serious theatre – Void Without Void

For the Canberra peeps.

There’s a couple of ways to tell this story. The first is to get really nostalgic and emotional and go right back in time in 2000, when Mick Bailey, Jack Lloyd and myself (aka Boho Interactive) saw barb barnett’s production of Sartre’s No Exit while in Year 12, and were inspired on the spot to form our own theatre company. The second (and more relevant) is to talk about serious theatre, the ACT collective consisting of barb, Gillian Schwab and a few other satellite members, whose works have been a massive inspiration and a continual upping the ante in terms of high-concept weirdness in the Canberra theatre scene.

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

In 2003, barb’s company serious kicked off with a production of All-Mother, a devised production featuring aerial theatre, large-scale puppetry and installation.  Presented first at C-Block Theatre in Gorman House, then scaling up for a massive version at the Street Theatre in 2006, All-Mother was an eerie myth-scape that told the story of Lilith, Adam’s first wife according to the Jewish Talmuds.

The 2006 version of All-Mother was also the first major collaboration between barb and designer Gillian Schwab. Gills’ lighting design was a major contributor to the immersive ur-world of All-Mother, and the two of them have collaborated on numerous occasions since, forming for practical purposes the core of the serious collective.

Lloyd Allison-Young in oceans all boiled into sky. Image by ‘pling.

A personal highlight of serious’ work for me was the 2008 production of oceans all boiled into sky, my sci-fi road-trip coming-of-age script set in a post-apocalyptic Canberra dominated by clouds of sentient steam. Directed by barb as a live radio play, oceans featured Gills’ extraordinary lighting and set design on high gear.

Gillians’ vision of a post-apocalyptic Canberra for serious theatre’s production of Oceans. Image by ‘pling.

Now, serious is planting a brand new piece in the Street Theatre over November 9-13. Entitled Void Without Void, it’s an immersive installation work (ie. an experiential piece rather than a traditional play) exploring space. Not the physical property of having dimensions, but capital-s Space. What you get when you depart 180km or so from the earth’s surface. Outer Space. The Void, so to speak. It’s a one woman show featuring puppetry and aerial performance directed by barb, designed by Gillian and featuring performer Cathy Petocz (the exact trio that Boho was lucky enough to work with on last year’s True Logic of the Future), plus sound designer Liberty Kerr.

If ‘important’ is a word you should use to describe theatre companies, serious is one of the most important theatre companies to emerge from Canberra in my lifetime. The sheer originality of the ensemble’s work, the sheer class of their production elements, the uncompromising creativity and the focus on audience experience rather than experimentation for the sake of it – I think this is essential for anyone who cares about theatre in Canberra.

But even more than that, even if you don’t give a damn about theatre, let me raise one final point about Void Without Void: it’s set in SPACE and the audience gets to ENTER SPACE. You are not going to get a better offer from any other show this year. Get amongst it.

Poster by Gills Schwab, booking details as you see.

New Boho Interactive website

Jack Lloyd and Mick Bailey at TEDx Canberra. Image by Gavin Tapp.

This year, science-theatre ensemble Boho Interactive (Mick Bailey, Jack Lloyd and myself) was invited to talk at the Canberra TEDx Conference. On Saturday 24 September, Mick and Jack presented a performance-lecture discussing Boho’s work in communicating ideas from complex systems science through interactive theatre.

Following the talk (which will soon be online), Boho has launched a new website with a swathe of new content. As it says on the front page:

Following our performance at TEDxCanberra 2011, which was kind of a pilot for us in combining lecture and storytelling with interactivity, we’re working on formalising our work over the last few years, categorising it, and considering where various techniques are most effective. Figuring that others might find this useful too, over the next few months we will be posting regular articles on interactive performance styles and tech, looking at ways that audience members can contribute to their own appreciation of a work, resulting in a richer artistic experience.

To kick things off, we’ve posted up several articles sharing some key lessons we’ve learned through our experiences making interactive work. First of all, Jack discusses the Treasure Hunt model, which Boho has used on a few occasions:

The Treasure Hunt is a scene we love using because it gets the audience working directly with the environment, so it’s great to break down walls. Depending on what you want to achieve, there are good ways to get story content out at the same time… The focus is on exploration, experimentation, puzzle solving and discovery. Improvisation is generally not necessary, the scene itself is kind of the star anyway so performance elements can be quite minimal.

Secondly, I’ve scribbled a little bit about failure – what it means when an interactive sequence falls apart in performance, or when the audience completely fails to understand or solve the activity you’ve created for them.

In True Logic of the Future, we had a puzzle built around the Logic Piano (a replica of WS Jevons’ 19th century early computer construct). In this sequence, two scenes played out simultaneously – one set in a hospital, and one set at the scene of a crime by the city’s dam. The audience used the logic piano to separate out the two scenes, filtering the messy sequence into its constituent parts.

Most audiences ran through the sequence between 5 and 8 times before hitting on a correct combination of keys. Some audiences got it within 2 or 3 goes, making the whole thing seem quite easily. During one performance, though, the players ran through the scene 13 times without hitting on the correct combination. As a performer, that’s desperate. You can feel the frustration mounting as the audience are trapped in this same section of the play, and the concern of the players as they fear that they might not be able to solve it. And when a sequence of the show that normally runs for 8 minutes runs on to 16, you begin to freak out that the show is going to run hugely over time, and everyone will be upset.

Have a butcher’s at the site, and feel free to drop us a line or comment if you have anything to add (or dispute).

A shot from probably the best Boho sequence in our whole company history: Flying Dudes. Image by ‘pling.

be the assassin

In all seriousness, I am not quite sure what this is. Going through some old drafts of scripts, I came upon this fragment from 2008. It’s been excised from my piece entitled World Creates Itself, but it doesn’t have a lot in common with that. It’s a monologue, but it’s a fairly schizophrenic monologue, to say the least. I don’t know what to say about it or do with it, but I am strangely charmed by it. What would this look like on stage? What could you do with this? I don’t know I don’t know I don’t know…

download be the assassin.doc

In March 2012, director Jessica Tuckwell and performer Andrew Johnston presented be the assassin in Sydney as part of Griffin Theatre’s experimental / short performance event Griffringe. Jess’ description of the script in the blurb for the event was interesting:

Who is Mr Swap? A villian? A hero? A nightmare? All of the above. be the assassin is a confusion of the brain and a mission in deciphering the real Mr Swap – a puzzle with no pieces and a mind so sharp it severs its own logic.
– Jess Tuckwell

image by jay christian

be the assassin

Dear Mr Swap. This is a questionnaire. It is. It is, this, it is. It continues. Dear Sir, Dear Sir, Dear Mr Swap: who are you?

Fucking right, who am I? That’s the question, right there, isn’t it? The question behind the questionnaire, so to speak? Who is me? Who is Mr Swap? What am I?

Okay, let me be honest. I’m a former soldier with an artificial intelligence implanted in my brain designed to take control of me when my adrenaline reaches a certan level, and I have been co-opted by a tribe of fringe scavengers who keep me at their beck and call by the drugs they have addicted me to, and they make me run errands for them – they make me scream with laughter when I get hit by capsicum spray and after enough time has passed I stop trying to remember who I was because really – really –

Okay, let me be straight with you – I came into being fully formed, just a few minutes ago, I stepped out from between the cedar trees and there I was, a grown adult – because you see the great man of the mountains, the evil Thin Man, he is so evil and cruel that the earth itself rebelled against his wickedness, and the earth created a being that could combat this evil, and that is me, that is Swap, and the earth blessed me with sidekicks – the north wind, the whirlwind, the storm and the icy wind, the tempest and the scorching wind. These are my servants, my disciples and my friends.

So! I can walk through a crowded room and yet all by myself be socialating! Hey buddy, you seen my wife around, she’s got a crazy curving ear that you could get lost in! I mean I don’t get jealous often, but when I sees another man or a lady peering at my woman’s curvy hearing shells I go wild with a razor!

I don’t. I never would. I love life in all its forms, every scrap of life that pivots under the sun, I dig it, I dig it, I love it all – no, captain, I never came that route, I stayed with the brigade all the way until the prince was safe back on his throne. I never was a lone dog, you know what I mean, I never was – oh no, no, I can’t even comprehend how you could develop that much self-esteem – I mean maybe if you’ve built a machine that gets better with age – I hear that’s impossible – did you hear that? The little guru told us at the last board meeting – Bernild brought in some of his own crackers, he makes crackers now –

I be the assassin.

Yes. And I be the king.

Yes. So, ah, me, gentlemen, let us have a flagon of… let’s put things in flagons! Here we go! Okay, so the servants have strewn straw all over the floor to soak up the ale, that’s helpful – and let’s just say there’s a huge bonfire in the middle of the feasting hall, and there’s something roasting on it. What’s roasting? Never mind. Now we shall drink and be merry, for our enemies are far from our walls! Ha ha ha! Quaff!

Meanwhile, outside, creeping through the snow – no, on horseback – creeping through the horseback, in the snow – it is I, the hash-ash-ash-ashien! Assassin!

creepy creepy creepy

Now inside, me, I’m the king, I’m the boss of the party. Bring me some more entertaining! Entertain the shit out of me! Entertain my balls off, you wretched crackslags! Yeah! Yeah! Dancing! And the dancing girls, like – Ooh! Ooh! Ooh! Yeah, like this, dancing, prancing –

and every eye in the banquet hall is fixed on them – the dancing girls – the king gazes, drunk – meanwhile, in the walls, la la la, assassin assassin assassin –

Hey, Gwen, what’s happening!


Awesome, what are you up to? Out drinking, I guess.


Sorry, you’re in whose car?


You sure you’re all right? Who’s car are you in? Seriously, Gwen, where are you?


image from artwork