Funny feeling about to open A Wake: Kids Killing Kids for the Next Wave festival tonight. I’ve never felt quite like this a few hours before opening a show, ever. I think it’s because my motivations for doing a show have never been the motivations I have for doing this one, and that plays out in all sorts of ways.
For background: A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is a live documentary theatre collaboration between Too Many Weapons (myself, Georgie McAuley, Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr) and the Sipat Lawin Ensemble (represented here by JK Anicohce, Alon Segarra, Ness Roque, Ninya Bedruz and Sarah Salazar) telling the story of the Battalia Royale project that took place in Manila over 2012.
Last year, the blessed cats at MKA produced the first version of this work featuring just 2MW, which toured to the Melbourne Fringe, Crack Theatre Festival and the Q Theatre in Penrith. Following that show, Sipat produced their own documentary response to Battalia, entitled A Wake, which was performed earlier this year in Manila. Now, the two shows have been stapled / delicately woven together into one creature with the amazing acronym of AWKKK.
This production owes a lot of thanks to a lot of humans – firstly to MKA and Glyn Roberts, who took our initial idea for a slide night about our Philippines holiday and gave us the framework to turn it into a much bigger and real-life theatre show, and then to other supporters like Katrina Douglas from the Q Theatre, Chris Ryan, Nick Atkins and Jenni Medway from Crack Theatre Festival, Felix Preval from the Melbourne Fringe, all the mad lovers.
That work triggered conversations between Sipat Lawin and Next Wave director Em Sexton and Stephen Armstrong from Arts Centre Melbourne, which led to an invitation for Sipat to come to Australia and take part in Next Wave. That invitation set in motion the creation of A Wake, and from there the decision to integrate A Wake and KKK into one multi-faceted mega-show, the Man O’War Jellyfish of documentary theatre. If you want a clearer rundown of the creature, roll to Eleanor Zeichner’s article about it in Exeunt Magazine.
AWKKK includes the masterful work of designer Mel Koomen and stage manager Cameron Stewart, and the whole thing is once again directed by Bridget Balodis. Bridget was responsible for turning KKK from a long-winded series of essays into a tight theatre show, and once again she’s managed to tie the diverse strands of the story into a single unified slice of jiving performance, with dance. I am super grateful to all these human beings, I’m not putting logos on this blog post, this is actual thanks from an actual human being to all the human beings who have helped make this thing happen.
So what’s going on in my head? First of all, I’m not at all concerned about the audience or critical response. We have a story to tell, and we’re going to tell it as best we can, with generosity and love and welcoming the audience in. Bridget Balodis is an amazing director and she has built a fantastic framework to support us in telling this tale, making it live and breathe and giving us our best shot at getting it across to a bunch of strangers. It might still fall over, it might not work, but we will try our best, we will try our absolute best, and that’s all there is for us to do.
But in a funny way, I’m not searching for approval from the audience. I’m not looking for audiences to pat us on the back and say they thought it was good, or fun, or interesting, or anything like that. I’m not fussed if critics praise or condemn the form or the content of the show. Critical discourse is oxygen for my theatre-making normally (and this show is all about critical discourse) but for this particular show, it’s not part of the equation. Critics are just people to whom we’re telling the story, no more and no less.
Also, this show is never touring again. Nine performances (starting tonight) and that’s it. For good. There are lots of reasons for that – probably the major one being that it’s an extremely personal piece referring to a particular time and place, and past a point it would be dishonest to return there. So we won’t. And that means we’re not interested in hustling for further tours, future opportunities, trying to win over venue presenters, promoters and curators. That’s a frequent part of doing work as an independent artist – you create something you’re proud of, you naturally want to see it have a future life, as well as trying to source other gigs and opportunities to keep your practice moving. But here we’ve created something we’re proud of, and we’re sharing it to the audiences at Next Wave, and that’s it. Presenters, promoters and curators are just people to whom we’re telling the story, no more and no less.
For me, there are two real reasons why I’m doing this show: to honour the other people on stage and to honour the story.
Doing the earlier version of this show last year (as Kids Killing Kids) was a lot of talking about the Sipat Lawin Ensemble without ever actually featuring Sipat in the story. We couldn’t speak for them, and so we focused the story on us – on our own limitations as white, western collaborators. Well and good. But for this season, thanks to a lot of support and love from Next Wave and the Playking Foundation and such, we have JK, Alon, Ness, Ninya and Sarah onstage with us. The technical term for this is fuck yeah. We are a bunch of friends and collaborators from two countries talking together and hanging out onstage and sharing what went down between us, and it is intense and emotional and fun.
And also and importantly, this production is the last chapter in the story of Battalia Royale, which began five years ago when I met JK and Alon and Ness and Isab and the rest of the crew in Penguin Cafe in Malate at the beginning of 2009. That experience has swelled up and consumed a good chunk of the last few years, in a lot of unexpected and significant ways, and at last here and now I can trace that arc from beginning to end, with the people who were there and part of it with me, and tell the whole ridiculous story. And it’s an interesting story (I think) and I’m pleased to be telling it in style, complete with three projectors and a small city of milk crates.
So my entire headspace at this point is not ‘what can I get from this show?’ or ‘what will people think of this show?’ or anything like that. All I’m thinking, 10 hours out from opening, is: ‘I will do my very best to tell this story well and share it with the audience and support my friends I’m on stage with’.
What I’m saying is, A Wake: Kids Killing Kids is probably the first really honest piece of theatre I’ve ever made. Don’t worry, it won’t happen again.