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How To Be Single, movie, I watched you


Four minutes into this Dakota Johnson movie and I’m feeling all kinds of feelings.

1. Sex and the City-esque light philosophical reflections about being single over a high-speed montage of a couple getting together and then breaking up

2. Dakota Johnson seems really fine, but also like she’s not sure she wants to be here. Maybe that’s her MO. The whole of 50 Shades, her special trick that she brought to the performance was the look of being deeply unhappy about being there. It’s a Thing I guess


3. I fucken hate TaySwi’s Welcome To New York, and it’s not like I don’t love 1989, so don’t lay that on me

Dakota Johnson moves to New York after breaking up with her bf of four years to find out what it’s like to be single and Rebel Wilson meets her at her new job as a paralegal

like there are jobs in New York

there are no jobs in New York


At the end of day one of job, Dakota wants to go home, in her sexy mini and makeup, but Rebel is the irresponsible best friend, already. Some fucking how.

Not that I can write better romance than this movie: I am this movie.


There’s a character who’s slightly anally looking for the right guy on dating websites – the bartender at the place she’s meeting these guys has a playful frisson-charged friendship with her, will something develop? On date one, the gag is that the guy isn’t into having children, he’s about having crazy sex acts.





This is making me long for the overstuffed shambolic fuckup that was Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis’ Friends With Benefits – so many failed setpieces. This film knows all the moves, it just doesn’t care.

But: glossy costumes, well-lit, colourful sets, heaps of extras, Dakota Johnson looking winsome: we proceed.


Rebel Wilson takes Dakota to a bar where she instructs Dakota to get laid. Fifth Harmony’s Worth It is playing, Dakota says several times ‘I’m not looking to hook up, I just want to discover who I am”. This is, in the parlance of the Hero’s Journey: Refusing The Call.


Dakota ends up making out with the bartender that’s been flirting with the uptight girl, then it cuts to the next morning at Dakota’s sister’s beautiful house, her beautiful, huge, beautiful house. Her huge house that she has in New York with her doctor job, her doctor job that has made her rich, rich enough to own a huge, beautiful house with great couches and lovely natural light where Rebel and Dakota awake, hungover, after the night out they had following a day at work at their jobs, their jobs that they have in New York, because they have jobs in New York.


I’m 16 minutes into this film and the lighting is exquisite.

There’s a whole thing with the sister getting clucky, deciding that she wants a baby herself. What’s going on here? Do I have the courage and sensitivity to say anything about this scene in this recounting or do I leave it alone?


(note from future david: looks like i decided to leave it alone)

Dakota’s boyf that she split with at the top of the film shows up for a meeting, she asks him to come back to her, he says no. It’s a good bit of writing cause it’s done and dusted in a couple of short lines – this is how writing should be written.

I will write this scene, this same scene, I will write this exact scene, with a little less grace and fewer Dakota Johnsons.

The uptight girl is at the bar being alone when a hen’s party rocks up and the hen is an old friend and girl-on-girl competition is about to be afoot, I can feel it. Bitch friends asking too many spiteful questions bring our girl down, but then the bartender pretends to be her boyfriend to make them jealous and score points.


Just, give me one reason to like any of these characters. Have them do something good, or interesting. They’re in the sympathetic protagonist slot in the movie but I just – don’t – care.

God the extras are well dressed, though.

In fact, the costumes are off the fucking chain. There’s not one scene where Dakota doesn’t look like she’s in an amazing and sexy hair commercial.

Having wealth, having fucking wealth, man.


Dakota moves into a beautiful luxury apartment with high ceilings, with all her possessions, her goddamn possessions, how can she be sad when she has everything? How does she live?

The sister is gonna have a baby by herself, it doesn’t work the first time, the sister has a history of helping other people but when will she learn to take care of herself?

Rebel and Dakota are hanging out in a… place. If it were the 90s, and it were Sliding Doors, that place would be… yoga. Because that’s what aspirationally attractive young professionals with romantic possibilities ahead of them did, in movies back then. Now it’s 2016 and they’re in a sauna. Which is fucking yellow.


I’ve said before that the lighting in this film is unbelievable, but here I think they’ve legit let the designer go too far. Fuck, man, what’s even going on.

The flight attendants are walking up and down the aisle and chatting to people in their gorgeous Birmingham accents and they are adorable. Nathan and Rachel are a few seats back so they can clearly see that I’m watching this film, there are no secrets on this plane. I tried to convince Rachel to watch it too so we could debrief about it but she said that all reports are that it’s terrible, so now I have no-one to debrief about it with except you, word document.

What does Dakota do in this film? What does she DO? She exists only in relation to her partners, prospective or past, she has no thing that she does. And the meet-cutes in this flick have been universally bad.

Nah but straight up, fuck the bit where the characters hate on pubic hair as a thing where it’s ugly and you can’t have sex with new guys if you have it. What the fuck is wrong with you, screenwriter, that you wrote that, and with you, entire culture, that you sanctioned it? I mean don’t get me wrong, I know what world I’m living in, I know what to expect from Hollywood patriarchal mainstream fluff, but every so often, man the world is just depressing.

(aside: a week or so into Stockholm development, and thank you Sweden for your healthy mature attitude towards nudity and the human body, but also as a consequence, I’m extremely aware that every dudebro at the gym is getting around with shaved nads. I feel hella self-conscious rocking my full natural bush; Dakota Johnson, I relate, I relate.)

Dakota does the thing where not knowing how to work her electrical appliances and being confused about technology is cute. (It’s understandable and no judgment, but it’s not cute.)

There’s a Glee club sequences and a whole thing with the pregnant sister wanting to have sex and having sex with some young dude at the office christmas party. Man, fucken American banter is so type A and obnoxious, it would be nice if people were just nice to each other, in this films, in all this films.


The sister has sex with a dude in the copy room at the law firm, which we know from the first scene with Rebel Wilson is under surveillance, and not to be having sex in.

(The gag where this sex scene has been filmed is set up but never delivered on, which means it’s 100% on the editing floor, in which case, I commend the editor of the flick for their restraint in paring this thing back to a digestible length.)


The uptight girl gets angry at kids in a library and tells them that dudes are no good and that love is dead, it’s a setpiece with kids as comedy. She meets a librarian who is cute with a scruffy face.

Dakota goes to her ex-boyf’s christmas party to see him dancing with his new gf because who the fuck is Dakota Johnson in this film, a walking open wound.

She has wealth, sees wealth, a wealthy businessman takes her to the top of an expensive building he owns, because wealth = romance, romance = wealth.


Now she’s hanging with the businessman’s daughter, he gets angry because she’s bonding with his daughter. It’s three months later. The relationship ends. Where are we. In the sky somewhere, night, in the shadow of the earth, I’m lost in the vastness of the world and the melancholy that is international travel, as lost if not more so than this film.

There’s a mealy indie guitar ballad to celebrate the end of this relationship, a parade scene – so many extras. So many extras. A great scene with silhouettes. Good lighting. Dakota hugs her sister and cries. This purposeless, vacuous movie has no trajectory, and I’m lost in it.

The uptight lass is now with the scruffy librarian, now it’s a montage of the characters being happy, being happy, it’s a montage of… what? Dakota has some casual sex, and then runs into her ex-boyfriend again. I swear, we get no distance from this character. We can’t even use him as a measure of Dakota’s progress because what progress? What direction? What even?

The sister pushes away her young lover because she is too afraid to be open.

The perpetually single bartender has fallen in love with the uptight girl but it’s too late, she’s gone.


The wealthy businessman tucks in his daughter with a melancholy air.

Dakota get a text from her ex-boyf inviting her back. She goes to hang out with the bartender.

DAKOTA VOICEOVER: Maybe this whole time we’ve been making all the wrong moves. Maybe we’ve been focusing on the wrong stuff, and now it’s too late.


Dakota has sex with the bartender to the tune of the Harlem Shake. Is it a good song? Seems like on paper it should be a good song, but also, I don’t know if I like it?


Everyone drinks in this film, alcohol is the only thing. Dakota has a huge birthday party, a rooftop party. She gets drunk, the lighting is beautiful, who are all these fucking strangers.


The setpiece in this section of the film is all three of Dakota’s beaus meeting. At her birthday party.

The bartender makes a move on the uptight girl, who’s now getting married to the librarian so she rebuffs him. The wealthy businessman apologises to Dakota, she… ah, I don’t know. She still doesn’t look like she wants to even be in this film. But I’m tired and I just need a hug and I want Dakota Johnson to be happy.


At this point on any international flight my head is in a weird place and look at Dakota Johnson’s kind eyes and ohhhhh, I don’t need grace just a smile, just a smile

Dakota is now ripping in to Rebel Wilson for not having a life of her own, which is rich given that

a) Rebel is doing her best with the paltry material she’s been given as the wacky best friend, and

b) Dakota doesn’t even have the beginnings of a flicker of a life.

The realtalk concludes with a song that I thought might be the Verve’s Already There, which woulda been an unusual choice, but it was not. Often the soundtrack is the place in these safe-bet studio films where the director feels free to cut loose and pull in an unexpected choice or two, but here the music feels curated by Spotify algorithms, and I guess that’s fine, I guess that’s fine.


Now her ex-boyf comes and sits with Dakota on a stairwell. They make out, they nearly have sex. But he’s still with his new girlfriend, Dakota’s angry.

The editing, the editing is exceptionally good. It’s going so fast.

But there’s a triumphant bit where Dakota realises she wants to be alone. And there’s a water breaking sequence which is… well look, I feel like there’s probably a way to play someone’s waters breaking as a clever gag, but this is not it. And then there’s a labour in the back of a cab. And now it’s soft chiming guitars and the baby got born. And holy shit, the baby they hand to her when she’s finished giving birth is clearly a fortnight old. Man, you can’t get a genuine infant in the movies, can you? It’s understandable and ethically good, but also, jesus.


So the final score at the end of the flick is:

– The sister gets back together with her young dude because they love each other and he wants to help raise the baby

– Dakota walks back to her beautifully lit apartment at dawn and enjoys being alone

– She reads Cheryl Strayed in the window of her apartment and texts Rebel Wilson



She’s getting ready to walk the Grand Canyon. She sees young girls who are friends on the streets and smiles. An anthem of independence plays and she reconnects with Rebel Wilson.

DAKOTA VOICEOVER: I’ve been thinking that the time we have single is really just the time to get good at being alone…. but how good do we really want to be?

(is this the moral you want to leave your audience with? does this actually mean anything?)

Final shot, Dakota standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon in the dawn. Alone. Truly alone.


And there, there, what a lot of things to think and feel. Do I have the energy, do I have the heart? I feel like a mess.

Round-up of Kill Climate Deniers coverage

14370340_10154576303316214_5259539350668360725_nReuben 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.’

Biting the Hand That Funds You (ArtsHub, April) – Richard Watts interviewed me for ArtsHub, and we chatted about whether or not political art should be government funded.

‘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.’

Die Hard Meets Charlie’s Angels (Daily Review, April) – I chatted to Daily Review editor Raymond Gill about being a ‘stealth denier’.

“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.”


Rebels invade Parliament House, no-one notices (The Age, September) – Karl Quinn writes about the KCD listening party in Parliament House; has a lot of fun doing so. (^_^)

‘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?’

Controversial Canberra play Kill Climate Deniers gets an album (Canberra Times, September) – the Crimes’ Jil Hogan writes about the Canberra angle.

Canberra’s Answer to HG Wells (Canberra CityNews, September) – Helen Musa positions KCD as a spiritual successor to Orson Welles’ radio production of War of the Worlds. Which, sure, I’ll take it.

The provocative play that sneakily infiltrated Parliament House (The Guardian, September) – A beautiful and thoughtful piece by Kate Hennessy reflecting on the experience of the Parliament House listening party.

‘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.’



Break the silence, damn the dark, damn the light (Only the Sangfroid, April) – conservative commentator Mark Fletcher reviews the script and applies one of the sharpest critiques of this whole project. (The real pleasure is, always, to be taken apart by the smartest critics.)

‘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?’

Blurring reality with Kill Climate Deniers (My About Town, June) – Melbourne critic Myron My teases out some of the layers of meta-theatre in the KCD script.

‘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.’

Dancing in Desperation (Canberra Jazz, September) – Eric Pozza riffs on the decision to match the story of Kill Climate Deniers with a dance party.

‘Sting once said “when the world is going down, you make the best of what’s still around”. I’ve pondered that very line as I write on jazz and the arts while climate threatens.’

Unstoppable objections meet immovable opinions (The Age, September) – Anne-Marie Peard’s response to the album launch at Melbourne Fringe.

‘Its satire is bitingly sharp and its truth could easily be satire. Both hurt with their absurdity.’

I mean, look, for a wildly unproduced play, KCD has received a decent amount of thoughtful discussion. Now how do I weight this against my own personal goals with this project?

More thinking, more thinking, more thinking, always more thinking.

14362459_917399508404784_3443073642304503948_oReuben and I at the Canberra launch. Pic by Tom Finnigan.

Sketch for a form of work

12967313_1017740664961065_2004873020350172021_o-copyKill 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.

Kids Killing Kids was a solid step in this direction. Three years later, Kill Climate Deniers feels like another step again.

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.

bolt 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.

victor-suicide 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

Audio / Music
The Kill Climate Deniers original album is a pretty unusual outcome, and a significant audio result. It’d be possible – it has been possible – to create audio outcomes with music (or without) that doesn’t require so much investment. (Although an album released through an actual record label is fucking great, tbh.)

I keep circling back to one of the few podcast episodes I’ve ever listened to the whole way through, which Ness hooked me on to – 99% Invisible I think, where they had Jon Mooallem reading chapters from his book Wild Ones, accompanied by a live band.

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.

12983877_1017742418294223_271121334185792860_o-copy 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.

dsc_7658 georgie explaining that, no, you’re upside down, in kids killing kids. pic by sarah walker.

Live Event
I don’t necessarily mean stunt, but I do mean, some kind of live, ephemeral action that gives the story its hook. Bringing Kill Climate Deniers to Parliament House was a simple hook, and it so happened that it produced one of the most satisfying ways to experience the work out there.

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.

aph 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.

photo-on-13-09-2016-at-11-52-amThe 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.

screen-shot-2016-09-13-at-12-07-32-pmgot a ways to go, but I think NBF’s website for Kill Climate Deniers is the closest I’ve come to this ideal so far.


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


screen-shot-2015-09-20-at-9-37-56-am-copy 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

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.

growth - skyscraper_planet copy

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.

collapse - destroyed_road

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.

growth - agriculture copy

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.

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.


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.