22 Short Plays in Melbourne this May-June


Paul Blenheim in MKA Richmond’s production. Image by Sarah Walker.

Since embarking on a career as a playwright in 2001 (the first script happened when I was 17 and after that I had no choice) I have written lots of scripts, and attempted to write many more. Almost all of the original scripts caged in my hard drive will never be released because they are awful. Sometimes a script is awful but has potential; those I offer up to other people to read, reflect on and sometimes produce. Mostly though they are irredeemably bad and must be quarantined in the Scripts folder on my desktop where they cannot embarrass me.

Every so often, a script is so woeful that I can’t even bring myself to finish it. The ideas are feeble, the narrative is cliched, the characters are 1-dimensional AND boring, the dialogue is sluggish and rambling, the themes are irrelevant,

AND YET:

In this wadded-up mess of failed creativity, there is a scene (or half a scene) worth salvaging. There is one exchange of dialogue that somehow works. There is an idea or an image which actually interests or amuses me. When that happens, I extract that fragment of healthy script from the diseased body from which it sprang, and put it aside. In 2010, I gathered together a selection of these fragments (or offcuts, or what-have-you) into a collection entitled 22 Short Plays.

Now, MKA Richmond is producing 22 Short Plays as part of its 2011 Season.


MKA’s Glyn Roberts and Tobias Manderson-Galvin.

Melbourne playwrights Glyn Roberts and Tobias Manderson-Galvin formed MKA Richmond in 2010 with the wish of specifically attending to the needs of a blossoming new playwrights’ community. Originally based in Richmond, MKA Richmond is currently housed in the Prahran Mission complex. The company’s first season opened in May 2011 with Nathaniel Moncreiff’s Sleepyhead and includes Vedrana Klepica‘s J.A.T.O. and Glyn Roberts’ Horror Face, as well as my 22 Short Plays.

Directed by Tobias Manderson-Galvin, 22 Short Plays features performers Paul Blenheim, Conor Gallacher and Ellen Grimshaw. From the MKA website:

If you like your writing if you like your writing normal and normal and have at times been to the theatre, then this is also the theatre! At the beginning we’ll ask you to sit. The conventions are many! People like to clap! Be like people! They’re everywhere!

22 Short Plays. Rythmic. Provocative. Hilarious. Short. Witness as he effortlessly subverts the everyday and the banal; combining philosophy, poetry and pop-culture into a devastating, hysterical night of entertainment.

WARNING: Adult themes, blood, simulated solo sex scenes, blood, drugish references, blood, medium level coarse languages, blood, supernatural themes, a human substance that may not be blood, at least one attempt at a human pyramid, themes.


Ellen Grimshaw in MKA Richmond’s production. Image by Sarah Walker.

This production is exciting to me for a lot of reasons. Although it’s a deformed and debased animal, I really feel that 22 Short Plays is one of the best things I’ve ever created. As well as providing a home for some of my favourite orphaned scripts, the script enabled me to bring together work from across the full range of my writing practice. At one extreme, my transcription of a Westpac ATM’s menu options:

WESTPAC ATM

Michelle: I’m a simple ghost. I have six moves, equating to six different smiles.
1. Please enter your four digit PIN number
2. Would you like to withdraw cash, transfer money or check your account balance?
3. How much money would you like to withdraw?
4. Was that from your cheque or your savings account?
5. We’re just processing your request!
6. Sorry, your account funds are insufficient for this transaction. Please take your card.


Paul Blenheim, Ellen Grimshaw and Conor Gallacher in MKA Richmond’s production. Image by Sarah Walker.

At the other extreme, an extract from my 2002 attempt at Jeff Noon-esque cyberpunk Arcade Play, in which a virtual reality computer RPG glitches out mid-game:

ARCADE PLAY

HROTHGAR: So. I am Hrothgar: King of the Danes. This is my throne room, the hall of halls. Ne waes hit lenge pa gen paet se ecg-hete…

HROTHGAR trails away into Old English before the translation kicks back in.

HROTHGAR: Da se ellen-gaest… So. Times were pleasant for the people here until a fiend out of hell began to work his evil in the world. Grendel is the name of this grim monster.

BEOWULF arrives, dressed in BEOWULF gear.

HROTHGAR: So. What kind of man are you who arrive rigged out for combat? I have not seen a mightier man on this earth than the one standing here: unless I am mistaken you are truly noble. So.

BEOWULF: Greetings to Hrothgar. I am Beowulf. When I was younger I had great triumphs. Then news of Grendel, hard to ignore, reached me at home.  I have suffered extremes and avenged my people – their enemies brought it upon themselves, I devastated them. Now I mean to be a match for Grendel, settle the outcome in single combat. So.

HROTHGAR: Be on your mettle now, keep in mind your fame, beware of the enemy. Da com of more under mist-hleopum Grendel gongan.

BEOWULF: You what?

HROTHGAR: Godes yrre baer, mynte se man-scada manna cynnes.

BEOWULF: What?

HROTHGAR: Wod under wolcnum, to paes pe he win-reced, gold-sele gumena. Grendel gongan! Grendel gongan!

GRENDEL appears. BEOWULF faces up to him.

BEOWULF: So. Grendel. You have come to meet your match.

The throne room flickers and shudders and suddenly GRENDEL lies dead. HROTHGAR holds his severed arm.

HROTHGAR:  So. Grendel here lies slain by the mighty Beowulf. We will nail up his arm as a trophy, and a reminder of Beowulf’s mighty strength.

BEOWULF: Wait a minute, I missed the battle.

HROTHGAR: Beowulf is formidable indeed. Sige hreo-secga swa hwette!


Paul Blenheim, Conor Gallacher and Ellen Grimshaw in MKA Richmond’s production. Image by Sarah Walker.

22 Short Plays runs 31 May – 18 June at MKA Richmond, Level 1, 211 Chapel Street, Prahran, Melbourne. Tickets and more info on the MKA website here, or check the Facebook event page here.

The script is available for download and you can produce it (whole or in chunks) free of charge, provided you contact me about it first. Download 22 Short Plays.doc

I have been published in a book. For real.

For real. It is called the Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories, and it is real.

Established in 2008, Penguin Plays Rough is a monthly series of readings held in a warehouse in Sydney’s inner west. Curated and curated by Pip Smith, PPR features a selection of invited writers and ‘wildcards’ to read stories, poems, playscripts or novel extracts to an intimate audience. Over the last two years, the monthly events have garnered a significant cult following and a reputation for high-quality creative experimentation. Pip Smith has spent the last year taking PPR to the next level with the publication of the Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories.

I can personally attest to loving the hell out of the Penguin Plays Rough evenings both as a performer and an audience member – the standard of the work being read, the warmth and hospitality of the venue, and the intimate engagement between performer and audience, all really blew me away when I took part in 2009. I was even more blown away when Pip asked to include my story Unfortunately I can’t completely disregard the Christian God in the printed anthology.

The text of Unfortunately I can’t completely disregard the Christian God mixes my words with a sample of Arcana Coelestia by 18th century Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, which I encountered through a translation by Jorge Luis Borges. This caused serious copyright headaches, which Pip (and assistant editor Jason Childs) went to extraordinary lengths to circumnavigate. Prior to this project I didn’t really appreciate the role of the editor in the publishing process; now I deeply admire and respect (but do not envy) them.

For the sake of giving you an impression of the story, here is a brief fragment:

Anyway, I was driving along holding my belly and the angels came down and grabbed me by the arms and showed me what it will be like when I die.

The first place they showed me was paradise, where all the people who’ve been good get to live. It’s all green fields and rolling hills and sunshine every day. All the good people lie on the grass together and we all touch each other. All the black and white people, yellow and red, all the lions and crocodiles and replicants and octopuses lie on the grass together and everyone touches everyone else all over their bodies because there is no racism in heaven, not even against scorpions. You can touch another person anywhere you want because there is no sexual congress or desire for sexual congress, because all of everyone’s sex organs have been transformed in the twinkling of an eye, into triangles. Alluring bosoms, the deadly cockviper, the moist pleasure-grotto: all triangles.

All we do all day every day is hold each other and laugh even when there’s no reason to laugh, and when we start laughing we can’t stop until someone comes over and closes our mouth. And there sits in the middle of the field a huge pot of stew that never runs out, and if you don’t like stew you just close your eyes and say “I don’t like stew!” and it turns into ice-cream and if you don’t like stew or ice-cream you have to deal with it.


Stuart and Elise also created 23 unique posters using text from the anthology which were (a) displayed around the venue and (b) beautiful.

Gathering 23 short works that have been read at PPR nights from 2008-10, the Penguin Plays Rough Book of Short Stories is a work of literary art. Each story has been illustrated by an assemblage of 17 different visual artists, and compiled into an extraordinary hardback by designers Stuart Hall and Elise Santangelo, who also created the unique screenprinted dustcover.

The anthology also possesses an audio dimension. Each of the writers has been recorded reading their story – half live at Penguin Plays Rough events, and half in conjunction with specifically composed soundtracks, composed and performed by 13 different musicians. The recordings are available as an iTunes app, so when you purchase a copy of the book you can download and listen to them on an iPhone, iPad or MP3 player.

Through the magic of I-don’t-know-what-I-did-but-I-am-thankful-I-did-it, Unfortunately I can’t completely disregard the Christian God features illustrations by Matt Huynh (check out his online gallery holy shit) and a lush accompanying soundtrack by Tom Smith aka Cleptocleptics (check him out, dig him, download his oneofour mixtape, I strongly advise).

Piling awesome on awesome, Pip invited me to read my story at the launch of the anthology, taking place on Saturday 21 May as part of the Sydney Writers Festival. Alongside fellow PPR-contributors Zoe Norton-Lodge, Felicity Castagna, Sam Twyford-Moore and Luke Carman in the highbrow setting of the Sydney Dance Cafe, I performed Unfortunately I can’t completely disregard the Christian God (with just a touch of Christian hiphop mixed in).

The five readings from the anthology were each followed by a by a wildcard performance. However, instead of performing a random piece of their own work, the five wildcard writers had each written a creative response to one of the five stories from the anthology. One was a sequel, one was a prequel, one was an analytical breakdown of the original text, one was continuation of the story presented at the same breakneck pace, but Amelia Schmidt’s wildcard response to Unfortunately I can’t completely disregard the Christian God was a totally fresh take on the story, describing the same characters and settings but from a vastly different perspective. It was also really lovely, and opened up a whole landscape of further possibilities and ideas that I had never even considered, as well as being very fucking funny. So: totally honoured.

In summary, two points:

1. You can buy the anthology, which you pretty much need to do, through the Penguin Plays Rough website here.

2. Throughout this process, my story has been lifted and enhanced by collaborators including editors Pip Smith and Jason Childs, visual artist Matt Huynh, musician Cleptocleptics, writer/performer Amelia Schmidt and 18th century theologian Emanuel Swedenborg. That is amazing. I am so stunned and grateful. Thank you Penguin Plays Rough.

Functioning as a machine that hates U2

‘After doing some of my own research I cannot seem to find any evidence of Bono or U2 being any good at all, ever.’  -Degg Gordon, May 2011

In wide-eyed panicky fever-ish glee I just sent off the last remaining fragments of my abysmal script abomination Functioning As A Machine That Hates U2 to the fourth corner of the globe for assimilation. There’s an old adage along the lines of ‘Don’t write plays as therapy’ and the adjunct lesson ‘Don’t write yourself into your plays – the audience will always laugh at the character based on you’, but the lesson I’ve taken to heart is this: ‘If you write a play as therapy and you write yourself into that play, give the script to four of the best ensembles you know, worldwide, and ask for their assistance in dealing with your personal demons’.


I love you Eamon Dunphy

So: so. The situation is this: I get a copy of UNFORGETTABLE FIRE: The Story of U2 from a second-hand bookshop in 2010 and it upsets me to the point where I can’t sleep can’t eat can’t move in a straight can’t talk can’t love can’t think, except about how much I hate U2. So I write it down, the way you do, and before you know it I have 40+ pages of material about what a pack of jerks that band is, and then it’s on my Facebook page* and people throw in their two cents, and then I have a monstrous swathe of unperformable script, and what can I do, and what can I do?

I contacted four special young theatre-teams and gave them each a section of script. From Sydney, Applespiel – to whom I gave the Magical Ring of Air material stolen from Facebook. From Manila, the Sipat Lawin Ensemble – to whom I entrusted the Amulet of Fire my terrible summation of U2’s History. From Melbourne, the Landlords – to whom I gave the Power of Earth the section entitled Reasons Why Rachel Roberts Deserves To Win The Cardinal Pell Award. From New York, senor Lloyd Allison-Young and his comrades, to whom I gave the Magical Ring of Air again the highbrow Critiquing U2 discussion.

Each team – codenamed North Wind, South Wind, East Wind and North Wind – will record their part of the script as audio, and then return it to Machine That Hates U2 HQ, where Max Barker, Nickamc and myself will assemble it into the glorious multi-part podcast of all our dreams. And all this will happen before the first day of winter/summer.

As far as I’m concerned, being an artist is all about inflicting your own personal problems on other people. Wouldn’t you agree… U2?

*Except it’s not my Facebook page of course, it’s owned by Facebook, which is owned in part by U2. (Lions eat antelope, antelopes eat grass, grass eats lion carcasses: Circle of Life.)

TEN YEARS OF PLAYWRITING

I guess it’s worth looking at what happens when you get older and keep writing. Like perhaps you get better. That would be good – in fact that would be great – I’d love to believe I was getting less and less shite every year. But I can’t say it with any certainty – perhaps I can’t say it at all at all at all –


image by Arran Mckenna

But if I have any chance of making the claim, I need to compare and contrast. So, here, an extract from my second produced play. In 2001, I was 17, and following Bohemian’s first double-bill (Pinter’s The Dumb Waiter and Jackal and my Quiet Time), I wrote/directed a full-length The Mischief Sense. I learned a lot during that process – the major lesson being that writing/directing a badly constructed full-length play with a cast of 13 provides an extraordinary opportunity to waste a lot of people’s time. But fuckit it happened, and thanks to the contributions and efforts of all those involved it was even tolerable in parts.

So here’s an expository monologue providing some background about one of the characters, performed by Mack Finch (played by Jack Lloyd) in the process of rolling and lighting up a joint made from delicious oregano.

Perhaps to clear up any confusion, I should tell you a little about Teddy the Miracle Worker. Teddy’s one of those people who there’s a hundred, two hundred different stories about. I believe every one of them, but then I’m a sucker for rumours. He appeared out of nowhere a couple of years ago. Everyone has a different theory about where he came from. Some people say he was an athlete, some people say he was a special army marine commando, some say he was an evil lawyer, some people think he was a policeman that went rogue. Anyway, he suddenly arrived on the scene, and before you know it, he’s emptying houses left and right. People say he’s the best thief since Baxter Christ. That’s a pretty heavy call, I’m not sure if I believe it, but… Let me tell you a story about Teddy. This was from a while ago, back when he was still pretty small time and not very big news. Before he got his team together, when he was doing jobs by himself. He had this job planned, right, some big house. A government house or something. But he’d pissed off one or two people already, and they got word of it, and so they told the police. Now the police wanted to get hold of Teddy for their own reasons, so they set up an ambush. The night that Teddy was supposed to rob the place, the fuzz had it all mapped out. There were eight coppers planted around the grounds. They had every entrance and exit covered. Every hole in the wall, every orifice in the building, was plugged up tight. But they didn’t stop there, they bugged every room, put mikes and cameras all around the grounds, and hooked everyone up together on the radio. They didn’t underestimate Teddy, they covered every possible escape route and had it all dressed up to the nines. And so these eight coppers sat waiting – and they waited – and they waited all night. And they didn’t see hide nor hair of Teddy the Miracle Worker. So when the sun comes up, morning comes around, they assume he’s gotten word of it and that he decided not to come. So the eight cops get relieved by the next people, and they basically figure the sting hasn’t worked and Teddy’s not coming. The eight cops go home to bed. They arrive home, and they discover the silverware’s gone. Their televisions have gone. Their stereos and microwaves have gone. Their wife’s jewellery. Their kids’ toys and their computers. Their antique tables and chairs. Their expensive souvenirs from their holidays overseas. Their fridges. Teddy’s gone through eight houses and cleaned them out. Eight houses, one night, one person, cleaned out. That’s why they call him the Miracle Worker.


image by Anton Corbijn.

That was 2001. This is 2011, the opening lines from my awful new script Functioning as a machine that hates U2.

–    Tell us where U2 came from.

–    No, don’t tell us: Tell us. Don’t say it, live it. Be U2. Be U2 telling us where you came from.

–    Why am I U2 telling you where I came from?

–    Because it’s a firing squad. It’s U2 facing a firing squad – it’s early morning just before dawn, and U2 are taken out of their cell and marched to the edge of the forest, and the firing squad are preparing to shoot, and someone hands U2 a cigarette

–    Or a cigar, if that’s where we are

–    …cigar territory – and U2 takes it, gratefully – it’s a small mercy at this difficult time – and kneels by a tree to smoke it – and the young soldier who’s given them the cigar crouches beside them

–     Dew beading on the barrel of his rifle, and says

–    How did this all begin? U2, how did you come to be here?

–    And U2 looks up with a weary look in his lined face, and says

IT’S NO BETTER. It’s more trivial, more ham-fisted, more contrived, and the only thing that’s developed is a sense of futility and dread that I’m not a good fountainhead, I’m not a good wellspring, I’m blurring the expressions

and my fear of failure is greatly honed because I know how ill-suited I am to any other profession

there are sharks in all our heads
not just mine