Change: On a global scale. A talk to be had.

It’s a little left field for me, but I am currently taking a unit on the Psychology of Sustainability. One of the requirements of the unit (I’m an off-campus student, so I study from Sydney even though the campus is in Armidale) is to have forum discussions about sustainability and climate change. This is the first week of the unit being live, but I feel that this discussion should be happening everywhere, not just in the academic world, so I’m throwing it out for discussion. And I’m very much open for discussion. I never realised just how important this was to me until it got challenged. This was my response:

I’ve had a look at this article

and this

You are absolutely right. There are many different reasons as to why it may be raining in any one place. The change in air pressure, humidity in another area prior to reaching you, the amount of time it has been since the last rainfall…

And not all of the change occurring in the climate can possibly be coming from us, because there are documented cycles.

However, one of the reasons we need to have such an interest in this is that humans come along and change things. If animals need salt, they migrate to where they can find it or they die out. Humans make things happen where they are or go to where it is and use fossil fuels 91% of the time (as noted in “An Invitation to Environmental Sociology”, Bell 2012) to achieve those ends. Every action has a reaction, and the actions we have been taking as a society have been having reactions we may not have known about, or may not have taken notice of until now.

In my eyes it’s similar to getting a puppy. You bring the puppy home, you’re raising the puppy and then suddenly you realise they have this habit of urinating in a corner of the kitchen. You’ve been absent-mindedly cleaning it up as you go along, but now you realise the habit is deeply ingrained and the puppy is a 30kg dog with a lot of urine. You can either retrain the thought process of the dog to go outside, or you can keep mopping up and hope that things don’t get worse. You don’t know what could be worse, not in a literal sense, because you can’t imagine what would be worse than a huge dog peeing in the kitchen, but you don’t really want to take that chance.

Exxon are the owners that take the chance. They know that some kind of technology will come along, perhaps a robot that will clean up after the dog for you so you don’t have to. They know that they will probably do everything they can to be on the front line of that technology. But they’re not going to hurry to change the dog’s behaviour because they’re so used to mopping up now, why change the status quo?

The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) are the owners that don’t want to take the chance. They’re the owners that get a dog trainer in to teach the dog to go outside, and learn themselves how to monitor and control that behaviour. They hope that technology will have arrived by the time they want to raise their second dog, but they work on the assumption that the technology then will be the same as now or grow at a consistent rate.

I’m clearly preparing to bring a puppy into my home, but hopefully the metaphor functions. Our climate is changing, and we can allow it to change passively, knowing that we’re having a significant impact on it, or we can change our behaviours and our rhythms in the hope that that cycle isn’t as extreme as it could be.

I don’t believe we are the sole cause of change in our climate, I believe that it does go in cycles, but I also believe that since we know it does cycle, and since we know we are having an impact, we should be taking extreme responsibility to limit that impact because we can, and because we have no where else to go if this island sinks.


So We Meet Again My Heartache: Caramel and Crisp

This has been a very good year for performance. Tonight I saw colours. And textures. I sat, enveloped in a warm, red room soaking in the heat, cool and silky tones of five performers: Catherine O’Connor, Peter Bailey, Penelope Wells, Robin Gist and Lisa Schouw. It was, for someone that sees sound, almost overwhelming. My partner, my leaning post on the sofa, a warm reminder of the music being given to me about love, longing, desire. The performers were skilled lovers giving a shy novice an experience to learn from: from the clear crisp performance of Catherine O’Connor, who, while nervous, touched my core very easily in her first song, to the husky hot fireplace voice of Penelope Wells, whose voice smouldered and crackled, settling us in for the beautiful, caramel tones of Lisa Schouw. The ability to have that amount of depth, and yet to create such sweet, smooth notes. And I can’t even start on the sounds coming from Peter Bailey and Robin Gist. A glass of sweet white wine on a summer day, at the top of a mountain near a stream outside a log cabin. Imagine that – and you’re halfway there. I don’t think people realise every day how much a difference it makes to have musicians behind us that we trust, that “ensemble” isn’t just a word for theatre…

The invitations we get to enjoy and share in performance is something I always hope to extend to audiences when I perform. The invitations these musicians/performers/creators offered us, they also offered to each other. As striking to me as what they gave us was what they gave each other: acceptance, urges to go further. Hands outreached to all to be better, stronger, bigger than they are. They all shimmered.

I watched them shimmer.

Or maybe that was the tears in my eyes.

Colourblind casting, Australian theatre and Australianness

There are some conversations I’ve been having recently about Australian theatre and Australian stories. They have been daring and forthright, possibly dangerous. They have been challenging, probing and necessary. And I thought it was time to open these ideas up to a wider audience. So here it is.

Australian theatre is the theatre of White Australia. 

A dangerous thing to say, but give me a moment here. More specifically, Australian theatre is the theatre that is allowed to exist by White Australia. Foreign stories, even if the stories are written here, don’t seem to count. The emphasis is on what is here, what has “always” been here and what “Australians” want to see on stage. But let’s be honest. 

Australians in general don’t go to the theatre. Time and again if you go to the theatre you will see the same faces. The same people everywhere. You don’t see average Joe, or Jo. You see the directors (with free tickets), you see the same critics over and over again (with free tickets) and people that can afford to buy the expensive tickets. And just to be clear, all of the tickets are expensive. Main stage and independent theatre. I have no remedy for this, I am merely observing it. All theatre tickets in this country cost a huge amount of money. Or at least in Sydney. I’m not certain about everywhere else, but I do know I’ve never been to the Adelaide fringe festival because I could only afford to see one show – and where’s the point in that?

The arts in this country don’t exist. Almost. There are pockets of art, pieces of performance, slivers of sublime out of body experiences that you could never experience anywhere else. But when you go into a main stage theatre (having paid $50 or more for the privilege) and come out disappointed because you could not connect on a basic, human level with any of the actors on stage, you know something is going wrong. 

Ahh, but the production values are high! I hear you say. The production values should never get in the way of a story, and the actors should never be kept away from the audience. The fourth wall exists. We all know it exists. Do we all need to engage in a perverse form of Brechtian alienation, where the aim of the game is for everyone to think about the production values, rather than become so engaged in the world of the characters that they lose themselves in that life for two hours? Or four? Or six? If you’re asking an audience to sit through six hours of theatre, surely you will give them a way of connecting to the piece, rather than showing off how much of your budget you can waste on things falling from the ceiling, or flying actors or perfectly trained animals? 

No theatrical performance should be about the production values. If that’s the aim, put the art in a gallery, so we don’t get confused. In performance – in theatre – the focus should be on the connection the audience has with actors. Any set or lighting should be lifting the performance, not being the performance. What happened to backdrop? 

And this is why I love black box theatre. It takes us back to basics. It forces a connection. No, force is the wrong word. It aids a connection. It also shows flaws. If the actor isn’t strong enough, or the guidance of the director isn’t strong enough, we know. We just know. Pub theatre in London is fantastic for that because there’s a black box theatre, four or five actors, and four or five voices that have to carry the weight of the show using their bodies, their voices and their story. 

Which leads me to colourblind casting. I can’t stand it. I may benefit from it (I haven’t to date, but I’m sure I may in future), but I hate it. The concept that directors or producers are forced – and yes, that is the correct word here – forced to employ artists from different ethnic backgrounds to fulfil a quota makes me shudder. I of all people understand the need or desire for more ethnic variation within casts and within the arts industry, but the forcing of artistic hands should not be the reason. And in the same vein, stating that you are ethnically neutral, or making a point of saying that you are considering all ethnicities makes it all the more poignant when you call tens or hundreds of people in – wasting your time and theirs – when you know that you have no desire to cast them and are fulfilling said quota again. 

There is no, or very little, ethnic theatre in Australia. And it’s not surprising – why write for ethnicities that leave the country because there’s no work for them? Artists trained here leave. They leave because there is no work, they leave because there is no money, and they leave because there is no recognition for what they spent a long time honing their abilities to do. 

And why did I say this was a dangerous post to be writing? Because it will lead to either people saying I am whinging – which it is their prorogative to believe I am doing – or it will lead to others vehemently disagreeing to stand up for their country – which is fine – or it will lead to them agreeing with me – but saying there is nothing that can be done about it. 

I don’t have answers. I never claimed to have answers. I have questions, I have observations but I have no answers. According to my research in social psychology, one in ten Australians believe that immigrants are a threat to Australian traditional values, and yet 83% (from memory) believe that racism is a problem in the country. More than that believe there is a way to stop it. Positive discrimination in the form of colourblind casting seems to me not to be the way forward (what a sentence). It is not something that works. You can end up with the wrong artists for the job based on the need to fill a quota. And from the outside, and this is highly socially disapproved of, it also seems to be the case in jobs where the discrimination act is in place. Grants and special jobs that are set aside for Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islanders seem to be the same. Why are they not set aside for all ethnic groups? It seems a misplacement of fairness. How many generations will pass before this is adjusted again? And no, I don’t think it’s just here. It’s the same for American Indians in North America. Do African Americans get anything like that? Am I seriously missing out on something? And I’ll be honest. If something were offered to me purely because I am of African American descent, I would feel insulted. Am I not capable of standing on my own feet? My mother is a consulting civil engineer that emigrated from London, where she would have been a director of the company she worked for in Canary Wharf if she had stayed. She has won awards for being a Black Woman in a White Man’s world. To her, she’s just working. Working hard. I am extremely proud of her. She moved from Guyana, the essentially third world country in South America that my family is from, went to a school in which she was the only black person, went to university, raised two kids and worked to get us out of a low socio-economic status to an upper middle class one. If she can do it, surely there isn’t that tough a boundary for everyone else.

Again, I have no answers. Only questions and a burning desire for evolution. 

Thoughts from moving windows

We’re all people. As in, each individual person is many people. I noticed the other day that people close to me actually look different when they’re just with me as opposed to when they’re with a group of people. Interestingly enough, those people are all industry based, so it almost makes sense. I think it’s a way for us to keep our sanity and our privacy about certain things.

But if that’s the case, what do we see when we observe people on the train that are sitting alone? Do they have their ‘public’ face on? When you look around a train, is what you’re seeing a face that everyone should be seeing? When you’re alone, your face is at its most relaxed, because you’re free. You’re free to be you, to think what you think and not fear someone reading it, analyzing it, experiencing you. So on a train, is it like your bedroom?

I know I’ve had times where I’ve cried on a train alone. And I guess, from that experience, I can say that it’s both. I had moments where I was crying uncontrollably because I couldn’t help it, but then would remember to check myself and pull it back in, before the whole process starts again. But mine is only one experience, and there are many times I’ve been entirely unguarded on the train, as well as times where it’s been a place to relax and just be.

When people are looking out of a window, what are they looking at? What are they seeing? I know that what I’m seeing isn’t necessarily what I’m looking at. When you get lost in thought, what are you seeing then? The eyes track the surroundings… You can see the tracking. They don’t necessarily glaze, but the thoughts don’t necessarily correspond to that physical movement. Or does it? I guess it must. It’s fully ‘in’ our body. It’s a reaction. But is the thought a reaction to the movement, or the movement a reaction to the thought? And when you look at two trees next to each other, are you looking at trees, or at you and your partner snuggling?do you see your house, or your family or your job or air? Do you see the air flowing through them? Do you contemplate what the air is doing to the branches and equate it with your own steadfastness or relaxed sense of ease? When you look at a sunset, do you see death approaching?

I haven’t been so inspired to write for a while. Throw someone a stimulus ‘A View From Moving Windows’ and questions just pour out. So many questions. So many suppositions and guesses and incorrect assumptions. It runs for 5 more performances at Riverside Theatres in Parramatta. Catch the train down, come and see it. You’ll see what I mean. And if you can’t bring a friend, come alone and look out the window. It’s your own preshow movie.

A View From Moving Windows

A View From Inside Moving Windows

I catch the train a lot. A lot of it is my life. I live in the Blue Mountains, work in the city and act/produce/direct/assist everywhere. So when I saw the scene Augusta had sent me for ‘A View From Moving Windows’, I knew that world. The world of could be’s, of just missed and maybe I shoulds.

This has been a confronting piece to create. Getting the final script a week before opening night, pulling together as an ensemble a week before opening night and creating entire choreographed dance routines in the equivalent of about half a day has been confronting. And all of us, I think I’m right in saying, have been confronted. But that’s had a double effect. One was to make me panic gently about whether I’ll remember to shimmy here, or groove there. Another effect was to bring us as a cast together. Very quickly, very intensely.

I’ve never worked with Damian before. He’s a lovely, very talented actor and I feel honored to be working with him. To be honest, I am honored to be working with everyone in the piece, to be associated with them as individuals and one of them as a cast. Gus did a beautiful job in casting everyone, and to paraphrase, has brought together some of the nicest actors in Sydney (and we didn’t prove her wrong). We’ve become a family in four days. The first time we were all in a room together was the final dance rehearsal on Monday, four days before opening night. Now, as I write, it is Saturday, and we’re…I’m already sentimental about how short this run will be. It’s so rare to have such a large extended family of people you know you relate to, who are all in the same terrifying boat, who know what the job is, take the notes and act on them. It’s rare to feel you’re on a par with everyone, and yet learn something new every day – about yourself, about them, about the art you’re creating every day, about humanity.

A piece about trains from the perspective of someone catching a lift to a train as I type – I have been tweeting a lot. Things I see, things I hear. Observations… Things that I wouldn’t have thought were interesting but are suddenly fascinating. I used to take my Mac on the train and watch movies or tv episodes or read a book. Now I look out the window and ponder, or observe and dream. I’m doing a lot of train dreaming right now. and there’s a family of kangaroos I look out for now.

The Hiding Place – in hiding

The last… Eight months… Have been fast, painful, slow and hectic, and a whole new understanding of the arts from a new perspective that I haven’t had since I joined the industry.

At the beginning of the year I was asked to co-produce The Hiding Place, and as I write, I’m sitting on a train headed toward the theatre for the first preview. Kendall must be terrified. I hope she’s not stressing too much. I’m later than I wanted to be.

But anyway, this new perspective. It’s a strange one. Being in the industry without feeling like I’m in it. That’s where I’ve been this year. At the end of last year, I was very tired. So tired, in fact, that by late February, I had what the doctors could only describe as ‘Chronic Fatigue’. I have since changed doctors, and my current one refuses to give me that title, because she doesn’t like to give in to not knowing what’s wrong with me.

The result of this fatigue is that I haven’t been able to perform for the most part, or have had to be very careful what I accept, and how long it plays for. I also haven’t been able to see performances for the most part because by 5pm, I’m exhausted, and more often than not need a nap in the middle of the day. It’s limiting, and made me feel helpless and pathetic.
Putting all that aside, it’s left me with a lack of inspiration, especially in the light of also reading a bachelor of psychology (which I do love).

So I’m going to the preview tonight of The Hiding Place, at ATYP, and I’ll take the next day off because I will be exhausted (and need to finish my uni assignments). More than that, I will revel in watching the art and the listening to the glorious words, and soak in the glory of knowing I have done something to help this production.

And on Saturday, I’ll brush my little Afro, put on a pretty dress and go back to that theatre for opening night. And if I’m really lucky, I’ll bounce (or crawl) into another performance later in the run. Probably a matinee. And I hope to see you there.

2012 – From illness to Hiding Places to Platforms to Chance to Happenstance and all sorts of business and psychology

As I sit here on this crisp, frankly beautiful Anzac morning, cancelling meetings and appointments left right and center trying to heal my bacteria ridden body (probably a form of spiteful payback for not having more than a week’s rest at one time in 2011), I realise that we’re already a quarter of the way through 2012 and that things are changing, as they do with startling regularity, it seems.

The first is that there’s a new art space in Sydney. A beautiful, colour perfect for visual artists, space perfect for rehearsal, hopefully soon to be editing perfect for film, workshop perfect for skill enhancing and child friendly art space in Sydney. It’s called Arts Platform and it’s Sama Ky Balson’s baby. My little niece, I believe. She’s beautiful. Currently being renovated to glory, she’s 100 square metres of rehearsal space and 30 metres of office space waiting to happen. Well, actually, not waiting to happen. Happening. There’s an initiative running at the moment, to get her looking beautiful again (because babies are expensive), where anyone can donate an hour of their time for an hour’s worth of free time in the space when she’s all neat and tidy. The best thing, I think, about that, isn’t just the free time in the space (which all artists can do with), and not just the fact that you can do what you’ve always wanted to – test a new idea, play, read, roll around on the floor and giggle – it’s also the fact that if you paint a little section of wall, you’ll always know that you painted that little section of wall. And with the free space, you could possibly have a showing to exhibit that little section of wall and everyone can admire it and say “oooh”.
But yeah. Arts Platform. There are not enough spaces in Sydney, not enough affordable spaces, and not enough spaces full stop, really. Having looked around for somewhere to hold readings, rehearsals and just meetings, it’s intriguing that there aren’t more spaces in general for such a thriving arts industry. Or one that SHOULD be thriving much more than it is.

My life course seems to be taking a turn from purely acting (as it did last year) and purely working on stage to working in film, production and administration. It’s an intriguing and fascinating turn, one that is leading from finding public liability at top speed to sourcing crew members, from directors of photography to gaffers (if you happen to know a gaffer that works for food, I’m very much in need of one), from fundraisers to funding. So many projects. Considering I decided that this year would not be as full as the previous one, it appears to almost be full. I will, exams permitting, be attending the CRACK theatre festival later this year, and am very much looking forward to just soaking in the culture from somewhere other than behind my computer, so watch this space (well, not this one, the one that comes during the festival, I suppose).

Somehow, and I’m not sure how, I have become a target for film and production. I enjoy it, because I enjoy seeing creativity in all its forms, but still, how this has happened is a baffling concept. It’s exciting, because as of last year, I had experienced all the aspects of theatre, so working for a time in various roles in film and seeing the way different people work is fascinating.

Chance is the first film project I’ll be working on as Assistant director. It’s a student piece, Georgie Dothanh’s first piece. She’s the director and producer and she has big ideas. Hopefully we’ll be able to bring them into play and make them beautiful. The piece is funny, a little skewed, and quite sweet, in a strange way. The locations will be beautiful, and she’s using the stunning Canon 7D, which I have to confess I have a very soft spot for, since it was the camera used to shoot “How to Lose Sight” at the end of last year. Just in talks about the call sheets and shooting sequence, I realised I also seem to have a soft spot for lighting. The light we’re getting now, moving from autumn to winter is this beautiful warm blue tinted…thing. I’m not a lighting designer, I have no light training and can’t explain it technically, so bear with me. It’s different from the light we get during summer. There’s more white to it, less yellow. Cooler, I suppose. Stark. Perfect for chiaroscuro, with sharp lines, bleak emotions and harsh words. Not that there are vast amounts of them inChance, but if I were going to shoot a drama, it would definitely be in winter if I didn’t want to be altering the light quality.

Happenstance – now that is an interesting piece. Coming from more seasoned director Edward Plowright, and writer Alistair Brown, I’ll be Assistant Director on that piece too. Talking about light, he’s looking at delving into a film noir style – again, fabulous idea that is all about controlling exactly what we see and how we see it. It’s about the expressions and the way they show on the face, the curves and occasional sharp lines of the body. The shades of grey. The shades of grey. Because in film noir, it’s not black and white. And that’s an incredible comment to be making, especially on a piece like this. It’s witty and clear. Well written and deeply thought out. I look forward to both pieces.

If it weren’t enough to be working on two short films, I’m co-producing a new play by Kendall Feaver, directed by Kai Raisbeck called The Hiding Place. It’s based around the idea of a young woman that, due to her grandmother, believes she is ten, and what happens when she is found by a young man. I won’t give more details here, but I will give a trailer: