This is not a review, let’s not pretend it’s a review - this is an ACCOUNT, of a thing that happened.
It’s a New York fairytale, or, if you will, it’s a journey from innocence to experience, or maybe it’s a cautionary tale about how Jess Bellamy and I nearly ruined a great collaborative partnership before it began. It is TONI BENTLEY’S THE SURRENDER and let’s get amongst it.
So Jess and I were in New York for different reasons, and because she is a virtuous playwright who sometimes attends theatre, she picked up a copy of New York’s Time Out magazine, featuring listings of plays. As soon as she saw the blurb for Toni Bentley’s The Surrender, she emailed me - one glance at the website and I was in.
Next, we invited our friends and new collaborators Ira Gamerman and Siobhan O’Loughlin to join us at ‘the anal sex play’. Ira, sensing something was amiss, managed to have a prior appointment, but Siobhan, trusting naively in our good intentions, agreed enthusiastically to come along. It was only a few days later, when the tickets had been booked and there was no backing out, that Siobhan realised we had no expectations that the play would be any good - in fact, quite the opposite - in fact, that was the point.
So Saturday afternoon. New York. Falling snow. Times Square. Theatre Row. I arrive first and stand in the foyer amid a crowd of what look like Americans in the final stages of life’s journey, clustered in tour groups, in the Big Apple for a few days and keen to catch a bit of the theatrical life the city is so famous for. Aside from The Surrender, there are posters for a range of great-looking shows:
BREAKFAST WITH MUGABE: Accept… If You Dare
INTIMACY: A Comedy About Sex
NEWSICAL: A Musical (which bore a quote from the NY Daily News, whatever the fuck that is, describing it as ‘A hit with gays, straights and everyone in between!’)
and play called REHAB where the letters are spelled out in glowing red trackmarks on a black and white photo of a wrist.
At this point Siobhan hasn’t shown, and we’re wondering whether she’s calculated the pros and cons of keeping the friendship with the Australians vs seeing The Surrender and made the right decision, but then she arrives and the three of us make our way into the 150-seat auditorium with the six other audience members, all of whom are over the age of 50, and we settle down.
In my notebook is scrawled WHY IS THE SET ALL RED? WHY IS ANYONE ELSE HERE?
The usher tells us to turn off our phones and ‘unwrap all lozenges’ before the show starts, which already made me smirk. This was bad, we were in the third row and there was no-one in between us and the stage, and I was already on the verge of giggling. And then the lights out and then our performer, Laurie Campbell, strolls out on stage in a black silk dressing gown, a bustier and high heels, and opens with the lines: ‘I once loved a man so much that I stopped existing. No me, only him.’
Without any preamble, she launches into an explanation of how sex between equals is futile - equality can’t go anywhere. She’s tried sex lying on her side once or twice: it’s no good. Just no good. Forget about it. One person has to be on top, and that person is in charge. And then she turns to meet our eyes and says while wiggling her eyebrows like a crazy person, ‘But my journey was not from top to bottom, but from bottom… to BOTTOM.’
At this point I notice Siobhan is having some kind of seizure next to me and Jess is making weird tiny huffing noises, and for a second I think they’re both having medical emergencies, but without doubt I look no better - I’m stifling laughter by desperately biting my own face. I know for a fact that Laurie Campbell can see us shaking with silent mirth two metres away from her, but professional that she is, she merely gives me a quick glance that spells death and then refuses to meet my eyes for the rest of the show.
Now she proceeds to unfold her main thesis - she is going to tell us about ‘the joy that lies on the other side of convention’ through her journey into the realm of having a lot of buttsex. With the benefit of hindsight - ‘or should I say, BEHIND-SIGHT’ (more eyebrow waggling) she will convince us all to ENTER THE EXIT: PARADISE AWAITS.
So the story starts with Toni Bentley as a young ballerina in search of spirituality. She is raised an atheist, but has some religious pangs, which she transfers into her dance career. ‘My pink point shoes became my fetishistic ally - my crown of thorns.’ (metaphor) Then at some stage she gets into reading and falls in love with Charles Dickens, Virginia Woolf, and SOARING KIRKEGAARD (sensually rubs her own neck).
In case I haven’t made it clear, Toni Bentley’s script is so wildly turgid and overblown that she cannot say a single thing without stapling a really awkward adjective or a surreal metaphor to it. On top of that, the director has made the choice to hit every line with so much forced affect that Laurie spends the whole play desperately mugging at the audience to make sure we don’t miss any of the incredibly unsubtle subtext. When she says the line, ‘Fidelity will render Casanova’s cane… limp, and Cleopatra’s Nile… dry,’ she holds up a cane to represent a wang and lets it flop forward as if it has lost its erection, because Theatre. When she explains that she was having RELENTLESSLY SAFE SEX and that she became the Queen of Condoms, she puts on a sash made of a strip of condoms, because Condom Queen.
Somebody is responsible for this play being produced and tickets being sold in return for actual money. Whoever that person is, I want to meet them and ask them questions.
Anyway, the young ballerina Toni meets a man and enters the world of sex (’He had big hands and handled me like a piece of meat… PRIME’). It doesn’t work out, and after they divorce, she coerces an unfortunate masseuse into having sex with her at the risk of losing his job (’Over the next few hours I learned that his tongue held the same magical current as his hands’). She discovers more about her own sexuality and while in a way it’s beautiful to track her taking ownership of her sexual self, at the same time it’s fucking grating because she is overwhelmingly narcissistic (’I was a mythic goddess, coming for all womankind’).
At this stage in my notebook is scrawled a quote which I have forgotten the context for: ‘There were plenty of discarded bodies in the moat around my castle.’
Anyway she goes through discovering threesomes, and explains it in really confusing logistical detail that leaves you unsure of which person was inserting what into whom, but whatever - at that point I was distracted by the soundtrack, which was a mixture of Leonard Cohen and sexy muzak that sounded like an elevator stuck between floors.
I tuned back in again when she described a particularly wild encounter with a man where he stuck his dick into her ‘vertical mail slot’. And then she pauses and says, ‘And I mean, my actual vertical mail slot. He stood outside my front door with his penis poking through my mail slot and I knelt in my front corridor and sucked it.’ And I just thought, why? Maybe I’m missing some kind of exciting door-fucking kinkiness, but to me that seems like acting out the fantasy no-one’s had or ever wants.
BUT THEN: I learned something! As Toni explains that whenever she is preparing for sex she puts makeup on her face, and then ‘on my lower face… my real face’, and I was like, do girls usually put lipstick on their clit? Is that a real thing? Maybe I’m an ignorant dude and I’ve just never noticed that dames is always painting up their vulvz? But according to Jess and Siobhan: Not A Thing. So, now you know.
Toni, Toni, Toni. I really wasn’t sure about writing this blog post, because I feel quite confident that Toni Bentley is going to read it, and her feelings are going to be hurt. But then I thought, dammit Toni, that ticket cost me $50 USD, and I don’t even have a job, plus you got an incomprehensibly good review in an actual newspaper, so you can deal with it. But also, I’m not actually pissed at you - you needed a good editor, or maybe a therapist, or maybe just someone to talk with you in real terms about what was and what wasn’t right to share under the banner of ‘empowerment’. But then, who am I to tell you how to do female empowerment?
These are real conversations we can have, Toni: get at me.
Okay so now we get to the core of the play: our narrator meets a man who has anal sex with her, that is his thing, and she’s into it, and now the play stops being even slightly about anything that isn’t buttsex. As Toni puts it, ‘the impossible had come to pass… IN MY ASS.’
I can’t even tell how I’m supposed to feel about lines like this.
So Toni ’shifts into being a conduit for a pleasure greater than myself’ and so on, this unrelenting stream of not-even-euphemisms for sodomy and her slightly hysterical exclamations about how it was the best thing that ever happened to her. Over and over again. There’s an ill-advised science demonstration with diagrams about how the rectum is actually part of the digestive tract, and even handy tips on douching (they are not that handy, but whatevs).
Anyway here’s where it gets kinda sad. Up until this point, the narrator’s colossal ego and sense of smugness about her sexual escapades kind of kept me from feeling anything for her other than eyerolling weariness. But when we shift into the dynamics of her relationship with ‘A-Man’ (yup), she opens up chasms of sadness that I can’t help but pity.
A brief laundry list:
• She raves about how he dominates her (’finally, a man who was not afraid to fuck me in the ass’) and how crucial it is to have a dominant partner for really transportive lovemaking, and yet he comes across less like a caring dominant partner than a really selfish jerk who takes what he wants from her without really caring
• ‘When he is in my ass I regress to a very young age: I goo and gah’ - I didn’t like this line
• She waits at home for him, he determines if and when they’ll have sex, and she gets usually an hour’s notice before he comes around, which she always accedes to
• ‘If we don’t make it to the bedroom in time something always gets smashed’ - spontaneously breaking furniture during crazy passionate sex sounds great, doing it regularly sounds sorta contrived
• She shaves her pubes pre-sex while reciting a William Blake poem (’He who binds himself unto a joy’) - no problem with William Blake, but there’s this ‘lady-body-hair is gross’ undertone throughout a lot of this piece that I find a bit meh
• She calculates how often they have ass-sex in total (298) and how frequently (once every 2.4 days) using lipstick on a mirror - strange and awkward and desperate and also unnecessarily mirror-ruining when there are piles of paper scattered around the stage
Now to give her due credit, Toni is fully aware that she is being super needy and not okay here, and this is the dark underbelly of the play - it’s her coming to terms with the fact that this relationship is not on an equal footing, and eventually she ends it. Her exit from the relationship was as cringeworthy as anything else in the play, but it was nice seeing her stand up for herself.
I guess what made me sad, though, was that the whole show felt like a celebration of a really manipulative, abusive relationship. The sex didn’t sound very hot (I don’t have much of an opinion on anal sex, but anything where ‘negotiation’ and ‘consent’ are dismissed as vanilla is probably not my bag) and the end lesson was something like ‘anal sex is not for me’ rather than ‘maybe ass-sex can be just one part of a wholesome, fulfilling, adult relationship, rather than the single and only defining feature?’
Still, to give her her due, Toni saved up the three best lines in the whole play for the epilogue. After the break-up, she explains that ‘I felt like a pelican…’ (bated breath waiting to see where this might go) ‘…trying to extract itself from an oil spill.’
On future anal sex: ‘I never let anyone else into my sacred backyard… what was once hallowed ground, now a tunnel of despair… filled with ghosts.’
HOT TIP FOR ASPIRING PLAYWRIGHTS: Never describe your asshole as a tunnel of despair filled with ghosts.
Finally, leaving us on an inspiring upbeat note, Toni tells us, ‘I had taken my ass back. He doesn’t live there any more. I live there now.’ And then slips off her robe, moons the audience for a long, awful moment, and then black-out.
And then back onstage for a curtain call, during which she maintains her poise with superb grace and only once shoots me a withering, contemptuous glance.
The End. No Moral.
1. Hadley works at a knife shop as a knife salesman and can’t afford a lawyer to sue me for defamation over this
2. When I first met Hadley we gave each other a disk of scripts, and next time we hung out he showed up with a version of Jack and my play Quiet Time which he had rewritten from the top as a lurid sex-dream of a play
3. Hadley is a forest and in him city folk get lost and in him jaguars kidnap sleeping children and in him the sunlight is broken up and never reaches the forest floor
4. Once when Hadley’s notebook was stolen we formed a detective agency to track it down but the only thing we uncovered was a bag full of someone else’s candy, everyone else was angry with us
5. Hadley is the body double for Moby when there need to be multiple Mobys
6. Hadley and Chrism had a party trick called Slothmother where Hadley was the sloth and Chrism was the tree and it was the worst party trick
image by nickamc
7. Hadley has upped the ante on me more times than anyone else
8. In 2003 with lateforbreakfast
9. In 2005 with ‘Scuse Me While I Kiss The Sky
10. In 2006 with A Most Curious Dream
11. In 2007 with Rosy Glowing, Bloody Cross
12. In 2010 with Misery at Pumper House
13. In 2011 with Be The DIY Sex Change You Want To See In The World
14. In 2012 with Fox Groom Broom Bride
15. In 2013 with Sexting Play
16. These are SOURCE TEXTS, these are the wellsprings
17. Hadley says that he won’t be Father Christmas unless you pay him but he will, he will be Father Christmas whenever you want
18. The internet meme about Chuck Norris having supernatural powers is funny, sure, but Chuck Norris isn’t a superhuman. But you know who does have those powers? GOD
19. Hadley has a third nipple and this is why the ladies love him maybe?
20. Hadley was married when he was 17 in a pagan ceremony where the celebrant braided his and his bride’s hair together
21. Hadley is the only person in the world to genuinely be inspired by Tony Robbins
image by nickamc
22. Canberra creates amazing artists and then it spits them out, it doesn’t need to hold on to them, it is not greedy
23. There is a gang of idiot teens in this New Mexico cowboy bar at the table next to me high fiving about how stoned they’re going to get on Friday when Shelby comes through with that quarter and telling the youngest one ‘DUDE the ALTITUDE, it’s gonna amplify the effect by a thousand, you are gonna be AMAZED by ordinary things’
24. Hadley is the bird outside your bedroom window that doesn’t give a shit about dawn and chirps all night until you vow to kill it
25. All Hadley’s lyrics for Mr Fibby were originally raps written to accompany Dr Dre instrumentals for when Hadley intended to be an aussie hiphop star which were then tweaked to fit Emma Sam and Grahame’s gypsy instrumentals
26. Hadley is the call to prayer
27. Hadley is two months older than me, however old you decide to be he is two months older than that
definitely image by nickamc
28. In 2011 Hadley wrote a treatment for The Lion King III based on the plot of Richard III and that text has now been lost so if you weren’t at Roasters on that day you will never know
29. Hadley and Tess live in a mansion, in a tree, they live in a tree mansion
30. If Hadley could be any animal he would be a turtle, but if that turtle could be any animal it would be a knife
31. Once Hadley and I made a facebook page to promote our knife-fighting zine and made all 140 fans into administrators against their wishes and then complained to facebook and had the page taken down for abuse of community standards, I don’t know how many people downloaded the zine
32. Hadley was born in the hole between calendar dates and his star sign is The Nothing
wtf nickamc he was clearly asleep
33. I steal more from Hadley than most people know but you would too, you would too
34. Hadley is a brutal no-holds-barred illegal martial arts tournament, Jean Claude Van Damme did his best to win Hadley
35. Get away from me kid, you bother me
36. Hadley paid me to write this list
37. There is nothing you can say about Hadley that is not true
from left: nickamc, hadley, nickamc
image by edward burtynski
I just need you to shut up for a second
honestly, for real, shut the fuck up
I don’t want any more hassle about what we did wrong
what we didn’t do
what we chose to ignore
the problems we planted now blooming like typhoons like droughts like floods like wars like famines
we don’t blame 1994 for our problems (we have no problems)
anyway you, finig
what are you now, 50 years old?
what did you do back then in 2014 to try and turn the tide?
I didn’t see you on the frontlines trying to keep fresh water flowing
there wasn’t enough water even then when there were only 7 billion to share it between
so don’t sneer at me with all your hindsight
it’s 2014 and we’re not ashamed of ourselves
it’s 2014 and we’re not guilty for the deaths of people who haven’t even been born
it’s 2014 and I got to see the barrier reef when some of the coral was still alive
2034 you can’t hate the past cause it’s the past that made you
2034 you owe us because we’re creating you now
2034 I don’t need you looking at me this way
2034 this is history, we’re in this together
So I went to the cinema, I know, don’t start, it wasn’t a good idea, I realise that now. Let’s not talk about the film itself (goddamn movies), the main thing to note is that they screened A NEW BATCH OF TRAILERS.
Okay to start with there was a short animated logo and a voiceover said ‘CINEDIGM: A NEW PARADIGM IN CINEMA’
And that was the whole ad. That literally is all we know of Cinedigm, and if you know more DO NOT TELL, you’ll ruin it for everyone.
The night really peaked right here with these guys’ less-is-more- approach.
Next up was a trailer for a film where a young boy is giving a voiceover saying stuff like, ‘Mom was sad after Dad left us, she didn’t like being a single mom, she was sad and lonely and sad, and we were incomplete’
The mom apparently is Kate Winslet getting her sad on, she looks pained in every shot, it is tiring to look at her
Luckily before too long Kate Winslet and her son are kidnapped by escaped fugitive Josh Brolin who forces them to drive back to their house and dress his wounds, he is on the run because he just escaped from jail where he is serving a sentence for murdering a dude, here he is
Anyway while Josh Brolin is holding the mom and son hostage at their house they all start opening up to each other and it turns out Josh Brolin is a little rough around the edges but basically has a heart of gold, and he starts teaching the son to play baseball, and Kate Winslet’s sad face creases a little in what looks like maybe happiness?
So there’s romance afoot and then Josh Brolin’s all like NICE PEACHES THAT YOU HAVE THAT I AM EATING and Kate Winslet shyly says ‘We mostly throw them away before they rot’ and then Josh Brolin says I HAVE A BETTER IDEA
and then there is a shot of Josh Brolin and Kate Winslet jointly squeezing peach slices in a mixing bowl in the preparatory phase of what will presumably be some kind of pie
the problem is, and I didn’t include a screenshot of this, that this otherwise-brilliant reboot of the pottery scene from Ghost is actually super gross, and watching romance spark between the pair of them while their hands are squishing around in a bowl of overripe fruit is pretty meh
Then there’s a bit of Josh and Kate dancing, we hear him say the line I WOULD FACE ANOTHER 20 YEARS FOR 3 MORE DAYS WITH YOU and the boy crying when a shot is fired, so presumably it ends well, or it ends sadly, or it ends some other way, but it DOESN’T end with Kate Winslet and her chump son joining Josh Brolin on the road for a life of madcap adventure fleeing from John Law
YES. Jess likes romance, and pie, so she’s likely to be more sympathetic to the themes of this film than I am. But we can’t be sure, until she sees it.
Were you jonesing for some jingoistic American war exploits where a few hundred kilos of gym-bred Californian beef dresses in fatigues and engages in cloying bromance while firing at indisciminately evil Middle Easterners? Marky Mark and Eric Bana have you COVERED
The plot seems to be, a troop of US marines have been cut off behind enemy lines in Afghanistan, they are trying to kill a commander of the TALIBAN, something goes wrong, they are up against an unexpectedly large number of enemy soldiers, there is lots of shooting and shouting and fist bumps, at one point someone yells ‘God’s looking out for us’, and judging by the title and the quick cut action shots at the end of the trailer presumably only one of them survives
If I’m not mistaken, a bit over a decade ago we invaded Afghanistan. My miniscule contribution to Australia’s tax dollars helped fund our invading army, which fought the Taliban until 2011 or so. At first we drove the Taliban back and installed a puppet regime. The Taliban moved back in, they once again control large portions of the country, and our troops are leaving. So we lost that war, and frankly, it’s hard to see how they could possibly be worse off than if we’d just left them the fuck alone.
Let me lay my cards on the table here: any US soldier in Afghanistan has my sympathy, and for what it’s worth, I think they were trying to do the right thing. But I don’t give a fuck how tough it is to be a blue-eyed blond-haired yankee marine dealing with the Taliban compared to how it is to be an Afghani in that same situation. Show me that movie instead.
Of course I’m giving this bullshit too much credit - the aim is not to show anything about Afghanistan, the aim is to run around a few desert-trimmed soundstages in a Los Angeles film studio dressed in combat gear, throw in a few explosion effects and a soaring string soundtrack, plant brown-skinned people in crosshairs and make a shitload of cash.
Fuck you guys.
Now this is more like it. Liam Neeson gets on a plane and trades some world-weary banter with the woman sitting beside him - she likes flying, he hates it - and then we discover he’s an ‘Air Marshal’ which is the fancy American word for SKY POLICE.
(if I’d been making this film it woulda been called LIAM NEESON, SKY POLICEMAN)
But THEN, Liam gets a text message saying ‘Hullo Liam Neeson’ or whatever, and he is the shocked and replies
because it’s 2014, we see the text message appear on the movie screen around Liam’s head
the reply exceeds my expectation A Lot:
Yes! From a dramaturgical point of view, the unknown text message has introduced a new element to the film: CONFLICT. Someone wants to kill people on the plane at a rate of 3/hr. Liam (we presume) is going to do his best to stop them. How will this play out?
Like this, obviously.
Goddamn you Non-Stop for having the best idea in cinema of the year already, and goddamn you also for inevitably blowing it, because there is no way a Liam Neeson film can carry off a good concept without descending into inane bullshit. My heart, my heart.
Finally, some more horseshit
JACK RYAN: SHADOW RECRUIT
Can’t turn a Tom Clancy book into a film without a lantern-jawed square-shoulder jock dressed in a suit beating the shit out of a foreigner in a hotel bathroom. This clip opens in confusing fashion - the blandly handsome lead is led into his Moscow hotel room by a tall black man with a Russian accent. Okay, sure. Then the black dude starts trying to shoot the hero.
This trailer was trading on its ‘here is a full scene of the movie that we’re sharing with you’ gimmick, so I had to watch the full fight scene in all its inevitable shaky-cam bullshit glory. Our lead disarms the bad guy and proceeds to beat the shit out of him like a real true American
eventually he straight up drowns the dude in a bath with his foot on the guy’s head
maybe I’m being oversensitive, but maybe I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t need to see any more caucasian American heros killing any more non-white foreign bad guys. Maybe that time of my life is over. Maybe that part of history is over. Maybe Tom Clancy is a nightmare from which we can all wake the fuck up now, maybe?
Maybe fuck you guys.
and then in some weird kind of epilogue to the whole trailer experience, we see the hero meet an aging Kevin Costner on a bench
kevin - it’s better your hands are shaking now rather than during
hero - what do you know about it?
kevin - the first person I ever killed was innocent.
hero - what did he do?
kevin - she.
all this and I still had a full feature length flick to get through. fuck movies, man.
2013 was a rad year in terms of people making rad art. For whatever reason (and I do not care to inquire too deeply into their motives), a bunch of people I like and care about made the decision to create and release all kinds of beautiful new music into the world. I don’t understand how or why it happened, but it happened, and here it is:
My brother Chris is one of my all-time greatest collaborators and an utterly lovely maker of music. Back in 2006 he got hold of an electric guitar, an old FX pedal and a loop station. I remember the sound of his solo jams reverberating from his bedroom, and how they gradually shifted from mildly irritating guitar noodling into weirdly hypnotic ambient soundscapes. Chris positioned his sound somewhere in between Stars of the Lid’s warm narcotic drift and the shoegaze psychedelia of early Verve records, while also trying to capture some of the texture of electronic producers like Burial.
We began collaborating in 2007, first just jamming together, then as members of music-theatre-animation-cooking ensemble Fight Fire With Knives, then as guitar / spoken-word duo Finnigan and Brother. Meanwhile, Chris began playing in bands such as Standing Waves and Prom, all the while continuing to work on his own material, expanding his abilities, refining his aesthetic and releasing a steady stream of new songs via his soundcloud.
Chris’ solo output is released under his Fossil Rabbit guise. The name refers to a famous remark by evolutionary biologist J.B.S. Haldane. When asked to name a discovery that would disprove the theory of evolution, Haldane is supposed to have growled, ‘Fossil rabbits in the Precambrian.’
image by adam thomas
After a couple of years gigging around town and capturing lo-fi recordings of his tunes, in December Chris hooked up with long-time collaborator and experimental music genius Reuben Ingall to record the first Fossil Rabbit EP. Cloudache was released in December at Smiths Alternative.
Chris is an occasional migraine sufferer, and the EP’s title refers to the sensitivity to clouds and stormy weather that sometimes precedes a migraine’s onset. Cloudache the song might be the best thing Chris has produced in 7 years of music - it moves at a quick pace and builds up momentum as layer upon layer of percussive twitches is added, but behind it all are slow, gentle waves of warm guitar ambience. In 4:28, it travels through a whole range of different moods, pulls itself apart and then reassembles itself. It’s magic and it makes me very happy.
The other four pieces are also lovely - Raver is one of the most uptempo compositions in the Fossil Rabbit catalogue, and it has a certain propulsive underbelly. Sentimental is an old favourite of mine - this is the soundtrack to lounging around on a lazy afternoon, watching David Attenborough nature documentaries and writing a few sketchy lines while the sound of the guitar slowly and casually builds until it has become a huge wave that lifts you up and carries you effortlessly with it.
The EP is $5 from Bandcamp and comes with a lovely and blissed out remix of Deficit by Brenton K. I recommend. For the also, here is a live clip from the launch gig at Smiths, recorded and edited by 2xx Local and Live:
This is a stunning collaborative effort between Poland-born US-based sound artist Derek Piotr, and my great friend and another amazing collaborator Paul Heslin.
Piotr-Heslin is seven tracks of surprisingly tender music underpinned by a scaffolding of grinding, surging glitch. Beats stutter into life at odd moments, waves of harsh noise wash across the tracks, but mostly what sticks out for me is how melodic and tuneful this record is. Derek and Paul sing on this record, and it’s quite beautiful. Granted, the vocals are digitally treated in every way possible, but still, these songs aren’t just cleverly produced soundscapes - they’re songs, and they stick in my head, and they make me feel all kinds of feelings.
The headfuck for me with this record is that Paul and Derek have never actually met in person - somehow they’ve managed to create this really intimate and personal experience without ever being in the same room. Fair enough that’s the world we live in in 2013, but seriously, listen to this record; it is an extraordinary achievement.
Okay so this isn’t exactly of the same calibre as the two records previously mentioned BUT, it’s a pretty exciting release from my point of view because it’s the first batch of music released by Nick McCorriston under his new Future Conduits alias.
Nickamc is one of my closest collaborators, and a superb musician and producer. For the last couple of years he’s been producing and performing a strain of electronic music that doesn’t fit under any of the other projects he’s involved with, including performing live using a hacked Nintendo Powerglove. This material is now being gathered together under the Future Conduits banner, which Nick will be touring in 2014.
Future Conduits’ first two song burst came out of a collaboration between Nickamc and in November. We set out to create a short set of two and a half minute songs using an array of samples Nickamc had collected from Kiss, Atari Teenage Riot and Marilyn Manson.
Wedding Vow is a fairly simple blast of ambivalence towards the idea of marriage, from a person who is not interested in ever getting married but yet is delighted when his friends who do believe tie the knot. Nickamc really sculpted this into shape, finding a way to fit the words to the loop and then fleshing it out with other samples and textures.
Teen Beach Movie is a cover of a tune from Disney’s 2013 straight-to-TV masterpiece Teen Beach Movie, set to a fairly brutal ATR sample. The original tune is a virtuoso Disney effort that looks at how gender roles and male-female relationships have changed since the early 1960s and doesn’t waste a single chance to hit the listener with another lurid costume choice. Don’t even argue, just get amongst the videoclip NOW.
There was so much music, so much of it was good - how is it even possible to appreciate it all?
When the original Too Many Weapons crew (me, Georgie McAuley, Sam Burns-Warr and Jordan Prosser) came back to Sydney in October 2013 for the final season of Kids Killing Kids, our first priority was to hit the streets and carparks of Penrith to scout locations for the fourth edition of our spoken-word series The Rizal Fountain Raps: Penrith X Edition. The spoken-word pieces that we wrote and recorded over this week are possibly my absolute favourites out of the entire Rizal Fountain Raps canon.
Jordie, Sam and Georgie’s pieces contain some of the best writing and most captivating performances I’ve seen from each of them, ever. Each poem has moments of humour and sadness, lightness and intensity, glimpses of autobiography wrapped up in gorgeous imagery. Was a weird feeling going out into Penrith that night - the night before performing our last ever show of Kids Killing Kids, the night after bushfires tore through the Blue Mountains destroying hundreds of houses and threatening countless lives - and watching three of my favourite collaborators perform kickass solo performances in empty carparks was exactly what I needed.
Jordan’s 7000 Cigarettes is an epic monologue tracking the inner turmoil of a bitter, guilty, angry and vengeful ex-boyfriend as he stalks, and eventually steals from, his former lover. Recorded on the Westfield Mall rooftop carpark as Jordan paced in slow loops between streetlights chain-smoking and relentlessly delivering his incredibly intricate and detailed and text from memory. It was a virtuoso performance but at the same time, hard to watch. It’s a conflicted, ambiguous story and it unsettles me, still.
Georgie’s Rachelle is a homage to a former office colleague from her 2013 stint in the Canberra public service, but more than that, it’s a beautiful evocation of a time and place, a gently moving depiction of office work-life in all its beauty and tedium. Georgie’s tiny descriptive details about Rachelle and her vignettes from the day-to-day doldrums of data entry (sneaking into the toilets to dance to Azealia Banks on headphones!) conjure up these beautiful flickers of familiarity in me, and as the piece evolves slowly into a brutally frank and honest explanation of her state of mind, it gave me the shivers. Also Georgie’s performance - swigging champagne from the bottle as she wanders out of the carpark and into the park - is totally rockstar.
Sam’s Deckchairs On The Roof is possibly the most beautiful of them all, and also probably the most intimate, honest and direct writing I’ve ever seen of Sam’s. About halfway through our week in Penrith, a close primary school friend of Sam’s passed away. At the same time, a massive bushfire front tore through the Blue Mountains towards Penrith, devastating Lithgow, Blackheath and as far east as Springwood. In Sam’s poem, the Blue Mountains bushfires evoke memories of another fire, ten years ago, that the two of them experienced together. Deckchairs is simple and to-the-point; no theatrics or melodrama, just a sad, lovely story told well.
My piece is called You Don’t Have To Be Rich To Be My Girl, and it’s a pretty lightweight piece of excitement, springing off the back of a week-long obsession with Prince’s Kiss and One Direction’s Kiss You. Mostly I was trying to get my head around one of those funny contradictions in the way we (well, I) think about romantic relationships. Does everyone else feel this tension? Maybe it’s just me. I don’t know. But that’s this piece.
The third entry in The Rizal Fountain Rap series - The Quezon City Edition - was a pretty epic undertaking. While in Manila in August 2013 for Sipat Lawin’s LOVE: This Is Not Yet A Musical, Too Many Weapons decided to invite a whole host of other artists to record their own Rizal Fountain Raps. With the help of cinematographer Shane Parsons and sound engineer Nick McCorriston, myself, Sam, Jordan and Georgie were joined by Daniel Darwin, Nick Delatovic, Simon Binns, Sarah Kaur, Nikki Kennedy, Sarah Walker, Nick McCorriston, Nathan Harrison and George Rose.
Over just two days, Shane, Sam and Nickamc recorded no fewer than 15 spoken-word performances in 15 different locations around Quezon City, Manila. There are some extraordinary works in this bundle - and holy shit, the variety.
There’s a breakdown of each of the different pieces on the Too Many Weapons tumblr - go, dig, absorb - but because this is my blog where I talk about my practice, I’m gonna take a self-indulgent second to ramble about my effort: Song For Baby-O, Unborn.
The name (and inspiration) comes from New York poet and Beat Generation fellow traveller Diane di Prima’s poem addressed to her unborn child:
when you break thru
a poet here
not quite what one would choose.
I won’t promise
you’ll never go hungry
or that you won’t be sad
on this gutted
but I can show you
enough to love
to break your heart
Terrified of being shown up by the wealth of talented people contributing to this edition, I decided my performance needed a whole bunch of irrelevant bells and whistles. To whit: I insisted on reciting my poem while travelling through the LoveNOT health spa / swimming pool venue AND roped in Simon, Nick D, Nathan and Sipat director JK Anicoche to choreograph a back-up dance in the pool while I performed. My ridiculous grand vision made life very difficult for Shane and Nickamc to film and record, but the results! The results.
The results. Well, see for yourself:
If you’re interested, these are the words I wrote:
SONG FOR BABY-O, UNBORN (AFTER DIANE DI PRIMA)
dear baby-o, unborn
I guess when you’re ready to come along you’re gonna want to know what sort of world you’re getting yourself into
but what can I say?
prepare to get rained on.
prepare for floods
water tears and blood
be ready for eyes to follow you down the street
long nights spent holed up at JK’s house reading erotic fiction
for the water to fall so hard it bruises your shoulders
be ready to get sick
you’ll be held against your will
someone will need you to hold them
I don’t know what it is about this world
but people here need each other so badly
you’ll think you can cut loose from that for a while
but you’re implicated from the moment you’re born
there’ll be moments choking alone in the back of the taxi
and moments hugging someone on the dancefloor so hard it hurts
there’ll be moments sweeping gravel from the sidewalk in the hot sun
there’ll be phone calls before dawn and car accidents and sickness and suicide
and there’ll be cups of tea and mango shakes and holding hands
the good things will evaporate
the good things will evaporate
the good things will dissolve under your fingers and leave you with sticky useless hands
but then there’ll be roads and airports and the freedom of loneliness
the loneliness of being free
you’re gonna be so scared, I promise you!
your lover will look you in the eyes and say no no no no no not you not you notyou
you’re gonna be so lost!
you’ll wander down adriatico at 5am turning in circles in the flooding street
you’re gonna be so trapped!
knuckles clenched fixed smile telling a man in a suit how much you want what he can give you
you’re gonna be so stretched thin!
what you need to do is so much more than what you’re capable of
but baby-o I promise you
you never need to be a passenger
there’s only so much you can do
there’s so much you can do
you have so little say
but what you say can turn the world around
so when you get here
I want you to look at this place with fresh unbiased eyes
tell us honestly and truly with no fronting
the world that we made
this world that we built up and now are handing on to you
how fucked up is this world?
cause the honest truth is, it’s gonna be a rough ride
you got cyclones hurricanes monsoons typhoons
droughts bushfires floods
rich people with guns
tanks through the churches
so many people
no clean water
a generation of grandparents who just won’t fucking die
you’re gonna need to pull it apart piece by piece
you might need to put a gun to the head of a politician on camera
I’m not gonna lie to you
you’re not gonna get no satisfaction
when the man comes on the radio
when the ads come at you sideways
when the liars sign off on your behalf
when they get right under your skin and make you question your own self
they make you hate because it’s easy to make you hate
you were built to hate
and it’s simple to hate
it’s so fucking hard to love
when they get you shakey and wired and uncertain and hungry and scared
when they get you rushing and burning and heavy and running and cold
when they get you singing and screaming and sunny and rainy and wet
when they get you lying and chasing and frozen and curled up and shot
it’s so hard to see through it and remember
but I promise you
if you come into this world with your eyes open
there’s enough love in just this one room
there’s enough love in just one cupped hand holding water
to break your heart forever
image by sarah walker
image by jordan prosser
Too Many Weapons is a theatre / writing collective made up of Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley, Jordan Prosser and myself. We came together for the first time in the Philippines in 2011 to adapt Koushon Takami’s novel Battle Royale into site-specific theatre performance / live-action game Battalia Royale for Manila company the Sipat Lawin Ensemble, then regrouped in Melbourne in 2013 to create Kids Killing Kids, a documentary theatre performance about the Battalia project co-produced by MKA and the Q Theatre, and featuring guest director Bridget Balodis and designer Mel Koomen.
Battalia Royale and Kids Killing Kids were both fairly large-scale projects, and both involved a lot of travel to foreign cities to undertake intensive creative developments. It turns out that living together in close quarters for weeks at a time has a weird effect on the four of us, and we keep finding ourselves taking on new and weird side-projects in the middle of working on our main show. These tend to involve someone coming up with a stupid challenge, daring everyone to write a brand-new radio play, or a rap, or a spoken word performance piece, all of us laughing about what a stupid idea that was, AND THEN ALL OF US GOING AHEAD AND DOING THEM.
image by Jordan Prosser
The first accidental Too Many Weapons side-project was The Greater Manila Audio Experiment. While in Manila in September 2011, I received an email from New York playwright, Ira Gamerman, out of the blue, wildly and effusively praising U2’s early output and their work with Brian Eno on The Joshua Tree. We felt we had no choice but to turn Ira’s ramblings into a radio play-script and record it.
Once we’d done that, the next logical step was to write and record 14 more short songs, raps, poems and radio-plays, and record the whole bundle as a soundcloud mix. Highlights for me is Georgie’s Rappez-Vous rap (which I recorded over a Baths track), Jordan’s autobiographical primary school radio play Crazy Robots Of Childhood, and Sam’s amazing reinterpretation of my spoken-word rant Things Are Improving Every Second Of Every Day (from my 2012 Shark Egg EP with Paul Heslin) into mellow blunted rap Crocodile On The Dancefloor.
Easily my favourite thing the four of us have recorded is the posse cut we created during the Penrith tour of Kids Killing Kids in October 2013. 2MW On Tour features a verse from each of us over Ta-Ku’s most excellent track Hey Justin, finally the story of WHY our collective is called what it is called, and an array of what might possibly be, actually, too many weapons.
By far the weirdest and easily my most favourite Too Many Weapons pointless side-project (possibly my most favourite pointless side-project EVER) was The Sparks-Off. While in Penrith in early 2013, Sam introduced us to the magic of Nicholas Sparks. Sparks is a novelist whose romantic novels have been turned into some of the most popular films of the last decade. He’s the writer behind The Notebook, A Walk To Remember, Message In A Bottle, Dear John, Nights In Rodanthe, Safe Haven, Dear John and The Last Song, which have all become massive box-office hits and Hollywood staples.
After Sam showed us the trailer for every single Nicholas Sparks film we immediately realised that (a) every Nicholas Sparks film trailer is exactly the same and (b) we needed to somehow pay homage to these extraordinary examples of the film trailer artform. Without any hesitation, we wrote and recorded brand dialogue for the Nights in Rodanthe, Safe Haven and A Walk To Remember trailers. These are, without doubt, the Too Many Weapons works I am most proud of.
Sam’s Hitchcock-ian #NotSoSafeHaven masterfully brings the subtle creepiness already latent in the original Safe Haven to the surface.
Jordan’s A Spacewalk To Remember places Mandy Moore and some jock actor in SPACE CAMP, and the superb line ‘I can do STUFF!’
My version of Nights in Rodanthe features Richard Gere as an evil dictator’s right-hand man in charge of organising his deceased master’s state funeral. It features Kid 606 and Clams Casino, which is already an improvement on the original, but I’m mainly proud of this line: ‘This Fall, you will watch a powerful ruler be buried. You will kneel at the feet of his procession. You will moan and rent your clothes. Horses will trample you. And in the end, your battered body will be placed in the outer chamber of the prince’s grave.’
NEXT UP: What is a Rizal Fountain Rap and why should those words be so alien and strange yet also feel familiar and somehow unsettling?
So because every so often I try to convince myself I am a playwright, I applied for Tamarama Rock Surfers‘ brand new play commission which they’re kicking off in 2014. Shockingly - shockingly - I was not shortlisted. This could be because the cool salt breeze off Bondi Beach has wreaked havoc with their aesthetic judgment OR my application wasn’t very good.
Actually I think TRS is one of the best companies in the country right now and their programming is pretty spot on, so other than shouting YOU WILL RUE THE DAY to my computer when I received the letter, I’m actually really excited about the prospect of seeing who they end up supporting and what happens with the commission. I will go see it, for sure, for real.
Nevertheless: as much as I want to see whatever play TRS commissions up on stage, I want to see my proposed play more. Therefore I’m gonna post my pitch up here and now on this blog, on the off-chance that one of the regular visitors who come searching for ’seroquel prescription bathtub’ or ‘lego city 7993′ feels like commissioning me to write the thing.
I’m not even kidding, I’d like you to pay me to write this play for you.
SAINT PAUL AND THE CIGARETTES
In 36 AD, Saul of Tarsus converts to a new messianic Jewish religion after an epiphany on the road to Damascus. From being a persecutor of the Jews, Saul becomes Paul, the first and greatest evangelist of the new religion of Christianity. Gathering all of Jesus of Nazareth’s surviving disciples and associates, Paul founds the first Christian church, commissions the writing of the Gospels and begins a relentless campaign to proselytise the new religion throughout the entire Roman Empire.
In 1966 AD, Australian garage band The Cigarettes are jamming in the suburbs of Sydney, desperately apeing the Beatles and the Stones and trying to get a single decent gig. The Easybeats just got on ABC’s Bandstand, The Master’s Apprentices have a song on US radio - The Cigarettes don’t have a chance. Dejected and defeated, they are taken by suprise when Saint Paul bursts through a portal from the past and offers them a radical proposal: he will take on the struggling three-piece as manager IF they come back in time with him to 60 AD and help him spread the gospel to the people of Rome.
What unfolds is the extraordinary true story of a trio of teen rockstar wannabes from the eastern suburbs, transformed into the world’s first Christian rock band. Set in the bustling metropolis of early imperial Rome, from the lawless marketplaces to the decadent palaces, we follow Paul’s struggle to bring his fledgling superstars to their triumphant first stadium gig in the Colosseum. With opposition from rival religious groups, fellow Christians, Roman authorities and the Emperor Nero himself, The Cigarettes must struggle to make it to their first gig alive.
Amidst a backdrop of cults, mystics, philosophers, tyrants and criminals, Paul applies every trick of the pop impresario to save his church and his band from going under and spread his message to the world.
What is this show?
Saint Paul and the Cigarettes is an interrogation of the rise of the manufactured popstar, from the Monkees to the Backstreet Boys to One Direction. At the same time, it is an exploration of the extraordinary beginnings of the Christian church, a story of the birth and rise of humankind’s most successful religion. It’s a behind-the-scenes tour documentary and a historical drama set in the birthplace of modern European civilisation. It’s The Commitments AND I, Claudius AND One Direction: This Is Us at the same time. At last.
How does the time travel work?
It doesn’t matter.
Do you know what you’re talking about?
Yes. I have a Bachelor of Arts (Ancient History) from the Australian National University, specialising in Religions in Roman Society. And yes, there are real and provocative comparisons to be drawn between the way the early Church was organised and promoted, and the methodologies of, say, Bieber’s marketing team.
Rome at the beginning of the first millenium was a seething hotbed of cults, religions and secret societies, from the Egyptian Cult of Isis to the Gaulish Mithraic warrior sect, from the Stoic philosophers of the ruling class to the hedonistic wizards of the Bacchanalia. In this extraordinary multicultural mix of ideals and beliefs, the early Christian church immediately stood out for its absolutely counter-intuitive and (in retrospect) brilliant strategy of self-promotion.
Equally brilliant and no less ethically questionable are the tools and techniques through which modern-day pop idols like Bieber, 1D and even Hillsong are created and distributed. The mechanics of celebrity are a fascinating demonstration of how ideas grow and spread in human societies. The connections between these two world are both surprising and illuminating.
Why this story? Why now?
Because it will be fun. It will be smart and savvy and fast-paced and energetic and dark and informative and evocative, but most of all it will be fun. This is a chance to seduce an audience with a ridiculous premise and then give them a high-energy live theatre experience and a new insight into the forces that shape religion and pop culture.
And there will be thrashing 60s-style garage rock.
Is this a thing you’d like to see in the world? Why not drop me a line and make me an offer and I WILL WRITE IT FOR YOU. Have you ever commissioned a play before? Don’t be scared, we’ll work through this together.
Besides, do you want to go to your deathbed not having commissioned an original piece of theatre?
PS sharp-eyed cats may note that this is an idea I had a while ago and even wrote a terrible draft of back in 05 - I disown that script in its entirety. Let’s Get Back To The Things Themselves, yo
PPS there is one deliberate historical inaccuracy in the above pitch - points if anyone can pick it.
Alright, it’s time. A review round-up for Kids Killing Kids.
Quick background: myself and Sam Burns-Warr, Georgie McAuley and Jordan Prosser (aka Too Many Weapons) created a documentary theatre work entitled Kids Killing Kids about our experience creating Battalia Royale with Sipat Lawin in Manila over 2011-12. MKA and the Q Theatre produced it, Bridget Balodis directed it, Mel Koomen designed it, and we performed it at the Melbourne Fringe Festival, Crack Theatre Festival in Newcastle and the Joan Sutherland Performing Arts Centre in Penrith over the last two months. Among other good things, we won the Melbourne Fringe Festival’s award for Best Experimental Performance. So there’s that.
The response to the show was fascinating - as JK Anicoche and Sarah Salazar from Sipat joked, we had our own baby version of the controversy surrounding Battalia. This sampling of reviews hopefully gives you some idea of how people felt about the work. (And all these dope images, of course, are by the extraordinary Sarah Walker.)
by Anne-Marie Peard
I thought Kids Killing Kids was astonishing; the friend I saw it with was astonished that I even applauded at the end. We’re not the only people experiencing such a chasm of differing opinion about this show that’s pushing buttons and forcing a discussion that extends way beyond the smugness of “is it good theatre?”.
As writers, they told it with a mixture of honesty and distance, created a structure and likely bent the truth to make the story better. Their story kept asking “and then what?” and they underscored it with a dilemma that has more questions than solutions.
Did they make a successful piece of art that should be celebrated or a piece of crap that continues to do harm?
They don’t answer this. And imply many more questions about violence, the western eye looking at the Philipines, their own skills, what the hell they were doing there in the first place, and whether they should have done or still do anything to address the criticism. Again, they don’t answer these questions, but the audience do.
It’s these answers that are making this one of the most talked about shows this festival. And this is the success of Kids Killing Kids. So many shows are forgotten by the time the first post-show drink is orders; this one is resulting in arguments and discussions and anger and elation. Any work that does this is damn good theatre.
Thank you Anne-Marie. And it’s true that this dilemma has more questions than solutions.
by Tim Richards
The story of Battle Royale is an undeniably interesting one, and the quartet expertly lead us through its history to a selection of live footage, its shock factor amplified by our psychological preparation.
The collective’s members seem sincerely torn by whether the work they created was harmful, and it’s a gripping tale; but they never do resolve the three questions they say were often posed to them: “Why here? Why now? Why you?” The result is a show that’s both fascinating and a little unfulfilling, posing more questions than it answers.
So Tim Richards from Issimo Mag feels that the show is a little unfulfilling as we pose more questions than we answer - on the flip-side…
by Jodi McAlister
This show offers no answers, and this is one of the main reasons it is so deeply interesting. It is not a defence of Battalia Royale, but rather a sincere exploration of what it means to make art and what happens when art assumes its own life. Does the artist have a duty to make sure their art is moral? How do you know when art becomes actively harmful? What is the role of the artist in a work like this, which has spawned a fandom so far out of their domain of control?
The fact that questions like these can be raised – questions which are fascinating in the critical sphere – in something which is itself art, is something I find truly amazing. I’m not normally a huge fan of meta-theatre, which I generally find self-indulgent, but Kids Killing Kids is genuinely exhilarating. It’s the kind of theatre which leaves you slightly breathless, the kind of theatre that gives you an adrenaline rush. It’s viscerally, as well as intellectually, exciting.
There seemed to be a split between those audience members who wanted us to answer the questions that we raised and those who preferred them to be left hanging. The truth is, we probably would have answered them if we could - but if we’d had those answers, we may well not have bothered doing the show in the first place. We certainly could have discussed the issues more deeply, but these are the challenges of condensing an incredibly complex story with lots of threads into an hour long show. Even to convey the basic facts - who, what, where, when - took so much time and required so much explanation, that if we’d wanted to get into more in-depth discussions, it would have been a two-hour work at least.
And maybe it should have been. But certainly when we were making it, we never considered that people would want to sit through two and a half hours of this story. Things you learn, hey.
by Myron My
The production of Kids Killing Kids is slick: the writing is sharp and the flow of information is smooth and well-thought-out. However, I did have a problem with the emotive but obvious pauses and silences and questioned their dramatic purpose being in conflict with their authenticity. I don’t doubt the sincerity of the four people involved, but such theatrical devices remind me I am watching a deliberate performance rather than sharing this real-life experience with them.
But perhaps this is the point. Is it a documentary? Is it theatre? Either way, MKA: Kids Killing Kids is going to leave any artist with a lot of questions about the complex roles we play in creating theatre and what boundaries we should and should not cross.
Man, what do you do with this? Myron’s right, there is a natural tension between theatrical devices and a simple retelling, but how do you do a simple retelling to an audience of strangers, night after night? You can’t tell a story to a group of 50+ randoms the same way you’d tell a group of friends a story around a dinner table. How to resolve this?
Sydney Arts Guide
by Mark Pigott
The theatre group Too Many Weapons have produced a fascinating and intriguing drama. It is an engrossing documentary substantially narrated live but also includes videos, slides and audio clips augmenting the performance. Whether it is a documentary or a play is irrelevant as it is such a great piece of theatre.
The presenters explain their feelings about the somewhat out of control developments that continued to snowball. Their exposition is a very thoughtful piece of theatre reflecting on theatre. They examine the purpose of theatre and their responsibility to the audience and the cast members with candour and honesty. Too Many Weapons’ script is excellent, Bridget Balodis’ direction is sharp and Melanie Koomen’s design is exactly what is required.
Mark Pigott meanwhile comments on our candour and honesty. There’s a split here, between audiences accusing us of being deceitful and audiences commenting on our sincerity.
The four theatremakers - David Finnigan, Georgie McAuley, Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr - give a tag team lecture on their exploits, complete with slides and recorded segments. It’s delivered with a sense of barely controlled elation, both from the intensity of twentysomethings living overseas, as well as the wild success of their play and the controversy it generated.
That lens seems slightly inappropriate given the playwrights were so ignorant of the country they were working in they did not realise it had real child soldiers.
I’m all for artistic freedom, but with it comes responsibility, and I wish the show had a more sober and sophisticated reflection on what that responsibility might be. If it had been clearer on the importance of knowledge in cross-cultural collaboration, and the ethics of representing violence in art, it might have seemed less self-indulgent.
And given how confronting the play was, you can’t help wishing you were seeing that, rather than being told about it. Documentary theatre has an obligation to drama and there’s little in the show that wouldn’t have been just as suited to television or even a long essay.
This review, when it came out, jarred with me. Not really for the first and second paragraphs (I appreciate that Cameron felt our retelling was too lighthearted, and I respectfully disagree) or the last paragraph (I 100% agree, we wished we could’ve shown you guys Battalia Royale rather than our pale retelling of it, but it was just not possible), but that third one: ‘I wish the show had a more sober and sophisticated reflection on what that responsibility might be.’ I’m not being facetious when I say I don’t fully understand what that means, or what Woodhead is suggesting.
I got in touch with Cameron, and he was kind enough to meet with us for a cup of coffee to discuss the work in more depth. He had a lot of interesting feedback, which I think was a lot richer and more constructive than what appeared in print, but sadly I wasn’t taking notes and can’t reproduce any of it from memory. But: a huge thanks to him for taking time out to unpack his critique in person - was really valuable and I appreciate it hugely.
by Meg Watson
Written and performed by the playwrights as a unique combination of documentary, lecture and narrative, Kids Killing Kids has some obvious tensions. To start with, you want to see the blood. You can’t help but feel desperate for the action and mayhem on those streets — the exhilaration of the experience. But instead, you are kept at a distance. Everything is methodical and sanitised. When there is blood, it is handled delicately in a glass jug with a lid — those on stage wear plastic ponchos and take the time to lay sheeting on the ground before a controlled usage.
This is all so excellently deliberate though. Through each step of the story, the audience is positioned alongside them. We are polite tourists trying to respect the Filipino culture while being pushed around Manila’s gritty streets. We experience the success and the failures of the show as the writers explore their role and seek absolution from it. The retelling is so honest, precise and relatable, the performance can effortlessly springboard from violent civil war to the straight-up hilarity that is six-year-old street kids krumping to Lil Jon.
For all this ambition, Kids Killing Kids comes together seamlessly. In just over an hour it addresses our fascination with violence, the problems with cross-cultural collaboration, an entire nation’s political history, and the role of theatre itself. Who would have thought such a beautifully surreal and thought-provoking story would involve little more than some milk crates, a few plastic blood packs, and an OHP?
Excellently deliberate - this is where I think it’s worth tipping my hat to Bridget Balodis, who is a kind of crazy maestro all unto herself. If this show had been left to the four of us writers, it would have been a kind of shambolic rambling story, which might have been occasionally curious but probably mostly quite inane. It’s thanks to Bridget’s outside eye - not to mention Mel Koomen’s exquisite design - that comments like ’seamless’ kept emerging.
by Andrew Fuhrmann
It’s a lo-fi but lovingly made production, with overhead projections, dance numbers, YouTube clips from the original Batallia and lots of t-shirts with nonsensical slogans ‑ apparently a big thing in the Philippines. Our hosts, the four writers, are engaging and open, and the fact that they are not natural performers gives the whole thing an artlessness that easily convinces us of their honest desire to confront the issues raised by their adventures in cross-cultural collaboration.
But is this show perhaps too artless? It’s informative, and it’s very fair ‑ though brief ‑ in framing the different arguments around Batallia’s depiction of violence, but we get very little insight into how the experience might have impacted the four playwrights, apart from pulling down their naivety. There’s a lot of description ‑ of the show and the aftermath ‑ but where’s the debate, even among themselves? Where’s the heat? Where’s the personality? There is passion here, but it remains unarticulated, stifled by facts, figures, summaries and a kind of remnant touristic awe. Perhaps Kids Killing Kids at some point needed to go in a more lateral dramaturgical direction?
Still, it is a remarkable story, and as it’s unlikely ‑ alas ‑ that we’ll ever see anything so visceral and controversial as Batallia Royale in Melbourne, we should at least give thanks for this fascinating insight into the ongoing power of theatre to excite, confuse and dismay.
Perhaps we did need to go in a more lateral dramaturgical direction? I don’t know - and god knows what that would have looked like - but yes, maybe Mr Fuhrmann’s right. Where’s the heat? Where’s the personality? It’s not much of an excuse to say that there was heat, and personality, and passionate debate, happening between the four of us, and the members of Sipat, and it continued all through the rehearsal process and through three seasons. Should we have staged some of those debates, those arguments between the four of us? But it would have felt weird and artificial to dramatise those conversations on stage. But maybe that’s not what Fuhrmann means when he says a ‘lateral dramaturgical direction’. I don’t know.
by Suzanne Sandow
Kids Killing Kids is one out of the bag and not to be missed due to questions of ethics and Theatre Making it broaches, particularly in regard to unwitting appropriation. This work sits right on a cultural pulse, albeit, seemingly inadvertently. Hey sometimes, creative choices have a strange way of emerging from the ether, don’t they?
This doco/drama presentation reminds us that Theatre is rooted in ritual and the incredible power the medium of Theatre can actually hold - but seldom elicits - certainly in the West.
‘The work sits right on a cultural pulse, albeit, seemingly inadvertently.’ This is very true. While we didn’t set out to do this show purely for our own benefit, none of us really anticipated that there would be this much debate and conversation around it. This story has some resonance with Australian theatre-makers in 2013, apparently.
This documentary style production provided a platform for the group to go back and reflect on the accidental spectacle they created. It raised questions of the nature of violence, onstage and off, the spectacular power of social media and the responsibilities that come with artistic expression. While the writers seemed aware that there were big questions to be answered, their reflections - at least in this work - mostly remained shallow, much like their motivations for heading to the Philippines in the first place. I found Kids Killing Kids and the story of Battle Royale troubling, but it was certainly compelling. It definitely made for entertaining and thought provoking theatre. Even so, I didn’t leave liking these guys all that much.
As Sam said, throughout the show we carefully build a case against ourselves, so when people walk out at the end hating us, that’s sort of a victory. Which is a weird feeling. When you consciously, deliberately tell a story in which you are the bad guy, and people respond at the end by saying ‘you’re a bad person’ - well, it’s not as good as when people began rigorously asking why we chose to tell the story that way, but fair enough, Jofacekillah, fair enough.
School for Birds
by Fleur Kilpatrick
I applaud Too Many Weapons for not retroactively justifying themselves. It would be so easy with hindsight to say ‘yes, yes, that is exactly what we meant, that is what we were saying’! Instead, they let us see their bewilderment as their bloodbath became a cult hit. When the performers asked repeatedly ‘why are we doing this? Why here? Why now?’ they did not have a good answer and still do not.
And still do not. Though I’m not gonna lie, doing Kids Killing Kids nudged me further towards the ‘we did the right thing’ side of the debate. But that’s another blog post and not for now.
Works like Battalia Royale are important because they remind us of our primitive selves, allow us to dissolve the bullshit that our brains play us every day and just be. Be nerves. Be adrenaline. Be out of control. And then go home, have a shower, kiss our lovers and sleep it off. The complexities come, of course, when the actors can’t do the same. When the hundreds of people demanding that you die start to get to you. Kids Killing Kids digs into the heart of theatre, of art itself – to what lengths are we willing to go? There are no clear answers in the show because there are none outside it.
If I’ve learned anything from the critical discourse around this show, there are no clear answers, full stop. But thank you all for weighing in, and thank you everyone who came to see it, and thanks so fucking much to Glyn Roberts, Katrina Douglas, Mel Koomen, JK Anicoche, Sarah Salazar, thank you Melbourne Fringe, Crack Theatre cats, the JSPAC guys, thank you thank you Bridget Balodis, and so much fucking love to Jordan Sam and Georgie.
Okay, let’s do the next one.