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
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.
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?
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
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
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.
Rachel 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.
Emma 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 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.
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.
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.
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 momentof 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.
& 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.‘
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.
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.
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.
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.
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—
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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 coupleof 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.
finnigan and brother playing last weekend – pic by nathan harrison
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.
kill climate deniers! pic by sarah walker
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.
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.
*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.