2016 is full of things happening & I’m trying to judge if they’re going alright

pic very much by sarah walker. yes.

It’s mid-September and I’m having one of those brief pauses amidst things being due. 2016 turned out to be a year of things being delivered, kinda – projects that have been building up for a little while are now being presented, in one way or another. I didn’t mean for them to cluster like this, it’s just how it’s happened.

It’s always a strange time. The last time things all landed together in one tight barrage was 2010, and that was a bit of a disaster. Since then I’ve been trying harder to space things out, but every so often, you find projects just line up in a row. This isn’t as bad as 2010 by any means – in fact it’s fine, it’s really fine – but I’m noticing that I’m pretty heavily in the headspace of marketing, promotion, producing, rather than planning or making.

It also means that when I finally do get to grips with some new projects (early next year), it’ll be a long time before I get them ready to be presented. Next year’s looking like it’ll be a quiet year as far as output goes.

This last little while, though, has been a bundle of things happening in the world.

Best Festival Ever seasons in Melbourne and Sydney in July and August. That was nice – and we got a review in RealTime, too.

Gobyerno with Sipat Lawin in Darwin for the Darwin Festival. Also rad – and another review in RealTime.

For years I wanted a review in RealTime, it felt like the marker of some kind of artistic legitimacy. People want weird things, I guess. So I’m happy. (^_^)

 by sarah walker, again again, with lovers/bros andrew bolt and edmund barton

But the big thing, this last little while, has been the Kill Climate Deniers album. Which is out now, and that’s pretty rad. This project just kinda burst into a whole bunch of different formats – solo show, ebook, short film, feature film script, album. And the album exists now, and… ahhhhhh, I’m happy. What else can you say? Reuben Ingall is a genius, and the music on this record makes me so excited.

I don’t know, man, I can’t figure out where it fits into my practice, but I have this feeling that this record is pointing in a new and good direction for what I want to make. Like, in 35 minutes of music, there’s a lot of it which is just beats, just music to dance to, and the words, when they’re there, are just supporting and flavouring that sound. It’s a really minimal approach, it’s erasing so much of what I oversay and overdo and it’s something I want to put on and it makes me want to dance, and that’s a real thing.

It also feels like it’s pushing back at one of the most frustrating things about my entire practice, which is the way that live performance just evaporates into the air as soon as you’ve done it. Which, don’t get me wrong, is one of the most lovely and exciting things about it. But also: has left me with a legacy of 15 years of practice that sometimes seems pretty threadbare.

Ahhhhhh, but then, but then, the live performance elements are sometimes the most fun. Like, we held a special preview Listening Party for the album in Parliament House. An audio tour through the public areas. Ridiculous, but so satisfying. And honestly, what else can you do with an iconic public building that has such a specific and strange resonance but write a hostage drama set there and then build a guided audio tour?

The Age journalist had fun with the article about it, and he landed the most perfect headline I could imagine.

More things like this, I think.

Now we just launched the video clip for Bolted, which Jordan did a brilliant job of, and all the good people made it happen, and Georgie dancing it like a maniac, so much, so much. And all the mannequins, Kyle Sandilands and Edmund Barton, together at last.

And the radical photoshoot with Sarah Walker with the fire and the ice!

I don’t know how I deserve all these incredible artists around me, making rad shit happen, asking nothing in return. And James Atkin from EMF (yes, the guy behind 1991 #1 hit Unbelievable) has remixed Bolted, which will come out on the remix EP in October.

How does this all work? People are good people, people are good people, I mean,

But all this building up to the album launch events. Wednesday 21 September at Smiths Alternative in Canberra, Friday 23 September at Bar 303 in Melbourne. I’m gonna do a version of my solo show slice at KCD, Reuben’s gonna play a dancefloor set mixing classic House and Techno tracks with his own songs from the album. I’m going to dance like an idiot, gonna sweat, as the song says, til I bleed.

 sarah walker, capturing the last time reuben busted out a Kill Climate Deniers set, back in april

And then to Sweden, and we throw ourselves back into the next development of Democratic Nature, the systems gaming show drawing on Best Festival Ever that looks at the Flatan nature reserve south of Stockholm.

As usual, the act of setting all this stuff down in one place is really disorienting. And as soon as I write it down I start thinking ‘and what? and why? and where next?’ but there are no answers to those questions so just play Demi Lovato’s Cool For The Summer and keep going, keep going

How the Kill Climate Deniers playscript became an album

Kill Climate Deniers is a cross-platform project that started off as something clear and obvious and self-contained – a playscript – and has now splintered into a bunch of different forms on a bunch of different platforms.

What was, to begin with, an easy work to talk about and understand, has now become a strange, hard-to-define, cross-disciplinary beast.

So what I’d like to do is to explain where Kill Climate Deniers came from and how it came to take on the shape(s) it has today, and maybe that will help articulate what exactly we’re about to release in four weeks time.

kcdwebres_09_image_by_sarah_walkerRachel Roberts in Kill Climate Deniers. Photo by Sarah Walker.

To begin with, Kill Climate Deniers was a playscript – a sprawling, action-packed play depicting the siege of Parliament House by 96 eco-terrorists, and the explosive counter-attack by the Minister for the Environment, who takes on the entire army of terrorists with a gun, a smartphone and a soundtrack of classic House and Techno from the late-80s / early-90s.

The script was developed with director & dramaturge Julian Hobba and Aspen Island Theatre Company, but financial considerations meant that the work just was not feasible to produce at the scale we envisioned. At the same time, there was a lot of interest in the work, from audiences around Australia and overseas. So we began to ask: how could we get the work out to them?

At that point, musician and sound designer Reuben Ingall made the suggestion that we adapt the work into a radio-play. With Aspen Island’s support, we brought together a group of actors and recorded the entire play as an audio work. But even as we did, the idea was evolving: from radio play to album.

kcdwebres_07_image_by_sarah_walkerEmma Hall and Rachel Roberts in Kill Climate Deniers. Photo by Sarah Walker.

Rather than simply presenting the script as an audio experience, Reuben composed an entire album of original music, in the style of the soundtrack – four-to-the-floor dancefloor bangers drawing on classic House and Techno. We then sampled dialogue from the play, in the way that early dance music heavily sampled dialogue from films and TV.

The result is an album of original dance music, with dialogue from the playscript threaded through it. It’s a radio-play you can dance to, or a club album with a narrative.

The album was picked up for release by iconic Australian electronic music label Clan Analogue, home of artists such as B(if)tek and Deepchild.

The single off the album, Bolted, samples and cuts together quotes from right-wing commentator Andrew Bolt and his followers attacking the project, set to a pounding groove. This track has been remixed by artists including James Atkin (EMF), writer of 1991’s #1 hit You’re Unbelievable.

The album will go live on Wednesday 31 August, with a very special Listening Party event at Parliament House in Canberra. Participants will be able to download a special mix of the album and walk through Parliament House in a guided audio tour, taking in the music and the story in the location it is set. It’s a unique way to experience a fierce work of art AND connect with Australian democracy, all at once.

Parliament_House_Canberra_Dusk_Panorama Image by JJ Harrison

Following that, there will be two album launch events in September, at Smiths Alternative in Canberra and Bar 303 in Melbourne, as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. These events will see Reuben and I perform together, in a combination of theatre performance and dance party.

The album is one output of the broader Kill Climate Deniers project. The original playscript is also available as an ebook or a printed text, there is a short movie, a feature film script, and a live solo performance version.

At its core, Kill Climate Deniers poses a simple question: What happens if our political institutions are incapable of dealing with a threat on the scale of climate change? Is real political change even possible?

All of the forms in which the work has evolved are finding different ways to ask that question, to pose that challenge.

Is it possible to pose this kind of political / social challenge with an album of House beats? I think so. But I don’t know. So, we find out.

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

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

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

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

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

‘But… why?’

& so on & so on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The name of our boy band is LoveTeam.

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

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

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

Corporate retreat / video poemtry

DSCF0105 - Version 3 copy pic by jordan prosser

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

DSCF0098 copy pic by jordan prosser. 

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

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

karnabal443 image by bunny cadag

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

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

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

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

karnabal446 image by clyde enriquez

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

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

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

karnabal445 image by bunny cadag

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

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

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

karnabal444 image by bunny cadag

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

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

karnabal448 image by rina atienza

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

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

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

karnabal447 image by brandon relucio

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

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

I don’t know. I never know.

Notes from a conversation with Liberal MLA Brendan Smyth

brendan2 image by rohan thomson

While in Canberra this last week, I was able to take some time to meet with Canberra Liberal MLA Brendan Smyth. Smyth is the ACT Shadow Arts Minister, and in that position, he voiced his opposition to the Kill Climate Deniers project in 2014, calling for the funding to be reconsidered.

Since his press release and critique of the work in the Legislative Assembly, I’ve wanted for a long time to chat with him about it. As part of the You Are Here Festival, I held a forum to discuss some of the ideas and questions he’d raised (about taxpayer-funded political art, outrage and censorship), but unfortunately he was not in town for it. However, he kindly agreed to take some time to sit down with me this week to unpack his perspective in a little more detail.

Of course, the play’s title is deliberately attention-grabbing and provocative. I believe it’s justified by the content and by the context, but I could be wrong – and it’s always worth listening to people who disagree with you.

Smyth’s criticism of the project is down to the use of the word ‘kill’ in the title. He argued that the word is an unfortunate choice, and that the English language is so powerful, the choice of words in a title is crucial. To Smyth’s eyes, having the word there legitimises the thought. I asked if he thought that the title of the play increased the risk of violence against climate deniers – he said, ‘odd things have triggered violence’.

I agree with Smyth that the English language is incredibly powerful (as I should, I’m a writer), and that we must be careful with our choice of words. I also agree with him that we have limited arts funding – too limited – and that we need to use the funding we have wisely.

In Smyth’s view, art and artists are at the centre of our culture – and that the creative industries represent the future of our society. Artists are key drivers of innovation, and that is something we don’t harvest enough as a society.

Smyth and I also agree that the world is in a state of conflict and strife, and has been for as long as we’ve both lived. Having served in the army, he certainly has a perspective on political violence which I don’t, and I acknowledge his expertise in that area.

It’s also worth acknowledging that Smyth has been active for many years in pursuing environmental and sustainability outcomes for the ACT – including lobbying for the ACT to take up the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997. Whereas I consider myself functionally a climate denier, Brendan is definitely closer to being a climate activist, and I have to admire his work in this area and the real outcomes he’s achieved.

I asked Smyth if he had tried to contact Aspen Island Theatre Company, ArtsACT or myself for clarification about the work before sending out his press release, to find out anything about the artists or their intentions. He had not. When he led a call for the work to be defunded, he was not interested in the artists, the content or the context at all.

His critique was limited solely to the use of the word ‘kill’ in the title. Smyth does not believe that this word has any place in the title of an artwork under any circumstances. For example: Smyth has not seen Kill Bill, nor would he allow his children to watch it. Not because of any violence or explicit in the film (he identifies as a big Tarantino fan), just because of the title.

This is an internally consistent viewpoint and more or less impossible to debate, but it’s also not particularly interesting or insightful.

A provocative title like Kill Climate Deniers could (and maybe should) ring alarm bells. However, choosing to ignore altogether the content and context of the work you’re criticising doesn’t feel like a particularly useful or constructive way to conduct arts policy. If it’s a philosophy, I don’t think it’s one that usefully grapples with the complexity and specificity of arts and art making. So I felt like the opportunity for Smyth to fully stand behind his comments was a little lost.

All that said, I was impressed and inspired by Smyth’s obvious passion for the arts and creative industries in Canberra. I was pleased to give him a copy of the Kill Climate Deniers script – which he features in. Hopefully, when he’s read it, he’ll be able to make a clearer call on whether or not he thinks KCD deserved ArtsACT funding – and if not, why not.

I’m looking forward to hearing what he makes of it.

Photo on 4-05-2016 at 10.12 am #2

(For those of you who are interested, the Kill Climate Deniers script is now available to purchase. There’s also a review of the play by conservative commentator Mark Fletcher, and some remarks on the above-mentioned forum by Don Aitken.)

Now Kill Climate Deniers exists in the world and how does that feel?

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Last week I was lucky enough to be a part of the You Are Here Festival, launching the Kill Climate Deniers project.

This is what happened:

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First, the festival and I put together a conversation event at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Journalist Ginger Gorman, legal theorist Mark Fletcher and artist Bernie Slater gathered to speak about the idea of taxpayer-funded political art. Kill Climate Deniers is an ideal example of this, but Bernie Slater’s work also frequently falls into this mode. The conversation was fantastic, a really rich and lovely discussion, with probably just the right amount of raised voices and threats of violence. Don Aitken (who wrote one of the initial posts in response to Kill Climate Deniers receiving funding) wrote a reflection on the event which is well worth a look.

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Then that evening, I presented my solo performance (An Attempt To Perform) Kill Climate Deniers at the festival hub. Sitting somewhere in between a performance lecture and storytelling event, this is my effort to capture the whole blockbuster action story of KCD in a single hour-long event. The crux of the event, and the most wonderful thing to happen to me in a long time, was that the solo show was backed with a dance party, with Reuben Ingall in his Dead DJ Joke guise playing a set of classic House and Techno from 1988-93. And there was no gap, the live performance went straight into the dance party with no break. And the audience were totally on board for this nonsense, and the second Reuben kicked off with Unbelievable the whole crowd burst to their feet and went for it.

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Life is good sometimes, and by sometimes I mean when Reuben is playing.

Now the outcome of all of that is that the Kill Climate Deniers website is launched, and the ebook playscript is available for download. Which is exciting, and if you feel the urge, you should get amongst it.

The next step is that the album will come out, with music by Reuben and words from the play, released through the Clan Analogue label mid-year. But meantime, a couple  of quick thoughts.

This was the first public outing for Kill Climate Deniers, after being in development for more than 18 months. It felt really good to put this show out, even in rough form. It felt even better to dance about it. It felt good to dive a little deeper into what it means to create an overtly political work. It felt good to get to unpack the benefits and costs of rolling with such an evocative / clickbait title.

It is a divisive project – and bless all the people who have told me that they think it’s too much, too angry, too blatant, too inconsistent, too intellectual, too trashy, too everything – I appreciate the criticism, especially as a representative of all the people who might think the same things but not say it.

So many people have come through and fought for this thing to exist. So many people have given their time, energy, passion and commitment to this project for nothing, except out of the kindness of their hearts. People are good people. And I hit a point of being pretty exhausted about it all post-festival, but the truth is, when I lift my eyes up and focus on the end goal, on the work, on the thing that exists in this world, I am EXCITED.

This is the crux of the matter.

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Images by Sarah Walker.

What is wrong with my writing, as best as I can tell at this point

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A friend said to me, ‘I like the stuff you write that’s about you, that’s from your heart.’

Which, yeah. Me too. But on its own, that’s not good enough. For one, all the spoken word / super personal writing I do is just another white dude spilling his feelings into the world, which, we don’t exactly have a shortage of in the universe. And secondly, it’s not good enough on its own. There are poets and spoken word artists and so on who specialise in speaking the truth of their hearts eloquently and with passion, and bless them, but that’s not me, and I’ll never be one of them.

And then there’s the more cerebral stuff I do – stuff like Boho, which is sometimes probably too cerebral for its own good. And that’s doing well right now, but then, it’s also really niche, and it’ll stay niche. And I can’t invest my whole self in science communication, no matter how important I think it is, or how interesting it can be. Work should always be plugged into the world, but if my whole output is just about communicating the interesting ways in which scientists describe aspects of the universe – well, there are other people out there better at it than me, and they care more, too.

And then there’s the trash genre stuff I write. Which, let’s be fair, no-one is crying out for more of. Battalia Royale went well, but that was probably despite my writing rather than because of it. There are people who are both better writers of genre than I am AND better satirical commentators on genre. They know and love and care about nothing else. I will never be one of them.

And so these three strands in my writing keep pulling me in different directions, and everything I write is a mess because of it. Like Kill Climate Deniers – it’s a genre work-out, because I want so much to throw an audience into the world of a high-speed action film, fuckit, gunfights in Parliament House to a killer soundtrack, it feels right to do it. But stapled to it is all the high-concept bullshit I can’t stop thinking about and can’t put down – Geoengineering, Stealth Denial, Media Whiplash… And then I can’t remove myself from the picture, either, and there’s all my own commentary and fears and neuroses on display in sidebars and footnotes, undermining any energy or point the script manages to conjure.

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I mean it goes almost to the point of self-sabotage. When I was on the ATYP playwrights camp some years ago they asked us all to write monologues for young performers, and they’d pick the ten best to include in a published book of monologues that would be available for high school students. And I knew how hung up I’d get if my script wasn’t picked, so I wrote a piece that deliberately couldn’t be included – that referenced pop culture stuff that would be out of date in five months, that came with a stage direction saying it could be performed a maximum of nine times in total, and that mixed in text sampled from Lion King trading cards. Keeping it interesting for myself, but also, protecting myself from being compared with other writers by any meaningful measure.

I submitted a play to Playwriting Australia a couple of months ago entitled ’44 Sex Acts in One Week’ thinking to myself, ‘well, at least this won’t be accepted, I don’t have to worry about it’. Feels like there’s something maybe not healthy in that.

So yes it’s an avoidance, it’s an excuse, it’s a way of justifying the fact that I’m not a good playwright, I’m not a good poet, I’m not a good science communicator, I’m a dabbler across fields because I don’t have the commitment or persistence to really apply myself to any one of them.

But at the same time, and I can’t help it, I believe that there’s a reason for it. If I get it right – and I haven’t yet – but if I got it right – if I found the right balance, the right mix, then all three elements might sit alongside each other and somehow speak to each other, to an audience, to a reader, and say something real and purposeful.

Because pure writing from the heart, as beautiful as it is, often just feels like self-involved emotional indulgence to me. Because trash genre work-outs, as joyous as they are, don’t say anything interesting about the world. Because articulate non-fiction, as inspiring as it is, doesn’t usually crackle with a fierce energy that makes my hands shake.

But all together, sometimes, in my head, I can sometimes almost see it working – how a tiny nugget of facts about the world could be dropped in the midst of a flowing river of story, bright hard knowledge flashing in the heat and energy of a swirling high-speed action story or romance, and then that too pulling back at moments to show the scaffolding, the skeleton, the intentions of the maker, and those things sparking against each other, running parallel to each other, speaking to each other, clashing and jarring with each other, causing friction as they segue abruptly or shifting almost imperceptibly so the audience barely even knows they’ve been moved.

I don’t know if it’s hard, impossible, or I’m just not very good at it, but I want to make it happen, a lot. And I know it’s possible to mix 2,800 samples into a unified, coherent flow, so how can I not try?

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So the commitment is, if I make it at all – and by ‘make it’ I mean survive the next two years of my practice and still be an artist, even as the slope gets steeper and the cost to play gets higher – then I make it with all the mismatched parts of my writing. I don’t drop anything to focus on the other bits. I don’t give up the bad genre-writing, the earnest over-revealing personal nonsense, the incredibly unpalatable writing about science, none of it.* I’m trusting my gut on this one, which is a terrible guide to making decisions, but is at this stage of the game literally the only thing I’ve got to go on.

If I’m right, then in hindsight it will make a kind of brilliant sense. Of course there was some reason to keep trying to tape together vivisected fragments of science ideas, pulp genre and autobiography; This is why, this work (this work that doesn’t exist yet) that makes sense, has a real audience and connects with enough people deeply enough to keep my practice afloat a little longer.

If I’m wrong, then in hindsight it’ll look a lot like it does now – like I’ve spent years frantically running in multiple directions at once, unable to commit to any real progress in any of them and creating a body of work that doesn’t hang together or have any kind of audience.

At this stage in the game, being wrong and being right look a lot like each other.

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*Unless, let’s be real, unless anyone offered me any real money or a good opportunity to do so. It’s easy to make these sweeping statements about yr creative integrity when there’s nothing else on offer; I’ll fold like a paper towel as soon as there’s a reason to. Give me a reason to.

A month in Sweden with Boho

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It’s the beginning of February 2016. For a few of my own quiet reasons, it’s taken me a while to really get my head around planning this year, and now it’s upon me, I’m realising how crazy intense it’s going to be. But in good ways, I think. I hope.

2016 is a big year of Boho stuff. After a huge push in 2014 to get to London and finish Best Festival Ever, it felt like 2015 was a down year, at least for the BFE project. We did the first Australian season at the Street Theatre in Canberra, and also some corporate and private gigs, but no new developments of new work. And that was good, we needed that down-time, and it got us excited to get started on something new. And that’s now.

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A few weeks ago, the BFE crew (myself, Muttley, Nikki, Rachel and Nathan) jumped on a plane to London to spend a week with Forum for the Future‘s Systems Innovations Lab. We’ve been chatting with Forum for a while – they do incredible work using systems thinking to help businesses and large organisations tackle sustainability challenges. We developed Best Festival Ever as a tool for organisations like Forum to use in their work – and now we’re hoping to be able to create something more specifically for them.

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So we shared BFE with some of their partners, ran a game design workshop with them, and had some good days hanging with like-minded people.

Then to Sweden, for a month-long development with Miljoverkstan, an NGO based in Stockholm. We’re here to build a new game, in the systems-science-meets-interactive-performance format of Best Festival Ever, but based on the Flaten nature reserve south of Stockholm.

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Flaten is a lake, surrounded by beautiful forest (oaks, pine, spruce, trees 500 years old or more), and a place where a lot of different groups intersect – swimmers and dogwalkers, itinerant workers camping in caravan parks, squatter camps in the forest, the nearby suburb of Skarpnack… Miljoverkstan want to try to capture some of the complexity of this system, and they want to do it through a game. So they’ve invited Boho over, to map the system with them and turn it into a game experience, a platform for learning and conversation.

We’re working in Miljoverkstan’s office in Flaten, a beautiful cabin on the shores of this icy lake (which I walked across on the way to work last week!). It’s a pretty stunning location to be in, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere like it.

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The first week was spent in meetings, some preliminary resilience assessment mapping, performing Best Festival to a group of teens from a high school in Karrtop. Important work, but a bit fragmented, and we were all a bit dazed and sick, flying straight into the Swedish winter.

This last week – our second week of work – things started moving quicker, going deeper. A few days with just the five of us, in the fun creative phase of turning our research into a systems model, then making games. 11 of them so far, all terrible, but good to test our skills, generate material and be sure we still know how to do it.

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On Friday we built a loop of five mini-games – games that each took inputs from each other and spat out outputs – in a mirror of our ‘Bateman’s Vegas’ effort from University College London in 2012.

By the end of this month, we’ll have completed our systems mapping R&D and settled on a broad format for the work, as well as creating some placeholder games. And then we come back in August and October to finish it off, and present it for the first time to a Swedish audience. This is a big project, with a short timeframe, and that’s pretty intimidating, but it’s exciting, too. And it feels like exactly what we’ve been working towards all this time, a practical application of all the things we learned making Best Festival Ever.

Plus it’s beautiful here.

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(This was just a brief outline of the project – if you’re interested, we’ve got a really active project blog maintained by the five of us, diving deep into the creation of this work.)

All the pretty nature pics in this post are by Nikki Kennedy. The London ones I think I took, and Rachel Roberts took the Deer and the Fish shot.

This is my alternative Asialink acquittal

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Dear Asialink,

This time I tried something different.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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