A Response: [Lady] Macbeth | Presented by Twelve Angry at Tuxedo Cat

May 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

It’s Shakespeare’s 400th birthday, which seems like a good a time as any to take stock of his ongoing legacy. Spoiler: he’s still relevant. Good for him. Good for us too. It gives theatre companies a back catalogue of rights-free repertoire to remount and schools a seemingly endless number of texts to study — even if they tend to stick to a couple of tried and true favourites. So, to begin with, Happy Birthday Shakespeare, you’ve had a pretty big impact on our culture old mate—particularly in terms of language and narrative—and it doesn’t look like you’re going anywhere.

However, there are those who are suggesting that we take a break from the Bard — although, right or wrong, it must be noted that these two articles are written by playwrights with vested interests (full disclosure, I am similarly invested). The arguments are: let’s support local stories—which arguably have more resonance with contemporary audiences—and that a break would give those who love him the time to miss him. The latter point is somewhat erroneous; arguably, people will ‘miss’ him or not as much as they please, regardless of a hiatus. In regards to a ban, everyone naturally gets uppity when you try and censor art in general; no one wants an irl Cahoot’s Macbeth. And so while an outright ban is (obviously) and overstep, the suggestion opens the debate up to the relevance and prevalence of Shakespeare, which leads to a discussion about cultural imperialism, fitting nicely in with the first argument there, that we should support local stories. Without defending and actively supporting new work, the pall of international influence that Australians take from their colonisers will continue to lead to a problematic internalising of the commodities’ themes and messages — more on that later. « Read the rest of this entry »

Talking About Theatre | After King Charles III & The Great Fire

April 6, 2016 § Leave a comment

When we first encounter theatre—often Shakespeare—it is as the written word. Of course, there are the theatrics of sports and politics, and we may have been to a play or two (or Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dream Coat), but the first time we really settle down to think and talk about theatre it is as a script, on the page, in front of us, written by a man who has been dead for 400 years.

There are two ideas that I want to unpack here; both explore theatre as a living thing, though coming at it from different angles. The first is concerned with our capacity and ability to understand theatre as performance, not simply as text. Because you know what, theatre is fun, and theatre is important. Even in Australia.

There’s nothing wrong with Shakespeare; although—if I may indulge an opinion—I think more people enjoy the idea of liking Shakespeare than they do actually like Shakespeare. Shakespeare is fine. But it is the approach that is most concerning. And this approach leads to a widespread misunderstanding of what theatre is, how to talk about it, how it looks and, most significantly, how it comes to be the way it is — but I’ll get to that later. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: The Secret River | Arts Centre Melbourne presents A Sydney Theatre Company Production

March 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

The author lives. Despite protestation to the contrary, we must now reasonably conclude that the author still plays an integral role in both the context and the reception of a piece of art. It is with this declaration in mind that we turn to Sydney Theatre Company’s The Secret River.

First, however, we need to contextualise the issues. My first case study is this: last year Best American Poetry published a poem written by an Asian-American female, or so the editor was lead to believe. It turned out, however, that the author was a white male. This ignited a discussion about race and marginalisation that dramatically illustrated the continuing importance of authorship. While some would argue that the blind publication of the poem proves that authorship is irrelevant to the reception of a piece of work, this ignores why the piece was published in the first place, namely to include more people of colour in the annual, thereby reaffirming the importance of the author. Furthermore, those within the community, whose identity was misappropriated, argue an incident like this adds to their erasure from the socio-cultural fabric. An already privileged individual is exploiting a marginalised group for personal gain — therefore the artistic act is not a matter of ‘righting wrongs’ but of an individual colonising an identity for capitalist gain (as well as artistic notoriety, one presumes). This example typifies a wider response to contemporary practices concerning authorship. In particular it illustrates the way that marginalised groups and concerns are not treated as serious until a white man says exactly the same thing. Women often bare the brunt of this; during group situations a woman’s voice is often ignored or overlooked until a male raises her points.

Moreover, this case study elucidates the way that the Other is often reduced to their trauma; the idea that they cannot talk about their place in society unless it is about their suffering, which perpetuates the notion that to be Other is to suffer (how many ‘gay’ films have you seen that don’t involve HIV?) It is incredibly difficult for those seen as different to then talk on behalf of ‘the everyman’, as they can only be seen through the lens of their Otherness — even though those who can speak on behalf of ‘the every man’ (straight white men, by and large) actually do not represent the majority at all. The fact is, this case study is not an isolated issue and it typifies a broader philosophical discussion that gets to the heart of what is corrupt at the centre of modernity. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Triumph | The New Working Group at fortyfivedownstairs

February 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

Part one.

When the lights come up—harsh florescent ones—the actors begin to set up some stools in a circle. They work in silence, arranging. Then there is a cry; a young girl has cut, or otherwise injured, her finger on the underside of a stool. A man—one who seems to be in charge—comes to her aide and holds her hand. He places pressure on it. He counts. There are others—two women, an older man—they go about their business, making tea over beside the snacks table and what have you. The counting continues: “sixty-one, sixty-two, sixty-three…” He stops and she walks away. He checks the underside of the stool, nothing. An accident? A miracle? Something else…?

Triumph, by Louris van de Geer, and produced by the New Working Group, is “inspired by real stories of fake victims”. This tag line sets the audience up immediately to expect deception and lies, fused with an undercurrent of truth — unless of course an audience member missed the advertising, which is entirely possible; although, considering the company included the line in their material we can assume they wanted people to know. And perhaps the notion of truth is superfluous (erroneous?) to level at a piece of theatre.

We’re introduced to these real story and fake victims via a support group: the chairs, snacks and councillor are here to help people discuss their trauma. They come together to speak. But we’re here watching, listening, silent. Are we going to hear their confessions, their secrets, and or shames? One can only hope so. We are voyeurs after all. One woman gets up and as she opens her mouth the stage darkens and two screens, suspended over the action, plays footage of the twin towers collapsing, September 11. She sits down. The rest of the circle is moved, affected, sharing in her grief. Only, we can’t help thinking, is she telling the truth? « Read the rest of this entry »

Pod4Ham | On Hamilton and loving shows from afar

February 19, 2016 § Leave a comment

On the inaugural episode of Me and All My Friends, host Matilda Dixon-Smith and I discuss the musical Hamilton, the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda, and loving a text from afar.  « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Double Blind | Presented by Darebin Arts Speakeasy and Stephanie Lake Company

February 17, 2016 § Leave a comment

Dance is not theatre. While that seems blindingly obvious as a statement, in an age still struggling to come to terms with post-structuralism, it’s an important distinction to make. The two are often confused and hybrid pieces of ‘dance theatre’ sometimes crop up, though none have been altogether successful* — unless you consider Nicola Gunn’s Piece for Person and Ghetto Blaster ‘dance theatre’ (I don’t), which was a delight; although that was a solo performance with continuous text and narrative, so perhaps it’s not quite the same anyway.

Despite the ‘don’t-tell-me-what-to do’ attitude currently plaguing art, there are codes of discourse and traditions that inform artists’ construction of and ability to conceive both dance and theatre pieces—although there have undoubtedly been influences that blur the lines—whether we like it or not. Badiou makes a quaint distinction between the two in his Handbook of Inaesthetics. Broadly speaking, he discusses theatre as an event or an assemblage of materials that is “itself a child, in part of politics and the state, in part of the circulation of desire between the sexes,” whereas dance, he says, is the interplay between earth and air. Here, the dancer is a conduit between the two, with the body “incessantly renam[ing] the earth” by virtue of its movement and relation to it. He calls dance “a metaphor for thought…the image of flight”: very poetic.

While these characterisations are somewhat prescriptive, there is something that resonates: theatre, comprised of “a text, a place, some bodies, voices, costumes, lights, a public,” all gathered together for an event; and dance, with its interrogation of what a body can do and of what it is capable; the limits thereby creating the aforementioned air and earth dichotomy. Given these distinctions and how simple it is to mount an argument that the two art forms’ Being are actually vice versa, it’s easy to see how companies rationalise ‘dance theatre’ — although, it must be said again, often unsuccessfully; but whether or not that is to do with their inability to adhere to Badiou or not remains to be seen.

This is a preamble to my response to Stephanie Lake Company’s Double Blind, and in many ways characterises my entry into dance itself. That is to say, my entry to dance is in relation to theatre—for better or for worse—via theory. This jargon also goes to elucidating and explicating some of my shortcomings in terms of background and technical knowhow about dance in general. And so this, along with my experience, is the way in which I am approaching this piece. « Read the rest of this entry »

A Response: Ladies in Black | Queensland Theatre Company in association with Queensland Performing Arts Centre & at Melbourne Theatre Company

February 8, 2016 § Leave a comment

It is a fallacy to depict Australia as having no culture. It is an even more dangerous fallacy to argue that Australian culture is ‘less than’ or ‘not comparable’ to other cultures — particularly European, a colonial shadow which we have spent quite some time trying to get out from beneath. The former is an incorrect statement because it not only ignores all artistic endeavours in over two hundred years of colonisation but also renders indigenous culture as non-existent; and the latter falls down because it reaffirms the notion that Australian work is somehow not good enough — not good enough for what, no one is quite sure. It is therefore distressing to see both of these fallacies repackaged as entertainment in the Melbourne Theatre Company’s new musical Ladies in Black. « Read the rest of this entry »