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Why I became obsessed with U2 in 2011

melbourne, 2011, this is all I really remember.

So the other night Bec asked me, in all seriousness, ‘What do you think of U2?’ And I burst out laughing, because it made me think, maybe you can escape your past.  Maybe, in the bright light of 2017, people no longer look at me and think, ‘I must share U2-related news and content with that man’. We all commit crimes, but maybe there’s also forgiveness?

It inspired me to go back through my files, and dig up one of the strangest and most idiosyncratic projects I’d ever been involved with, which was the 2011 online audio piece Functioning As A Machine That Hates U2. I want to write about it here now, partly because it was an unusual creative process that I want to reflect on, and partly because of who was involved in it, and what happened with that group of artists.

In early 2011 I moved to Melbourne for the first time. We’d just finished the first You Are Here festival – which at that stage was a one-off, no guarantees of a second iteration – and I’d come down to crash at Max’s place in Northcote. I’d acquired from an op shop a copy of Eamon Dunphy’s biography of U2, entitled Unforgettable Fire: The Story of U2, and I found myself reading it over and over, unable to stop or switch off.

Slightly bigger context here: 2010 was a tricky year, creatively. I was overstretched on three big projects, each of which was at the upper limit of what I could handle: production managing the Canberra International Music Festival, Boho’s (fraught) collaboration with the Powerhouse Museum True Logic of the Future, and co-directing the second Crack Theatre Festival. They all came off, more or less, but they were individually hectic, and the combination of the three of them put me as close as I’ve ever been to a stress burnout.

Right off the back of that, the invitation to put together You Are Here (which Lande chronicled beautifully in her Griffith Review piece), which was itself a tough process and a tight timeframe (100 days from the first meeting with Robyn Archer to opening night). In some respects things turned a corner on the first day of You Are Here, when the festival team expanded beyond Lande, Anthony and I, and the whole thing suddenly started to get fun. But for the next few months, through this next little period in Melbourne, I was still in a wobbly place creatively. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do or where I wanted to go, and I definitely couldn’t handle the idea of taking on any more big projects (in the forseeable future, or, ever).

So instead I read Eamon Dunphy’s Unforgettable Fire over and over, growing increasingly obsessed and infuriated with every single choice that U2 made in the entire course of their career. I couldn’t switch it off, couldn’t put it down. I wrote in my diary, on one of those days, ‘at this point I’m basically functioning as a machine that hates U2’.

I found myself writing a response to the book –  something between a script and an endless screed. A meta-essay, or a stream of frustration, and in the way that sometimes happen when you get on a roll, everything that happened to me started to get folded in. I wrote about it on Facebook, and when people commented, I took those comments and rolled them into the text. At one point Rach Roberts sent me an essay about Bono she’d had to read as part of the Theology course she’d had to take, and that got folded in too.

There was no context for the work, no point or purpose, but then truly I’ve never needed a point or a purpose for my work, and that’s a problem with me.

In an impulsive way, I started sending bits of the script out to people I’d met, people who interested me, people whose work I liked, and asked them to do something with it. I didn’t have anything really concrete in mind, but I asked them to maybe record some parts as audio, and send them back.

One by one, people started sending back audio recordings of bits of the script. And soon, there was a whole bunch of content. Bizarre, stylistically disjointed content. But as soon as they started coming in, it started to feel like a real thing.

Nickamc joined me, and stitched the whole thing into a 12-part series – a 70 minute radio play / semi-scripted podcast, broken into short collage style episodes. And then it was real, and we put it up online and made it available to download, and put it out into the world.

I don’t think many people listened to the whole thing. I did, and it made me happy. Maybe the end product wasn’t the point. (Maybe it was the point, and I’m trying to let myself off the hook by claiming it wasn’t the point.) Who even knows?

But the interesting thing is, and what I’ve been really struck by when I came back to this project the other night, what happened with the group of people I hit up to contribute.

I’ve included extracts here from the recording, which are mostly less than a minute, so go on if you want a taster.

Nickamc and Max Barker
Two of my closest core collaborators, right from the very beginning of my practice. We’d already been working in super close quarters for over a decade by the time this project came around, and now we’re more than halfway through a second decade. The following is Max playing the role of the manager of fictional U2-esque band FULL NATURAL BUSH.

Lloyd Allison-Young
Lloyd and I had worked together on serious theatre’s production of Oceans All Boiled Into Sky, and then Lloyd moved to the US. We still haven’t managed to collaborate on a full show together, but we spent a development in London in 2014 working with Hanna Cormick on a new piece riffing on Dirty Dancing.

Jordan and Sam
I knew Jordan and Sam very slightly at this point, through school and through programming their first show The Landlords at Belconnen Theatre in 2008 as part of the Wet Season (word Jan Wawrzynczak, another connection you helped make). Along with Georgie McAuley, I met up with Jordan and Sam in the Philippines later that year and began work on Sipat’s Battalie Royale, which led to the four of us forming the Too Many Weapons collective and producing material from full plays (Kids Killing Kids) to the Rizal Fountain Raps series of spoken word pieces.

Applespiel
I’d worked with Applespiel on the Crack Theatre Festival and then You Are Here, but not creatively. A year after this, Nathan, Nikki and Rachel from Applespiel joined Muttley and I in London, and we’ve spent the last six years making systems games around the world.

Sipat Lawin Ensemble
So at this time I had no real relationship with Sipat. I’d met them for one night in 2009 when they produced To Heat You Up And Cool You Down, and I’d gone to Manila to check it out. We’d exchanged a couple of emails subsequently, but that was it. I sent them the script not expecting anything – what would this Filipino theatre company do with a rambling text about U2? They said they’d get in touch, and then I didn’t hear anything from then, and I figured that was that.

The night before we were going to release the radio play, I got an email from Sipat with some audio attachments. I called up Nickamc:

‘Sipat have sent through their segment and you need to hear it.’

‘What did they do? Can we use it?’

‘…I don’t know? But, it’s amazing.’

It was partly the sheer insane weirdness of what Sipat sent through that convinced me to move my commitments around and find a way to be in Manila to work on Battalia later that year.

This is the first bit of what they sent us – go on, I dare you.

– No, it’s the gates of heaven – no firing squad, it’s just outside heaven and U2 has arrived and the angel at the gate of heaven is like

– WHO ARE YOU

– I… I’m U2.

– TELL ME WHAT YOU HAVE DONE SO THAT I MAY DETERMINE WHETHER YOU ARE WORTHY OF ENTERING HEAVEN

– I was a band. We started out being called Feedback, and then we changed out name to The Hype, and then we signed up for this young band talent contest as U2 –

– No, it’s not heaven, it’s the future – it’s the science fiction future – it’s a cyberpunk dystopia –

– You mean neon in the rain

– Neon in the rain, that’s right, and a little girl walking along the sidewalk finds an old broken down robot in the rain

– No, this is how you can be U2 reliving your story

– Okay go

– The girl sees this body lying in the gutter, and at first we think it’s crusty wino, and then we realise it’s an old Irishman, and then the camera zooms in and we see its eyes are actually red LEDs, so it’s robot Irishman

– So it’s Terminator

– So the little girl kneels down beside the collapsed robot Irishman  in the rain and she presses some buttons on its wrist and she’s all like

– Oh robot? Oh Mr Robot? Who are you? Why are you lying here all deactivated in the rain?

– And the robot’s jaw cranks open and closed and it murmurs

– Little girl, I was U2 –

Five year plan

 Jordan took this pic of me nine months into my middle age

Last year around August I had a week up my sleeve without work, and no urgent projects or deadlines or anything. I had enough money up my sleeve after doing this residency with Jordan, and I had work coming up in Sweden in October, so I decided to take a week without seeking money and do a five year plan.

I was living at Emma Hall’s place in Melbourne, and so every night when she came home from work or from rehearsals (building her new work Ode To Man), I was sitting with sheets of paper and index cards spread out over the floor, trying to condense my vague ambitions out of the air into some kind of actual plan.

First step was to do an update on where I’d gotten to since my last attempt at a five year plan, which was in 2013. I’d just finished the third You Are Here festival, just turned 30, and made a solid promise to myself to get out of festivals and arts producing for good. I have memories of making a solid set of plans at the time, but when I looked back on it, it was more like a 5-page stream of consciousness written after the final night of the festival, lots of panicky sentences in all-caps saying WRITE FINIG JUST FUCKING WRITE

But it was good rereading it anyway. I could say, at least, I’d fulfilled that minimum criteria of not going back into festivals or producing. (I was lucky, all the time I remember I was lucky, to get one of those Ozco Early Career Fellowships before they swept them away thanks to Brandis’ pointless beef with the Council.) And then I turned my head to the next five years.

I wrote a list of headings, all the different facets of life I thought were important, which were, roughly:
• Physical health
• Emotional health
• Finances
• Creative practice
• Impact
• Networks
• Experiences
• Public profile
• Possessions
• Relationships
• Sex
• Lifestyle
• Family
• Friends

Then underneath I wrote down everything I could think of that I wanted from each of those facets of life in the next five years.

(yes I know, I included ‘sex’ in my professional five year plan, it seemed worth considering)

Some of it was straightforward, some of it was not. I spent a bunch of time reflecting on the kind of art I want to make – how have my tastes changed in the last few years, what structures do I need to make in order to make the stuff I want to make, etc. I did a bit of writing at the time about an aesthetic paradigm that emerged from Kill Climate Deniers and Kids Killing Kids, a way of coming at a core idea from a number of different forms, honouring the fact that I have neither the discipline nor the craftsmanship to just write something plain, simple and beautiful.

I also dug my head deeply into the question of how to make a living while making art, given that I don’t really want a regular job on the side (I travel too much to make that work, unfortunately). Is it possible to earn a basic living through small commissions, consultancies, writing gigs etc, in the specifically weird sub-sub-genre of participatory science performance drawing on complexity theory and resilience thinking?

It has to be. It has to be, because, as Mick Bailey once said, never have a plan b.

So I wrote a list of things to try, questions to ask, hypotheses to test, that circle around, ‘Who would pay for the sort of work I do? Under what circumstances would they pay for it? How much would they pay for it? How frequently could I expect those sorts of opportunities to arrive? Can I live off that much money?’

Now it’s a year later, and I’m in London, trying to make this city work for me, trying to answer these questions in this context. I’ve spent four months as Associate-in-Residence with Coney (concluding at the end of August), working on my own systems gaming stuff which has grown out of Boho’s work in this field, as well as doing some small commissions work for Coney.

London’s a good place to try to answer these questions. It’s no better or worse than anywhere else in the world, but if you’re an artist working with scientists, it’s easier here than a lot of other places. There are many, many arts and cultural institutions here that create a full-blown arts ecology, crowded and dense, with many many places where a person can carve out a niche. And, bluntly, there’s money. It’s expensive to live here, but there’s money moving through this system, and people willing to try new things and ready to experiment. So all of that is helpful.

I have no answers to any of these questions, but the people here are great and I’m enjoying it, so there’s that. Good sunsets. A cafe near Bethnal Green overground station where old Turkish men drink coffee late at night and talk over the top of each other. Bhangra and grime blasting out of car windows. Bright moments.

And then meanwhile, in the midst of this, Kill Climate Deniers won the Griffin Playwrights Award! This was exciting, this I am so, so grateful for. Conscious of how, because I got lucky this time around, how many other playwrights missed their turn. But grateful, still. Lucky, happy, relieved, grateful.

But of course, winning an award like that can also knock you around, if you’re not careful. Something like that (for a personality like mine) can fool you into thinking that things are going to get easier from here on out. Like you’ve just been let off the hook, and from here on out you’re not going to have to struggle to get your work out into the world.

I think I subconsciously subscribe to the idea of some kind of professional finish line, whereby winning an award means ‘I’ve done it, I’m through, I can relax’. Intellectually I know it doesn’t work like that, but at some level, getting a nod of acknowledgment like the Griffin Award was like a signal to take my foot off the accelerator.

Bad news and rejection knocks you around but good news can also insidiously trip you up and make you lose focus on the real shit.

The real shit, which is, roughly: shut out the noise and the poison and just write.

The summary of my five year plan was basically: ‘Find a way to exist in the world that lets me make theatre, keep writing, with all the good people, and keep going, doing good and not causing harm.’

Chatting with Charlie Sofo many years ago about how well he was doing with exhibitions and projects at that time, I asked him whether he was succeeding. He said, ‘Success is if you keep going, failure’s if you stop.’

I like that framing a lot. It’s simple, but there’s something in it I didn’t consider at the time, which is that to ‘keep going’ gets harder / trickier / more expensive as you go along. The cost of being an artist rises over time, because as you improve, your standards go up, and the time and energy (and money) it takes to create a work that exceeds your last work increase all the time. And at the same time, your friends and peers are settling into real lives, real jobs, earning real money, achieving real life milestones, and you’re still… well.

So, when I won the Griffin Award, I had a bunch of chats with Glyn Roberts, now returned from Brisbane to Victoria, to take on directing the Castlemaine Festival. One day I’ll write down in one place all the snippets of advice and insights Glyn has given me (it’s Glyn who told me a couple of years ago to ‘stop writing plays’ as a way to make it as a playwright – I need to expand that out into a post in its own right) – in this instance, he pointed out that winning a prize like Griffin does very little on its own. You can do things with that award, it could be leverage in trying to get up certain projects or broker conversations with certain people, but as a thing in itself, it’s inert. You put it on your CV, on your website, you go on the list of previous winners on Griffin’s website, and then that’s it, unless you make that not be it.

And so, this is the eternal picking myself up off the floor and telling myself to return to the writing. Back to the real work. There are a million posts like this in the decade I’ve been writing this blog, countless attempts to tell myself, ‘Finig if you keep going you can keep going, if you don’t you can’t’. Countless links to this Out Hud song that starts with a weary voice saying, ‘Okay, let’s do the next one.’

It’s Sunday night in London and the sky’s darkening over the apartment blocks, listening to Out Hud, hope you’re all fighting, keep fighting

Quick life and art update on 9 July 2017

This is a very simple blog post, a surfacing just to say that I’ve been working, but not on anything that deserves much mention here.

I’ve been in London, more or less continually since I last wrote, and working as close to a 9-5 job as I’ve ever worked, as Associate-in-Residence for Coney. What that means, in practice, is two things:

I’m working on a line of new systems games – scenarios and activities to take into businesses (and schools) which illustrate different aspects of complex problems and decision-making. I’ve made a couple of rough prototypes, they’re at an early scratch stage, I think it’s going well…?

pic from a scratch of one of these new systems games

Alongside with these few games that I’m researching and building, I’m also working on a cluster of small commissions for Coney – small partner organisations who want games made for particular events, for particular audiences… They’re not huge projects but there are lots of them.

Between them, that’s been most of my output over May – June – July. So I have that sense of nervousness / frustration that comes from not having written anything real for a few months. But then, that sensation is really my normal headspace. My writing practice is so patchy, in all honesty (and I can say that now having spent so much time with realler writers who work in a consistent flow and who write no matter what the season), that I can’t ever complain about circumstances keeping me from writing.

I have a few notepad files full of notes, a cluster of quotes about sea level rise and the Bassian plain, a plan for a work entitled Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands?, and that’ll do for the moment.

In other news, Griffin Theatre awarded Kill Climate Deniers their 2017 playwriting award, which is just so lovely of them. I’m glad I’m glad I’m glad I’m glad I’m glad I’m glad.

And lastly, these are short videos I made sitting in my room in Stratford. The first is my favourite, as ridiculous as it is, the first is a little snippet of Anne Boyer and some reggaeton.


An update: I’m in London for the next few months

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An update! Where I am, what I’m doing, how it’s going.

I arrived in London about three weeks ago, and I’m here for the next few months. My main gig while I’m here is that I am Associate in Residence for Coney. That means I’m working full-time with Coney for the next few months, up until the end of summer, taking on a few small commissions and projects for the company, but also developing a new line of work: a line of systems gaming activities to be delivered to schools and businesses.

What that looks like in practice will emerge over the next couple of months; I’m currently developing the prototype offer, and we’re chatting with some potential partners to help us test it out. That will be my main focus, and it’s super exciting.

Also on the systems gaming front, the Best Festival Ever crew are gearing up to present a season in Sydney at the beginning of June, at the Seymour Centre (alongside Chris Rapley’s 2071, super exciting).

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And, I spent last week in Vienna at the European Geoscientists Union General Assembly. This is a huge gathering of 14,500 earth system scientists, and it acts as a kind of survey of the current limits of humanity’s understanding of our planet. It was a pretty incredible space to be in, and I’ve written about it in a form which I will share soon.

I was there thanks to the Earth Observatory of Singapore, speaking about Boho’s upcoming collaboration with them to develop a new game looking at a natural hazard crisis. I gave a presentation about Boho’s work, including showing off the coin game from the beginning of A Prisoner’s Dilemma – a 10 year old trick now, but it still works beautifully.

Upon arriving in London, I did a short three-night run of Kill Climate Deniers at Camden Peoples Theatre. That was lovely, and a really fascinating set of performances, too – translating the work to a UK context is a really interesting challenge.

I’ll be presenting it again, as a one-off for Artsadmin’s 2 Degrees Festival in June. That’ll be the solo show plus the dance party, which is gonna be just lovely.

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And, finally, I’m curating and presenting a scratch night for Coney at Theatre Deli on Saturday 20 May. Simon Katan, Heather Barnett, Rhiannon Armstrong, Segen Yosife and Afreena Islam will all be presenting, and I’m going to do a short snippet myself – I think a little bit of the work I’m developing about Doug Cocks and his work, particularly his influence on Boho’s Food for the Great Hungers.

So London is hectic. I spent today just sitting in my bedroom in Stratford, writing. And at the end of the day it doesn’t feel like I’ve done very much, but we’re getting there, we’re getting there.

A child’s guide to Reuben Ingall

Pic by Sarah Walker

pic by Sarah Walker

One of the most frequent questions I get on this parenting blog (this is a parenting blog) is: At what age should I introduce my child to the music of Reuben Ingall?

The medical benefits of playing Ingall to a child in the womb are disputed, so let’s leave that, and I’ll give the simplest answer possible: You’re never too young, provided you listen to the right songs with the right mindset.

The question was sharpened for me recently when I was driving through Castlemaine with Clyde Enriquez. Clyde heard Dead DJ Joke’s wedding anthem Turn Down For Africa, and was instantly fascinated. She wanted to know more, hear more, and I was super frustrated with myself that I didn’t have an immediate primer to hand.

So: Clyde, I’m sorry I let you down that day, but without further ado, this is my proposed primer to the oeuvre of Mr Iconic. Enjoy.

12983877_1017742418294223_271121334185792860_o-copy pic by Sarah Walker

Dead DJ Joke – Turn Down For Africa
Start at one end of the spectrum. Reuben’s alias as a trashy mash-up DJ has produced way more than its fair share of gold, as well as a number of the best gigs of my life. This meeting of Toto and Lil Jon is a little slice of heaven, and the only song I would walk down the aisle to.

deaddjjoke

Microwave Drone Ritual
Right at the other end of the spectrum, Reuben’s gorgeous drone performance from 2014 uses the sound of a microwave’s hum as its source material, which he layers and processes through 20 minutes of beatific chill ecstacy, before the performance concludes with a gentle ding (and a meat pie, ready to eat).

Eden Again
Reuben co-released with Paul Heslin a video album of reworkings of christian songs from some old religious VHS tapes. The whole album is nonstop gold (and Paul’s half is just as good, crunchier and harder) but this is my highlight, a beautiful slice of almost-folk music and a video that features copious amounts of Adam’s butt in the Garden of Eden. (And if you’re curious, I blogged about the whole release when it first emerged and blew my mind in 2011.)

Don’t Give Up and Dealt
It doesn’t really work to say that Reuben has a ‘main’ practice, because as far as I’m concerned every one of his diverse tendencies is just as valid as the rest, but in terms of heart-on-sleeve sincerity and raw beauty, his albums of processed guitar, laptop and singing are just lush and beautiful. My pick is the song Easy off Don’t Give Up, with that beautiful clarinet loop.

thong

Dead DJ Joke – Thong in the Sun
I like this Dead DJ Joke mash-up of Weezer and Sisqo more than I like all of Weezer and Sisquo’s respective outputs.

Foals – Electric Bloom (R Ingall remelt)
I don’t know the details, but from what I understand: a few years ago, UK band Foals invited members of the public to remix one of their songs, with the winners being included on the single. Reuben won that competition, with this song, which makes me think of things slowly fraying and collapsing in the cold. (Where do you hear it, though?)

Eric Carmen – Hungry Eyes (screwed by Dead DJ Joke)
My favourite thing that Reuben has ever done, I listen to this song 5-10 times a month most months of the year, then without warning it’ll spike to 50-100 times. Slowed down so that the guitar chugs along patiently forever, and the sax riff comes in like a motorboat propellor struggling to free itself from thick seaweed.

Finnigan and Brother – Move to Canberra (Dead DJ Joke remix)
It’s completely uncool to put one of Chris and my tracks in a primer introducing you to someone else’s music, but this remix is fucking hectic and it couldn’t be more trashy.

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Reuben Ingall – Jeff Buckley’s Hallejulah
This is really special. Nickamc produced a double A-side release where Reuben and Nick Delatovic both recorded songs entitled ‘Jeff Buckley’s Hallejulah’, in respose to the all-consuming anthem. Nick D’s is a wonderful pop banger, but Reuben’s is a straight-from-the-heart flash of gentle singer-songwriter honesty, reflecting on a friend’s funeral, the lazy ubiquity of Hallejulah, but how it manages to twist your guts up just the same. And this twists my guts up, my goodness.

microclimates

Image by Robbie Karmel

Microclimates
The guitar / voice / field recording / processed loops side of Reuben’s output hit a high point with his 2015 album Microclimates, which you can grab from Feral Media. For me, it’s the 1-2 combo of the last two tracks: ‘Just Open A Page At Random’, ‘And Drop The Pin Anywhere’.

Sevenen
So the first Reuben Ingall I fell in love with was back in 2007, his guitar drone alias Sevenen. It was gentle, spacey ambient drone, which to me always sounded and felt like a warm shower of sound. (Appropriately, I vaguely have memories that Reuben recorded these songs in the shower, though I may have imagined that.) I don’t have any of my home-pressed Sevenen CDs any more, so the only song I can include is his processed reworking of Max and Nickamc reading a little snippet of an old script of mine from War in the North Sea.

Dead DJ Joke – Party Mix
DDJ’s Party Mix is a brilliant 30 minute slice of wonderfully pieced together, totally garbage mash-ups, and it opens with an unbelievably stupid dubstep remix of Teenage Dirtbag. Total no-brainer, you can literally feel yourself getting thicker as you dance. And it works, every goddamn time. I found this on Discogs, where would you even go to

The Same Power
As an example of Reuben’s working process: a while ago I sent him a Youtube clip of a Hillsong tune that I’d found particularly moving (watch it, feel it work its magic on you), and asked him for a remix. He got back to me about 25 minutes later with three different versions. I’m gonna share my favourite: ‘Conquered the Rave‘, the most hyped-up trance remix, which is just manically (spiritually) beautiful.

Kill Climate Deniers – Music To Shoot Climate Activists To
So I did it a second time, and featured a song that I had some involvement with. But in this case, my involvement was mostly just sitting in Reuben’s living room and watching him assemble the track, which was a goddamn revelation. The combination of that rollicking synth riff and those belting rave sirens is absolutely euphoric. Go on, dive in.

Ahhhhh, there’s too many more! I haven’t mentioned his ringtone remixes of the Doors and Spiderbait, his album of trance versions of Red Hot Chilli Peppers, the gorgeous live electro-acoustic group the Otiose Trio, or even any Inflatable Ingrid. But that’s enough for starters. Clyde, dig.

What I will say is: his official website is here, he has a FB page you can follow, and I haven’t even scratched the surface of good stuff you should be listening to.

What did I miss?

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pic by adam thomas

Castlemaine to Shanghai

I woke up this morning from a dream about seeing Fleetwood Mac play a tiny gig for twelve people in a quiet courtyard in Canberra, and I was utterly stumped for a long time about where I was. London? Sydney? I was under a comfortable doona and it was 6.30am and that was all I could figure out.

Came to me slowly, I’m in China. Shanghai, specifically. And so right now I’m writing a quick update in a little cafe near Changshu Station, and there’s a wintry sun and motorbikes weaving past the pedestrians on the pavement outside.

For the last two weeks I’ve been in Castlemaine, rural Victoria, for the Castlemaine State Festival. Gobyerno was programmed, and so myself and the Sipat crew (in this instance: Jk, Ness, Brandon, Ralph, Clyde, Alon, Ienne and me) were in residence for a fortnight.

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We were paired with eight students from Castlemaine Secondary College (word to Heidi, Xavier, Michael, Murray, Hannah, Nick, Gabe and Dash) who were on board as co-facilitators to deliver seven shows in five days. The first three to Year 9 and 10 students from the secondary school, and then four public shows on the weekend.

If you’ve not read about this before, Gobyerno is a large-scale participatory work originally devised by Ness, Jk, Brandon and I back in 2015, in which the audience create their own ideal government. They manifest that government first through a process of conversations and discussions, and then by devising and filming a documentary about their ideas. The documentary is filmed as a high-energy long-take, with the participants responsible for every aspect – the camera, art, performance, music, script, set, the whole thing – to a formula we provide them. It’s a 2.5 hour show, and a marathon, every time.

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It was a pleasure working with our student collaborators – having never met them prior, we were thrown into an intense fortnight-long full-time project, and they totally rose to it, and by the end were doing more than their fair share of the presenting. And the festival was great, but oh, it’s hard work facilitating.

I’d never intended to be a facilitator / performer in the show – I always pictured myself as a writer / devisor instead. But in the Australian context, it made sense to have an Australian facilitator as part of the mix, so. My first time actually performing in the show since Manila, 2015, and I’d forgotten how tiring it is to perform, to manage conversations, to make it all run.

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But it was great. We had good chats, interesting audience contributions, and in the final show, a really fascinating conversation with several Duterte supporters from Davao, which is a pretty good perspective to include in a conversation with mostly middle-class Australian arts audiences.

And then I went straight from Castlemaine to Sydney, and on a plane to Shanghai with the rest of the Best Festival Ever crew. We’re here performing as part of CAMP – the China Australian Millenials Project – a conference / laboratory for 80 young Chinese and Australian entrepeneurs, who are developing new projects over the next three months.

17620498_10154506621845829_2685278705931278026_o I stole pics from Nathan’s FB feed – we’re not in any of them, you will have to take my word for it that we were there

From a community arts project in rural Victoria with secondary school students talking about political activism and protest, to sitting in the headquarters of Intel in an industrial park in Shanghai learning about Chinese business investment policy. This life is baffling sometimes. Varied, on the verge of being schizophrenic.

But Shanghai is beautiful, I’m happy here. And then in a week or two: London, for the first UK season of Kill Climate Deniers, 13-15 April at Camden Peoples Theatre. It flows on, greater better faster cheaper.

17492406_10154506625315829_8496188839612087187_o

Now Kill Climate Deniers is available for you to produce

DSC_8836 copySarah Walker’s badass pic of Georgie McAuley + ice + fire

Flowing into 2017, and the Kill Climate Deniers project is evolving in a few unexpected ways, in the way this thing is a moving target.

First of all, I’m presenting a little three-night micro season of the solo show version in London in April, at Camden Peoples Theatre. CPT is a pretty gorgeous space, and I’m really excited about sinking into a UK presentation. After the couple of scratch shows I did in London in November, I spent a day with Gillian going through the text and zeroing in on some edits.

The context in Britain is just so different. From the test shows I did there, climate change is not the same kind of issue as it is in the US and Australia. They don’t have the same kind of culture wars that we’ve had, talkback radio is not as incessant as it is in my home country, and of course, destroying Australia’s Parliament House is way less resonant to British audiences than it is to Australians. Which has meant leaning in to other aspects of the story – drilling down into the late-80s flashpoint when climate science began to be politicised (thanks to Hana Martin for teasing this out with me).

So now I’m excited about getting to try to land this in April:

9.00pm Thursday 13 – Saturday 15 April
Camden Peoples Theatre, London

Also last weekend, South Australian writer/director Ben Brooker put on a digital theatre performance of the comments on Kate Hennessy’s Guardian article about Kill Climate Deniers. It’s called DON’T READ THE COMMENTS, and basically it was a livestreamed adaptation of the discussion thread from the Guardian article, which is a 191-deep discussion between concerned Guardian readers, and then an en masse invasion of commenters from a climate deniers blog, bless their hearts.

I like this because it’s another weird way in which this strange work keeps rippling out, which is exactly what it should be.

And on that note: this is the moment when I say, I’m inviting anyone who’s interested, to go ahead and produce this play. Unlike most of my work, I’ve had a reason to keep this one close to home for its first 12 months, but now that the album, walking tour, ebook and solo show exist, it is time for an actual THEATRE PRODUCTION.

If you want it, it’s yours. There’s no rights (there are never any rights) – if you feel it, you can have it. Either buy a copy of the script on the website, or if that’s tricky because dollars, drop me a line and we’ll sort something out.

I don’t know what a production of Kill Climate Deniers should look like – could look like – when I close my eyes to picture it I always picture the lights turned out and Get Ready for This blasting at full volume and a drone wheeling through the air and everyone glammed up in great lipstick and who even knows what else – but I like being surprised and I’d like to see it happen.

Whole heart shivers. Go on.

Asiatopa, Water Futures, Foreignoy, if you keep pressing something will give way

16819208_10155213917212176_7548245342894583618_o little bit of this, word ienne vergara for the pic

Sitting in the departure lounge, about to depart Melbourne after a week here. It’s been beautiful, one of those bursts of glorious chaos in in the life of all the ups and downs.

The two weeks prior I spent in Canberra, working on some new material, doing some edits and fixes on projects, and generally having time by myself to work on some long-range stuff. That’s a pleasure and a privilege, but as always, when you’re doing that early stage work, it feels a bit aimless and directionless. A couple of false starts, and of course there’s no home for this new work, so I finished up feeling a little lost.

One week later, and I look back and think: Good, I did some early draft work, I tried out some formats, I collated some research and started turning it into scraps of new material. That’s good. I don’t know what it equates to yet but it’s good, and I’m grateful I took the time. It will end up somewhere, somehow.

But this week was the opposite, this was one of those weeks where it all rushes at you, where there’s heaps going on and you feel like the walls come down, for a second, you feel like if you just keep pressing something will give way and you can break through, to wherever, however.

I arrived in Melbourne and went straight to the Lonely Company’s Beta Festival, which was a bundle of kickass scripts-in-development by a bunch of my favourite Melbourne writers (Jess Bellamy! Mark Wilson! Rachel Perks! Emma Hall! Eric Gardiner! Fleur Kilpatrick! & more, & more), which was lovely to see coming out of a two week period of trying to write new work, because it reminded me of what’s possible in script writing. There are so many ways that performance writing can animate ideas, manifest thoughts and worlds and feelings. And as much as Kill Climate Deniers took me out of the immediate realm of script-writing, that’s still my natural home. It was beautiful, and I’m grateful to Lonely Company for making it happen.

37667_416797141075_2008879_n beautiful sarah walker pic, as ever

A conversation with Sarah Walker about 44 Sex Acts In One Week, where she sparked all kinds of good possibilities, and left me with a whole bundle of new threads to follow and untangle. (Collaborate with good people, Finig, always, always.)

And then the second half of the week was the Water Futures conference, TippingPoint Australia and Arts House’s gathering of artists, scientists, politicians and activists, to explore and develop ideas around the issue of water sustainability. There were so many pieces and parts to this, so many brilliant speakers and sharp voices and perspectives, particularly the Indigenous and First Nations participants. Tony Birch was as incredible as everyone says he is. And: on average, humanity has built one large dam every day for the last 130 years.

global-water-volume-fresh-large All the water in the world, wrapped up in a bubble. care of the USGS Water Science School.

I gave a short presentation about Kill Climate Deniers on the first day – talking about the difference between the work itself and the discourse around the work, how creating and managing the project can sometimes be completely distinct from constructing the public conversation that occurs around it.

That was beautifully illustrated yesterday, when a group of artists in South Australia presented a performance entitled Don’t Read The Comments. Ben Brooker conceived and directed a show which used as its script the comments thread from Kate Hennessy’s Guardian article about KCD. A little trip into the healthy, constructive and intelligent world of internet political debate. The show was livestreamed as part of Michael Allen Productions’ You Wanna Bita This Now, which is a monthly digital theatre series happening online. And it was rad, and fascinating, and a total trip into the intersection between live performance and internet culture. Glad, grateful, proud, yes, yes.

But then also, Asia Topa. So this is the grand Asian arts festival kicking off over Melbourne for the next couple months, overall guided (if I’m not mistaken) by Stephen Armstrong, with a thousand tendrils – one of which was XO State, a late night variety show style event at the Melbourne Arts Centre, curated by Gideon Obarzanek and Eisa Jocson (who also busted out her Macho Dancer show, which I’d been excited about seeing since she took us took a macho club in Manila last year, nothing but the finest bros grinding to the Mission Impossible theme).

As part of XO State, Sipat Lawin were invited across to present a series of small works across the evenings, under the heading Serbisiyo (Service). The broad theme of the Serbisiyo works was a reflection on labour, as in JK’s massage show Touch of Asia and Sarah and Detsy’s Warning: Adult Content. Less obviously in Natsuki’s Give Me Chocolate and Kei’s Cuddle Cafe, but then again really present in Ienne’s Yen Yen De Sarapan mascot performance. And holy shit they were great, and it’s a massive boost to my soul to have them around, in Australia, making things happen.

Given that there was a critical mass of Sipat in Melbourne, Gideon and Eisa invited us to present the Foreignoy piece, my song and dance number auditioning for the now-defunct Filipino gameshow. So on two nights I got to render my terrible versions of classic Pinoy anthems by Asin, Salbakuta, Donnalyn Bartolome, Ryzza Mae (classic is a loose word) and Sarah Geronimo. And this was so much fun, and the crowds were lovely, and holy shit, getting to perform at the Melbourne Arts Centre is a treat. Incredible tech, production staff, producers, and they made the bar staff wear t-shirts with my face on them. (The bar staff did not give a damn about me or the fact that my face was on their t-shirts, which was also great.)

16832090_10158302129660088_393143618224482087_n This poor dude is just trying to do his job. (thx Jess Bellamy for the pic.)

Also this giant fucking banner which I am going to give to my mother because if a large arts venue prints a house-sized picture of your face as a joke, surely that’s some kind of achievement?

17035159_10154444965170698_639108190_npic by petra elliott, thank you thank you.

And in the midst of all this I caught up with Tom Henning, who told me about the work he’s been doing in Dili the last couple of years, and that was the perfect reframing of my focus, a reminder of what the real fight is and where it’s happening.

So now I need to hold on to this feeling – or rather, I’ve got to let it run through me like sand through yr fingers, but trust that it’ll come back, the holy arc of life etc. On another plane, listening to the Bird, daijobu dayo.

Understand Everything: A two-week Canberra micro-residency

himalayas01 pic of my dad in the himalayas, circa 1978

Today’s the last day of my little two-week self-imagined Canberra residency, a little window in between jobs / gigs, in which I deliberately avoided looking for work in order to gain some ground on a new project.

I’ve spent the fortnight scribbling little fragments, doing bigger bursts of writing, planning and collating ideas, and being constantly surprised at how much work I feel like I’m doing and yet how little progress I seem to be making.

Working like this is weird – undirected, solo, without anyone to bounce off or answer to. There’s the constant fear that I haven’t got anything worth sharing, worth pursuing. Normally my method is to just commit to something – book a theatre, lock in to performing at some festival or other, apply for a grant, and so force myself to produce something, on demand. But for this project I don’t have anything nearly coherent enough to want to put on stage – but simultaneously, I want to give this project the chance to be something meaningful by not rushing into a format or a performance date.

GG_onion2 the International Biosphere-Geosphere Project (IGBP) formed in 1986 divided the earth into sectors for analysis

So what is the show? The concept, roughly, is to dig into the field of Earth System Science, which is the massive effort, by tens of thousands of scientists worldwide, to come up with a useful understanding of how the planet works. Oceans, atmospheres, forests, ecosystems, cities; the geosphere and biosphere, how it all fits together.

(Increasingly as part of that, there’s a need to understand how humans work – since people started taking fossilised sunlight from hundreds of millions of years ago and returning it to the atmosphere, if you want to understand how the whole earth works, you need some grasp on how people work. Which is tricky; people are tricky.)

hungers37 Jackal in Food for the Great Hungers, 2009. Pic by ‘pling.

I’ve been fascinated by the science and scientists working in this field for years. Boho has continually brushed up against this work, from Food for the Great Hungers onwards – and in fact Doug Cocks, who was a mentor and consultant on Hungers, has been a big inspiration for this project. But this is the first time I’m really leaning into the idea as the core of a new work, because it’s such a big, broad topic.

Talking about the whole earth system – the planet, the climate, the biosphere, the oceans, global change, population growth, demographic transitions, all of if – is so big it quickly becomes meaningless and numbing. It’s all too abstract. 7 billion is a meaningless number, and so on.

In fact, this is part of my whole fascination with the concept. We’re fundamentally incapable of actually thinking about the whole earth – the scale and complexity is way beyond what our minds are designed for – and yet, actions being taken at the human level are having a measurable effect on all this complexity. We can’t understand it / we have to understand it.

I know I’ll fail at communicating it / I have to try to communicate it.

I did a lot of reading over December – January, catching up on some texts and papers about complexity, the Anthropocene, systems models and so on. And a series of interviews – including a few conversations with my dad, digging into his history as an atmospheric scientist. Now this last two weeks was a chance to collate all this material, bring it together in one place and experiment with it – trying to find a format that can usefully frame it.

067936fd5527e7149d38ec4aced23da9 the A.V. Roe wind tunnel, 1950s

I did two scratch performances, to test two totally different sets of material. For the first, I tried out using my dad’s career as a spine for the story, tracking the evolution of systems models through his experiences with them. Beginning with the model aeroplanes he built as a boy, moving through the wind tunnels at the A.V. Roe Aircraft Factory where he worked as a young man, on to the CSIRO Environmental Mechanics Laboratory, digital climate models, Integrated Assessment Modelling and so on.

The second performance, I took a swing at writing a genre piece in the vein of Kill Climate Deniers and 44 Sex Acts In One Week – a globetrotting spy thriller entitled End Science Now, in which a young military cadet goes under cover to bring down science. This is a pretty chill framework from which to hang some content about the history of the IGBP, the IPCC and science’s changing role in society since the 1970s.

Results: the first performance, I think the biographical angle needs some work. Not quite a false start, but the two stories, the story of my dad’s career and the story of how modelling has changed over the last 50 years, did not speak to each other strongly.

cli8mbing on Craig Hogarth seas cliffs, Anglesea ca 1966 dad on some sea cliffs in 1966

Actually, fuck it, call it a false start. I’m not throwing that performance out (nothing is wasted) but I took all the notes and feedback I got from the attendees and I’m starting from scratch with the writing of that one.

The second performance, it’s a simpler, more playful form, and I’m intuitively more comfortable with it, so it was probs always gonna go over easier. And it felt like a solid beginning, like I can follow that thread more easily. (But who wants a spy thriller about bringing down science? What audience could there possibly be for a work like that? But don’t think like that, don’t think like that.)

Anyway, the other key goal for this fortnight was to produce a project pitch, to put together a document that illustrates – well, everything I’ve just said here, but in a compelling language and in a way that invites funders and project partners to come on board to support this work. And that, that crashed and burned. I thought I was on track for it, up until last night, when at 9pm I was sitting there with a 12 page word document moving text boxes around realising I’m just beginning to be able to articulate what this is.

I don’t even have a confirmed title. I want to call it UNDERSTAND EVERYTHING, I think that’s a good phrase. But Muttley, reasonably enough, pointed out that it’s super broad and kinda meaningless. So then I went through some of Doug Cocks’ work, his writing that has really inspired me to pursue this line of inquiry, and found a quote I liked from him about humanity and the bottleneck we’re facing: SCRAPE THROUGH THIS CENTURY.

nature08823-i6.0the IMAGE breakdown of how they construct their Integrated Assessment Models

I know you shouldn’t rush titles, but I live in fear of waiting too long and getting to that point where every title seems bad because you’ve lived with the project too long.

So that whole aspect of the residency, that… hasn’t happened. Shall we call that a failure? I failed to make that happen.

And the last two days have been that weird feeling of being lost, at sea, a little isolated and confused, unsure if I’m doing the right thing or moving in the right direction. And now it’s 11pm and I’m sitting outside Dickson McDonalds typing a word document and I feel pretty unmoored, like I’m drifting and not really in control of where I’m going or what happens next.

Micro-residency! Confused as ever!

Plus when I ordered a small fries the guy at the counter was like, ‘Do you want some cointreau with that?’ and I knew I’d misheard him but I couldn’t at all figure out what he’d meant to say and I just stood there, brows furrowed, looking at him, for a long time, until he awkwardly turned away and went to the drive-through window.

Photo on 17-02-2017 at 10.57 pm

Volcanoes, typhoons, what I’ve been up to in Singapore this month

A brief post to wrap my head around where I’ve come to at the end of the year. Particularly, what was I doing in Singapore?

Volcanoes!

lavaflow01

Right. So. Boho’s Best Festival Ever is an explanation of some core principles from systems thinking, but it really emerged out of the practice of ‘participatory co-modelling‘, which is a kind of practice in which scientists construct systems models of social-ecological systems (typically ones that are under some stress or threat) and use those models as a platform to bring together a group of people from that system for conversations and hard discussions.

How that looks, in practice, is often the scientist as a facilitator with a whole bunch of maps, graphs, tables, and a computer model running in the background, and the participants making decisions, choosing how to assign resources, and debating different aspects of the system. Typically, it’s a group of people with very different opinions about how the system works, and what needs to happen, and the discussion that’s being facilitated is about reaching some kind of compromise.

malinga-scenario-workshop-south-africaA Stockholm Resilience workshop in Malinga, South Africa.

There’s an art to it, because often you’re dealing with people who don’t even agree on how the system works, let alone the right way to go about managing it. So the scientists sit between being game-masters in a roleplaying game, experts with regard to data and maps, and facilitators for difficult and sometimes heated conversations.

Part of that involves running scenarios – speculative narratives about events that could impact the system, in which the participants have to decide how they’ll respond to it.

When we built Best Festival Ever, we deliberately made the scenario in question – a flood impacting a music festival – as gentle and forgiving as possible. It’s a nice way to keep it light, and to avoid having to blame the participants for causing death and mayhem through their choices. That said, we always knew that we were developing this tool – a mix of interactive theatre, boardgame and systems model – to apply to more high-stakes situations.

pacific_typhoon_tracks_1980-2005-copyA map of typhoon paths hitting south-east Asia, 1950-1985, thx Wikipedia

Maybe the most high-stakes setting possible is the one we’re looking at for a collaboration with the Earth Observatory Singapore, a research institution based at Nanyang Technological University. EOS looks at natural disasters in the south-east Asian region: earthquakes, tsunamis, typhoons, volcanoes, floods, and various consequences of climate change. EOS has invited us to collaborate with them to build a new game, looking at the situation of responding to a natural disaster crisis – volcanic unrest or an approaching typhoon.

So the new game, whatever it looks like, will simulate the period from the first warnings of the disaster, to the event itself (or the non-event – sometimes these things don’t unfold in the way you expect, or at all) and put participants in the role of responding to the crisis – as local government, the media, emergency services, or members of the community itself.

typhoonrain03

The game will be presented first for the general public, but there is the possibility to bring it to high schools, or even the Singapore military. (The Singapore army does a lot of responding to disasters around the ASEAN region, but because they’re typically brought in after a crisis has occurred, they have less literacy in the lead-up situation.)

Our EOS partner Jamie McCaughey has zeroed in on volcanoes and typhoons as the natural disasters we’ll focus on, because they’re the disasters that have a meaningful lead time that allow you to make decisions about evacuations and so on. With earthquakes and tsunamis, the time from warning to the event is typically measured in seconds to minutes – with typhoons it’s usually 2-4 days, and with volcanoes it’s anywhere from 60 minutes to six months.

ballistics01

The key trade-off in this system is that as time goes on, uncertainty reduces, but so do your options. By the time you’re absolutely certain of the situation, you no longer have any ability to act on that knowledge. So there’s a choice to be made about when to act on varying levels of confidence.

So I spent three weeks doing the first stage of R&D for the project, working on behalf of Boho, learning about volcanoes and constructing a rough model of the natural disaster system. This systems model will get thoroughly revisited, chewed up and rebuilt from scratch when we get back to Singapore, but it’s a start, and a way to talk a little bit about the framework where the game will sit.

This is my rough illustration of that system. I’m not going to unpack it in detail here – it’s way too speculative and early draft-esque for that – but in my early consideration, the game lives somewhere in those spots marked in red.

volcano_system

It’s a pretty exciting collaboration to be embarking on – it’s one of those situations where we can see the tool we’ve developed with Best Festival Ever – and Boho’s practice more generally – being applied in a really granular, concrete setting, with a clear and important social value.

It’s also just been fascinating, spending three weeks sitting in the EOS office on NTU campus, spending all day reading about volcanoes. My main takeaway is: I don’t know how any of us are alive, at all.