01 December 2016

What Melbourne loved in 2016, part 1

2016 has certainly been a year.

It's been a tough year for artists, theatre makers, administrators, producers, publicists,  journalists and arts writers. We've gone on strike, we've written angry letters and protested and still experienced, made and talked about some of the most amazing theatre that's been seen and made in Melbourne.

Not every show gets written about, but getting a review/interview/feature/tweet isn't necessarily a reflection on a show. Great ones get missed; meh ones get words.

So let's spend the next couple of weeks remembering what we loved and remembering that it's going to take a lot more to dull the hearts and minds of people who make and see theatre.

Sarah Walker
photographer extraordinaire

Sarah Walker  in front of her award-winning photo of Dash. Photo by Mike Greaney

SW favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I had two, one full of joy, one full of anxiety.

Jess Thom's Backstage in Biscuitland at Melbourne Festival was such a revelation.

I heard her chatting to Richard Watts on RRR a few days prior, ticcing "Biscuit! Hedgehog! Beans!" between words, and my initial reaction was a sense of very visceral, physical anxiety. Something about the uncontrollable nature of Tourette's made my body freak out. So getting to spend an hour with Jess's incredible brain and wiggly body was such a brilliant experience, because so swiftly, the experience of seeing her tics settled into the texture of her performance, and only the surprise and joy of certain flights of verbal fantasy remained in the space. Jess yelling "Wind! You’re a 19th century fuck up!" had me in absolute hysterics, and her grace and humour and refusal to be victimised was fierce and badass. What a lady.

Also in Melbourne Festival, I was one of the Benefactors choosing how to spend $300 in The Money.

The group floated a heap of ideas, from the thoughtful – supporting disadvantaged kids in a local school – to the ridiculous – suspend the money from a helium balloon and just let it go. With 20 minutes to go, a man bought in to the Benefactor table, thanked the person who'd bought his ticket and the woman who'd just given him 20 bucks so he could speak to us, and made his case: he was homeless, his tent, backpack and sleeping bag had been stolen, and the money would make a huge difference to his life. My two friends and I said, "Well, I mean, it's perfect. It's local, immediate, we know who we're impacting – and it takes guts to stand here and ask this. Absolutely."

But the group didn’t vote to give him the money. One man accused him of being an actor. Another didn't believe that he'd spend it on the items he'd listed. This table of left wing people sat around arguing about a man who'd come to ask for our help, and they talked about him like he wasn't even there. The suspicion and presumptions and callousness at that table will never leave me. The show ended in a flurry of disagreement. The money rolled over. The man walked out. And I was just so, so enraged and ashamed and horrified. I suppose that's what theatre should be. It should make you feel. But it didn't feel good. It felt mean and cruel and impotent. If you can't help someone right in front of you when they’re asking for it, when can you?

What SW is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: Oh my god: The Black Rider. I just so badly want that show to be the most anarchic, brutal, chaotic, brilliant and overwhelming spectacle that I’ve ever seen. I want to walk out with fire in my veins. So, you know. No pressure.

The photo by Sarah Walker that she sent me because it was a favourite one that she took.  I'm pretty sure the show, Kill Climate Deniers, will make an appearance soon. 

SM: One of my favourite things about the favourites is that I could re-name it Photo by Sarah Walker (of course). Danny and Penelope (below) both captioned their photos "Photo by Sarah Walker (of course)". Sarah's style is so recognisable and emotionally palpable; she captures the heart of the person she's photographing, and brings life to the stillness of a production shot. It's hard to imagine Melbourne's theatre scene without photos by Sarah Walker.

Danny Delahunty
director, ticketing manager, suave dresser

Danny Delahunty. Photo by Sarah Walker (of course)

DD's favourite moment in Melbourne theatre in 2016: I saw some pretty great shows this year but, wow, The Echo of the Shadow at Melbourne Festival. This is what live performance should be.

Every sense I knew I had (and some I was discovering for the first time) was stimulated. I followed my own story down the rabbit hole and didn't look back. I erased my footprints in the sand; I giggled as my shadow was tickled; I ate strawberries dipped in melted chocolate, lay tucked up in bed as a story was quietly read to me; and had a woman lay an egg in my hand, only to feel it crumble between my fingers as her legs snapped shut. And as I sat drinking spiced tea served from an upturned boat on an isolated beach somewhere underneath ACMI. I wrote about time and our personal relationship to moments in our lives, and left it in a wicker bowl for the ghosts and shadows to read.

Every page of my story was captured in a book that filled up as I journeyed through this strange land: a drip of melted chocolate, a few grains of sand, the smell of my shadow, shards of eggshell. .. and all I need to do to relive the extraordinary sensory experience any time I want, is flick through that book page by page.

What DD is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: It's too early to tell for sure, because based on the trend of Fringe this year, I've no doubt we will continue to see some absolutely amazing immersive performances born. But from what has been programmed that I know of? Most looking forward to The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets by Malthouse and Victoria Opera. I absolutely love that album.

"When it gets too hot for comfort / And you can't get an ice cream cone / 'Tain't no sin to take off your skin / And dance around in your bones"

SM: Danny recently directed Blessed at the Poppy Seed festival. It opened on the day Trump was elected and the audience were ...  I don't know ... we didn't understand the world that night. But this play brought us into a world that saw the horror of life and made a change based on love (or illness or god). And, as a community, we relaxed, had a drink and stopped ranting on Facebook for a few hours.

Penelope Bartlau
storyteller, creator, grower of garlic

Penelope Bartlau. Photo by Sarah Walker (of course)

PB's favourite moments in Melbourne theatre in 2016: Can I have two? Is that allowed?
Let’s say yes…

Melbourne Festival: The Echo of the Shadow by Teatro de los Sentidos.

Oh I know I know it's an international work, but there were a handful of Melburnians cast into this extraordinary experience. The experience? One at a time, each audience member is lead into a dark labyrinth. Inspired by the story of Hans Christian Anderson in which a journeyman lost their shadow, you become the journeyman. Every sense is attended to as you vanish into an incredible and beautiful underworld. You are attended to by gentle hands, fed a chocolate-coated strawberry, you crush an egg on someone’s thigh, and are laid down on a bed for one, in a boat, and gently rocked as you listen to the water, waves and wind. Travelling this labyrinth, this story, was one of the most singular, gentle, breathtaking and moving events I have ever encountered.

Tremor by Ashley Dyer. This work, a true hybrid of design, sound and dance, is one of the most progressive and adventurous pieces of new theatre I have seen. The set, designed by Jason Lehane, was a musical instrument made up of blades of metal – a field of blades, embedded into moving platforms. The sound designer, Nigel Brown, played the set to manipulate sound throughout the piece, as three dancers navigated their perilous environment.

I’m also really happy for Jodee Mundy, that her work Imagined Touch has been such a success.

Ok – 2.5.

What PB is looking forward to in Melbourne theatre in 2017: I am looking forward to seeing what Whitenight Ballarat promises – and hope it will be something fresh and other than Whitenight Melbourne. I am looking forward to working on The Sound of Cancer, a science-arts collaboration that explores the disease with the aim of demystifying it. I always look forward to Next Wave too.

SM: One of my favourite experiences this year was House of Dreams by Penelope and Jason Lehane. It was also one of those ones that didn't get a review.  The Johnson Collection in East Melbourne was the home and is the legacy of antique dealer and collector William Robert Johnson. House of Dreams was an immersions where every room of the house was filled with Johnson's mementos but told the stories of Penelope's dreams. Dreams which could have been Johnson's dreams and felt so familiar as our collective dreams. Some rooms I wanted to move into, others creeped me out a bit...