In the future, everyone will murder a boy band member.

growth - skyscraper_planet copy

One of the things that is a regular feature of the projects that I’m involved with is that they are… conceptually rigorous?

By which I mean that they are… hard to explain. There’s a thing that happens where people ask me what I’m working on, and then I have an internal debate about how seriously to answer, and if I think I have enough time and they care enough, I’ll give it a shot. And then at a point in the discussion that ensues, there’ll be a moment  of them looking confused and unsure and both of us are maybe mentally wondering if it’s too late to back out of the conversation.

I’ve spent the last four years learning how to explain Best Festival Ever to people, and they still look at me with some degree of bafflement. ‘It’s a tabletop systems science boardgame theatre show about managing a music festival? But… why?’

This week is another example of that, of the strange complex specificity of my line of work. This week, Jordan and I are wrapping up our three month residency developing a Law and Order-esque police thriller about the murder of a boy band member in four different hypothetical future Australias.

‘But… why?’

& so on & so on.

This emerged originally from my Churchill Fellowship, where I spent a lot of time meeting and talking with futures studies experts around the world, looking at the ways in which scientists and futurists think about the future. And around the same time, the Australian Academy of Science held their Australia 2050 workshops, in which they brought together around 50 scientists, politicians, journalists, business leaders, military personnel and artists, to collaboratively imagine four different scenarios for Australia in the year 2050.

There is some really fascinating work going on in this field, particularly with regard to how these scientists think about the future. The idea of the ‘scenaric stance’ is that rather than try to predict the future, you generate a range of different hypothetical futures. This practice of creating multiple futures helps to provide a range of possibilities, best and worst-case scenarios, and potential consequences of different choices.

A quote from James A. Ogilvy, which I included in my Churchill report: ‘Yes, things could turn out badly. But, no, that is not in itself reason for inaction. Yes, things could turn out very well, but, no, that is not in itself reason for foolish bravado. By holding in mind several different futures at once, one is able to proceed deliberately yet flexibly; resolutely yet cautiously… He or she who sees no opportunities is blind. He or she who senses no threats is foolish. But he or she who sees both threats and opportunities shining forth in rich and vivid scenarios may just be able to make the choices and implement the plans that will take us to the high road and beyond.

collapse - destroyed_road

This whole discipline felt like a really rich and fertile space for making some kind of creative work in – and in fact, that was really the point of that aspect of my Churchill Fellowship. Then in 2014, ecologist Bob Costanza put it to me that I should make a film about the ‘scenaric stance’, which illustrated different possible futures.

That put the seed in my head to rope in Jordan Prosser, and from there we began hashing out what a film in this space might look like. And the ultimate result was, we decided to create a film set in the future – in Australia in 2050 – which tells a single story, with a single group of characters. But the twist is, we would tell this story four times, each time setting it in a different hypothetical future.

The first time you might see the story unfold in a 2050 three decades of unbridled Australian economic growth. The next time round you’d see the same characters, the same dramas, the same obstacles, but the setting is now an Australia devastated by economic collapse.

plot

Jordan and I were lucky enough to be funded by the City of Melbourne’s Creative Spaces program to undertake a three month residency to kick off the R&D into this project, and we’ve been based at the Carlton Connect space in Melbourne University, amongst all the lovely start-ups and fine humans of the tech & climate & social good universe.

So we’ve produced four speculative scenarios for Australia in 2050 – captured under the traditional headings of Growth, Collapse, Discipline and Transformation. Each scenario depicts a different vision of what Australia might be like in 34 years, with different economic, social, political, ecological, ethnic and cultural features. These scenarios are very broad at the moment, but in the next phase of the work we’ll dig down a little deeper into them with experts, and hopefully infuse them with a little more rigour.

growth - agriculture copy

We’ve also produced the first draft script of our story, set in each of these futures. What is it a story about?

It is crime thriller following the investigation into the murder of a boy band member.

Jordan suggested that it be a crime thriller. A police procedural, he pointed out, is both a great genre to write in, a lot of fun to play with, and also, it often involves the police investigators engaging with every facet of society, from the wealthy elite to the criminal underbelly. So an excellent way to view some of the different aspects of our hypothetical scenarios.

For the purposes of the residency, Jordan introduced me to Law and Order. My goodness, what a TV show. My goodness.

law

So our detectives of the future belong to the serious crimes unit known as CrimeForce.

I proposed that it be about boy bands. My reasoning:

For at least fifty years, if not longer, the boy band industry has been a constant. A group of attractive singing and dancing young men are marketed to young women en masse. From the Beatles to the Jackson 5 to New Kids On The Block to One Direction, boy bands have evolved to reflect the times, while remaining essentially the same. It’s not hard to imagine that there will always be young men in ridiculous outfits singing and dancing for the pleasure of young girls.

 (always use pics of wax replicas of popstars when you have the option)

The name of our boy band is LoveTeam.

So our project is entitled CrimeForce: LoveTeam. Which is a good name.

There is a clear social value to this work, which is aimed at engaging the broader Australian populace with the tools and concepts from futures studies and the ‘scenaric stance’. It is also a piece of trash pulp. And this week we are sharing the results of our research with a group of very serious, very intelligent people from Carlton Connect, the City of Melbourne, the whole do.

To summarise: it is yet another serious science-based project in which I had no choice but to watch the Backstreet Boys documentary Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of.

Corporate retreat / video poemtry

DSCF0105 - Version 3 copy pic by jordan prosser

It’s another week, another bundle of different projects scattered all over the map. But for the moment, a quick pause to register something nice that happened: the latest instalment of the Rizal Fountain Raps. This time, Grampians Edition.

Georgie, Sam, Jordan and myself took off for our corporate retreat a few weeks ago to the Grampians in Victoria, gorgeous mountains and really beautiful camping. It was our company AGM, which meant that we spent three days putting things on the agenda, checking the agenda and then rethinking the agenda. The key agenda item was: scheming up ways to impeach Bridget Balodis from her position as Chair of the Board. (If we had a board – we don’t, but if we did, Bridget would be the Chair of it, and we would be seeking to impeach her. Because as we understand it, this is what organisations do.)

Also we saw eagles. A pair of eagles, a couple, hanging on the thermals as we walked along the ridgeline of one of the higher peaks. At one point I came out from a stand of trees to the edge of the cliff just as one of the eagles was rising up the cliff face – we scared each other, and it veered back, and for a second we looked each other right in the eyes and it was as awkward and beautiful as any real encounter with nature is gonna be.

And then, of course, we recorded our Rizal Raps. Mine was the shortest yet – 25 seconds, it’s called 25 Second Rap, because it’s so brief – and I wrote it a few weeks ago, walking home past some grubby bar stuffed with adorable suits, what looked like the tail end of a drab wedding reception but was probably just an office party. Fucking humans, man, so goddamn lovely.

Sam’s piece emerged from a conversation he and I had while collecting wood, where he put it to me, ‘David, what would you do if you got back to the campsite and everyone was suddenly missing?’ and then upped the ante: ‘What would you do if you got the campsite and there were just a clutch of dead bodies in the tent, and it was our bodies, including yours?’

So then Sam’s piece is a lovely little bit of Blair Witchery, except he’s performing as me. Why, why, why.

Jordan’s is crisp and melancholy and eerie, a Berlin club story that could only be told on a wintry, rainy Australian day in a burned forest in the Victorian hills. This is how we do.

And Georgie’s, Georgie’s exists, but it is for private consumption by the 2MW associate membership only, and not for the likes of you. It’s called He’s Figured It Out and it was the perfect ending to a beautiful, wearying weekend.

In place of sharing that, I’m gonna share McAuley’s previous entry into the Rizal canon, her reflection on Robbie Williams she recorded in Sydney last year. This is just gorgeous, this piece:

And because I’m sharing things in this vein, this, this. A short piece I recorded last night, on Bourke Street in Melbourne. The trick is, the trick is, if you’re me, when you feel that horrible pressure that won’t let you rest or relax – when you feel like your happiness is suddenly out of your hands and you can’t get hold of it again – the safest trick is to go get lost in the crowds. City’ll fix it.

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time

DSCF0098 copy pic by jordan prosser. 

Two weeks in the wet season for Karnabal, for what? For why?

It’s coming up on midnight on a cold winter Thursday in Melbourne and I’m curled up by a heater, just the way I like it. And I’m a little ragged, so much so that I’m reduced to playing Grouper and A Broken Consort and this one Burrows song over and over. But it’s been a good two weeks, I think.

karnabal443 image by bunny cadag

At the end of May I sprinted out of Melbourne for a fortnight in Manila to take part in the Karnabal Festival. It was my second time, since I helped produce the festival’s international program in 2015. And I shouldn’t have gone, I shouldn’t have gone – I can’t even begin to explain to you all the ways in which it was a bad idea. I’ve got commitments here, I’ve got deadlines, I’ve got (maybe most importantly) no money, why was I going to Manila to perform at an experimental arts festival?

But it was magic and I don’t regret anything. You don’t regret things like this, I figure. You pay for them  – one way or another you pay for them. But no, no, don’t regret.

Karnabal is Sipat Lawin’s extraordinary festival of experimental Filipino performance – a laboratory of new and developing work by Manila-based performers, and a dedicated stream of international collaborators. Sarah Salazar and Ninya Bedruz put the thing together, curated by Sarah, JK Anicoche and Eisa Jocson. It was a burst of activity across a whole range of different platforms, smeared across Diliman – all through and across Teacher’s Village in QC.

Two weeks of festival life, which entailed: staying in the new Sipat HQ on Magiting Street – JK, Eisa and Alyx’s new house, which was host to a swarm of international guests, volunteers, anyone and everyone passing through. You wake up in the morning, already sweltering hot, the sound of trike drivers and water sellers in the street. And then breakfast, and then people are beginning to move, gather, rehearse, the day is underway. Long conversations, chats that veer into lunch, or a shared trike ride, or sneaking off to the teahouse on Maginhawa to work and write, and then heading back to Mapagkawanggawa to the Papet Theatre, the festival hub, to start seeing work.

karnabal446 image by clyde enriquez

The heat, the heat all day, except when it rained, and then brief respite – except sometimes the rain came down so hard it drowned out the performances altogether, as when Tassos, Chris and Issa had to stop their performance on the last Sunday so we could attend to the monsoonal rain pelting the rooftops below us. And then art, performances, conversations, more people, more good chats, and winding up at TomatoKick or Flying House, through until 1 or 2am.

I always found myself leaving the late night parties early, walking home, and that’s one of my favourite times of day in Manila – between midnight and 4am, the streets quiet and cool, but not empty – never empty – and the conversations sleepier, more peaceful.

And then the next day, again. And again, for two weeks.

karnabal445 image by bunny cadag

The work was killer. Holy shit, I don’t even know how to say. For me, the standard was way up from last year. Issa Lopez. Chris Aaronson. Clyde Enriquez. Sarah Salazar and Detsy Uy. Teresa Barrozo. Bunny Cadag. Isab Martinez. Adrienne Vergara. Ninya Bedruz. Ness Roque. Daniel Darwin and Perky Parong. Kollab Company.

And the internationals this year were also brilliant. It was magic seeing the international guests from last year return and deliver on their proposed projects in really exciting and unexpected ways. Chikara Fujiwara – oh man, Engeki Quest. Riki Takeda. Natsuki Ishigami. Nikki Kennedy. And Tassos Stevens, rolling across from London, landing in the thick of it and not even batting an eyelid, knocking out two workshops and a full new show in a matter of ten days or so.

Me, I was there to do Foreignoy, the work I started late last year and which so far comprises of a song&dance number and a little bit of scrap writing around it. I didn’t really have the time to go much deeper in my research, so it was more a case of just trialling new material and seeing what came of it.  I had two shows, so I tried two totally different tacks.

karnabal444 image by bunny cadag

The first was a spoken word piece, essentially. I was butting up against the inevitable dead end of trying to write about identity politics, white guilt, privilege, all that stuff that still exists, partly because of who I am, partly as a hangover from Kids Killing Kids. I knew it wasn’t getting me anywhere, but I couldn’t write around it, so I had to write through it. And digging deeper and deeper into that, the end result was a slightly insular work where I was digging in my own head for my motivations – why do I even want to create work at all? The theme under it all was desperation.

So yeah, I got naked in Black Soup and talked the audience through what a white body looks like. (I’m not very hairy for a caucasian, but I think, white dudes are generally more hairy than filipinos? Sa tingin ko.) The only image I have of the show is Bunny’s shot that I just linked to above, but as soon as I took my underwear off someone came racing in from outside with their ipad up ready and filming, so I guess there’s footage out there somewhere. Thank goodness.

karnabal448 image by rina atienza

The second show, I threw all that out and handed the entire show over to the audience. I got them to reenact an episode of Eat Bulaga, complete with Tito Sotto, Ryzza Mae, Lola Nidora, AlDub, a round of Hakot Pa More, Pinoy Henyo and Foreignoy. It was loose as fuck and super chaotic and I had a lot of fun.

And that show opened into my hosting Strange Pilgrims, Sipat’s beautiful open mic event, which ran through until 3.30am on Tomas Morato, and closed with Shing Shing Taberoarrr smashing out a violent set and me collapsed on a table outside watching through the window. Lot of feelings, lot of feelings.

And then Monday, on a plane again. Touched down to a message from an Australian, ‘You in my country on my coast!’, and, I guess I am.

karnabal447 image by brandon relucio

Now it’s straight into my research residency at Carlton Connect with Jordan, we’re presenting the results of our work on future scenarios next week in the form of a police procedural set in 2050 about the murder of a boy band member entitled CrimeForce: LoveTeam. And then Best Festival Ever opens in Arts House on 6 July. And then… what? I don’t even know.

The tricky thing is, what do you do with something like Karnabal? I’ve written this down, but how do I quantify it? How do I make it add up to something? I saw rad art, I had good conversations, I performed new work, I got sick then got better again, now what?

I don’t know. I never know.