31 January 2019

MIDSUMMA: The Butch Monologues

The Butch Monologues
Theatre Works and Stage Mom
28 January 2019
Theatre Works
to 3 February

Melbourne cast of The Butch Monologues

I'm still getting my heart around The Butch Monologues.

Butches, masculine women, transmen and gender rebels tell the collected stories of others who identify as butch. There are about 50 short stories in each performance. They have been collected since 2013 by director Julie McNamara (Mac) and writer Laura Bridgeman (Doc), and are from the UK, Europe, USA and Caribbean. Some from Australia will be added after their visits to Melbourne and to Sydney.

They are stories we don't see on our stages, on our tvs, in our books. And if we do, they are peeping in from the edges of the story and rarely seen saving the day or are being fought over for love.

Each city it comes to has a new cast and no one tells their own story. Melbourne sees Fiona Jones, Anne Harris (Dan), Quinn Eades, Jax Jacki Brown and Jacques De Vere, along with Mac and Doc. And there's nothing hotter than people being their authentic selves.

I've said the word "butch" more in the last few days than I've ever said it because it used to be such an insult. In the late 1980s, "butch" was so insulting that butch women were called "trucks" in the club I went to every Sunday night – wearing short shirts, brogues and long hair. Butch women were othered within a community that claimed to be inclusive. We were little shits.

Bridgeman – who has set a new standard for well-dressed even by Melbourne standards – was also around in the 1980s and says in her introduction to the script that she was scared it was going to be "a collection of rage".

Many stories do come from rage, anger and shame, but they are full of humour and a lot of love, especially as they witness how gender expression continues to change – and stay the same.

And the more stories that are told, the more they are not stories of otherness. Ashamed to wear the clothes you love in public? Stayed in a relationship for every wrong reason? Been embarrassed at the gym? Kept secrets from your family? Denied yourself love because you're not meant to like that type of person? One of the many frustrations of being on the edges looking in is knowing that your stories are pretty much the same as those about the people dancing in the centre.

The stories in The Butch Monologues are real, but they're not told verbatim. While their natural voices are kept, the writing is structured and styled to be as poetic as it is natural. Bridgeman's writing and McNamara's direction ensure that the heart of each story is heard, sometimes most loudly in the silent subtext. And while each new show includes different stories, they are ordered and chosen to tell a much bigger story about identity and ultimately inclusiveness.

This ongoing process of collecting experiences and five people reading stories on a stage creates community among people who may never have known they were all together. I hope it has a chance to come back to Melbourne and be seen more widely.

And I will never look at the IKEA logo without thinking of fisting again.

28 January 2019

MIDSUMMA this weekend: Homophonic!

3 Shades Back
31 January to 2 February
La Mama Courthouse

Homophonic! brings the disco ball to the concert hall in three evenings of new classical music by queer composers.

Directing her eighth event,  Miranda Hill describes it as "celebrating Sapphic symphonists, homosexual harmonies, and the long and proud tradition of composers being as gay as the day is long.

Classical music has a rich heritage of LGBTQ+  musicians, performers and composers, and this concert celebrates the legacy of artists such as Tchaikovsky, Poulenc, Copland and Cage, by performing the work of 20th and 21st century queer composers, in an exciting program featuring famously gay composers alongside new Australian music."

Homophonic! 2018. Photo by Katrina Leighton

Thomas Ades, Life Story
Tansy Davies, Neon
Peter Wilson, they who fly on wings of glass
Nico Muhly, I cannot attain unto it
Naima Fine, new work
Louisa Trewartha, new work
and a fabulous encore arranged by Gemma Horbury

3 Shades Black: Jacob Abela, Merewyn Bramble, Emily Clarke, Natasha Conrau, Judith Dodsworth, Laila Engle, Phoebe Green, Karen Heath, Robin Henry, Miranda Hill, Matthew Horsely, Zachary Johnston, Jennifer Mills, Katherine Philp and Thea Rossen.
Consort of Melbourne: Leonie Thomson, Kristy Biber, Jenny George, Christopher Roache, Ben Owen, Director: Steven Hodgson.
Directed and presented by: Miranda Hill

More in:

26 January 2019

MIDSUMMA: Gender Euphoria - photos

Gender Euphoria
Arts Centre Melbourne
Co-created by Mama Alto and Maude Davey
24 January 2019
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
one night only

What a magnificent night. There were lots of happy tears and smiles that are only seen when a barrier is smashed.

During the curtain calls, when everyone was dressed in the trans flag colours of white, blue and pink, I had a moment when I realised that even a few years ago, many of these artists would only be seen in queer clubs or not at all; now they are on our main stages.

Gender Euphoria was the largest all trans and gender-diverse cast on a main stage major arts venue in Australia.

Let's break this record soon and hope that it won't be long before gender diverse and non-binary is as relevant as eye colour or shoe size.

Celebrate yourself. Accept love. Reject any boring, scared and ignorant voices.  Make dysphoria a useful word for Scrabble.

Be euphoric.

Amao Leota Lu (she). Photo by Alex Desaulniers-Lea
Bailee Rose (she). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

 Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Fury (they) and Quinn Eades (they or he) Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea
Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Fury (they). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea
Harvey Zielinski (he). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Mahla Bird (they) and Mama Alto (she). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Mahla Bird (they) and Quinn Eades (they or he). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Mahla Bird (they). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Le

Mama Alto (she). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Mx George Munro (they or she). by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea 
Nevo Zisin (they). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Miss Bailee Rose (she). Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea
Quinn Eades (they or he). Phot by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Ned Dixon, backstage

Maude Davey, backstage

22 January 2019

MIDSUMMA: Truly Madly Britney

Truly Madly Britney
Theatre Works and Stage Mom
20 January 2019
Theatre Works
to 9 February

Truly Madly Britney. Photo by Lachlan Woods

Pop icon obsession is dismissed as much as it is understood. Can anyone really say that there isn't at a pop star that will be your bff as soon as you find a way to meet? Truly Madly Britney dives hilariously into the frustration and pain under the glittery joy of knowing too much about your icons and the chorey to every video.

Adam (Adam Garner) loves Steve (Nick Clark) so much that he's happy to max their credit cards to go on a pilgrimage to LA to pay homage to Britney Spears circa 2007 – the year the Mousketeer-cum-teen-superstar-cum-queer-guiding-light-goddess is remembered by photos of her shaved head –  that culminates with meet-and-greet tix for her Vegas show. Or LIVING THE DREAM for a boy, who was once in teen pop band, in love with a boy, who works in retail at the biggest shopping mall in the southern hemisphere.

Of course following the dream of a breakdown is never going to go smoothly, especially as they meet fellow Britney fans. There's airbnb host Chad (Alex Threw) who isn't at all gay, and Judy (Louisa Wall) who has backstage passes for her and her terminally-ill son Kevin (Karl Richmond). And Chanella Marci is everyone else, starting as a Savage Garden fan; all Australian boy couples look like Savage Garden.

Writer Alberto Di Troia began developing the script when he was studying at VCA and met director Hannah Fallowfield. They bonded over Britney and it's since had a reading at the MTC Cybec series and been welcomed by Theatre Works for Midsumma.

It's so wonderful to see Theatre Works's Midsumma season mixing international shows with new writing, emerging creatives and a cast who are on their individual ways to becoming favourites. Without this kind of support, shows like this don't get the chance to develop and new voices aren't heard. Truly Madly Britney will develop further, but don't wait for the next season.

Like a pop star having a really shit year, extreme is the only way to go. And they do. Although it's a bit uneven, director Fallowfield finds a lovingly outrageous tone that's backed up with close harmonies of camp, consent, and finding comfort in knowing that you're not the only one going through hell. Designer Bethany J Fellows creates a Vegas mood with a single light-globe budget and adds layers of meaning by being anti-Vegas and showing all the stagecraft secrets. And it all works towards a climax so magnificently wrong that anything less would be offensive.

08 January 2019

What Melbourne Loved in 2018, part 13

One more latecomer; extra late because I ignored email for a couple of weeks. If there are any more late ones, send them through and I'll add them here.

Cathy Hunt
Director, dramaturg

Cathy Hunt

Favourite moments in 2018
Brother’s Wreck by Jada Alberts at Malthouse located you inside a very difficult and unguarded family dynamic,. Taking place during the Darwin build up, it was interrupted with bursts of rage in a powerful performance by Dion William, deep grief just able to be weathered with community, and tough warmth of the auntie kind dispensed by Lisa Flanagan. All finally released as the rain came. Moved and shook me.

Trustees by Belarus Free Theatre at Melbourne Festival and Malthouse. There were moments in this layered work where you had to hold your breath, particularly the charged exchanges between Tammy Anderson and Daniel Schlusser dredging up the underlying colonialism which still snakes between us all and underpins everything in this country. Schlusser stood in for the dominant white men like John Howard and Anderson demanded that we really see her as a black woman comfortable in her own skin and a playwright, while dismissing and tolerating his extravagant and vocal guilt. The sequence that most struck me was driven by Niharika Senapati who started from a very relaxed place but then was able to escalate and carry the whole audience with her exuberance until they were nearly dancing out of their chairs before she was brutally thrown down and oppressed.

Aurum choreographed by Alice Topp, Australian Ballet. Dance so intoxicating that I couldn’t take in enough with my eyes; unlike anything I’ve ever seen the Australian Ballet make.

Nether choreographed by Lauren Langlois for Next Move 11 at Chunky Move. Like witnessing a new language take form and be articulated through the body. (Reminded me of the film Arrival )

Calamity Jane from One Eyed Man, Arts Centre Melbourne. Recklessly hectic, hugely joyous and delightfully queer, though I badly wanted Calamity to make a home with Katie and depart wildly from the original, heteronormative ending! Seeing it again soon when it moves to the Comedy Theatre. Can’t wait!!

The Crucible at VCA directed by Adena Jacobs. They rediscovered the motif of contamination in witchcraft through a design element of something strange and viscous that looked like maple syrup dripping dow; made me apprehend this play in an utterly new way. Potent gender-blind casting too, Sam Rowe as Mary Warren was quite remarkable, as was Lucy Ansell as John Proctor.

The Nightingale & The Rose, by Little Ones Theatre at Theatre Works, for the astonishing dynamic between Jennifer Vuletic as the Nightingale and Yuchen Wang as the Rose; a strange, sexy impossible yearning between an older woman and younger man (which reminded me of Simon Callow’s book Love is Where it Falls)

Strangers in Between by Tommy Murphy at fortyfivedownstairs for Midsumma directed by Daniel Lammin. It felt so much like Sydney in the 90s, so movingly honouring the families we find for ourselves.

I also really dug Morgan Rose’s The Bachelor S17 E5 at Mechanics – totally inspired. I was there crushed in on the closing night and really loved having the space to contemplate the absurdity of the culture of giving the alpha male so much space and pitting all the female-identified characters against him. Will Bride’s absent minded sense of natural entitlement was absolute gold.

Although I worked on both of these last two shows, I can’t keep from sneakily mentioning them as they were amazing pieces of theatre incorporating music and sound in totally new ways.

Dybbuks from Chamber Made at Theatre Works, conceived and directed by Samara Hersch. This layered work was a truly extraordinary and haunting exploration of how we can live with the dead drawing on the Jewish myth of the Dybbuk who possesses a living person and uses their voice to resolve what can never truly be resolved. Incredible vocal and physical improvisation, it was both visually and aurally overwhelming. A truly unique work to experience, it persists in the memory for its complicated beauty and concentrated consideration of difficult, dark and erotic areas of human experience.

Lorelei by Victorian Opera. A feminist opera featuring gorgeous frocks to make Ru Paul drool by Marg Horwell illuminated by Paul Jackson, directed with virtuosic talent and a superb sense of humour and humanity by Sarah Giles, libretto by Casey Benedetto and Gillian Cosgriff and lush, liquid music by Julian Langdon performed brilliantly by literal sirens Ali McGregor, Antoinette Halloran and Dimity Shepherd.

Looking forward to in 2019
Finally getting to see Blackie Blackie Brown at the Malthouse!

Control by Keziah Warner on as part of Red Stitch; I read some earlier drafts so am really interested to see the final work.

The Australian Premiere of Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill directed by the formidable and phenomenal Jenny Kemp

Also very excited to see Mr Burns, a post-electric play by Anne Washburn at fortyfivedownstairs as I’ve been wanting to see it for a while.

Lady Example by Alice Will and Caroline as I missed it in Next Wave and heard such good things.

Biladurang by Joel Bray sounds really intriguing, performed in a hotel room. I liked his work Dharawungara in Next Move 11.

I’m looking forward to seeing The Selfish Giant for Victorian Opera composed by Simon Bruckard, based on Oscar Wilde’s fairytale.

At MTC, A View From the Bridge directed by Iain Sinclair; heard great things about his production of this play in Sydney.

Also keen to see Golden Shield by Anchuli Felicia King.

And I might be lured back to Arts Centre Melbourne for the return of Merciless Gods.

SM: My favourite thing from Cathy this year is this looking forward to list. A list like this – including shows that are indie, funded, emerging, established, huge, intimate, scripted, developed, adapted, sung, danced – reminds us just how vast and diverse theatre and performance is in Melbourne. If you're looking for a list of shows to see, start here.