13 December 2014

What Melbourne loved in 2014, part 6

Today, it's Penelope Bartlau, Declan Greene and Sarah Collins with discussion about how ongoing funding makes conservative theatre, why some audience member's should be removed from the world, and why Google should shut down when cat guardians try and diagnose their pet's non-existent illnesses.

Penelope Bartlau
director, writer, creator Barking Spider Theatre

Penelope: Theatre moment knockout this year has to be Punch Drunk’s Sleep No More (New York City). I wish I could have my max-highlight from something in Melbourne because there is SO much going on in this city; we have such remarkable and vital theatre here.

I know plenty have talked about Punch Drunk's  Sleep No More – and justifiably. Why is it so compelling? Because it’s utterly unpredictable, it’s a completely individual experience as it’s virtually impossible for any two audience members to take the same passage and see the same things. I was determined to understand the dramaturgy – and not be disappointed. 

The backstory: they took Macbeth and cut it up and laid out the rawest pieces of the story for us to experience. It’s set in an old hotel – in the Speakeasy period, but it’s not like any hotel you’ve ever been to. Hotels are designed for guest ease and smooth navigation. They took an old hotel and reinvented it into a dreamscape. There are no stage left or right entrances or exits in a dream; so-too it is with Sleep No More.

The work is designed to be, in part, cyclical – by knotting one part of the narrative to the next in a way that is deeply poetic, and all the more so as it was told without dialogue. For example, Lady Macbeth’s dance of persuasion morphed into her “take my milk for gall” scene, to Macbeth’s return after the murders – the first time around – and then this was repeated, added to and completed a second time around by merging directly to her mad “out damn spot” scene. 

To follow any of the action, you had to make an immediate decision about which character to follow – if any, and if you could keep up. You could easily take a misdirection and lose a character, and end up in Burnham Wood encroaching on Dunsenane, or stumble upon someone burying a foetus in a graveyard, or simply get lost. 

It seems no irony to me, that I pursued narrative – given my role as an artistic director and writer, and my set/lighting designer husband Jason Lehane was absorbed primarily in the installations/set – that we had totally different experiences. We came out, compared notes and all the conversations we tracked around the show were “did you see this?” or “did you encounter that?”. Sleep No More is a masterpiece.

Regarding theatre in general in Melbourne, the most dynamic work is – as always – coming out of individuals and from smaller groups, productions and companies. 

I met a guy who knows a thing or two about theatre in New York, and my ears are resonating with his philosophy on funding. It’s no real news to hear it, but he says “Ongoing funding makes artists risk adverse” – heard it here before. But this is resonating especially now in light of the Australia Council six-year organisational funding that is in the offing for 2015. If it’s true – and I think it is – that everything is based on economics, then this six-year strategy is born of deeply conservative economic drivers. Bring on the ecology, and let us “little guys” flourish and make more work, everywhere. The big trees are going to grow bigger and cast greater shadows across the forest floor: the floor dwellers have to become even more inventive, more subversive and louder artistically and politically – if we are to not only survive but thrive.

SM: Penelope's Barking Spider Theatre created an amazing experience in the State Library that started with the Press Dress worn by Matilda Butters to a fancy dress ball in 1866. It explored how Melbourne society saw women and Chinese immigrants in the 1860s and tied it all to now with moving (and moving) explorations of fashion, ethnicity and bodies. It was all so beautiful, but my favourite moment was standing in the State Library Dome room – which was full of people studying and Facebooking – knowing that in any moment their peace would be broken by loud drums.

Declan Greene
playwright, director Sisters Grimm

Declan: For me: 2014 was all about the grrlz.

It started with post’s Oedipus Schmoedipus at Belvoir: a playful satire of the recent adaptation trend – and the dead, straight, white men that continue to colonise our cultural imagination. Coming off Belvoir’s 2013 season, it was conceptually brilliant site-specific theatre. Watching some 20 unrehearsed volunteers dressed in mismatched bed sheets as ‘ghosts’ – while attempting to replicate terrible dance moves off a video monitor – was one of the most joyful experiences I’ve ever had in a theatre. And summoning this mass elation from the idea of death was fkn genius.

(Speaking of death: I wish it upon the scowling piece of shit who sat next to me in that audience and radiated hatred at the stage. You are 80% of everything that is wrong with theatre in this country.)

I was obsessed with I’m Trying to Kiss You’s Madonna Arms at Next Wave. The production was fantastic – but as a piece of writing. I thought it was the most inventive, brilliant text I’ve seen onstage this year: a wild, bruising journey through female representation in popular culture. And very, very, very, very funny.

The journey in Nicola Gunn’s Green Screen was also remarkable. I admired its emotional bravery; the way it used irony, sarcasm and anger to pry open a very recent grief, onstage, every night. It can’t have been easy to do.

Also The Rabble’s Frankenstein. Also Adena Jacobs’ adaptation of Hedda Gabler. Also Fleur Kilpatrick’s The City That Burned. Also Diamanda Gal├ís’ work-in-progress Das Fieberspital at DARK MOFO. Also Emma McManus’ Carly & Troy Do A Doll’s House at Adelaide Fringe. Also... fuck, I dunno. There was a lot.

There were boys who did some very kool stuff too: Matt Lutton’s epic, unsettling take on Patrick White’s Night on Bald Mountain (Julie Forsythe and Melita Jurisic’s ‘drinking’ scene was probably the finest acting I’ve ever seen onstage), Meng Jinghui’s batshit crayyy take on The Good Person of Szechuan, Angus Cerini’s Resplendence, Jackson Davis’s Jackson! Le Diner est Pret! for Woodcourt Art Theatre...

But yeah. To quote Jim O’Rourke ===>

SM: Calpurnia Descending. Yeah, yeah our Dec’s a fucking amazing playwright, but the first thing that I really noticed about him was his direction (many years ago in a car park). He knows how to take a piece to the knife edge of offence or shock, dangle it over the edge and pull it back at the exact second and turn it into something that’s close to profound, or just filthy.

Sarah Collins
playwright, photographer

Sarah: I feel really bad because I'm going to give an answer so simplistic it will SHOCK. It will be like when Kerith Manderson-Galvin talked about loving Miley, but dull. 

I'm pissed off I am not naming a show that is more original, less well-funded and not even moderately steeped in metropolitan Melbourne theatre controversy. 

You guys know I aim to be controversial with every fibre of my being, always. I never intended for this to be my answer. Never forget that I am a girl who got scalped tickets off ebay to be second row at The Seekers concert. Never forget about the feathers I ruffled when I stood up during Georgy Girl and blocked the view of the 80-year-olds behind me. The term controversial doesn't even cut it. 

My point is, I have barely seen a thing and I feel bad because the one show I did see that I LOVED was such a good piece of HAPPY FLUFFY THEATRE and I know I should have something here involving Paul Capsis, but I just don't, and I blame it on things happening that I can't control. (Like today, one of my cat's pupils is bigger than the other. No other theatre lovers wake up to this kind of insanity daily. It means you guys all get to go out and see the great stuff and I have to stay home googling "uneven pupil dilation + potential feline brain injury + home remedies"). 

So with that out of the way, you cannot judge me when I say:

My highlight was Beautiful the Carole King musical on Broadway.

It was amazing. It was happy. It was hilarious. It was jaw-dropping. It was so so smart and everything most contemporary musicals aren't. Just watch this and tell me you don't feel some tingles. 

Judith D 4eva.

SM: I’ve checked my cat’s pupils. All is good. She was napping in prep for her late-morning sleep, but I couldn’t let her snooze knowing that her pupils may be unevenly dilated.

Sarah wrote the very gorgeous Bucket’s List and introduced "bucketlingus" to our vernacular, but my favourite moment was seeing Facebook explode when she "accidentally" announced her pregnancy on national television (The Project) while being interviewed about Hanson (yes, Hanson) .

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