Network Play is a short work in which two characters take a taxi ride together and wind up somewhere unexpected.
How does Network Play work?
It’s divided into ten scenes, which can be performed more or less in any order. The scenes are analogous to ‘edges’ on a network graph. The audience helps decide the order, through a process of combining 5 nodes scattered around the performance space. There are a few scenes which can’t be accessed until the first few have been presented, but the degree to which it’s a free-flowing narrative is up to the specific performers.
What do I hope will happen to Network Play?
Ideally, I’d like you to download it, have a look at it, and then email me with a proposal for me to redevelop it for your specific needs. In the current state, it’s written for an ensemble of roughly four (three performers, one musician / sound artist). I think a new narrative and characters could easily be developed around the same concept, and I’d love to tackle this. If you or your cadre of theatre-folk feel an urge to take this on, let me know and we can talk.
Alternatively, if you want to use Network Play in its current state for a performance, knock yourself out. Send me an email and etc to let me know, and then go to fucking town.
Helenna: Reykyavik is cold and nobody has a sense of humor. I got drunk there one night. Björn: She always gets drunk one night. Helenna: I got drunk there one night. It was in my first month of pregnancy. I wrote a graffiti in colour on a wall building – I hate Reykjavik!!! I even learnt to write it in Icelandic. I ended up in the police station. Of course. Björn: I taught her Icelandic. Helenna: Eg hatur Reykjavik!!! Eg hatur Reykjavik in a blood-red shade on the façade of a huge modern three-storey house. I ended up in the police station. Of course.
reading of J.A.T.O. in Cairns at Interplay 2009
Vedrana Klepica is a Croatian playwright based in Zagreb. As well as studying for a Master’s at the Academy for Dramatic Art in Zagreb, she directs a theatre festival (FANI) in the town of Kutina and writes scripts in a way that makes me want to shrug and more or less give in.
J.A.T.O. is baroque. As Declan Greene said, it makes its own rules and then breaks them. The story (and there is a story) is of a jazz ensemble (the J in J.A.T.O. stands for jazz!) arriving in Croatia at the same time as a visiting dignitary. Their manager is anxiously awaiting their arrival. One of the band members may have swapped his saxophone for some cocaine. There are shifts and dynamics and backstories and subplots, and all those things you associate with a good novel, but J.A.T.O. is not the stage equivalent of a good novel. J.A.T.O. is the stage equivalent of sitting up for 72 hours in a basement full of people watching the news on television and learning more about your companions than you ever desired.
Dizzy Gillespie in Zagreb in 1956. Looking good, Dizzy.
How does J.A.T.O. tell its story? In a flickering sandstorm of tiny, gritty images. Sentence-long images, sometimes not even that. Fragments of thought, vision, sensation, activity, and all of them rush on top of each other but you gradually build up the semblance of understanding from one tiny glimmer of reality after another. The streams of consciousness are like stunted James Joyce trains of free association, and the dialogue hums along like the best punch-in-the-stomach moments from Martin Crimp’s Fewer Emergencies.
The cast of characters range across the political spectrum of apathy to extremism, from exploiter to victim, and flickering in and out of their stories is Klepica’s voice, more or less provoking a reader or director into never getting comfortable with the script. This would be an incredible challenge to stage, but the kind of challenge that makes you wonder why you’d settle for anything easier.
J.A.T.O. is haunted by the ghosts of thousands of unspecified violent acts.
All this is tied together by Klepica’s confident pacing, which connects this sprawling monstrosity into an increasingly frantic juggernaut. There is no hurry and there is no escape.
It’s hard for me to draw out one single theme in J.A.T.O., but Vedrana’s justification of her filmscript The Coma (featured in the European Short Pitch 2009) resonates with me*: ‘The only things that can really ever change us are disasters.’
Julia: with disheveled hair because I ran in a hurry not to be late for the taxi and the dick and the concert, and with a hardly noticeable but still run ladder in my new grey silk hundred kn stockings from the shop such and such, hope nobody sees it, just sit down and cross your legs, nobody will see it, who here wants to know about a run ladder in your damned stocking, nobody’s interested because everybody’s talking to someone, laughing like crazy, what the fuck is so funny, goddammit, what, what, or, worse, they touch each other’s palms and elbows gently and smell each other’s hair, smell, smell hair, like aroused cats in February, everybody, almost everybody smells each other, except for you, you’re in company of your run ladder and smile sincerely and feel relatively relived when you realize that your run ladder won’t be breaking news tomorrow, because that is reserved for those two dead people at the intersection of streets this and that, he and she, she and he, come on, stand up, walk proudly, there’s time until the concert begins, fix your hair, fix your makeup, wish for a glass of alcohol, wine would be best, white would be best, to contrast with your best slutty black dress, because if you do something well in life, it’s colors and combining them, and if there’s something you don’t do well, that’s everything else. That’s everything else.
If there’s one thing Aquarius Nightclub in Zagreb does well, it’s colors and combining them.
*Is Vedrana going to be wildly unimpressed with me for quoting her out of context like this? Probably.
No thought no light no spoken language
On Thursday October 1st in Newcastle, the Crack Theatre Festival will begin. In a building known as PAN (temporarily re-titled the Crackhouse) at 5 Auckland street, just off Hunter street, a group of disparate theatre artists and degenerates will congregate. Good odds that it will be a sunny day, but inside the venue it will be grimy and dim. The wine bar will open at 11am. People will begin trickling in. Around 3pm the first act will hustle on stage, the redoubtable guitar duo Irreconcilable Difference performing their folk musical of Sodom and Gomorrah. And then around 6pm the sun will set. And then there will be an eery silence for several hours. And then, at 9pm, the poisonous foggy drones of gypsy four-piece Mr Fibby will be heard:
‘Every door is a story. Every story is a door…’
Canberran ensemble Mr Fibby.
And then it’s on. No pause for breath, 15 theatre shows back to back, forums, panels, workshops, bar brawls, installations, guerilla street performances, dance battles, chaos and excess for four days straight until at midnight on Sunday, when the last of our artists is dragged yelling into the back of the riot van and driven off to the lock-up, and Gillian Schwab and I will stop and rest and Gillian will have a smoke and I’ll eat an apple or something and we’ll take a deep breath. If you wants to know more about Crack, get to the Crack Facebook page or check out This Is Not Art for the full program.
And then Gillian will drive back to Canberra the next morning to rig and focus lights for the Street Theatre‘s production of Angela Betzien’s Hoods, backed with the premiere production of my new script underage house party play, running 6-10 October in Canberra.
Then back to Sydney with Boho to take on a residency at PACT Theatre thanks to Quarterbred. Then on to Brisbane for the At the Centre of the Edge national independent theatre-makers conference 23-25 October. Somewhere in the midst of that I have a serious urge to perform some spoken word. I really, really want to do some performing somewhere. Where is there a poetry night or cabaret event or something squalid that I can invade?
it’s me, performing at Interplay. photo by Jen Williams. I want to do more of this please.
Ah, September 2009. Across this month, my life has been focusing into a narrow tunnel with only one light at the end of it, and that light is a raging bonfire named Crack. Or more formally: The Crack Theatre Festival, the national theatre and performing arts festival which I am co-directing with Gillian Schwab, taking place in Newcastle from October 1-5 as a part of This Is Not Art, Australia’s largest media arts festival. To make matters that little bit more exciting, I just learned this evening that the abandoned church in which I dwell is going to be ground to dust on October 1.
we all live somewhere. I can’t live here anymore.
While my life crumbles to ruin around me, the timing is ideal to bring to blow the dust off an old project – 1997-type old. This will require just a little explanation:
In the late months of 1997, I was 15 and Paul Heslin was creeping on 14. I had just started writing and performing under the name of blind, and Paul was experimenting with his 486’s inbuilt sound editing software. At that time we were largely unaware of the enormous world of electronic music – our key influences were radio-friendly electronic hits such as Brainbug’s Nightmare, Robert Miles’ Children and, especially, the Severed Heads’ Dead Eyes Opened. One Friday after school, I was walking past the computer labs when I came upon an unattended box of 3.5′ high-density blank floppy disks. Naturally, I grabbed them.
When I brought the stash of disks to Paul’s house that weekend, he had the idea of recording some music and copying it as mp3 files to the disks. We spent about 30 hours awake over Saturday and Sunday, me recording on his computer’s inbuilt microphone and Paul editing it, until we had three tracks; approximately 1.2mb. We named our mini-EP ‘I am called Charlie‘, the always awesome Ms Karen Heslin drew us up some cover art, and I think we managed to sell five or six copies to people at school for $3 each ($1/song). The rest of the disks sat in storage, completely forgotten about, until Paul uncovered them just a couple of months ago.
We were both pretty happy with the way the stuff sounded, and we thought the project deserved some wider play. Paul has cleaned the files up and remastered them at a higher bitrate, and we’ve uploaded them to tinyurl.com/iamcalledcharlie for you to download. Even more excitingly, the original 3.5 inch disks with their 40kbps payload of mp3 goodness will be distributed on the streets of London, Sydney, Canberra and Newcastle for those lucky punters who still have a floppy disk drive to insert and enjoy.
cover art by Karen Heslin
I am called Charlie – dig it –
1. we can all see
2. rocks carrying shadows
3. turning off by themselves
I had to get that out of the way before embarking on any kind of serious discussion. I have no idea what it means but it’s become more or less my mantra this last week or so. So Dan Giovannoni is a Melbourne writer and his script Brightside is the proof that Australia can yield horrifying cults with the best of them. The surface of Brightside is a magic realist fable of a community divided between men and women, set in a junkyard somewhere in the Victorian bush. Dan notes of the female characters that: ‘Varyingly, they’re growing wings, flying away, turning into trees, sprouting feathers, etc etc. Their bodies are at war.‘
It’s a bleak take on a Gabriel Garcia Marquez fantasy, but what grounds it and makes me go back to it over and over is the chillingly believable backstory. A pair of girls escape from Melbourne in a stolen car looking for adventure. They wind up stopping briefly in a farmhouse with a trio of free spirits, but end up staying for decades while a community gradually accumulates around them. In tiny scraps and carefully divulged details, it becomes clear that the community has evolved into a cult, orbiting around the sinister charismatic Jim (shades of Jonestown, I reckon). As the miniature society becomes more and more authoritarian, the women are forced to the margins of this society and seek refuge in the bush surrounding the junkyard, living as vagrants and refugees.
image from the 2007 University of Melbourne production of Brightside.
All this is hinted at rather than explained, and the story I’ve just related is in large part my own interpretation. What Brightside exudes is the sense of oppression, of dreams gone sour and then ground into fear, and of the fearful violence that can erupt between the sexes. It gives me the same chills down my back that I get from reading Raccoona Sheldon’s The Screwfly Solution. Which is, in case you’ve not encountered it before, the epitome of subtle horror.
Esther Duysker Seedbed in Les Eldorados. Ms Duysker is a Dutch writer studying at the the Utrecht School of Arts (along with Maja Westerveld, whose play Bile opened up and swallowed me whole).
In describing a record by Birchville Cat Motel, someone once said that the best drone appears effortless. The mastery is not in tweaking, adding and subtracting, but in choosing the perfect elements at the outset, and letting them interact as they will. The analogy may seem stretched, but that’s honestly how I feel about Seedbed in Les Eldorados – it’s effortless. It’s unforced, unhurried, uncluttered, and the pieces fall into place with a simple elegance that draws you in without you noticing.
Here are the pieces that make up Seedbed: Anna and Alice are a lesbian couple – they run a funeral parlour – Anna has cancer. In a lot of writers’ hands, these diverse components would clash and clatter against each other. In Seedbed, they seem almost inevitable.
WHY DOES IT WORK SO WELL? Well first and foremost, because the dialogue between the two characters is so real and tangible. The love they feel for each other, their frustrations,* the ever-present pain as Anna grows sicker and sicker, is expressed in every line.
ANNA: When I first saw you.
When I first saw you.
You had dreadlocks at that time.
Looked terrible. Looked like-
ALICE: -fried braids. Alright fuck it.
Then you just won’t get your present down under.
ANNA: When I first saw you, I felt sexy.
ALICE: When we feel sexy, we think we are French.
Every scene of Seedbed is like a haiku for the stage – it paints the simplest image, the briefest sketch in the sequence of Anna’s decline – and then moves on with no need for explanation or any attempt to squeeze emotion from the situation. And at the end, it packs more of a punch than any ten Hollywood weepies.
*I want to thank Esther for introducing me to the insult ‘Cuntie-head’.