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Archive for September, 2009

Oo

Two Bright Lakes
Two bright stakes
Waiting at the gates
Wandering in breaks
Washing on the shore
Whither to the floor.
I will sing no more.
At the record store.

But Two Bright Lakes artists will sing and play

tomorrow at the RRR open day.

They’re a Melbourne-based artist-run record label by the way.

Check out their music: http://www.myspace.com/twobrightlakes
Event page (use it): http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=100878165155&ref=ts#/event.php?eid=147458364728

Two Bright Lakes at RRR open day. Psuche, Otouto and Kid Sam. Triple R performance Space, 221 Nicholson St (Cnr Nicholson & Blyth). 12.00pm, 20 Spetember. Free.

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Photo by Alice Boyle

Photo by Alice Boyle

David Peake’s first solo cabaret show, David Peake Has Everything He Needs,  opened last night at The Butterfly Club. In Writing on a Chalkboard’s first interview EVERRRRR, we covered such topics as his show, adjusting to an audience and how to get a job as police officer in the UK. We soon discovered the downside of using Facebook Chat for an interview, when despite the fact that were both online, Facebook decided to hide us from each other. That hurdle over with, we began.

David:  HI!

Jalen:  ahoy!

Jalen: How was opening night?

David: It was good. 3 people came.

Jalen: Hahahahahaha

David: Which was actually fine, it made me not nervous, which was a good way to start the season.

Jalen: Was it fun doing such an intimate show?

David: It was. Particularly because all 3 were supportive friends. However, it did make some moments a little laboured, as they felt it was their job to laugh, as opposed to a natural response. It was quite an extreme shift to what I had planned in my mind, so I even cut some songs and added some songs, because some stuff just wasn’t going to work.

Jalen: It’s good that you are comfortable enough to do that kind of thing, how much cabaret have you done before?

David: None solo, only 10 minute segments in 2 group cabarets with VCA alumni.

Jalen: You went to VCA?

David: Yes, the 2 year music theatre course.

Jalen: how did that affect your performance? Was it a huge learning experience?

David: It really was, not just for performing, but for life. I was quite young, 18, and quite an uninteresting introvert.

Jalen: Goodness me, that’s changed.

David: Lol, yep.

Jalen: What’s it like doing a solo show like this as opposed to acting in a play?

David: Similar and different. You still have to convince a room full (unless it’s Thursday) of people that you have something to say that’s worth listening to…But in cabaret, unlike theatre, you have to listen far more carefully to that voice in your head that tells you what the audience like and don’t like, and you have the freedom to play with that, and comment on that, which is also a main feature of a stand up comics world. Long sentence.

Jalen: We have an award for that. Yeah that aspect really interests me, I think it’s ignored a bit too much in most theatre.

David: It’s fun when you do have that freedom as a performer, but is very rare in theatre.

Jalen: How did you get into doing musical theatre?

David: It was really just an extension of the love I had when I started playing in music concerts at 7 or 8, it’s just with music theatre, I got to do more things. At a basic level, it’s just chasing applause really. Chasing validation.

Jalen: what’s it like when you don’t get that? Or not to the level you hoped?

David: I’d love to say “well as long as we did our best” and “you can’t please everyone” is a knee jerk reaction, it’s not. The immediate is at least some dejection.

Jalen: But the good times overrule the bad times

David: Oh, for sure.

Jalen: The material in the show’s all completely original right?

David: Yes, except for one Michael Jackson ‘tribute’.

Jalen: ahah lovely. What sort of process do you go through writing songs?

David: When it works best, it starts with having a feeling I want to capture, and properly defining that feeling. And I start with a little thing to play with on the piano with some chords, or sometimes, a lyric will be so strong, it will become a melody in my head immediately, and when I jump on the piano, the chords just know where to go. I like what Stephen Sondheim says on it:  “It’s not really the music or the lyrics first, it’s the music of the lyrics.” Or something like that.

Jalen: what sort of topics are your songs on in this show? It’s called “David Peake has Everything He Needs”, are they very focused around a sort of theme or story, or pretty disparate?

David: The first few take on a similar feel to establish the show, they’re all “I think this” kind of songs, although they’re sung cheekishly with almost concealed sarcasm from the opposite point of view…if that makes sense…

Jalen: Yeah it does. 

David: Haha.

Jalen: Is there anything you’ve been really tempted to do a song about but have thought it would be going too far or for some reason haven’t done it?

David: not really, this show does it. Or, as much as is solid enough to be done without offending a considerable portion of the audience. It’s about being clever enough to go as far as you want, while still making the audience feel like you at least take into consideration any opposing opinions. Because you’ve at least thought about it enough to be clever. And that’s all. Cool.

Jalen: Last couple of questions, a bit more…unusual shall we say. I’m going to grab the first question that comes up on the Yahoo Answers home page and you’ve got to somehow answer it and relate your answer back to your show.

David:  Haha! Lol.

Jalen:  “My husband wants to become a police officer in the UK – any tips to get in or general?”

(Yahoo answers users aren’t renowned for their clarity of expression)

David:   Haha. OK, I would suggest that he assist in the charitable cause of bringing sandbag the dog back home with the UK troops from Iraq (see facebook page save sandbag the dog). That would be looked warmly upon on any CV. This relates to my show because I make known my distress on the plight of this poor dog, and put forth the solution to keep our forces in Iraq permanently to continue killing people, so sandbag the dog has a home.

Jalen:  Of course

David: This is one of the sarcastic songs.

Jalen: To end our interview, why should people come to see your show (answer in rhyme of course)?

David:  It’s sure to impress.

I may or may not undress.

Jalen:  I’ll be there. I actually will tomorrow night

David:  Very good. Looking forward to meeting you’re face, to go with your very eloquent words.

Jalen: my face is looking forward to meeting you

David: your! Your! Not you’re! I hate it when people do that, not the least myself! Very good.

Jalen: The rest of me- not so much. No! Bad typing fingers! Don’t be mean to David. Sorry about that. Haha okay well thanks for doing this

David:  thanks yourself! See you tomorrow!

Jalen:  Ditto. Good luck for tonight!

David Peake Has Everything He Needs. Created and Performed by David Peake. The Butterfly Club, 204 Bank St, South Melbourne. Closes September 20. Sat 7.00, Sun 6.00. $22/$17. Tickets through The Butterfly Club. 

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This post sort of violates this blog’s description, seeing as it’s about a band. But I think  I’m going to expand the blog to cover all the arts, focused on what’s going on in melbourne. A kind of ‘what’s going on in the melbourne music/theatre/film/miscellanious world. But for now- Me and the Grownups.

 

Me and the Grownups are the most original band you’ll hear this year.
Paul Shields
Scene Magazine

They’re a Melbourne band who are playing at the Astor cinema tonight (as in Thursday). Most bands claim to have a ‘completely original sound’ or to be ‘genre-defying’, but Me and the Grownups really are. They’ve got Violin/Viola (Jonathan Drefus), guitar (Adrian Sergovich) and vocals (Anita Lester) and their genre would have to be described as folk-pop-jazz-classical. The instuments and Anita’s voice weave around each other, on much more equal status than the usual ‘vocals with backing’. Anita’s lyrics read like poetry, whipping up beautifully unusual imagery. There’s not really any need for me to go on describing their music, you can have a listen here.
As I said, they started up in 2006, and since then they’ve released two albums, Battling the Mountains the Sky and the Sea and Knowing Lovers, Naive Lovers. Staunchly percussion free throughout both albums, they let a hint of drums onto the title track of their recent EP My Perfect Storm. Tonight they’ll be backed up by a woodwind quartet, something they have rather a penchant for, and Timothy Nelson’s from Perth is also playing. Anita animates, along with doing all the bands artwork, and some of her animations will be on view. Sometimes I find their music lacks a gut-punching emotional core, especially in recording, but at the one other night-time gig of theirs I’ve been to it was most definitely present. With no ready-made market for their music (too classical to be pop and too pop to be classical), they’re slowly but surely winning people over. Have a listen, and if you like what you hear, I’ll see you there!

DISCLAIMER: I have been known to know this particular band’s frontwoman.

Facebook event: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=114632393234&index=1

Myspace: http://www.myspace.com/meandthegrownups

Me and the Grownups (w Timothy Nelson). Vocals– Anita Lester. Violin, Viola– Jonathan Dreyfus. Guitar– Adrian Sergovich. 17 September, 8.00pm-10.30pm (Timothy Nelson at 8.00, Grownups at 9.00). Astor Theatre, corner Chapel Street and Dandenong Road, St. Kilda. $17/$13.

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NOTE (Added 18/09/09): Maggie, who was in the show, wrote a blog about reading this review. In the interest of free discussion, here’s the link: http://makingmek.wordpress.com/2009/09/17/short-story/

 

It’s been interesting for me writing this review, because it’s a negative one and I know two people who were in the play (hi Mattie and Maggie!). I think the point in writing these is to say what I think but not get caught up thinking that it matters.

Gitmo was another play in Hatched. As the name suggests it was about the treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay and issues surrounding that. It was run of the mill protest stuff, what I expected from a bunch of young people making a political statement. And for some reason that frustrated me. Maybe I want too much, but the subject is so momentous,  complex and human and Gitmo’s treatment of it was one-dimensional, unimaginative and didn’t touch me emotionally. It  manhandled its material, it neither let the material speak for itself nor brought new light and perspective to it. The idea of documentary theatre, as this show classified itself, is interesting. It prompts the question, why not just write an essay or make a documentary? I’m sure there’s a good answer, but if a production’s answer is to use the theatrical form to ‘grease the message’, it makes me feel I’m being treated like an infant. And I felt that at a number of points in Gitmo.  The intensely earnest performances ran over the cliches again and again. It became one-sided to the point of caricature. The way they portrayed U.S. senators was riduculous, merely regurgitating their negative cliche. And one particular speech made me cringe. It was a speech of a detainee, talking about how he had not done anything wrong. What he said, talking about sticking to his religion etc., suggested he meant that any actions against America were not wrong because they were justified by the Qur’an (which by the way they are, see 8:39). The show, however, presented it as the steadfast stand of an innocent. People complain about the political right wing being absolutist, but it’s opponents, including those many who oppose politicians on proncipal, are just as guilty. Our society is uncomfortable with uncertainty and ambiguity, left and right equally. To quote John Patrick Shanley in the introduction to his Pulitzer winning  Doubt:

“We are living in a culture of extreme advocacy, of confrontation, of conflict and of verdict. Discussion has given way to debate. Communication has become a contest of wills. Public talking has become obnoxious and insincere. Why? Maybe because deep down under the chatter we have come to a place where we know that we don’t know…anything. But nobody’s willing to say that.”

 Overall it lacked any agknowledgement that terrorists do actually exist and what they do ain’t good. I’m not suggesting the show had to support everything that happened at Guantanamo Bay, but if they’re aiming to educate the audience, at least show the whole picture, even if its only to say, ‘even this doesn’t justify torture’. Now of course not every show has to explore all the different perspectives or elements of a subject, not every show is ‘educational’, maybe the focus is just on the suffering of the detainees, regardless of context. But the show didn’t convey the power of this either. When an actor is speaking with such self-righteous earnest, any emotional power the content of her words may have is drowned out. They described shocking humiliating things, but rather than letting them speak for themselves, they REALLY IMPRESSED UPON US THAT THIS IS BAD. And that drove me away. 

 

John Patrick Shanley continues,

“What is Doubt? Each of us is like a planet. There is a crust, which seems eternal. We are confident about who we are. If you ask we can readily describe our current state. I know my answers to so many questions, as do you. What was your father like? Do you belive in God? Who is your best friend? What do you want? Your answers are your current topography. Seemingly permanent, but deceptively so. Because under that face of easy response, there is another you. And this wordless Being moves just as the instant moves; it presses upward without explanation, fluid and wordless, until the resisting consciousness has no choice but to give way.”

What I’d hope for in a show that is hoping to convey something like the suffering of the detainees is for at some point the stage, the acting, the theatre of it to dissapear. To leave shockingly raw and undisguised the souls of the actors and the audience, and the reality of the material. For that planet’s crust to be fractured, allowing the fluid interior to show through. When these interiors, of actor, audience members and subject, touch, then the shiver of understanding runs through your gut. Then torture is made more real than watching a trillion news reports could make it. Gitmo remodelled my crust slightly, but was too crusty itself to break through it. Why is it that the word crusty is so funny? 

There were a few moments in Gitmo when the crust began to wobble slightly, but the play itself imposed itself too strongly, holding it steady. Peter Brook says in The Empty Space.

“During a talk to a group at a university I…asked for a volunteer. A man came forward, and I gave him a sheet of paper on which was typed a speech from  Peter Weiss’ play about Auschwitz, The Investigation. The section was a description of bodies inside a gas chamber. As the volunteer took the paper and read it over to himself…he was too struck and too appalled by what he was reading to react with the sheepish grins that are…customary….he began to read aloud. The very first words were loaded with their own ghastly sense and the reader’s response to them. Immediately the audience understood. It became one with him, with the speech- the lecture room and the volunteer who had come on to the platform vanished from sight- the naked evidence from Auschwitz was so powerful that it took over completely…his reading, technically speaking, was perfect…because he had no attention to spare for self-consciousness, for wondering whether he was using the right intonation. He knew the audience wanted to hear, and he wanted to let them hear: the images found their own level and guided his voice unconsciously to the appropriate volume and pitch.

After this I asked for another volunteer, and gave him the speech from Henry V  which lists the names and numbers of the French and English dead. When he read this aloud, all the faults of the amateur actor appeared….he put on a false voice that strived to be noble and historical, mouthed his words roundly, made awkward stresses, got tongue-tied, stiff and confused, and the audience listened innatentive and restless…I proposed an experiment…the audience was to endeavour to…try to find a way of believing that these names were once individuals, as vividly as if the butchery had occured in living memory. The amateur began to read again, the half silence became a dense one…it turned all his attention away from himself, onto the subject matter he was speaking…his inflections were simple, his rhythms true.”

Gitmo was the opposite of this situation. The plain evidence, so near in time, nearer than Auschwitz was to that audience, was treated like the volunteer originally treated Henry V. The actors were ‘actorly’, and impressed the importance and gravitas of their words artificially.  They dominated their words, rather than letting what theysaid be something beyond them. They shoved it into us, using it to cow us with its power, rather than being cowed with us at this evidence which humbles theatrical convention.

The 'detainees'.

The 'detainees'. (photo by Alice Boyle)

 It’s a strange phenomena isn’t it? The more a performance tries to draw us in, the more we superficially go along with them, the more the rawer parts of our being are actually alienated. And when we are alienated in the Brechtian sense, in my experience  we actually come together more. Brecht’s pretty relevant here as his theatre had a social aim and so did Gitmo. Brechtian alienation treats us as adults, giving us the space to make up our own minds, to find our own way. In some way it creates space…a space into which our full being can spread. In contrast, watching Gitmo I felt like it was more about the actors, I didn’t feel trusted. People already hold certain views, have certain images around an issue like this, and I’d hope from a play to have the range of my thinking and feeling pushed outward, and to then be able to find my own place in that.

 Gitmo wasn’t objective enough to be like a documentary, and wasn’t human enough to touch me emotionally. Knowing the people who see things at St. Martins, it preached to the choir. Rather than putting a grain of sand into the oyster, it gave more oyster flesh. And it is only around a grain of sound that a pearl can grow.

I’ve realised this review/pondering colludes in the very thing it comdemns. That confrontational culture. In another part of that Preface Mr. Shanley says (italics are mine): “It’s evident in political talk shows, in entertainment coverage, in artistic critisism of every kind, in religious discussion.” Well I guess we’re in this together. I’ll try to get away from that in future. Break through the crust, which in my case here is made largely of such things as references to Brecht and Beckett. Why don’t we all give it a go, and try to bring more Doubt into our minds, when we and our world are used to spitting on it?

N.B: Where the word ‘doubt’ is used here, it is meant in the sense of “The condition of being unsettled or unresolved: an outcome still in doubt.” (http://www.thefreedictionary.com/doubt)

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Baby Doll (Leone Darling) telling off her daughter (Steph Calthorpe)

Baby Doll (Leone White) tells off her daughter Diddums (Steph Calthorpe). (Photo by Louris van der Geer)

I was rather excited to see Honey-Bun and Baby Doll because Louris’  last show is one of my two favourite plays ever. I didn’t like this anywhere near as much, but it was still a great piece of theatre, and I’m still in awe of her skill. As I was watching the line kept running through my head- “Louris is Beckett, Louris is Beckett”. The similarity was striking. They shared, to point out one similarity, the comedy that is also deeper and unsettling. In Beckett’s work people often miss the comedy because his plays are considered so ‘meaningful’ and have such a place in the theatrical canon, but in Honey-Bun and Baby Doll the situation was reversed. People missed the more serious or unsettling elements because it was just a little piece by an amateur in a youth theatre festival.  The overall…style I suppose is also the same. The play as a situation which represents something wider, but also exists in it’s own right. Beckett created images, situations, events, which are not of our world or life, but neither are they above it, blatantly ‘poetic’ and ringing with the echoes of ossified historic grandeur. The woman stuck in a mound, talking away with a smile on her face. Honey-Bun and Baby Doll had the girl picking through a pile of electronics, pulling them apart, while her parents canoodle in the background.  Both creations are intensely theatrical. But what does that really mean? They have a direct presence in the theatre, are of the theatre, and the form cannot be separated from the content. Where Louris, or should I say Ms. van der Geer, and Beckett differ is in the degree of their removal from literal reality. Louris’ piece is much closer to life, in an external sense, than Beckett’s work is.  Louris had a house, a couch, a couple, whereas Beckett’s more ‘parents in dustbins’. One is something we would come across, in a literal sense,  in our everyday lives. The other is not. This is not to say that Beckett’s work is less relevant, or less connected with reality, in fact it could easily mean the opposite. Something does not need to be represented in a literal way to be close to reality. This same difference is present in the dialogue and the structure: Louris’ relied a lot more on the image we all have of reality. Beckett’s plays break free of any ties to naturalism or ‘realism’ and live solely in the theatrical space, unfettered. So perhaps we could say Honey-Bun and Baby Doll had the spirit of Beckett clothed in the garb of naturalism. With all this though, the difference is a matter of degree rather than opposing natures. The dials do not have to turn very far to get from Honey-Bun and Baby Doll to Happy Days. Those names themselves share something, a kind of gentle irony. Both plays and both names pick a little fragment out of life and hold it up to the light. It may look stange to us ripped from its surroundings and viewed from a different angle, in such bright light, but in the the end the light shining through it does not distort it, but illuminates it in a way we’ve never seen before.

The actors all rose to their task perfectly, there was never a sense that the script was good but the actors were letting it down. The two blended completely, making the play a single living object. It was always very much a play, it never drifted into seeming like a real interaction happening spontaneously, but it didn’t need to. Interestingly enough, it’s artificial nature didn’t make it seem dead or like things were happening simply because the script said they should. Spontenaity and artifice gelled perfectly. It was interesting seeing Leone Darling, who played Baby Doll, in another Hatched production. Her performance was nowhere near the quality it reached in Honey-Bun and Baby Doll, where her self and the role seemed to blend. In the other production, Welcome to the Show, she was merely going through the motions. I would put this down to the directors. It’s not merely a matter of a director ‘drawing out’ a great performance from an actor either, One of a theatre director’s main roles, whether conscious or not, is creating a certain atmosphere in rehearsals. If the atmosphere is right an actor is free to give a great performace. It’s more a matter of the director not stuffing the actor up, which is a much harder task than trying to make the actor better by some sort of addition.

I didn’t enjoy Honey-Bun and Baby Doll as much as I enjoyed Louris’ Hatched show last year, They’re All in Their Little Boxes. A few people I spoke to said the same thing, including Louris herself. I was trying to work out why and I think one reason is that Honey-Bun and Baby Doll was a lot more static. One of the basic parts of playwrighting is creating a routine and then breaking it. Macbeth is having a feast, then that routine is broken by the appearance of Baquo’s ghost. In They’re All in their Little Boxes, routines were being broken constantly, left, right and center. There was never a moment for you, as an audience member, to become complacent. Boredom was out of the question. I described it to Louris as a fast paced tennis match between me and the play. We were both being pushed to the limit of our abilities, and throwing out amazing shots, each of which our opponent had to use all their skill to return, but still their return shot was a terrific shot as well. Honey-Bun and Baby Dollwas more homogenous. On a smaller scale routines were created and broken perhaps just as fast, but they were all encompassed in one slow-moving river. The shots were still expertly executed, but followed a particular well-defined gameplan. If anything Honey-Bun and Baby Dollwas a much tamer play. It bowed further to the gods of the well-made play, though the one doing the bowing was still a genius. I personally would say fuck the gods, let your soul live unfettered by duty. After all, if we can’t do that in the theatre, where can we?

Unfortunately Hatched has already closed, as has Liminal Theatre’s Oedipus, which I saw yesterday (I’ll post the review tomorrow). I went to the closing nights of both. That’s a habit I should get out of if I’m going to write this blog and expect people to read it. “Oh yeah this show was great, the most life changing experience I’ve ever had. But you can’t go. It’s closed. Done. Yeah. Yeah I know I just posted this. I posted it after  it closed. Yeah. I know. Too bad. Sorry.”

NOTE: If you want to get an email telling you when I post a new review, click the Subscribe link in the top right hand corner.

Honey-Bun and Baby Doll. Written, directed & designed by Louris van der Geer. Honey-Bun– David Peake; Baby Doll– Leone White; Diddums– Steph Calthorpe. Part of Hatched ’09, St. Martins Youth Arts Centre. Closed.

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Setting Off

Until this year I didn’t see plays. People who know me find that strange, cos I’ve always had an interest in theatre, and done my share of drama classes and school plays. I think part of the reason is that it’s very rare for me to see a play I like: to date I have seen only two plays that I have been taken by (Affection by Ranters Theatre and They’re All in Their Little Boxes by Louris Van Der Geer, a friend of mine whose second play I review below)). Of course, it works the other way as well; obviously you won’t see many plays you like if you don’t see many plays full-stop.  This year I’ve started seeing plays, or theatrical experiments, or whatever they’re calling them these days.  I’ve also started reading a lot about the theatre, and thinking a lot about the theatre. I began working on a play of my own this year, and that prompted the increase in all things theatrical. On Saturday night I went to Hatched, a mini-festival at St. Martins Youth Arts Centre. One show I saw in Hatched was Honey-Bun and Baby Doll. I was  giving  my thoughts on the show to Louris Van Der Geer, the writer and director, and I told her I hadn’t been able to enjoy her show properly because I kept analysing it, trying to work out what I’d say about it afterwards. Analysing pieces of theatre and making references and connections comes naturally to me. I see this as a burden, the intellectualism and critical tendency chokes my creative spirit and makes it really hard for me to do anything theatre-related without being constantly self critical, halting any progress. But during the course of the conversation with Louris we realised the tendency to analyse and to make reference to other things in theatre suits the role of a critic perfectly. Louris joked ‘you could be the next Alison Croggon’. (thus exciting me to the level where I wrote everything in capitals for the next few minutes. Yes we were talking over the internet, what, do you think I interact with other humans face to face?). So I thought ‘why not give theatre review blogging a go?’. Rather than just damning my tendency to analyse and place in a broader context, why not put it to good use? In my reviews here I’m not concerned with making a by the numbers summary of the production: how elegant/clumsy the set was, whether the director’s vision complemented the text; assesing each actor’s performance &c. &c. &c. Rather I’ll write some observations I have about the show, and try to analyse why. Or will I do that? I’m not sure. Basically I’ll write whatever I want to write,  with a tendency to diverge into wider ideas. Just letting you know that my reviews are not intended to be comprehensive or play the role that a review in a newspaper does (whatever the hell that is). Oh, and most of what I write will be heavily influenced and referenced to a certain few theatrical thinkers and doers (see recommended reading for details). I welcome, nay crave, comments. True dialogue is lost in our society! Let’s bring it back!

With that, we set off.

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