18 October 2019

MIAF: Gender Euphoria

Gender Euphoria
in association with Arts Centre Melbourne
15 October 2019
The Famous Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 20 October

"Gender Eurphoria" Mama Alto. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Press 6.

That's Mama Alto's advice. She gives damn good advice.

When dealing with a robo call during an election, there wasn't an answer that was right for her. When only only option is "1" or "2",  press 6. Binaries only exist in computing.

Welcome to Gender Euphoria. It's a state of mind, a way of being. It's the world we're creating. It's an end to gender dysphoria and a celebration of hope and life.

It's a fuck off to the hate created by fear and to the fear created by hate. It's an end to the ignorance and stupidity that create shame. It's an end to invisibility, hiding and the idea that discomfort is the fault of the uncomfortable person.

It's heartbreak and anger and the relief of over overcoming them.

It's song, burlesque, poetry, comedy, witchcraft, dance, sequins, pride, pride flags, ruffles, flying, supporting, well-cut suits, music and unmitigated joy that shifts the weight of shame.

It's Nevo Zisan's gender whispering to children that they are loved and infecting people with empathy.

Co-created by Mama Alto and director Maude Davey, it was first seen at this year's Midsumma festival, and was, at the time, the largest cast of Trans and gender-diverse performers seen in Australia. This time, the cast is bigger

Along with Mama and Nevo, there's Amao Leota Lu, Miss Bailee Rose, Fury, Harvey Zeilinski, Mahla Bird, Mx Munro, Ned Dixon, Quinn Eades and new special guests Crystal Love, Nikki Viveca and Krishna Istha. And musical director Ned Dixon and bass player Cerise Howard. And Auslan interpreters Mac Gordon and Kirri Dangerfield. And everyone working backstage and in the background.

Embargos mean that its next performances can't be talked about yet, but there are more performances. And I hope that it keeps getting seen at festivals all over the world until audiences wonder why Trans and gender-diverse performers are in a show of their own.

Alexis Desaulniers-Lea is the Gender Euphoria photographer. Photos help people be seen. I'll add more photos next week when they are ready. You've gotta see everyone.

"Gender Eurphoria" Maude Davey, Mama Alto. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Harvey Zeilinski . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Mahla Bird, Quinn Eades. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Nikki Viveca. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Crystal Love. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Mahla Bird. Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Mx Munro . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Miss Bailee Rose . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Cerise Howard . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Nevo Zisan . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Krishna Istaha . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Fury . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

"Gender Eurphoria" Amao Leota Lu . Photo by Alexis Desaulniers-Lea

Note: When you slip up and use the wrong pronoun, you apologise because it is YOUR fault, not the fault of the person that you've misgendered. Don't know what pronoun they use? Ask them. And see how easy it is to use a gender-neutral first-person grammatically-correct pronoun in English.

16 October 2019

Review: Yadna's 47th Birthday

Yadna's 47th Birthday
Lessons with Luis
13 October 2019
Fleming Park Community Hall
next show 20 October
Facebook event page

Lessons with Luis. "Yadna's 47th Birthday"

Dear Luis,

Thank you very much for inviting me to Yadna's 47th Birthday party.

The hall looked so good with the decorations and the cakes and chips were yummy; I had a pink cake. I was also really happy that I could wear the badge that you made; it's my most favourite badge because no one else in the world has a badge of a happy meerkat fixing a bicycle.

I'm sorry Luelin wrapped your cat puzzle up as a pass-the-parcel prize; if I see one like it at an op shop, I will buy it for you. I also have a little brother and even as adults, little brothers can be really annoying. But it was really nice when he sang Yadna your mum's favourite song. I think your mum would be very happy knowing that you have a neighbour like Yadna who makes you both lasagne.

Some photos I took at the party
and Luis's photo of the doily I made Yadna.
(Luis thought it was for catching spiders!)

I'm going to a lot Melbourne International Arts Festival shows this month, so I write about things called the canon (which isn't a glitter canon; glitter canons are far better) and use words like intersectionality, diversity, context, discourse, and immersive experiential theatre that creates community through the unconscious impact of subjective narrative. I also use some swear words, which I know you don't like, when I describe art.

Words to describe you and your super-excellent party are: cool, super-cool, very talented, kind and loving. Love is a very important word, isn't it.

(And immersive experiential theatre that creates community through the unconscious impact of subjective narrative. And in the name of all that's mother-fucking holy, how is there not a Lessons with Luis tv show that will stream all over the world and be seen and loved as much as Nanette?)

I also really like your new song, "Cat Surprise". Not only because it's a good song, but because the lyrics mean a lot to me. I love it when I'm walking down the street and see a surprise cat, especially when the cat wants a pat. I don't have a cat at home any more. This is sad news, but my cat Molly had to go to the rainbow bridge earlier in the year. That means she died. She was just over 19 and a half, which is very very old, so it was time for her to go. (Maybe she has given your mum a surprise visit and they've had a pat together.) I still miss her very much, but she was loved and safe since she was found by my neighbour in a drain as a four-week-old kitten. Loved and safe are very good things. And neighbours who are friends, like Yadna, are also very good things to have in your life.

I know that you and Luelin are giving Yadna a second birthday party – because she deserves two parties – and I hope that lots of people come and bring her presents.

Love from


PS. I'm a bit more than 47 and I think Yadna is a little bit older than me, but I won't tell her that.

12 October 2019

MIAF: Grey Rock

Grey Rock
Remote Theater Project

11 October 2019
Merlyn Theatre
to 12 October

"Grey Rock". Remote Theater Project

A former TV repairman is building a rocket in a small village in the West Bank in Palestine. The only place big enough to hide its building and launch it a mosque.

A man finds a way to show love and hope to his daughter and the world after the death of his wife.

Grey Rock is a story about living in an occupied land but isn't about occupation. It's a deeply personal and domestic story about connection. In this case, how Yusef (Khalifa Natour) has more computer capacity on his smart phone now than the US team that sent that first rocket to the moon in 1969. So he sets about making a rocket in secret. He's helped by a local man who makes deliveries (Ivan Azazian) and his Iman (Motaz Malhees), as his daughter (Fidaa Zaidan) and her fiancé (Alaa Shehada) try to discover what he's doing. Eventually the world finds out.

The Remote Theater Project was founded by Alexandra Aron in 2018. Based in New York, it commissons artists who are geographically or politically isolated to develop new work and tour internationally.

Grey Rock was written and directed by Amir Nizar Zuabi from Palestine and is performed and created by people from all over the Palestinian territories, except Gaza. Written in English for an American  audience, it was developed in Palestine and first performed in New York at La MaMa Theater in January this year; some of the cast had only performed in Arabic before. It's heading back to the USA after this Melbourne season.

It takes a while to settle into the pace and gentleness of the story – and a lot of its intimacy is lost is the Merlyn – but it sneaks into your heart as its truth becomes clear and its impossibility becomes so believable that it's impossible to not look at the, nearly, full moon when you leave the theatre.

MIAF: The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes

The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes
Back to Back Theatre
10 October 2019
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 20 October

"The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes". Back to Back Theatre

Five activists are having a meeting. It's like every meeting anyone has been to in a community space. It's like the meetings the Extinction Rebellion organisers have been having. It's like every work meeting about collecting for charity or organising a staff outing. This one is so low key that there isn't even a tray of biscuits from the supermarket.

Back to Back Theatre are extraordinary.

The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes has a short season for the festival and heads to the USA in January. Unlike previous works, there's no holy-wow design, historically/spiritually encompassing themes or unanswerable questions to offer safe distance (Ganesh Versus the Third Reich, Lady Eats Apple).

With only five chairs, a screen showing voice-recognition surtitles, some tape, a ladder and a large foam block, there's no artifice to make assumptions about the script, the company and the performers. It may even be the kind of show that some people expect when they go to show by a company whose members have intellectual disabilities.

And it's nothing like what it looks like.

Michael Chan, Mark Deans, Simon Laherty, Sarah Mainwaring and Scott Price talk about things that they'd like to change in the world and their lives.

They get it wrong and make assumptions. Scott tells Sarah that she needs to be careful of paedophiles; she reminds him that she's a 36-year-old woman. The "Siri"s voice recognition makes mistakes – and there's an argument about if it should even be there. Mark Chan gets Wadawurrung and Wurundjeri mixed up. Mark Deans puts a tape line on the ground that isn't to be crossed. Siri  makes choices.

Most of the cast have been with the company for years. They've created and performed in some of the most internationally acclaimed works ever made in Australia. They are among the handful of permanently employed actors in the country. To think that they are just having a conversation about what it's like to have having an intellectual disability is as condescending as some of the things they discuss. To assume they are even talking about their own experiences dismisses the basic conceit of acting.

Director Bruce Galdwin, the cast and other members of the company have been developing this new work for about two and a half years. It's changed a lot during that time.

Somewhere towards the end of the night, the cast ask each other if "they" – the other people in meeting who are smiling politely and laughing when they think they should – get it. They know that "they don't get it". I didn't get it until then; I made many assumptions and want to see it again to try to see everything I didn't get.

The Shadow Whose Prey The Hunter Becomes is unexpected and may only make complete sense in the context of Back to Back's years of work – which makes it even more extraordinary as a stand alone piece.

10 October 2019

MIAF: A Brimful of Asha

A Brimful of Asha

Why Not Theatre
9 October 2019
Beckett Theatre
to 13 October

Ravi and Asha Jain. "Brimful of Asha"

If I had a mother like Asha, and a family like the Jains, I'd probably be married. I'd probably be at the finding partners for my children stage. And I'd be able to make damn good samosas. Maybe Asha is right?

Ravi Jain was born in Canada and his parents are from India; he explains that he's Canadian and they are Indian. In his late 20s, after he'd studied and travelled and was forming his own theatre company, his parents knew that it was time for him to get married; after all, he was 27! A Brimful of Asha is Ravi and his mum, Asha, telling the story of how his family tried to introduce him to a suitable wife.

Ravi is a theatre maker; Asha doesn't really like theatre, but she's determined to convince Ravi and the audience that she did the right thing. He's determined to convince Asha that meeting someone you like and getting married when and if you want to is the right thing.

Asha and Ravi meet the audience as they come in and offer a samosa, made by Asha. Sitting at a family table with a pot of tea, they tell the story about how Ravi's parents and family did their best to arrange a marriage for him; after all, it worked for their generation. The Jains are clearly a very happy and loving family. How many people would perform a show with their mum and tour the world?*

The show began when Ravi told his mum how his friends love hearing the stories of the arrangements and that he wanted to make a theatre show out of it. She wanted to make sure that her side was heard. She'd never been on stage, and doesn't really get what her son does, but they started telling the story to audiences and began writing.

At times, the arrangement experience is still excruciatingly embarrassing for Ravi and hilarious for anyone who wasn't in that same situation, bu this story never demeans or dismisses his parents and their beliefs. Even if Asha weren't on stage telling her story, Ravi wouldn't think of humiliating his parents.  And lots of people tell Asha that she's right.

Ravi also gets the opportunity to ask his mum if she followed her dreams, despite her happiness and family.

It's ultimately a story about love and family and all the ways love is shown in families. There's a lot of joy and, but, as Asha says, fighting with her husband is also one of the best things about being married.

Telling our stories creates community and breaks down barriers that never really existed in the first place. Being welcomed into this story is delightful.

* There's also Hannah and Angela Norris in After You.

The Norman Cook (Fatboy Slim) remix.

09 October 2019

MIAF: Wonders

5 October 2019
The Famous Spiegeltent, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 20 October

Scott Silven. "Wonders"

If you know how it's done, what's the point? You can look into the shadows behind the stage, watch Scott Silven's hands and refuse to shut your eyes when he asks you to – and you will be left even more amazed at Wonders.

Magic? Mind reading? Trick? Mass hypnosis? Silven calls himself a mentalist and an illusionist. He never pretends that he's magic. He's soap-opera-lead good looking with dark hair that's a just-right cut of either too short or too long and a dark suit that could be hiding all sorts of tricks.

The Famous Spiegeltent's velvet, wood panels, mirrors, coloured glass and ghosts of thousands of performances heightens the mood of the simple stage with quaint olde worlde props and smokey lights.

He's charming in a way that lets everyone think they could be his friend. He wouldn't offend at any dinner party and the sort of person who you wouldn't hate if you were stuck next to him on a long-haul flight. As he talks of reading and escaping to his grandmother's attic as a child and playing with her necklace as he counted the seconds to darkness, he's every child that felt they were different; it's so easy to trust him and his stories.

And we do.

We know he's not reading our minds, but it's wonderful to think that he his. His skill is faultless. He makes accurate predictions, guesses words that people are thinking, and produces drawings and ideas and thoughts that are for more than misdirection and sleight of hand.

It's wonderful. His narrative is minimal, but he talks about re-igniting a sense of wonder and community. His wonder starts with nostalgia, empathy and recognition. This creates joy and comfort. And it's wonderful to be in a room that's so full of joy.

I don't want to know the tricks.

06 October 2019

MIAF: Colossus

Stephanie Lake Company
5 October 2019
Fairfax Studio, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 6 October

"Colossus". Stephanie Lake Company

Colossus was given the competitive Arts Centre Melbourne and Melbourne Fringe Take Over commission for 2018. This gives the company the resources, support and previously almost-unheard-of opportunity to take over the Fairfax Studio area and create a new work. It also makes connections with the most independent of theatre festivals and the venue at the peak of arts in our city. The Melbourne Fringe season of Colossus sold out and was regularly talked about as an unforgettable show of 2018.

MIAF director Jonathan Holloway said at a media briefing that the only way he could see this show that so many people were talking about was to book it for the festival. It sold out again.

Melbourne-based choreographer Stephanie Lake formed her own company in 2014. She became known in Melbourne for her work with Chunky Move and Lucy Guerin Inc and has worked with many Australian and international companies and had work in international festivals.

Colossus is a work that couldn't have been made without the the support of a bigger organisation. There are 50 dancers in black on a stage that is a bit bigger than size of 50 dancers lying arm to arm, feet to the centre, in a circle. They are young and emerging dancers and are performing in an international festival.

Working with so many dancers is rare; I can't think of a contemporary company that is able to create with so many people.

For all of this alone, the work is so unique that you can regret not getting a ticket.

The bonus is that it's exquisite and impossible to look away. It begins in stillness, in that circle of dancers, and one movement creates momentum and energy that comes in waves that gently lap and tsunami and breaks apart and joins together until it eventually collapses. It's like a physics lesson as movement from one dancer creates movement in the next, and individuals swarm in masses or and break away for a moment before return is inevitable. No one is more important. No one is not important. The community are as much the art as its creators.

The community is also Robin Fox's composition that is almost inseparable from the movement as it follows and leads when it needs to, and Bosco Shar's lighting that creates a world that interacts with the dancers interacting with each other. It's stunning. The floor and walls are white. Sometimes shadows are created by light, but there are bodies between the source and the wall and at times it looks like there are shadows of shadows as height and depth and shades of grey change and move as the join and cross and fade.

It's so difficult to create work with a large cast, but Colossus has been seen twice now – and that's not enough.

05 October 2019

MIAF: Anthem


3 October 2019
Playhouse, Arts Centre Melbourne
to 6 October

"Anthem". Photo by Pia Johnson

is the 20-year follow up to the much celebrated 1988 production of the Melbourne Workers Theatre's Who's Afraid of the Working Class. I didn't see it. I wasn't living in Melbourne and somehow even missed the tour. When I moved to Melbourne, I saw some of the MWT's last productions but still regret missing Who's Afraid. And I miss an arts political culture that supported a company called the Melbourne Workers Theatre (1987–2007). Sometimes we don't realise how important some voices are until they are gone – even if it's nice to not hear so much of Kennett.

The Who's Afraid writers were Andrew Bovell, Patricia Cornelius, Melissa Reeves and Christos Tsiolkas, who have since individually made significant impacts on our theatre and other writing. Each have also written at least one thing that I've loved so much – SO much – that I've asked myself why I haven't loved all of their work.

To see them all writing new work for a main stage in an international arts festival is something to cheer about. Thank you Arts Centre Melbourne.

To re-visit independent theatre 20 years after it was first made, find a way to get the gang back together – including director Susie Dee, who conceived the idea of original work, and composer Irine Vela –, and to offer enough financial support to cast, create and stage a follow up is so positive and exciting that it offers hope in a bleak arts scene. Let's hope it also leads to re-staging some of those Cornelius, Reeves and Bovell plays that only got one run; Tsiolkas is already read by a lot of people.

On a simple level, Anthem asks what we sing about today; hands up if you know your AFL team's song and mumble the words to Australia's national anthem. Like the first play, the four wrote an individual story and these stories are interwoven into a bigger story about the issues that face our city, and world, today.

Their common ground is trains. Trains are a social equalisers in Melbourne with most lines beginning in very far out suburbs and passing through some of our wealthiest suburbs.

"Anthem". Photo by Pia Johnson

Marg Horwell's striking design creates the mood. Her designs consistently get into the heads of the writers and bring their worlds to a visual life that I doubt any writer could imagine until they saw it. It looks like an underground station that reminds me of the old Spencer Street station. But they could be anywhere with functional concrete walls, stairs to the places we don't see and benches that are moved and reconfigured to create the feel of crowded trains while giving the stories as much emotional space as they need.

With a consistently remarkable cast of 14 – bloody Nora, they are good –, Vela's score played live and building the emotional complexity, and Dee's direction that never lets go of the big picture, it's easy to see it as one work, even if the writing voices are different.

Bovell's chorus of commuters makes the ritual of public transport feel mythic and his story of a Myki ticket confrontation leaves it impossible to chose whose side you're on. Cornelius brings the still-too-rare sight of middle aged and ageing women onto the stage. These women should be at the best time of their lives and yet have no way to even imagine a safe, let alone a comfortable, future. Reeve's story of exploitation and unpaid wages becomes a love story that finds joy even when everything else is pretty horrible. And Tsiolkas's continues to create Melbourne characters who are so recognisable that I don't want to see him write a middle-aged arts writer still struggling to rent in the Bayside area.

There's empathy, anger and frustration in these stories but it's hard to know who this show is talking to and what we are laughing at when it's easier to laugh than to despair. We happily cheer a woman singing for coins on a fictional train, but did any of us give $1 to the young woman begging for change on Princes Bridge when we walked back to Flinders Street station to get a train home?

And I didn't even do that; I drove because the Frankston line only runs a twice an hour after 10.00, which correlates to who catches the trains at night (end of the line suburbs) compared to those who catch it during the day (close to the city suburbs). Try relying on trains if you don't have a car, live way beyond the tram zone and don't have an Uber account because you don't have a credit card. Public transport might be an equaliser if it really served the people who need it.

And try talking about class, race and equity during a capital-A Arts festival.

Anthem is a passionate reflection of a city that struggles with its own inequity, even as it sings along to that Courtney Barnett song about having to move to Preston. But there's a degree of political and social writersplaining that takes away from its authenticity; you has me at Northcunt and lost me at nihilism.

These are stories about people who face so many of the barriers explored in this work that they may never see themselves on the stage.

And perhaps that's the point.

Having a large cast means that there are always observers to each story. And while we're following stories, it's being with the observers that create the moments when Anthem spits on our assumptions and forces us to be on the train wondering what we would do if it were us. Or what we didn't do the time it was us. Or when we complained that a train was delayed...

The biggest hope is that this isn't the only production of Anthem. Like its inspiration, it's a work that needs to develop and be seen far wider than a festival audience.