It’s mid-November and I’m sitting in Singapore on Circular Road watching all the pretty office workers go by looking fancy and sharp as razors. I’m on my way to Manila, where my challenge is going to be (a) having a bullet planted in my baggage, (b) sitting on EDSA for 5+ hours because of APEC, and (c) my pabebe wave is rubbish. Still though, I think the technical term is CANNOT WAIT.
I’ve spent the last few weeks in between Sydney and Canberra. It was all prep work – prep for the new Finnigan and Brother EP, prep for Best Festival Ever travelling to Sweden next year, prep for Kill Climate Deniers coming up in 2016. And of course that kind of prep feels sometimes really positive, and sometimes like you’re standing totally still getting nothing done.
Maybe I’ve been getting nothing done. It doesn’t feel like it, but there’s nothing that’s quite ready to share, nothing that I’m happy to break out and put across the wires. So for now, I think I’ll just leave it and say I’m gonna be in Manila in that headspace very, very soon. And the future’s frightening, same as always.
This one’s probably a bad idea for reasons I’m not 100% clear on, but you know, fuck it.
Yolande Norris is going up to Crack in a couple of weeks to run a workshop on grant writing, which will be dope. She and I were having a chat over the phone about it, talking about what would be most useful for people to know, how best to communicate grant-writing practice for people who haven’t done it before. And the thing that I kept coming back to was: you need to see examples of other grants people have written.
My first grant application, Sylvie Stern sat down with me and basically helped me write it, paragraph for paragraph. Because she was fucking wonderful and had the time and patience to sit down with a wannabe theatre-kid and talk me through it line by line.
When Gills and I started the Crack Theatre Festival in 2009 I had no idea about festivals or anything to do with them. One thing that stuck out for me was Nic Low (National Young Writers Festival director at the time) showing me his budget spreadsheet for the NYWF – and it blew my mind. I had no idea what they were supposed to look like, and suddenly it all fell into place and I managed to fumble my way forward from there.
A year or two ago Bryony Kimmings kicked off her brilliant You Show Me Yours project where she started sharing her project budgets publicly, to open them up to discussion. It’s fucking scary sharing your budgets, because everyone’s a fucking expert, everyone knows what you’re doing wrong, and there’s no defending yourself against lazy armchair critics. But I thought it was a great initiative, and I wished then that I’d had the courage to share my own admin files.
It’s been said by heaps of people that signing up to be a peer assessor for one of the funding bodies is a great way to learn about grantwriting – you read hundreds of the things, and get an insight into what makes a good application and what makes one crash and burn. Being a festival director was similar, in that we were digesting and responding to heaps of applications and trying to glean the content out of the awkward grant-speak. But not everyone has the time or capacity to be a grant assessor. It shouldn’t be a requirement, should it?
With all that in mind, I decided it was probably time to share some of my old applications here, for anyone who might be interested, and particularly anyone who’s pretty new to the grantwriting game. They’re not necessarily any good (and they definitely didn’t all get funded), but maybe if you’re getting your head around the whole world of funding, these might be worth glancing at?
I really wanted to include a couple of the applications I wrote for Crack and the You Are Here festivals, but because there was a whole bunch of people involved in the writing of those, I don’t really feel I can share them. Weird how personal some of this stuff, feels, hey – especially when you think you mail this shit off to some random strangers you’ve never met to read it over and give you a thumbs up or down. But there you go. So I’ve shared what I feel I can share.
Good luck all you motherfuckers we’re gonna be okay we’re gonna be okay
this has nothing to do with anything really but I watched How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days this week and here is a screenshot of Kate Hudson
I applied for Asialink’s 2015 round and was successful – I don’t think you need to apply with a budget, or at least I couldn’t see one in my application, so this was the bulk of it.
ANAT – SYNAPSE
The Australian Network for Art and Technology has (had?) a program called Synapse, where artists undertake residencies in research institutions. I applied for funding to complete a three-month program of research at University College London in 2011 – and I didn’t get it. Not sure why, but I have a sneaking suspicion the hyperbolic last paragraph in the proposal didn’t help.
BRITISH COUNCIL – REALISE YOUR DREAM
I’m not heaps into the name ‘realise your dream’ for this funding opportunity, which is (was?) the British Council helping Australian artists get over to the UK. But that might be just sour grapes because I didn’t get the funding.
OZCO EARLY CAREER CREATIVE FELLOWSHIP
This is Ozco’s initiative to support early career interdisciplinary practitioners with a two-year fellowship to support their practice. I was really fortunate to get this one – I think the program has been impacted now by the $104.7 million funding cut to Ozco.
OZCO EXPERIMENTAL ART FUND
Boho was invited over to the UK to present the first season of Best Festival Ever in residence at the London Science Museum. To help cover our costs to get us over there, we applied to Ozco’s Experimental Arts fund – and we were successful.
I had a hunt around my hard drive for the budget for this application, but because the project was funded by a variety of sources (seven, by my rough count) it’s a bit too messy to share here. Get at me via the email if yr curious.
Aight, I hope this is vaguely of interest to yall – if not, here’s Dean Blunt’s 100, get to it.
This is one of those weeks where I go around and around in frantic mental circles questioning the choices that got me to where I am. What is driving me to make work? What is the machinery behind my process?
Like I’ve said before, without the structure of a full-time gig, it’s easy for an artist like me to run into all sorts of existential questions. Unless I’m right in the thick of a project, I have time to stop and question myself. And right now I don’t have the momentum to ignore the worry that it might all be a total shambles. And so last night, sitting alone in a parked car, I was thinking over and over about how projects get started.
How does it happen, then? Finig where do your ideas come from?
Usually the seed of an idea comes from my frequent and high-dosage sensations of jealousy, fear, anger and particularly, spite. That’s where it starts, and later, if I’m lucky, comes a slightly more healthy mix of constructive emotions.
The seed of an idea is usually the urge to needle someone. Most of the YAH events that I programmed came from a specific urge to annoy Hadley or Yolande. This is how we came to hosting a Christmas In March event with a reenactment of the Beep Test in the middle of it. Or I air a stupid thought on social media, and as soon as someone criticises it, that’s enough to guarantee that it happens.
even my best ideas are bad, and involve me being a reindeer for hadley. pic by adam thomas.
Then, once an idea exists, you can apply your social conscience, intelligence, sense of craft and aesthetic values on top of it. Does it engage the community, is it accessible, is it meaningful, does it resonate with the context? These are crucial filters, but the idea itself doesn’t come from those questions. Nothing so noble or constructive in that first moment.
If enough people say something is a bad idea, I’m gonna double down on it. I could’ve let Kill Climate Deniers go, if not for the fact that some peeps insisted on making a feeble melodrama out of the fact that ArtsACT funded the script development. Now the sheer fact of that challenge has engaged those instincts, and it’s going to happen. Because it matters, because it’s relevant, because it’s saying something purposeful and worthwhile, but also because a bunch of people think it’s a bad idea.
My decision-making flowchart is a fucking shambles, and my internal mental process for What Should I Do Now is more dependent on what’s on my walkman than any kind of logical scheme. In general: If I’m not feeling scared, I’m not happy. If I’m not out of my depth, I’m not happy. If I’m not directly contravening someone’s well meaning advice, I’m not happy.
I don’t have a plan, but I know that I can’t really trust anyone else’s example, because I don’t know anyone who’s done what I want to do. And what is that? I don’t know, but I know it doesn’t look quite like anything I’ve seen before.
My decision-making is based off bad instincts, fortified by collaborators who, I mean we trust each other, even if none of us really knows what it all adds up to, and guided by cobbled-together bits of advice from my mentors. Brenna Hobson. Nicole Canham. Jan Wawrzynczak. Tassos Stevens. Robyn Archer. Good, thoughtful advice, applied haphazardly and without a sense of the big picture.
I think to myself, what are you doing? I think to myself, you have to do something, you have to make something. I think to myself, these are the stories you need to tell, these are the things you need to fix. I think to myself, have you fucked over anyone recently? I mean, specifically? I think to myself, make something, anything, to distract yourself from thinking.
I think about the refrain of this old Gomez tune a lot – the chorus goes, ‘you better convince me man, cause I don’t know what I’m doing – you better convince me man, cause I don’t know who I’m screwing.’
this was karnabal, which was also a confusing experience. pic by jordan prosser.
You don’t want to get a gig in any of the structures because you don’t believe in the system, you’re not looking for a full-time job as a whatever in an organisation. But outside those structures you can’t do anything, make anything, change anything. And you’re already implicated up to your neck and there’s no point pretending otherwise.
You want people to see your work, you want your work to be part of the ecosystem, you want to be a part of the conversation and somehow move the conversation towards that point of crisis, you want to build platforms where people can come together and begin to address the real challenges facing us as a species, as a planet. But you don’t know how to connect your work to all those people in the world. How does work find an audience?
Those institutions, the theatres and the TV studios and the radio stations, they’re full of beautiful people working hard, and some days they seem so porous and other days they seem baffingly impenetrable. And you feel like if you could fold yourself into the right shape maybe you could slide through the gaps. But there’s no logical way to do that and maybe it’s bad news to start thinking about folding yourself into anything.
Jess said our job is to keep flashing our lights at the sky:
The problem for us is having enough rocket fuel to beam up our signals for as long as we can, and to trudge along with enough water packed on our backs to stay healthy in all the right ways. Our job is to keep making, keep creating, while recognising that sometimes the sky is very full and even very bright messages can be dulled by the camera-flash cacophony that surrounds us.
JUST HAVE YOUR LUNCH SORTED FOR THE DAY
And today I just wrote, for no-one really, something that doesn’t really fit anyone’s template of the art they want, a piece about a vigilante group forming to rescue a kidnapped popstar, a thing just for me, probably.
I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing.
I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t know what I’m doing.
And this week, the strange but kinda delightful feeling of being back in the Street Theatre in Canberra, presenting a Boho show. The Street Theatre is one of the places where I got my start, doing Boho and Opiate shows there back as far as 2002, and it has a lot of memories for me. It’s also rad to be bringing Best Festival Ever here, the first Australian season after three years of development and performances overseas.
In case you’ve not spoken with me for the past couple of years, Best Festival Ever is the latest production from Boho, the science-theatre ensemble I run along with Jack Lloyd, Mick Bailey and David Shaw. David (well, Muttley) and I have been working on BFE since 2011 with three members of Sydney ensemble Applespiel: Nikki Kennedy, Nathan Harrison and Rachel Roberts, as well as UK director Tassos Stevens and designer Gary Campbell.
Best Festival Ever is an interactive performance that takes place around a table, in which a playing audience of around 30 people program and manage their own music festival. The show draws on a lot of ideas from climate and systems science, and functions as a bit of a primer to some key concepts from complex systems science: ideas such as interconnectivity, feedback loops, the tragedy of the commons, tipping points and resilience.
Even after three years we haven’t come up with a good, simple way to describe it: ‘part theatre show, part performance lecture and part massive boardgame’ is how we’ve framed it for the Street Theatre season. But as complex as it sounds, it’s actually one of the most intuitive shows I’ve ever worked on – we’ve spent years working out the details, but the broad aesthetic shape we settled on within a few weeks of getting to grips with it during our residency at University College London’s Environment Institute in 2012.
After presenting it in a host of different spaces across London and Stockholm last year (I think 21 performances in 14 venues?), it’s a total luxury to be doing it in the Street Theatre, with lighting and additional design by Gills Schwab and sound design by Nick McCorriston. I feel kinda guilty because everyone this season is working harder than me – Nikki, Nathan and Rachel are performing every night, and Muttley has done a beautiful job fixing heaps of the props. With the script and marketing stuff all out of the way, my only job has been facilitating the post-show conversations with the scientists.
And this has been the loveliest part of this whole season. Being in Canberra, we’ve been able to assemble a lineup of some of our all-time favourite scientists, old collaborators and new, and conclude each show with a conversation / informal Q&A about the science content of the show.
Last week we had Will Steffen (Climate Council), who talked about planetary boundaries and global tipping points, Brian Walker, who discussed resilience and thresholds in systems such as the Goulburn-Broken catchment, rioting crowds and the human body, Nicky Grigg, who talked about modelling human behaviour and the Australia 2050 project, Joanne Daly, who talked about food security and dealing with invasive species, and Ellie Malbon, who talked about Canberra as a system and the issue of health inequality.
This week we’ll be joined by Steve Cork, John Finnigan and Bob Costanza, and Muttley and I are doing a talk of our own on behalf of the company after the Saturday matinee.
pic by the canberra times photographer Jamila Toderas
It’s been a really lovely experience – the audiences have been great, we’ve sold out the season and had to add additional shows, and we’re all really happy with where the show is at. The big question for me is, where do we take this work next? We really haven’t made any huge effort to line up an Australian tour for the show. That hasn’t really bothered me until now, because I’ve been focused on connecting in with some of our international peers, but right now I’m starting to see how lovely it would be to bring the show to more Australian audiences.
If you have any ideas or suggestions on this front, let me know, yo.
Now this is a really nice thing that happened and I’m delighted to get to talk about it.
After the Karnabal Festival in Manila, Jordan Prosser and I headed to the island of Palawan in the western Philippines to spend a few days being tourists and generally skulking about. I was a bit of a wreck by that point, unfortunately, a little too ragged and wrung out after the chaosof May. Jordan generously organised all the logistics, and I did nothing except fall asleep on his shoulder in the plane to El Nido.
While we were spending the week sea kayaking, snorkelling and gathering our heads, we recorded a cluster of new spoken word pieces. Again, all at Jordan’s prompting – I was a total passenger in this regard, just scribbling my pieces and mumbling them into the recorder while Jordan recorded, edited and gathered a collection of found sounds.
In the end, we had a body of material that was too much for one release, and rather than overload it with words, we made the decision to break it up into two EPs, which allowed Jordan to space out the poetry with a selection of field recordings.
The next phase was that I went through my folders and pulled out a whole bunch of unreleased Fossil Rabbit material from a few years ago. The advantage of being Chris Finnigan’s brother is that I get access to a whole heap of his recordings that no-one else has heard, and so we snagged Chris’ permission to use some songs from his unreleased 2010 demo EP.
Jordan stitched the two EPs together, and the result ended up being unexpectedly lovely. What I realised listening to them is that in order to digest spoken word, you need room – which Jordan allowed. And so you don’t feel like you’re being bombarded, you can actually take the words on board when they come.
The centrepiece of the first EP is The Comfort of Facts, a poem which Jordan half-wrote then invited me to collaborate on. It’s a really nice piece about the vastness of the world (and how little that really matters to any of us) and when we finally recorded it (in Kuala Lumpur airport just before he sprinted off to catch his flight to Melbourne) it felt like the perfect keystone for that collection. My love letter Hey Sam Hey Georgie (to the other half of Too Many Weapons) is a messy but well-meaning piece, and Jordan’s Mid-Air Collision and Devil’s Canyon poems are both beautiful and eerie as hell.
The second EP features a song that Jordan wrote and recorded entitled Softly Softly (because he’s a goddamn triple-threat, thank christ he can’t dance), and MH370, the poem he wrote in response to the vanished Malaysian airlines flight, has a strange Picnic at Hanging Rock vibe. The centrepiece on this EP was my What Are The Things That You Think, which is a piece I don’t remember writing, but which I infer was scribbled down at 4am one night last winter. I don’t know any more than that, but it’s a pretty accurate cross-section of the stuff that passes through my brain most days and nights.
Finally, to close the second EP, Jordan suggested we draw out a recording he had from the Karnabal Festival International Platform showing, where Japanese playwright and theatre-maker Natsuki Ishigami was speaking about her collaboration with Andrew Cruz and Anino Shadowplay. So that beautiful sample (‘I’m lucky… I’m honoured…’) closes the record, accompanied by Chris’ track Lakeside.
I don’t know if these pieces will be in any way your jam, I just felt like here we came close to getting something right, you know?
That brings the total entries in the Rizal Raps series up to nearly 30 videos, including a bunch of guest appearances by friends and collaborators in Quezon City in 2013.
The Rizal Fountain Raps started in 2012 when we were in Manila, recording a cluster of short spoken word performances at the fountain in Rizal Park in Intramuros. Following that round, Sam, Georgie, Jordan and myself have kept up the tradition of recording a new spoken word performance at every touring destination we visit.
I decided I’d like a place to host all that content on this website, and so I’ve created a new page just for videos, where I’ve gathered a bundle of documentation from the last seven or eight years. There’s Boho plays, Finnigan and Brother clips, and spoken word performances. Basically it’s a glut of my terrible beardy face and you should make up your mind whether that’s something you need in your life before clicking on the link.
Pulling it together, I realised how many of the clips were down to the efforts of just a few people. So huge thanks and much gratefulness to Sam Burns-Warr, Shane Parsons, Erica Hurrell and Jordan Prosser: you guys make it real.
And now to give you something worth staying on this page for, here are the clips from the most recent Rizal Fountain Raps edition, recorded earlier this year in the Melbourne Docklands:
This is an opportunity to update you on what I’ve been up to, which is always murky as hell and who really knows? Planning. Procrastinating. Panicking. In roughly equal measure. But this is my professional website (ha) and so I try to minimise the amount that I talk about my hours staring helplessly at my notebook or yelling at myself in my own head for how little I’ve done / am doing / will ever do. Instead I try to keep the focus on things I’ve actually done.
So! Some things I’ve actually done!
While we were in the Philippines, myself and the rest of Everything is Everywhere – the redoubtable Ira Gamerman, Siobhan O’Loughlin and Jess Bellamy – took some time to record what we euphemistically called Sonnets. In this instance, a sonnet is a performance to camera, not dissimilar to Too Many Weapons’ Rizal Fountain Raps series.
Mine is called It’s A Free Concert From Now On, because fuck it why not, and I kinda like it. And maybe you might as well? And so here it is for you, complete with a cameo by Ms O’Loughlin herself, and a gorgeous lizard on the roof, and the sentiment, I stand behind.
this is an open letter to the prime minister of australia
anna breslaw who wrote one of the better cosmopolitan sealed sections I’ve ever read
karl hyde water on stone water on sand
the bolt comments twitter feed
ryzza mae, ryzza mae, and everyone on the ryzza mae show
my name’s david finnigan and
there are addicts everywhere
under every bed
behind every car windshield
there are addicts in your place of work
they are driving your taxis
running your childcare centres
building your bridges
and crouching behind your eyeballs right now listening in
but rather than trying to squash that part of you I say
good luck and hold on to the stuff you’re hooked on
if you’ve got enough cash to start a recreational drug habit
dive right in
get in a loop
don’t back away from the things that you need
I mean like ice
I mean like red wine
I mean like ketamine
I mean like nights on the island checking your phone waiting for a dealer to text back
dragged slowly towards the edge
I mean if you need it
if you can’t function without it
if you find yourself waking in the night panicking unless it’s right there
then do what your heart says and run to it
I mean like sex with people who are no good for you
I mean like travel to places that don’t need you
I mean like diving deep down til your ears are gonna burst and the light dims down and there’s just sharks down there
I mean like running away from things as soon as they start to get hard
I mean like being in your own head because your own head scares you
I mean like taking years off your life with every poor decision and pushing the boat out to sea as the wind picks up and the sun goes down
I mean like let’s not pretend that anyone loves you as much as drugs love you
as much as power loves you
as much as ambition, stupid sex and lighting fires loves you
as much as making promises you can’t keep to people who need you more than you need them loves you
as much as your aching back your tired eyes from staring at the laptop too long your bank account when was the last time you checked your bank account when are you going to take a real step forward instead of all these goddamn steps back loves you
I mean real talk who knows you as well as your own paranoia and neuroses?
who’s been with you all the way through the good and the bad, the ups and the downs, the heat and the energy, apart from your weird problems?
I mean I love you, everyone here loves you, ira siobhan and jess love you, it’s a free concert from now on
but the one major thing you need to remember tonight before you go back up into the woods to go to sleep or if you stay here
is that the scorched mess of fear and pain and jealousy and anger in your head is your first lover
it’s been there for you and you’ve given it the whole world
and wherever you go in this lifetime until finally the thoughts wink out for good
that horror in your mind is closer to you than your own shadow
so love it
and you damn well better remember that because if you don’t we blow the whole thing
but we’ve got it, right here
so to the prime minister, the honourable speaker for warringah
to noynoy aquino, the kids in bieber’s entourage
all the charming boys and girls nervously expressing to their partner their desire to try a little analingus tonight pls
to the sweet hetero boy you brought home tonight who doesn’t have a clue
to the nervous straight girl who invited you back to hers who doesn’t know how to ask for what she wants
to the theatre kids, the sipat lawin ensemble
the ones ruining their futures to make something that means something even though they don’t know what that fucking means and fair enough
to the trike drivers playing checkers on malingap street at 2am
and the staff of shakeys on matalino
to the camiguin kids playing in the surf
kuya rat, yuki the lizards on the bamboo roof, all the starfish in the sea
ira, jess, siobhan everything is everywhere all the time
and all the fucking creatures holding it together by the thinnest of threads and yet presenting such a pretty face to the world
good luck and don’t dare give up
Previous experience (particularly with the first You Are Here fest) had taught me that being an artist in a festival you’re producing is possible, but not ideal. A little bit of performance is fine – as per the Teen Makeouts shows in YAH 2012 and 2013 – but trying to do a big full-length new show is not. Trying to do four separate shows is ridiculous.
In the end, all four shows happened and worked, more or less, but I am left with the stinging feeling that I could have done better, in every instance, if I’d had more focus.
Anyway – this is what happened:
image by adrian begonia
Total hubris here – when we ran Gobyerno in Korea with Creative VaQi, we were doing our best to pack everything into the two hour slot we’d been given. Here at Karnabal we had two two hour slots again, and we had way more material we wanted to test. Our solution was to break the shows in half and do two completely different performances, with totally different material. Effectively, we ended up presenting two completely different shows over the two nights.
On the first night we did the State of the Nation address, where the participants created their own ideal speech from a leader, discussing the issues they felt most strongly about. The first half of the show is the audience discussing and debating their ideas for the country’s new direction – the second is them preparing and then filming the leader’s speech, complete with journalists, cheering crowds, angry protestors and full orchestration. Brandon had proposed doing a long trick shot for this scene, which I thought was completely ridiculous, but ended up being utterly brilliant. The whole show was a crazy ride, and it felt like everything landed really nicely.
The second night we did Urban Planning – in which participants designed and debated their ideal city, creating a massive floor map of it. In the second half of the show they create a filmic journey through the city. This was lovely, but the audience this night was way bigger – up to 60 from 35 the previous night. With only four artist/facilitators, the structure of managing the crowds started to buckle and sway, and when we brought the whole crowd together, it almost completely fell over.
This show is a pretty exciting proposition on so many levels, but also a powerful challenge, because of JK’s basic desire that it is an interactive participatory work that happens at scale. He wants at least 150 participants in the final version. I think that’s an incredibly hard task. Which is part of why I’m involved.
gobyerno. image by adrian begonia
gobyerno. images by jordan prosser
Appropriate Kissing For All Occasions
This was a nice one, maybe the easiest of the bunch. Isab Martinez and I had already collaborated on this back in 2013, and this was a reboot with some edits and additions. It was incredibly satisfying to see it up close and personal – Isab is a really sharp comic actor, totally able to hold a crowd, and totally owns the arrogant TED-speaker with the gaping emotional wounds at her centre character. And her criticism of people’s kisses was outstanding. This was just a joy to watch, really.
akfao, image by jordan prosser
This was a little newer and a little scarier. Isab and I collaborated on a new work which took the form of a group therapy session. Essentially, Isab’s character was seeking advice from strangers about her relationship, which is slightly shaky and on the rocks. The guts of the work are a facilitated conversation with the audience around their opinions on relationships, what are the key elements, when is it time to call it quits, etc. This is pretty delicate territory, and we were unsure of whether we had something that quite worked.
We presented the show three times. The first time, it sort of worked, if you squinted hard enough. The second time it completely crashed and burned. The third time, it landed beautifully. Three different audiences – different ages, different backgrounds, different numbers, different attitudes, different settings – as an experiment it was ideal. We learned a lot. It was fascinating to see what different groups decided. And there was one really satisfying theatrical moment, where if the audience decide that the relationship is dead in the water, Isab calls the guy up then and there and dumps him over the phone.
My favourite moment, though, was when Isab asks each audience member to describe their ideal partner as an object, and why. Some of the most beautiful images I’ve ever heard stemmed from this moment. A book with the covers torn off. A forest. A circle. Yes.
isab and me, pre-relationship anatomy. image by jordan prosser
Everything is Everywhere
The joint work of myself, Jess Bellamy, Siobhan O’Loughlin and Ira Gamerman. We joined forces after spending a fortnight together in New York last year, and out of that stemmed this project. Over three weeks up to and during Karnabal, we produced a whole raft of new stories, scenes and monologues, and wrapped them together in a framework in which the four of us competed to take over the Philippines.
The basic breakdown had to do with our specific makeup as a company – two men / two women, two Americans / two Australians, two Jews / two Irish Catholic atheists. The resulting show saw us play against each other in three rounds, trying to score points by convincing the Philippines that we were uniquely qualified to understand and engage with them.
In the end, Jess won the contest (because of her UNBELIEVABLE score in our bonus round) and became leader of the Philippines, delivering this acceptance speech (courtesy of Ness Roque):
“Mabuhay! Hindi ko alam ang sinasabi ko. Ako ay isang puting papet. Tingnan niyo ako! Nagsasalita ako pero wala akong alam kung anong sinasabi ko! Ang saya saya! Kekembot ako. Sasayaw ako. Pinagtripan lang kami ng Sipat Lawin. Kekembot ako. Sasayaw ako. Mukha na ba akong tanga? Pero hindi ko alam kung bakit. Maraming salamat po! Maraming salamat po! Mahal ko ang Pilipinas!”
Mahal ko ang Pilipinas indeed.
#EisE. images by adrian begonia
Okay so that was my artistic input into the festival, which, again, probably shouldn’t have been there. But I think I can say, I’m grateful it happened?
I’m writing this in Sydney, in the late autumn chill (as chilly as it gets in this town) and I’m already withdrawing from the heat and humidity of Filipino summer. Landed in Australia on Sunday after two and a bit months in Manila, and I’m suffering some of the ‘reverse culture shock’ they talked about at the Asialink orientation session (‘You may find upon your return to english speaking countries that things seem too drab, quiet, orderly, sleepy and safe’). So I’m going to do my best to talk about what I was doing over there before it all gets too far away from me.
I’ve been in Manila working with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble, beloved collaborators and dear friends, and for whom I am a kind of ridiculous white sidekick. There were two major parts to this collaboration. The first was devising and presenting the first seasons of Gobyerno, a massive participatory performance in which the audience construct their own documentary of their ideal society. We (me, JK Anicoche, Ness Roque and Brandon Relucio) kicked off Gobyerno in Korea with collaborators Creative VaQi in April, and then brought it to Manila for a first season there. Secondly, I was there to help out on Sipat’s Karnabal Festival.
image by chelsea manzano
Karnabal is Sipat’s curated festival of contemporary performance by Filipino artists from across the spectrum. 2015 was the second outing for the festival, and a huge step up in scale from the original in 2013. This year, as well as a huge program of performances by Filipino artists and ensembles (including some of my favourites like Anino Shadowplay and Issa Lopez), the festival was host to a whole stream of international artists: the International Exchange.
Speaking bluntly, it takes pretty serious vision / ambition / lunacy to program a major international stream into your completely unfunded festival, and it says a lot about Sipat Lawin that they were able to bring on nearly 20 participants from around the world. This is an exciting company to get to work with, an exciting community to be a part of, and people were up for the challenge. Anyway, I was in charge of wrangling the International Exchange component of the festival.
In a nice departure from usual programming models, the duo behind Karnabal (Sarah Salazar and JK Anicoche) didn’t want the international artists to come in and dominate the lineup. They wanted to keep the focus on the local artists and the exciting things happening in Manila right now, while still being part of an international conversation. So with that in mind, the internationals came along not to present their own work (with one or two exceptions) but to attend the festival, participate in talks, events, give workshops, and most importantly, collaborate with local artists on new projects. Each international artist was paired with a local artist, and that duo worked together over the festival to begin the development of a new project, of some kind.
image by adrian begonia
A lot of my focus throughout the festival was on the international artists, and the crew that came were pretty wonderful. Some of the Whitelegs from Australia returned, there was an awesome trio from Yokohama (Team Japan!), two Baltimorean New Yorker Americans, Creative VaQi from Korea, and visiting artist/producers from Hong Kong, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Tokyo.
We were all scattered around Teachers Village in Quezon City, stumbling between venues (Vargas Museum in on the University of the Philippines campus and Teatro Papet Museo on Mapagkawangawa street), rolling up and down Maginhawa, Malingap and Matalino street, and half of us crammed into the delightful-if-overcrowded Yuj Inn. And it was chaos. That intense white-heat focused madness of festival time combined with that bleary non-stop urgency of Manila, for two weeks. It was sweltering hot, traffic crammed, hectic, beautiful, fucked. I coped. Everyone coped. It was gorgeous. At a point I think I stopped feeling tired no matter what time of day it was. At another point I think I stopped feeling anything.
And there was beautiful art, and amazing shows, and some of the most lovely performances and creations I’ve ever seen, in the midst of the rushing. And I was especially proud because, on the last day of the festival, each of the international exchange participants presented a 15 minute work-in-progress sharing. And it was absolutely amazing, the variety and the energy and the possibility within all of them. And so that was delightful.
image by Hiyas Baldemor Bagabaldo
And then the day after the festival, myself and a bunch of others gave a brief workshop as part of Project Banig to some of the kids involved with Project Pearls, a wonderful shambolic experience. And then Jordan and I got on a plane to Palawan, and we had three days of decompression in the weird backpacker purgatory that is El Nido and the beautiful ocean paradise that is El Nido.
In amongst all the rest of that, I presented four shows as part of the festival: aka Too Many Shows. But that is a story for next time. Meantime, here’s a little of what the fest looked like, courtesy of Jordan Prosser:
It’s 45 minutes before our first Gobyerno show in Korea, and I’ve never quite experienced a process like this before. We (that is me, Ness Roque and JK Anicoche from Sipat Lawin, and Brandon Relucio our masterful filmographer / documentary-maker) spent the day preparing the space. Creative VaQi have been working on their own preparations, translating the text, preparing their lines, running through the show order. Sipat and I are putting props out and trying our best to help them without getting in the way.
Ness and I made a timeline for the workshop (and despite our best efforts, there’s no way that this one can be done inside the time limits without some serious on-the-floor cuts), JK set up the props and has made endless boxes out of brown cardboard. Brandon has been organising the camera equipment. I’ve been stringing up lights and learning how to be a lighting designer (a terrible one), and now I’ve stolen some of JK’s pics from the last few days and I’m scribbling a few stray thoughts.
Now VaQi are playing some luscious Korean rock (3rd Line Butterfly!) and Ness and Brandon and I are dancing around the space, while SooYeon, SooJin, KyungSung and KyungMin gather themselves and focus. We have worked in a mad scramble this last two weeks in Manila, grounding and testing our bag of crazy ideas with Sipat and the wider Sipat family, then the last two days we’ve been running VaQi through it and they’ve been digesting it as best they can.
We’re in the midst of it and it’s lovely seeing it. How do you describe seeing an experience you’ve helped sculptbeing undertaken by people in a form that you can’t actually understand, but which you can tell/feel is delightful?
KyungMin and SooJin looking after one table, SooYeon and KyungSung taking care of the other. And there’s 20 participants, building cities out of paper and cardboard, negotiating how their leader will speak on camera and preparing their grand entrance. Choosing music – one guy decided that the president should enter to the Clash’s London Calling and the other president arrived to the Jaws theme.
It’s crazy intense being here but totally unable to help, just watching from the sidelines and trying to sense where the conversation is flowing. Exhausting in a whole different way.
Finished our debrief. VaQi went straight into a really analytical unpicking of some of the rougher elements, but one of the things that they all agreed on was that they should trust their instincts and be more flexible with the time, rather than following too closely the timeline that we’d mapped out. They know what they’re doing, and they don’t need much more guidance from us. They get it, and that’s the best thing.
Working in Seoul has been a beautiful experience, the Festival Bo:m team have taken incredible care of us (thank you Kimoon!), and I’m living in this weird headspace of being a guest at an international arts festival and treated with such generosity and I’m so grateful but also so worried that I’m not doing enough to justify it. But Seoul is beautiful, it’s been such a delightful experience and I don’t know what to say.