24 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Taylor Mac, Chapter IV & Manifesting Pussy

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter IV: 1957–present

Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings
13 October 2017
Forum Theatre

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

Is it really time to wash off the Taylor Mac glitter and go back to real life?

Every so often a work changes how we see and make theatre. We are now post–A 24-Decade History of Popular Music and we're going to see its influence on our stages for a very long time.

Every so often a work changes how we see our world and we're going to see its influence in our lives for a very long time.

Taylor Mac, Steffanie Christi'an Mosley. Photo by Sarah Walker

Taylor describes the 24-hour experience as a "radical faerie realness ritual sacrifice" and adds that the audience is the sacrifice. Back in Chapter I, we had no idea of how much of ourselves we were going to willingly sacrifice or how much we had to let go of.

James Tigger! Ferguson. Photo by Sarah Walker

I'm still struggling to find the words that come close to describing the joy and absolute fucking happiness that this work has created. And the uncontrollable tears – that start again as soon as I try to explain and understand why I'm still crying.

When the Forum fire curtain lifted, we were heading to the 1960s – the decade many of us were born. Taylor descended from the gods reprising his rock "Turn! Turn! Turn!" (Matt Ray's musical arrangements deserve their own multi-page review). Looking Jacqui Kennedy–esque with polka dots, soup cans and a USA-flag dress (Machine Dazzle's costume designs also deserve pages), judy was harnessed to matching polka-dot pop-art angel wings, which Machine had made the day before. With finger guns and "BANG", they were a tribute to the Art Deco angel on the fire curtain and a response to gun control – something the political right got right in Australia.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

And it was time for us white people to flee back to the suburbs at the sides of the room and embarrassingly express our white guilt to the point that we finally dump it and start understanding and sharing our fucking power.

I knew Chapter IV was going to be something else, but I had no idea.

Chanon Judson, James Welsby. Photo by Sarah Walker

I started crying at Bob Dylan's "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall". I think this was before Nina Simone's "Mississippi  Goddam", when I knew I needed to get to the bar and fill up my water bottle and marvel at the waterproof blue mascara I bought in Tokyo and never thought I'd wear.

Taylor Mac, Viva DeConcini. Photo by Sarah Walker

As I wasn't on a media ticket, I didn't take notes, I turned off my devices and drank gin – leaving Chapter IV a magnificent blur of tears, rock, glitter and joy. (But please read Cameron in The Age and Steph in the Guardian.)

There was Daniel and I squealing at "show tops".

There was the Cold War giant inflatable USA and USSR cocks floating around the audience.

Photo by Sarah Walker

There was slow dancing with Katie at the queer prom to destroy the credibility of a homophobic singer.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

There was hugging Richard during "Purple Rain" – and only now remembering that it was a section about back room sex parties. But it was the late1980s: a time when friends were dying from AIDS. Taylor was wearing a head piece of skulls screaming in clouds and a coat made of cassette tapes, we'd already sung "Oh Superman", and I didn't know if I wasn't coping or if it was the most powerful hour of my life.

And I  couldn't imagine how my heart was going to melt as we made our way to the present with a manifestation of pussy.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

Bitch and Animal's "Pussy Manifesto" (look it up; I want it in search engines rather than an easy click) – "Let Pussy manifest and let freedom sing!".

The Womb. Photo by Sarah Walker

Lesbians moved only onto the stage, with beers and a barbeque. Lesbians were front and centre. Without jokes, without question. Women were celebrated. Pussy (I'm even saying "pussy" and I was such a "cunt" reclaimer) was celebrated. For a couple of hours, pussy was central to our world.

Stop reading and try to replace every reference to cock and male power in your world with pussy. Now take away every bit of language that uses women, pussy and cunt as an insult and a reference to weakness. For the last hours of this show, that world existed.

 Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

(I nearly didn't wear my #pussyhat when we were making things in Chapter 1, but the company manager said "Yes" when I suggested it. I'll also be saying "Yes!" a lot more from now on.)

 Machine Dazzle, Taylor Mac, Matt Ray. Photo by Sarah Walker

For 24 hours, we'd been part of seeing how communities are built from marginalised, ignored and shamed people being torn apart. We'd been sacrificed, we sacrificed others and everyone who was there became a community where otherness didn't exist.

At the company's In Conversation on Saturday, Taylor said, "Manifest the world that we want by creating the world we want."

We were so involved and so safe that I want to see it all again tomorrow, even if just to see the contributions of the 32 people who came with the company and every other artist who is a part of this experience (their names are in the program). But I suspect I'd be just as involved.

Photo by Sarah Walker

For the last hour Taylor wore a dress made from a giant vulva and sang his own work. The band were gone – one left every hour for the last 24 hours. We sang along and I have never cried so much in a thearte.

I washed most of the glitter off – the glitter I put on in the Forum bathrooms with other women who also hadn't worn glitter since we were in our 20s – and am back in day-to-day life, with a pile of work waiting for me.

Photo by Sarah Walker

What's left to say when I experienced the theatre experience I've been waiting my life for?

But perhaps life is going to be different. I'm still going to roll my eyes at dull theatre, but I'm going to:
  • Spend less time alone. Maybe with the new friends I made at this show.
  • Talk more with people I don't know.
  • Dance in public.
  • Wear all the high heels I have in my cupboard.
  • Wear more blue mascara.
  • Sing "Purple Rain". 
 Machine Dazzle, Matt Ray. Photo by Sarah Walker

PS. Can we have a 24-hour long recording, please?

23 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol

A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol
Cambodia Living Arts, Asia TOPA
14 October 2017
Hamer Hall

Photo by Tey Tak Keng

A Requiem for Cambodia: Bangsokol is for the two million who died or were killed during the Khmer Rouge genocide.

At the end of this performance, the audience are given a small orange envelope. It holds a photo. Mine is a black and white image of a young woman and man at the steps of a traditional Cambodian house on stilts. Their combination of Western and Cambodian clothes and their semi-formal pose says 1970s.

I don't know anything more except that they didn't survive the 1970s.

I visited Cambodia in 2010. I fell in love with the country and the people I met and it took me a few days to realise what was so obvious that it was hard to see it: there weren't many people older than I was.

Photo by Tey Tak Keng

Bangsokol is created by two artists who survived the regime: artist and film maker Rithy Pahn and composer Him Sophy. Sopy says: "My generation in Cambodia experienced war – I lost my family, I saw people killed. I don't want this again, for anyone."

With a western chamber orchestra and chorus with Khmer music, this astonishingly beautiful work  combines a requiem for the dead and lost with the Buddhist bangsokol funeral ritual for spirits to find peace.

It creates humanity and hope out of horror that is possibly unimaginable to anyone who hasn't experienced it, and it passes hope and tradition onto the next generation.

I've put my photo of the people I don't know in a frame.

The Khmer Rouge took thousands of photos of  people imprisoned and tortured and killed at the S 21 prison in Phnom Pehn, which is now the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide. Some of these photos were used in Bangsokol. For thousands, the only photographic record of their existence is of them in hell.

To be given photos of Cambodians from those generations when they were happy is a treasured gift.

22 October 2017


A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter III: 1896–1956

Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings
13 October 2017
Forum Theatre

Last chance to be a part of thus magnificent experience is TONIGHT at The Wrap.

Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker

As I'm still grinning inanely or crying uncontrollably from chapters III and IV, here are some more of Sarah Walker's incredible photos.

Taylor Mac & the exhibitionists. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & men who would've been conscripted. Photo by Sarah Walker.
Taylor Mac & the youngest and oldest person at the show. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac w Declan Greene & Matt Lutton. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker
The burlesque dancers. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac . Photo by Sarah Walker
Mama Alto. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & Does someone know this amazing woman's name? Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & Matt Ray. Photo by Sarah Walker
Neil Morris & Brent Watkin. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac & the straight men. Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac. Photo by Sarah Walker
Jack Beeby giving birth. Photo by Sarah Walker
Viva DeConcini (#QueerGrannySquare). Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac . Photo by Sarah Walker
Taylor Mac . Photo by Sarah Walker
The flee to the suburbs. Photo by Sarah Walker

21 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Two Jews Walk Into A Theatre

Two Jews Walk Into A Theatre
Brian Lipson and Gideon Obarzanek
19 October 2017
Beckett Theatre
to 22 October

Brian Lipson and Gideon Obarzane. Photo by Sarah Walker

Laurence Lipson and Zenek Obarzanek never met but their sons, actor Brian Lipson and dancer/choreographer Gideon Obarzanek, have worked together making theatre in Melbourne. Last year the fathers met for the first time waiting in the Arts House foyer to see a show their sons had made about the fictional meeting of their fathers. This Melbourne Festival, they are meeting again for the first time on the too-high foyer chairs at the Coopers Malthouse.

Brian's now in his 60s and Gideon's in his 50s. As middle age is the time when you're horrified or thrilled to see more of a parent in yourself than you ever imagined, what better time to become their fathers on stage.

With conversations that are partly improvised, it's a satire about the theatre they have made together, an examination of Australian Jewish identity and a reflection on the father-son relationship.

Children mostly know their parents in a way that no one else can, and this knowledge is mostly formed from interactions and behaviours that no one else sees. The adult children create loving characters in their fathers – even when they are angry and stubborn – but it's their sharing of the moments they never forgot as children that shows the heart of the work.

20 October 2017


Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Festival
14 October 2017
Malthouse Forecourt
to 22 October

Susie Dee & Nicci Wilks. Photo by Tim Grey

Caravan is ready to hitch itself to the nearest tow-bar and visit festivals around the world, but it's not worth waiting to see if it finds a park at the Malthouse again.

Judy (Susie Dee) and her daughter Donna (Nicci Wilks) live in a caravan. They've stayed in places with views of power lines and bins but home is home and there's hope for 30-something Donna to get an ending that's happier than the ones she gives her Tinder dates. And hope for an ending that isn't her being as happy as Judy is – Judy sees the positive – about spending her last night on earth (again) in the same caravan.

With a bitterly dark humour and fearlessly hilarious performances, their clownish extremes are initially very easy to watch, but clowns are holders of truth. The mother–daughter relationship becomes more uncomfortable – and personal – as it explores the complications of assumed love. There's always love, and the expectation of love, but competitiveness and resentment can distort love and leave it unrecognisable, even when it's as tender as the liver Donna fries up for dinner or as obvious as the enlarged liver that Judy is so very proud of.

Written by Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Wayne Macauley and Melissa Reeves – srsly, what a team – and co-created by Dee and Wilks, it's development began with four scripts about body organs in a caravan in a Collingwood carpark – when it was 40 degrees.

Outside in the Malthouse Forecourt, it's still October-chilly at night but op shop blankets ensure that the audience are cosy while looking into the too-cosy-for-comfort van.

Their new view of Melbourne still feels like the outer suburbs in the new van that's been re-fitted and designed by Marg Horwell. Starting with a 1970s orange bedspread that's so loud it might start a new retro bedspread trend, every original fitting is filled with details from medications to toy horses, and secrets are hidden in every storage nook and cranny.

While the individual contributions are felt, none outshine the other and create a consistent voice that's been developed by years of artistic collaboration and friendship. Book a blankie now because some of the last shows have booked out.

18 October 2017

MELBOURNE FESTIVAL: Taylor Mac, Chapter II & the G word

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, Chapter II: 1836–1886

Taylor Mac, Pomegranate Arts and Nature's Darlings
13 October 2017
Forum Theatre

Taylor Mac. Hour 7. Photo by Sarah Walker

Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music Chapter II  included re-enacting the American Civil War, taking the racism out of The Mikado by setting it on Mars, moving all the chairs in the Forum, singing with helium and making even more new best friends. And ping-pong balls; has anyone talked about the ping-pong balls that Melbourne is loving in our own freaky way?

Taylor Mac. Hour 8. Photo by Sarah Walker

Sarah Walker's photos can tell story of Chapter II. She captures the why we're so in love with this show. Look at those smiles!

Hour 11. The balloons were worth catching

But back to Chapter 1. Something happened off stage, while Taylor was flying in a harness: the announcement of the McArthur Foundation Grants, which are incorrectly known as the 'genius' grants. Taylor got one. (As did with playwright Annie Baker, who wrote John that was at the MTC earlier this year.)

Taylor Mac. Hour 9. Photo by Sarah Walker

I first saw Taylor in 2008 in The Be(a)st of Taylor Mac. He had a ukelele, a suitcase full of op-shop drag and a lot of sequins and glitter. He performed to an intimate group at the Famous Spiegeltent next to Arts Centre Melbourne before going to the Feast festival in Adelaide. (Feast was directed by Dan Clarke, who is now working at Arts Centre Melbourne.)

Taylor Mac & Machine Dazzle. Hour 12. Photo by Sarah Walker

I've been a fan ever since, and may have squealed when I found out that the 24-hour show was coming to Melbourne. Judy (Taylor's preferred pronoun; it really is easy to understand) shared work that started from the personal, ignored aesthetic and acceptable ideas of how to story, and connected with people who may never have thought they would connect with the radical idea of being your authentic self and seeing the world through a different gaze.

Many artists affirm how I see myself and my community. That night with Taylor changed how I saw myself in my community.

I left knowing that drag was could be exciting, embracing and subversive in ways that said 'fuck off' to all ridiculous assumptions of masculinity or femininity. And that it didn't have to insult women.

Taylor Mac, Dandy Minions (including Mama Also in the green wig) & audience (including Richard Watts, Tom Halls & Simone French). Hour 10

And I stopped resisting the Q word. My first memories of "queer" was it being re-appropriated as an insult. Re-re-appropriating queer as positive and inclusive has been bloody marvelous.

Mama Alto – one of Melbourne's Dandy Minions: the magnificent locals helping to make the 24-hour show – explains queer and queering rather wonderfully in this piece in The Music. (Or read it in this issue, which includes some very groovy writers.)

The Civil War. Photo by Sarah Walker

Taylor's next trip to Melbourne was The Ziggy Stardust Meets Tiny Tim Songbook or Comparison is Violence. I left knowing that glitter belongs on every face that wants it and my reviews began looking for more positive than negative.

I'm not surprised that the G word is being thrown around.

But the word also dismisses the work it takes to create works of genius.

Jackie Smith & Moira Finucaine. Photo by Sarah Walker

Maybe being open to those ideas that are usually rejected, finding the people who you want to create with – let's not forget that a team of glorious people are part of the 24-hour show –, and ignoring the NO voices* is always an amazing place to start.

Dan Giovannoni as Yum Yum in The Mikado. Photo by Sarah Walker

* including critics; good writers are not always right.


Taylor Mac In Conversation on Saturday at 2.30.

The Wrap: closing night party on Sunday.

Circus Oz Strong Women. Photo by Sarah Walker

Chanon Judson. Photo by Sarah Walker

Musical Director Matt Ray, who is also on stage for 24 hours. Photo by Sarah Walker