While I’ve been in Singapore this last three weeks I’ve been mostly doing work with the Earth Observatory, getting my head around the wonderful world of volcanoes and typhoons. (The planet is a monster and it wants us all dead, all the time.) But also, I’ve been keeping pretty quiet, staying on campus, not venturing out too much, and that’s been sorta necessary, post-Sweden, post-England.
One thing I wanted to do with this time was to spend a bit of time reflecting on recent projects, and a little more doing some planning and scheming on stuff for 2017. This year’s been a huge burst of output – things like Kill Climate Deniers, which was brewing for a while, started landing in the world. And Best Festival Ever has continued to roll out, with corporate seasons, theatrical seasons, and of course, building Democratic Nature in Sweden.
2017 I think will be a year of some new developments, of putting things together, of shaping some new ideas into project format. I don’t know quite yet what that means, but I want to do something with 44 Sex Acts In One Week, and I’m keen to make something around the idea of the Human-Earth System, maybe using my dad’s work as a lens in.
Apart from sketching those ideas into some kind of rough shape, I’ve been working on a couple of tiny creative things to keep me alive. Firstly and most exciting, the Finnigan and Brother 2016 Christmas single, Christmeth.
Christmas is the time to really put something out into the world, creatively, who cares if it’s not perfect or if it doesn’t have the sharpest production values? Chris’ music here is great, and my lyrics are the usual mess of ideas stolen from one song, pacing stolen from another, specific lines and phrases from 3-4 different ones, and the end result, god only knows what that sounds like. But, more like this!
Also, I managed to mentally / emotionally wipe myself out the first weekend I arrived. Maybe just the hangover from two hectic months in the UK and Sweden, going from that to being completely alone and isolated. I hit a bit of a wall. And so, best/only thing I know how to do, I tried to write about it and record that, down by Saiboo Bridge on the Singapore River.
Lastly! A piece I recorded a while ago, only now putting it up online – my fan-made video for Ira Gamerman’s iconic tune Am I Gonna Be A Filipino Soapstar, footage recorded by Alon Segarra of me, auditioning for a Filipino soap opera at the ABS-CBN Studios in Quezen City.
I didn’t get the part. I didn’t look enough like a ’40 year old man of power’. Next time, ABS, next time.
Alright, so, right now I’m in Sweden, in residence at the Earth Observatory Singapore at Nanyang Technological University. Learning about volcanoes and typhoons, R&D for a possible future Boho project here. But more about that soon.
I was there to drill down into work with Coney and Forum for the Future, with a view to what projects / collaborations might be possible in 2017. I wrote a little bit for Coney about it – but basically, I’m looking at what kinds of work I might be able to do for and with those organisations, alongside Boho and as a solo artist.
To make that happen, I spent a lot of November manically bouncing from Old Street to Aldgate, doing meetings, making pitches, writing funding proposals, fleshing out timelines and budgets, and generally trying to capture the vague possibilities for next year into a clearer shape.
pic c/o Theatre Deli, who hosted one of the scratches – super lovely cats
Alongside that, I also presented several scratch showings of the solo version of Kill Climate Deniers (alongside Nathan’s new solo work How I Saved The Western Black Rhino), as a kind of test for the work in front of a UK audience. Super interesting stuff – what worked, what didn’t work, what made intellectual sense but didn’t emotionally resonate…
But. What I wanted to write about was actually an event that we (Nathan and Rachel and I) presented alongside Forum for the Future. Forum have a series of ‘Living Change’ events for their network, and they asked us to showcase a series of systems games for their November iteration, entitled ‘Gaming The System’.
We broke out a few pieces, including the Umbrella Game from Best Festival Ever, and trialled a version of Volleyball Farm, our common-pool resource game from way back in 2012. (It didn’t quite work, but it nearly did, and Nathan did a pretty great job of rescuing it after it became clear that more than seven players fundamentally broke the game structure.) And lastly, we tested out a new activity featuring jigsaw puzzles that we borrowed from Anne-Marie Grisogono.
Anne-Marie is one of Boho’s scientist crushes (yes, we have scientist crushes – if we had one, Boho HQ would be plastered with posters of our favourite complexity scientists, we’re that kind of company). Anne-Marie is a physicist and complexity scientist – she worked for many years for the Defence Science and Technology Organisation (DSTO), and she’s now a Visiting Fellow at the National Security College at the ANU. She’s one of the most extraordinary thinkers we’ve had the opportunity to work with, and her background in translating the insights of complexity science to real-world high-stakes contexts is pretty incredible.
The exercise, which Anne-Marie uses as an introduction to Wicked Problem theory, is simple: we invited our participants to complete a simple jigsaw puzzle. That’s all. The puzzle we had was of a tiger in a jungle. When they finished, we then invited them to reflect on the strategies they used – how did they solve the puzzle? What techniques, what approaches did they apply? Some of the answers were:
Started by looking for the edge pieces
Grouped pieces by colour
Worked from the outside in
Found the distinct ‘tiger-y’ pieces that definitely belonged to the tiger on the box
Then we discussed why it was that those strategies worked. What was it is about the jigsaw puzzle that made it tractable, made it amenable to those approaches? Some of the answers here included:
We knew what the final goal looked like – we had the picture on the box
Every piece is part of the solution
You know when you’ve got something right (the pieces fit together)
The pieces don’t change
The puzzle exists in only two dimensions
We all know the rules of the game
Every step contributes to the solution – there are essentially no backwards steps
There’s only one way for it all to fit together
And so on. Finally, we compared this to real-world problems. Anne-Marie’s point here is that when we’re talking about the complex problems we face in the world (wealth inequality, climate change, epidemics, you name it) none of these conditions hold true.
1. There is no definitive formulation of a wicked problem.
2. Wicked problems have no stopping rule.
3. Solutions to wicked problems are not true-or-false, but good or bad.
4. There is no immediate and no ultimate test of a solution to a wicked problem.
5. Every solution to a wicked problem is a “one-shot operation”; because there is no opportunity to learn by trial and error, every attempt counts significantly.
6. Wicked problems do not have an enumerable (or an exhaustively describable) set of potential solutions, nor is there a well-described set of permissible operations that may be incorporated into the plan.
7. Every wicked problem is essentially unique.
8. Every wicked problem can be considered to be a symptom of another problem.
9. The existence of a discrepancy representing a wicked problem can be explained in numerous ways. The choice of explanation determines the nature of the problem’s resolution.
10. The social planner has no right to be wrong (i.e., planners are liable for the consequences of the actions they generate).
The key point here is that we frequently go about trying to solve these complex, fiendishly difficult real-world problems as if they were jigsaw puzzles.
It’s an interesting demo, and as Anna Birney from Forum put it, one of those cases where the best way to make a point is to use an analogy that is actually the exact opposite.
But in the event of actually rolling it out, we had an unexpected result. Mel Trievnor, hunting us down puzzles from op shops, wasn’t able to lay her hands on a 50 piece puzzle – instead, she dug us up a 500 piece puzzle. The result was that instead of a deliberately easy task (complete this puzzle in five minutes), the participants were given an impossible task.
I got each of the three groups to tackle it in phases – do as much as you can, leave the remainder for the next group. And in three rounds, they actually got a surprising amount of the picture completed.
The rest of the activity worked more or less as planned – but there was an interesting frisson in giving people a basically impossible task, and then seeing how far they managed to get. Participants are at first dismayed, and then kinda shrug, roll up their sleeves, and go for it. It’s an interesting vibe, and there may be something more to it.
The interesting learning moment for me came in the debrief. Anna got the participants to reflect on what they’d taken from the event. One woman commented, ‘The jigsaw activity gave me hope, working in shifts as we were, because it reminded me that when we’re faced with massive problems like climate change, we don’t need to solve the whole thing – we can’t – but we can work on our bit, and the people that come after us can pick up where we left off.’
I thought that was a really nice reflection, and an encouraging and thoughtful takeaway from the activity.
Then another woman spoke up and said, ‘No, you’ve completely misunderstood. The whole point was that with complex problems, you can’t just pick up where the last generation left off – the whole problem has changed, the pieces have changed, the picture’s changed, the goals have changed, the rules have changed. We’re not working towards a single multi-generation solution, we’re working in a massive, complex, ever-evolving system that completely flips the rules on us all the time, but which we can never stop doing our best in because we can’t afford to just let it run off the rails.’
As soon as she said it, I realised she was right, and while bleak, it was probably a better diagnosis of the situation. And I then had to reflect on the fact that even facilitating the exercise, delivering the moral, I managed to kinda miss the point of it.
(the lesson is, missing the lesson: what’s the lesson in that?)
I wrote a trio of plays that have never been performed – and they never will be, really.
I spent a good chunk of 2007-09, in between working on the first two Boho shows and starting the Crack Theatre Festival, sketching out the broad outlines of these works. The other week it all came back to me, as it does, from time to time, and I sat down to attempt to capture what it is, what it was that I made, for my own head’s sake if no-one else’s.
It’s a trilogy with a kind of sci-fi fantasy bent, but I never thought of it in those terms. There was a world that was building up in my imagination, and I was trying to capture it. If I’d been a novelist or a prose writer, it woulda come out in that form – but because I write for theatre and performance, that world came out through the medium of three one-act plays. But it would never have been possible to do these plays onstage, not really.
They came under the banner of ‘War in the North Sea’ and they were all set in a kind of Arctic ocean – an imagined version, anyway. I was picturing a mass of little rocky islands, ice shelfs, and huge floating icebergs.
In this setting, there’s a war with heaven. It’s because humans have come too close to the top of the world, or because heaven has dipped closer to the surface of earth. But either way, there are angels loose in the north sea and there are human armies opposing them.
image by frosty
The city of heaven is made from wires that run straight like a massive cobweb stretching thousands of kilometres in all directions. Angels run along the wires, and fly sometimes from spot to spot. It’s not really clear what angels look like in this setting – only at the end of the trilogy do you see one for the first time, and I never quite got to the point of writing that sequence down. For me, the presence of heaven was the more interesting fact. Imagine looking up and seeing a wire, like a telephone wire, stretching a few metres above your head, running straight from one horizon to the other. And in the distance, another wire, at a different angle. And another. Off into the sky as far as you could see. Like a huge spiderweb, with angels running along the wires. That is heaven. It was sinister and abstract, and it meant something to me – not like a literal metaphor, but something that nagged at me.
Anyway, the first story in the trilogy wasn’t even set in the north sea. It was called Silent Movie Play, and it was about a documentary film-maker who’d come back from the front line. Not like a recent documentary film-maker with a little digital camera, this was like a film-maker in the early 1920s. Like Robert Flaherty going to film Nanook of the North in 1922. Taking kilometre after kilometre of film reels and huge heavy equipment.
So it’s an editing studio, but it’s the early days of film, so think, early 20th century, huge iron machinery, big spools of nitrate film, scissors, glue. Anyway this documentary film-maker arrives with footage he’s shot from the frontlines, which is supposed to be turned into a propaganda film. There’s an editor there, and together they watch the footage that this guy has filmed, and they’re supposed to re-edit it and add subtitles.
Now what the guy has filmed is a little bit of a raft voyage through the iceberg strewn ocean near the frontline. This low-ranking soldier who works transporting things around the battlefields is taking a very high-ranking woman to a particular iceberg. She’s like, aristocracy, as well as being an extremely well-regarded doctor. The Empress’ pharmacist. And she’s being transported by this low-ranking nobody who paddles a raft made from sealskin.
Anyway, the pharmacist woman hits on the soldier transporter. Hard. She decides she wants him, and she basically uses her authority and power to intimidate him into an intimate liaison. And this is captured on film by the film-maker.
So what the film-maker and the editor are doing is playing bits of this footage, and then shuffling them around, editing them into a coherent story, and supplying subtitles for the dialogue that you can’t hear.
But because this was a play, or at least it was intended to be, this all happened onstage. On one side of the stage was the editing studio, the film-maker and the editor, having their discussions and debates. On the other side, the projected footage, played out live, of the pharmacist and the soldier in the tiny sealskin raft amid the icebergs.
Now the gist of this whole story is that the film-maker and the editor are fighting about what they’re making. The film-maker thinks that the footage should be shown as close as is possible to what he shot – to tell the story as it happened. But the editor thinks, no, this isn’t suitable as propaganda. Partly because it’s not a glorious war victory that’s been captured on film – but mostly because it’s a woman seducing a man, and that’s not acceptable to show in a cinema.
image by frosty
So bit by bit, and against the film-maker’s objections, the editor slices up and reassembles the footage to tell a different story. Using the same sequence of images, he changes it from a tale in which the elite pharmacist imposes her will on a terrified man, into the tale of a noble soldier who wins the heart of a cowering woman through his masculine prowess. He cuts snippets of footage and moves them out of order to seem to indicate a different person taking the lead, and recontextualising other moments so they suggest a whole different narrative. And then finally, he inserts subtitles which puts words in the mouth of the two film subjects so that they adhere to his reinterpretation of events.
It’s a story I guess about how people reshape the world to adhere to their particular narrative, and how for so long humans have been conning other humans into thinking that there’s only one way to see the world.
But alongside that, there’s the simple fact that this is happening live – so when you see bits of footage sliced out of order and placed in different parts of the sequence, you’re watching the pair of actors on the other side of the stage have to somehow snap from one motion to another, to physically enact these jarring jump cuts. And to speak the new lines that are being forcibly inserted into their mouths.
It was an incredibly specific and challenging format for any kind of live performance. I actually did some development with this idea, with Max Barker directing and Hanna Cormick and Lloyd Allison-Young performing. It was amazing to see, it made me think this idea could genuinely work.
But maybe that idea, that staging concept, should have been its own thing. Live actors portraying a snippet of film that’s re-edited and the story reconfigured so that it has a different meaning and message. That’s a complex thing in itself. But I was lost in this universe at that time, this whole setting of the war in the north sea. I couldn’t let it go.
Like I said, one of the big challenges with this setting was that I was exploring it through the medium of performance rather than, say, a spec-fic novel. But I mean, shifting mediums to prose wouldn’t necessarily have brought the world out in any clearer way. Shaping it as performance, as a series of one-act plays, didn’t make it easy to express some aspects of the world, but it forced me to open up different channels.
How do you tell a world in a live setting?
image by frosty
The second play in the trilogy was called This Mixtape Must Reach You, and it took a different tack. This story took place a little before the events captured by the film-maker in the Silent Movie Play story. The low-ranking soldier, whose name is Annon, has just been summoned to his commander’s tent for a special mission.
The army is camped out on an ice shelf, and we see Annon make his way slowly through the camp, from the outskirts where his tent is pitched, through to the commander’s HQ at the heart of the army. And on the way, he is speaking into a little dictaphone, recording an audio letter for his young son at home, assembling a mixtape.
The format of this performance was a solo show, a narrated letter, with the songs in the mixtape peppered throughout. Stars of the Lid, the Stooges, the Cinematic Orchestra, Rasputin’s Stash…
image by frosty
Anyway, through Annon’s introductions to the songs, and his encounters with other soldiers on the way to the commander’s tent, we get a picture of Annon, his history and his life. He’s a miserable specimen, a low-ranking loner, despised and abused by the other soldiers, coerced into acts he doesn’t want to do, forced to stay on the perimeter of the camp. And we learn about his history – his life in a small seaside village in the tropics, his home in a small hut by the shore.
We learn more about the history of the war, how people have been recruited without really knowing what they’re fighting for or why, how the disparate nature of human society means that information is so diffuse and unclear. And how the army in the north sea has coalesced into its own kind of social organisation, its own informal economy where food and medicine are traded between soldiers in a grey market.
And lastly, we learn about Annon’s relationship with his son, who it seems is likely to be an adopted son… maybe? The more Annon addresses him, the less clear it becomes, the harder it is to have a fixed sense of their relationship. And I don’t know exactly, because it’s nine years since I wrote it, but I think that was part of the point.
Anyway, Annon’s journey comes to an end when he reaches the commander’s tent and is given his mission; he must transport the Empress’ pharmacist on his raft to a remote iceberg outpost, where the human soldiers have stopped reporting from. And they’ll be filmed en route by a documentary maker who is making a propaganda film about the war.
So the second play ends where the first begins – and we see Annon and the pharmacist (whose name is The Sun, of course) depart on the raft.
image by frosty
And then, finally, the third play. This one didn’t have a name, or at least, I can’t find one for it. And this was a solo play too, but a very different kind to the last one. This play takes place on the iceberg outpost that Annon and The Sun are sailing to, the outpost of human soldiers that has gone mysteriously quiet.
What has happened is this: there were 90 or so soldiers on the iceberg, camping on the tiny portion of ice that sits above the waterline. There to keep guard on a thread of the heavenly city that runs dangerously close to the sea. But they were attacked, by an angel or a group of angels, who tipped the iceberg over and consequently managed to drown most of the soldiers in the sea.
Only two soldiers survived: Catch, who was wounded in the attack and who is now gradually slipping away, and Amicitia, who was diving underwater in a drysuit when the angels attacked and managed to avoid the worst of the disaster.
The only person that the audience see is Amicitia, and what they are watching in this performance is Amicitia try to do everything at once. She is trying to tend to Catch’s wounds, she is trying to find a way to keep herself warm, she is trying to guard against the returning angels, she is trying to signal for help, she is trying to build traps and defences against her foes, she is recording her memoirs in case help doesn’t come in time, she is chattering to herself in order to keep her spirits up, she is trying to do everything, all at once.
The hook for this play, really, is that Amicitia is splitting her focus between a million high priority tasks, and gradually, each one is getting on top of her. The angels are getting closer, Catch is getting weaker, help is nowhere in sight, her spirits are flagging, but she just keeps pushing and pushing and pushing and will not give in.
This is where we encounter angels for the first time, when they come to finish off Amicitia and Catch. And we learn more about the war, too – for example, that all the soldiers on the iceberg were tied together with tiny black threads, so the whole network of humans, linked together, went underwater all at once – Catch and Amicitia had to sever their connections in order to avoid being drowned.
This play ends with the arrival of Annon and The Sun on the raft, to administer medicine and save those that can be saved – although The Sun’s intentions are far murkier, and it’s not at all clear that Amicitia is going to be saved, or that Annon will be allowed to return to the camp when the job is done.
image by frosty
How it ends, I don’t know – I only have notes, and if I went to finish writing it now I’d have to find a completely new ending. But in part, at least one character ends up fleeing into the city of heaven, running along the wires up into the atmosphere.
So, I don’t know quite what to do with all of this. I have hundreds – literally hundreds – of pages of notes, and scraps of dialogue, pieces of scene… but of course, this isn’t a work that anyone would ever produce. I mean, I believe that there’s some kind of audience for this stuff, but really, who produces work like this? Why should they? It doesn’t tick any box for how a work of live performance should be.
How do I reconcile that awareness with the fact that I sunk probably two years of reflection and detailed scribbling into it? Other people were studying at university, earning money, engaging with the world around them. I got lost in this – still do, always do. Sometimes when I’m dancing (and it was during a gig in Stockholm last month, 2am on the dancefloor, that I decided to sketch out this summary) I start to recall the world, and I get lost in it, tracing out the paths, contemplating all the ways that story went, all the characters, the threads in that odd tapestry.
The last fragment of text in my notes is a line of dialogue, said by an angel to Annon. I don’t know how this encounter comes about, there’s nothing written around it – but the angel says:
Four times to build the city in your mind Four times and then it’s indestructible
working by lanternlight in Flaten after our fuses blew. pic by nikki kennedy.
A few weeks ago I sat down to reflect on the last couple years of work and projects, and to look ahead to the next couple, and I had the weird realisation that this blog might be the closest thing I have to a thread tying my whole practice together. That’s a strange thought. With all the various projects and strands to my work, creative work and otherwise, it’s hard to pick out a through line. But this blog is a way to talk about everything, no matter how off-base it seems, and to try and find the common links across different cities and projects.
From that little epiphany came the thought: well, it behooves me to update the blog more often to simply say where I am, and why I’m there, and where I’m going next, and for what.
So, what’s happened at this end of 2016?
Well, I spent a good chunk of the year in Melbourne. The middle months, I can’t remember the exact dates, but from around April through til late September. Living in Fitzroy North, working with Jordan on our boy bands / futures scenarios project, and making Kill Climate Deniers happen.
There were lots of other bits in there – going to Manila for Karnabal, working on the Kids Killing Kids radio play – but I think the main focus was Kill Climate Deniers. Lots of project management stuff, some marketing, as well as all the creative bits – the film clip, the photoshoot, the listening party, the album launch tour…
the bolted film clip! pic by sarah walker.
And then, late September, I got on a plane and headed to Stockholm. Boho have been commissioned to produce a new participatory work building on the Best Festival Ever model, based on the Flaten nature reserve south of Stockholm. We’ve been working with Swedish NGO Miljöverkstan to map and model the system, and construct a game for their gallery on the shores of Flaten lake. More of an explanation about the project on the Boho website, if yr curious.
It was a beautiful month, and super productive, but also, hectic. Me, Nikki, Rachel, Nathan and Muttley were joined by Gillian Schwab and Nick McCorriston, who dived in to contribute set, props and sound design.
So the seven of us lived in a beautiful old mansion in Danderyds Sjukhus, north of Stockholm’s CBD. It was a hundred year old house, and we were lucky enough to live in it while the family who owned it were in the process of selling it. Which was extraordinary, and lucky, but also entailed doing some dancing around removalists.
I said hectic. Maybe it’s just the inevitable result of a team of seven doing an international development to build a brand new participatory work in a tight timeframe. But yeah, it had a tenor of, no, can’t keep going like this indefinitely. But we did it, we made it, and it looks good, sounds good, and plays well. There’s a long way to go. But a prototype built and tested in a month, I’m proud of that.
I’m especially happy because the five of us worked quicker and sharper than we have before. It feels like the process that we developed over three years through creating BFE is now in really good working order, and we were in really good shape when it came to generating games, testing them, wrapping script and performance images around them, and dividing when necessary to pool our strengths.
Plus having Gills and Nickamc contributing design stuff lifted the whole thing so, so much. Have a look at these photos, my god.
So then. From Stockholm to London, and now I’m holed up in a flat in Hackney, looking at the half moon at 4.30pm through the grey brown apartment blocks. On Saturday I met up with Tassos in a cafe under the arches where a guy was just eating salt by the spoonful, looking grimmer and grimmer every minute, and where the ad for the local tarot card reader said ‘All readings confidential UNLESS you express an intent to commit a crime’. This town is wonderful.
I’m here doing some work with Coney, some work with Forum for the Future, and otherwise, presenting several scratches of Kill Climate Deniers. I’m really curious as to whether the show will have any resonance with a UK audience – and if so, which bits work and which bits don’t. Two shows, alongside Nathan’s new work How I Saved The Western Black Rhino:
And then, at the end of November, I go to Singapore for three weeks. I’m sinking into the R&D phase for a potential new Boho collaboration with the Earth Observatory Singapore, a research foundation based at Nanyang Technical University. The goal is to produce a new scenario-based participatory work around natural disasters in the south-east Asian region – so I’ll be spending three weeks learning about volcanoes, earthquakes and tsunamis.
And then Australia. And then 2017. And then and then.
Some days are nothing but panic and scrambling, others are a little more peaceful. There’s nothing particularly clear about the future at this point, I’m pretty close to the wire financially and there’s no guarantees about anything, but I had a good lunch and the moon is bright, so I’m gonna claim the day as a victory.
this is a picture nikki took of me and a cygnet in Flaten, who did not give a damn about me, but still I was very happy.
Well, so this is a lovely thing to get to lay out, and, in a way, lay down, at least for a good while.
One of the bigger arcs in my creative life this last half-decade was the Battalia Royale project, and the fall-out from it. Short version: me and Too Many Weapons headed over to the Philippines, worked with the Sipat Lawin Ensemble to adapt Koushon Takami’s Battle Royale for the stage, the production got out of hand, in a lot of interesting and headfucking ways.
So we produced the Kids Killing Kids show, to reflect on our role as writers in the whole affair. Out of that show, we were invited to take part in the 2014 Next Wave Festival to do an extended version, A Wake: Kids Killing Kids, bringing in five members of Sipat Lawin and their perspective.
We weren’t in any position to be able to keep on performing that show, and it would’ve got really morbid if we’d tried. But we wanted to find a way to document the story, and to be able to share it out more broadly to anyone who might be interested.
pic by Martin Vidanes
At this point, we were invited by Jesse Cox from ABC Radio National to try adapting it to the form of a podcast. And with his careful guidance, we went into the studio and recorded the show.
That didn’t work. And after a second rewrite, it still didn’t work. What had been clear as a story told on stage started to sound really weird as an audio piece.
At that point, Jesse threw out the original script entirely and proposed an alternative model. Rather than trying to replicate the Kids Killing Kids performance in radioplay format, he interviewed each of us – Jordan, Georgie, Sam and I – and then edited those interviews together to tell the story.
The result is a totally different take on the saga, and a lovely one from my perspective, because it finally shows up the differences in perspective between the four of us that got flattened out when we began work on Kids Killing Kids back in 2013.
A thank you is just a thank you, but I think it’s worthwhile putting my Kill Climate Deniers thank yous down in a blog post, because acknowledging my collaborators – as best I can – becomes a kind of map of the project. Something as diffuse and extended as KCD comes into focus when you look at the range of people involved, the network takes a sort of shape. Given that you can’t wrap a boundary around a project – I used to think you could, I was wrong – maybe the best thing you can do is to start to sketch the nodes and links?
I’m really grateful, and also I’m growing much more into the act of looking at a project by its list of credited names, acknowledgements, because those lists are the beginning of a guide to how work happens, in this world.
Julian Hobba + Aspen Island Theatre Company
Kill Climate Deniers came into being thanks to Julian Hobba’s invitation to write a new script for his company Aspen Island. Julian shepherded the first draft into being through a series of conversations, and it was Julian that managed to secure funding to drive the script forward into an actual shape. He directed the development and the radio play recordings that were sampled to make the album.
Insofar as the script has a shape and form, it’s Julian that provided the dramaturgical advice. And he manifested and produced a huge amount of the structure behind the project’s development – thoughtfully, generously and intelligently. Julian got what I was trying to do straight away, and guided the work there with such calm precision.
Which, also: a shout out to the performers who took part in the script development and the recording. Clare Moss, Miranda Borman, Emma Strand, Sarah Walker, Emma Hall, Rachel Roberts, Cathy Petocz and Ellie Garran. The script was written in/for their voices – I can’t imagine Gwen Malkin as anything other than Clare Moss’ interpretation, for example.
Reuben took part in the first script development as a musician, and it was Reuben that suggested the play might work well as a radio play. That evolved into Reuben taking on the massive task of writing and recording an entire album of original tunes, and constructing the audio world of the story, including producing the Listening Party and an amazing live set.
Reuben’s style is just an inspiration, and I’ve been in love with the music he makes under all his various guises for many years. Collaborating with him was such a pleasure – so easy, so simple, and then he turns around and breaks out phenomenal surprises all the damn time; like the first time he played me Music to Shoot Climate Activists To.
Nick Wilson + Clan Analogue
Although Clan Analogue has been an incredibly generous supporter from the outset, I’m singling Nick out because his contribution has just been above and beyond, constantly. I don’t know how a record label works normally, but from the first time we talked about releasing KCD through Clan, he was 100% behind what we were doing, and incredibly sharp and responsive.
The whole fact of getting to release a record through a storied label like Clan is pretty incredible, and the lovely thing which I learned through the experience is that it really is a clan, in the sense of being a collective of great humans who help each other make art. Shout outs also to Martin Koszolko, Nick McCorriston, Wade Clarke and Kimmo Vennonen for remixes, mixing advice and mastering.
Longtime collaborator Gills Schwab gave me the nudge to take the work further after the first script development, and her opinion counts for a lot with me. I hassled her to contribute some illustrations for the playscript, and she came up with a gorgeous set of pictures, which have totally shaped my conception of the characters. Gills is one of the peeps who understood the aesthetic I was angling for with this project long before I could coherently articulate it – that’s a very special skill.
Karmin Cooper + New Best Friend
This one is massive. Karmin and I worked closely together on You Are Here back in the day, and since then, she’s been an incredibly generous supporter of my work with regard to design.
In the case of Kill Climate Deniers, I went to Karmin and asked for her help putting together some collateral around the project. What she – and New Best Friend – provided went way, way beyond that. Karmin designed the project website, most of the marketing material, created a logo for the project, and then, because she’s an extraordinary human beind, brought in New Best Friend designer Liam Cotchett to design the printed playscript / ebook.
If you’ve seen the script, you’ll understand that this was a massive undertaking. Liam did an incredible job, and NBF saw the project all the way through to completion, on every front.
I don’t even know how to explain how big a thing this is. Just to say that the project wouldn’t even begin to approach the standard it’s at without New Best Friend. And also, the lesson learned, which is: just trust Karmin.
My older bro is a film-maker and also very, very media-literate, for reasons pertaining to his job. So he first kicked in some very pertinent advice about Parliament House, about how to approach that institution, and then he took the time to produce the outstanding short film (featuring Clare Moss and Emma Strand) introducing people to the project.
I roped in Sarah to take part in the project as a performer for the radio play recording, and leaned on her then to take a few preliminary photos. She was willing, but she made me promise that we’d actually have a proper photoshoot, because she had some ideas for some concept images.
The end result was way beyond what I could’ve expected – stunning fire and ice images on a cloudy beach, with Georgie McAuley holding a molotov cocktail… I don’t know how Sarah sees what she sees when she imagines things, but she is very good.
image by sarah walker
Another very close collaborator, Jordan and I spent a good chunk of this year working together in a concrete office at Melbourne University, writing and thinking about the future. Along with being a source of good advice in general, Jordan also took on the task of adapting Kill Climate Deniers into a feature film script, which is incredible. (A couple of the best gags in the KCD solo show were stolen from Jordan’s script.)
Jordan then put his hand up to direct the music video for Bolted. The concept was entirely his, and he did all the production and direction, for what turned out to be a bizarrely effective and beautiful creation. Also shout out to Dan von Czarnecki, Sophie Hayward, Amanda Lissant-Clayton, Sam Burns-Warr, Ben Hamey, and Georgie McAuley again, for the dancing.
This is just an example of how strange and varied and lovely the support for this project – playwright Eric Gardiner is the most astute tracker of the far-right commentariat that I know, and so I turned to him for help producing the Which Right Wing Commentator Are You? personality quiz. Eric went above and beyond, and basically created the thing entirely by himself – and it’s brilliant – for nothing, out of the goodness of his heart. Which is one of those things where people’s generosity really keeps surprising me.
image by sarah walker from the 2016 you are here fest
You Are Here Festival
When YAH agreed to take on the first public outing of KCD there was a real risk, as far as we knew, that it would be a real headfuck with regard to getting attacked by internet trolls. But Adelaide Rief and Vanessa Wright were completely unfazed, and helped shape the solo show from its earliest form, and gave me a whole load of support and trust in the execution of it. Plus they provided the best possible context for the work – a Saturday night festival party event. Yes.
Much love to the whole festival crew for manifesting it into being – and to Ginger Gorman, Mark Fletcher and Bernie Slater for jumping on board with the panel, and to CMAG, Shane Breynard and Mick Bailey for hosting it too.
And a nod to Vanessa also, because it was her that observed, back in March, that the most interesting thing about this project was that it was a moving target. That thought has been swirling around in my head since then, leading to this, among other things.
I’ve been aware from the start that this project needs outside eyes to help frame the strategic side of things. My parents have been a good sounding board, as has Jack Lloyd, my brother Chris, Brenna Hobson, Natalie Reiss, and many others here and there. But Lande Norris has been the person who’s most effectively steered it away from bad mistakes.
My experience of Yolande, from the first weeks I knew her, is that when it comes to arts and politics, she has a longer range perspective than anyone else I know – far, far better than mine. With KCD, Lande was the person who told me bluntly when I was going in the wrong direction, and reminded me, gently and clearly, who this work was for, and to not get distracted by the noise around it.
Always the advice I needed, at the moment I need it.
Possibly the single greatest contributor to the KCD project, Gabby helped me tie the whole thing together. Looking at the tangle of different strands to this project, Gabby helped me find a way to talk about the thing in a vaguely coherent way. And to strategise how all these different elements might find their way out into the world, when and where and through who.
I think one of the most incredible things that Gabby provided was that when I was staring at what seemed like a blank wall, in terms of ‘I have no money, no audience and no place to start’, she was able to break that down into achievable, comprehensible goals and starting places. Guidance, encouragement and a shitload of very practical wisdom. Making things seem possible – that’s a pretty powerful skill.
My parents, and Emily Stewart
Any project of sufficient size is enough to get on top of you, to shake you up and make you doubt yourself. It’s funny, when you start something yourself, you don’t even have the structure of, say, a university degree – you’re making it up as you go along. There’s a lot of room in there for you to panic and lose your way.
A lot of good humans had my back at different times throughout the making of this, but always, unfailingly, my parents, when I sat down and chatted with them. And Emily, who never let me hit a wall, never let me panic or go around in circles.
How much any piece of art, any creative project, is just a meeting point for a lot of people’s efforts, just a space in which people come together to care.
Because of how I’m wired, I’m not a great fan of a lot of middlebrow TV or films. I am continually turning down offers to watch extremely good things, Academy Award winning dramas etc, in favour of junk. I quite like a lot of super abstract video art, and lowbrow genre trash – nothing in the middle. I’m not proud of this – in fact I wish I were different – but nature + nurture conspired to do a number on me in this regard, and now here we are.
Anyway, the result is, I sometimes watch genre films and write – well, not quite reviews, but… commentaries? – on them. And because I haven’t really documented that material in any intelligent way, I thought it might be a good idea to gather some of those pieces in one place, in case anyone feels like they need that.
Starting with the best first, The Surrender was a one-woman show based on Toni Bentley’s erotic memoir about her sexual adventures, and in particular, her journey into the world of heterosexual sodomy. I saw this with Jess and Siobhan in New York and it is easily one of my top three theatre experiences of all-time.
Click on the link and journey from top to bottom – or as Toni Bentley would say: ‘from bottom… to BOTTOM.’
I saw this early Selena Gomez holiday romance / mistaken identity saga back in 2011 and it was terrible, but also, the sight of Leighton Meester shedding some of her uptight cares and worries and learning to be free by splashing through fountains and necking with a topless aussie bloke in waist deep water… ahhh.
This whole film is a fucking disaster, and I ended up being on the side of the uptight wealthy jerk who the heroine’s parents are trying to set her up with, rather than the free-spirited Cuban dancer lad she falls for. Also the Patrick Swayze cameo was weird and disturbing. But a dance training montage to Shakira’s Hips Don’t Lie makes everything okay.
Thanks to Clyde Enriquez I watched the iconic Filipino rom-com One More Chance, way over-identified with Bea Alonzo as the heroine, and hated matinee idol John Lloyd Cruz more than I’ve ever hated a movie character before or since. Fuck that guy.
Jess Bellamy and I sat down together and watched the Hannah Montana movie – jointly, for science – and each wrote our own review. I’m not going to spoil it for you, but it is not a very good movie. Except for the barndance sequence, that’s all killer no filler.
Most recently, I poured my tired soul into this Dakota Johnson vehicle, and look, I felt a lot of feelings, but I can’t pretend they’re all thanks to the film. I spent a lot of time being distracted by the conspicuous wealth on display, and by the total lack of any clear narrative arc.
Four minutes into this Dakota Johnson movie and I’m feeling all kinds of feelings.
1. Sex and the City-esque light philosophical reflections about being single over a high-speed montage of a couple getting together and then breaking up
2. Dakota Johnson seems really fine, but also like she’s not sure she wants to be here. Maybe that’s her MO. The whole of 50 Shades, her special trick that she brought to the performance was the look of being deeply unhappy about being there. It’s a Thing I guess
3. I fucken hate TaySwi’s Welcome To New York, and it’s not like I don’t love 1989, so don’t lay that on me
Dakota Johnson moves to New York after breaking up with her bf of four years to find out what it’s like to be single and Rebel Wilson meets her at her new job as a paralegal
like there are jobs in New York
there are no jobs in New York
At the end of day one of job, Dakota wants to go home, in her sexy mini and makeup, but Rebel is the irresponsible best friend, already. Some fucking how.
Not that I can write better romance than this movie: I am this movie.
There’s a character who’s slightly anally looking for the right guy on dating websites – the bartender at the place she’s meeting these guys has a playful frisson-charged friendship with her, will something develop? On date one, the gag is that the guy isn’t into having children, he’s about having crazy sex acts.
This is making me long for the overstuffed shambolic fuckup that was Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis’ Friends With Benefits – so many failed setpieces. This film knows all the moves, it just doesn’t care.
But: glossy costumes, well-lit, colourful sets, heaps of extras, Dakota Johnson looking winsome: we proceed.
Rebel Wilson takes Dakota to a bar where she instructs Dakota to get laid. Fifth Harmony’s Worth It is playing, Dakota says several times ‘I’m not looking to hook up, I just want to discover who I am”. This is, in the parlance of the Hero’s Journey: Refusing The Call.
Dakota ends up making out with the bartender that’s been flirting with the uptight girl, then it cuts to the next morning at Dakota’s sister’s beautiful house, her beautiful, huge, beautiful house. Her huge house that she has in New York with her doctor job, her doctor job that has made her rich, rich enough to own a huge, beautiful house with great couches and lovely natural light where Rebel and Dakota awake, hungover, after the night out they had following a day at work at their jobs, their jobs that they have in New York, because they have jobs in New York.
I’m 16 minutes into this film and the lighting is exquisite.
There’s a whole thing with the sister getting clucky, deciding that she wants a baby herself. What’s going on here? Do I have the courage and sensitivity to say anything about this scene in this recounting or do I leave it alone?
(note from future david: looks like i decided to leave it alone)
Dakota’s boyf that she split with at the top of the film shows up for a meeting, she asks him to come back to her, he says no. It’s a good bit of writing cause it’s done and dusted in a couple of short lines – this is how writing should be written.
I will write this scene, this same scene, I will write this exact scene, with a little less grace and fewer Dakota Johnsons.
The uptight girl is at the bar being alone when a hen’s party rocks up and the hen is an old friend and girl-on-girl competition is about to be afoot, I can feel it. Bitch friends asking too many spiteful questions bring our girl down, but then the bartender pretends to be her boyfriend to make them jealous and score points.
Just, give me one reason to like any of these characters. Have them do something good, or interesting. They’re in the sympathetic protagonist slot in the movie but I just – don’t – care.
God the extras are well dressed, though.
In fact, the costumes are off the fucking chain. There’s not one scene where Dakota doesn’t look like she’s in an amazing and sexy hair commercial.
Having wealth, having fucking wealth, man.
Dakota moves into a beautiful luxury apartment with high ceilings, with all her possessions, her goddamn possessions, how can she be sad when she has everything? How does she live?
The sister is gonna have a baby by herself, it doesn’t work the first time, the sister has a history of helping other people but when will she learn to take care of herself?
Rebel and Dakota are hanging out in a… place. If it were the 90s, and it were Sliding Doors, that place would be… yoga. Because that’s what aspirationally attractive young professionals with romantic possibilities ahead of them did, in movies back then. Now it’s 2016 and they’re in a sauna. Which is fucking yellow.
I’ve said before that the lighting in this film is unbelievable, but here I think they’ve legit let the designer go too far. Fuck, man, what’s even going on.
The flight attendants are walking up and down the aisle and chatting to people in their gorgeous Birmingham accents and they are adorable. Nathan and Rachel are a few seats back so they can clearly see that I’m watching this film, there are no secrets on this plane. I tried to convince Rachel to watch it too so we could debrief about it but she said that all reports are that it’s terrible, so now I have no-one to debrief about it with except you, word document.
What does Dakota do in this film? What does she DO? She exists only in relation to her partners, prospective or past, she has no thing that she does. And the meet-cutes in this flick have been universally bad.
Nah but straight up, fuck the bit where the characters hate on pubic hair as a thing where it’s ugly and you can’t have sex with new guys if you have it. What the fuck is wrong with you, screenwriter, that you wrote that, and with you, entire culture, that you sanctioned it? I mean don’t get me wrong, I know what world I’m living in, I know what to expect from Hollywood patriarchal mainstream fluff, but every so often, man the world is just depressing.
(aside: a week or so into Stockholm development, and thank you Sweden for your healthy mature attitude towards nudity and the human body, but also as a consequence, I’m extremely aware that every dudebro at the gym is getting around with shaved nads. I feel hella self-conscious rocking my full natural bush; Dakota Johnson, I relate, I relate.)
Dakota does the thing where not knowing how to work her electrical appliances and being confused about technology is cute. (It’s understandable and no judgment, but it’s not cute.)
There’s a Glee club sequences and a whole thing with the pregnant sister wanting to have sex and having sex with some young dude at the office christmas party. Man, fucken American banter is so type A and obnoxious, it would be nice if people were just nice to each other, in this films, in all this films.
The sister has sex with a dude in the copy room at the law firm, which we know from the first scene with Rebel Wilson is under surveillance, and not to be having sex in.
(The gag where this sex scene has been filmed is set up but never delivered on, which means it’s 100% on the editing floor, in which case, I commend the editor of the flick for their restraint in paring this thing back to a digestible length.)
The uptight girl gets angry at kids in a library and tells them that dudes are no good and that love is dead, it’s a setpiece with kids as comedy. She meets a librarian who is cute with a scruffy face.
Dakota goes to her ex-boyf’s christmas party to see him dancing with his new gf because who the fuck is Dakota Johnson in this film, a walking open wound.
She has wealth, sees wealth, a wealthy businessman takes her to the top of an expensive building he owns, because wealth = romance, romance = wealth.
Now she’s hanging with the businessman’s daughter, he gets angry because she’s bonding with his daughter. It’s three months later. The relationship ends. Where are we. In the sky somewhere, night, in the shadow of the earth, I’m lost in the vastness of the world and the melancholy that is international travel, as lost if not more so than this film.
There’s a mealy indie guitar ballad to celebrate the end of this relationship, a parade scene – so many extras. So many extras. A great scene with silhouettes. Good lighting. Dakota hugs her sister and cries. This purposeless, vacuous movie has no trajectory, and I’m lost in it.
The uptight lass is now with the scruffy librarian, now it’s a montage of the characters being happy, being happy, it’s a montage of… what? Dakota has some casual sex, and then runs into her ex-boyfriend again. I swear, we get no distance from this character. We can’t even use him as a measure of Dakota’s progress because what progress? What direction? What even?
The sister pushes away her young lover because she is too afraid to be open.
The perpetually single bartender has fallen in love with the uptight girl but it’s too late, she’s gone.
The wealthy businessman tucks in his daughter with a melancholy air.
Dakota get a text from her ex-boyf inviting her back. She goes to hang out with the bartender.
DAKOTA VOICEOVER: Maybe this whole time we’ve been making all the wrong moves. Maybe we’ve been focusing on the wrong stuff, and now it’s too late.
Dakota has sex with the bartender to the tune of the Harlem Shake. Is it a good song? Seems like on paper it should be a good song, but also, I don’t know if I like it?
Everyone drinks in this film, alcohol is the only thing. Dakota has a huge birthday party, a rooftop party. She gets drunk, the lighting is beautiful, who are all these fucking strangers.
The setpiece in this section of the film is all three of Dakota’s beaus meeting. At her birthday party.
The bartender makes a move on the uptight girl, who’s now getting married to the librarian so she rebuffs him. The wealthy businessman apologises to Dakota, she… ah, I don’t know. She still doesn’t look like she wants to even be in this film. But I’m tired and I just need a hug and I want Dakota Johnson to be happy.
At this point on any international flight my head is in a weird place and look at Dakota Johnson’s kind eyes and ohhhhh, I don’t need grace just a smile, just a smile
Dakota is now ripping in to Rebel Wilson for not having a life of her own, which is rich given that
a) Rebel is doing her best with the paltry material she’s been given as the wacky best friend, and
b) Dakota doesn’t even have the beginnings of a flicker of a life.
The realtalk concludes with a song that I thought might be the Verve’s Already There, which woulda been an unusual choice, but it was not. Often the soundtrack is the place in these safe-bet studio films where the director feels free to cut loose and pull in an unexpected choice or two, but here the music feels curated by Spotify algorithms, and I guess that’s fine, I guess that’s fine.
Now her ex-boyf comes and sits with Dakota on a stairwell. They make out, they nearly have sex. But he’s still with his new girlfriend, Dakota’s angry.
The editing, the editing is exceptionally good. It’s going so fast.
But there’s a triumphant bit where Dakota realises she wants to be alone. And there’s a water breaking sequence which is… well look, I feel like there’s probably a way to play someone’s waters breaking as a clever gag, but this is not it. And then there’s a labour in the back of a cab. And now it’s soft chiming guitars and the baby got born. And holy shit, the baby they hand to her when she’s finished giving birth is clearly a fortnight old. Man, you can’t get a genuine infant in the movies, can you? It’s understandable and ethically good, but also, jesus.
So the final score at the end of the flick is:
– The sister gets back together with her young dude because they love each other and he wants to help raise the baby
– Dakota walks back to her beautifully lit apartment at dawn and enjoys being alone
– She reads Cheryl Strayed in the window of her apartment and texts Rebel Wilson
DOES SHE EVER WORK AT HER FUCKING JOB
She’s getting ready to walk the Grand Canyon. She sees young girls who are friends on the streets and smiles. An anthem of independence plays and she reconnects with Rebel Wilson.
DAKOTA VOICEOVER: I’ve been thinking that the time we have single is really just the time to get good at being alone…. but how good do we really want to be?
(is this the moral you want to leave your audience with? does this actually mean anything?)
Final shot, Dakota standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in the dawn. Alone. Truly alone.
And there, there, what a lot of things to think and feel. Do I have the energy, do I have the heart? I feel like a mess.
Reuben and I launching the album in Melbourne. pic by Max Barker.
In the midst of doing some thinking and wrapping my head around the Kill Climate Deniers project, and one of the big challenges is: How do I measure the success of this work? More on this soon, but in order to even begin answering this question, I wanted to pull together a bit of the public commentary around the project in one place.
Kill New Play Deniers (HowlRound, March) – Playwriting brother/comrade Ira Gamerman wrote this piece for the US playwriting journal about the difference between Australian and US theatre and how the Kill Climate Deniers controversy could never have happened in America.
‘In American playwright terms: imagine a scenario where Bill O’Reilly writes an op-ed in the Washington Post condemning an unproduced play (which somehow received twenty grand in taxpayer dough from the NEA?). O’Reilly’s op-ed raises enough of a stink that a playwright with no agency representation gets called out by Eric Cantor, and starts receiving e-threats from a cabal of international conservative white dudes.’
‘If someone uses the title “kill” in an art work I think we should question that. If someone uses an inflammatory title, which Kill Climate Deniers certainly is, then they should be taken to task … Because as an artist, as much as I have a right to provoke this conversation and use the language that I’ve used in the title, I think it’s important that that doesn’t come without cost.’
“I consider myself a climate denier in that I accept the scientific evidence of climate change around the world but like most people I haven’t taken any direct action or plans in my own life to do anything about it.”
‘It’s a philosophical puzzler for the Age of Terror, the cyber-equivalent of a tree falling in the woods. If a group of ecowarriors lays siege to Parliament House but no one notices, did it really happen?’
‘Even before the volley of gunfire during the song Music to Shoot Climate Activists To, Ingall’s “bangers” were an unsettling score for a Parliament House stroll. His classic house and techno tracks expressed an abandon and depravity that was utterly incongruent with the civic fustiness of the meeting place of our nation. When two AFP officers eyed me, then cruised slowly by, I felt vaguely treasonous and very paranoid.’
‘If you accept the overall (progressive) narrative about counter-terrorism, environmentalism, and political activism, then the political message of the play and the action narrative of the play mesh seamlessly. If you don’t, you’re stuck never quite being able to slip entirely into the action narrative. But is this a glitch or a feature?’
‘Finnigan has used his “bolting” to his advantage and created a second story within Kill Climate Deniers. This story is in a universe where the events in Kill Climate Deniers have eventuated because of the play, and the ramifications of having promoted terrorism through his story.’
Kill Climate Deniers solo show, pic by Sarah Walker.
It’s been a long time since I’ve been a playwright, properly. I was never really a proper playwright, in the sense of writing a Well-Made Play. That’s a difficult task, and it takes years of hard work to get good at it, and I’ve never put in the hard yards, honestly.
I’ve always made weird things instead. Weird, unlovely things, and things that scratched particular creative itches at the time of inception. Then we formed Boho back in 2006, and since then a huge amount of my practice has been about audience-drive, participatory work, which is a whole other artform with a whole different set of design and aesthetic principles.
In the last few years, though, I’ve sensed myself butting up against a kind of idea of the sort of work I want to make, outside of the scope of Boho’s interactive-science-theatre remit. It started with seeing Bougainville Photoplay Project (which is still the piece of theatre I’ve enjoyed the most that I had no personal relationship to). It’s been a vague, unclear impulse, but at different times I’ve felt like I’ve touched on something that works.
Paul Dwyer in Bougainville Photoplay Project. Note similarity to the pic above. Image from Belvoir.
Now that Kill Climate Deniers is landing in the world, I’ve tried to hash out what, exactly, this ‘format of work’ might look like, and what it entails. In a way this is for me more than it is for anyone else – I’m sharing it because I’m trying to track my own efforts to come at the kind of work that intuitively interests me.
None of this is original, and if it’s new to me, it’s because I haven’t really read much or studied anything about my craft. I’m a trial-and-error animal. If it turns out that there’s a word for exactly what I’m trying to describe, great! If it turns out there’s a school where you can study it, even better!
(I probably still won’t study it, tho)
So there are two basic components to this model of making. At the centre of this little schematic is what I’m calling the ‘core story/idea’. And then around that core is a variety of different expressions of that story/idea, across different platforms.
The Story One aspect of the core is the story. This is the seed idea. This could be a reportage-style investigation of a real-world event, or it could be a fictional story.
Real world event: Easier, in some ways. Harder in others. It’s like deciding to do a work about how archeological sites in conflict zones are looted and the artifacts smuggled over borders. Or a work about befriending a person with the opposite political opinions to you. This has a bit of an investigative journalism feel to it, I guess. It helps that the story exists in the real world, so you can document it. But then, how are you going to get that documentation? How close are you able to get to the story?
Fictional story: Easier, in some ways. Harder in others. This’d be like making a work about a fictional attack on Parliament House by a group of eco-terrorists. Or a story about a couple who need to have 44 sex acts in one week in order to write a magazine article. One challenge here is that, at core, who cares about a fictional story? People seem to respond reasonably well to the bit of Kill Climate Deniers where I tell the story of the terrorist attack. But the problem is the media doesn’t exist around a fictional story, you have to create it. Whereas with a real world story, you just go and document the actual thing.
Kill Climate Deniers and Kids Killing Kids/Battalia Royale were lucky in that they were able to combine elements of both. Make the fictional story, then tell the story of making that story. Kids Killing Kids was more immediately interesting because the challenges and weirdnesses of making Battalia Royale was more interesting than the challenges and weirdnesses of making Kill Climate Deniers. But in both instances, there is value in the intersection of real-world shit and fake stuff.
What seems to work well in Kill Climate Deniers, though, is using real-world stuff in order to colour and contextualise the fictional story. Lots of photos of Parliament House, real stories about the current state of climate change, all that stuff, used as colour and dressing around the fictional story. And then as you proceed forward, the fictional story takes over.
little bit of real-world flavour supporting the fictional Kill Climate Deniers story.
Another core element is the idea. In everything I do there is going to be some kind of learning, some kind of lecture element. Because that’s what appeals to me in a night out. The chance to learn something real, to discover something new. ‘Someone’s story’ is not enough by itself, in fact that’s often really drab and disappointing. I want a thing which tells me something new about the world, I want that a lot.
So in every process, I’m gonna wanna have some kind of clear sense of what this idea is at an early-ish stage.
That’s not a barrier to doing works like Ghost Mountain, which is my brilliant pitch idea about a group of mountain climbers who are being picked off one by one by the vengeful spirit of a climber lost on a previous expedition. The topic is mountain climbing. I can commentate on the history of the sport, riff on that while telling a ridiculous mountaineering ghost story.
It’s a little trickier with stuff that’s more consciously trash, like 44 Sex Acts in One Week. But still, there’s commentary around sex in popular culture, how we negotiate different kinds of kink, etc… Even the most lightweight trash has stuff to say about the world.
Battalia Royale saying stuff about the world
In the case of both Kill Climate Deniers and Kids Killing Kids/Battalia, there was a real-world impact to the telling of this story, and that became part of the story. ‘Controversy’ was the rough name that got bandied about for this thing, but I think that’s a naff term and not quite what I’m talking about. ‘Controversy’ implies black and white, lots of yelling, and somewhat predictable debates. I think what I need is a phrase like ‘impact’, and what every project and/or story needs to do is to go to the site of most discomfort in order to speak back to itself.
That was how Bougainville Photoplay Project worked – Paul Dwyer kept returning to the site of the story, going back to Bougainville, and telling the story back to the people it was about, and in that way it became an interesting self-reflexive journey. Kill Climate Deniers kinda goes to the scene of the crime in being presented at Parliament House. We captured people’s reactions to Battalia at the time they occurred, and that was key.
So all projects have to have a point where they go to the place where that story is most resonant, where that idea is at its rawest. And then reflect on that, speak about that, build from that.
bringing KCD to its natural home at Parliament House
Okay, so those are the core elements for each project. Beyond that, they can be represented in any way that works – and I think I’m past the point of wanting to make them into a ‘play’, as such. Even if I knew what that meant, I’m just not the best playwright.
I want to produce this story, and then to try to capture that story (which is always a moving target) across multiple different creative platforms. None of them will really do it justice, not if the story’s rich and interesting enough. And the failure of one form is really its success, because by trying to force a work into a particular form you (a) inevitably miss crucial parts of the whole that you’ll have to come back to in another way, and (b) you discover aspects of that story that could only emerge when you try to express it in this particular medium.
So what are these mediums? I don’t know all of them, but a partial list – some formats I’ve begun to explore:
Film / Video
So in the case of Battalia, Sam+Jordan+Georgie+I filmed a huge volume of content – interviews, performance footage, colourful content from around Malate. Shaping that into a specific format required editing skills (which I don’t have) and a context (which was the Kids Killing Kids live show), but that same material could also have been sculpted into a film documentary, or broken down and expressed elsewise.
In the case of Kill Climate Deniers, there was nothing to film. The show didn’t exist, and it’s too high-budget to make happen in any kind of visually spectacular way. However, Tom (my older brother) had a bunch of timelapse videos he’s filmed from around Parliament House and surrounds, plus he was adept at finding free found footage that was relevant. And filming a short mockumentary was well within our capacity. Similarly, Jordan was able to construct and produce a beautiful music video for Bolted, which brings another strange media element into the picture.
So, the point is to:
• Film whatever’s available and relevant
• Collate free found footage on the subject at hand
• Film short creative material
Jordan’s vision for the Kill Climate Deniers lead single music video included a rogues gallery of terrible dudes
Radio plays are not a thing. The energy and vibe of a podcast and/or radio documentary is something different. That Kids Killing Kids has ended up as a radio documentary, thx to ABC Radio National, is a satisfying result.
every project should include room for Reuben Ingall to bust out a rad dancefloor set of classic rave anthems. pic by sarah walker.
Slideshow / Photographs
Everything, no matter what it is, needs photographs to bolster it. I think when I’m writing stories I need to be also collating relevant found images, photographing locations myself.
The original idea for Kids Killing Kids was a slideshow, showing pics from our weird residency. I’m not heaps nostalgic for old media, or nostalgia in general, honestly, but I do have good memories of my dad and Will Steffen giving slideshows from their Himalayan expeditions.
A story could just be a selection of images, in the right order. Sarah Walker and I were talking about a work riffing on La Jetée, and now she’s going ahead and doing something like it (but with a good deal more radical worldbuilding) out at Bonnie Doon. There’s something brilliant about that – a photoessay documenting a fictional world – all the information and narrative that you crave is held tantalisingly out of your reach, but there’s so much stimulus for your own ideas in there.
along with Bougainville Photoplay Project, Chris Marker’s La Jetée and Sans Soleil are probs the closest ancestors for this kinda work
Live performance / storytelling
It will be hard for me to ever give this up. I think the mental shift I need to make is from producing a live performance as the beginning, end and entire output of a project, to treating it the way musicians treat it – you release your recorded material, you play it live. Not one, not the other; both. Some musicians tilt more one way than the other, but theatre artists (me) are trained to want to do almost everything live.
Interesting result of Kill Climate Deniers – the live performance of the solo show is as close to a complete document of the work as there could possibly be, and YET, in doing it, I discovered that there’s lots of elements that just don’t fit in that work. Even though the live performance version allows you to bring together storytelling, audio, film, images etc, it’s still really bounded by the Harrison Rule (a live show can be 1 hour or 8, nothing in between). So if the work is deep enough, you’re gonna be skimming from a larger body of content when you choose what you put in front of an audience.
And of course, part of that curation is based on what kind of emotional experience you want the audience to have. There are a lot of ideas and concepts floating around in the KCD text, but in a live setting I only really lightly brush up against in the live show, just because of the practicalities of time.
A live performance remains great though, because even if you only have 10 people in the crowd, you have 10 people’s attention for an hour, and that’s a goddamn miracle.
georgie explaining that, no, you’re upside down, in kids killing kids. pic by sarah walker.
It’s got a little bit to do with that point above about impact – bringing the work to the place where it’s most raw, where it has the potential to speak to its own themes in interesting ways. It’s not about generating media fluff, it’s about finding the place or context where the work is most resonant, and pouring it into that space.
The reflections from that experience become valuable learning in building the project.
Taking a work about Australian democracy to Parliament House; this was just artistically really satisfying. Pic by Tom Finnigan.
Essay / Article / Script
There’s a place for a text-driven document which people can access and read. When we started You Are Here, Yolande and I had the notion that the program brochure, if it were classy enough, would become an archivable item documenting the state of the Canberra indie arts scene at that time. In that way, the festival itself was less important than producing a beautiful object that could last, and be returned to. A festival is a beautiful snapshot of a creative community at that moment in time, but New Best Friend‘s gorgeous YAH programs will live on my shelves forever.
Maybe similarly, there’s a value in producing a solid document, an object, a piece of writing that speaks to the project you’re making in its complexity but which can be published in a journal, or stored on a shelf.
The Kill Climate Deniers script is a beautiful object (not coincidentally, also designed by New Best Friend) – and it benefits massively by having an essay / foreword by Julian Hobba, to place it in its context. The value of calling it a script is that it is one, and that it is available for theatre companies to produce. Why not? But a script, in truth, is not necessarily the best form for a lasting document, because who reads scripts?
An essay, an article, a document of some other kind, that’s an important end result. It doesn’t hurt to have something beautiful.
The program booklet for You Are Here 2013, designed by New Best Friend, <3 forever
As I learned from Xavier Rizos in 2009 and tried to embody in You Are Here, a project website is a platform and a meeting point for a cluster and constellation of online activity that overspills it in every direction. Website-as-archive document, that’s pretty bland. But there is a place for a rich media essay that speaks to the project’s themes, that includes some of the creative elements, that includes pictures and video and audio.
There are so many examples of this I don’t know where to start – in fact I won’t bother. I’ll just say that one of my favourites is Anab Jain’s Valley of the Meatpuppets talk for Superflux, and leave it at that.
At the end of it all, what you’ve made should be a cluster of items orbiting an idea, like debris whirling around a forming star.* The crucial thing is that every element of the puzzle points to the other elements, relies upon them to support its own expression, but every element also stands alone to a greater or lesser degree. And every element points inwards to those core elements – the idea, the story, the impact – but there is no single actual item that is the work. The centre of gravity is the idea, and the call to action at the end of the encounter with the work should always be: investigate more yourself.
Something like that.
*how is that for a goddamn metaphor
it may happen that I grow tired of these two stills from How To Lose A Guy In Ten Days but I’d hazard that that day is a long way away yet