At long last David Farrier’s *highly* subcribed webcast is to be axed. The only surprise is that it’s taken more than a month for Medianet to get on trend. Despite the predictable (and predicted) flaming, this is not a binary issue. You’re not a 0 or 1 on this. It’s not even close.
An eclipse is rare. So’s a production that leaves me feeling exhilarated and jealous as fuck that I didn’t make it myself. Don Juan, by A Slightly Isolated Dog is both. Now it’s finished. You missed it .
What’s so good about it?
1. Everything it is.
2. Everything it isn’t.
3. Everything it portends.
1. Everything it is
It’s a group of people telling a story, in a way that you’ve never seen before. It will make you wonder why all theatre is not like this.
There’s not a speck of bullshit in it. The actors are upfront with you. It’s all bullshit. They’re conjuring a world and all the people in it from their bodies, their voices, a few random costumes and props, an awesome soundscape, and most importantly, your imagination, which they’ll fire and nudge in some unexpected directions. If you think that sounds limited, think what a novelist can conjure with 26 letters. You’ll pick up what they’re putting down in a way you’ve never felt it before. Particularly if your experience of on-stage sex is watching actors dry-hump.
2. Everything it’s not
This is not a prehistoric film made by people too poor to hire a camera. This is not a bunch of people pretending to talk in fake rooms. They don’t pretend they’re not pretending. In fact, they speak in shitty French accents so there’s no doubt they’re acting. They know we’re watching them, and it’s important to the story that we are. A film plays the same whether we’re there or not. This experience wouldn’t happen like it does if not for you, specifically,being there to watch it. There is a protagonist in this play – Don Juan, but he’s not portrayed by a single actor. He’s played by a baseball cap and a speaker-box that float around the theatre, landing on the head and hand of the person best placed to embody DJ at that particular moment. The person ‘playing’ DJ is further denied the responsibility and prestige of stardom because DJ’s dialogue is done by someone else speaking into a microphone. DJ’s voice emerges from the speaker-box while DJ of the moment mouths along. For settings and props, the company doesn’t try to depict ‘what it is’ so much as ‘what it’s like.’ A spooky forest is created by members of the audience holding spokey umbrellas. A gunshot is a popping balloon. They not trying to fool us, they’re trying to conjure images in our minds because they know this will be far more evocative than anything they could try to manifest as a set, character or prop.
3. Everything it portends.
Fuck-all people saw Don Juan, but I’m still confident that Circa made a great decision to program it. The work is good, people will take time to catch on. Luckily, all DJ needs is a space and a crowd. It challenges the rest of us making shows to think again. Theatre doesn’t have a fraction of the spatial requirements most bands do, but we’re still suffering the hangover from the heavy stage machinery of the Victorian era. We tend to act as if we’ve got more requirements around our choice of location than a restaurant.
Don Juan could be at a music festival near you, playing at the back of a mosh pit, it could be in the middle of a square in the middle of summer, or it could be in the foyer of a beautifully designed office building on a Friday evening so workers and passers-by can have a beer planted in their hands and a story planted in their minds. Don Jon should be coming to you. You can’t not enjoy it. But I can completely understand your reluctance to pay for it. Or go out of your way to see it.
With this in mind, I’m rethinking my relationship to the term ‘amateur’. It’s got dirty associations in the professional era, but when you think about it, it perfectly describes the activities and rewards of most bands, athletes, start-ups, audiences and businesses. Maybe it’s time for me as a maker to stop starting with the paycheck. Wayne’s World says ‘build it and they will come.’ We behave like ‘it’ means bricks and mortar, but what if it’s a community? What if we burned the old school to the ground and started from scratch, and built a new community around what theatre could be, not what it has been for the last hundred years. That’d be Don Juan’s greatest conquest. He would have torn us a whole new mouth. He would be the eclipse that killed the dinosaurs.
Tradition requires that Leo Gene Peters, Susie Bert, Andrew Paterson, Maaka Pohatu, Jonothan Price, Comfrey Sanders, Meg Rollandi, Matt Eller, Teresa Micheletti, Hayley Prooull, Susannah Donovan, Sacha Tilly receive credit for their individual contributions. But to be honest it’s what they’ve managed to achieve as a group, as A Slightly Isolated Dog that deserves the praise.
I’m off to Dunedin in a couple of weeks to be part of the New Zealand Young Writers festival. I’ll be performing OCPHCTMHYL at the Fortune, and leading a workshop on, quote, anything you like, end quote.
The invite/ challenge came from my good friend and festival organiser Councillor Aaron Hawkins, so I couldn’t wriggle out of it. Not after drinking all that booze at his wedding. Not after presenting him with a voucher for an albatross colony in lieu of a wedding gift.
But what the hell can I teach anyone? I can barely write myself. I’ve never had a problem coming up with ideas, but it’s the growing them that’s tough. My brain is a lawn and every blade of grass is an idea. The problem is there’s only a few green patches and the rest of it looks like it’s been hosed with dog piss. My focus these days is figuring out how to get the best out of my metaphorical lawn.
So for my workshop, on Friday 5th June, I’m asking you to bring along a good idea you’ve had that’s never quite worked out. I’m going to try and share a few tricks that have helped me reconnect with an idea’s inner awesomeness.
The first thing I have to unravel when things get tangled up is what the heart of my idea actually is. I’ve got some tricks for that which I stole from one of those couples weekends where you learn to reconnect with what made you fall in love in the first place.
The next most important thing for me to figure out is what my actual connection with this awesome idea is. A few years ago I got laughed off a marae. They’d put out an open call for ideas for Maori screen content. I pitched them a kind of Maori Game of Thrones set in pre-contact times (working title: Blood Moko). You can see it now, right? Te Rauparaha, gods, taiaha, despatching your enemies with a patu then eating them and making love to their magical wahine. All in Te Reo with subtitles. Great idea. These days it’s called Deadlands - and it’s a brilliant film by Toa Fraser.*
At first, when Blood Moko got rejected, I thought it was because all those people judging me were short-sighted idiots who didn’t know the commercial potential and entertainment value inherent in their culture. Now I realise they weren’t laughing at my idea. They were laughing at me. Of course it was a great idea, but what was my connection to it? I’m a mono-lingual Pakeha who enjoys watching fights from my couch.
I’m not saying you can only write what you know. Anthony McCarten, the New Zealand screenwriter who wrote The Theory of Everything says ‘write what you’re interested in’. But interest isn’t a passive ‘I’ll wikipedia it’ kind of interest. It’s an active interest in something you’re so fascinated by you’re prepared to delve into. If I was really interested in Blood Moko, I would have learned Te Reo, read up on pre-colonial history and taken a course in Mau Rakau to connect more deeply with my interest. Then I might have written Deadlands instead of just enjoying it.
This last thing I’ll be encouraging people to discover in their idea is how it changes us. The oldest rule in the story book says that stories are made of three parts, thesis, antithesis, synthesis. You start one way, you get thrown into opposite world, and then you create a new version of yourself based on a combination of who you were and what you learned. I’d argue that this form is a universal in Western storytelling - no matter whether you’re making theatre, music or news. Off the top of my head - The Kink’s Lola:
(thesis) A regular guy meets a beautiful woman
(antithesis) He finds out she’s a man.
(synthesis) He accepts that it’s a mad world, where a regular heterosexual can still be attracted to a she-male.
Most news stories are built around this format too:
(Thesis) It was a quiet town, until -
(Antithesis) Something extraordinary happened - insert murder, disaster etc.
(Synthesis) Now the victims must figure out how to live, having been left the same but changed.
So, this workshop is gonna be great. You’ll love it. I initially called it Re-Wrighting, cos, you know, the wanker in me likes to think of writing as a craft, like ship-wrighting or whatever. But then I took a look at the programme. All the other events have exciting titles like Guy Williams: Ask Me Anything, and Teeny Weeney Ziney Theengy. Compared to that, my event sounds like something for people who wear incontinence pads. At a Young Writers’ Festival! Fuck.
Therefore, in the spirit of my workshop, I’m re-working the title. What I’m really interested in is helping people get the best out of their ideas. I’m connected to this because I’m desperately trying to figure out ways to get the best out of my own. And how does it change you? Come to my event and your idea will start with a dad bod, swing some tin, and leave shredded.
New working title: All Killer, No Filler.
Can’t wait to see you there.
P.S. I’ll also be performing On the Conditions and Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me as Her Young Lover at the Fortune Theatre. Friday 5 June, 7.30 pm – 8.30 pm
All events are free, but you need to book. Check out www.youngwritersfest.nz
P.P.S. I’ve copy and pasted Aaron’s programme blurb cos it’s better than anything I’ve written.
Direct from New York City, where New York Magazine called it ‘brilliant and lowbrow’, Arthur Meek is Richard Meros in a Stateside rework of the infamous Nuclear PowerPoint presentation On The Conditions & Possibilities Of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover. His strike rate is 0/1 so far – can he help carry home the Hillary 2016 Campaign and upgrade that to a C- ?
* I’m in no way suggesting Deadlands stole my idea. Just that it was a good idea that I had too. Like World Peace.
I like to use words I don’t understand. I’ve just discovered that the latest addition to this lexicon is ‘utopian.’ I employ it to describe a more perfect vision of the society in which we currently exist, but after reading the book by Thomas More that introduced us to the term, I’ve been forced to fire it for faking its resume.
499 years ago, More decided that there was something a bit off about the world around him. He lived in a society in which “aristocrats, goldsmiths and money lenders… are rewarded for their laziness or their unnecessary activities by a splended life of luxury.” At the other end of the scale, “labourers, coachmen carpenters and farmhands who never stop working like carthorses” for the good of society can expect to enjoy scorn, poverty and neglect from cradle to grave.
So far, so relatable. But it’s when you get to grips with what More thinks would be an improvement that the eyes start to bulge.
Utopia is an island nation, founded by a benevolent dictator. Everyone is completely content with their lives and their lot, which is lucky, considering how many of them are slaves. Voluntary slavery is, in fact, the only possible way of immigrating to Utopia, though there are ample opportunites to wind up in involuntary bondage. There’s no personal property, but thanks to a strong underlying work ethic and mandatory belief in the posthumous transition of the soul to heaven/hell, everyone happily produces everything anyone needs and gives it to them free. It helps that no one’s hung up on clothes – they all have one set of the same uniform, and they’re content to live in communal dorms in small hamlets that they’re discouraged from leaving. You can expect to live to a ripe old age in Utopia, until such time as your life is deemed unsatisfactory, at which point the authorities will counsel you to euthenise yourself through starvation.
Utopia is a man’s world. You get to boss your wife and kids about, and when it comes to matrimony you know exactly what you’re in for, thanks to a cunning system where the prospective bride is exhibited stark naked to the prospective bridesgroom. After all, “when you’re buying a horse” you make a thorough examination of the beast, whereas “with a bride you don’t even bother to take it out of its wrappings. You judge the whole woman from a few square inches of face.”
The benefit of this arrangement for the successful bride is that once a man has made his choice “if she turns ugly after the wedding he must just resign himself to his fate.”
There are many other delightful habits and beliefs that solve social problems recognisable to our own time through the creation of appalling alternatives that leave you yearning for the corruption, inequity and over-optimism that got us here in the first place.
From a writer’s point of view it’s sobering to reflect that any endeavour to imagine a world set up for the better seems doomed through prejudice and myopicness to make a roundabout case for the status quo, while the dystopian fantasties of 1984, Brave New World and The Hunger Games suggest that if we stay on the path we’re on we’re fucked. So all road lead to hell. If that’s the case, I’m left a little bit bemused as to who has the ability to help define improvement and foster change.
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.