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The indifference

Black Flag

Rereading Michael Azerrad’s Our Band Could Be Your Life, as I do every couple of years, because it’s such a lovely story. He charts out the evolution of the American hardcore underground over the 1980s in a series of beautifully written band profiles. As always, the story of the Minutemen is beautiful and inspiring, but this time what stuck out for me was a line in the chapter about Black Flag: ‘the frustration of toiling in the face of indifference.

This struck a chord.

In the world of art, you often hear stories of work that faced opposition – being booed, attacked by critics, censored, banned. We all have stories of being ripped off, let down, burned out, screwed up…

I sometimes get asked if it were hard facing the opposition to Kill Climate Deniers. The answer is: no. Having a chump politician and some pundits gunning for your work is energising. Being told by theatre companies that they like the script, but they’re not going near it because they don’t fancy the fight was honestly some of the better rejections I’ve ever had.

Opposition to your work is easy.* What’s hard is indifference.

In my career to date, the hardest reaction with which I’ve had to contend has been a lengthy, prolonged shrug from the world.

You put in the hours, the months, the years, and yet no-one seems to care. The people who engage with your work seem to enjoy it. There’s nothing obviously wrong with what you’re doing. And yet you don’t seem to be progressing. The world keeps finding new ways to not give a shit about what you make. Your creative life is no different than it was five or ten years ago, except that you’re more tired. And so on.

At least an active opposition gives you something to respond to. There’s friction, there’s hostility, there’s something. Whereas indifference is just nothing. Trying to get energy off indifference is like trying to strike a match on a wet rag.

Active opposition makes for a memorable narrative. It’s much more interesting talking about the poem that gets charged with obscenity, or the play that generates jeers and walk-outs from its audience on opening night.

It’s less interesting to say, ‘I worked for ages on this thing, and then when I shared it no-one really responded to it. It didn’t go anywhere. Nothing happened.’ But man, the second one is a thousand times harder than the first.

How do you get energy off being ignored? What Azerrad says about Black Flag that I love is that they fought indifference. That they responded to indifference by digging in, stubbornly, and saying, ‘you’re all wrong – what we’re doing is important, and the less you care, the harder we’ll fight to prove it.’ They took a kind of perverse pride in being ignored and dismissed – they turned their failure to draw any serious audience into a badge of honour.

I wish I could do the same. The closest I come is that when I get turned down by a theatre company or a funding body or whatever, I promise myself that I’ll do the project anyway, just to spite them. I’ll make something so good that they’ll be sorry and embarrassed they ever doubted me.

Yes, spite is an unhealthy, negative emotion, but maybe it’s better than despair or surrender.

There’s one other Black Flag story in Azerrad’s book that I love. The band drive all the way to Tulsa, Oklahoma for a gig, and only two people show up. The band’s young singer is disappointed, but the bass player sets him straight: ‘There may only be two people in the audience, but they came to see Black Flag.’

I return to that paragraph over and over again like it’s scripture.

——–

* In fairness, I’m talking about the kind of opposition that targets your work, not the kind of opposition that sets out to systematically belittle, oppose and destroy you personally. Structural inequality is a whole other thing, as are the media campaigns which set out to swarm on and harass the vulnerable. (Speaking of which: destroy News Corp.)


pic by anna kucera

It’s mid-January 2020. Spent the first two weeks of the year in a long-distance panic as my home was hit by the worst fires in recorded history, evacuating friends, destroyed homes and devastated ecosystems. Grim start to the decade.

I was due to do a performance of break into the aquarium at Theatre Deli, but instead I cancelled it and replaced it with a new show, created in the space of a week – an iteration of You’re Safe Til 2024 about deep history, the origins of humanity and the unfolding fires. I performed that this Thursday and it went well – well enough that I’d like to find a space to present it again soon. (Get at me if you have any thoughts!)

Also, Ben Yeoh and I did a performance of Thinking Bigly at Deli – my favourite so far. We’re performing it again in late March if yr keen.

I’m heading to Manila in a couple of weeks to run a climate-art workshop with JK Anicoche, and to rehearse Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands with Sipat Lawin. Then we head on to Melbourne to perform the show at Arts House from Wed 26 – Sat 29 Feb: get tickets! Come!

And then I’m back in London in March to launch break into the aquarium at FutureFest on 20 March.

As ever, feel free to get in touch if you have any suggestions that might make my life more interesting. And otherwise: peace!

1 January 2020

Hi everyone
let me stand before you today as leader
to express my sincerest sympathies for your losses

for the fear, for the damage, for the deaths
most especially for the hours days weeks spent waiting for news, for help, for supplies, or just for some kind of clarity about what kind of crisis this was going to be
before it resolved into being the worst kind.

I’m sorry. I’m sorry beyond what words can say.

I apologise because I struggled to get to where I am
I worked hard for decades, I threw everything at it, I cut corners, damaged friendships, told lies and lost touch with my own truth along the way

I wanted to be at the top
and the truth is I didn’t have a plan for when I got here
I wanted to be a leader, not to lead
and now you need leading and I honestly, truly have nothing to give

in here it’s very dark, in here it’s hollow, in here there’s nothing to give

and I apologise because I have it
your country
myself and my friends, we have it
we have our hands on every lever

and we won’t give it back
not til the sun is dark at noon
the ash washes up on the sand
the smoke creeps in under the doors and fills the house
the stars are blacked out
the highways are cut off
the phones no longer work
the animals flee in great mobs from the smoke
the water is stolen out of the ground and sold back to you in tanks
the elderly are suffocated in the smoke
the hospitals are out of power
the families sleep in their cars on the beach
the kids are ready to rush into the water when the sirens go

if you have a fire plan, enact it now
remember, don’t use a wet blanket
a dry woollen blanket is the best coverage

until then, what else can I do but goad you?
with celebrations, with sports matches, with sneering newspaper columns to mock you?

in heaven, the sight of the suffering in hell is part of the reward
what’s the point of being up here if we can’t enjoy the sight of your pain?

here, have cricket!
have editorials complaining about swear words and rude gestures!
be scolded for your bad manners in the 45 degree haze!

here, this’ll rile them up!
this’ll get under the skin of the self-righteous urbanites!
give them a poke while they’re choking to death!
give them a lesson on manners while they wait to know whether they should evacuate
tell them how brave they are with a twinkle in our eye

because cruelty is part of our reward

and part of your punishment is to know that after me
comes another one like me
and another one, and another one

until the last exhausted family sheltering from the firefront on the beach stumbles into the surf

How to be an artist: a list.

Last week I had a chat with playwright and maker Noemie Huttner-Koros, as part of PWA’s This Is How We Do It podcast series. The idea is that a few younger writers interview a few more established peeps about playwriting craft, and practice, and etc. It’s a lovely project, and a grand privilege to be in a lineup of writers including Paschal Berry (yes!), Declan Greene, Lally Katz and Kate Mulvaney.

I scribbled down a bunch of notes before and during the conversation, thoughts and ideas about playwriting and art-making and career paths and so on. In the end the conversation went where it went, but I still have this page of disconnected notes – so in the spirit of this blog, I’m going to type them up as a list – a pillowbook of stray observations and life lessons.

Gillian Schwab’s set for Oceans All Boiled Into Sky (2008). Pic by ‘pling

———

Playwriting is about creating interesting problems for other artists to solve. You don’t come up with the solutions yourself. Every artist surrenders control of their work when it leaves their hands, but as a playwright you surrender more control, and earlier, than most other written forms. Lean into that.

———

Produce your own work. Produce other people’s work. I became a producer (of festivals, mostly) for five years almost full-time. It’s a super useful skill because you’re serving other people’s visions, you’re helping them realise their ideas – and you’re learning how it’s done. You’re also building a network of potential collaborators and advocates down the line.

On the flip side, don’t get trapped as a producer if you really wanna be an artist. There are plenty of kickass producers, curators and editors who are passionate about what they do – there are also a fair few who are embittered artists who gave up on their own work. Surely it’s better to get out of the game altogether than to be working on behalf of other artists and resenting them? (That’s what woulda happened to me, anyway.)

———

When I stopped being a producer to focus on my own art, I took a significant step back, career-wise. Most people who knew me knew me as a festival-maker. People didn’t know or care about my scripts that much. I had to go back almost to the beginning.  It was worth it.

———

Mick Bailey said, never have a plan B – you’ll end up using it.

I don’t know if this is good advice or not but I followed it.

———

Kill Climate Deniers is easily my most successful script – it won a play award in 2017, subsequently has had multiple productions in a few different countries, it’s done very well for me.

A couple of months before it won the award, I wrote a note to myself where I acknowledged that the project was a failure. I’d invested a huge amount of effort in it and had pushed it out into the world a few different ways, but there didn’t seem to be a significant appetite for the work.

It was the same script before and after that award. A thing is a failure until it’s not.

I am NOT saying ‘believe in yourself, keep pushing, history will prove you right’. What I’m saying is, if you’ve been pushing a project for a while, there’s no real way to judge whether it’s is on the cusp of success, or if it’s dead in the water and you should give up. This is a desperately hard conundrum.

———

I don’t get off on reworking classic Greek texts, ancient myths or Shakespeare plays (but no disrespect to people who do).

The myths that resonate with me are the shelf categories of Gungahlin Video 2000, where I worked from 2003-05: Action, Romance, Comedy, Drama, Martial Arts, Horror, Kids, Documentary and Foreign.


Gillian Schwab’s set for Oceans, pic by ‘pling

Every good idea is either too bland or too weird when you first come up with it. It doesn’t matter – if you pursue any idea far enough and deep enough it becomes rich and unique.

My play Oceans All Boiled Into Sky was my distraction project, my guilty pleasure that I worked on when I was supposed to be working on other things, because it was so weird that I didn’t feel like anyone would ever engage with it, so I didn’t feel any pressure. The further I went into that insanely specific scenario,* the more it became the most interesting thing I’d ever written.

*a kid doing his driving test 4 billion years in the past when planet earth had just finished forming, while the oceans were still billowing clouds of steam

———

Working across multiple different communities (Canberra, Melbourne, London, Sydney, Manila) has been good for me because

(a) when work is thin on the ground in one place, there might be activity in another, and

(b) it means I’m always starting at square one. In London, no-one cares about the project I did in Melbourne. In Manila, no-one cares about the show I made in Sydney. It’s humbling but good for me.

———

I don’t know this for sure, but I think that when you’re starting out as a professional artist, your best shot at finding work is to become an expert at something. Ideally, the best in the world. Find a niche, then find a sub-niche of a sub-niche of that niche, and master it.

Science theatre is a niche. Interactive theatre is a niche. Interactive science theatre is a deeply sub-niche field. But because there were so few artists working in that space, Boho ended up becoming the go-to company for when people wanted that extremely bespoke thing. We scored gigs in the UK, Sweden, Australia, Singapore, China, we paid bills with it – because there was really no-one else doing it.

As Glyn Roberts said, ‘Once you’re top of your field in whatever tiny subset of the field you choose, then you can branch out.’

———

I’ve been making theatre about climate and global change for about 15 years now. The subject of climate change has gotten more attention in the last few years, because of obvious reasons. But: I wouldn’t recommend making art about the climate just because it’s timely, or because you think you should.

If you’re fascinated by something, go towards that. Follow that curiosity, that obsession, and go deep into exploring something within the field. Don’t try to talk about the whole of climate change: be specific. Even more important: whatever you’re exploring, be obsessed with it, be an expert in it, be delighted by it, be undone by it. I suspect audiences follow the thread of what fascinates and excites you, not the thread of your earnest good intentions.

———

I started out in Canberra, in what I later learned was a small scene. It did not feel like a small scene. It was a struggle and we had  enough panic and desperation.

If I’d moved to a bigger city, a bigger arts ecology, at that early stage, I would have been eaten up by it. I wouldn’t have had the courage to make my own stuff because I would have been stifled by all the other work being made around me by older, better artists.

———

The payoff for achieving things is really, really fleeting. After watching Griffin’s production of Kill Climate Deniers – the 5th preview – where it all came together, I walked on my own through Kings Cross and felt like this big clean wind was blowing through me, and the weight was off my shoulders, and I felt like I could relax.

That lasted about 8-10 minutes and then it was back to stress, panic, fear, guilt, all the base ingredients of the life.

———

A project is a success if it leads to another project. If every project leads to, on average, at least one more project, you have a sustainable career.

———

Always mention the fee in the first email or phone call.

———

The relationship is always more important than the project. If it’s a choice between compromising the project or burning your collaborator, always take care of the person.

There are exceptions to this rule, but they’re super rare.

———

I am 36 and it wasn’t until about two years ago that I began to learn how to learn.

———

Gillian Schwab’s set for Oceans, pic by ‘pling

———————————————————————–

Meanwhile, in my world: it’s been a really busy, outward-facing couple of months.

In September, Reuben and I presented You’re Safe Til 2024 as part of the UnWrapped Festival at the Sydney Opera House. The Opera House! So luxe! This was super fun, and a really great couple of shows.

Over three weeks in September-October, I was in Manila, working with Sipat Lawin on a development of Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands. Super exciting – this monster of a show is coming to Melbourne in February and I am JAZZED ABOUT IT.

In London, a game that I co-developed for Coney and the Wellcome Trust was played at the One Young World climate conference. Temperature Check is a game for 50 or so players about climate change, health, and managing a city in the face of escalating natural disasters.

Then at the end of October, I presented the first 30 minutes of a new work, entitled break into the aquarium steal the fish, at the Barbican as part of Nesta’s Future of Storytelling event. This was the first outing for this new solo show, which will premiere at Nesta’s FutureFest in March 2020. The work looks at the future of nature, ecology and eco-activism. The audience released some mosquitoes into the lecture theatre in the Barbican! Bless!

If anyone’s in London, I’m doing a work-in-progress showing of the full work on Tuesday 3 December – details here.

In London, Ben Yeoh and I presented a few outings of performance lecture Thinking Bigly, at Theatre Deli and for the Ealing Green Party. Bigly is an exploration of sustainability and how you can take climate action. There’s more info on Ben’s blog (and I’m going to write more about it soon).

Finally, I went up to Edinburgh a couple of weekends ago for the Traverse Theatre’s First Stages festival, which featured a staged reading of an extract from 44 Sex Acts In One Week, alongside five other dope new works.

Now it’s deadlines scribbling reading research rehearsals, trying to make things make things and hold tight.

As ever, if anyone’s got any proposals that might make my life more interesting, feel free to get in touch. Otherwise: peace!

at Carlos Celdran’s Living Room in Malate, Manila, with Bunny Cadag. RIP Carlos Celdran, <4 <4 <4

The 2020s are going to be a wild ride

You’re Safe Til 2024 is a 6-year project. We commenced work on it last year and it’s going to build until it culminates in 2024.

The 2020s are going to be a wild fucking ride. The anger of the climate movement is going to grow.

Now there may be a point where the disasters become so frequent and extreme enough that we can no longer have a global conversation any more – basically everyone just too desperate trying to survive in their own patch, with tens or hundreds of millions of people fleeing north and south from the equatorial regions.

But before we get there, there’s gonna be a few more years where a few tendencies continue to escalate:

1. Governing is getting harder. Flat revenues, distrust, polarisation and culture wars are making it harder to govern and new technologies are increasing the number of players who can circumvent action. Politicians are increasingly relying on populism to shore up their support, handing out rewards to themselves and their friends, and blaming foreigners and the poor for the resulting mess.

2. On the other hand, a significant mass of people are growing increasingly angry about how our futures are being burned up to feed the profits of a few rich fuckwits. Extinction Rebellion and the Schools Strikes are an escalation from previous climate activist movements, but they are a precursor to the next phase. There are going to be some big clashes in this decade.

Between now and 2024 every country – particularly Australia – is going to suffer some major disasters, driven and exacerbated by climate change. People will die.

These deaths can be attributed to human action. If my parents die in a heatwave that could have been prevented, you can fucking bet I’m coming after the weak and corrupt politicians that facilitated that disaster.

2024 will be a particular hotspot for political crisis – the US culture war which peaks around election season is only going to get more hostile. The rich are ageing, the poor are not.

We are increasingly unable to ignore certain contradictions about our world. Our society is unsustainable – therefore it can’t continue as it is – therefore, it’s over.

That awareness is gradually percolating through the population, and by 2024 it’ll be at a critical mass where we’ll have to make some decisions.

In the next five years we will have finally shaken off the stale tail-end of climate denialism. By 2024, we’ll be fighting the real fight that will define the rest of our lives: mutualism or selfishness. Do we work together to reduce our collective impact on the planet, or do we selfishly put up walls to protect ours and ours alone?

So You’re Safe Til 2024, by the time we reach the final iteration of the work, isn’t going to look anything like where it started. It won’t be any kind of lecture, or a show telling people about the science of global change. We won’t need the science any more, the crisis will be embedded in our lives.

I think instead it will be a gathering, and a celebration, and a collective action.

Also it will be 8 hours of music and stories and images and it will end with a huge dance party and Reuben Ingall DJ-ing, which is how I know we’re gonna get through this century.


So I’m doing a couple of shows at the Edinburgh Fringe next week – a short run of the lecture performance version of YST24, and then a performance with JK Anicoche about our Battalia Royale project in 2012.

You’re Safe Til 2024
11.30am – 12.30pm Tues 20 – Fri 23 Aug, The Pleasance Attic

Kids Killing Kids: A Wake (with JK Anicoche)
11.30am – 12.30pm Sat 24 – Sun 25 Aug, The Pleasance Attic

Also, Reuben and I will be presenting You’re Safe Til 2024 at the Sydney Opera House on Saturday 14 September, as part of the UnWrapped Festival. Sydney folk, please come!

You’re Safe Til 2024
3.45pm & 6.00pm Saturday 14 September, Sydney Opera House

A few observations

Some stray observations about climate and global change, in the form of a list:

– Everyone’s on their own journey in terms of their relationship with the crisis. We’re all feeling different things, moving between different emotional responses, at different times. Whatever you feel right now (anger, terror, despair, fascination, grief, numbness, confidence, all of the above, none of the above) is fine.

– Your feelings are gonna change and keep changing, there’s no final state, no equilibrium, no ‘correct’ state of being. The crisis is going to be a big part of our lives for the rest of our lives, our relationship to it will keep changing.

– Anyone who says ‘we need more art about climate change’ or ‘we need work that can say [this particular message]’ is probably just telling you what they need to hear at this particular moment.

– Reading more about climate change will not make you more sad or more scared. Ignoring the problem will not make you feel better.

– Don’t read short articles on news websites with scary headlines. That short-form stuff will trigger a feeling of panic without giving you more understanding. Read longer stuff, more thoughtful analysis, go a bit deeper. It’s worth the extra effort because you won’t feel so overwhelmed.

– Reading about the problem is not the same as taking action. Taking action (in whatever way makes sense to you) will make you feel better.

– Because the problem is intersectional, it cuts across every aspect of our lives. That means the solutions are intersectional too. Wherever you choose to bite off the problem, you’re helping. Clean cookstoves in India? Education for girls in Afghanistan? Writing a letter to your local MP about renewable energy? Whatever issue you choose to engage in, it all helps.

– Criticisms about hypocrisy (‘how can you care about the environment and fly / use plastic / eat meat?’) are often (not always) a way for the critic to displace their own guilt about the fact that they’re doing nothing to address the crisis. It’s boring and inane. If that’s you, stop it.

– We could turn this around right now if it weren’t for the actions of a few thousand wealthy men who are happy to sacrifice our collective future for their personal profit. It’s not a cosmic problem, it’s a human problem. That doesn’t make it easy but it does bring it within our reach.

– We all happened to be born in the midst of a planetary crisis unlike anything anyone’s ever faced before. This is a crazy moment in the earth’s history. No-one has the answers, no-one knows the future, don’t let anyone make you feel stupid for not knowing the right facts.

– No matter what happens in our lifetime, our obligations are the same: to fight rich fuckwits, to bear witness to what’s happening without hiding from it, and to be kind to each other.


A glimpse of Ceduna in South Australia, c/o Google Satellites.


For those who are interested, I’m presenting a couple of things at the Edinburgh Fringe at the end of August:

You’re Safe Til 2024
11.30am – 12.30pm Tues 20 – Fri 23 Aug, The Pleasance Attic

Kids Killing Kids: A Wake (with JK Anicoche)
11.30am – 12.30pm Sat 24 – Sun 25 Aug, The Pleasance Attic

Take care, yall.

Less Talk More Nibbling: My Informal Guide To Script Developments


pic by jordan prosser

Last week I snuck up to Scotland to do a short script development at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh. I submitted a draft of 44 Sex Acts In One Week a few months ago, and they read it and liked it and invited me up to spend two days with a director and a group of actors, hashing out the work on the floor.

Script developments are the goddamn bloodflow.

As a playwright, you’re constantly collaborating. I come from a devised theatre background, where a group of theatre-makers get together in a room to experiment, discuss and create the show together. The writer’s job in that room is not to come up with your own ideas, but to honestly document whatever the group devised, in the form that’s most useful for everyone.

But even as a solo playwright, you’re always collaborating. The finished playscript is a useless object in its own right – it only has any value when a group of creatives start using it. The director, the actors, the designers, they use the script as a working document in order to create a work of theatre. It’s that work of theatre that audiences eventually see. If everything goes to plan, the only copy of the script in the theatre on opening night will be in the tech box with the stage manager, and the audience won’t ever see it.

The natural habitat for a script is the rehearsal room. If the script doesn’t work in rehearsal, then the script doesn’t work. That is all.

A script development is a strange kind of laboratory which approximates the rehearsal process. In order to stress test the script, a director and a group of actors will read the work out loud, analyse the play’s structure and characters as they do in rehearsals, and even put some scenes on the floor. The goal is to figure out where the play is weak, and what needs to be done to strengthen it.

As a playwright, this is your real workplace, this is your territory. Everything else you do as a playwright is either preparation for or in response to developments like these. And so going into a development is always both extremely exciting, and really fucking terrifying.

In a very real sense, the company producing your work are your bosses. As a writer, you are working for them, to give them what they need in order to do their jobs. If you can get your bosses excited, that’s a good sign. If your bosses are perplexed and uninspired, that’s a concern.

So what I know about script developments is this:

You have to bring your absolute A game.

You have to work fast, because you never have enough time.

You have to be able to shift instantaneously from talking about at the zoomed-out structural level, to talking about granular scene by scene stuff, to talking about character intentions, to talking about individual lines that aren’t working, because you don’t know where people are going to take the conversation.

You have to be ready for the fact that following the first reading, the company may reveal that your play is about something completely different to what you thought it was about – and you have to decide what to do with that information.

You have to be ready to answer tough questions like ‘what is this play about?’ and ‘why is this scene in the play?’, and you have to be ready to answer ‘I don’t know’ when you don’t – and often you won’t – but know that if you can’t justify a scene in some way, it has to go.

You have to be able to take on board a multiplicity of ideas, that may be conflicting, that may be counterproductive, and you have to be able to hold them and gather them without jumping too quickly to judgement on which ones to follow.

Equally, you have to be able to edit and write fast, because script developments are rare and you have to make the most of every second.

You have to bring rough, unfinished material that can be worked with, rather than pristine scenes that you’re afraid to touch – but at the same time, everything you bring needs to be far enough along that the company can actually work with it.

You have to let go of being the expert.

In my ideal universe, I’d spend half my working life in rooms like this – and the other half sitting writing in preparation for them. For longer script developments (1-2 weeks), there’s this lovely pattern that emerges whereby the playwright spends half the day alone, writing and redrafting, while the company experiments with staging and blocking – then the other half of the day is spent sharing what you’ve made with each other. Days like that are probably my favourite days in this whole life.

Anyway, the development with the Traverse was lovely – the actors, director and dramaturges were all incredible, super sharp and professional, and we churned through a lot in two days. I finally got to see 44 Sex Acts on the floor! And I wrote some new stuff which I’m really happy with. Here’s a little scrap:

celina: Okay so this is my plan. I think if we’re smart, we can string them together, 1-2-3-4 and so on, for maximum speed and efficiency. We move from vulva licks to 69s to blindfolds to hair pulling to using the vibrator on my neck, bang bang bang bang. How much do you come?

alab: What? Like how many spasms?

celina: There’s like four acts that vary on where you’re supposed to ejaculate, and I think we can do them all together. Start by you coming on my stomach, then on my ass, then on your ass, then in your hair…

alab: How am I supposed to ejaculate in my own hair?

celina: Hmm, how far do you normally jizz?

alab: Maybe this far?

celina: Well maybe we need to turn you over mid-orgasm so your wang is here and your head is here, and then you can just come downwards in an arc on to your own head.

Alab tries getting into this weird handstand position.

alab: I don’t know if I can come upside down.


In other life / art news, the Pleasance Theatre in London has just finished the London run of Kill Climate Deniers, which was an absolute delight. Here is a review round-up on something called Stagedoor, which assembled a bundle of reviews and comments.

‘Kill Climate Deniers is an evening exceptionally well spent’The Upcoming

‘A lovingly crafted satirical swipe at climate change issues that remarkably, given its predictions of catastrophe, provides a welcome shot of optimism perfect for today’s jaded and cynical times’ – Everything Theatre

‘An extraordinarily daring play that is a political rally for saving our environment’ – A Younger Theatre

‘3-D printed guns, eco-terrorists and the Australian Environment Minister on a killing spree…it’s as bonkers as the title suggests’ – LGBTQ Arts

(Now I’m wondering if there are any other companies out there who’d like to produce the script – if so, get at me.)

 pic by ali wright

Ben Yeoh and I presented Thinking Bigly, our performance lecture about climate solutions, at the Museum of London and the Pleasance. This was super fun and we got to wear badass costumes.

Next up, I’m heading to Edinburgh in August to do a few performances of You’re Safe Til 2024 at the Pleasance.

11.30am – 12.30pm Tues 19 – Fri 23 August
Pleasance Attic, Edinburgh

And then JK Anicoche and I are doing two presentations about the Battalia Royale project

11.30am – 12.30pm Sat 24 – Sun 25 August
Pleasance Attic, Edinburgh

If you’re in Edinburgh, come along.

Otherwise, as ever, give us a shout if you have any thoughts that might make my life more interesting.

You’re Safe Til 2024: the first year

 pic by leanne dixon

In this blog post I want to share a little history of the You’re Safe Til 2024 project so far. Partly it’s an opportunity to acknowledge the many people who helped create this work, and partly because I think the strange twists and turns of this project are a good example of the strange ways a piece of theatre makes its way into the world.

The background: For years, I’ve wanted to make a piece of theatre that actually presented some of the science of global change. Things like the famous 2009 Planetary Boundaries paper, analysis of society as a complex system, box-and-stick diagrams like the Bretherton model… I’m fascinated by it. But it seems so alien to the sorts of stories that theatre is designed to tell.

I’ve also been dreaming about making an epic show – a durational work, eight hours or more. In my head, the ideas of planetary transformation, global change, need an 8-hour show. Audiences need time to sit with these concepts, and they take a lot to unpack. I’m not talking about an extended science lecture, I’m talking about an event, a form of performance that matches the scale and complexity of the material.

In mid-2018 I had a brainwave: I could use objects as a way to frame this work about global change. What are the unique objects of this moment in history? What can looking at those objects tell us about planetary change?

  from the PNAS paper ‘Trajectories of the Earth System in the Anthropocene’ (2018)

I began interviewing scientists, asking them about planetary transformation: What’s the biggest change happening in the world today? What object might represent that change?

Of course I wasn’t the first to have this idea – there are numerous books, podcasts and exhibitions about ‘anthropocene objects’ – but as far as I could find in my research, no-one had made a theatre show using them before. Performance is a very different artform – I could do and say things with these objects that no-one else could.

I was so excited by this concept, I contacted musician Reuben Ingall and asked if he’d be interested in joining me on this one. Reuben and I had most recently worked together closely on Kill Climate Deniers. He’s a brilliant performer, I couldn’t think of anyone I’d rather be on stage with.

I also approached playwright Chris Thorpe, whose work I’m obsessed with, and asked if he’d be willing to give me some dramaturgical guidance. He kindly agreed. Designer Gary Campbell hosted an early scratch and offered to help make some of the objects I was discussing.

So by November 2018 I had a concept, a bunch of research, and a group of collaborators. I’d decided that the first iteration, in 2018, would be a classic 60 minute show. I’d start there, and then grow it into the huge version over the next few years. I pitched the first version to a couple of places.  I settled in to write a first draft of the script.

And here I ran into problems. Or, to put it bluntly, the whole work fell apart.

 pic by adam thomas

My central idea, which was that I could use a set of anthropocene objects as the spine of the performance, was… not gonna work. A performance is an active three-way relationship between the performer(s), the audience and the subject of the play. There has to be an active process, an experience that happens live in the room, between these three poles, and something has to change as a result.

What I had was a set of static objects, which in and of themselves told fascinating stories about the world, but which had no relationship to me, or to the audience. It might work as a book, a podcast or a museum exhibition – but not a play.

Over the course of two days, what started out seeming like a small crack in the conceit gradually deepened, lengthened, and then the whole work fell to pieces.

Oh well – worse things have happened. I figured, I could start again from scratch. A shame, but so it goes.

But then I got a letter from Griffin Theatre saying they’d agreed to program my work (provisionally titled ‘The First Thousand Objects’) in the Batch Festival, April 2019. Which meant I had four months to build the work from scratch.

I could’ve pulled out, but I didn’t want to. The Griffin audience is too lovely, and the chance to perform on that stage was too tempting. And besides, I like a good tight deadline. So I accepted the offer, sent them a new title (‘You’re Safe Til 2024’) and got back to work.

 pic by veronica barrett

Over three conversations with Chris Thorpe over November – December, I started to scrape together a new structure. This one was built around an attempt to communicate big ideas of global change. A small scene about an awkward conversation I’d had at a networking event was retooled as the inciting incident for the play. I kept the scripts for Chris Thorpe’s Status and Confirmation open in separate tabs so I could switch to them constantly for inspiration on building a solo show structure.

When I’d pitched the show to Reuben, I’d pitched it as an exploration of different objects – and he was imagining building a soundscape out of those objects. So I tried to keep those elements in place, being aware that Reuben’s time was limited and he wouldn’t be able to remake the soundtrack from scratch.

I shared an early version of the script with Hadley, who picked up on a throwaway line about Hamilton: The Musical and suggested I try to create my own home-brand Hamilton in the show. Hadley’s theatrical instincts are always on point, so I leaned in to that hard and built a whole subplot of the show around my attempt to perform Hamilton despite never having seen it.

Over January – March I wrote and rewrote the script more times than I’ve ever rewritten anything before. I emailed back and forth with Jack Lloyd about ten times, who suggested countless amends and fixes and restructuring devices, and slowly it took shape.

Rebecca and I were in Melbourne for a month in March. In that time I committed to doing four sharings of the work, one a week, to give myself rigorous deadlines. I showed it to Sarah Walker, Max Barker, Tom Doig, Laura Jean Mckay, Jordan Prosser, Michael Greaney and Rebecca Giggs. Marieke Hardy gave me the structure of a Kim Noble show, which I borrowed. Bridget Balodis gave me super sharp notes on the structure and how to end the thing.

I arrived in England at the beginning of April, and carved out a weekend to spend with Annette Mees looking at the work. I presented it once for her, and she straight away went into a line-by-line breakdown of the work with me, finding moments of light and shade, clever repetitions, memorable hooks.

Gary Campbell made me an incredible latex chicken (to represent the weird growth of chickens in the last 70 years) and a facsimile of a goose that had been sliced up by a jet engine (technically known as a ‘snarge’). I spent three days alone in Toynbee Studios drilling lines, learning 60 minutes worth of text by heart.

And then I got back to Australia, had two rehearsals with Reuben, and we headed up to Sydney to perform that same week. And on the Friday night, we kicked off the first show.

 pic by adam thomas

The Griffin shows were lovely – as we left the stage following the first performance, Griffin associate Phil Spencer said, ‘It’s well on the way,’ which felt like a good compliment. The right kind of praise.

So, a burst of shows. A micro-tour. Two performances at Griffin in Sydney, a night at Smiths Alternative in Canberra, then the Art+Climate=Change Festival at Bunjil Place in Melbourne, and a one-off show at the Straits Clan in Singapore. It was a fun micro-tour. Audiences were lovely. We got a nice review.

And I learned a lot about the work, about what doesn’t work and what might be worth pursuing.

What didn’t work, bluntly, was the science lecture. I mean, we could just about get it over the line, we could just about keep the energy up through those bits, but they always felt like work. Work for us, work for the audience. So my grand conjecture, the experiment I’ve wanted to carry out for years, now has an answer: No, you can’t put straight science on stage. Not if you want an audience to crackle with excitement (which I do).

There were things that did work. Being on stage with Reuben is always a joy, and his music was stunning. The scientists’ stories were interesting when they were about the scientists themselves – humanising the science. The final monologue, in which I actively resisted taking responsibility for people’s emotional responses to the issue of climate change, was an interesting and charged moment.

 pic by adam thomas

So now, the next step: pull it apart. Having taken a bit of time off, we’re going to return to the work over the next few months and start from scratch, thinking about building the next iteration, the 2020 version.

Over the next five years, we’ll work our way up to the full-blown show. The 2024 version will be an 8-hour epic, a huge spectacle, a wild experience: a novel, a journey, a battle, a prayer, a party.

In the meantime, each year we’ll present a new iteration. Each version will take on a different form, focus on a different aspect of the bigger picture, and gradually, the whole colossal project will take shape. I’m already beginning to glimpse the outlines, and I’m excited.

2019 was the Science Lecture. 2020 will be the Party.

It’s 2019: ‘Climate Art’ no longer exists

pic by leanne dixon

A couple of weeks ago I did a radio interview about Reuben Ingall and my new show You’re Safe Til 2024. The interviewer asked about ‘climate art’ and ‘climate theatre’ in particular – Why isn’t there more climate art? Is theatre particularly well suited to talk about these issues? and so on.

Even as we were talking, it struck me that the term ‘climate art’ is fragmenting and dissolving.

Twenty years ago, when we talked about climate, we tended to describe it as a scientific issue, with environmental and political facets. ‘Climate art’ therefore had connotations of scientists talking about the issues, maybe some speculative future scenarios, possibly some politicians arguing.

In the last few years, there’s a growing awareness that climate change is not a topic of discussion: it’s the backdrop against which all our decisions and plans take place. It’s the paradigm within which every artist and writer on this planet is operating right now.

The world is changing around us. We see it in global warming and the increase in extreme weather events, in the vanishing of insects from our shared habitats, in the ubiquity of plastic pollution everywhere we go. It’s not a distant future possibility – in 2019 it’s visible everywhere and in everything. It’s always in the corner of our eye.

Frankly, it’s too big to be a genre.

And so, more and more, every work of contemporary art becomes ‘climate art’.

In the 19th century, most English writers were, in some way, writing about the Industrial Revolution. The characters in Jane Austen’s novels were operating in the aftermath of the Enclosures, which forced farmers off the land and into the cities. This created the labour supply for factories and mills and resulted in the social milieu that Austen explores. Similarly, Charles Dickens depicted labour conditions and the new urban lifestyle created by the rise in manufacturing.

Would it be fair to describe them as ‘Industrial Revolution writers’? Would it be useful? Maybe it’s better to say, the Industrial Revolution is a frame through which every novel written in the 19th century can be viewed through.

In the same way, just about every artwork produced in the 21st century can be viewed through the lens of climate change and planetary transformations.

I’m far from the first person to make this observation – James Bradley wrote a great piece several years ago about the same phenomena in the world of literature, in which he quoted Mckenzie Wark’s remark, ‘all fiction is anthropocene fiction, some of it just doesn’t realise it yet.’

What does this mean? Well two immediate consequences:

1. For those writers and artists who are interested in starting to make ‘climate art’: relax – you’re probably already doing it. You don’t need to read a volume of scientific literature or government reports, you don’t need to be qualified, you just need to be writing about the world.

2. For those writers and artists who don’t want to make climate art – too bad, you’re already doing it. If you avoid talking about the climate, your work will be read, in retrospect, as either wilful or oblivious denial. And that’s not a bad thing! There’s nothing wrong with escapism in a time of struggle – don’t ever get suckered into thinking that the only art that matters is ponderous ‘worthy’ nonsense.

So my prediction, then, is that we’ll cease to see collections of ‘climate fiction’ or festivals of ‘climate art’. I predict that in the 2020s we’ll develop a new label for works that reflect directly on the linkages between the environment, society and the economy – but I guarantee you it won’t be ‘climate art’.

POSTSCRIPT: After I’d written a draft of this post, Rebecca shared this quote from David Wallace Well’s Uninhabitable Earth with me:

(This is good stuff, but I disagree with Wallace Wells that global warming stories ever offered an ‘escapist pleasure’ – in my lifetime, climate-focused artworks have always sat in the category of Worthy Art; something that people think is important (for some reason) but is always depressing and dull.)


 


pic by honor harger

In life and art news, it’s been a super busy patch of time. Reuben Ingall and I presented the first set of shows of You’re Safe Til 2024, our new performance exploring planetary change. This was the first development of what will eventually become an 8-hour work in 2024.

We kicked it off at the Batch Festival at Griffin Theatre in Sydney, followed by shows at Smiths Alternative in Canberra, the Art+Climate=Change Festival at Bunjil Place in Melbourne, and finally, the Straits Clan in Singapore.

I’m doing a small run of shows at Edinburgh Fringe Festival in late August for anyone in the UK – otherwise, have a read of Steve Dow’s lovely Guardian review.

© Ben Yeoh, 2019.

On Monday 17 June I’ll be joining playwright, sustainable finance expert and all-around charismatic genius Ben Yeoh onstage at the Museum of London for our performance lecture Thinking Bigly, which talks about possible solutions to the climate crisis.

Kill Climate Deniers was just onstage in Brisbane for a season at Metro Arts, produced by THAT Production Company – which judging by the reviews (here, here, here), seemed like it was a fucking dope night out.

Finally, in London, the Pleasance’s production of Kill Climate Deniers opens on 4 June, and runs til the 28th. I went to a rehearsal last weekend and it was GREAT – such a joy seeing these guys tear up the script and throw the thing in a whole new direction. Here’s director Nic Connaughton reflecting on how he’s bringing it to the UK stage.

More soon – mahal, hippies!

You’re Safe Til 2024, Thinking Bigly and new Kill Climate Deniers productions

It’s March 2019, and there are some new projects about to enter the world – I am EXCITED.

You’re Safe Til 2024

Over the last year, I’ve been interviewing scientists and asking each of them the question, ‘What’s the biggest change happening in the world today?’

The answers have yielded a fascinating collection of objects, images and ideas: a sensory snapshot of the planet. Million year ice cores, broiler chickens, whales singing with ship engines, sand scorched by nuclear tests, and lots more.

Over the last few months, I’ve turned the results into a new show, entitled You’re Safe Til 2024. It’s an unlikely documentary in sounds, stories and beats – a highlights reel of the strange ways in which humans are remaking the earth.

The show is having its first outing in Sydney at Griffin Theatre’s Batch Festival in April, followed by a short season as part of the Climarte Festival in Melbourne in May.

For the Sydney shows I’ll be joined by extraordinary DJ / producer Reuben Ingall, providing beats and soundscapes.

If you’re up for it, the show is on at:

Friday 26 – Saturday 27 April, Griffin Theatre, Sydney – details and tix
Tuesday 7 May, Smiths Alternative, Canberra – free entry
Friday 10 – Sunday 12 May, Bunjil Place, Melbourne – details and tix

(pic by Leanne Dixon)


Kill Climate Deniers productions

In other news, there are two new productions of Kill Climate Deniers happening in the next couple of months, on opposite sides of the world.

In London, the show is taking place at the Pleasance Theatre from 4 – 28 June, starring comedian and general badass Felicity Ward and directed by Nic Connaughton.

Ward said: ‘It’s the coolest play I’ve ever read and quite frankly what is not to love about the words: a self-aware post-modern comedy AND action play about climate change, politics, and media hysteria.’

Bless.

And in Brisbane, THAT Production Company is putting on the work at Metroarts over 5 – 25 May.


Thinking Bigly: A Guide To Save The World

Finally, in June, I’ll be giving a performance at the Museum of London alongside playwright, pension fund manager and extraordinary maker-of-things-to-happen Ben Yeoh entitled Thinking Bigly: A Guide To Save The World.

A theatre performance talk about sustainability and how you, finance and policy can be part of the solution. What reasons do we have to be hopeful in the current crisis moment? Shape our story through interactive games and learn about solutions to the world’s climate and sustainability challenges.

Ben is an extraordinary thinker in this space, and it’s super exciting getting to perform alongside him – I’m learning a lot as we piece this thing together. Stay tuned for details and tickets.


It’s a very newsy blog post, but some times there’s just a lot of granular stuff to say. The other side of all of this is: I’m doing alright, I’m struggling with the ongoing project of becoming a better writer and artist, and the other day Rebecca and I went hiking in the Dandenongs and saw a forest yabby resting on the path like this guy, who then crawled back into her hole with her pincers angled up at us; it was a good day.

A portfolio of projects, a map of how things are developing


pic by jordan prosser

I’ve been taking a little time at the end of the year to do an overview of my current portfolio of projects.

One ongoing challenge for the sort of work I do is that it’s very hard to quantify your output. If I were just a playwright, then I’d presumably be able to point to a body of playscripts and say ‘that’s it, that’s what I’ve done this year’. Or if I just did solo shows, or just recorded albums, or just did *any* one thing, it would be easier to count.

It’s trickier when your work happens across a few different practices. Trickier still when some things happen under your own name, and some under the auspices of various companies, collaborations etc. Trickier even still when they take place in different countries.

So it was an interesting and useful task to spend a couple of hours breaking down all my existing projects. From playscripts to solo shows to collaborative productions to games to workshops, these are all the works I’m doing that are currently active.

(By ‘active’ I mean: if someone was interested in hosting / presenting one of these, we could find a way to make it happen.)


pic by jordan prosser

This is the list, as of December 2018:

Kill Climate Deniers – Playscript, solo show, album (with Reuben Ingall) and walking tour. What happens when the unstoppable force of climate change meets the immovable object of Australian politics?

CrimeForce: LoveTeam – In the future, everyone will murder a boy band member. Interactive performance using the tools of Futures Studies and scenario thinking to explore the future of pop music and criminal justice. Created with Jordan Prosser.

Are You Ready To Take The Law Into Your Own Hands? – A high-octane Filipino pop musical about a group of fans on a mission to save their idol. Created with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble.

44 Sex Acts In One Week – A rom com playscript. A writer and photographer at a lifestyle blog are tasked with trying 44 different kinds of sex in one week.

You’re Safe Til 2024 – Solo show. Over the last year, I’ve invited scientists to select a series of objects illustrating the changes happening to the planet today. This is a showcase of the objects they’ve chosen and the stories they’ve told. 

Get The Kids And Run – Interactive games / workshop. Players take on the role of managing a small town in the lead up to a volcano or typhoon crisis. Created with Boho for the Earth Observatory Singapore.

Sex Play – A performance about the ethics of intimacy. Created with Anthea Williams and Sarah Walker.

Finance System games – A set of games exploring the impact of climate change on the finance sector. Created with Coney.

Best Festival Ever: How To Manage A Disaster – Interactive performance. Audiences explore concepts from complex systems science and resilience thinking through managing their own music festival. Created with Boho.

The Future of Nature – Interactive solo show for conference audiences using futures scenarios to examine the future of nature documentaries. Created for Nesta.

Gobyerno (Government) – Interactive performance / workshop. Over two hours, audiences create an original documentary about their ideal society. Created with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble.

95 Years or Less – Interactive performance / workshop. Audiences explore the challenges facing an NGO trying to restore an Indonesian rainforest over 95 years. Created with Coney / Boho for Forum for the Future.

Kids Killing Kids– Documentary theatre performance. Follows the making of and backlash to Sipat Lawin’s 2012 production of Battalia Royale project in the Philippines. Created with Too Many Weapons and the Sipat Lawin Ensemble.

End Science Now – Playscript. A globe-trotting spy thriller about a group of renegades who go undercover to bring down the study of science worldwide.

Foreignoy – Performance. My Pinoy pop song mash-up for Filipino TV segment ‘You’re My Foreignoy’. Created with Sipat Lawin.

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Of course, not all of these are at the same stage of development. Some, like Kill Climate Deniers or CrimeForce, are finished and ready to go. Others are still in development, and looking for different levels of engagement / collaboration from partners.

I found it really useful to make myself a rough map, to see what stage different projects are at.

It was interesting to see, for example, that since retiring the Kill Climate Deniers solo show, I have only one solo show coming up to being performable, and that’s a few months off.

As a working artist, I don’t necessarily have the freedom to decide how my year is shaped. But this was an interesting exercise in terms of helping guide me in prioritising between the projects I do have afoot.

(Note: I have plenty more projects at concept stage – we all do, I think – but the internet is not the best place to put my early thinking.)

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More news-y update. The main thing to mention here is that the Pleasance Theatre in London will be presenting Kill Climate Deniers as part of their 2019 season. This is super exciting – looking forward to Nic Connaughton and the team taking it on.