What I dug about Made In China

Is Jess Latowicki and Tim Cowbury from MiC accompanied by some kinda MACHINE.

At the risk of sounding like a fanboy bleeding from the head, or like I’m trying to get in bed with any of the members, or like I’ve been paid or threatened or in some unlovely way coerced by its two non-threatening but very persuasive-seeming members, I’m going to try to roughly articulate what it is I liked about the Made in China shows I’ve seen in Edinburgh this last week.

Why I want to articulate what it is I like about them is because: we hope that you’re happy (why would we lie?) might not have been my favourite show of the festival (though it was pretty close), but it was the show that I most want to point to and say: ‘That. That. What those guys are doing over there, more of that.’ My favourite show of the festival was Lundal and Seitl‘s Rotating in a room of images, but I’m not about to start making purpose-built blacked-out mazes rich with interactive choreography, sensory deprivation and responsive digital projection. Rotating in a room of images I put on a pedastal – I had a fantastic time, felt really moved, and then it was over and I moved on. When Made In China’s show finished I wanted to grab a fistful of performers and make a new work. It made me want to get my hands dirty and build shit. It made me want to talk about it. So, I’m going to.

What I liked about it, and them, I’m still getting my head around. So this is not a well constructed analysis by any means, it is a laundry list of points I will return to and chew on. But, things I liked:

  • It was well scripted and the dialogue was really glib and quick-moving but with a massive fucking undertow of feeling under it.
  • There were live art staples (onstage eating, dancing to pop songs, performers talking about their real lives rather than characters in a fictive script) but they were beautifully balanced against the scripted elements (which were in that Beckett vein of two unmoving figures discussing the banal and philosophical in little fragments). If the live art elements had been up their own it would have been woeful, and if the script had been just a script it woulda been cringeworthy, but mix the two in the right ratio and FUCKEN GOLDEN.  There’s a lesson there, and it’s more complex than just ‘mixing live art and scripted text is a winner’, but I’m not sure exactly what it is. Will keep pondering.
  • Performers Jessica Latowicki and Chris Bailey were both exceptional. That probably helped.
  • Writer Tim Cowbury’s script is funny and subtle and elegant as fuck (or if you prefer, subtle and elegant like a fast-flowing river over jagged hidden rocks). I wasn’t sure how much of the dialogue was scripted and how much was the performers riffing on the text, but at a glance at the Made in China blog suggests that they write like they talk. This is also admirable.
  • Do you know what David Bowie’s Rebel Rebel sounds like sped up 200%, 400%, 800% and 1600%? After seeing we hope that you’re happy, I do.
  • The image of Chris and Jess dancing in a white cloud in the sidelights is well haunting and will stay with me for the longtemps.
  • They used a song which had the lyrics ‘If I had a hammer I’d hammer out a warning’ in this twinkletoes Pete Seeger-flavoured folk angle and they did the most tiny actions and looked about as uncomfortable dancing to it as I always felt people who dance to flowery peacenik folk oughta be.
  • There were several repeated provocations at play in the text – questions, tasks, dialogue algorithms – and as with the scratch they did at Summerhall for their new piece, these provocations were both well chosen and edited to generate good results. Repetition can be your friend, but it doesn’t have to be – but when Jess and Chris embarked on another story of a picnic and I found myself trying to guess the catastrophic disaster they were going to be picnicking nearby, that is an example of Good Use Of The Technique.
  • Hmm I don’t know how to say this right but: the performance had moments that were sexier than others (danceinyrpants), but unlike in the show I’d at Forest the previous night, it didn’t feel forced, awkward or embarrassing, and I think that’s hard to pull off.
  • I liked it a lot but I didn’t like all of it, and it wasn’t perfect, and the dudes seem as if they’re on the way somewhere rather than that they’ve arrived, and that’s way more exciting to watch than a company who’s found whatever it is they’re looking for. I like the seekers, you know, the whatdoyoucallit visionaries who die without seeing their dreams come true. And I like jagged edges and raw stuff that seems slightly unpolished and performers who clean up after themselves and playwrights who operate lighting and sound. So you know, ethically, I’m on side.

The moral of the story is: IF we’re all stumbling around a huge fucking valley in the mist, using whatever skills we have to pry creative gold out of the ground, THEN I think Made In China are mining a particularly rich seam and people should follow them and make more of that kind of work, including myself.*

*I am well on the way – I have a loveheart permanent marker’d on my hand indicating that I’m one of them, because I answered a motherfucking QUESTIONAIRE. That’s how it’s done, dudes.

Dance Dance Revolution, and how it came third in the BAT23ADF

First and most exciting: Dance Dance Revolution was featured in the Brisbane Arts Theatre 23rd Annual Drama Festival and IT CAME THIRD! So, YES.

More context? Certainly: Dance Dance Revolution is my one and only play for young people (or for adults hilariously disguised as young people). It is set in a high school called FLUORO HIGH (this is not a real highschool, although I wouldn’t be surprised if they end up opening one in Brisbane after the dust settles from this), in which a group of Year 9 students have formed into a brutal mafia known as the COALITION. This student syndicate dominates every aspect of life at Fluoro High, including pulling the strings on their tame teachers, and the only way to challenge the power structure is through a one-on-one facedown with the Coalition’s leader on his favourite Japanese arcade machine. And then, into the mix steps a young transfer student, ready to lead a revolution.

Brisbane theatre-maker and ex-National Young Writers Festival director Amy Ingram took this script on with her Danceworks drama class, and proceeded to sweep the floor at the BAT23ADF – including, of course, taking out Best Director herself. The actor playing Gwen Malkin got Best Supporting Actor, and the actor playing Ms Caesar roped in Best Actor. Plus the play pulled in third prize overall. So, I am excited!

Why this is exciting for me:

  • Because no-one has produced this script before and I’m stoked to know it works.
  • Because I’m crazy happy that the group enjoyed doing it.
  • Because it’s the first time any of my work has been produced in Brisbane (apart from Boho’s tour of A Prisoner’s Dilemma to the Brisbane Festival in 08)
  • Because I think it’s awesome to have written something that young people can punch out.
  • Because it has more action sequences than almost all of my other plays – fight scenes, dance battles, MC battles.
  • Because in one scene Toby is reading Venus In Furs for no reason.
  • Because it contains the line ‘Talk is cheap – let’s dance.’

The script is up for download if you’re interested – and meantime, let me for the sake of it post a fragment from the piece, in which History teacher Ms Caesar forces a student to beatbox for her in preparation for her MC battle with one of her students:

MS CAESAR enters, wearing a colourful and ridiculous costume.

MS CAESAR: All right yo! Are you ready for the battle supreme?

LUCKY: Ms Caesar?

MS CAESAR: I said are you ready for the battle SUPREME? It’s not Ms Caesar, my name is MC Tha Bomb!


MS CAESAR: Cause today I’m not teaching history, I’m making it. I’ve been preparing for this moment for nineteen years. The time is now. I haven’t slept all night. Now who wants to help MC Tha Bomb prepare for the final showdown?

There is a notable lack of enthusiasm from the gathered students.

MS CAESAR: I said who wants to help MC Tha Bomb prepare her soul for a hip-hop battle that’s going to shake the foundations? Lucky! Feed me a beat!

LUCKY: What would you like?

MS CAESAR: Let’s start with slow and crunching – something industrial.

LUCKY begins to beat-box.

MS CAESAR: Yo, I used to check out lyrics and pump the format
Build with skill with technique. Computer A-DAT
My lyrical form is clouds on your brainstorm
I get hype. Think thought flow. Acrobat-
Yo Lucky! Why don’t you pick up the pace a little, but mellow out the edges. I wanna work on my flow.