rejection letter from the ABC

Dear David

Thank you for your proposal for a children’s TV series for our ABC Kids! series. Your show ‘Urinal Moths’ is an interesting, creative and unusual concept. Unfortunately, I am afraid that at this time the ABC does not feel that the content or the setting is appropriate for our Kids! 2009 series. Our producers did not feel that children aged 5 – 8 should be presented with a graphic depiction of life in a men’s urinal. Although the viewpoint of the show is fresh and unusual, a series based around the activities of reanimated roadkill does not present the facet of Native Australian fauna which the ABC is trying to promote with its younger audiences.

If you apply to the ABC in the future, I suggest that you try to match your budget more closely to your project’s needs. Although your budget was extremely detailed, some of the amounts seemed unreasonable, particularly for personnel with little demonstrated experience in the industry. $450,000,000 is a substantial proportion of the ABC’s budget, and it is unlikely that this much money would be expended on any one show, and it was not clear why six episodes of a five-minute show such as ‘Urinal Moths’, or yourself as director, required such extensive funds.

We thank you for your interest in ABC Kids! and hope to hear from you again with future projects.

Yours sincerely,

Martin Blake
ABC Kids! Project Officer
Australian Broadcasting Corporation

Saucy Panto (street theatre, decembre 20007)

The Masters of Space and Time have only produced two shows in their four year history (Saucy Panto and their 2003 self-titled debut) but I’ve always considered them a major presence in the ACT independent theatre scene. The thing that Stu Roberts, Arran Mckenna and Dan Jobson inevitably bring to every project they’re involved with is production values – class, precision and style. Also, they can summon some of my favourite ACT actors to work with them ON A WHIM, such is their reputation. And they can produce a tight and cunningly presented farce comedy apparently just because it’s christmas and the mood has taken them.

poster by Arran McKenna, if I’m not mistaken

So Stu Roberts has scripted this work, directed by Dave Clapham and featuring a swarm of cardsharps and vivisectionists posing as actors, a slick sound design (presumaby the work of now-Melbourne-based Dan Jobson) and contributions from other people that I cannot list because I did not buy a program, on until December 22? 25? 28? at the Street Theatre’s studio space. The setup is a horrible boarding house somewhere in the region of League of Gentlemen / Hot Fuzz rural Britain, managed by uptight proprietor Pinchbottom (played by Stu) and staffed by various eccentrics. A troupe of actors under the command of self- and sex-obsessed TV personality Kenneth Lord (played by Arran –the two MOSAT members manage to acquire the two funniest parts iu some kind of CHRISTMAS MYSTERY) arrive to present a christmas pantomime at the inn, and the two tribes intermingle with spicy results. In one sense, the script is the definition of unambitious – each character and relationship completes a puny plot arc, leaving them essentially unchanged at the end (some of them dead, but essentially unchanged). So there was no fancy plot shite there to get in the way of the main business – gags, one after the other.

Any other writer, this wouldn’t be enough. Thing about Roberts, though, is his meticulous skill in setting up a joke. I read 5-page skit which Roberts contributed to the 2006 Rep Studio Comedy Revue (directed by Rob de Fries) involving three characters (skeptic, believer and fraud) at a Tarot reading. The first page seemed fairly dry and plot-laden for a short comic piece. The second was the same. I was concerned, because it was already fairly complex and there was lots of seemingly irrelevant backstory and character information. And then page 3 – page 4 – page 5 – a series of cascading, rapid-fire punchlines, coming bigger and funnier without a pause for breath. Every seemingly casual scrap of information delibered in the first two pages was feed seemlessly back into the climax. The whole thing was an exercise in craftsmanship –carefully constructing the house of cards, then enthusiastically demolishing it, then tearing the cards into shreds and eating them. The man knows how to structure a gag.

The caricature characters and situations were familiar to me from a century of the BBC and other purveyors of quaint British pap, but Saucy Panto peppers the familiar stereotypes and limngo with some utterly depraved punchlines, roaming cheerfully through paeodophilia, rape, child abuse, racism and sexualised violence. Which is good. It’s great to see glimpses of the perverse innards of these traditional comic figures (Arran Mckenna as the seedy director and lass-I-do-not-know-name-sorry as the fresh-faced girl-scout roleplaying the dance of the naive landowner and seductive native girl was a creepy highlight), and it reminded me of some of the savage comedy of Roberts’ work around 2000-02 (“I don’t like her voice – makes me want to jab a straw in her eyeball and blow’).

I don’t really need to go into detail about the cast, except that it features an array of the best actors in the ACT indie-theatre scene, they universally turned in the worst performances I’ve ever seen from any of them, they were well aware of this fact and loving it, and the audience was behind them every step of the way. The one exception was the incongruous addition of Benjamin Hamey puppeteering and providing the voice for Wink the Fairy. Ben is an intense and charismatic actor, and I last saw him on stage (I think) playing Atticus in To Kill A Mockingbird. I’m well aware of his ability to command and control a crowd, so it was baffling and wonderful to see him walk out on stage and address all his lines completely expressionlessly in a gutteral snarl directly to the puppet in his hand. After providing a verse introduction to the characters and the play, Wink the Fairy (accompanied by Ben) retreated to the back of the stage and began vigorously masturbating. The little bell on the puppet’s wrist jingled near-constantly throughout the production as the fairy wildly pleasured itself and Ben stared at it utterly blankly as he provided its moans and gasps. I don’t understand why it was in the play or why Clapham chose to present it like this, but it was brilliantly executed (for whatever reason) and its jarring pointlessness has somehow made it stick in my head more than any of the tightly crafted comedy setpieces.

Set, costumes, props etc were as good as they needed to be and no better, but one extra detail did stand out which I think is worth mentioning: set changes YES. The other two shows I’ve seen in the last week (BKu‘s Damned if you Duo III and Paris Hat‘s Sexual Perversity in Chicago/Closer) were both excellent, but both of them lost me during the many set-changes. Maybe I’m hung up on the wrong things, but for me, sitting in darkness and watch the cast/crew try to negotiate set on and offstage really damages the flow of the piece. Lessons learned from Saucy Panto: 1. DON’T GO TO BLACKOUT – in every theatre blackout I’ve ever seen, the stage and stagehands are still entirely visible to the audience, it’s just that they can’t see what the fuck they’re doing. 2. DON’T DROP CHARACTER – maybe it’s not always easy for an actor to move set items in character, but it’s also really hard for an audience to re-suspend their disbelief when they’ve just seen the actors drop their physicality and mannerisms and drag a table offstage. 3. CHOREOGRAPH YOUR SET CHANGES – don’t rehearse the scenes and leave out the in-between moments – your audience will be watching this bit every bit as carefully as they watch the grand opener and finale, so don’t ignore it as if it’s not part of the performance. Why not choreograph a little set-changing dance? (Seriously, choreograph this dance.) Thank you to Saucy Panto-ers for restoring my faith that a many-scened play can be done without a series of jarring hiatuses.

Best thing about the whole evening was the casual atmosphere between the actors and audiences – everyone was here because they wanted to be, and for no higher purpose than that. What Saucy Panto promised, MOSAT delivered. Easily, without breaking a sweat. They could have achieved much, much more – and in other times and contexts, they have. But that’s not what they were here for tonight – the cast and crew just have that particular mental disablement which causes them to enjoy creating theatre. That is all.

But not as all as I thought it was, because when I stumbled across town to pick up Ali from a pub, I discovered the Fred Smith band inside opening into Blue Guitar. IT’S – MY – NIGHT –

The pleasures of being the human that is Finig sometimes include ingesting new ideas, sometimes interesting ideas, and very occasionally ideas which are not only interesting, but which alter all the other knowledge I have assembled during my stay on the planet. Facts are absolutely necessary and worthwhile (sample fact: there are 1,800 thunderstorms happening at any given minute over the surface of the earth, and 100 bolts of lightning strike the planet every second), but facts are thoroughly dependent on the cognitive framework* through which you view them.

Some of these frameworks are helpful when it comes to sorting the useful information from the barrage of noise, some are useless, and some are actively damaging and cause you to ignore or misinterpret great swathes of what the world is trying to tell you. For the last several years, I have been fairly impressed with the explanatory powers of certain aspects of Complex Systems Science.

Complexity Theory, or the science of Complex Systems, has been growing as a major field of scientific study since the 1980s. I don’t want to embarrass myself by attempting a definition of it, so I’ll copy a sentence from the Wikipedia article (with the acknowledgment that it probably steers as close to the truth as any other article on Wikipedia): CSS ‘studies how relationships between parts give rise to the collective behaviors of a system and how the system interacts and forms relationships with its environment.’

The ideas and tools of Complex Systems Science (Network Theory, Agent-Based Modelling, Dynamical Systems Theory and others) have been applied to a huge range of topics: molecular biology, fluid mechanics, economics, artificial life, meteorology and the social sciences. It’s the social sciences application which has been gripping me recent-wise, and in particular two writers: Roger Bradbury and Doug Cocks.

While Bohemian Productions was performing at the Asia-Pacific Complex 07 Conference, we attended some of the talks given by a variety of scientists. One of the sharpest and most entertaining was Roger Bradbury’s ‘Event Horizon for Democracy‘, which forecasted the survival chances of the Democracy meme over the coming centuries. Bradbury is an ecologist who has been applying complex systems concepts to ‘the area where economics and ecology intersect – sustainable development’. A number of his papers are available to read online – I recommend Futures, prediction and other foolishness (2000) and Sustainable development as a subversive issue (1998).

The other writer is Doug Cocks, whose book Deep Futures has been a textbook for me since 2003. (As stupid as it sounds, it was writers like Jared Diamond and Doug Cocks who forced me to look beyond the 2-3,000 year timescale when dealing with immortal characters.) Cocks’ homepage features a number of his papers available to download as .pdfs, including Writing and the formation of the modern mind.pdf (Oct 2007) and the paper which kicked off my recent CSS obsession: Living with complexity.pdf (Oct 2007).

*’cognitive framework’ is one of the stupidest things I have ever said. Two great tastes not tasting so great together.

who the fuck even knows what he looks like

is best to be straight up and clear about these things: I am dazzled by what Hadley has written. His performance at the Best of the Poetry Slams at the Front Cafe on November 16 was the best thing I’ve ever seen him do, and partly because it was totally unrestrained, ungripped, spasming Hadley in full flow. This is the demented intellect I encountered in 2003 whose early works (toasted, gandhi, Ifuckquiettime, 2Janes, A Paid Presentation) were a turning point in my writing, the biggest single turning point in my writing that I can really point to.

Let me post this extract from the first of the three new works he presented – Rosy Glowing, Bloody Cross:

I know a guy
who communes with the spirits of ancient deep sea cave fish, who luncheons and high teas with things that cannont be named, the creatures from the deep who lurk behind the eyes of madmen. He helped the waxen faced man escape from Egypt, when the old Gods returned, and in return the Waxen Faced Man gave him the final letter of the secret name of God

I know a guy
who collects round blue coins with square edges and no sides, that roll on flat surfaces. He holds the key to Connemara and the great swamps of fire and ice and tears. With trembling hands he tore a page from the Book Of Sand and gauged the great unblinking pyramid of Ukkbar’s enmooned eye. This guy, who knows the guy I know, has Captained the great Norse zeppelin of finger nails and, more than that, tore every fingernail from every dead man himself, and has sailed into the belly of the sun without getting a tan

I know a guy
whose father was a crocodile and whose mother was Alice Moses Dada Kwembe, who for five bloody years was the dread black She-Jesus of Sierra-Leone, who led countless cannibal flower girls to that jagged rock She called Babel with spears of sacred stones sharpened on other sacred stones to kill the imposter son-of-God that sits passively in the sun


What the fuck is that about? More to the point, how can I indicate the venom and euphoria he threw out in this whole half-broken fast-forward montage of Lovecraft, Borges, Waits and his own eery half-human tongue? I was in awe.

The only way to deal with the bastard is to exhume an old scrap of his which Ali and I once took to with razors. Occasionally is satisfying to destroy something beautiful.