Rizal Fountain Raps: Penrith X Edition

When the original Too Many Weapons crew (me, Georgie McAuley, Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser) came back to Sydney in October 2013 for the final season of Kids Killing Kids, our first priority was to hit the streets and carparks of Penrith to scout locations for the fourth edition of our spoken-word series The Rizal Fountain Raps: Penrith X Edition. The spoken-word pieces that we wrote and recorded over this week are possibly my absolute favourites out of the entire Rizal Fountain Raps canon.

Jordie, Sam and Georgie’s pieces contain some of the best writing and most captivating performances I’ve seen from each of them, ever. Each poem has moments of humour and sadness, lightness and intensity, glimpses of autobiography wrapped up in gorgeous imagery. Was a weird feeling going out into Penrith that night – the night before performing our last ever show of Kids Killing Kids, the night after bushfires tore through the Blue Mountains destroying hundreds of houses and threatening countless lives – and watching three of my favourite collaborators perform kickass solo performances in empty carparks was exactly what I needed.


Jordan’s 7000 Cigarettes is an epic monologue tracking the inner turmoil of a bitter, guilty, angry and vengeful ex-boyfriend as he stalks, and eventually steals from, his former lover. Recorded on the Westfield Mall rooftop carpark as Jordan paced in slow loops between streetlights chain-smoking and relentlessly delivering his incredibly intricate and detailed and text from memory. It was a virtuoso performance but at the same time, hard to watch. It’s a conflicted, ambiguous story and it unsettles me, still.


Georgie’s Rachelle is a homage to a former office colleague from her 2013 stint in the Canberra public service, but more than that, it’s a beautiful evocation of a time and place, a gently moving depiction of office work-life in all its beauty and tedium. Georgie’s tiny descriptive details about Rachelle and her vignettes from the day-to-day doldrums of data entry (sneaking into the toilets to dance to Azealia Banks on headphones!) conjure up these beautiful flickers of familiarity in me, and as the piece evolves slowly into a brutally frank and honest explanation of her state of mind, it gave me the shivers. Also Georgie’s performance – swigging champagne from the bottle as she wanders out of the carpark and into the park – is totally rockstar.


Sam’s Deckchairs On The Roof is possibly the most beautiful of them all, and also probably the most intimate, honest and direct writing I’ve ever seen of Sam’s. About halfway through our week in Penrith, a close primary school friend of Sam’s passed away. At the same time, a massive bushfire front tore through the Blue Mountains towards Penrith, devastating Lithgow, Blackheath and as far east as Springwood. In Sam’s poem, the Blue Mountains bushfires evoke memories of another fire, ten years ago, that the two of them experienced together. Deckchairs is simple and to-the-point; no theatrics or melodrama, just a sad, lovely story told well.

My piece is called You Don’t Have To Be Rich To Be My Girl, and it’s a pretty lightweight piece of excitement, springing off the back of a week-long obsession with Prince’s Kiss and One Direction’s Kiss You. Mostly I was trying to get my head around one of those funny contradictions in the way we (well, I) think about romantic relationships. Does everyone else feel this tension? Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. But that’s this piece.

Rizal Fountain Raps: Quezon City Edition – Song For Baby-O, Unborn

The third entry in The Rizal Fountain Rap series – The Quezon City Edition – was a pretty epic undertaking. While in Manila in August 2013 for Sipat Lawin’s LOVE: This Is Not Yet A Musical, Too Many Weapons decided to invite a whole host of other artists to record their own Rizal Fountain Raps. With the help of cinematographer Shane Parsons and sound engineer Nick McCorriston, myself, Sam, Jordan and Georgie were joined by Daniel Darwin, Nick Delatovic, Simon Binns, Sarah Kaur, Nikki Kennedy, Sarah Walker, Nick McCorriston, Nathan Harrison and George Rose.

Over just two days, Shane, Sam and Nickamc recorded no fewer than 15 spoken-word performances in 15 different locations around Quezon City, Manila. There are some extraordinary works in this bundle – and holy shit, the variety.

There’s a breakdown of each of the different pieces on the Too Many Weapons tumblr – go, dig, absorb – but because this is my blog where I talk about my practice, I’m gonna take a self-indulgent second to ramble about my effort: Song For Baby-O, Unborn.

The name (and inspiration) comes from New York poet and Beat Generation fellow traveller Diane di Prima’s poem addressed to her unborn child:

Sweetheart
when you break thru
you’ll find
a poet here
not quite what one would choose.

I won’t promise
you’ll never go hungry
or that you won’t be sad
on this gutted
breaking
globe

but I can show you
baby
enough to love
to break your heart
forever


from beatmuseum.org

Terrified of being shown up by the wealth of talented people contributing to this edition, I decided my performance needed a whole bunch of irrelevant bells and whistles. To whit: I insisted on reciting my poem while travelling through the LoveNOT health spa / swimming pool venue AND roped in Simon, Nick D, Nathan and Sipat director JK Anicoche to choreograph a back-up dance in the pool while I performed. My ridiculous grand vision made life very difficult for Shane and Nickamc to film and record, but the results! The results.

The results. Well, see for yourself:

If you’re interested, these are the words I wrote:

.

SONG FOR BABY-O, UNBORN (AFTER DIANE DI PRIMA)

dear baby-o, unborn
I guess when you’re ready to come along you’re gonna want to know what sort of world you’re getting yourself into
but what can I say?

it’s wet.
prepare to get rained on.
prepare for floods
water tears and blood

be ready for eyes to follow you down the street
long nights spent holed up at JK’s house reading erotic fiction
for the water to fall so hard it bruises your shoulders
be ready to get sick

you’ll be held against your will
someone will need you to hold them

I don’t know what it is about this world
but people here need each other so badly
you’ll think you can cut loose from that for a while
but you’re implicated from the moment you’re born
there’ll be moments choking alone in the back of the taxi
and moments hugging someone on the dancefloor so hard it hurts

there’ll be moments sweeping gravel from the sidewalk in the hot sun
there’ll be phone calls before dawn and car accidents and sickness and suicide
and there’ll be cups of tea and mango shakes and holding hands

the good things will evaporate
the good things will evaporate
the good things will dissolve under your fingers and leave you with sticky useless hands
but then there’ll be roads and airports and the freedom of loneliness
the loneliness of being free

you’re gonna be so scared, I promise you!
your lover will look you in the eyes and say no no no no no not you not you notyou
you’re gonna be so lost!
you’ll wander down adriatico at 5am turning in circles in the flooding street
you’re gonna be so trapped!
knuckles clenched fixed smile telling a man in a suit how much you want what he can give you
you’re gonna be so stretched thin!
what you need to do is so much more than what you’re capable of

but baby-o I promise you
you never need to be a passenger
there’s only so much you can do
only
there’s so much you can do
you have so little say
but what you say can turn the world around

so when you get here
I want you to look at this place with fresh unbiased eyes
tell us honestly and truly with no fronting
the world that we made
this world that we built up and now are handing on to you
how fucked up is this world?

cause the honest truth is, it’s gonna be a rough ride
you got cyclones hurricanes monsoons typhoons
droughts bushfires floods
rich people with guns
tanks through the churches
tuberculosis
so many people
no clean water
a generation of grandparents who just won’t fucking die

you’re gonna need to pull it apart piece by piece
you might need to put a gun to the head of a politician on camera
I’m not gonna lie to you
you’re not gonna get no satisfaction

when the man comes on the radio
when the ads come at you sideways
when the liars sign off on your behalf

when they get right under your skin and make you question your own self
they make you hate because it’s easy to make you hate
you were built to hate
and it’s simple to hate
it’s so fucking hard to love

when they get you shakey and wired and uncertain and hungry and scared
when they get you rushing and burning and heavy and running and cold
when they get you singing and screaming and sunny and rainy and wet
when they get you lying and chasing and frozen and curled up and shot
it’s so hard to see through it and remember

but I promise you

if you come into this world with your eyes open
there’s enough love in just this one room
there’s enough love in just one cupped hand holding water

to break your heart forever


image by sarah walker

Too Many Weapons: ridiculous side-projects


image by jordan prosser

Too Many Weapons is a theatre / writing collective made up of Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley, Jordan Prosser and myself. We came together for the first time in the Philippines in 2011 to adapt Koushon Takami’s novel Battle Royale into site-specific theatre performance / live-action game Battalia Royale for Manila company the Sipat Lawin Ensemble, then regrouped in Melbourne in 2013 to create Kids Killing Kids, a documentary theatre performance about the Battalia project co-produced by MKA and the Q Theatre, and featuring guest director Bridget Balodis and designer Mel Koomen.

Battalia Royale and Kids Killing Kids were both fairly large-scale projects, and both involved a lot of travel to foreign cities to undertake intensive creative developments. It turns out that living together in close quarters for weeks at a time has a weird effect on the four of us, and we keep finding ourselves taking on new and weird side-projects in the middle of working on our main show. These tend to involve someone coming up with a stupid challenge, daring everyone to write a brand-new radio play, or a rap, or a spoken word performance piece, all of us laughing about what a stupid idea that was, AND THEN ALL OF US GOING AHEAD AND DOING THEM.


image by Jordan Prosser

The Greater Manila Audio Experiment: Pirates of the Carribbean: Do You Mind If I Smoke While You’re Eating?

The first accidental Too Many Weapons side-project was The Greater Manila Audio Experiment. While in Manila in September 2011, I received an email from New York playwright, Ira Gamerman, out of the blue, wildly and effusively praising U2’s early output and their work with Brian Eno on The Joshua Tree. We felt we had no choice but to turn Ira’s ramblings into a radio play-script and record it.

Once we’d done that, the next logical step was to write and record 14 more short songs, raps, poems and radio-plays, and record the whole bundle as a soundcloud mix. Highlights for me is Georgie’s Rappez-Vous rap (which I recorded over a Baths track), Jordan’s autobiographical primary school radio play Crazy Robots Of Childhood, and Sam’s amazing reinterpretation of my spoken-word rant Things Are Improving Every Second Of Every Day (from my 2012 Shark Egg EP with Paul Heslin) into mellow blunted rap Crocodile On The Dancefloor.

2MW On Tour: The Posse Cut

Easily my favourite thing the four of us have recorded is the posse cut we created during the Penrith tour of Kids Killing Kids in October 2013. 2MW On Tour features a verse from each of us over Ta-Ku‘s most excellent track Hey Justin, finally the story of WHY our collective is called what it is called, and an array of what might possibly be, actually, too many weapons.

.

The Sparks-Off

By far the weirdest and easily my most favourite Too Many Weapons pointless side-project (possibly my most favourite pointless side-project EVER) was The Sparks-Off. While in Penrith in early 2013, Sam introduced us to the magic of Nicholas Sparks. Sparks is a novelist whose romantic novels have been turned into some of the most popular films of the last decade. He’s the writer behind The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, Message In A Bottle, Dear John, Nights In Rodanthe, Safe Haven, Dear John and The Last Song, which have all become massive box-office hits and Hollywood staples.

After Sam showed us the trailer for every single Nicholas Sparks film we immediately realised that (a) every Nicholas Sparks film trailer is exactly the same and (b) we needed to somehow pay homage to these extraordinary examples of the film trailer artform. Without any hesitation, we wrote and recorded brand dialogue for the Nights in Rodanthe, Safe Haven and A Walk To Remember trailers. These are, without doubt, the Too Many Weapons works I am most proud of.


Sam’s Hitchcock-ian #NotSoSafeHaven masterfully brings the subtle creepiness already latent in the original Safe Haven to the surface.


Jordan’s A Spacewalk To Remember places Mandy Moore and some jock actor in SPACE CAMP, and the superb line ‘I can do STUFF!’


My version of Nights in Rodanthe features Richard Gere as an evil dictator’s right-hand man in charge of organising his deceased master’s state funeral. It features Kid 606 and Clams Casino, which is already an improvement on the original, but I’m mainly proud of this line: ‘This Fall, you will watch a powerful ruler be buried. You will kneel at the feet of his procession. You will moan and rent your clothes. Horses will trample you. And in the end, your battered body will be placed in the outer chamber of the prince’s grave.’

.

NEXT UP: What is a Rizal Fountain Rap and why should those words be so alien and strange yet also feel familiar and somehow unsettling?

My failed pitch to Tamarama Rock Surfers, now a pitch to YOU

So because every so often I try to convince myself I am a playwright, I applied for Tamarama Rock Surfers‘ brand new play commission which they’re kicking off in 2014. Shockingly – shockingly – I was not shortlisted. This could be because the cool salt breeze off Bondi Beach has wreaked havoc with their aesthetic judgment OR my application wasn’t very good.

Actually I think TRS is one of the best companies in the country right now and their programming is pretty spot on, so other than shouting YOU WILL RUE THE DAY to my computer when I received the letter, I’m actually really excited about the prospect of seeing who they end up supporting and what happens with the commission. I will go see it, for sure, for real.

Nevertheless: as much as I want to see whatever play TRS commissions up on stage, I want to see my proposed play more. Therefore I’m gonna post my pitch up here and now on this blog, on the off-chance that one of the regular visitors who come searching for ‘seroquel prescription bathtub’ or ‘lego city 7993’ feels like commissioning me to write the thing.

I’m not even kidding, I’d like you to pay me to write this play for you.

SAINT PAUL AND THE CIGARETTES

Synopsis
In 36 AD, Saul of Tarsus converts to a new messianic Jewish religion after an epiphany on the road to Damascus. From being a persecutor of the Jews, Saul becomes Paul, the first and greatest evangelist of the new religion of Christianity. Gathering all of Jesus of Nazareth’s surviving disciples and associates, Paul founds the first Christian church, commissions the writing of the Gospels and begins a relentless campaign to proselytise the new religion throughout the entire Roman Empire.

In 1966 AD, Australian garage band The Cigarettes are jamming in the suburbs of Sydney, desperately apeing the Beatles and the Stones and trying to get a single decent gig. The Easybeats just got on ABC’s Bandstand, The Master’s Apprentices have a song on US radio – The Cigarettes don’t have a chance. Dejected and defeated, they are taken by suprise when Saint Paul bursts through a portal from the past and offers them a radical proposal: he will take on the struggling three-piece as manager IF they come back in time with him to 60 AD and help him spread the gospel to the people of Rome.

What unfolds is the extraordinary true story of a trio of teen rockstar wannabes from the eastern suburbs, transformed into the world’s first Christian rock band. Set in the bustling metropolis of early imperial Rome, from the lawless marketplaces to the decadent palaces, we follow Paul’s struggle to bring his fledgling superstars to their triumphant first stadium gig in the Colosseum. With opposition from rival religious groups, fellow Christians, Roman authorities and the Emperor Nero himself, The Cigarettes must struggle to make it to their first gig alive.

Amidst a backdrop of cults, mystics, philosophers, tyrants and criminals, Paul applies every trick of the pop impresario to save his church and his band from going under and spread his message to the world.

What is this show?
Saint Paul and the Cigarettes is an interrogation of the rise of the manufactured popstar, from the Monkees to the Backstreet Boys to One Direction. At the same time, it is an exploration of the extraordinary beginnings of the Christian church, a story of the birth and rise of humankind’s most successful religion. It’s a behind-the-scenes tour documentary and a historical drama set in the birthplace of modern European civilisation. It’s The Commitments AND I, Claudius AND One Direction: This Is Us at the same time. At last.

How does the time travel work?
It doesn’t matter.

Do you know what you’re talking about?
Yes. I have a Bachelor of Arts (Ancient History) from the Australian National University, specialising in Religions in Roman Society. And yes, there are real and provocative comparisons to be drawn between the way the early Church was organised and promoted, and the methodologies of, say, Bieber’s marketing team.

Rome at the beginning of the first millenium was a seething hotbed of cults, religions and secret societies, from the Egyptian Cult of Isis to the Gaulish Mithraic warrior sect, from the Stoic philosophers of the ruling class to the hedonistic wizards of the Bacchanalia. In this extraordinary multicultural mix of ideals and beliefs, the early Christian church immediately stood out for its absolutely counter-intuitive and (in retrospect) brilliant strategy of self-promotion.

Equally brilliant and no less ethically questionable are the tools and techniques through which modern-day pop idols like Bieber, 1D and even Hillsong are created and distributed. The mechanics of celebrity are a fascinating demonstration of how ideas grow and spread in human societies. The connections between these two world are both surprising and illuminating.

Also, I once played at a Christian music festival.

Why this story? Why now?
Because it will be fun. It will be smart and savvy and fast-paced and energetic and dark and informative and evocative, but most of all it will be fun. This is a chance to seduce an audience with a ridiculous premise and then give them a high-energy live theatre experience and a new insight into the forces that shape religion and pop culture.

And there will be thrashing 60s-style garage rock.

SO
Is this a thing you’d like to see in the world? Why not drop me a line and make me an offer and I WILL WRITE IT FOR YOU. Have you ever commissioned a play before? Don’t be scared, we’ll work through this together.

Besides, do you want to go to your deathbed not having commissioned an original piece of theatre?

PS sharp-eyed cats may note that this is an idea I had a while ago and even wrote a terrible draft of back in 05 – I disown that script in its entirety. Let’s Get Back To The Things Themselves, yo

PPS there is one deliberate historical inaccuracy in the above pitch – points if anyone can pick it.