No Plain Jane

Theatre reviews and musings (mostly) from Adelaide

Tag: Vitalstatistix

A Catch Up and Newsey Pieces

  • Having been almost completely obliterated by the Festival season, I was one of those lucky people who found work getting more intense post-Fringe than during it, hence the overall lack of posts bar some catching up re-posts from other sources.  Outside of work work, I spent five days working for the Come Out Festival as a delegate host, which was one of the most inspiring and satisfying art experiences I have had perhaps ever.  To spend five days surrounded by artists and programmers and administrators, seeing theatre for children with children, is incredibly gratifying.  I saw some truly incredible work (and, yes, a few terrible pieces), including two works which completely changed my outlook on everything: Hans Christian, You Must Be An Angel a theatre installation unlike anything I’ve ever experienced, by Teatret Gruppe 38 from Denmark which was filled with more magic and joy than can possibly be explained:And Thick Skinned Things by Dutch group Stella Den Haag, a curious monologue about a woman who “belongs to the legion of the uncomfortable.”  Nora lives alone, struggling with everything, even her garbage bags, until she finds comfort in the way the man next door lays down his garbage bags:

    Can you find comfort
    in the way a person puts his garbage outside
    I would wonder desperately
    Can this be?

    Until one day, he is gone, and all that Nora can do is run into the forest, and dig herself a labyrinth: “I am a mole. I speak softly.”  It was in this play by Hans van den Boom, about sadness and loneliness and isolation, under a masterful performance by Erna van den Berg that I actually found an incredible peace and calmness and started to repair myself from the extreme tiredness of the season.

  • ActNow Theatre has a new Artistic Director in the form of director/writer/actor/administrator/friend Sarah Dunn, and with the help of publicist Sophie Bruhn, they are starting to conquer social media.  I did my Arts Admin Traineeship with Sarah, and I am greatly looking forward to raking her over the critical hot coals seeing what she comes up with. They will be revealing their new logo and officially welcoming Sarah to the fold May 13.
  • Edwin Kemp Atrill, the former AD for ActNow, will be stepping over to the University of Adelaide Theatre Guild taking their inaugural Artistic Director Grant, which is a brilliant initiative for emerging directors in this city.  2011 has already been programmed for the company, so we will possibly have to wait until next year to see what stamp Edwin puts on the company.
  • In May, Adelaide’s independent theatre companies are starting to emerge from the post fringe drought.  This week, five.point.one opens The Eisteddfod by Lally Katz.  Katz is one of the most produced playwrights on Australia’s main-stages this year, with world premieres playing at Malthouse, Melbourne Theatre Company, and Belvoir Street, and if you are interested in Australian playwrights and/or female playwrights you should be making an effort to see this show. Coming up later in the month, Accidental Productions will be presenting a new work by Adelaide playwright Alex Vicory-Howe, Molly’s Shoes from the 20th, and also from May 20 Tutti are presenting One directed by Daisy Brown, who you may remember from my rave of Ruby Bruise.
  • And for something a little different from what I usually write about: to catch some Adelaide theatre actors on the big screen, and see why my job became more crazed post-Fringe, the Mercury Cinema will be screening the best South Australian films of the last year on May 6 – 8, with the South Australian Screen Awards announced May 13.

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.

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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.

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.

2010, You’ve Been Good To Me

A Thank You, and the obligatory Best Of Worst Of lists

To everyone who has supported me and my blog and my other writing this year: thank you.  This year has been truly magnificent, and getting so much respect for my writing has played no small part in that.  When I decided to not pursue my Honours degree I knew I was making the right choice; I could have never grasped just how right that choice was.  To everyone who has read, commented, subscribed, or talked to me about something I’ve written, you blow my mind.   To the companies and artists in particular who have taken me on as part of the community, in my strange hybrid of administrator / writer / reviewer / blogger / fan, I am eternally grateful.

Even those of you who have given me bad feedback, the overestimation of the impact of this blog warms my cockles.  Those of you who got here by searching for naked pictures of actors or Plain Janes, you creep me out a little and don’t get my thanks, sorry.

After much hemming and hawing over how (and if) to do a Best/Worst of The Year, I eventually decided to just go for the traditional top and bottom five.   Not necessarily the best and the worst, but in a completely subjective analysis my favourites and my biggest disappointments.  I loved 54 of the 88 productions I saw, and most of the rest leaned towards the love over the hate side, so it’s been a pretty fine year.

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Review: Ruby Bruise

There are times when I wish I still existed in the anonymity of the internet.  Where I could write something, and no-one could connect it to a name, or a face, or a person they actually know.  Where I could share the fullness of my brain, and the thoughts that are swimming, and the deepest nerve that a piece of art just hit, and still have it be a secret.

Writing my review of Ruby Bruise was one of those moments. I tried to capture what it was, but in no way did I capture the way it captured me.

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

When Ruby Bruise was born, she developed at 10,000 times the normal rate, and this production, devised by director Daisy Brown and playwright Finnegan Kruckemeyer, invites us in on the journey of Ruby’sgrowing old.

The constructed set in the Waterside Workers Hall of billowing sheets, designed by Amy Milhinch and Wendy Todd, is reminiscent of your childhood cubby house: literally in the cubby of stolen sheets behind the lounge or under the porch chairs, and figuratively in the comfort, home, and wonder it brings. And along with that is the childlike wonder that Ruby Bruise pulls us into.

Starting almost as a children’s story, we are invited in to the wonder and escapism of childhood and Ruby’schildhood, as Ruby tells us the story of her growing up.Kruckemeyer’s emotive lyrical narrative, primarily spoken in the third person as Ruby’s life is narrated with an air of reflection, is sweeping and beautiful in its exploration of ageing: in finding yourself and your talents, and in periods and sex and sexuality.

Written with shades of dark and light, Kruckemeyer explores into a deeper darkness than your children’s stories aught, as in the dark the pains and heartaches of Ruby’s life are lain out before us. But in the light, if you look around at the faces of your fellow audience members, you look into the faces of pure unadulterated joy.

The part of Ruby is shared by four: Sarah BrokenshaElena CarapetisNathan O’Keefe, and Ellen Steele. It would be wrong to call them “the Rubies” because they are one Ruby, and together they make a whole person.Ruby Bruise reflects how, just as all of us are made up of different facets of our personality, different parts of our lives affect different parts of us in different ways.

To pretend we are all complete in oneself is silly: we are complete in ourselves, just as Ruby is complete in these four actors. While in shared lines the timing was occasionally off, the strong cast work together to create a wonderful and complete character.

Under Brown’s direction, Ruby doesn’t so much walk through life as dance and play on her advanced journey from childhood to adulthood. Crafting the overflowing facets of Ruby’s personality in the four actors, Brown has created a magic world in which we are privy to the deeply interesting life of Ruby Bruise. Integrating a variety of theatrical styles, including dance sequences, the sometimes heightened theatricality of the piece serves to highlight the extremities of Ruby’s intense personality.

Unfortunately, there were moments where progression of the character and narrative (and accents) were lost, as the play took long diversions into exploring these theatrical styles and the pace stalled. While an extended magic scene was funny and clever, I was itching to find out what happened to Ruby next.

Mark Pennington paints the white canvas of a set by Milhinch and Todd with brilliant lights: the white, sweeping, and cosy tent is coloured with enveloping radiance, of blues, of yellows. Pennington also plays with shadows, as our first and last meeting with Ruby is through silhouette, and as Ruby’s childhood toy grows into a life-sized beast we are again introduced through shadow.

Music by Mario Spate wraps around Kruckemeyer’s prose and Brown’s direction with fluidity which emphasise and highlights the important moments, without ever being overbearing or unwelcome. Sound and lights are operated off to the corner of the stage, and the tapping of the musician’s foot as he plays the piano is just another way in which this play echoes strains of a childhood freedom.

On opening night Spate’s sound design was accompanied by the heavy pounding of the Adelaide rain on the roof, and although it meant some lines were lost, it was the perfect accompaniment to the intimacy of the play. In our cubby house, we were safe, in the light and even in the heartache.

A play in many ways about loneliness and the ways we try to comfort ourselves (or harm ourselves) to stop feeling the pain, Ruby Bruise is ultimately hopeful in that one day you will find comfort and companion: in your self and in others. It is a sweeping story which is in fact a personal exploration of an individual, albeit one whose personality and thoughts are too big to be contained in the body of one.

As Ruby Bruise would say to herself, I say to her: I like you being here.

Vitalstatistix and The Misery Children present Ruby Bruise, devised by Finegan Kruckemeyer and Daisy Brown.  Written by Finegan Kruckemeyer, directed by Daisy Brown, design by Amy Milhinch and Wendy Todd, composition by Mario Spate, lighting by Mark Pennington.  With Sarah Brokensha, Elena Carapetis, Nathan O’Keefe, and Ellen Steele.