No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Month: October, 2012

Review: Take Up Thy Bed & Walk

This review contains mild spoilers. 

Take Up Thy Bed cast: (clockwise from top left) Gerry Shearim, Kyra Kimpton, Jo Dunbar, Emma J Hawkins & Michelle Ryan. Photo by Heath Britton.

At the opening of the double doors is Kyra Kimpton. She welcomes us into the space in small groups, where we are invited to walk around and discover. On five pillows on five beds screen projected short films animated through embroidery about young women, you can listen through headphones, read the captioning, read the braille, or, at one watch the Auslan interpretation; Michelle Ryan holds up embroidered sheets with sayings about women with disabilities; in one corner is a model of the set; in another is a live scorpion – don’t touch! reads the warning. No one says as much, but what we’re doing is part of a tactile introduction to the set and to the playing space: this functional introduction to the space presented for the blind and vision impaired before audio described shows is here part of the work itself.

Take Up Thy Bed & Walk is, by all accounts, the first “fully accessible” theatre work in Australia. While we have, in recent years, seen an increase in the amount of productions offering increased accessibility such as captioning and audio description, these performances are still infrequent in proportion to the larger season.

Take Up Thy Bed integrates access elements through the show: the four performers are joined by Auslan interpreter Gerry Shearim, who moves around the action; most of the dialogue is either captioned or projected behind the stage, with different fonts highlighting emphasis and meaning; the performers often audio describe their own actions; the music is heavy with base, reverberating through the chairs.

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Review: Pornography

There have been three major terrorism attacks in the past decade which significantly cut through to the Australian media, and thus our own dialogues about terrorism. The first, the 9/11 attacks in the USA. The second, the Bali Bombings, targeting Australian tourists. And the third, the London Bombings.

Each year, we notice their anniversaries. Eleven years after 9/11, much of the currency around the discussion of the remembrance focused on the choice of major US newspapers to no longer carry the anniversary as front page news. Ten years on from the Bali Bombings, the event was carried with significance.

The London Bombings perhaps though, held the most currency looking back from 2012. Occurring the day after the announcement the 2012 Olympics would be held in London, the two events would be inextricably linked.

Simon Stephens wrote Pornography in the aftermath of the bombings, in a city which was very much in repair and recovery. His work distills the event down into stories of a handful of people in the week leading up to the event, at the same time almost makes a point of the fact that this bombing was just one day in the lives of people which are frequently full, and complicated, and messy.

The impact of the bombings, the immediacy of the event, the knowledge that these characters lives will now forever be tied up in a narrative of what occurred that day is at the forefront throughout Pornography. Directing the work for the State Theatre Company, Daniel Clarke holds tension throughout the work: relief in humour is short lived, as audience members we are privileged in knowing where the work is taking us. Jason Sweeney’s composition, too, weaved throughout the production, holds the audience on teter-edge.

And yet, the bombing is almost the least important part of the work and the stories. While these characters stories culminate in this event, more pertinently Stephens writes about a fractured England.

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Kumuwuki Review: I Met

Emma Beech in the Australian Bureau of Worthiness’ I Met Viborg

I’ve now seen the Australian Bureau of WorthinessI Met in four incarnations: Renmark, Port Adelaide’s Port Road, Viborg in Denmark, and now Goolwa.

I never wrote about the work properly; although I was intending to after Viborg time got away from me; I only just briefly mentioned Port Road; and had an even briefer pass at Renmark. Now, I see that as a unique blessing: if I am going to write about this work I need to write about its changing incarnations, its constant rediscovery of itself and exploration of its own form and possibilities.

Being able to see the work four times before sitting down to write about it is perhaps the most unique privilege and what we search for in looking at the role “embedded critic”: in following the creation – or recreation – of the I Met model, I now, hopefully, get to give more than a cursory review of one show, and instead get to write about what the Bureau have created as a model. A unique show model, perhaps, takes a unique writing model.

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness is the creation of artists Emma Beech and Tessa Leong, and often operated with James Dodd. It’s model is simple: go into a community and discover who they are and what is important to them through the use of a simple question: What makes your day worth it?

No justification or further exploration is given for the question: some answer with the small – seeing someone’s smile, the sound of a packet of biscuits being opened, some offer up answers of the deeply philosophical – the ways they intend to change the world, some can’t offer up an answer at all – nothing.

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Kumuwuki: On hubs.

In the least intimate venue, Hania Radvan attempted to host an intimate conversation on our place is your place, discussing hubs and places in communities.

“It is easier to get a place built then maintained,” said Radvan. “Why are we caught up so much with centres, with hub, with shared spaces?”

“Hubs: it’s a simple concept, but communities are complex, and how do we meld the two?”

Ashleigh Bunter comes from Toowoomba in Queensland, where she is an curator and arts worker, currently working with the Toowoomba Regional Arts Gallery and is director of A. Bunter Projects. With 130,000 people, it is the largest inland non-capital centre town in Australia. She said it is a city where “young, emerging artists are really getting active and creating space for themselves.”

She recently returned to Toowoomba from living in Sydney, and she said she “came back with fresh eyes and looked around at the people working there and found it really exciting.”

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Kumuwuki: Youth Arts Policies

Pitched by Jim Lawson, the director of Young People and the Arts Australia (the national peak body for organisations and practitioners that engage children and young people in the arts, and the Australian member of ASSITEJ), Youth arts policies do not run on a standard gauge track took a brief look at the various policies relating to youth arts in Australia. Youth arts is work by, and work for, children and young people, with young people typically being defined in Australia as people under 30.

Lawson spoke about how these conversations are also about the “wave of change in youth arts, and perhaps the waves of change that are happening nationally.”

In Australia, he said, “youth arts is now an incredibly sophisticated incubator of the arts and artists”, and spoke about the great success Australian companies that are making work for young people are happening. In particular, many of theatre companies making work for young people are touring internationally, as both myself and Cameron Woodhead have recently written about.

Lawson said “the development of policy for young people in the arts has developed for some states and not others”, and these policies don’t only exist at the state level, but local governments can also have very dynamic youth arts policies.

He noted the Australia Council’s youth arts policy is now ten years old, and some states are even older. “Certainly a lot has changed in ten years.”

While policies can sometimes be derided as just being talk, said Lawson, and “there is a lot to be said for actions speaking; while policies may be just talk, I think it’s vital.”

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Kumuwuki: thinking sustainably

Saturday Plenary 

Tom Trevorrow is an Ngarrindjeri Elder, and the chair of the Ngarrindjeri Heritage Committee and the manager of Camp Coorong a living cultural museum in the land of the Ngarrindjeri people. With members of his community, Trevorrow worked in the creation of the The Ngarrindjeri Sea Country Plan [PDF], a document aimed at “government agencies, natural resource managers, researchers, industry and the wider Australian community to better understand and recognise rights and responsibilities to our Yarluwar-Ruwe (Sea Country), including the lower Murray River, Lakes, Coorong and adjacent marine and land areas.”

Starting his presentation welcoming us to Kumuwuki, Trevorrow said the bringing together of people here “means a lot to us as Ngarrindjeri people because it never happened in the past where we could all come together and smile at each other and talk to each other, and even hug each other.”

The Ngarrindjeri people come from eighteen groups, who Trevorrow told us “are connected by our creation stories […], we’re connected by language, our initiation ceremonies, and connected by land.”

When Trevorrow grew up, Aboriginal people we’re allowed to live within a mile of town. “I come from what they call the ‘fringe dwellers’ because we weren’t allowed to live in town with the rest of society.”

He told us he has great respect for the upbringing he got as a fringe dweller “to be able to grow up on country and be with my elders, my Ngarrindjeri elders who were able to talk about country and pass knowledge on to me. And as I travelled through Ngarrindjeri country […] I used to stay at campsites where my Elders were camping out on the land. I don’t know if i was a lucky one or if i was an inquisitive one, but i asked a lot of questions of my elders and they always spoke about country. And it’s in me. They planted a seed in me.”

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Kumuwuki: Democratic Set

Back to Back is a Geelong based theatre company which works with a core ensemble of six performers with intellectual disabilities. Speaking at Kumuwuki, artistic director Bruce Gladwin spoke about how the company’s work is “a continual exploration.”

One of the key things the company explores is “theatre’s relationship to the architectural frame work where the work is presented. […] What is the architectural structure? What is the frame in wich we place the performance?”

These questions, he said, are asked in the support of the actor. One of the first works which made this exploration was a 2002 work called Soft, a performance work which occurred in a large inflatable structure housed inside another building.

Another exploration was in “an aural architecture.” Gladwin described using headphones to create “a type of performance that didn’t need a physical space but was requiring on the sound to create an aural architecture”, which resulted in their work Small Metal Objects.

“All of these ideas” he said, “are all about trying to find a different performance space, a different frame work for the actor.”

Back to Back theatre, Galdwin said, “also have an arm to our practice which is about engageing with community: with our own community in Geelong, and as artists with other communities, undertaking residencies and so on.”

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Kumuwuki: what about the youth?

 Young folk talking about the young style

Alysha Hermann is an artist from the Riverlands in South Australia. She is currently working for Country Arts SA in her local area, and her current artistic practice is in playwrighting, where she is doing a mentorship with Caleb Lewis and participating in the JUTE Theatre Company‘s Enter Stage Write Program.

She started talking by asking questions of the audience to get a feel for the different demographics: are you from a regional area? Is its population less than 50,000? Less than 5,000? Less than 500?

“I find it really interesting how diverse it is to be a regional artist and what it means to be from a regional area,” she said.

“There are regional communities which are absolutely thriving” she said, “and there are communities where there is lots of great arts stuff happening but it’s not connected to it’s wider community.”

Hermann spoke about how there is so much diversity in the ways young people have access to the arts, and her passion is for young people to have opportunities to be engaged with the arts: “the arts are a powerful agent for change.”

Responding to the program blurb saying “young people are communicating globally on digital platforms,” Hermann said “I think it’s a really dangerous assumption to think that young people are engaging internationally on digital platforms across the board.”

Not only are there still issues with the quality and access to internet connections in regional areas, she said, but “we’re using it to connect with our friends and family, who might only be in the next town over, but we don’t have public transport to go visit them.”

Hermann warned against assuming all young people have access to these technologies, because we can leave people out of the equation.

“We want our young people and our young artists to be awesome, and to have these opportunities, so we need to know how to talk to them.”

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Kumuwuki: international creative recovery

Creative Recovery: An international perspective

Talking from a slightly sketchy skype connection, was Coralie Winn the co-founder and creative director of Gap Filler, “a post quake project in Christchurch, New Zealand.”

The project began about “what we can do now in the direct aftermath in the earthquakes.” Talking about the quakes, Winn said “every place has its natural disasters, for us it’s earthquakes.”

“Our city will never be the same again.”

As a part of the necessary response after the earthquakes was the removal of buildings which couldn’t be repaired. As these buildings and rubble were increasingly removed, said Winn, the city was moving towards an “increasing sense of erasure” with various gaps and various vacant lots of land where buildings used to be. With 10,000 aftershocks, it’s been an on going trauma for the city.

Gap Filler was “started by creative people with no money who wanted to do something.” The first project was in a site which used to hold a restaurant and auto-technician, where Gap Filler created “a public space, a garden where people could come and eat their lunch. In the afternoons and evenings we had music, and we used the space to screen films.”

In the early days of the project, there was a lot of talk about the rebuild. Gap Filler was a way of showing that temporary use of space could also activate the city, and a rebuild didn’t need to be rushed through with “really crappy architecture.”

Winn also spoke about how the early 1900s Christchurch had the second highest number of cyclists per capital after Amsterdam, but it has since become car-dominated. There has been much talk in regards to the rebuild if the city will build bike lanes to again become more cycle friendly.

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Kumuwuki: Riding the new digital wave.

The first morning plenary was on digital culture. Hosted by Amanda Duthie, she opened the plenary noting how as a new South Australian she has noticed “how connected the communities here are and of course we’re hee to make all of that better.”

Fee Plumley is an artist whose practice is based around digital technologies and the internet – she is a self confessed geek, and self described technoevangelist. She went viral earlier this year, Amanda Palmer, Hugh Jackman, and Neil Gaiman tweeted about her project Really Big Road Trip. Not only did this crash her own website, it also crashed the Australian crowd-funding website Pozible, all on the way to her raising $25,000 towards buying a bus to travel around Australia. On her RBRT, Plumley will be travelling to communities throughout the country, showing people how they can create work online – a practice which will prove to be even more critical with the advent of the NBN.

“When i was first asked to come and do this key note,” Plumley started, “I thought I was going to do my usual thing, which is a bit ranty.”

When she was preparing the speech, Plumely looked back on a piece she wrote in 2003, when she had reaslised  “there was an incredible opportunity for mobile data space that was mostly empty, and artists should take over this space.” Nearly ten years on, she realised many of these issues are coming up again: “You could replace a lot of the things I was saying then with the NBN.”

Plumely first meet co-key note speaker Sara Diamond in 2001, when Diamond “basically changed my life” when Plumley went to the Banff New Media Institute. There she was “surrounded by people that were all a little bit wacky, too.”

“I suddenly felt like I belonged. Like everything I was doing was actually okay. And it was really beautiful to have a lot of people around you saying ‘I really like your products.'”

“We were the niche […] but I was no longer alone.”

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