No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Month: March, 2011

Review: The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us

The world is old, and tired, and sad, and lonely.  The air is choked with pollution; as the world sits alone in its galaxy, with only the cold, dead moon to keep it company.  How can anyone on earth be happy, when Earth itself is so doleful?

Avian knows this.  Avian knows that the earth can’t be happy when it is so lonely, so alone.  He knows that he can find the earth a friend.  Company.

But in order to save the earth, Avian himself must prepare.  So he goes to the desert, where he lives alone and builds his spaceship, The Story.  This is the story of The Story, and the story of Avian’s three benders – the three times Avian bent the rules, and spent time with another.  It’s the story of the end of the world, told as the best stories of the end of the world are told: it’s the story of one.

On the small stage in Tuxedo Cat, Stuart Bowden creates for us The Story, a tree, a house, out of black milk creates.  He climbs up with his ukulele, he sits with his keyboard, he blows into his harmonica, he peddles the sound loop, and he sprinkles the show with songs of Avian.  Deeply personal and personable, behind his wickedly adorable smile, Bowden narrates his life as Avian and his three passing partners.  Responding to the audience, or responding to the sounds of an ambulance driving past the building, Bowden completely understands the power of the shared space of theatre.

With the softly frolicking melody of a children’s story filled with vodka and pissing jokes, The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us broke me: I finally saw a play and thought, “this has to be a film.” Not a feature in your megaplex, but the soft sketches of a delicate cartoon, in compact episodes, interlaced between the shows and the stories of your everyday life.

Bowden’s language is so visual as it plays through alliteration, through metaphors; he paints a world simple in its design, easy to understand, and yet adorned with the beauty of language.  Seeing it in the tiny Blue Room, with just Bowden to sell the story and the piece of craft which it is, was wonderful.  But to partner his words with images would be something beautiful indeed.

The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us is the simplicity of the mammoth: of the end of the world, of first crushes, of life-long loves, and of pain and beauty in solitary.  Of one-man shows to tiny packed audiences, and how mighty that can really be.

Stuart Bowden presents The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us.  At the Tuxedo Cat, Blue Room, in the Adelaide Fringe.  Season closed.

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It’s Pretty Clear.

Adam Cook comments on the lack of female writers and directors in the state theatre companies.

Interview with Cook, 18/3/2011,  from The Barefoot Review.  Listen here. Quoted from 15:00, talking about the vision for the State Theatre Company:

I make lists.  And you write: New Australian; Comedies; Classics; Radical; Imported Foreign Hit – you know, because there is always one of those, whether it’s God Of Carnage… this year in Sydney and Melbourne it’s a play called The Vibrator Play, there is always a brand new play from overseas that people are all doing or all considering because it’s a terrific play.

So that’s sort of how it happens.  And then working out what opportunities I can create for local directors.  I don’t import anybody.  Everybody who works here is from here.  Because I think you can’t turn up and bring your mates when you come to a new city.  And not even your mates, but people you esteem and admire from other cities.

So when we get criticisms about the lack of opportunities for woman directors: there aren’t any living here who’ve earned their stripes except for Catherine Fitzgerald.

People think just because they want to direct that they should be in a 600 seat theatre working with us, and David Mealor has earned it.  You know?  He’s so entrepreneurial, he’s so gifted. He’s done lots of work off his own back.  I had him assisting me on two shows last year specifically for that reason, so that I could have a better sense of him and how he works and how he thinks so I could give him a job on the main stage.  And he’s earned it.

So you know, there is a lot of talk in the cultural community at the moment about woman directors and woman playwrights and the lack of representation in State companies.

Q: Coming off the back of BossLady?

Well, before that.  Last year was all about woman directors and where are they, and this belief, frankly, that there was this conspiracy amongst male directors to keep women out. And I was at a forum in Melbourne, which was a two day forum, and I was one of the few men there, but I thought I’m very interested in all of this and to hear it all and to put our point, and what I didn’t have the guts to say, but I’ll say to you, is that there is no conspiracy, you just have to be talented, and the people who would hire you have to agree that you are.

And that is the blunt fact of getting a job.  You just have to be good.  And the same with playwrights, they think “why aren’t you doing my plays?”  Well, I don’t think it’s very good. There’s always one answer, isn’t there?  Why isn’t someone dating you, why isn’t someone returning your call or your text, whatever.  It’s pretty clear.

Review: No Hello

This review contains spoilers.

Sometimes, it is the people you go to the theatre with which really make the show.  Like when you see a play about the end of the world with a group of friends you meet while studying engineering at university.  Those logical plot holes have nowhere to hide from us.

Such as: when you are engineering your underground bunkers to house people during the apocalypse, why is the FIRST thing you put in there not a computer?  Why is the automatic locking system allowed to be activated before the bunkers are stocked with food?  What sort of apocalypse is expected to happen where people can reenter the earth in twelve months?  How are these people not suffering from scurvy?  From Vitamin D deficiency?  Why is the only mode of communication to the other bunkers a single telephone?  Why is this telephone locked in a box?  Why wasn’t unlocking the box the FIRST thing the group did when entering the shelter?  And if not first, why would it take ten months?  Why did someone swallow the key to said box?

In Alan Grace’s No Hello, these plot holes perhaps wouldn’t be so glaringly obvious if the characters could sustain the implausible situation.  But why, when subjected to the end of the world, must we always be subjected to horrible people?  Surely someone nice could survive.

The neat set (design by Dee Easton, also director) divides the playing space between the cluttered mess – the VHS tapes (why so dated?), note papers and wine bottles – of Johnny’s (Matthew Crook) privately owned bunker, and the straight lines and order of Anna’s (Bianka Feo) public shelter.  It is in many ways a reflection of the characters.

Johnny is the only character provided any sort of personality or defining qualities outside of someone enduring the end of the world.  He is at least provided an obsession in movies, and is afforded dreams that extend outside the walls of the bunker he is living in.  The female characters are afforded no such luxuries: at most, the shrill Anna is afforded complaints against the single repeated Leonard Cohen song she must listen to.  She only dreams of the walls of the place she must now live in.

With Crook’s strong and bizarrely endearing performance – as he squirms and writhes trying to quote a song or a movie, as he dejectedly looks upward when Anna becomes particularly annoying – the irritating Johnny becomes the only relatable character.  Yet this is almost an uncomfortable humour: you laugh at and with Crook, because without him there wouldn’t be very much to do at all, not because he is actually a likable character.

Feo’s Anna is quickly tiresome, with no redeeming qualities and no real personality to speak of.  She never seems to exhibit compassion, and while the story of her rape allows understanding of the murder of the men in the bunker, it still neither provide empathy nor forgiveness for other choices made during the course of the play.  Neither of the other two female characters, Sarah and Heather (both played by Laura Brenko) are afforded much of a divergent characterisation, and neither stick around long enough to have any true effect on Johnny and Anna that could be explored without their partner on stage.

While the characters are unlikable, dialogue rarely jolts and is littered with some great one-liners, helped along greatly by Crook’s performance.  This, along with the visual imagery of divided space spanned by a shared bed, and the blocking within this space, sustains the play further than the plot and characters might.   But No Hello left me feeling nothing but amusement from sitting with friends, dissecting just where it went wrong.

Adelaide Duende Collective presents No Hello by Alan Grace.  Design and direction by Dee Easton.  With Matthew Crook, Bianka Feo and Laura Brenko.  At the Bakehouse Theatre, Adelaide Fringe 2011.  11/3/11.  Season Closed.

Are You There, Artists? It’s Me, Jane.

There is a particular rhetoric that gets thrown around Adelaide theatre circles (and I really do hope it is Adelaide specific) which goes along the lines of Arts Administrators exist only to steal money away from the artists. It is brought up frequently.  For every one time it is specifically brought up as an attacking piece of “conversation” or “debate”, it is mentioned ten times as a side remark or a snide comment.

It often stems out of the funding debate.  And there are certainly questions to be asked about distribution of arts funding.  But when this specifically is brought up this is not what is said, and is not what is heard.  What I hear is a pointed and deliberate attack on administrators as individuals.

Monday will be one year since I started my Arts Administration Traineeship.  That is one year of working hard on a crap wage for the belief that when I do my job well, I create the framework so artists can do their job better.

Are there dickheads who work in arts administration?  Absolutely.  Just as there are dickheads who are artists.  But in my experience, most administrators are there because they love art, and because they want to support artists.  They want to do all the crappy jobs (and there are a lot of crappy jobs, just as there are lots of good jobs) and ultimately get everyone paid.  Including themselves, for their long hours and crappy wage.

No one works in the arts to get rich.  We could be working in the corporate sector, “ripping off” big business, for a lot more money.

I hate feeling that I am working myself so hard at a job I am really good at and that people – the very people we do this all for – can’t see that.  I hate seeing people who have worked in this sector for years are still attacked, and must still defend their choice to be an administrator.  I hate seeing friends who describe themselves as equally proud of being an artist and an administrator, made to feel lesser because someone thinks half of that is selling out.

I am so glad I work in film, where the role of the producer and administrators is respected.  Vitriol like this makes me question if I will ever work within a theatre context.  Because I can’t handle being attacked in this way.

I can’t handle being accused of being lesser than my artist counterparts.  I can’t handle being accused of working this job only so I can steal and squander money from the artist.  I can’t handle being told that I wouldn’t be a good theatre curator, because as someone who isn’t an artist I will never truly understand the work.  I can’t handle being told all this, and then being told, by a woman, that I will never have a leadership position because of my gender.  I absolutely disagree with every one of these statements.

I am twenty-two.  I have been employed as an administrator for a year.  I love my job, and the people I work with, and all of the incredible people who have supported me throughout this year.   Most days I feel like I want to commit myself to this profession for life.  Some days I have to listen to things like this, and question why I think I want to work a job which affords so little respect from the very people we do this all for.

Not everyone is saying this.  I believe there are more artists who understand and respect the role of administrators than who don’t.  But the people who make these comments are often very loud.  They often speak very well.  I’m sure it can be attractive for an artist to hear these comments and think ‘I’m not getting paid enough.  Are these people the reason why?’ So it is very easy for these opinions to dominate a room; even if they’re not the thoughts of everyone, a room that is overall very anti-administrator can be the result.

And that really hurts.

I think it is important to note that this came up on International Women’s Day, at an event about women in the arts.  This is important to note, because I feel like I am more judged, more attacked, more sidelined, for being an arts administrator than I have ever felt for being a woman, or for being a feminist.

Is this really the arts culture I tell myself I love?  Some days I’m not too sure.

If I Were BossLady: Speak Up, and Listen

On International Women’s Day, I was invited to speak atBossLady: A Conversation About Women’s Arts Leadership. My panel was asked to consider the question What strategies promote a gender-aware, progressive culture in the arts industry? I choose to look primarily at this problem in the MPAG theatre companies.  Thoughts on the day will come later, for now here is what I said.

I think the main strategy is to question.  To question loudly and to question publically.  Question the right people. The artistic directors, the general managers, the board members, can’t ignore us forever and will be forced to listen.  And those who don’t?  They will become redundant.  As an answer?  Nothing speaks louder or more damming than “no comment.”

The problem with any strategy we are going to propose today is this is a global problem.   In the Greater Los Angeles Area, current figures are 20% female playwrights [1]; the US national average is 17% [1], as is the UK [2] average.  12.6% of plays on Broadway in the 2008/2009 season were written by women.  In 1908/1909, 12.8% were [3].

So this makes it easy for people to say, “It’s too hard.” So we should demand things should change.  We need to tell Australian companies that we demand better than what everyone else is doing.   We don’t have a shortage of female artists.  We have a lack of support, and a lack of creativity in curated seasons.

Read the rest of this entry »

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.

Review: Of The Causes of Wonderful Things

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

Five children are missing. As their aunt Esther tries to come to grips with her loss, a detective and the audience must try and piece together what has happened. Their mother, Claire and her partner Frankie are all but removed from the picture, seemingly more infatuated by cigarettes than the children.

Of The Causes of Wonderful Things builds off Talya Rubin’s gentle script into a play crossing the boarders of text-based theatre and installation artwork. The solo play written and performed by Rubin moves through intersecting characters as their relationship to the missing and their disappearance are explored.

The 1940s design elements are lush and gorgeous. Over three plating spaces are a working reel-to-reel tape recorder, rotary phones, lamps, tables and radio of deep wood, a blue dressing gown hanging from the ceiling, a red hand bag sitting on the ground. An overhead projector shines its light against a screen, as Rubin walks us through negatives of photos or creates the peaceful menace of the lake.

On the ground, Rubin creates dioramas: out of small models grows a house surrounded by forest where naked children try to live in the rabbit hatch; a mound of dirt, a model tree and a small torch becomes search crews walking the forest; a large perspex box with two pin-points of light becomes the underground lair of a mole. It is unfortunate these elements couldn’t always be fully seen due to poor sightlines.

This is a protracted piece of theatre. While the slow pace feels suitable to the slow peril of the children, many scenes seem superfluous to the driving story. This intersection of various characters, some with relationships more tenuous to the central story than others, weakens the impact of the overall piece. In scenes which don’t seem to be related to the overall arc, in particular the reoccurring motif of the Town Hall concert, the connection to the central character of Esther and her five missing nieces and nephews becomes frayed.

Other directorial choices of Nick James also dull the impact: when Rubin inexplicably pulls an audience member out to sit on the stage, only to directly return her to her seat one monologue later, the audience is distracted from the text itself; they also must question why does sometimes Rubin act out in differing characterizations both parts of a conversation, while conversations between Claire and Frankie utilize a puppet?

While a sufficient show to showcase Rubin’s talents as an actor embodying many characters, and to exhibit the interaction of text-based work with visual art elements, the text overall needs tightening and editing to show off these elements to their best advantage. Of The Causes of Wonderful Things is a quiet piece, yet it needs focus to revel this to everyone’s advantage.

Too Close To The Sun presents Of The Causes of Wonderful Things, writen and performed by Tayla Rubin.  Directed by Nick James, sound design by Hayley Forward, dramaturgy by Jodi Essery, puppet maker Zoe Coombs Marr, technical consultant Russell Emerson, visual consultant Justine Shih Pearson.  

Review: The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church

This review originally appeared on www.australianstage.com.au

The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church begins at the beginning, with Daniel Kitson’s discovery of a single letter to anIsabel, written by Gregory Church, unsigned and still in a typewriter, sitting in the loft of a house while house hunting. Seemingly a suicide letter, the first letter Kitson read was the last letter Gregory wrote. The first letter Gregory wrote, Kitson was later to discover after taking possession of every box of letters in the attic, was a suicide letter written 24 years earlier, also to Isabel.

Over the course of those 24 years in 90 minutes, Kitson moves us through the letters, through the life of a man who is, by all accounts, rather ordinary, except this is the story of a suicide postponed because there were simply too many letters to write. And in these letters, Kitson has found a fondness for a man and has made his life extraordinary to us.

Kitson talks us through the letters of Gregory Church at a manic and rolling pace. Aware there is no way he could possibly make it through 30,000 letters (sent and received) in just 90 minutes, the faster Kitson can talk the more he is going to fit in. His thoughts seem to race ahead of the pace he can speak, excitement in sharing his discovery greater than he can contain, as sentences fly out in every which way, sprawling across the audience in a net of mystery, a puzzle which Kitson desperately wants us to solve before the evening is out. Words tumble and fly over one another, occasionally held up by a stutter, and yet through this velocity Kitson remains absolutely clear, clever, and fantastically funny.

Kitson is an incredible wordsmith as he rolls through the letters, using his vast vocabulary and fondness for words detailing the intricate relationships Gregory formed. Racing through facts and figures about Gregory, and his formed pen-pals lives, Kitson has the air of a scientist, a researcher, and rightly so: he dedicated the best part of two years, and sacrificed walls of his home to scribbling flowcharts, to decipher the mystery.

In the vast hall of the Auditorium at Town Hall, Kitson doesn’t embellish his production with anything more than his storytelling. There are no sets, the only prop a small black notebook that he consults to quote directly from the letters. And nothing more is needed. Kitson and Gregory Church hold the room in what is ultimately a hopeful story of a life lived.

BossLady

Next Tuesday is the 100th International Women’s Day. I will be spending my day surrounded by wonderful women at Vitalstatistix’s BossLady in the Fringe Club.

I will also be speaking. I’m a tad worried about this. Honoured to be asked, absolutely. But a bit worried I will at some stage want to say “and this is why I am a writer…” But if you like things like women and the arts then you should come and hear some amazing women talk about their experience and opinions and ideas for the future.

Anyway! On to the Press Release!

26 years ago Vitalstatistix was founded by three visionary women, who improved opportunities for women in the arts industry in Adelaide. In 2011, on the one hundredth anniversary of International Women’s Day (IWD), Vitalstatistix Theatre Company is championing women making art and art made by women by presenting BossLady: a conversation about women’s arts leadership at the Fringe Club (Rymill Park).

Around Australia, women in theatre have been discussing the barriers to their career advancement, and industry bosses have been dusting off their EO policies. Yes, it’s true – gender and feminism is back on the table. Yet despite this, in 2011, the eight Major Performing Arts Group members are presenting shows primarily created by men. 16% of the works are written by women and 39% are directed by women. In leadership positions (Artistic Director or Associate Director), women are employed in just 17.6% of roles. On the other side of the coin, women, and creative teams led by women, are presenting extraordinary independent work, on the smell of oily rags, around the country.

BossLady will focus on the experiences and voices of independent artists – from their individual career experiences to their ideas around what kind of strategies can promote a more gender-aware and progressive culture in the arts industry.

Hosted by writer, broadcaster, musician and feminist-trouble-maker, Clementine Ford, BossLady will feature three panels of speakers in the course of the day. Artists contributing to the conversation include Daisy Brown (The Misery Children), Gaelle Mellis (Ladykillers), Sarah Dunn (ActNow Theatre), Jane Howard (theatre reviewer & blogger), Brown Council and of course, the Vitals BossLadies, Emma Webb (Creative Producer) and Jennifer Greer Holmes (Managing Producer).

Emma said, “BossLady is a big conversation. It’s more than just career advancement we are talking about – although that is very important. It’s also about the place women artists occupy in our industry’s own culture. This conversation is going to be feisty and affirming for women artists – get along to have a say.”

Jennifer said, “Unfortunately, BossLady is a necessary conversation to have. It’s appalling that in 2011 the issues that need resolving such as flexibility of work hours, caring/ parenting, discrimination and wage parity remain.”

With a TV talk show format, social media commentary on Twitter encouraged (#vitalbosslady is the official hashtag) and entertainment by Brown Council, Jo Zealand and more, BossLady will provoke thought, stimulate conversation and will be honest, loud and, no doubt, vibrant.

WHAT: BossLady, a conversation about women’s arts leadership.

WHEN: Tuesday, 8th March (International Women’s Day) 11am – 5pm (I’ll be on the panel at 3:30pm), followed by performances and drinks until 8pm.

WHERE: Fringe Club Mullawirraburka, Rymill Park, Adelaide

HOW MUCH: FREE (donations gratefully received) RSVP to admin@vitalstatistix.com.au by March 4th.

To celebrate I made some graphs demonstrating the gender break down in the key creative roles of Director and Playwright at the State Theatre Company of South Australia over the twelve years to 2011!  Aren’t you all jealous you don’t have my life?

All information compiled from Annual Reports, most available for download here.  The differences under the artistic directorships of Rosalba Clemente and Adam Cook are striking.  I honestly wasn’t thinking I would get any results like this when I compiled the data; I was expecting the results over the twelve years to more or less conform to the national data I compiled for 2011.  I don’t even know what to say about these results.  Over five years of Clemente’s AD, the numbers for woman playwrights and directors is significantly higher than the 2011 national average, while, at best under Cook, numbers conform to the national average.  Does this mean the whole issue is just a question of leadership in the MPAG?  I think I might be talking about this a bit next Tuesday (mainly because I have no idea what I will be talking about!).

Hope to see you there!

Update: You can read my speech here.