagement and technology, to create a story telling method that incoorporates technology and online mediums. Using these mediums reflect and highlights theire value and place in Thomas’ story and life. Thomas’ typing is flawless. He uses chat rooms to meet people and text to interact with people. He also uses a light writer, a machine he types into, then he presses play and it speaks what he has written. All of these mediums are used in the storytelling of Someone Like Thomas Banks.

 

Thomas has performed his story twice before. Firstly as a brief, one man performance in 2010, and later as a longer stage play with multiple characters and in depth script in 2013. I adapted these two versions into a one-man show, performed by Thomas himself, paring back the scripting and adding in technology as communication. The technology helped a lot when making choices of how to translate long, complex pieces of dialogue or material when I knew there were limitations on what the performer, and audience, could realistically manage. Thomas’ speech can be exhausting for him and difficult to understand.

 

Funding was recently secured for the development of this piece, and audiences should be able to witness it later in 2015 in Melbourne and afterwards across regional Victoria. Someone Like Thomas Banks aims to engage and interact with each unique community as it tours regionally. Stay tuned for more details.

My Life in Boxes

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Thursday 19th February, 2015

Together, Tarah Carey and Tim Rutty are the powerful duo behind Gravity Dolls, a new collaboration of circus and theatre talent. Using the complementary skills of Rutty’s circus finesse and Carey’s strong writing and powerful acting, Gravity Dolls embody a performance that inhabits the whole performance space; from floor to ceiling they use the magic of circus to enchant us and pull us into their story and world.

Last night I attended Gravity Dolls’ current production ‘My Life in Boxes’, a story that explores a widow, Elise (played by Tarah Carey), struggling to cope with packing up her life and letting go of those impractical and sentimental things. Objects that serve as evidence that she once had a ‘happily every after’, and proof of the life of her husband, Dr. Teddy (played by Tim Rutty). The story unfolds through flashbacks as the council arrive to ultimately clean up and take away Elises’ ‘Life in Boxes’.

‘My Life in boxes’ is an absolute gem. It reminded me of all the things I love about live performance. It had me entertained and intellectually stimulated, the hour passed before I knew it. As a piece of theatre, ‘My Life in Boxes’ capitalises on the talents of its creators and performers. It uses every element of production (circus, script, sound track, performance, set) to tell a heartfelt and important story in an extraordinary way. This story is important because it vibrates with the message: life’s short, smile. A message that seems only too real in a week where current events reminds us that running to work or eating berries can lead to tragedy; we never know what is around the corner.

What separates this performance from a work in development and classifies it as a polished piece is that, despite circus and physical performance being the star of this production, the script is strong enough to stand in its own right as a consolidated and strong story. It is excellently written with a clear narrative, moments of poetry, incredibly human dialogue, and lovable, well-rounded characters.

The circus feats and tricks are beautifully woven into the story and characters. Like a good musicals’ use of song, the physical components happen because they must. They not only complement, but develop the narrative and provide a particularly special insight into the inner emotions of the characters. The physical devices such as hula hooping, swinging from ropes, being suspended mid air, dance, and acrobatics provide a strong aesthetic of crisp shapes, and powerful metaphor. For example, when presenting to a board of philanthropists Elise gets momentarily flung into the air, beautifully portraying that moment in high stake situations when something goes wrong and it feels like the floor has fallen away from beneath us. Another moment I loved was when Elise is reflecting on the downward spiral of her life and Dr. Teddy is literally spiralling downward through the space.

Carey’s performance as Elise is compelling. She is a remarkable performer with the power to trap audiences into hanging on her every word. The energy of both players was impressive, Carey and Rutty performed each trick effortlessly never breaking focus or losing character despite being, literally, thrown upside down. It was clear Rutty’s expertise is in circus, his attention to detail and confidence in each stunt was palpable. Next to Carey, Rutty’s acting experience was noticeably less – the main difference being in his voice, which was less grounded and more ‘performed’. However it didn’t subtract from the calibre of the piece; the chemistry and connection between the two performers was magical.

There were some incredibly powerful moments in this production, and many were achieved through perfectly timed subtleties and nuances: a sudden blood nose that’s brushed off, a cough in the background, a moments silence, a beautiful physical portrayal of what it feels like when you fantasise someone is there, next to you – but they are not.

However, it wasn’t all grim. The fun, low stakes, audience participation, and lovable, cheeky characters added humour and lightness. The audience interaction was a device well-used, it set up the fun and trusting environment and created a sense of community. By breaking the fourth wall and inviting us into their world, Rutty and Carey had us engaged and totally invested in each moment.

The soundtrack complemented these moments, however music and soundscape was perhaps the main element that I felt was less developed and polished. The big songs could have been bigger (not louder), perhaps a different song choice in some moments would be an interesting way to progress and keep ‘My Life in Boxes’ on it’s toes. However, this production is already a well developed and polished piece, all it really needs (and deserves) is the opportunity to entertain and engage many more audiences in its lifetime.

 

Gravity Dolls presents ‘My Life in Boxes’

MELBOURNE | 18-21 FEB | The Collingwood Spiegel Tent

ADELAIDE | 24 FEB – 8 MARCH | The Lotus Palace

More info: www.gravitydolls.com

 

Heading Back to my Roots

WSC Musical 'Tom and Nicole Broken Dreams - An Absurdist Musical' 2004

WSC Musical ‘Tom and Nicole Broken Dreams – An Absurdist Musical’ 2004

I grew up in Wonthaggi, a small town on the coast south east of Melbourne, just past Phillip Island. It was here that I was first introduced to and later involved with community theatre. I have vivid memories of seeing our next-door neighbour in what I now realise was good old fashioned farce – shows that required minimal stage craft with easy to access scripts that had us entertained for the full two-hours.

 

In high school at Wonthaggi Secondary College (WSC) my besties and I broke the mould of the ‘Rock Eisteddfod’ and (not so) ‘Talented Student Concert’ by co-writing and performing in the first WSC school musical. The staff gave us a budget for costumes, the school band, and their endless support. It was in these late years of high school that I was also inducted into Leongatha Lyric Theatre and Wonthaggi Theatre Group’s hub of players and theatre people. My performance experience in these years was awesome and slung shot me into a place at the Victorian College of the Arts, where I pursued my passion for Musical Theatre in 2006.

 

Over the last two weekends I have attended two performances back down in Gippsland. On Feb 7th I celebrated Leongatha Lyric Theatre’s 50th anniversary at their concert, ‘Curtain Up’, and on Feb 14th I attended the Wonthaggi Theatrical Group’s annual ‘Bend it like Broadway’ concert. These two events happen to prelude a more permanent shift back home, where I start a new full time job next week.

 

The main difference between the two concerts was heart. Lyric’s 50th anniversary had the ambiance and arc of all great and memorable celebrations. There were speeches and songs that entertained, made us laugh, and brought on a collective silent cry from the audience, who were mostly in attendance because of some connection with the community. The addition of a four-piece band amplified the sophistication of the concert, which was also reflected in the beautifully curated costume exhibition surrounding the audience, and the celebratory collage of newspaper clips from over the years, which ushered us through the foyer. Appearances by life member and ‘rock’ of the company Glenda Smith, and veteran performer Paddy Lanigan, who performed in the first Lyric show fifty years ago, made this concert one of a kind.

 

Wonthaggi’s performance was more distant. ‘Bend it like Broadway’, an annual fundraiser for the Wonthaggi Theatrical group, is in its third year and is steadily growing. Last year it won the accolade for ‘Best Revue’ show from the Music Theatre Guild of Victoria. The large cast included local talent and guest performers from Melbourne, whose outstanding voices were…impressive. However, the imbalance between power ballads and entertainment, and the repetition of old jokes and the humour of ‘passive aggressive mocking’ left the audience forlorn. The arrangements of Elly Poletti (a genius), and the cacophony of voices that bought them to our ears, were remarkable, and the playful interaction of many, familiar performers onstage preluding these arrangements was delightful. However, this year directors Hanley and Milkins-Hendry threw caution to the wind when playing the ‘bent’ gender swap card. The male version of Kander and Ebb’s Cell Block Tango was offensive. No matter how tongue in cheek it is played, domestic violence and violence against women is not funny – it’s simply too close to home. This song works in the musical Chicago because a context is created around ‘The Murderess’; the question of their guilt, and the part gender plays in their trail.

 

The interesting component of this comparison is, in contrast to the calibre of its fiftieth birthday celebrations, as an outsider the integrity of the Leongatha company seems to be in question. Over recent years Wonthaggi Theatre Group has outplayed Lyric in its Musical Theatre productions. The team at Wonthaggi are committed and completely in tune with their goals and ambitions as a company. I am being presumptuous, but Lyric seems to be stuck on an obstacle common in tight groups, where politics and egos get in the way of the overarching objectives of the company. However, to see members past and present collaborating on Lyric’s fiftieth year is inspiring, and the level of theatre this collective effort can achieve as demonstrated in ‘Curtain Up’, is hopefully a sign of times to come.

 

And so, after these two events my feelings towards moving back the country couldn’t be any more mixed. I’m enthused about the healthy, developing and strong theatre that exists, and continues to not only entertain but play the important part that culture has in strengthening and enriching communities; I’m excited to once again be a part of this and to hopefully bring my skills with me, to be of use. I’m also nervous about leaving Melbourne and potentially losing the traction I have there in my own theatre career. I’m excited about being closer to my partner and family, but nervous about missing out on time and theatre with friends in the city. I can’t wait to go for a surf before work, but I know that I will miss being able to escape to the museum or cinema on rainy days, and swimming in fifty metre pools.

 

Despite my hesitations and nerves, I’m committed to the move, and to doing my best to stay active and in control of my theatre work in Melbourne and beyond.

 

NOTE – After rereading, getting feedback, and reflecting on my writings, I’d like to make some additional comments. To label this post as a ‘review’ was wrong of me, I hope that the title, opening and closing paragraphs frame this piece as a personal reflection on my current situation as I finish one chapter of my life and begin the next.

I have been much harsher on the Wonthaggi Theatre Group’s ‘Bend it like Broadway’ than I have on the Lyric Theatre Production. Perhaps because I was trying to instil a sense of confidence in Lyric and the potential they have as a company. Both productions, as all, had their strengths and weaknesses and it was short sighted of me to only point out the weakness’ in one production and not the other. Also, one production was a nostalgic anniversary celebration, while the other was a revue concert – making it an imperfect comparison. It was my current situation; the timing of seeing two local productions in my hometown in the week before I moved back which compelled me to write.

REFLECTING ON 2014

My First Year as a Non-Student – What’s Ahead for 2015

Above: Presentation at CTM14 – The Art Gallery of New South Whales – November

Is it a good thing that I am the harshest critic of my own progress? I am leaving 2014 feeling disgruntled with my lot, and disappointed in my performance. It was much easier when I had an adjudicator giving me a mark that reflected my hard work and commitment: at the end of 2013 I had a 40,000 word thesis and first class honours from Melbourne University. At the end of this year, I have a job I’m not particularly excited about in the wrong industry, a car that’s dying and a bunch of unfinished scripts.

 

However, it’s moments like these we need Minties – as a warm reminder that there are always more uncomfortable situations to be in. And we need reflection, to remind ourselves of all the amazing things that have happened. It’s unfair but common that we remember the bad and forget the good.

 

In 2014 I devised and produced two shows in line with a new immersive, site-specific theatre practice I’ve developed. They were Meet Me at the Museum, The Queensland Museum and Sciencentre, Brisbane (May) and Orbit The McClelland Sculpture Park, Melbourne (August). I then presented this practice in front of delegates from world famous Galleries and Museums (Tate, MoMa, National History Museum, Louvre) at the Communicating the Museum Conference in Sydney, November (film above). These lead me to be quoted in Artshub twice in two weeks! Here and Here.

 

I was dramaturge on the Platform Creative Generator season at La Mama (Melbourne, July), meeting some inspiring creatives and honing my practical dramaturgy skills, taking my dramaturgy experience from the page to the stage. Shortly after, I secured my first paid contract as Dramaturge on a very exciting project – Someone Like Thomas Banks, which has an exciting trajectory for 2015-2016.

 

Aaahh, even the typing is therapeutic. In all, it was a good year. A great year. As my first year out of the university safety net, a remarkable year.

 

What about 2015? Well as I mentioned, I’m already busy working on Someone Like Thomas Banks with Platform Youth Theatre. I am crossing my fingers for a theatre/arts industry job. I have a bunch of venues to secure and approach and a heap of scripts to finish, and start. Though without much confirmation (yet), there will certainly be a bounty of projects undergone for 2015 – that at least is my promise to myself. Watch this space.

 

Much love to everyone and best wishes for the new year! May all your dreams and grant funding come through.

 

Communicating the Museum – Sydney NOV 2014 – Telling the audience to close their eyes and imagine…

Water Baby – Research paper (Nov 2013)

Reflecting on the use of projected animation and biblical narrative in Water Baby.

The combined dramaturgical use of projected animation and biblical narrative in Water Baby serves its political content and its intention to provoke a critical rather than emotional response. These devices also demonstrate problematic elements of Water Baby and highlight avenues for development and improvement.

 Water Baby is an artistic response to the current political debate centred on asylum seekers and their refused entry into Australia. The piece explores this debate via two key theatrical devices: the use of the biblical narrative Noah’s Ark, and a mixing of media by integrating projected two dimensional (2D) animation. The combination of traditional narrative and contemporary media to tell the refugee story is both innovative and experimental and, as argued by Jeffers, this contemporary edge aims to “expedite and enhance engagement” with the audience (149). The dramaturgical devices used in Water Baby to stimulate and guide the spectator’s reception create a distancing effect associated with Brecht’s Epic theatre. Water Baby fits within the Epic theatre structure by narrating an event on stage as opposed to embodying an event, and by encouraging a critical rather than emotional response (Mumford 80). A distancing effect is achieved though the aesthetic and gesture of the mise en scene, stylised by the use of animation, and the intentional use of fictional narrative rather than testimonial. In addition to achieving a critical response, these dramaturgies serve the political crux of the piece by exposing the negative semantics employed by the government and media in representation of the Other, and reinforcing the privilege and responsibility of the Australian self. Despite their success in achieving a distancing effect, the use of a biblical narrative is problematic in the Christian associations it carries and the use of animation in its intermedial role is underdeveloped.

Water Baby reacts to the observation of a specifically Australian stigma attached to refugees. This stigma posits them as alien, unworthy, unwelcome and incapable of integration. The Australian government and media inflate our nationalistic pride, which in turn feeds the negative associations they attach to the refugee outsider. Water Baby attempts to confront these negative tropes and stigmas and accentuate our privilege through the use of animation and narrative. Water Baby attacks the ‘Aussie pride’ associated with water: our aquatic ability and agility, our prowess in lane four, our beach culture and Great Barrier Reef, while simultaneously alluding to our ocean borders and the boats which try to cross it. Our privilege is staged through the character of Noah who is ‘a very good swimmer’, heroically makes the ark to save others from the flood and, unlike Javis the refugee, is pulled out and rescued from drowning. The attack on our aquatic privileges is thematically linked to the “perceived threat” floating on our sea girt borders (Jeffers 27). The ‘risk’ refugee’s pose on our national safety and integrity is a construction generated and perpetuated by the government and media, and their representation of refugees.

A recent article in The Age questions the “strict control of information being run from the Prime Minister’s Office” (Hall). The article exposes how the government’s secrecy and control dictates the representation of the refugee in Australia’s media. The media’s crafted and manipulated information has, since the Howard government, dehumanised the refugee, reducing their status to “animals” (Gilbert and Lo 186) and “parasites” (Jeffers 49).

Jeffers explains the labels, rhetoric’s and tropes attached to asylum seekers are consequential of the “negative semantic slide” (5), which is locatable in almost all terminology surrounding refugees. For example, in the term asylum seeker, ‘seeker’ alludes to an active agent who wants something; automatically creating a “sense of threat”, while ‘asylum’ connotes someone who is unstable and removed from society (Jeffers 6). In addition, the media has created ominous and widespread metaphor such as the apocalyptic flood and the domestic door metaphor (Jeffers 28). Wake further reminds us of the rhetoric that politicians use when trying to warn us that we are in danger of being ‘swamped’ by a ‘rising tide’ or a ‘flood’ of ‘boat people’; an ‘armada’ of ‘illegal immigrants’. This rhetoric provides a satisfying link to Water Baby’s use of the Noah’s Ark narrative and its attack of Australia’s proud and privileged water culture. Through the dramaturgical use of projected animation and biblical narrative, Water Baby recognises and reacts to the dishonest and unfair prejudices the government and media perpetuate. However, as will be set out below, a more sophisticated use of the animation could accentuate, destabilise and demolish these media generated deceits.

The digitally projected, black and white, two-dimensional animation used in Water Baby alludes to the virtual and predetermined nature of the media who disseminate the ‘fearful’ refugee. The animation is used to illustrate the hostile slamming of the door when Noah finally reaches land, and the turbulent floodwaters the ark sails across. In this way the virtual projection compliments and links the political rhetoric’s located in the water theme and the ark story, gesturing towards but not challenging the media labels and rhetoric’s. In its current state, the animation functions to support and drive the narrative through illustration and evokes a distancing effect, which aids in the dramaturgical intention of producing critical engagement with the spectator. However, if Water Baby were to embrace its intermedial nature and accentuate its hypermediality by staging contradiction between media, it could potentially develop a destabilisation of the political tropes of apocalyptic floods and the dehumanisation of the refugee.

Water Baby’s current inter-connection of media serves the narrative through illustration and generates the intended critical response by creating a Brechtian distancing effect. The performer’s actions in Water Baby are dictated by a rehearsed and precise choreography as opposed to a script. This produces a gestural rather than naturalistic style of acting, similar to that proposed by Brecht who agues against the “detached state” (187) naturalism produces in its audiences, and vouches instead for a style which produces a distanced but engaged and critical response. The performer’s negotiation of the animation and transformable object (sheet/screen) produces a separation of these elements associated with the Brechtian “act of ‘showing that you are showing’” (Mumford 59). For example, the hanging of the sheet and the choreography of working with the animation are made explicit through the performer’s gesture, the lighting, and the time allocated to show these elements so they are not “hidden behind a veil” (Brecht 194). Separating and emphasising the theatrical devices exposes theatre as theatre and creates a “critical distance and awareness of the mediums coming together” (Nelson 20). The critical distance typical to Epic theatre is achieved in Water Baby by the gestural performance style required from using diverse media on stage, and showing the mechanics of their use. Emphasising the awareness of these media through an increased hypermediacy would maintain the desired distancing effect and further develop the politics of the piece by accentuating the truth/myth binary surrounding refugees.

Hypermediacy relates to the way that media in intermedial performance refer to and are “seen in relation to one another”; as Kilch and Scheer argue hypermediacy is unavoidable where a virtual/real binary exists, such as that between the performer and projected animation (76). Parker-Starbuck describes how emphasising the staged dichotomy between live body and technology can be developed to “destabilise” binaries (6). Accentuating the performer/animation relationship by introducing contradiction, so that the mediums are juxtaposing rather than supporting, would be an expansion of the hypermediacy and what Brecht calls the “gest of showing” (Brecht 203). A staged contradiction in what is digitally represented and what is ontologically shown could be used to dramaturgically represent and destabilise the truth/myth binary regarding the government’s imposed value of refugees. Making this developmental change also fits with what Kilch and Scheer recognise as the suitability of intermedial theatre in commenting on the way that media affects our everyday attitudes (208).

In its current stage Water Baby uses mixed media appropriately to support its narrative and engage a critical response, but it does not fully accept intermedial theatre’s invitation for the spectator to navigate the real/virtual contradictions on stage and “become aware of precisely this instability in the reality we live in” (Groot Nibbelink and Merx, 220). It could therefore be argued that Water Baby falls short of fully encompassing what Brecht advocates as theatre’s responsibility “to speak up decisively for the interests of its own time” (201). Further more, the staging of contradictions is at the heart of Brecht’s dialectical thinking, which posits contradictions as the source of change and progressive development (Mumford 85). Brecht’s dialectics, which recognises the “political significance of contradictions” (Mumford 85) and encourages a critical response, could also be explored through an increased juxtaposition between the live and virtual representations in Water Baby. Kattenbelt explains that a dialectical approach is eminent where hypermedia occurs since the “framed” or “staged” performativity of the media generates an “aesthetic orientation” independent to the external world (31), this implicates and involves the audience’s internal logic as thinkers and critics (36). A proposed direction for development would therefore be that Water Baby embrace and embody its hypermediality by staging contrasting semiotics in its virtual and ontological presentations. This could be achieved through a degeneration of the media (animation), which would support the ontology in the beginning of the piece and slowly begin to take on opposition and contradictions. This suggestion relates to the intermedial dramaturgy of Water Baby, additional room for improvement also exists in the dramaturgical choice of using Noah’s Ark as a valid but problematic vehicle for exploring the piece’s politics.

Water Baby participates in the larger artistic response as a counter to the “pernicious dehumanisation of asylum seekers in government and media discourse” (Gilbert and Lo 191). Rather than re-humanising the refugee through a testimonial approach, Water Baby attempts to lay bare the media’s modes of de-humanisation through using a fictional, canonical narrative which positions a privileged Australian (Noah) as protagonist rather than victimised refugee. As argued above, the attack on refugee’s dehumanisation is underachieved through the intermedial dramaturgy, however, it is realized in the diegetic dramaturgy of Noah’s story. In its refusal of a testimonial approach Water Baby also achieves its objective of provoking a critical rather than emotional response. However the biblical nature of the ark story poses difficulties.

In comparing the story Noah’s Ark to the present political representation and condition of asylum seekers, ironic and coincidental links become visible. These connections occur on a level deeper than the shared water theme discussed earlier. That God defies the vehemence of mankind and His apocalyptic response is to wipe out their violence with a flood and save the innocent via boat, is reflective of the flood rhetoric employed by media to negate the refugee victims who flee the violence of their country by boat. The ‘salvation by boat’ element of the story is ironically glorified in The Bible’s story, while the actual ‘boat people’ are negated and dehumanised by the current media. This ironic contrast is exposed in the representation of the ark and its metonymic reference to ‘boat people’ (see figure 1). In this scene irony exists in the juxtaposition of the glorified ark from the biblical tale and the threatening, negated ‘boat’ in political discourse. The subtlety of this juxtaposition provides an example of the potential for further contractions to be staged which more acutely reflect the deception behind the constructed negative semantics. Through the connections between the Ark narrative and current political discourse, Water Baby alludes to the violent and hostile actions of the Australian government. This violence is initially demonstrated by the story in the ‘making of the ark’ scene (figure 2) and then further exemplified by use of the projected animation through the slamming of the door and the bird shit.

Despite the satisfying links locatable in Noah’s story and current political discourse, it is important to identify that using this story is problematic. Any Biblical tale carries with it inescapable cultural baggage and this was not acknowledged in the recent production, which could be identified as (confusingly) Christian. Jeffers explores the use of canonical works in refugee theatre and argues that the power of these works lies in their “reframing through the meta-theatrical activities which surround them…and which further dislodges them from their canonical roots”, bringing home the current political issues they are used to convey (72). The examples Jeffers uses for his argument are adaptations of Shakespeare and Euripides texts, traditional works which do not carry the same cultural and religious connotations attached to a biblical story. We can therefore not assume that by appropriating Noah’s Ark to the current political debate on asylum seekers its Christian and cultural references will be ‘dislodged’. A development of Water Baby would therefore need to address this problem. However, since the links between the story and our politics are satisfying it would be a shame not to use it as a vehicle.

The connections between Noah’s Ark and Australia’s treatment of refugees are centred on the water themes and violence of both situations. The media’s identification of refugees as “physical and moral threats” makes Australia’s rejection and hostility of them “ethically acceptable”, despite it being a violation of international human rights law (Gilbert and Lo 190). The dehumanisation and threat attached to refugees justifies the violent and unethical treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia. The ‘making of the ark’ scene in Water Baby is symbolic of God’s violent response in the narrative and Australia’s cruel necropolitics “the states arrogation of the right to determine under what political conditions Other(ed) human beings become disposable, allowed to live or exposed to death at the behest of sovereign power” (Mbembe qtd. in Gilbert and Lo 203). In order to achieve safety Noah must make and Ark and this process requires chopping down and killing a, importantly talking and feeling, tree. The command of a higher authority and the justification that the death of the tree will provide safety and shelter to Noah and others, overrides Noah’s sense of moral humanitarian responsibility. The violence exposed through the story of Noah’s Ark in this scene is later repeated in the projected animation which illustrates the ‘slamming of the door’ and the bird shitting on the seeker of refuge. These symbolic moments: the making of the ark, the closing of the door, the bird’s shit, allude to the violence inflicted on asylum seekers in Australia’s necropolitical and hostile response to their arrival. The dramaturgical devices used to show this violence aim towards a critical rather than emotional response.

This critical response is achieved in the animations distancing effect explained earlier and is further developed by the use of the fictional ark tale, which avoids the testimonial approach common to refugee theatre. The narrative focuses on the character Noah, represented in Water Baby by a privileged, white Australian. In this way Water Baby avoids the verbatim or testimonial approach to refugee theatre, which is ethically problematic and creates a cathartic response. Water Baby’s refusal of catharsis is an attempt to provoke critical thought and an engaged spectator.

A testimonial approach to refugee theatre “reproduces configurations of hegemonic power by identifying the oppressed as victims” (Gilbert and Lo 192). A true-story narrative often involves mimetic re-enactments and verbatim text that aim to excite empathy and catharsis. This type of theatre is ethically problematic and is often accused of “romanticising” (Bailey) the “traumatised refugee as an object of spectacle” (Gilbert and Lo, 192). Rather than the victimisation of the refuge, Water Baby focuses on the privileges of the white Australian by exploring water awareness and the nationalistic pride attached to it. This focus on the self represents the Other through difference as opposed to mimesis. The testimony in Water Baby is that of Noah: Biblical hero and lucky Australian.

Water Baby avoids positioning the refugee as a subject of victimisation and object of pity, “incapacitated by their ‘sadness’ or ‘trauma’” aimed to affect our sympathies and empathy (Jeffers 56). An empathetic response short lived because the spectators imagined trauma and suffering of the refugee is temporal to their witnessing of the performance, after which they inevitably return to the safety of their privileged lives. In this way it reinforces social roles rather than challenging them (Jeffers 66). A testimonial or verbatim response is also ethically problematic. Rather than attempting to use white, privileged actors to convey a refugee’s own story, Water Baby emphasises the unfair and misconstrued privilege of the white performers and consequently implicates the spectators who traditionally fall into this category. By connecting to the audience and showing the cruelty of their privilege, Water Baby asks the spectator to consider their responsibility as ordinary, theatre going, media absorbing citizens. In a testimonial performance, the staged relationship between the observer and the refugee stops at the moment that the play ends (Jeffers 161), but the reflexive relationship generated through an illustration of the self (Noah/spectator); a demonstration of our privileges, responsibilities and role, is lasting.

Water Baby’s attempt at engaging the spectator in a reflective, critical process is achieved through its intermedial use of animation and employment of the fictional narrative Noah’s Ark. These dramaturgical devices also support the political agenda of the piece. However, in its current state, the biblical narrative proves confusing and problematic as it unavoidably ties Christian and religious connotations to the play. Future development would need to address and attempt to dislodge or dismiss this these cultural extras. Additional development could also occur in the intermedial dramaturgy. By accentuating the binary between virtual animation and ontological performer, and exploring a portrayal of contradictions in the information communicated by the two media, Water Baby could better illustrate and attack the myth/reality binary created through the media’s representation of refugees and their actual humanity.

Water Baby - Noah's ark travels across the oceans.

Fig. 1 – The Ark

Water Baby - felling the tree

Fig 2 – The Making of The Ark

 

Works Cited

 

Bailey, John. “The Medium is the Audience.” Real Time Arts. Dec 2005. Web. 2 Nov 2013.

 

Brecht, Bertolt. “A Short Organum for the Theatre.” Brecht on Theatre: The Development of an Aesthetic. 1947. Ed. John Willet. New York: Hill and Wang, 1992. 179-205.

 

Gilbert, Helen and Jacquiline Lo. Performance and Cosmopolitics: Cross-Cultural Transactions in Australasia. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007.

 

Groot Nibbelink, Liesbeth and Sigrid Merx. “Presence and Perception: Analysing Intermediality in Performance. Mapping Intermediality in Performance. Ed. Sarah Bay-Cheng, Chiel Kattenbelt, Andy Lavender and Robin Nelson. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010. 218 – 229.

 

Hall, Bianca. “Silent Treatment.” The Age. 2 Nov 2013.

 

Jeffers, Alison. Refugees, Theatre and Crisis: Performing Global Identities. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

 

Katteneblt, Chiel. “Intermedial in Performance and as a Mode of Performativity.” Mapping Intermediality in Performance. Ed. Sarah Bay-Cheng, Chiel Kattenbelt, Andy Lavender and Robin Nelson. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2010. 29-37.

 

Kilch, Rosemary and Edward Scheer. Multimedia Performance. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2012.

 

Mumford, Meg. Bertolt Brecht. New York: Routledge, 2009.

Single Admissions is NOT a feminist play…

SingleAdmissions

Thursday November 14th, 2014

Written by Tammy Weller, directed by Julia Richardson and performed by three strapping young women, the opening night audience of Milkbar Theatre’s Single Admissions had a 3:13 male to female ratio. This play gives a very raw view of three females in their young twenties, and may struggle to escape the feminist label. But it isn’t. A feminist play that is.

 

The title, themes and noticeable female presence in Milkbar theatre’s Single Admissions challenge why it is that ‘single’ is scarier and, maybe, a much bigger deal for women than it is men. However, I’m struggling to categorise it as feminist because I feel it has nothing to preach and it’s core values, which lie in the importance of friendship and being true to oneself, supersede its stabs at gender equality.

 

Wellers script talks overtly and constantly about sex. But it’s not sexy, and Richardson does well in avoiding the ‘sexy’ pathway. There is a lot of crude and bold language, but it’s not intended to be confronting, and again Richardson gets this. Rather, the lingo and language in Single Admissions is a vocabulary that any twenty something year old female is familiar with and the topic is something we all have innately in common. Sex. And that’s what had us all laughing.

 

Single Admissions is not particularly sophisticated or complex. The story is simple, the dance moves and soundtrack are familiar and awesome, and the three personalities of the performers light up the stage bringing life and reality to the perhaps superficial storyline. It was the performers, who embraced their stereotyped ‘girlfriend’ characters and peppered them with their own visible personalities, which really sold it for me.

 

It was refreshing to see a show that was short and sweet. One act straight through, Single Admissions had me laughing and at the same time intellectually engaged. I was entertained. I enjoyed it. And this is more I can say of some of the longer, more complex and confusing Fringe and Melbourne Festival shows I’ve seen more recently.

 

But perhaps to call this storyline superficial is unkind. The journey of the characters is predictable, but we like that. The layering of truth woven beneath, for example, the ‘Slut Bus’ scene gives this play depth. Single Admissions cleverly addresses the titles, labels and conundrums young women face, without being a ‘feminist’ play, or at least overtly so. Perhaps because there are no males present on stage, we see that these problems exist not only in the language, perspectives and attitudes of men, but of women: of mothers, peers, of Disney princess’ and importantly, ourselves.

 

Single Admissions 

Gasworks Art Park – Albert Park.

Thursday 13th November @ 7:00pm

Friday 14th November @ 7:00pm

Saturday 15th November @ 2:00pm

Saturday 15th November @ 7:00pm

Thursday 20th November @ 7:00pm

Friday 21st November @ 7:00pm

Saturday 22nd November @ 2:00pm

Saturday 22nd November @ 7:00pm

GET TICKETS HERE: http://www.gasworks.org.au/buy-tickets/

When Disciplines Collide

Site One - Part One - Online engagement.

Site One – Part One – Online engagement.

Wednesday October 8th, 2014

On Wednesday evening I witnessed 4th year Design student Jamie Vella’s piece For Site to Become New: a performance in many acts at The Abbotsford Convent.

It was enlightening. Experiencing a performance with roots in design was powerfully different to what I have come to expect as a theatre studies scholar. The aesthetics of the piece were flawless. They were meticulously crafted from the finest shadow to the broadest brushstroke: the placing of the objects in the space, the use of light, shadow, sound, raw materials, colour, shade, shape…all was designed with an architects eye.

The witnessing or ‘performance’ was actually part two (site two) of a two part work. Before actually arriving at the space, the audience were engaged in part one (site one), an online activity. Spectators were given a multiple choice selection panel of sights and sounds (see image above). We were asked to tick boxes next to descriptions such as “dust in corner”, “tray of drinks” and “soft applause”, as we liked it.

It appeared as though our selections provided the scripting for the action in Part Two. The performer had four piles of A4 paper, precisely placed in the centre of the playground (see images below). She returned to the pages, dramatically overturning them and then following a series of actions with objects in the space. Actions included sitting, turning lights on and off, running her hand along a railing, unwrapping and eating a lolly…all the time generating interesting shapes and sounds. It was all aesthetically very impressive.

Playground of actions.

Playground of actions.

Light and shade.

Light and shade.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The impact of the designed architecture in the room combined with our previously provided ‘stage directions’ or ‘requests’, was instantly spellbinding. However, where the enchantment could have culminated in a playful exploration or personalised experience, it instead wore thin, and faded with the daylight.

Beyond the aesthetic the piece seemed to lack substance. It certainly touched on something interesting in Site One, but there was no room in Site Two for our previously instated engagement and investment with the piece. Despite the movement and action, and the curiosity and divine visual pleasure of this piece, the monotonous and linear unpacking was a little boring.

I was disappointed. Where in the first site the audience were privy to a personalised and intimate experience, selecting their preferred elements. In the second site, the physical audience were superfluous. I really felt that if I, and all other spectators in the room, had not been present – the integrity and existence of the performance would not have faltered. With two go-pro’s strapped to the ceiling, two upright cameras recording and two photographers furiously clicking away to capture every angle – it was clear this was being performed not for us, but for future viewers to enjoy and critic via digital mediums.

I wanted to be engaged with by the performer. I wanted her to see me, to invite me into her world. I wanted to play, even if it was virtually, to give her more instructions, in real time. I missed the performance – spectator relationship.

In saying this I am probably being unnecessarily critical; judging a design piece through a theatre lens. Vella’s For Site to Become New: a performance in many acts, had many wonderful elements that I would simply never conjure up. Because of our different roots, we see and imagine spaces differently. It’s certainly opened up my mind to the power of collaboration and the possibilities generated when disciplines collide.

Y? – Ranae Shadler and Collaborators

Y?

Y? – Melbourne Fringe REVIEW

Tuesday 30th October, 2014

There were six tribes set up as six competing tables in a trivia night like set up. Each tribe represented a social stereotype: Feminists, Bogans, Queers, Professionals, Hipsters, and Internationals. The deviser Renae Shadler, leads the evening playing hostess and political advisor to the competition and participatory performance piece.

 

Every audience member contributes to their team through various games, competitions and conversations. Using a hybrid of digital media and old-school ontology we participated in: pen on paper word search, YouTube montage, iPhone snap chat, brainstorming and audience participation. Each activity helped to unravel the crux and core of this performance piece, questioning the logic behind identity politics and social stereotypes, and the language and mediums we use to reinforce and perpetuate them.

 

What I found particularly impressionable was reflecting on the way that these new, Gen Y mediums of communication are so integrated in our daily lives. Throughout the performance we were asked to understand and use the language and interface of YouTube, Facebook, Instragram and Twitter. Platforms and jargon which five years ago would have been confusing and incomprehensible were totally understood, by everybody. It really showed how Gen Y and their social platforms are genuinely a part of a very real cultural and communication shift.

 

Layered on top of these underlying communication and social strategies was the enigma of the piece, which was about discussing and breaking down stereotypes.

While the games were aimed at exploring and laying bare how these social stereotypes and prejudices are generated and perpetuated by our language and representation through these social platforms (YouTube, Facebook, etc). The piece also left a sense of hope for how these mediums could potentially be used as a way to break down and break through those stereotypes, as means of inclusiveness, of balance, and equality.

 

I really enjoyed the value and foundations of Shadler’s Y? The conversation about social mediums and stereotypes was important, relevant, and completely applicable. The presentation was fun – the giant beach balls at the end provided one of those rare opportunities to just, simply, play. More detail to technical elements would have highlighted further the implicit nature of this technology in our lives. There was lacking a crispness in the audio and visual, but this is easily forgiven in a Fringe context.

 

Some of the performers, the leaders of the tribes, were more confident in their stereotyped identities than others. Some seemed to, from the outset, belong to several identity groups. A more stylised, deliberate caricature of these ‘leaders’ at the beginning would have given more impact as they begin to unravel into individuals as the show progresses, when we meet them, work with them, and begin to hear their stories. For me, it was this element – hearing the performers stories – which bought real power to the piece and which separated it from a theatricalised trivia night into a piece of impressive performance art.

Y?

Tuesday 30th September – Saturday 4th October 2014

Fringe Club – North Melbourne town Hall

Melbourne Fringe Festival