DEMOLITION + mid-2021 round-up

Last November, we were finally back in(!) a(!) theatre(!) for a sold-out season of Apocalipstick! at Metro Arts. It seems like both a million years and one minute since that time, but Polytoxic have not rested on their lockdown laurels. They’re back with a brand new show for Brisbane Festival: DEMOLITION. Here’s my (brief) two cents on Polytoxic’s not-to-be-missed new show:

DEMOLITION has all the good stuff you want — feats of strength, mid-air hula-hooping, synchronised intersectionality, a very ascendable set and a microphone in an Ice Break bottle — but is at its best when its high-octane acts turn in on themselves and embrace the uncanny.

This is a very different show from APOCALIPSTICK! (Metro Arts 2020); DEMOLITION is focused on ‘getting shit done — by the tonne’. The Polytoxic crew is unafraid to let its audience sit with — even help lift — its heavier moments. While there’s cheekiness and fun in DEMOLITION, its strongest scenes let the audience do the work, blurring the juxtaposition of feminist send-up with the actual injustice underneath.

Lisa Fa’alafi wears hi-vis gear and holds a nail gun in front of a demolition site.

You’ll find yourself laughing and whooping and then, suddenly, examining what made you laugh and — just as quickly — weeping or raging. The performers make a lot of noise in this show — after all, it’s circus! — but I’ve never heard the scream, the cry, the yawp deployed with such power and nuance.

Co-directors Lisa Fa’alafi (pictured; photo by Joel Devereux) and Leah Shelton kick arse, and Ghenoa Gela, Lilikoi Kaos and Mayu Muto were stand-outs. All DEMOLITION lacks is a little more levity at its denouement; after the thoughtful, affecting rollercoaster of its various feats, the audience needs to be lifted back up just a little more — called to affirmative action, maybe — before we toddle back out into the foyer. (However, once there, you can and will buy 👊-themed stubbie coolers, pins and tees.)

DEMOLITION runs from 4–11 September at Brisbane Powerhouse. 💥💥💥


And, as for the link round-up, here’s what happened while I avoided Zoom during the first half of this year:


Coming up:

  • I’m running a Qld Poetry workshop on the possibilities of choose-your-own-adventure poems in Twine. It’s called WE CONTAIN MULTITUDES and will include re-drafting exercises and a tiny bit of coding. It runs online on 12 and again on 23 September and will be low-key, fun and breakout-room free.
  • In November, Bec and I will be dusting off our evening wear to perform BACHELORETTE: A SONG CYCLE at RuckusFest (just in time to debrief on Brooke’s upcoming queer season of The Bachelorette!).

Dream: a blog

It’s several weeks ago now, but Vena Cava’s Dream: A House (Anywhere Festival) is still resonating – in a very dreamlike way. This installation took over the whole of House Conspiracy in West End, a sharehouse-turned-shared-arts space.

Transforming an entire building into an immersive experience is an enduring fantasy of mine. On top of that, exploring uncanny Queenslanders is the theme at the heart of my Master’s thesis. I bought tickets so fast I was just a blur with a credit card.

I haven’t written reviews in a couple of years, so this isn’t really criticism. Technically I could’ve squeezed Dream: A House into my recent lit review but never mind that. :| I’m just glad this show had its moment in Brisbane, and wanted to make a few notes that might help me respond to it more creatively in the near future.

Dream: A House was directed by Sarah Winter, who created A Library for the End of the World a few years ago: an uncanny walking tour of West End (guided by audio on headphones), which led to a tiny library of memories. The show ended by inviting you to record a memory of your own to add to the collection. I remember wanting to stay in that library room forever.

library-end-world

A Library for the End of the World, 2014

This new work operates on the conceit that the show is your night’s sleep, and the rooms of House Conspiracy are a series of dreams. Like A Library for the End of the World, it’s a solo experience, and the Dream team take pains to create a sense of safety and ritual before showing you to the front door. Going into a show alone – especially a walking show – is a wonderful experience: without a fellow audience, you can be vulnerable and react without moderating your feelings and facial expressions.

Sarah Winter, Siobhan Martin (production manager), and Rebekkah Law and Samuel Seagrott (stage management team) have put a great deal of time and love into creating a labyrinth of detailed dreams within House Conspiracy. (That house has a surprising number of rooms! I’ve been trying to map out the space – I’ll have to revisit when it’s functioning normally.)

ANYWHERE-DREAM-A-HOUSE-MAIN-IMAGERY

The show is most successful at its most intimate and sensory. I couldn’t bring myself to miss sniffing a single memory in the smell library (legit a dream I would have, too). In the sand room, I felt safe in the mystic’s intimate, attentive gaze. When I slow-danced with the woman in the flower room, I felt we’d known each other a long time – but only just fallen in love. I probably spent too long on the phone in the kitchen shit-talking the Northern Lights. The spaces and characters invite you to engage deeply – and I only wish I’d had more time to do so (and to scribble my secret missive in the bathtub full of books).

The rooms where the illusion was broken were where the dreamy themes were overwritten or overacted – minor issues easily tweaked. I loved the attention to detail throughout – from taking off my shoes at the beginning to finding them waiting for me in front of a chair under the house, swathed in cloud-like clean sheets on lines, which you unpeg your way through to leave. In hindsight I’d have gladly booked out two spots so I could explore the house for longer.

YOOF ARTS NEWS

I nearly called this YOOF ARTZ NYOOZ and I’m sorry. Maybe it should have been “They Have It Coming”. Anyway. It’s been a fortnight of arts-work by the young and the restless. This is definitely more of a discussion than a series of reviews. I especially welcome input from others who’ve seen or are involved in these shows.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD)

Brisbane (a doing word)

Vena Cava has outgrown QUT’s Woodward Theatre; the student theatre company launches its new season in the Judith Wright Centre’s intimate Shopfront space. Here, we meet Matty (Patrick Hayes) and his share-housing frenemies, negotiating their place and purpose as 20-somethings in Brisbane. This coming-of-age story unfolds in pieces, benefiting from writer David Burton’s structural experimentation.

Burton’s characters are painfully relatable but never sterotypes. Claire Christian directs a strong cast; we’ve all lived or studied with these eager, energetic, argumentative people. We’ve probably been them. Overall, a little more polish and restraint will allow Brisbane (a doing word) to deftly handle the sensitive topics it tackles without losing its sense of absurd humour.

BRISBANE (A DOING WORD) ran at the Judith Wright Centre from 20 to 22 March 2014.

PERSPECTIVE/WOOLF PACK

Khalid Warsame at Brisbane's VOICEWORKS Launch

Express Media (or its Queensland representative … me) launched Voiceworks #96, the Perspective issue, at Avid Reader. Voiceworks Mag publishes and offers professional development of the work of Australian writers under 25. This was such a great night with superb readers (pictured: Khalid Warsame). Avid put on the ritz for us — what a wonderful venue. Wine all round! We also launched Woolf Pack, a new feminist zine edited by super-cool Brisbane ladies. Good times.

VOICEWORKS and WOOLF PACK launched at Avid Reader on 28 March 2014.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS

Homos in Kimonos

James Halloran and Will Hannagan’s double-bill cabaret (Melbourne Festival Comedy) has come under fire this week regarding its title, which some feel appropriates Japanese culture in a way that is racist. I’m hesitant to weigh in personally — as a white person I realise my privilege means I have blind spots — but I felt the creative team gave a measured, respectful public response in which they apologised and clarified their intentions. It was disappointing to see uncritical responses on both sides of the fence (personal attacks on the young performers and, on the flipside, tiresome attacks on “the PC brigade”).

I rarely feel qualified to comment, but I think there’s space right now in Australia for lots of context-based, critical discussion on cultural intersection in art. I hope that the show’s run stimulates more thoughtful, respectful discussion and fewer facebook shitstorms.

HOMOS IN KIMONOS runs at Melbourne Comedy Festival until 13 April 2014.

BOY&GIRL

Boy&Girl by Oscar Theatre Company

Oscar Theatre Company presents “a steamy cabaret of musical theatre, contemporary and pop where gender is bent and rules are broken” at Brisbane Powerhouse, after a season at Lightspace. Boy&Girl features 25 talented and diverse cast members with a Broadway/contemporary jazz vibe. Jason Glenwright’s moody lighting sets the right tone for a trip down the Weimar rabbit hole.

Now, I can’t call these thoughts a review, as I did not stay for the full show. For me, the highlight of the first half was a 40s wartime swing rendition of “Call Me Maybe” by three charismatic male performers, followed by an emotive solo covering Rizzo’s “That’s the Worst Thing I Could Do” from Grease. Overall, though, Boy&Girl only flirted with the idea of gender-bending: pronouns were swapped, sure, and the boys (but, curiously, not really the girls) dabbled in drag. The jokes were about as cheap as the lingerie. All up, a pretty conservative affair, with the cast unable to nail the sense of sexy-grotesque integral, in my opinion, to queered cabaret.

But none of this would be a fair reason to walk out. Generally, I think it’s pretty poor form to leave a show’s opening night midway. However, just before the interval, 10 men (plus the male host and four men in the onstage band) performed Chicago’s “Cell Block Tango”. This is a song that deliberately subverts language used against female victims of intimate and sexual violence; its power, humour and sense of the uncanny succeeds because, in the context of the song, women have what is normally masculine power. In Boy&Girl, “Cell Block Tango” becomes a deeply unsettling song about domestic violence. In Australia, where one woman a week is murdered by an intimate partner, loosely “gender-bending” the song puts the power back in the hands of those who already have it. I left because I couldn’t sit with an audience that found that funny.

BOY&GIRL runs at the Visy Theatre at Brisbane Powerhouse until 19 April 2014.

VW Flashback: Write of Passage

A few issues ago, I wrote an ed-comm-itorial for Voiceworks #93 “Cell”. Voiceworks publishes the work of writers under 25; in a couple of months, I’ll be forced to make my own way in the big world, elderly and alone. Not really — but I have had my last ever things published by VW. Gonna miss ’em. Stumbled across my recentish editorial today, so here’s a flashback. Sorry-not-sorry about the title pun.

 

Write of Passage 

In writing, as in life, the first cut is the deepest. Baby, I know. My first time was online. On a poetry critique forum. Some punk who didn’t even understand my poem thought they could tell me, the author, how to improve it. Hot damn! That first dose of red ink can sting.

I was sixteen and top of English. I was used to my poetry taking pride of place on my parents’ fridge. Yet someone out there thought my writing could be better. Much better. I’d like to say that was the day I left the comfort of LiveJournal and became a Writer-with-a-capital-W, but in reality I was too busy making my school-friends troll this anonymous butcher who had applied his untrained scalpel to my perfect poem.

First Critique can be a significant and habit-shaping event; it can separate the diarists from the crafters. It’s an experience many of us share—perhaps even an essential writers’ rite: to undergo the painful epiphany that accompanies extreme butthurt in the face of criticism. It didn’t sink in that exact day, but it was a step towards realising that first-drafting is only a small part of writing.

That poem was titled ‘Narcissism and Existential Lust Backstage at the Con’. Seriously. I wrote it while skulking around with my trumpet in the eerie blue lights backstage at the Brisbane Conservatorium, waiting for school band dress rehearsals. Dressed in yellow crepe, I mostly gawked at a hot sound guy who looked enough like an Anne Rice vampire for me.

So I wrote a poem for our sound tech Armand, employing ultra-subtle addiction metaphors because, at sixteen, I was pretty worldly (read: drank Absinthe once):

I can’t shoot up sense
I can’t see my veins
I’m floating in opium blue
there’s no substance abuse
there is only you.

I think I may even have tried to hand-deliver a copy. Bad habits start early.

That First Critique, perhaps, sets writers apart from musicians and sports players. While other kids take piano lessons and go to soccer training, few young-’uns are sent to poetry class or writing lessons. (Start more Dead Poets Societies in schools!) In ice-skating class, the first thing you learn is how to safely fall down—but most young poets, untutored, forge their own ways in cossetted, private notebooks.

Looking back, that critic’s advice was firm, but kind—and asked me questions, rather than directed me or rewrote my work. I had to realise I’d willingly entered a workshop forum where the aim was not so much to showcase as to practise. And one of the best ways to get better as a writer is inform your editing with readers’ feedback.

Of course, the critiqued poem doesn’t exist in a vacuum and neither does the poet’s response. I empathise with each new writer struck with the revelation that Plath and Neruda didn’t just pop those poems out fully formed. The nature of First Crit can bubble-wrap, buoy up, encourage or scar a new writer.

If you, dear reader, are one whose formative First Crit is far in the past, I urge you to think back on that experience and be considerate. But the real trouble is something much more insidious: beyond the boldfaced anonymity of online critique groups, serious peer feedback can be hard to find. Be considerate, but do still be critical. The only feedback worse than ‘You suck’ is ‘Don’t change a thing!’

The poems and stories you’re about to read in this issue have all been edited in collaboration with their authors. Works that didn’t make it in this round will receive feedback, too. Voiceworks is the only publication I know of that does this. Last issue, Chloe Brien discussed the monikers writers instinctually take. I’m a poet, but I think I’m an editor first.

I submitted ‘Narcissism and Existential Lust Backstage at the Con’ to Voiceworks in 2006. It was my first national publication—but more than seeing my name in print, I remember the thrill of working with an editor who knew my poem could be better. If only we’d taken the scalpel to that title.

Voiceworks #93, 2013.

Linkfest 3000: Victim Blaming Edition

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault, victim blaming and rape culture.

Well, technically this is the opposite of a “victim-blaming edition” — here’s a (growing) list of links with something sensible to say in response to Mia Freedman’s “tell your daughters not to drink” article of October 23.

There’ve been dozens of articles and probably thousands of tweets debating victim blaming, rape prevention, rape culture and survivor support in the last couple of weeks. It’s exhausting. If you’re interested in the discussion, you’ve probably experienced diatribe worthy of screencapping and sending to STFU Sexists. Hopefully you’ve had some productive discourse too. Here are some useful links you can use to support and encourage productive discussion surrounding rape prevention. Want to learn how to support survivors better? These are good for that too.

See also: Friedman, J and Valenti, J. 2008. Yes Means Yes: Visions of Female Sexual Power in a World without Rape. Berkeley: Seal Press.

Got another article or link worth adding? Let me know in the comments!

Empathy and Victim Shaming at Cracked

Trigger warning for discussion of sexual assault and rape jokes

From “Four ‘Victims’ We Have to Stop Feeling Sorry For”, by Adam Tod Brown, editor and columnist at Cracked.com:

At some point, the talk on stage turned to what subjects can and cannot be considered funny.

“That’s where the details get hazy, but it’s alleged that a woman in the audience yelled out “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!” or something to that effect, to which Tosh replied, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that chick got raped by like five guys?”

“Of course, they’re both wrong, but we can’t just collectively settle on that conclusion and power on as a team, so instead, the incident turned into a gigantic controversy that resulted in halfhearted apologies and everything.”

Using your stage time to encourage a crowd, “jokingly” or not, to rape — violently assault — a person isn’t a joke or part of any comedy routine. It’s harassment and bullying, and the women belittled by Tosh had every right to speak out.

So many — so many — women have been harassed, assaulted and/or raped. That includes your friends, girlfriends, ex-girlfriends, sisters, mother, colleagues, peers — and audience. (And let’s not forget that men are raped and assaulted too.) We can be 100% sure that Tosh made that comment to a room in which some — or even more than some — had suffered assault. That’s like joking about cookin’ with gas to Holocaust survivors who lost loved ones to horrific abuse.

A friend of mine put it really well today: we don’t take offence — we are hurt by the way rape jokes make light of horrific experiences and we are frightened by intimidation and threats. No one goes to a comedy show to be frightened. Tosh might have thought his “just joking” threat was hilarious — but fear of assault (and the onus to a. prevent it and b. prove it was genuine) is something women face daily. We’re always looking over our shoulders.

It’s surely time to stop talking about Daniel Tosh. But Cracked, and other commentators, have shared his flaw: a lack of empathy for their audience. We choose not to make rape jokes not to avoid causing offence, but to avoid triggering upsetting emotional responses and terrifying memories.

I really feel like Cracked is losing the plot, lately (and their female audience).

(Reposted from my tumblr. I’m comforted to see that others, in the tumblr world at least, were also angered by Brown’s insensitivity.)

SlutWalk Brisbane — May 19, 2012

The second annual SlutWalk, a march against rape and against slut shaming, will take place in Brisbane on May 19. That’s in a week.

With its contentious name, SlutWalk caused quite a stir when it first became a thing last year. Lots of people were — quite reasonably — confused about its aims. At that time, I wrote about what SlutWalk meant to me; it’s probably a good time to revisit that article: Why I Walked the SlutWalk.

I’ll be back there this year with my loved ones alongside me. Even if you don’t march, it’s a good time to think about the issues at hand: victim blaming and slut shaming. Let’s replace those with enthusiastic consent and sex positivity.

Placard in the crowd says, “Consent is sexy.” Photo by Matt McKillop.

Window Shopping

In a Lush store window in London yesterday, a very brave woman — Jacqueline Traide — consensually underwent torture in protest against animal testing in the cosmetics industry.

An article in the UK’s Daily Mail published photos of the event here. (Whether you call it a stunt or endurance art is up to you.) I post that link with a trigger warning; the photo series is (for me, at least) extremely upsetting. But that’s the point. It’s easy for us to distance ourselves from the pain of animals. We can call them dirty vermin or test subjects. They can’t speak up, and their deaths happen quietly, out of sight.

We wouldn’t let the same torture occur to our friends or our pets. There would be outrage. Charges would be laid. Yet industries that practise animal testing or factory farming continue to torture conscious, feeling creatures — and we continue to rationalise it.

Take a look at that link. Be horrified, disgusted, upset, anxious, nauseous, sad — whatever you feel. Then, in future, think about the products you buy, how they are made, and what you condone when you purchase them.

Traide’s 10-hour ordeal challenged London window shoppers. Who, of course, are the real animals, when we make these kind of nightmares commonplace?

Lush, as one example,  proves that the testing of cosmetics on animals is unnecessary. It is a thriving global business that acts ethically and works to minimise impact on the environment. (They also fixed my face.) This is my chance — as a recent convert — to sing their praises without being dull and telling you Things About Soap.

There are lots of horrifying things going on in the world, and often it feels overwhelming. But every little thing you do to help counts, so do even the little things when you can.

The Problem at Hand

So, my note to Queensland cracked 1000 page views yesterday. Not a big number, in the scheme of things, but certainly a happy anomaly for a little poetry blog. Thanks for reading and sharing. Glad to know you’re out there.

A brief exchange at Brisbane Airport hit the nail on the head for me yesterday, when our shuttle bus driver asked us if we’d heard the results. He explained that he usually votes Labor but — like many Queenslanders wanting change — voted Liberal this time around. He looked uneasy and said, “I just hope Campbell and the Libs have some good plans for the next few years.”

Herein lies our problem, Queensland. You’re meant to check out your candidates’ policies before you number the boxes — not cross your fingers afterwards. It’s your democratic right to vote. But however your politics swing, it’s your democratic responsibility to vote with forethought.