Last week myself and fellow masters students completed a 3 week writing intensive with Singaporean playwright Jean Tay. In approx 7 weeks we will be having public readings of our major projects.
It's been so long since I last wrote, because the last few months have been one project after another and I just didn't get time to think about writing here. Well I thought of it, but other things such as spending time with my family, and gardening took priority. They are my grounding. This is todays harvest.
It's been a year rich in experiences and opportunities. In Indonesia collaborating with Mainteater on the performance Urat Jagat (Veins of the universe), running the Shadows and Wind workshop at Artplay in May, solo performance Pancake Opus 100 in June and July, running workshops throughout the year with DnD theatre. If you are interested, this is the second half of 2015:
1: Destination Home: (Director/co-creator)
I collaborated with Dan Goronzsy Arts to create Destination Home for the Fringe Festival in September, a performance about home and dispossession. Performed by Dan herself who is the character 'Red', alongside 25 paper mache heads made by Dan, with sound by Sharyn Brand, lighting by the ever creative Bronwyn Pringle, and costume by stylist and designer supremo Emily Barrie, this piece spoke the truth about what it's like to be a renter in an increasingly competitive and hostile environment.
The heads represented many things during the piece, Red's lover who is moving in with her (they decide not to let property managers know in case they discriminate against a same sex couple), others at a rental inspection, people desperately fleeing wore torn countries to search for safety, people in the so called line to immigrate being asked questions to test their allegiance to Australia, news headlines, a choir, and more. This is a beautiful work, performed in the intimate Grand Caravan, and will be having another season in the Midsummer Festival at La Mama February 2nd-7th. We will be doing some redevelopment before this season. After Midsummer it is going to the Adelaide Fringe Festival, without me I'm afraid. I'll be sticking it out in Melbourne for a hot February hopefully with lots of dips in the Elwood beach.
2: Birdcage Thursdays: (writer/performer)
No sooner was Destination Home up then I was redrafting the script for Birdcage Thursdays, and then in rehearsals.
This work has taken 5 years roughly to write. It started as an attempt to capture the idiosyncratic language and communication style of someone very close to me in my family who a few years ago was at risk of losing her home because of a little problem with hoarding. I ended up getting involved in the situation and getting help for her, but not without a struggle the whole way. It was a really difficult experience at the time, and this script is the hardest thing I have ever written. Although I tried to get support for the development of the script from all the orgs that support script development in various ways over that time it was not forthcoming. Probably because, well, nothing really happens in the script, it is about communication, and also, movement ideas are embedded within the script which perhaps is just too much I don't know. Anyway, actually the early versions of the script, which I thought were pure genius were probably really shit and although I saw the vision which wasn't quite there yet, I guess the assessors who read it didn't. Well, anyway, it all worked out. La mama took it on, with the amazing support of Caitlin Dullard who directed it. They supported a development in their exploration season, then, the Big West Festival, love them, saw even more potential and supported it further, with money and other support, linking us with health and housing organisations who got right behind the work. Then, joy oh joy, the Helen McPherson Smith Trust saw even more potential and they funded us! And, to top it off, Genevieve Picot, the amazing Australian actress also saw it's potential and joined our team, quite prepared to spend time during rehearsals redrafting, alongside Sophia Constantine. There is so much movement in this piece, Sophia Constantine moves between being a bird and a fitness freak, while Genevieve moves between dance moves, bowls moves and calligraphy. It is about communication and compulsive behaviours. You think it might be funny only it's actually reality. Much more redrafting did occur, whole sections were slashed, and there's still more drafting to do, but we got it somewhere quite good. Here's some reviews:
We will be back. There is more life awaiting Birdcage Thursdays.
3: Sunno//Sedih- (Script consultant)
While in the early stages of Birdcage Thursdays, I did some script consultancy for Rani Pramesti Collaborations, on a collaborative work Rani is making with Shivajani Lal and Ria Soemardjo - I unfortunately missed the showing after spending time talking to both Rani and Shivajani about the text and then spending a day with them in a workshop at Footscray Community Arts Centre, as the showing was in Sydney. This work will be premiering in the Next Wave Festival in May 2016, can't wait.
4: Microcosm - (Director/Producer)
2 days after Birdcage Thursdays finished and was bumped out, I picked up Wawan Sofwan and Heliana Sinaga from Mainteater Bandung at the Airport. I have been collaborating with Indonesian Theatre collective Mainteater for 18 years now, and was delighted that we were asked to present a micro version of our work 'Urat Jagat (Veins of the Universe) by Godi Suwarna, with Jodee Mundy performing and Mal Webb doing sound in the Mapping Melbourne Festival this year. This time I elected not to perform but instead to focus on directing. We rehearsed for 6 days, and on Saturday December 5 we performed 'Microcosm' at the State Library of Victoria 6 times in a row. It went for around 17-18 minutes each time. Godi's poems are about greed, environmental destruction, consumerism, a cry from the voice of nature itself, angry and in pain. Beautiful poems. My favourite is Ujang Masuk Sekola, a poem about a small child starting school, and the sudden regimentation which takes place in his life, while his dreamy child state is forever lost, his character moulded into the same form of the adults around him. It is performed in Sundanese and English language together. If you are curious, here is the video
5: DnD performance.
So the workshops I have been running through DnD Mambourin culminated in a performance at the Footscray Community Arts Centre. It was a show casing of the masks we made a few months back with the participants doing solos and duets and a big group dance improvisation, alongside the Mambourin Choir performing and a film showing from the film group. A lovely morning indeed! No photos, but here's the group:
So whats next?
Well, tomorrow I am going to the Intergalactic Sweet Spot to serve Watermelon Sorbet and dance the new year in. In 2016 I wish peace for everyone, but know that only through being at peace myself can I have any impact on the world. So I am aiming to be at peace with myself, and to find the elusive balance between creating structure in my life and being free. It will be a year of learning - I am returning to do a Masters in Writing for Performance at the VCA, and will be continuing with the projects I have done this year, alongside writing a new script which is something like 'The Education System will turn your children into fucking little Bureaucrats'... working title.....
Some photos from todays session with DnD theatre, run through the Migrant Resource centre. We are making awesome spontaneous performances each session, movement pieces based on simple scores. We will do a small show later in the year for International Day of Peoples with a Disability. I had the idea that the theme could be 'Play'. Because play is so important in our lives and yet it is the first thing that we let go of when we feel under pressure. We all need play. We will keep playing and see what happens. Can we keep playing right up to, and during the performance outcome? So it is just an extension of our work during the year together. Our play I mean. Because our work is our play. At the end of the session, after a whole session of play, of leading play, of creating structures for play to take place in, I feel like I have been working very hard but it has been fun the whole time. And everyone is very hungry. Today I was starving and we all agreed we had worked very hard. Today everyone played very hard.
'The everyday life of a mother with two children living in a suburb of Melbourne is revealed to be a rich poetic terrain full of brave attempts at transcendence from loneliness.' Just finished the premiere season of Pancake Opus 100 at La Mama theatre in Melbourne.
This was not a kids show, with explicit sexual content and some dark stuff but I did collaborate with my kids who made two films with me which were part of the work. My amazing collaborators Bronwyn Pringle and Emily Barrie created the most beautiful visual world for this piece to exist in. Amelia Swan from Arts Hub gave it 5 stars!
Dear Senator Brandis,
I am curious about some statements you made recently to explain you reallocating arts funding to the new 'National Program for Excellence in the Arts'. You said that artists need to consider the tastes of their market, with the implication that many artists don't, especially independent ones, who will be most affected by these changes.
First of all, I would like to know what the statistics are you are referring to in terms of bums on seats per funding amount? Ie, how many audience members attend the collective independent works which are funded either directly or indirectly through programs and festivals, compared to how many attend the larger company works which are funded at large amounts, and how does this add up in terms of dollars per audience? I feel quite confident that independent works receive a comparable number of appreciators per investment, especially when you take into consideration publicity budgets and infrastructure. I see a lot of theatre, and I see a lot of audience members with a preference for independent work, so I am curious how you came to this conclusion and what your evidence is.
Secondly, I am curious if you are aware of how expensive tickets to events such as Opera Australia, Australia Ballet and Mainstage theatre are? To suggest that these are the only worthy options for people is immediately exclusive, not just in terms of artistic preference, but also financially.
There is a functioning and active economy based around smaller companies and independent artists. They service not just those with contemporary and explorative tastes but also they service a great many people who otherwise would not be able to see performance because it would be too expensive. Please don't underestimate the market here. It is massive, it is functioning, and it brings great pleasure and joy to the quality of life of the public as well as to the quality of arts in our country. It creates dynamic export where larger MainStage companies do not. Not only this, it is a source of employment for many people.
Please try and understand Senator Brandis, that quality and excellence is a complex issue, especially with the arts. We need to preserve our countries diversity, and accessibility in the arts. This is a key factor in creating a healthy society.
This weekend Jo Mott, Bronwyn Pringle and I ran a workshop at ArtPlay as part of the Wind Project. Working with new wind toy designs and placing them in a shadow world with fans and other sceneries, alongside a soundtrack of wind texts, we played for four hours non stop with children, aged from around 2 to 9. The workshop was aimed at kids aged 6-12, so some of the younger ones needed help with the more complex wind toys, but they had a ball, sticking mostly with the very simple designs. As they left the making space and entered the wind tunnel space, we handed them a torch and invited them to play in the wind tunnel, and to build sceneries around their creations. Here are some photos.
I put photos and reviews up of our performances and workshops in Indonesia in February on the Urat Jagat page of this site. This was such an incredible time, working with the company mainteater to create a multi-lingual performance based on the poetry of Godi Suwarna. One of the many astounding things about this project is that the text was written in Sundanese, the mother tongue of West Java, and then translated in English by Safrina Noorman. More photos of the show itself and rehearsals are also up on mainteater's Urat Jagat Blog, but here are just a few favourite moments for me.
When I first moved to a house with my kids in Heidelberg West, after separating from their dad, quite a few years ago, I spent a lot of time walking around the area- as I have always and still do spend a lot of time walking. I quickly became aware that there was a lot of rubbish left laying around in Heidelberg West, on the roads, gutters and in parks and playgrounds. I don’t know if this was something about people in the area not bothering to bin things, or because we were close to Northland, and the rubbish reflected both what was available to people to consume and also the sorts of things people wanted to consume perhaps. I found it a bit despairing at first, but then I started getting into taking photos of the rubbish. This was before the iphone, and I had an early model phone camera which was one of the best ones around at the time. I became quite obsessed with walking around and photographing rubbish. It occurred to me that the discarded packaging I was seeing everywhere was a sort of ‘backdoor’ form of advertising. Whether conscious or not, big companies were advertising their products, in playgrounds, parks and on the footpath, through rubbish.
I started to show people my photos when they came to visit, and the kids looking over my shoulder would list the products as I flicked through the photos. If they had friends over there would be a chorus of kids listing the items as I showed their obliging parents my proudly growing photo collection of discarded wrappings. This is where I got the idea from to make a film of these images and record the kids labelling them. I asked my friend Jackie and her son Kai to join us. I put the images into a slide show (no one piece of rubbish was repeated, apart from the valium package) and then recorded the kid’s response to it. Initially I put a track of me playing the old version of Waltzing Matilda on banjo during the part where all the bottles are shown in the creek. I sent this to the Banyule Council, and I received a phone call. The woman from the council wanted to put a slogan on the film at the end saying ‘Don’t Litter’ or some such thing, to play to a festival for teenagers the local council was organising. But I didn’t like this idea. I explained to her that to me it is more about corporations and the hold they have over young minds, and their contribution to polluting the world and the possibility of ‘backdoor advertising’. Putting a ‘don’t litter’ slogan on the end seemed to trivialise it. She was disappointed I think, but in the end she helped me out by setting me up with a local recording studio called Jets, and we re-recorded the soundtrack. I ended up turning the film into an installation, at the C3 Gallery which John Butt was curating- the film played in a loop on an old TV atop a mound of leaf Litter. Jo Mott helped me set it up and get the angle of the TV just right. Arts critic Robert Nelson reviewed the exhibition in The Age, and he said “How tragic that pedagogy should come to this! Called Advertising Feature, this wicked installation by Sandra Fiona Long portrays children as chirpy for all the wrong reasons. They rejoice in their collective familiarity, which has nothing to do with skills-acquisition but simply reveals the penetration of brand-marketing.”
I just pulled this video out again for the first time in years and watched and laughed. I finally have put it on youtube. If you can’t be bothered watching the whole 5.20 minutes- the very end is quite cute and worth skipping to. Imagine this on a loop. The gallery sitters at C3 said they went a bit loopy too.
So here’s to 2015 being a year of transforming our pain and frustration into gold, into something which will be a blessing for everyone, into something which will reveal a little more about humanity to all of us. And the pen, brush, or editing suite will always be more powerful than the assault rifle.
Ok, so I am starting to develop writing workshops, based on my daily practice of writing, and also my experience directing, facilitating and creating movement and text based performances with community and independent theatre. I am looking seriously at the different stimulus which inspires me to write, and learning how to capture some of these things and share them, so they may be of use to others.
What creates the transition between a completely uninspired and unengaged space, where one is forcing themselves to write, into one that is inspired, limitless and free? Where the structure becomes effortless and natural, indeed the structure can write itself, emerging from the writing. Why is it that this can happen so suddenly and surprisingly? What is it that causes this shift?
This is what I want to explore in my workshops; ways to access inspiration. I want to create a space where people can explore different approaches to writing (or in fact any creative act) and free up their thinking about what works for them and why.
I attended a couple of Jenny Kemp's generative writing workshops years ago. It was around the same time that I was involved as a mentoree in a creative development she was undertaking- where she was turning a script she had written onto the floor with actors, dancers, a composer, filmmaker and designers. I had just finished studying theatre making, and I felt very blessed to be able to observe her creating theatre from her own text, and to take part in her writing workshops. I found her process for generating text fascinating and so much fun. She created a space where writing can be a mediation, connecting with our inner impulse, but yet gave constant interruptions to this meditative space, pushing us into different realms with our material and never letting us get too comfortable or stuck. Her workshops almost provided a structure for a complete work.
I also attended a Sue Ingleton's shamanic writing workshop when I was at the VCA, and that was really cool. We warmed up through exercising our chakras, removing ourselves completely from the idea of writing at all, turning ourselves into empty vessels, and then at just the right moment, Sue opened us up to other stimulus, and we went for it. I wrote a piece of writing in this workshop which later was reworked to become a duet performed by Helen Morse and dancer Matt Cornell in 'Duets for Lovers and Dreamers' at fortyfivedownstairs in 2010.
Both of these writing workshop experiences had a profound effect on me, alongside my experience training in theatre, mediation and movement in Indonesia with Bengkel Teater Rendra, and from other great teachers in improvisation such as Al Wonder, and many years of yoga training and teaching. From these diverse yet connected lineages, it feels natural to develop a process for writing from the mysterious, inner space; the same space that dance, painting, music or any creativity comes from. There is structure, certainly that is important, but more essentially, and before structure, there is inspiration, a connection with something wide and vast, which moves us to create free of any judgement. And in approaching text in this way, we create more and more interesting and relevant forms of writing- Yay!
So how do we get there?
A couple of things which I think help prepare us for the inspired writing space are:
a) writing every day- this is really important, if you are serious, write everyday, even if it is just a short time. And not just creative writing or work writing but also anything else which comes up- to do lists, shopping lists, lists of swear words, sexual fantasies, and even better, connecting with your deepest motivations and writing freely from there. This is writing for no one else to see, just for you, unless you want to show someone. There are some great books around about this, to help you establish writing as a practice- try Julia Cameron (e.g. the artists way) and Natalie Goldberg (writing down the bones).
b) Let yourself write badly- yep, bad writing is fine and good and important. Let yourself write badly because it releases your from the burden of expectation. Who cares if you have a deadline and all you can write is crap. Just keep going and don't listen to the nagging voices of doubt. Write badly. And then write even worse. Make a point of it. You might be surprised to find that some of your best writing comes from your worst.
c) Remember your body. Writing is a physical act. Move, take breaks, walk, dance and keep your attention connected with your body, or parts of your body as you write.
Try this exercise: Bring your attention to your toes. Wiggle them. stretch them, luxuriate in the feeling of them, let yourself get turned on by them. Take your pen in your hand, and listen carefully to what your toes have to say. Start writing, keeping your attention with your toes. See where it takes you- let yourself leave your toes completely if you wish- just write, but as soon as you come to a stop, come back to your toes- listen again. What do your toes have to tell you? Let it be bad.
I have here one more interview with a Hades Fading artist. This time with actress Ruth Sancho Huerga.
Ruth Sancho Huerga is an actress, originally from Spain, who has lived and worked in Melbourne over the past 3 years. She was nominated for a greenroom award for best actress in 2012 for her role in Blood Wedding at the Malthouse. Ruth and I met at a multilingual poetry reading at Federation Square which we both performed in last year, and I was really struck by how powerful her performance was, and also her poetry. She is a poet, visual artist and a performer and specialises in digital theatre and poetry which she is doing her Phd in. We have been talking a lot about the potential of Hades Fading to utilise digital technology to create the fading world of the gods, but that is for later. Now, to Ruth:
- What draws you as a performer to working with film and sound?
As a performer and visual artist I’ve always been very attracted to new forms that give me the possibility to express, improvise and interact with the audience in a different way. Platforms as film and sound create a different imaginary world to react to and demand not only the use of different acting skills such as singing or acting for the camera but also a deep exploration of new ways of developing theatre.
- What elements of a production do you most connect with when collaborating on a project? (ie. sound, text, other performers, visual, etc)
Each project is a different ‘baby’ to nurture. Sometimes there is no text and it is a show based on movement and sounds; other times it relies on visuals and multimedia. As a performer I always face and embrace projects from their ‘uniqueness’. Nevertheless, I really love working with poetic texts because they live on the metaphor and therefore create multiple aesthetics and multiple feeling connections at the same time. This is also achieved by the interaction of visuals and sounds. Any element that enriches the textual world(s) is also interesting and appealing to me.
- What is the most important thing about theatre for you?
The audience. I learn that during my career. The magic of theatre is that there is an audience travelling and experiencing with you an alive journey in real time. An audience that experiences emotions and feelings with you. Every time I jump on the stage I dream with the ‘love’ connection between audience and myself as a character. Theatre is an act of pure giving, an act of pure and immediate love between the stage and the auditory, and every night is different and special.
- Why are you working on hades fading?
First of all, I love the text. It is truly poetry and the theme is very attracting to me, the myth of Orpheo and Euridice, but a myth that is fading. For me Hades Fading not only questions the loss of historical memory and its consequences, individually and socially speaking, but it also questions the way history has been told or passed to society and what that implies in the present and what that will lead to the future. The text is full of humour with touches of feminism. Also, I feel very lucky of being surrounded by such a professional and talented team.
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Many thanks again,