Omar Musa and World Creates Itself

So then, something from the distant dim horizons of 20,008. In that year, I was one of three ACT poets to make it to the grand finals of the Australian National Poetry Slam, along with Hadley and Omar Musa. Technically it should have been just Hadley and Omar representing, since each state was only supposed to send two competitors, but somehow in the second heat of the state finals, I managed to fluke my way into a tie with Omar.

my self. image by deye aus.

First of all, I performed my poem Who are you standing at the microphone talking to the people anyway? which I went on to perform at the finals in the Sydney Opera House – check out the video of that performance. Omar performed his poem Visions

How can I tell my baby boy to learn Malay,
but when I call up my grandma, I have nothing to say?

By mad fortune, at the end of the night Omar and I were tying in first place. We had to each perform another poem as a tie-breaker. Omar performed his post-Cronulla-riots piece Open Your Eyes, which opens with a quote from Dr Dre’s post-LA-riots track The Day the Niggaz Took Over:

Sitting in my living room, calm and collected,
feeling mad, I’ve gotta get mine respected

I didn’t have a second poem prepared, so I was scrambling madly through my notebooks for something that might work. Finally I tore two pages out of my book and stumbled up on stage already reading from them. My nervous performance, a high-speed summary of the Earth’s early years, somehow scored enough points for Omar and I to tie again – at which point the judges said fuck it, and sent us both to the Opera House.

what you can’t see in this image is the wreckage of the Opera House which Omar was laying to waste

At the finals, of course, Omar calmly and coolly blitzed the event, scoring first place and taking off to perform at the 2009 Ubud Writers Festival in Bali. It was an extraordinary performance by a blisteringly skilled artist, one of my favourite poets both written and live. Omar has spent the last eighteen months floating around the planet writing, recording and if I’m not mistaken, producing a new record – to be released on July 6 before he goes on tour supporting Gil Scott-Heron in Germany. Just… extraordinary.

Back on my own nostalgia trip: the tiebreaker poem which fluked me a spot in the Australian Finals was retrospectively titled World Creates Itself, and I have reproduced it below in all its informative glory. Dig!

world creates itself

All right then, let’s get to grips with the reality of time a-passing – time a-passing – time a-passing – and time’s a-passing –

First of all you have a sun – a star – somewhere in the outer fringes of the galaxy, spinning around in a wheel that turns once every 250,000 years – and round that star is spinning a great wheel of gas, dust, rock, ice and grit –

With your excellent eyes you can see it spinning, with your excellent eyes you can see it spinning –

Now all these specks of dust and ice and grit are whirling together at high speeds in great curves around the sun and ever so slowly, ever so gently, the force that is gravity draws two of them together – two particles flying alongside fly closer and closer until they stick together – and this is the inception of a planet – because now over many years that tiny ball of grit attracts other specks and spots to it, and all those little flecks of gas and rock swooping together around the sun begin to conglomerate –

– do you know that word – conglomerate? –

– into loose clusters of metal gas and rock – into a rough sphere –

First Jupiter, separating itself out of the whirling mess, then Saturn, Uranus and Neptune – and then much later, the high speed spittle flicking right around the sun – Mars, Earth, Venus, fucking Mercury –

So the Earth conglomerates – do you know what that means? – and the heavier fragments, the iron and the nickel, they sink right to the heart of it and the rock and the mud, that bulges around the outer edge, and the lighter stuff still – the gas and the H 2 O – floats around the shell in a huge cloud of vapour.

Oh the moon, you’re right, the moon! But not that I forgot, just that the moon hits… now.

A huge flying rock one third the size of the forming earth careens somewhere out of the solar system and slams into the earth, but right now there’s no surface, you know what I mean, there’s no crust, so it just bombs into this bubbling ball of molten magma and splashes –

– up sprays this spurt of splashed up lava into orbit which rolls up into a ball – that ball is the moon – so what you’ve got to remember is that the moon is not a meteor that came out of space – the meteor that came out of space went into the earth and the moon is the liquid rock that got splashed up out of its way –

You understand, of course, that this world doesn’t need someone like god to make it happen, and it doesn’t need you as the ghost in its fucking shell. The world creates itself, it is tough like that.

image from ‘Astro 1: Slides for Class 1

Sex scenes

Some thoughts inspired by the Street Theatre production of Underage House Party Play.

image by frosty

Through the rehearsal process, director Steve Barker, performer Matt Kelly and stage manager Natalia Thomas workshopped and fine-tuned the Underage House Party Play script. The result is a far more effective and well-structured play, with my stream of consciousness ramblings fitted to a tight theatrical frame. Unfortunately, the short rehearsal period and my working schedule meant that I was unable to attend or participate in these workshops. For that reason, when a scene or a set of lines didn’t work, I was not on hand to edit and redraft.

In almost every instance, Steve’s edits accorded exactly with my vision – he understood what I was trying to convey, and conveyed it better than I had. Only once did a script alteration jar with me, and the reasons for and against the change are I think interesting and worth discussing.

The scene in question is the sex scene: 4.30am at the house party, Manson Lane and Gwen Malkin are getting it on for the first time in their host’s bedroom. Lane briefly lost his erection while putting on a condom, but a few gentle strokes and he’s ready to go. This is the original version of the scene:

Gwen – Are you all right?
Lane – Yeah, I’m good, it’s – I just need a second –

Alright, partial success – now Lane goes in to penetrate, but he can’t find the entrance to Gwen’s vagina. This is something porn has not taught Lane – where exactly in the slit is the vaginal opening? And while Lane’s struggling, Gwen’s lying back feeling awkward, not wanting to take the lead but after feeling his dick push all the way from her clitoral hood down to her asshole, Gwen finally reaches down and takes hold.

Gwen – Hold on, hold on – there you are, push in now. Push. That’s right. Oh, ow – slower, slower, please stop –
Lane – Sorry, sorry, is that okay?
Gwen – That’s alright. You can go a bit deeper, just be slow.

Gwen’s clenching her teeth, tensing up against the foreign object intruding into her and flinching when it pushes in deeper. Lane’s concentrating so hard on figuring out how to move in Gwen’s he’s barely aware of the vagina clenching against his cock. Lane’s penis is used to the relaxed hands-on sensation of masturbation, and it responds to the intense, stressful situation by starting to go soft. Lane keeps carefully thrusting, but both of them can feel his cock shrinking inside Gwen.

Gwen – Are you okay? Am I doing something wrong?
Lane – Sorry, I’m losing it. Hang on a second.

Lane pulls out out of Gwen and crouches over his wang anxiously.

Lane – I’m sorry, I’m turned on, it’s just feels weird.
Gwen – Where’s the condom?
Lane – It’s… it’s come off.
Gwen – Where is it? It was on when you went into me. Is it on the bed?
Lane – It’s not on the bed. I think it must have come off when I was in you.
Gwen – Shit. Can you see it? Is it hanging out?
Lane – I can’t see it. Um, do you want me to reach in and get it?
Gwen – I’ll do it, it’s okay. Maybe – can you not look while I do this? Give me just a minute. Can you grab another condom?

That was the original text of the scene. This is the edited version:

Gwen – Are you all right?
Lane – Yeah, I’m good, it’s… I just need a second…

Alright, partial success. Now, something porn has not taught Lane is where exactly it goes. And while Lane’s struggling, Gwen’s lying back feeling awkward, not wanting to take the lead but after feeling his dick pushing everywhere but where it needs to go, Gwen finally reaches down and takes hold.

Lane – Aaaahhhh. It’s alright, I can go again.

Two changes were made from the original: 1. The description of Lane’s penis entering Gwen is much shorter and less explicit. 2. Instead of losing a condom during intercourse, Lane prematurely ejaculates.

Let me be clear – I’m not debating the director’s choice in making those changes, and I don’t dispute that they were necessary, at least for this production. The director’s explanation was that the language used in those lines is quite distinct from the other voices in the script. Fair enough, but I can’t help the feeling that future versions of that scene will look more like the original than the edit.

My reasoning is something along these lines: sex is incredibly complex. Getting it on with someone else is a physically, mentally and emotionally challenging activity, and the consequences of sex bleed out to almost every other part of our lives. (It’s also heaps of fun.) I strongly feel that the public discourse around sex should be far more intelligent, informed and yes, explicit. If you’re a curious young person (or curious any person) who wants to learn about sex, you need to sift through a mountain of disinformation intended to promote certain political/religious agendas, and another mountain of unpleasant, misogynistic portrayals of sex provided by exploitative commercial pornography. Even if you knew which sources were bullshit and could easily ignore them, accessing informed and intelligent opinions about sex is needle in haystick-like.

(As an important aside, I can’t talk about informed and intelligent opinions about sex without mentioning Scarleteen, the sex education website which has provided me with inspiration, solid facts and a really mature outlook on a whole range of sex, youth and related issues.)

Go visit Scarleteen. Seriously.

I’m not a sex educator, nor am I claiming to have any particular informed insight into topics around sex, but I can talk from my own experience (direct experience, and the knowledge I’ve picked up like we all pick up through living in the world); and when I do, I want to speak as plainly and clearly as I can.

Of course the scene quoted above is awkward and cringe-worthy, which was completely my intention in writing it. A lot of the comedy in Underage House Party Play is derived from the characters’ embarrassment at their situation. In the original text, the action moves away from Gwen and Lane’s condom predicament for several minutes, then concludes with the following lines:

Just after 5am. For the last few minutes, Gwen Malkin has been lying under the cover of Mott’s bed with one hand groping in her vajay. There’s something undefinably creepy about having a little plastic sock floating freely inside you. Gwen was happy to slide it into her vagina when it was attached to Lane’s penis, but now Lane’s gone it’s like there’s an alien object loose in her guts. When at last the tips of her fingers brush latex, Gwen stops for a second. She takes her time, carefully grips it between her fingers and draws it out. Long, long sigh of relief. Then the distant sound of glass shattering.

I think that this scene is awkward, cringeworthy – and yet hopefully at the same time, funny. I know that this kind of material is offensive to a certain demographic, and that’s not something I’m pleased about – I’m not setting out to offend – but as long as people are offended by the mere mention of penetrative sex, I’m afraid offensive is unavoidable. What I don’t want to do is be insensitive or insulting in my portrayal of these  situations, either by being crass and stupid for easy laughs, or by speaking on behalf of people whose experiences I have no insight into without proper consultation.

For example: for me to write a scene from the perspective of a girl trying to extricate a condom from her vagina is fraught, because I’ve never had that happen to me. I might completely misrepresent the experience, or I might say something which people who’ve had that experience find offensive. The solution (I think) is not to avoid writing from those other perspectives, but to research and consult with relevant people before writing. Also: to be ready at any time to listen if someone whose perspective I’m purporting to write from is upset or offended by my depiction of their experiences, willing to cop to any errors in judgment and to make amends where possible.

That doesn’t mean I’m going to apologise and make changes whenever anyone dislikes or is appalled by the content or language in my playscripts. If a man tells me that a particular line of dialogue from a female character is offensive to women, I will smile politely and completely ignore them. If a woman tells me the same thing, I will acknowledge their more in-depth knowledge of what offends women and talk it out with them.

are you a lady? what do you reckon?

In this instance: I am here and now laying this out for your thoughts and opinions. A large part of the sex scene in Underage House Party Play is from the perspective of teenage girls, and before I do any more editing I would be grateful for your input if you are or ever have been a teenage girl. I have the following questions:

1. Have you ever lost a condom during intercourse? If so, what was that like for you?
2. Did the sex scene seem realistic? Did it resonate with experiences you’ve had personally, or was it completely alien?
3. Do you find the language in the scene offensive? Why/why not?

Email me at blind_dragonfly at uymail dot com and I will be one thousand times grateful. Much love!

Declan Greene ‘Moth’, Hadley ‘Misery at Pumper House’

The important news of the week is not what I did but what I read: specifically, Declan Greene’s Moth and Hadley’s MISERY AT PUMPER HOUSE.

Declan Greene and Ash Flanders are Sisters Grimm. image by Claryssa Humenyj-Jameson.

Declan Greene is one half of faggot theatre duo Sisters Grimm and an accomplished writer in Melbourne’s trash theatre scene. I met Declan in 2009 at the World Interplay Festival in Cairns, where we shared a room in renowned backpacker’s hostel GILLIGANS. I managed to scam a copy of Declan’s blistering epic POMPEII LA, reviewed elsewhere on this site.

This year, Sisters Grimm will headline the performance showcase at the Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle with their new show The Rimming Club (so new it won’t get written until 24 hours before the performance). They have also been hard at work creating the action-packed claymation saga Gingo, featuring adorable orange blob Gingo and his friend the purple blob. And on top of this, Arena Theatre and the Malthouse Theatre Company recently produced Declan’s script Moth.

Gingo the orange blob and his mother, the larger orange blob in an apron.

Other reviewers (such as Alison Croggan, whose back catalogue of reviews provides a good overview of Declan’s CV if yr interested) are better qualified than me to comment on the Malthouse/Arena production, because they saw it and I didn’t. I just want to talk about the script, which is fucking great. Moth‘s plot is nothing out of the ordinary – teenage outcasts Sebastian and Claryssa find comfort in their friendship while Sebastian deals with mental health issues – but you can more or less forget the plot and just get washed away on the dazzling dialogue. I have no idea how teenagers actually talk, but every bone in my body is telling me Declan’s captured it.

CLARYSSA: Can you do me a favour and not talk to anyone tonight.”
SEBASTIAN: “Oh yeah. Cos emos are so cool.”
CLARYSSA: “They’re not emos. They’re Wiccans, fuckhead.”
SEBASTIAN: “‘‘Hey everyone! Lets get high and pretend to be witches.”
CLARYSSA: “I am a witch, fuckhead.”
SEBASTIAN: “‘Lets listen to Marilyn Manson and touch each other’s boobies!’”
CLARYSSA: “You know what? Fuck you. You’re banned from the coven.”
SEBASTIAN: “You don’t have that power.”

teenagers should how Declan wants them to talk.

In the last third of the play, as both characters begin to unravel, Declan’s language shifts into a kind of weird lyricism. Sebastian’s moth-inspired visions  J.G. Ballard at his most apocalyptic, mediated through the scorched noise assaults of Burned Mind-era Wolf Eyes. I’m not going to quote any specific lines because I don’t want them to lose their impact out of context. Instead, let me quote a different highlight: the exchange between Claryssa and her art teacher.

SEBASTIAN: “Blood. And wasn’t the assignment, Claryssa − wasn’t the actual assignment to
draw someone else in the class?”
CLARYSSA: “No-one in this class deserves to be drawn by me!”
SEBASTIAN: “Well maybe you’d like to draw the inside of Ms. Muir’s office!”

THAT’S FUCKING RIGHT. So anyway, I read Moth at 2.30am and when I fell asleep, I dreamed that Declan met me on a deserted field one morning before dawn, and showed me where to stand so that the sun when it rose would pass through me without illuminating me.

I’ve never seen Hadley in any other pose with any other expression.

The other extraordinary script of the week was Hadley’s MISERY AT PUMPER HOUSE, which is even more extraordinary seeing as it’s not a script, it’s a collection of notes and ideas about a potential future script. Set in the stately manor of the Pumper family, MISERY follows what happens when Monsieur Pumper’s boss, Mr Smash, comes over for dinner.

Almost, except instead of being that script, MISERY is five paragraphs of narrative, character exposition and staging notes, hammered out in a bizarre mess that is somehow still both evocative and theatrical. Here’s the opening three sentences:

Opening, Dippy is working on her latest experiment, attempting to use science to reanimate her recently murdered cat, Josef Stalin. Her father bursts in from a rain storm, she hides it beneath a dinner plate lid on the table. Poto is in a state because his boss, Mr Smash, is coming over for dinner, and he has to impress him for a raise.

Is that not theatre?

Mr Smash is coming over for dinner.

So part of me thinks that these paragraphs represent a set of instructions/stimuli that an ensemble could translate into a stellar live performance. Another part of me thinks that the paragraphs are perfect and they should just be read, as is. No actor is going to be able to improve on / make sense of the beguiling poetry at the heart of lines like:

Sedentary floats in, fresh from a session with her psychic advisor, Mr Glass, who has instructed her that soon the alien armada will be ready to be birthed in her flesh pod and fly back to their home planet. Poto hopes that Suds has been practicing his violin. VEEYOLARN.

Anyway, midway through outlining his plans for the Pumper House script, Hadley decides that MISERY is merely one episode of a series of four chilling gripping tales of terror. The audience might come to all four, or just attend one or two out of the selection. Alongside MISERY AT PUMPER HOUSE, the others are:

The Creature of Dick Hell Park – Paranormal investigators Loach and Thistlethwaite solve the mysterious goings on in Dick Hell Park without even leaving the office.

Young Lovers – young lovers separated by some sort of evil Spanish dictator hatch a plan to escape him, by faking their own deaths. they hide their bodies, their love, for a thousand years, where they will be reunited?

Swine, Swine, Swine – a famous young dental surgeon commits his elderly mother to a horrible, run down mental asylum as he must work all the time to look after her.

I want this duo on the case of the Creature of Dick Hell Park

Such scenarios are, to my way of thinking, elegant signposts that point you towards excitement without holding your hand the entire way. The whole MISERY AT PUMPER HOUSE project has the feeling of capturing the writer’s mental state at the moment of invention. This is Hadley’s creativity, freeze-dried and available for $0.71/packet, just above the soy sauce on aisle 8. Stock up while you can.*

*what am I even talking about

underage house party play

Matt Kelly in Underage House Party Play

This week is the Street Theatre‘s production of my script Underage House Party Play. Directed by Green Room Award-winner Stephen Barker, featuring performer Matt Kelly and with lighting design by Gillian Schwab, Underage House Party Play runs from Thursday 3 – Sunday 6 June.

I was commissioned last year by the Street Theatre to create a one-act script which could be double-billed with Angela Betzien’s Hoods. The double-bill did not take place, and instead UHPP is being presented as a stand-alone work as part of Solo at the Street, the Street Theatre’s 2010 season of single-performer works.

The original image for Underage House Party Play was a workshop in which the performer taught the audience how to use basic household ingredients to construct a water-pipe, or bong. I was thinking of a series of exercises isolating each part of the process, from using a lighter to burn a hole in a plastic bottle to sawing up lengths of garden hose. In the end, I imagined the audience would be led out to an underpass or a quiet carpark to repeat the whole process in the dark. Maybe an exhibition space outside the venue showing the most successful and elegant examples of the form. A well-crafted bong pleases me aesthetically in a lot of ways, and I think that the artform deserves greater recognition. The most best bong-makers I’ve ever known were dedicated pot smokers in their late teens, and their most extraordinary works are usually created under difficult circumstances in a dark underpass or the back seat of a car.

we put pottery in art galleries, so why not?

As I began to draft text for this bong celebration, I found myself distracted by other forms of teenage creativity: constructing fake IDs, formulating new drinking games, developing unique makeout styles, inventing ways to hurt each other and causing exciting new kinds of property damage. I began to gather an assortment of teenage characters, with the intention of subjecting each of them to a series of traumatic experiences. Finally, I decided to house these characters under one roof and compact their journeys into the space of one messy teenage party.

The result is a 40 minute play in which performer Matt Kelly takes on the role of all five characters, including having deep and meaningful chats with himself:

Mott – Hey Anna, are you friends with Gwen?
Anna – Yeah, a bit. Why?
Mott – I kind of like her.
Anna – Really? No way, I didn’t know that.
Mott – I like her teeth jewellery. You know how she has these two gaps in her top row of teeth, and she’s got these little chains hanging down where her teeth should be?
Anna – I think that’s to help her teeth grow. Like, two of her teeth didn’t grow down into her mouth, so the dentist put these little chains to weigh them down.
Mott – I think they’re kind of hot.
Anna – You know she’s had ecstacy? Her ex-boyfriend took her to a party and she had a pill.
Mott – That’s so stupid. Why would you take something that destroys you?
Anna – I know, it’s just like, It could have killed her.

Jesus is still alright was the hit single from DC Talk’s groundbreaking 1992 record Free At Last.

Also, and it’s no exaggeration to say I’m extremely fucking excited about this, the production includes a dancefloor sequence to the joyous raver beats of Christian hiphop outfit DC Talk‘s 1992 hit Jesus is still alright. Click on that link. Watch that video. Shake your head in bewilderment. Allow a smile to creep across your face. Yes? Oh yes.

Underage House Party Play is on Thursday 3 – Saturday 5 June at 8pm, and Sunday 6 June at 4pm. Go here for more info and booking details.