No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Brown Council

90 hours and 137 cakes later

I am back in Adelaide after my whirl-wind trip to Sydney. I saw a few shows (a couple of reviews pending), caught up with some wonderful friends (including two favourite fellow arts writers), and spent over fifty-hours surrounded by cake and feminist performance art.

Over the four days, I asked who gets to call themselves a feminist? and does it matter if young women aren’t feminists?; I thought about the difference between a “cook” and a “chef” (and an “artist”); I interviewed a young show baker and the VP of the young, feminist, CWA, the Perth Belles; and I thought about the state of internet bullying. I summarised the room with 57 Hours, 46 Minutes, 38 Seconds to go; 42 hours, 51 minutes, 40 seconds to go; at the end; and out the other side.

I read-up on my favourite CWA cookbook rules; gave two notes on egg anatomy; linked to My Drunk Kitchen, and instructions for the perfect icing colouring. I documented what I didn’t feel like doing on my worst morning, and pushed through to write the piece I’m proudest of through the whole process.

If you have the time, please check out the whole website. There are hundreds of photos, many more essays from Ianto Ware, and quite the collection of baking-related youtube videos. You can also watch the final cake judging – an incredibly bizarre and regimented set of rule-based judging for a theatre critic to witness.

Thanks to those who followed along the way – we were absolutely blown away by the scale of online engagement. And massive thanks to Brown Council for having me – you can feed me cake and ask me to write about feminism anytime.

Brown Council: Mass Action

This week, I’m off to sunny (please be sunny) Sydney to be a writer in residence with Brown Council‘s Mass Action.

As a part of Performance Space’s Halls for Hire, Brown Council –  Kelly Dolly, Kate Blackmore, Diana Smith, and Fran Barrett – will be spending ninety hours at the CWA in Potts Point baking all 137 recipes in Jam Drops and Marble Cakes. Ianto Ware and I will be the writers in residence, writing about all things feminism, cake, and art.

If you’re in Sydney, you can drop in and see the work Tues 12pm – 3pm, and Wed – Fri 10am – 3pm. There will also be an afternoon tea on the Saturday which is now booked out, but Performance Space has details about the wait list.

You can follow the action and read my and Ianto’s writing at the Mass Action website, or follow along on twitter #BCmassaction

 

2011: A year in reflection

In 2011, I saw straight plays, musicals, cabaret, modern dance, ballet, puppetry and an opera. I saw monologues and collections of monologues. I saw Shakespeare and Katz – but no Brecht. I saw new Australian work and old Australian work. I saw development readings in rehearsal rooms, independent productions in basements, immersive works on the street, and multi-million dollar musicals in 2000 seat theatres. I saw professional productions, amateur productions, and student productions. I saw 114 performances of 106 works.

In chronological order, these are the six shows which, as I stand in December and reflect on a year which was, stand out with their shoulders above the rest. The heaviest on my brain; the lightest on my heart. Many which made this list had what is ultimately for me, an undefinable quality about them. Two I penned responses rather than reviews. Two I didn’t review at all. Each one made me question how and why I write, made me question my skills to put words to art: for that I am grateful.  I don’t think I always rose to the occasion of writing about them, but I grew in the attempt.

A Comedy – Brown Council, presented by Vitalstatistix

Four women. Four hours of performance a night. Countless bananas, tomatoes and cream pies. A Comedy was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. Did I “get it”?  I don’t know. I don’t care.  I sat for four hours (and then an extra fifth) participating in one of the most demanding, hilarious, debaucherous, bizarre, and unknown nights of theatre I suspect I will ever have. Among other things: I threw a cream pie, got covered in a cream pie in retaliation, threw money and peanuts for the dancing monkeys, and was ventriloquist for the voice of a tampon. Bananas and I still have issues.

Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel – Teatret Gruppe 38, presented by the Come Out Festival

A work I couldn’t write about – and not just because during the Come Out Festival I saw fifteen shows in six days.  I tried many times and never found the right words.  A transformative work, part participatory theatre, part art installation, this show made me feel like I was eight: smelling the thermos of coffee of a couple’s love, touching the plate of ice of a snowman’s melting heart, seeing the Emperor’s New Clothes.  We were invited to the dinner table of Hans Christian and his stories, distilled down to an essence and shown in miniature.  It was made of the magic of stories, of a light hand, of asking an audience to open their eyes and look – and we did.

Thick Skinned Things – Stella Denn Haag, presented by the Come Out Festival

In what is very possibly the first time in the history of the theatre, the curtain is going up early.
I find out as I make my way down North Terrace, a leisurely stroll interrupted from a panicked call from my friend Chloe “Are you nearly here?  It’s starting early.  We’re trying to wait for you…”
I kick off my shoes, and I run.
I run down North Terrace, I run down the stairs in to the train station, I dodge commuters, I run into the Dunstan Playhouse foyer.
An usher beckons me “Are you Jane?  They’re waiting for you.”
We run upstairs to the second usher, “I’m sorry; it’s just began, I can’t let you in.”
“Are you sure?  It’s not supposed to start for five minutes; can I stand in the back?”
“Well…”
A pause.
It’s a long pause.
“If you’re quiet.  And you take off your shoes.  And you don’t take your bag in.  There is a bench that goes around the side.  If you are quiet and sit where no-one can see you; you can go in.”
And so, slightly out of breath and slightly sweaty, I leave my shoes and my bag and I creep into the dark.
There, under a naked globe, is a woman telling us of her story.  A story locked behind closed doors, a woman scared of the outside word, a woman hurt by the people who live there, a woman who is in love with the man next door and his perfect garbage bags.  A woman who is lost when he is gone, a woman who can’t live in the world any more, and instead becomes a mole, burying herself in a labyrinth of tunnels in the dirt.  It’s nothing more than a monologue. Words, told with a slightly veiled accent, told with very little movement and very little light, and an undeniable emotional wallop.

The Seagull – Belvoir

2011 was a year of Chekhov: to Sydney for The Seagull, to the cinema for the National Theatre’s The Cherry Orchard, and to the Dunstan Playhouse for The Three Sisters.  But what The Seagull gave me was an understanding, an infatuation, a fascination, and a connection to this text which has been produced for over one-hundred-years.  When the lights rose at the end of act one I thought their must have been a mistake: we’d only just sat down, the play had only just begun!  But no, over an hour had passed without me batting an eye.  The Seagull felt rawly honest, remarkably natural, and above all, more than any other play I have seen from its era, it felt right.

The Book of Everything – Kim Carpenter’s Theatre of Image / Belvoir, presented by Windmill Theatre Company

The third work made for young audiences on this list.  Theatre which captures the heart is a glorious thing.  This show was a burst of magic for me and my co-reviewer date Aria.  We sat transfixed in the world of the pages of Thomas’s diary from Amsterdam in 1951; we were transported.  We laughed, we yelled, we shielded our eyes, we were a plague of frogs, we wiped away tears, and then the two of us wrote.  I left feeling strengthened, re-invigorated, loved, and hopeful.

boy girl wall – The Escapists, presented by La Boite Theatre Company

In many ways an ode to theatre and to those who go to theatre.  A story about love, but not a love story.  A story about our characters, but also our narrator, and our audience. At one point, Lucus Stibbard quipped a small joke and I was the only person in the audience to let out a small laugh. He turned to me, caught my eye, and smiled the briefest of smiles: a flittering acknowledgement of a tiny moment shared.  I don’t remember the joke: perhaps it wasn’t one at all and my laughter was completely out of context or unexpected. But  boy girl wall is about these moments in life which are unexpected. Life can be shit: you don’t need your boss, you don’t need your writers block, you don’t need magpies, you certainly don’t need Mondays.  But in between these moments, you can smile, and laugh, and fall in love.  And that’s precisely what I did in that theatre.

Thanks to you all. I’ll see you in a theatre in 2012.


Almost a Review: A Comedy

On Saturday night I sat through four hours, three minutes and twenty-two seconds of theatre.  Not multiple fringe shows pushed together, because to include that would add another eighty-odd minutes.  No, that was four hours, three minutes and twenty-two seconds of one theatre performance, only briefly interrupted by one toilet break and two trips to the bar (don’t you love it when I share?).

Why did I do this to myself?  The initial answer is because I was asked to.  And after the first hour I did not think I would stay for four – everyone I knew leaving in that break didn’t help matters much.  But after the initial hurdle of adjusting myself to the bizarre and somewhat psychotic world I found myself in, I felt myself falling into and being inextricably attracted to Brown Council and A Comedy. It took me the first hour to get what was happening, the second hour to get in to it, the third hour to appreciate it, and by the fourth I was lost in uproariousness.

The four members of Brown Council – Frances Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley & Diana Smith – have five acts to show us: Slapstick, Dancing Monkey, Cream Pie, Stand Up, and Magic Trick.    They all involve varying levels of embarrassment and pain, the anti being notched up every time an act is repeated through the hour.

When do we see each act?  That is up to us.  The audience sitting in their dunces hats are asked to yell out and vote on which act to see next.  A Comedy isn’t just a show which asks for audience participation: it needs it, it demands it.  So the differing dynamics of the hour-to-hour audience greatly changed the vibe in the room.  That became part of my fun in sitting through four hours: watching an audience dynamic change; watching the cast loosen into the night with a couple of beers; feeling the audience loosen into the night with their beers and repetition of the hours; experiencing myself surrendering to the Brown Council, to the insanity, to the laughter.

Every hour the host changes, and the remaining three women move cycle around who is going to perform the next act.  When not performing, they sit at a table covered bananas, peanuts, a keyboard, and a counting up clock.

Rather than being a source of antagonism, the ticking clock became a friend.  Knowing exactly how long we had to wait for a break on the hour, or until the four hours were up became comforting.  When you know there is thirty-seven minutes left, or two hours and fifteen minutes left, or three hours and eight minutes left it becomes easier to deal with.  Three hours and eight minutes is a long time, but it’s easier to know than to not know.

It is the known that I came to appreciate as the show went on which made it easier to watch, changing it from A Comedy to a comedy.  Some things never got easier to watch – Magic Trick became increasingly painful as the night went on, I started to worry a bit when I had run out of change for the Dancing Monkey (things I never thought I’d say at a bar include “Could I get my change in coins for the monkeys?”) – but in watching Brown Council repeating acts I became more aware and accepting of the ritual and repetition.

Accepting that Slapstick had been done dozens of times before made watching it okay: more akin to watching a game than watching a torture.  While our hosts always introduced the show by assuring us they were always in control, it was only through watching Brown Council going through the motions (always performed with energy and a healthy (?) dose of menace) that I could accept that.  And in accepting that, it became less painful to laugh.

Sometimes it was hard to convince myself they were in control.  They must know what is suggested when they don blindfolds and stand in the half-light on a stage lined with tomatoes.  It’s not like it’s the first time they’re doing the show.  They must be for throwing.  Right?  They expect that, right?  It’s okay, right?  I did it; I threw some tomatoes.  I’m not proud of it.  But I don’t regret it either.

Part of the fun in laughing at this show is knowing that perhaps it’s wrong to laugh, and it’s probably certainly wrong to throw tomatoes at people.  But some of the fun is also knowing that it’s really really funny to watch people make painful idiots of themselves.  Fun comes from knowing that maybe it’s wrong, but it is oh so right.

And, yes, increased alcohol consumption doesn’t hurt either.

Over the night emerged my favourite: Cream Pie.  I think perhaps through everything the cream pie remained relatively innocent, innocuous, painless.  Funny.  And it turns out I really do find people covered in cream hilarious.

I also, it was discovered, like throwing cream pies at fellow audience members rather than cast members (It was lovely to meet you Brett.  I’m not even sorry a little bit.), and oh is getting retaliated against fun.

A Comedy is certainly the show I am most glad I went to this Fringe so far.   I was loopy by the end of the four hours.  I have no idea how Brown Council make it though alive.  I am certainly glad I survived.   “Endurance” and “theatre” aren’t two words you hear together everyday.  This might be your only chance.

Vitalstatistix presents A Comedy, by Brown Council.  Devised and performed by Fran Barrett, Kate Blackmore, Kelly Doley, and Diana Smith.  Dramaturg Daisy Brown, outside eye Julie Anne Long, costume Alia Parker, sound Fred Rodrigues, graphic design Quills and Bamboo.   At the Queens Theatre, remaining performances March 9 and 11.  More information and tickets.

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