Kill Climate Deniers solo show, pic by Sarah Walker.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a playwright, properly. I was never really a proper playwright, in the sense of writing a Well-Made Play. That’s a difficult task, and it takes years of hard work to get good at it, and I’ve never put in the hard yards, honestly.
I’ve always made weird things instead. Weird, unlovely things, and things that scratched particular creative itches at the time of inception. Then we formed Boho back in 2006, and since then a huge amount of my practice has been about audience-drive, participatory work, which is a whole other artform with a whole different set of design and aesthetic principles.
In the last few years, though, I’ve sensed myself butting up against a kind of idea of the sort of work I want to make, outside of the scope of Boho’s interactive-science-theatre remit. It started with seeing Bougainville Photoplay Project (which is still the piece of theatre I’ve enjoyed the most that I had no personal relationship to). It’s been a vague, unclear impulse, but at different times I’ve felt like I’ve touched on something that works.
Paul Dwyer in Bougainville Photoplay Project. Note similarity to the pic above. Image from Belvoir.
Now that Kill Climate Deniers is landing in the world, I’ve tried to hash out what, exactly, this ‘format of work’ might look like, and what it entails. In a way this is for me more than it is for anyone else – I’m sharing it because I’m trying to track my own efforts to come at the kind of work that intuitively interests me.
None of this is original, and if it’s new to me, it’s because I haven’t really read much or studied anything about my craft. I’m a trial-and-error animal. If it turns out that there’s a word for exactly what I’m trying to describe, great! If it turns out there’s a school where you can study it, even better!
(I probably still won’t study it, tho)
So there are two basic components to this model of making. At the centre of this little schematic is what I’m calling the ‘core story/idea’. And then around that core is a variety of different expressions of that story/idea, across different platforms.
One aspect of the core is the story. This is the seed idea. This could be a reportage-style investigation of a real-world event, or it could be a fictional story.
Real world event: Easier, in some ways. Harder in others. It’s like deciding to do a work about how archeological sites in conflict zones are looted and the artifacts smuggled over borders. Or a work about befriending a person with the opposite political opinions to you. This has a bit of an investigative journalism feel to it, I guess. It helps that the story exists in the real world, so you can document it. But then, how are you going to get that documentation? How close are you able to get to the story?
Fictional story: Easier, in some ways. Harder in others. This’d be like making a work about a fictional attack on Parliament House by a group of eco-terrorists. Or a story about a couple who need to have 44 sex acts in one week in order to write a magazine article. One challenge here is that, at core, who cares about a fictional story? People seem to respond reasonably well to the bit of Kill Climate Deniers where I tell the story of the terrorist attack. But the problem is the media doesn’t exist around a fictional story, you have to create it. Whereas with a real world story, you just go and document the actual thing.
Kill Climate Deniers and Kids Killing Kids/Battalia Royale were lucky in that they were able to combine elements of both. Make the fictional story, then tell the story of making that story. Kids Killing Kids was more immediately interesting because the challenges and weirdnesses of making Battalia Royale was more interesting than the challenges and weirdnesses of making Kill Climate Deniers. But in both instances, there is value in the intersection of real-world shit and fake stuff.
What seems to work well in Kill Climate Deniers, though, is using real-world stuff in order to colour and contextualise the fictional story. Lots of photos of Parliament House, real stories about the current state of climate change, all that stuff, used as colour and dressing around the fictional story. And then as you proceed forward, the fictional story takes over.
little bit of real-world flavour supporting the fictional Kill Climate Deniers story.
Another core element is the idea. In everything I do there is going to be some kind of learning, some kind of lecture element. Because that’s what appeals to me in a night out. The chance to learn something real, to discover something new. ‘Someone’s story’ is not enough by itself, in fact that’s often really drab and disappointing. I want a thing which tells me something new about the world, I want that a lot.
So in every process, I’m gonna wanna have some kind of clear sense of what this idea is at an early-ish stage.
That’s not a barrier to doing works like Ghost Mountain, which is my brilliant pitch idea about a group of mountain climbers who are being picked off one by one by the vengeful spirit of a climber lost on a previous expedition. The topic is mountain climbing. I can commentate on the history of the sport, riff on that while telling a ridiculous mountaineering ghost story.
It’s a little trickier with stuff that’s more consciously trash, like 44 Sex Acts in One Week. But still, there’s commentary around sex in popular culture, how we negotiate different kinds of kink, etc… Even the most lightweight trash has stuff to say about the world.
Battalia Royale saying stuff about the world
In the case of both Kill Climate Deniers and Kids Killing Kids/Battalia, there was a real-world impact to the telling of this story, and that became part of the story. ‘Controversy’ was the rough name that got bandied about for this thing, but I think that’s a naff term and not quite what I’m talking about. ‘Controversy’ implies black and white, lots of yelling, and somewhat predictable debates. I think what I need is a phrase like ‘impact’, and what every project and/or story needs to do is to go to the site of most discomfort in order to speak back to itself.
That was how Bougainville Photoplay Project worked – Paul Dwyer kept returning to the site of the story, going back to Bougainville, and telling the story back to the people it was about, and in that way it became an interesting self-reflexive journey. Kill Climate Deniers kinda goes to the scene of the crime in being presented at Parliament House. We captured people’s reactions to Battalia at the time they occurred, and that was key.
So all projects have to have a point where they go to the place where that story is most resonant, where that idea is at its rawest. And then reflect on that, speak about that, build from that.
bringing KCD to its natural home at Parliament House
Okay, so those are the core elements for each project. Beyond that, they can be represented in any way that works – and I think I’m past the point of wanting to make them into a ‘play’, as such. Even if I knew what that meant, I’m just not the best playwright.
I want to produce this story, and then to try to capture that story (which is always a moving target) across multiple different creative platforms. None of them will really do it justice, not if the story’s rich and interesting enough. And the failure of one form is really its success, because by trying to force a work into a particular form you (a) inevitably miss crucial parts of the whole that you’ll have to come back to in another way, and (b) you discover aspects of that story that could only emerge when you try to express it in this particular medium.
So what are these mediums? I don’t know all of them, but a partial list – some formats I’ve begun to explore:
Film / Video
So in the case of Battalia, Sam+Jordan+Georgie+I filmed a huge volume of content – interviews, performance footage, colourful content from around Malate. Shaping that into a specific format required editing skills (which I don’t have) and a context (which was the Kids Killing Kids live show), but that same material could also have been sculpted into a film documentary, or broken down and expressed elsewise.
In the case of Kill Climate Deniers, there was nothing to film. The show didn’t exist, and it’s too high-budget to make happen in any kind of visually spectacular way. However, Tom (my older brother) had a bunch of timelapse videos he’s filmed from around Parliament House and surrounds, plus he was adept at finding free found footage that was relevant. And filming a short mockumentary was well within our capacity. Similarly, Jordan was able to construct and produce a beautiful music video for Bolted, which brings another strange media element into the picture.
So, the point is to:
• Film whatever’s available and relevant
• Collate free found footage on the subject at hand
• Film short creative material
Jordan’s vision for the Kill Climate Deniers lead single music video included a rogues gallery of terrible dudes
Audio / Music
The Kill Climate Deniers original album is a pretty unusual outcome, and a significant audio result. It’d be possible – it has been possible – to create audio outcomes with music (or without) that doesn’t require so much investment. (Although an album released through an actual record label is fucking great, tbh.)
I keep circling back to one of the few podcast episodes I’ve ever listened to the whole way through, which Ness hooked me on to – 99% Invisible I think, where they had Jon Mooallem reading chapters from his book Wild Ones, accompanied by a live band.
Radio plays are not a thing. The energy and vibe of a podcast and/or radio documentary is something different. That Kids Killing Kids has ended up as a radio documentary, thx to ABC Radio National, is a satisfying result.
every project should include room for Reuben Ingall to bust out a rad dancefloor set of classic rave anthems. pic by sarah walker.
Slideshow / Photographs
Everything, no matter what it is, needs photographs to bolster it. I think when I’m writing stories I need to be also collating relevant found images, photographing locations myself.
The original idea for Kids Killing Kids was a slideshow, showing pics from our weird residency. I’m not heaps nostalgic for old media, or nostalgia in general, honestly, but I do have good memories of my dad and Will Steffen giving slideshows from their Himalayan expeditions.
A story could just be a selection of images, in the right order. Sarah Walker and I were talking about a work riffing on La Jetée, and now she’s going ahead and doing something like it (but with a good deal more radical worldbuilding) out at Bonnie Doon. There’s something brilliant about that – a photoessay documenting a fictional world – all the information and narrative that you crave is held tantalisingly out of your reach, but there’s so much stimulus for your own ideas in there.
along with Bougainville Photoplay Project, Chris Marker’s La Jetée and Sans Soleil are probs the closest ancestors for this kinda work
Live performance / storytelling
It will be hard for me to ever give this up. I think the mental shift I need to make is from producing a live performance as the beginning, end and entire output of a project, to treating it the way musicians treat it – you release your recorded material, you play it live. Not one, not the other; both. Some musicians tilt more one way than the other, but theatre artists (me) are trained to want to do almost everything live.
Interesting result of Kill Climate Deniers – the live performance of the solo show is as close to a complete document of the work as there could possibly be, and YET, in doing it, I discovered that there’s lots of elements that just don’t fit in that work. Even though the live performance version allows you to bring together storytelling, audio, film, images etc, it’s still really bounded by the Harrison Rule (a live show can be 1 hour or 8, nothing in between). So if the work is deep enough, you’re gonna be skimming from a larger body of content when you choose what you put in front of an audience.
And of course, part of that curation is based on what kind of emotional experience you want the audience to have. There are a lot of ideas and concepts floating around in the KCD text, but in a live setting I only really lightly brush up against in the live show, just because of the practicalities of time.
A live performance remains great though, because even if you only have 10 people in the crowd, you have 10 people’s attention for an hour, and that’s a goddamn miracle.
georgie explaining that, no, you’re upside down, in kids killing kids. pic by sarah walker.
I don’t necessarily mean stunt, but I do mean, some kind of live, ephemeral action that gives the story its hook. Bringing Kill Climate Deniers to Parliament House was a simple hook, and it so happened that it produced one of the most satisfying ways to experience the work out there.
It’s got a little bit to do with that point above about impact – bringing the work to the place where it’s most raw, where it has the potential to speak to its own themes in interesting ways. It’s not about generating media fluff, it’s about finding the place or context where the work is most resonant, and pouring it into that space.
The reflections from that experience become valuable learning in building the project.
Taking a work about Australian democracy to Parliament House; this was just artistically really satisfying. Pic by Tom Finnigan.
Essay / Article / Script
There’s a place for a text-driven document which people can access and read. When we started You Are Here, Yolande and I had the notion that the program brochure, if it were classy enough, would become an archivable item documenting the state of the Canberra indie arts scene at that time. In that way, the festival itself was less important than producing a beautiful object that could last, and be returned to. A festival is a beautiful snapshot of a creative community at that moment in time, but New Best Friend‘s gorgeous YAH programs will live on my shelves forever.
Maybe similarly, there’s a value in producing a solid document, an object, a piece of writing that speaks to the project you’re making in its complexity but which can be published in a journal, or stored on a shelf.
The Kill Climate Deniers script is a beautiful object (not coincidentally, also designed by New Best Friend) – and it benefits massively by having an essay / foreword by Julian Hobba, to place it in its context. The value of calling it a script is that it is one, and that it is available for theatre companies to produce. Why not? But a script, in truth, is not necessarily the best form for a lasting document, because who reads scripts?
An essay, an article, a document of some other kind, that’s an important end result. It doesn’t hurt to have something beautiful.
The program booklet for You Are Here 2013, designed by New Best Friend, <3 forever
As I learned from Xavier Rizos in 2009 and tried to embody in You Are Here, a project website is a platform and a meeting point for a cluster and constellation of online activity that overspills it in every direction. Website-as-archive document, that’s pretty bland. But there is a place for a rich media essay that speaks to the project’s themes, that includes some of the creative elements, that includes pictures and video and audio.
There are so many examples of this I don’t know where to start – in fact I won’t bother. I’ll just say that one of my favourites is Anab Jain’s Valley of the Meatpuppets talk for Superflux, and leave it at that.
got a ways to go, but I think NBF’s website for Kill Climate Deniers is the closest I’ve come to this ideal so far.
At the end of it all, what you’ve made should be a cluster of items orbiting an idea, like debris whirling around a forming star.* The crucial thing is that every element of the puzzle points to the other elements, relies upon them to support its own expression, but every element also stands alone to a greater or lesser degree. And every element points inwards to those core elements – the idea, the story, the impact – but there is no single actual item that is the work. The centre of gravity is the idea, and the call to action at the end of the encounter with the work should always be: investigate more yourself.
Something like that.
*how is that for a goddamn metaphor
it may happen that I grow tired of these two stills from How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days but I’d hazard that that day is a long way away yet