Top 20 shows from the last decade

In RealTime issues 93 and 94, there was a 2-part retrospective on the ACT performing arts scene written by Gavin Findlay. Let me quote from the beginning of part two: ‘In RealTime 93 (Here Be Dragons), we took a brief tour of Canberra’s astonishing creative community in the mid 1990s and traced its rise. In this article, I want to examine what led to its dispersal, where everyone went and what’s happening now.’

To roughly summarise Findlay’s article, Canberra’s astonishing creative community (centering around a company called Splinters) evaporated at the end of the 1990s, and was finally strangled by bureaucracy at the turn of the millennium. As an ACT theatre artist whose practice commenced at the turn of the millennium, this is strange to me. I didn’t hear of Splinters while I was growing up in Canberra throughout the 80s and 90s, and I certainly didn’t feel its absence. Of course, this is not to refute anything Findlay says – from all reports, some good shit did happen in my city in the last century, and it’s to no-one’s benefit that it all got shut down a decade ago. But for what it’s worth, let me document my own impressions of the scene.

I emerged from a generation of Canberran theatre-makers whose practice kicked off in the early 2000s, involving probably 500-1,000 people in various capacities at various times, with a core of nearly 100 dedicated, passionate theatre artists producing shows at Gorman House, the Australian National University and the Street Theatre. One of the main characteristics of this scene was its isolation: no-one came to see our work, but at the same time, no-one tried to stop us. Only occasionally would artists from earlier generations come to check out our shit (mostly I figure cause how would they hear about it?), and there were no older/bigger companies waiting to absorb us when we progressed. So we proceeded by trial and error, we developed in strange directions without anyone to keep us on track, we experimented and supported each other, we reinvented the wheel a few thousand times, we stagnated, we collaborated and coagulated, we splintered off and scrambled in different directions, and then we dissolved. So it goes. Now it’s 2011, and while I write an epitaph for my creative birthplace, some fresh-faced mofuckers are probably lighting new fires right all through the Cancerran undergrowth (where my old eyes can’t see them).

I’m not going to attempt a summary of the scene – I couldn’t be assed – but I do want to flag some of my favourite shows from the last ten years. It’s a pretty myopic list – I know all the artists responsible for these shows and I’ve worked with many of them – but I’m not lying when I say they’re my favourites.

20. The Street Theatre – Hoods (2008-9)
This one fucks with my criteria because it was not an independent production – unless there’s more to the story than I’m aware of – but I’m including it anyway because it was fucking rad. The 2008 reading with Na Milthorpe and Jamie O’Connell stunned me with the bleeding-edge skill of Angela Betzien’s script, but the 2009 production completely delivered on that promise. Director Bridget Balodis and designer Gillian Schwab created a nightmare landscape for the all-too-believable story to play out, and the performers squeezed the life out of every snapshot scene and character transition.

19. Bohemian Productions – The Empire Builders (2003)
It’s totally suspect that a play by my company feature on this list, but believe me when I say I had very little to do with it. Kim Gorter and Nickyj co-directed this lesser-known Absurdist text by French playwright/saxophonist/Pataphysicist Boris Vian. It’s a bleak horror-comedy in which a respectable bourgeous family are driven higher and higher into the upper floors of their house by a terrifying noise. Charming and engaging performances by Steph Brewster, Arran Mckenna, Fi Atkin and especially Stu Roberts as the wise patriarch, and a pleasantly domestic aesthetic that grew more and more freakish as the characters are stripped of their possessions and their civilised facades.

Pat Gordon and Matt Borneman in Seasons of Keane – Below the Line (2007). Image by Cardboard Charlie.

18. Cardboard Charlie – Seasons of Keane (2005-7)
Ben Drysdale’s series of monologues and duologues by Melbourne playwright Daniel Keane set out to achieve very simple goals. Keane’s scripts were largely simple, unadorned stories depicting desolate characters in heartbreaking circumstances. Over three years, Drysdale’s productions carved out a space filled with loneliness, isolation, helplessness and regret. Despite that, I never once had any hesitation about attending them – I was always grateful that there was a space in which those stories were being shared. Drysdale’s direction was always subtle and straightforward, and the various productions featured some of Canberra’s most sensitive and capable performers given free rein to demonstrate their abilities.

17. NUTS – Woyzeck (2010)
Jasmin Natterer and Natalia Thomas’ lo-fi production of Buchner’s oddball classic Woyzeck (1837) won my heart by flipping the usual ANU / NUTS production format on its head and throwing away the safety net. Taking the production out of the cosy confines of the ANU Arts Centre’s Drama Lab and planting it in a bare rehearsal room, Natterer and Thomas crafted a deliberately lo-fi production with no room for artifice or tricks. With the audience in the traverse and the thin strip of stage lit by two bare lighting trees, the performers had nowhere to hide and there was no space for the energy or tension to dip for a second. The performances were uneven, but the raw energy and intensity driving this work made it totally engrossing.

16. Moonlight Productions – The House of Bernada Alba (2010)
I never had much to do with Lorca – never had an issue with his stuff, but it never grabbed me in any serious way. Then I saw Na Milthorpe’s icily sparse production of The House of Bernada Alba and it was like someone had planted a burning coal at the place of my sin. A no-fucking around ensemble cast headed by Helen Tsongas, whose icy brutality was so real I got waves of chill flowing over me. It takes something special to carry off a script as loaded as this one, but Na’s production hit all the right notes and avoided all the wrong ones.

image from Cognition pt 1, courtesy of the Hunting Season

15. Last Man To Die – Last Man To Die (2008-10)
Originally assembled in 2008 by producers Ben Drysdale and Michael Bailey for the Hunting Season, the team of visual artist Ben Forster, performer Hanna Cormick and musician Chuck Martin straightaway formulated a distinct aesthetic and an intriguing futurist focus. Following their 3-part show COGnition for the Hunting Season, Hanna, Ben and Chuck (later joined by writer Pete Butz) reformed as Last Man To Die and began creating a series of inter-related works, each building on the last. Each iteration of the performance has pushed their collaboration in new directions and explored areas including interactive performance, durational installation, narrative theatre and music/AV/physical theatre. None have been entirely successful and none have been without merit, but taken as a whole, LMTD is one of the most intriguing performance experiments I’ve ever seen.

14. Lucy Hayes – Troy’s House (2008)
So one of the more stylish things I ever saw on a rainy night was Lucy Hayes’ ANU Honours production of Tommy Murphy’s first play, Troy’s House. Set in Canberra and written (I think) just after Murphy departed Queanbeyan to study in Sydney, Troy’s House is a completely messy, hit-and-miss depiction of teenage life and love in the suburbs of Canberra. With Troy’s grotesque mum (extraordinary performance by Aaron Ridgway) splayed out across the couch and weird marijuana fairies stumbling around the set, there were some beautiful what-the-fuck moments and a superbly bleary-eyed aesthetic hanging over it all.

13. The Frozen Shape Collective – The Birthday Party (2007)
Nick McCorriston’s production of Harold Pinter’s first full-length play was a long time coming. Originally proposed for 2003, Nickamc went through several changes of cast and venue before producing the show at Belconnen Theatre as part of the 2007 WET Season. The long lead-time went to good use – the production was a really thoughtful, really detailed unravelling of the script, and captured all the comedy and menace of Pinter’s script in vivid colour.

12. Steph Brewster – M is for Moon / After Magritte (2006)
Graduate students from the ANU Theatre Studies course were required to produce a full production as part of their Honours year. Over the decade, these shows were continually a source of inspiration and the place where I would learn about previously unknown classic texts and writers. Of them all, Steph Brewster’s Tom Stoppard double-bill was perhaps the most memorable, combining superb production values, razor-sharp performances and a subtle but intelligent directorial focus. Na Milthorpe and David Clapham as an aging couple in the short but sorrowful M is for Moon remain perhaps the most profoundly melancholic performances of my decade.

11. Ginny Savage – A Memory, a Monologue, a Rant and a Prayer (2008)
Eve Ensler is probably the best playwright, and this script might actually be better than the Vagina Monologues. I had no idea this piece even existed before Ginny Savage directed a version for V-Day 2008. The script is a selection of monologues exploring violence against women from a variety of perspectives, and every single one of them hit home hard. From Robbie Matthews’ deceptively gentle opener ‘The Closet’ to Carol Whitman’s blistering execution of ‘Blueberry Hill’, the whole play left me reeling.

10. Theatre of Rats – Papyrophobia in Yellow (2008)
A collective of Narrabundah graduates assembled by Amelia Searle, Theatre of Rats’ first show was a glorious mash-up of text from Alice in Wonderland and J. Alfred Prufrock in the framework of Charlotte Gilman’s 1892 short story The Yellow Wallpaper. The extraordinary script (written/mixed by Searle and Lisa Divissi) was backed up by sophisticated direction, an eerie design and a large cast that combined serious energy with genuine skill. I remember sitting shaking my head feeling genuinely humbled watching an ensemble of 17 and 18 year olds bring all the elements into serious alignment.

Cathy Petocz’s The Booth (2008 vintage).

9. Cathy Petocz – The Booth (2008-9)
Physical theatre artist Cathy Petocz created the first iteration of The Booth in Gorman House’s C-Block Theatre as part of her Canberra Youth Theatre Open House residency in 2008. It was a massive cardboard and wooden structure which could house one audience member at a time for an intimate 10-minute microperformance. When I first experienced it, the show was a stark and savage performance of Pool (no water) by British playwright Mark Ravenhill. In 2009, when Cathy toured it to the Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle, the Booth changed both in texture (from a bare torchlit tunnel to a dimly glowing garden of inflatables) and content (from Ravenhill’s harsh post-dramatic monologue to a sweet and simple encounter between performer and audience), but in both iterations I felt the same sense of powerful, unadulterated engagement.

8. Opiate Productions – Kafka’s Dick (2003)
The final production by Boho’s sister company Opiate was Alan Bennett’s 1986 comedy Kafka’s Dick, in which the ghost of Franz Kafka comes to harass his living fans. Directed by Jules Fleetwood, Opiate’s production was sharp, sassy and was the first theatre production I had the faintest involvement with that didn’t lose reams of money. This set a standard for all my future endeavours that I strove to meet.

7. Erin Pugh – Exit the King (2006)
In a community of artists who frequently namechecked Absurdist Theatre as a serious influence, there were surprisingly few stand-out productions of Absurdist plays. The three that stood out for me were the Frozen Shape Collective’s production of The Birthday Party, Bohemian’s The Empire Builders and Erin Pugh’s ANU Honours production of Ionesco’s Exit the King. One of the few shows to really stretch the capabilities of the ANU Arts Centre’s Drama Lab venue, Erin’s version of Ionesco’s script was weird, high-intensity comedy underpinned by the crawling, inevitable countdown to death. Stu Roberts’ performance as the king veered from self-possessed megalomania to infantile neediness with flashes of horrifying insight, and the whole 80 minutes gripped and inspired me in a way that I can’t quite understand.

barb barnett as the All-Mother in 2003. Image by ‘pling.

6. serious theatre – All-Mother (2003, 2006)
barb barnett was/is one of the most influential figures on my practice, and her large-scale puppetry/physical theatre work All-Mother remains a high-watermark in Canberra indie theatre of my lifetime. The first version of All-Mother transformed C-Block into a primeval jungle, with barb flying through a mist-shrouded Garden of Eden as Lilith, the mother of all demons. (Great date-play.) The 2006 iteration of the show took place on a much larger scale in the Street Theatre, with an enhanced cast of puppets, a brutally irreligious storyline (told backwards!) and a stunning central performance from barb that tied the whole extravaganza together. The C-Block version completely did my head in, but the Street Theatre version remains my favourite, if for no other reason that Gillian Schwab’s incredible lighting – the sequence in which three angels made entirely of light appear is still one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen on a theatre stage.

Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser were, possibly still are, The Landlords.

5. Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser – The Landlords (2007)
The highlight of the 2007 WET Season was the post-apocalyptic absurdist double-act of Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser. Assembled from their years of collaboration at Radford College, The Landlords was an enormously overstuffed collection of comic skits, thought experiments, rambling dialogue and elaborate set-pieces. Set in a dilapidated hotel foyer after the rest of the world’s population has succumbed to varying forms of destruction, Prosser and Burns-Warr gradually worked their way through the remaining tasks left them while they waited for their fate. The Landlords was a sprawling, spiky tangle of ideas and inspired writing which trailed desolately, beautifully into the flickering dark. I still repeat the final line (‘Well – that happened’) before turning my light off in the evening.

Mr Fibby’s Little Girl Lost. Image from The RiotACT.

4. Mr Fibby – Little Girl Lost in the Devil’s Black Beard (2009)
It’s weird that there are so few Hadley-plays on the list, but this more than compensates for any other masterpieces I’ve missed. Mr Fibby is the faux-gypsy music/performance ensemble of Sam King (guitar), Emma Kelly (violin), Grahame Thompson (cello) and Hadley (words). Their gigs have always been an exquisite car crash of music and theatre, but their first theatre-show was a blistering punch in the face of a very different order. I first experienced Little Girl Lost in the Courtyard Studio as part of the 2009 Fringe Festival, and then watched it swell and coalesce before its triumphant headline spot at the Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle. Taking place on a junkyard set, Little Girl Lost is a mixture of music and storytelling, depicting the journey of the ugliest little girl in the world on her quest to retrieve her stolen violin from the devil. Hadley’s script combines nightmarish fantasy with bleak comedy, and the extraordinary soundtrack drives the whole thing to incredible heights. Then there’s the brilliant interplay between the band members, honed through years of touring and live performance, and Hadley’s throat-tearing central performance as storyteller No Imporant, and the whole piece stands out from the pack like a bruised and bloody thumb.

3. BKu – Damned If You Duo II: Damned 2’tin! (2006)
The theatre tribe of which I am part had many tentacles, many hubs and operated under many names. From my extremely subjective viewpoint, only one organisation ever came close to assembling the whole nation under one banner. This was Baccanalia/Krudulent United, the bizarrely-titled creation of Chris Rooks, Mick Keane and Jack Lloyd. From 2003-08, BKu produced a slew of productions which gathered together an enormous range of ACT artists. The most famous of BKu’s ventures was Duofest, its annual festival of short duologues. Commencing in 2005 with the abhorrently-named Damned If You Duo, Duofest featured ten short plays written, directed and performed by local artists. At the core of the Duofest engine were Chrism, Jack and Mick (with significant contributions from designer Gillian Schwab), and through sheer brutal dedication, they turned what could have been a meandering Short+Sweet-esque variety show into a tightly produced, coherent and well-curated showcase of the best the city had to offer. The first Duofest set a strong standard, but my pick of the collection is the sequel – the even-more-abhorrently-named Damned 2’tin! (well done Jack). This instalment of the series included an accompanying compilation CD featuring original songs by a slew of ACT bands, coordinated by Nickamc and produced by Sam King, with its own separate launch event. As well as drawing a huge cluster of Canberra bands into the mix, Damned 2’tin! upped the ante both in terms of scripting and presentation. As far as a confluence of energies goes, this work was the high-watermark in a lot of ways, the ultimate gathering of the tribe.

2. The Masters of Space and Time – Howard’s Game/The Masters of Space and Time (2003)
Now mostly based in Melbourne, the collective of Arran Mckenna, Dan Jobson, David Clapham and Stuart Roberts kicked off activities in 2003 with this extraordinary double-bill. Written by Roberts, both parts of this double-bill were smart, tight and wickedly funny. One-man show Howard’s Game featured Arran Mckenna as an aging children’s entertainer, bitterly recalling his television demise and planning revenge on the perpetrater. The Masters of Space and Time, in contrast, was a blisteringly sharp farce which played on the Law of Unintended Consequences, and was the first, dazzling demonstration to me of Roberts’ dazzling ‘House of Cards’ technique, in which an elaborate and elegant setup is followed by a brutal, escalating series of catastrophes. With exceptional production values and a completely honed aesthetic, MOSAT more or less conquered my heart and soul with this one.

1. BKu – Open House (2007)
So while BKu’s Duofest series remains the stand-out example of the entire scene coming together on a project, the creative forces behind BKu combined most spectacularly on 2007’s Open House. Presented as part of the inaugural Canberra Youth Theatre Open House residency, BKu’s core team created a brilliant black comedy based around a share-house scam. Best friends and housemates Pond and Maxine make a living by fleecing a neverending cycle of short-term housemates out of their bond money and driving them out of the house by any means necessary. This simple story became the backbone for a dazzling series of comic setpieces, featuring BKu’s stalwart cast at their best. Chris Rooks’ script turned what could have been a formulaic genre comedy into a punchy, artful story with some of the most brilliant comic scenarios I’ve ever seen. (The looping, dream-within-a-dream Gone With The Wind scene which drove Hadley’s character over the edge remains the most cleverly constructed piece of theatre-writing I’ve ever read.) In addition, the complete transformation of C-Block into the rabbit warren and the artful interpolation of Canberran music into the play just hammered home how brilliantly all the forces came into alignment. My favourite show of the decade. Yeah, basically.

Boho – True Logic of the Future video

So we’re building up to some kind of new year, then? An explosion, presumably, or the North American and European tectonic plates will suddenly start pulling away from each other faster than usual, and the seam that runs down the centre of the Atlantic ocean will deepen and delicious globs of molten rock will spurt out into the shipping lanes and blast winter out of the sky forever. Until then, I guess we’ve got a little while left to gaze at the bloodshed and carnage that was 2010. Personally, I’m going to watch this video of highlights from Boho’s July production of True Logic of the Future and reflect upon the show.

from an image by w.s. jevons.

True Logic was the third full-length show by Boho, the interactive science-theatre collective I formed in 2006 alongside Jack Lloyd, Mick Bailey and David Shaw. After creating the Pinter play/live video game mash-up that was A Prisoner’s Dilemma (2007-8), we wanted to explore the possibilities of interactive performance and leave behind traditional theatre venues and forms. Over 2008-9, we produced a series of short site-specific performance installations testing different forms of audience interaction, culminating in our site-specific re-imagining of Australian history Food for the Great Hungers (2009) at the Manning Clark House Cultural Centre. Hungers completely transformed our understanding of audience interaction and made us aware of a whole new range of possibilities and difficulties in our field. The next step was to take those lessons and apply it to the traditional narrative theatre format we started out in.

True Logic of the Future was the result of a 9-month residency at the Belconnen Arts Centre in Canberra, starting in September 2009. Our aim was clear from the start: we wanted to use the tools and techniques we’d learned creating interactive performance installations such as Hungers to create a piece of interactive narrative theatre. Not a choose-your-own-adventure style show where the audience’s input is limited to multiple choice selection between different branching plot points; we didn’t want to waste energy creating 64 alternative scripts, 63 of which the audience would never see. Nor, however, did we want a show in which the audience’s contribution was tokenistic and meaningless, or affected only insignificant details about the world.

The first months were spent researching different forms of interactive performance and consolidating our own experiences of the last few years into a kind of manifesto, a framework which we used to create and then assess new concepts for scenes and games. I was away in Sydney until the beginning of 2010, and when I returned Muttley was offered a superb full-time job and had to step out. Mick, Jack and I brought on three new collaborators: director barb barnett, designer Gillian Schwab and performer Cathy Petocz, and we began to formulate our initial ideas and script pieces into an actual performance.

gillian schwab’s set was totally sci-fi jevons. image by ‘pling.

The show was co-commissioned by the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney, to accompany their exhibition on 19th century scientist and polymath W.S. Jevons. Although the show was deeply inspired by Jevons and infused with elements from his life (including custom-designed replicas of his inventions including his cloud chamber and the ‘logic piano’, a primitive computer), True Logic evolved into a science-fiction parable for our world in the 21st century. In an Australian city some years from now, an escalating crisis has driven the government to desperate measures. Unable to prevent or manage the consequences of climate and global change, the ruling body makes the decision to hand power over to a new form of government entirely. The play follows journalist Jen Howe and bureaucrat Alex Moore, and their face-to-face encounter with the city’s new ruler in an online virtual environment.

True Logic was hard, hard work to put together – there were so many pieces to the puzzle to get right, so many challenges we’d never faced before, and no shortcuts or easy answers to any of them. How do you write or rehearse a scene in which each performer might be playing one of two completely different characters in totally different settings, depending on which key an audience member pressed on a giant 19th century calculating piano? How do you perfect a scene in which the performers get caught in looping dialogue until the audience stamp their feet and activate the contact mics on the floor, sending a signal to the lights, which flash a signal to the performers and jolt them free of the loop? Well, now I know. But I didn’t before.

The play worked: extraordinarily well, in fact, far better than we could have hoped. Reviews were positive, audiences engaged with both the puzzles and the ideas contained within the work, and the production values were a significant step forward from any of our previous works. In large part, this was thanks to the extraordinary talent and commitment of barb, Gillian and Cathy, who dedicated so much more to this work than we could have possibly asked of them.

cathy petocz as journalist jen howe. image by ‘pling.

Short break for Boho for the next few months, then: well, then. But last of all, check out the highlights video. I Am Proud Of This One.

The Minties Project

image by fregmonto stokes

So one of the most extraordinary things to come out of the ATYP playwrights studio thing at Bundanon last week was The Minties Project, featuring nine of my razor-sharp and charming fellow writers. I think it was Jo Erskine who conceived of the project: each participant was to compose a 60-second play based on the Humorous Cartoon on the back of a Minties Wrapper. We had other, more frivolous, tasks and exercises to complete during the mornings afternoons and evenings of the studio, so The Minties Project did not take place until early morning on Thursday 9 December.

Attached for your perusal is the result of our labours: IT IS 1AM AND IT IS MINTIE SCRIPT TIME, a compilation of all nine scripts and their associated Mintie wrappers.* Fully funded and compleatly endorsed by our friends at Nestle, this masterpiece of contemporary Australian theatre-writing features plays by Jess Bellamy, Jo Erskine, David Finig, Zoe Hogan, Sarah Hope, Nakkiah Lui, Tim Spencer, Phil Spencer, Fregmonto Stokes and Brett Walsh.

On every Critics’ Best of 2010 list, IT IS 1AM AND IT IS MINTIE SCRIPT TIME is destined to take its place as one of the defining moments of 21st century Australian theatre. A new generation of writers have planted their flag at the heart of the Australian dramatic landscape. Experience the blunt, unrestrained force of a modern classic, download: IT IS 1AM AND IT IS MINTIE SCRIPT TIME.doc.

*except for Tim Spencer’s – when you come to his contribution you may have to squeeze your eyes tightly closed and visualise a sorrowful looking moron standing by the side of the road holding a full garbage can while a garbage truck drives away.

For the sake of vanity, here’s mine. I chose a fairly straightforward wrapper featuring a gentleman mowing a lawn. In this snapshot, our protagonist seems to be coming to terms with the size of the task ahead of him.

Tom Hanks: I am a dude about to go mow the lawn.

The Lawn: Mow me, baby! Now it’s good for me to be mowed. And you know it!

Tom Hanks: Here I am with my hand-powered mowing machine. I am mowing away. Look at me mowing, because I am a man and a gentle angel of the lawn.

The Lawn: Ah! Ah! Ah! The wealth of the universe lies in your precise mowing technique. No-one has been more special or kind to me than you.

Tom Hanks: Wow, I need to stop for a minute. Jesus fuck, what a lot of lawn there is to go. So much lawn. So much goddamn lawn. No-one prepared me for the quantity of lawn possessed by this lawn.

The Lawn: Fucking mow me, old woman! I’ll tell your wives you can’t perform any longer!

Tom Hanks: Fuck you, you sack of shit. I’ll fucking take the earth mover to you, horrible bitch that you are. If you were a sack full of cats it’d be Dumped-In-The-River-City, population you. Give me a mintie.

The Lawn: That will help.

so it’s that kind of quest

Corinne Marie in subtlenuance’s 2011 production of so it’s that kind of quest, directed by Erica Brennan.

All around me while I wake sleep and occasionally swim in the river, there are plays unfolding and opening up and rippling into life on all sides, coming into being in fits and starts. There’s filthy creativity bubbling in the air while I’m trying to sleep, and it angers me and makes me jealous and infuriated, and the only way I could get my revenge was to write my own monologue. So I did: out of spite. It’s called so it’s that kind of quest and it traces the experience of watching the film clip for Justin Bieber’s One Less Lonely Girl.

so it’s that kind of quest can be performed a maximum of TEN TIMES. The first performance was December 2010 at the ATYP Fresh Ink national studio, the second in Sydney in June 2011 for subtlenuance‘s solo performance season Bare Boards Brave Heart. There are eight left.

Download so it’s that kind of quest.doc.

Perform it. Write to me and tell me that you’re doing it so I can add it to the count of performances. Most importantly, treat yourself by checking out the Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders reference. I remember Game of Love as being a pretty cool tune, but the reality totally surpassed my recollections.

so it’s that kind of quest

–    Nader turns to a stranger for comfort.

–    Nader buys Suha a special gift in a bid to win her over.

At its guts, at its core, at its raw bare bones, what we’re starting from here is a Bieber-esque clip, one of that all too minute subset of film clips for the work of young Canadian pop sensation Justin Bieber.

as music-lovers and appreciators of the fine arts we need to pay tribute to the essential genius that lies at the crux of Bieber’s work and his lasting legacy to the world of pop music – but more than that to the ongoing saga of what Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders referred to as THE GAME OF LOVE which has been played in its many incarnations since the first stirrings between our ancient ape ancestors – our apecestors –

–    Now that Nader and Lorelai are back together, Nader can come into the diner.

Bieber entered a shopping mall music competition at age 13, posted up some of his quaint covers of popular R’n’B numbers on Youtube, then a studio A&R man cruising the internet picked up on him, flew him to Atlanta for an audition. Usher, who is a significant R’n’B producer and singer, was attached to Bieber as a producer and they released some successful singles.

–    Life suddenly becomes a whole lot more complicated for Nader.

So the story goes:

Bieber is sitting in a laundromat with an acoustic guitar – a girl comes in and starts doing her washing. Bieber makes eyes at her. She blushes and looks away. Anyway, she winds up leaving the laundromat after a whole lot of flirty eye-contact BUT she’s left her scarf on the ground. Bieber picks it up and runs away with it.

[The chorus of this tune goes ‘There’ll be one less lonely girl’]

So when this chick returns, Bieber has gone but there’s a photo of him with her scarf and a note saying ‘If you want to see your scarf again you need to come find me’

Outside the shop is an A4 piece of paper with an arrow texta’d on it pasted to a lamp post. So it’s that kind of quest. Anyway, she rolls to a florist and the florist gives her a single rose and a note from Bieber which says ‘I’ll buy you lots of flowers’

then walks past a chocolate chop and the old Italian chocolatier comes out and hands her some chocolate and a note which says ‘I’ll buy you EXPENSIVE chocolate’ (Bieber is a man of means)

–    Nader takes revenge on ex-boyfriend Ken with the help of his current girl Suha.

then outside a pet store Bieber convinces the pet shop owner to let him sit with a puppy dog and hold it up to his mouth and anyway, when the girl gets there there’s a polaroid of Bieber macking on with the dog and a note saying ‘I’LL GIVE YOU LOTS OF KISSES’

like you probably think I’m overstating how serious a kiss Bieber gave this dog, but it was at least enough that I’d need him to disinfect his face before planting one on me

anyway she finally catches up to Bieber inside some kind of romantic mood lighting shop, where he has positioned himself in mood lighting ground zero. So she hustles right up to him and he loops her scarf around her neck and draws her into him and they dance forehead to forehead in silhouette for a brief while,

–    What happens with Suha will break your heart but restore your faith in human strength. Includes Lotto draw.

and this is the most sad part of the whole catastrophe – is the moment that Bieber presses his forehead into the forehead of this girl and they’re looking eye to eye – you know that’s how you should see another person – that’s how you hould see the people you care about, forehead to forehead, but while they’re dancing Bieber barks the chorus THERE’LL BE ONE LESS LONELY GIRL into her face while they’re slow-dancing

and frankly that would kill the mood for me

that would fucking axe it, right on the head, nave to the chops – getting really close to someone and then being referred to close up as a statistic, as representing a reduction in global loneliness

but this girl’s probably a model or an actress trying to cut it in Hollywood, and man, good luck to her, I’m not suggesting she has an intimate connection with Bieber, but if she felt even slightly affectionate towards the dumb fucker then she’d have to feel a little put out when he starts behaving like she’s just another rung on the ladder to the heights of minimal loneliness

& it is funny then that she probably has friends
& Bieber basically does not?

but gradually their faces press closer and closer and finally they kiss, briefly but for real, it’s a mouth on mouth for real kiss and it’s real and I saw it happen, and it’s actually a little nice – it’s not a great pash by any stretch, but it’s kind of cute

–    Nader hires a hit man to kill him after his wife dies. Repeat.

& I guess what I’m saying is that if I were a 14 year old heterosexual girl with no real clue about male/female relations, I could buy into his brand of cutesy young male charm and his winsome grin, and I don’t think there’s anything wrong with girls going for that, and I don’t even have a problem with girls crushing on Edward Cullen or Nick Jonas or whatever, and it doesn’t bother me that these kids live weird warped celebrity lives in the spotlight as a consequence of being owned by Disney or in Bieber’s case by Usher, and basically I think the system works and I’m okay with that, and teenagers are idiots but you know we’re all stupid, and everyone gets laid eventually and I hope your first time was better than Justin Bieber’s, because the pressure on that kid to perform in bed must be pretty intense, so count yourself lucky that you’re free to fumble and get things wrong and laugh about it, I guess

–    Suha tries to hide the truth behind her mood swings. PG. Drug references.

and you’d assume maybe that Bieber’s record company would hire a discreet escort agency, a sex coach or maybe even fly him overseas for some ‘personal development’, meaning hands-on tutoring, which is neither unavailable nor probably that unusual. After all, it’s not commensurate with Bieber’s public image that he be completely incompetent in bed and not, for instance, know how to maintain an erection while putting on a condom under his moistened partner’s expectant gaze, which is by no means as easy a task as it seems, or becomes with diligent rehearsal, and while detailed instruction on the finer points of intimate congress is going to cost you a couple of hundred dollars an hour and you’re going to want to sink at least a few grand in it to start really seeing results, that’s not to say that Island/Def Jam Records couldn’t utilise the economic driving force of 25 million ‘Beliebers’ aged 10-14 to make it happen. What I question is not the ability but the will on the record company’s part to make Bieber as capable a throb in the pants as he is in the hearts and wallets of young women the world over. They don’t want Bieber hooking up 4 realz. Instead, let us keep him in a state of being desired and yet frustrate his every desire. Leave him in the dark about the basic acts which you and I figured out way out of the spotlight

–    M. Adult themes, horror, nudity.

–    M. Repeat. Adult themes, violence, swearing, some drug use.

but I mean that’s fine – it’s not our responsibility to protect the young child stars – I mean maybe that is a part of our public duty, but if so there are more pressing problems that crave our attention. The celebrity industry, and in particular that part of the celebrity industry responsible for selling teenagers as icons is functioning as well as it ever has, perhaps as well as it ever will

–    MA.

–    M.

–    M.

and in the meantime you have your hand on my lower belly and mine in the small of your back, and neither of us quite sure what we’re doing, but there’s a confidence that comes with knowing that men and women the whole world round have been here before – struggled through this themselves – we are not the first virgins, none of us, we will figure it out, we will be okay,

–    G.

–    PG.

–    G.

and we will lie bathed in some kind of afterglow – all of us will, I promise – and though it feels like life and death right now, we will come to terms with the fact that nothing truly is at stake – I might lose my hard on and you might freak out and tense up and that’s it for now, but no matter how traumatic it seems, there is more sex to be had

there is more sex in your future
there is more sex in your future
there is more sex in your future

you might die starving cold lonely but while you are alive

there’s a crack in the walls of misery into which we can insert a thin wedge – like, kisses – like, fingers – like, tongues –

while Justin Bieber is sitting in an airport trying to handle jetlag and security is fighting off a clutch of screaming ten year olds

–    MA.
–    M.

we’re figuring out how to give each other better orgasms

while Justin Bieber is eating takeaway backstage in a concert arena
unsure of where he is or what the fuck he’s doing there

–    MA.
–     M.

there are orgasms flaring and bursting in the city all around him
all tiny moans everywhere just out of earshot
too soft under the din of concert PAs and screaming fans

–    MA.

little cries of satisfaction
little flowers, opening up to the suns that shine briefly between bedsheets

–    MA.
–    M.

and some stupid miserable kid
singing lyrics he doesn’t understand
to a world he doesn’t understand

I’m not saying we’ve got it figured out – not at all, not even slightly – but like, at least we’re not going away building monuments to sex and romance

–    G.
–    R.

if it’s there – and sometimes it’s there – we put our hands on it – and it’s soft like skin
& warm
& hard
& wet

–    G.
–    PG.

& it happens
it happens

sometimes it happens

sometimes it happens

& it happens
it happens

sometimes it happens

sometimes it happens

& it happens
it happens

sometimes it happens

sometimes it happens

–    2:05am. Station closes.

Director Erica Brennan and my self at a rehearsal for subtlenuance’s 2011 production of so it’s that kind of quest.