This is my alternative Asialink acquittal

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Dear Asialink,

This time I tried something different.

I went to the Philippines twice this year (well, three times, but you didn’t fund me the first time and it was only two weeks anyway). I did my Asialink residency in two parts: 11 weeks from March – May, then 6 weeks over November – December.

From March to May, I was in town doing all the things I promised in my residency application. Worked with Sipat Lawin on our new large-scale participatory work Gobyerno, which we toured to Korea for Festival B:om in its prototype version, before running large-scale tests in Manila. Helped produce the international stream of Sipat’s Karnabal Festival, bringing 18 artists from around the world to collaborate with local artists in a two week festival laboratory. Wrote some new pieces with long-time performer collaborator Isab Martinez and kicked off a new American-Australian playwriting collective with a development in Camiguin and a scratch show in Karnabal.

This was all the stuff I promised to do in the application and it went well, I promise it went well, albeit as ragged and emotionally chaotic as always.

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In November, though, I came to Manila with a whole different set of goals. Still worked on Gobyerno (we toured it up to Baguio and ran it for La Salle University students up there), did a bit of prep towards Karnabal 2016, but honestly, for a few weeks, I turned my head in a completely different direction.

This trip was my ninth visit to the Philippines in nine years. I have this sense that I’m in it for the long haul with my relationship to this country. And it seemed like time to do something with that relationship.

I spent a lot of my time this time listening, waiting, sensing – rather than leaping towards a project that I’d already articulated, I arrived with time up my sleeve, ready to follow opportunities where they emerged. I wanted to absorb more Pinoy pop culture and go deeper in my relationship with the culture.

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Full disclosure: my collaborators and host company, Sipat Lawin, are also my dear friends. We live together, we tour together, we make art together and we also hang out and talk, constantly, unpacking and chewing over ideas, stories and feelings. This time I let myself be guided somewhat by that friendship, and I offered my time to them, to give each of them a nudge towards making something new, beginning a period in which Sipat will be presenting a series of new solo works. The earliest nascent forms of some of these solos were kicked off at a Strange Pilgrims event, a performance night we held at the TomatoKick on Tomas Morato in Cubao.

But alongside all this organic flow, I also came prepared with a very specific purpose.

Before I went over there this time, Asialink, I spent weeks in preparation, putting together a weird little parcel. Long distance, over many conversations, the members of Sipat helped me put together a collage of iconic Filipino poetry, folk music and pop songs, a sort of audio sampler of Pinoy culture. We sourced kareoke and instrumental versions of all these tracks, and then Australian sound artist (and also Sipat collaborator) Nick McCorriston mixed them into a single audio collage.

I didn’t tell you I was doing this, Asialink, because I was worried you wouldn’t take me seriously. And this project is very, very serious.

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When I got to Manila, I began memorising this six and a half minute slice of Pinoy poetry and lyrics. I spent a lot of hours on this. It’s awkward to say how many hours, but one day I will share the rehearsal footage of me running each line of the Abra rap a thousand times, before piecing them together into the whole verse. You will probably say, why, what was the point of all this time and effort, but you don’t get anywhere great without a training montage, and this was mine.

At the end of it all, Sipat and I (and videographer Brandon Relucio) filmed the result – a one-take, long-shot performance video through the ruined school of Pugad Lawin in Quezon City. I framed it as an ‘audition’ for reality TV gameshow Foreignoy, even though Foreignoy is no longer being filmed. It seemed like a good way to help people make sense of it, though Carlos Celdran got it closer when he called it ‘an artistic intervention’.

The video went up on Youtube and got 1500 views within three days. After a huge cluster of people shared it with the producers of Eat Bulaga (the daytime show that produced Foreignoy), they got in touch to let me know they’d put me in the next lineup for the show, when and if that happens in 2016.

There’s a new show in this, Asialink, and here’s what happens next:

I’m going to get back to the Philippines in the next 12 months, and then I’m continuing on my journey to get up close and personal with the Pinoy showbiz industry. The machine, for want of a better word. I want to see it up close and get my head around it.

There’s a particular place that foreigners occupy in Pinoy pop culture. It’s hard to put your finger on precisely, but you see it in the over-representation of Mestiza (people of mixed Filipino and foreign ancestry) on TV, in the countless adverts for skin whitening creams and soaps, in the tense place that Americans occupy in the country’s cultural discourse, and particularly in shows like Foreignoy, in which foreigners literally compete to prove their ‘Filipino-ness’.

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It’s hard to justify a project that doesn’t exist yet. We do it in grant applications frequently, but often there the language is, if not dishonest, at least not very true to how artists think and talk about our projects among ourselves. I can make a clear case for the value of engaging with the Filipino television industry in formal terms, if I need to. I would say things like, ‘this subject speaks to the complex ways in which Australians are represented within Filipino culture, and to our place within a broader Asian cultural context.’

All of that is true, and important. But honestly, I’m pursuing this because I have a gut feeling that this is a story worth pursuing. There’s something there. I don’t know what, and I won’t know what unless I dive all the way, and even then maybe I’ll be wrong (I’ve been wrong often enough before).

But in the meantime, Asialink, I got within striking distance of being cast as STEVE, a 40 year old ‘man of power’ and father-in-law of Filipino reality TV star Daniel Matsunaga in new ‘interracial love story’ soap opera BE MY LADY (I was not ‘heavy’ enough to pass for 40 years old, dammit), and I know this isn’t the first time you’ve accidentally nearly launched a south-east Asian soap opera career, but isn’t this at least slightly why Asialink exists? Don’t most, if not all, Asialink recipients end up as E-list daytime TV celebrities in whichever country they’re travelling to? (Don’t answer that question.)

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I didn’t put this down on my official grant acquittal form, but I got really really close. And the quest isn’t over. Not even a little bit, not even at all.

Thank you for letting me sit with Sipat Lawin pursuing mad schemes this last few weeks, Asialink. I promise it’ll make sense in the grand fullness of time. You will look back on this and there will be some kind of meaningful artistic result, some kind of creative outcome that adds up to something worthwhile.

Or there won’t, but you still won’t regret it.

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Sexting Play pitch

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In 2010 I received a phone call from a Canberra theatre company that makes work for young people. As one of several ‘emerging’ playwrights in Canberra at that time, my name had bubbled to the top of a list of potential writers for a new project.

The lady asked me if I’d heard of something called sexting. I told her, ’Yes! Yes I have!’ She explained that they were interested in producing a new play about sexting, aimed at 14 – 17 year olds, and would I be interested in writing it? I said, ‘I absolutely would, I already have some ideas. It’ll be pro-sexting, right?’

The pause that followed was one of the most awkward silences I’ve ever had over the phone. Eventually she said, ‘It should portray both sides.’ And then she promised to email me a brief, which I could respond to with a pitch.

I never received that email, which means I never got to submit them my pitch, and as far as I know their sexting play never got made. In the meantime, after I complained at length about my missed opportunity, Hadley beat me to the punch by writing his superb piece ‘The Sexting Play Finnigan Was Commissioned Specifically Not To Write’, which is the best piece of theatre anyone has ever written.

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EXCERPT OF HADLEY’S ‘THE SEXTING PLAY FINNIGAN WAS COMMISSIONED SPECIFICALLY NOT TO WRITE’
USED WITHOUT PERMISSION

A kid with a wild gleam in his eyes, Ricky, crashes into the room.

RICKY (outrageously): FUCK YOU SIDEWAYS, YOU MESSY PACK OF CUNTS!

Everyone cheers – Ricky is their king!

AMIRA: Did you get it?

RICKY: Did I fucking get it, I’m Ricky. I get what I want.

ANITA; Show it to us!

JIM: This is going to be fucking awesome!

BEN: Anyone need cigarettes?

SAL: On us, motherfuckers, this is too fucking exciting!

The kids all throws cans of beer to each other, pack up bongs, light up cigs.

MARCO: Wait, what are we doing?

JENNY: Yeah, no one told me!

Ricky poses, a light shines on him.

RICKY with great magnitude: We’re going to sext Corrigan’s mum.

JENNY: Hahaha, Corrigan… Mr. Corrigan, the woodwork teacher?

RICKY: Yeah boiiiii

JENNY: Haha, well you’re not using my phone.

RICKY: Oh, we’re not using a phone. We’re using this.

Ricky pulls an Ouija board out of his bag.

RICKY: Corrigan’s mum is dead.

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(I got distracted writing this blog post by re-reading the whole of Hadley’s script, it’s a goddamn masterpiece, maybe the only real masterpiece to exist)

But now, chewing through some old notes, I found my notes for the proposed youth theatre / theatre-in-education play, which sadly never even got the chance to be taken for a spin. Never even got rejected.

Fast forward a few years.

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Mid-2014, none other than Glyn Roberts sat down and chatted with me about being a playwright in the Australian arts ecosystem circa 2015. He made the excellent point that in many ways, actually writing a playscript is a negative thing.

Have a great idea, sure, share that great idea with a theatre company, offer to build something in collaboration with a company or self-produce and go wild, but having a written script? Who wants an unproduced playscript? No theatre company wants to be inundated with completed scripts that they have to read, have to struggle through, have to shrug over and reject.

I can only imagine the dismay that you must feel as a literary manager when you receive another perky email from a playwright with a 125k PDF attached to it. (obviously a pdf because if they sent you a word doc you’d edit it and run away with the ideas yourself, right?)

I’ve grossly oversimplified Glyn’s comments here, so apologies to him and please don’t take this as a real representation of his opinion. If you’re curious about his actual take on the industry (and you should be, he’s a wise soul), go on and find him.

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What I took from Glyn’s comments is that it’s time for me, as a playwright, to stop writing plays, and instead do a better job of finding theatre companies, directors and collaborative artists who are willing to jump on board and support the growth of a good idea from the outset.

So the hell with it. I didn’t write this one, it’s there waiting to be written. All I need is a committed, passionate partner with the strength of will and conviction to turn this grit in the oyster into a pearl of Australian theatre.

Get at me let’s do this.

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SEXTING PLAY: A PITCH FOR A SEXTING PLAY
by david finnigan

It is the recent past, say 2013. A teen girl is contacted by an angel
             through her phone

The angel advises the girl that in the past, the agents of the Lord are struggling against the forces of those who oppose God’s word. The angel has managed to obtain smartphones from the present day, and sent them back in time to key moments in history where the conflicts are most desperate.

The girl can text help to those soldiers fighting in the past for God’s cause. By sending them nude pics, she can support their battle against paganism, against heresy and against tyranny.

Naturally, our heroine goes right ahead and sends nude pics to those phone numbers. She is rewarded by news from these ancient battlefields that her contribution has turned the tide, that the fight is finally going their way.

But! In history class at school, the girl learns something extremely disquieting about the Australian frontier wars, the Crusades, the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, and many other historical atrocities. At a number of famous massacres, a naked female soldier with a strange accent and unusual turn of phrase stepped into the fight and slaughtered many innocents.

She realises that every sext she sent into the past has become a vile killer, a murderer of the helpless and a weapon for the unjust.

She refuses to send any further sexts, despite the angel’s demands and pleas. When she refuses to capitulate, the angel becomes angry and curses her.

Around the world, ancient naked versions of herself that she sent into the past and who have slumbered for many centuries begin to awaken in creaky museum cases, archive drawers and on ochre-painted cave walls. They gradually amass and march inexorably towards their originator, to slay her.

Now it’s one girl against her own message history in a bloody fight to the death, and there are no excuses and there is no escape.

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‘I think there’s something worth mentioning here about the fact that most conflicts feature men, not women. And history is made of men’s stories rather than women stories. So there’s something sad and ironic about her part in history being made by the fact that she can send pictures of naked body, the main commodity. So this is a political conversation.’
– Jess Bellamy

For real, if you feel anything about this, go ahead and get in touch. There’s no reason this can’t happen.