In the future, everyone will murder a boy band member.

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One of the things that is a regular feature of the projects that I’m involved with is that they are… conceptually rigorous?

By which I mean that they are… hard to explain. There’s a thing that happens where people ask me what I’m working on, and then I have an internal debate about how seriously to answer, and if I think I have enough time and they care enough, I’ll give it a shot. And then at a point in the discussion that ensues, there’ll be a moment  of them looking confused and unsure and both of us are maybe mentally wondering if it’s too late to back out of the conversation.

I’ve spent the last four years learning how to explain Best Festival Ever to people, and they still look at me with some degree of bafflement. ‘It’s a tabletop systems science boardgame theatre show about managing a music festival? But… why?’

This week is another example of that, of the strange complex specificity of my line of work. This week, Jordan and I are wrapping up our three month residency developing a Law and Order-esque police thriller about the murder of a boy band member in four different hypothetical future Australias.

‘But… why?’

& so on & so on.

This emerged originally from my Churchill Fellowship, where I spent a lot of time meeting and talking with futures studies experts around the world, looking at the ways in which scientists and futurists think about the future. And around the same time, the Australian Academy of Science held their Australia 2050 workshops, in which they brought together around 50 scientists, politicians, journalists, business leaders, military personnel and artists, to collaboratively imagine four different scenarios for Australia in the year 2050.

There is some really fascinating work going on in this field, particularly with regard to how these scientists think about the future. The idea of the ‘scenaric stance’ is that rather than try to predict the future, you generate a range of different hypothetical futures. This practice of creating multiple futures helps to provide a range of possibilities, best and worst-case scenarios, and potential consequences of different choices.

A quote from James A. Ogilvy, which I included in my Churchill report: ‘Yes, things could turn out badly. But, no, that is not in itself reason for inaction. Yes, things could turn out very well, but, no, that is not in itself reason for foolish bravado. By holding in mind several different futures at once, one is able to proceed deliberately yet flexibly; resolutely yet cautiously… He or she who sees no opportunities is blind. He or she who senses no threats is foolish. But he or she who sees both threats and opportunities shining forth in rich and vivid scenarios may just be able to make the choices and implement the plans that will take us to the high road and beyond.

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This whole discipline felt like a really rich and fertile space for making some kind of creative work in – and in fact, that was really the point of that aspect of my Churchill Fellowship. Then in 2014, ecologist Bob Costanza put it to me that I should make a film about the ‘scenaric stance’, which illustrated different possible futures.

That put the seed in my head to rope in Jordan Prosser, and from there we began hashing out what a film in this space might look like. And the ultimate result was, we decided to create a film set in the future – in Australia in 2050 – which tells a single story, with a single group of characters. But the twist is, we would tell this story four times, each time setting it in a different hypothetical future.

The first time you might see the story unfold in a 2050 three decades of unbridled Australian economic growth. The next time round you’d see the same characters, the same dramas, the same obstacles, but the setting is now an Australia devastated by economic collapse.

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Jordan and I were lucky enough to be funded by the City of Melbourne’s Creative Spaces program to undertake a three month residency to kick off the R&D into this project, and we’ve been based at the Carlton Connect space in Melbourne University, amongst all the lovely start-ups and fine humans of the tech & climate & social good universe.

So we’ve produced four speculative scenarios for Australia in 2050 – captured under the traditional headings of Growth, Collapse, Discipline and Transformation. Each scenario depicts a different vision of what Australia might be like in 34 years, with different economic, social, political, ecological, ethnic and cultural features. These scenarios are very broad at the moment, but in the next phase of the work we’ll dig down a little deeper into them with experts, and hopefully infuse them with a little more rigour.

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We’ve also produced the first draft script of our story, set in each of these futures. What is it a story about?

It is crime thriller following the investigation into the murder of a boy band member.

Jordan suggested that it be a crime thriller. A police procedural, he pointed out, is both a great genre to write in, a lot of fun to play with, and also, it often involves the police investigators engaging with every facet of society, from the wealthy elite to the criminal underbelly. So an excellent way to view some of the different aspects of our hypothetical scenarios.

For the purposes of the residency, Jordan introduced me to Law and Order. My goodness, what a TV show. My goodness.

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So our detectives of the future belong to the serious crimes unit known as CrimeForce.

I proposed that it be about boy bands. My reasoning:

For at least fifty years, if not longer, the boy band industry has been a constant. A group of attractive singing and dancing young men are marketed to young women en masse. From the Beatles to the Jackson 5 to New Kids On The Block to One Direction, boy bands have evolved to reflect the times, while remaining essentially the same. It’s not hard to imagine that there will always be young men in ridiculous outfits singing and dancing for the pleasure of young girls.

 (always use pics of wax replicas of popstars when you have the option)

The name of our boy band is LoveTeam.

So our project is entitled CrimeForce: LoveTeam. Which is a good name.

There is a clear social value to this work, which is aimed at engaging the broader Australian populace with the tools and concepts from futures studies and the ‘scenaric stance’. It is also a piece of trash pulp. And this week we are sharing the results of our research with a group of very serious, very intelligent people from Carlton Connect, the City of Melbourne, the whole do.

To summarise: it is yet another serious science-based project in which I had no choice but to watch the Backstreet Boys documentary Show ‘Em What You’re Made Of.

Corporate retreat / video poemtry

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It’s another week, another bundle of different projects scattered all over the map. But for the moment, a quick pause to register something nice that happened: the latest instalment of the Rizal Fountain Raps. This time, Grampians Edition.

Georgie, Sam, Jordan and myself took off for our corporate retreat a few weeks ago to the Grampians in Victoria, gorgeous mountains and really beautiful camping. It was our company AGM, which meant that we spent three days putting things on the agenda, checking the agenda and then rethinking the agenda. The key agenda item was: scheming up ways to impeach Bridget Balodis from her position as Chair of the Board. (If we had a board – we don’t, but if we did, Bridget would be the Chair of it, and we would be seeking to impeach her. Because as we understand it, this is what organisations do.)

Also we saw eagles. A pair of eagles, a couple, hanging on the thermals as we walked along the ridgeline of one of the higher peaks. At one point I came out from a stand of trees to the edge of the cliff just as one of the eagles was rising up the cliff face – we scared each other, and it veered back, and for a second we looked each other right in the eyes and it was as awkward and beautiful as any real encounter with nature is gonna be.

And then, of course, we recorded our Rizal Raps. Mine was the shortest yet – 25 seconds, it’s called 25 Second Rap, because it’s so brief – and I wrote it a few weeks ago, walking home past some grubby bar stuffed with adorable suits, what looked like the tail end of a drab wedding reception but was probably just an office party. Fucking humans, man, so goddamn lovely.

Sam’s piece emerged from a conversation he and I had while collecting wood, where he put it to me, ‘David, what would you do if you got back to the campsite and everyone was suddenly missing?’ and then upped the ante: ‘What would you do if you got the campsite and there were just a clutch of dead bodies in the tent, and it was our bodies, including yours?’

So then Sam’s piece is a lovely little bit of Blair Witchery, except he’s performing as me. Why, why, why.

Jordan’s is crisp and melancholy and eerie, a Berlin club story that could only be told on a wintry, rainy Australian day in a burned forest in the Victorian hills. This is how we do.

And Georgie’s, Georgie’s exists, but it is for private consumption by the 2MW associate membership only, and not for the likes of you. It’s called He’s Figured It Out and it was the perfect ending to a beautiful, wearying weekend.

In place of sharing that, I’m gonna share McAuley’s previous entry into the Rizal canon, her reflection on Robbie Williams she recorded in Sydney last year. This is just gorgeous, this piece:

And because I’m sharing things in this vein, this, this. A short piece I recorded last night, on Bourke Street in Melbourne. The trick is, the trick is, if you’re me, when you feel that horrible pressure that won’t let you rest or relax – when you feel like your happiness is suddenly out of your hands and you can’t get hold of it again – the safest trick is to go get lost in the crowds. City’ll fix it.

ah, Carl, while you are not safe I am not safe, and now you’re really in the total animal soup of time

DSCF0098 copy pic by jordan prosser. 

Two weeks in the wet season for Karnabal, for what? For why?

It’s coming up on midnight on a cold winter Thursday in Melbourne and I’m curled up by a heater, just the way I like it. And I’m a little ragged, so much so that I’m reduced to playing Grouper and A Broken Consort and this one Burrows song over and over. But it’s been a good two weeks, I think.

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At the end of May I sprinted out of Melbourne for a fortnight in Manila to take part in the Karnabal Festival. It was my second time, since I helped produce the festival’s international program in 2015. And I shouldn’t have gone, I shouldn’t have gone – I can’t even begin to explain to you all the ways in which it was a bad idea. I’ve got commitments here, I’ve got deadlines, I’ve got (maybe most importantly) no money, why was I going to Manila to perform at an experimental arts festival?

But it was magic and I don’t regret anything. You don’t regret things like this, I figure. You pay for them  – one way or another you pay for them. But no, no, don’t regret.

Karnabal is Sipat Lawin’s extraordinary festival of experimental Filipino performance – a laboratory of new and developing work by Manila-based performers, and a dedicated stream of international collaborators. Sarah Salazar and Ninya Bedruz put the thing together, curated by Sarah, JK Anicoche and Eisa Jocson. It was a burst of activity across a whole range of different platforms, smeared across Diliman – all through and across Teacher’s Village in QC.

Two weeks of festival life, which entailed: staying in the new Sipat HQ on Magiting Street – JK, Eisa and Alyx’s new house, which was host to a swarm of international guests, volunteers, anyone and everyone passing through. You wake up in the morning, already sweltering hot, the sound of trike drivers and water sellers in the street. And then breakfast, and then people are beginning to move, gather, rehearse, the day is underway. Long conversations, chats that veer into lunch, or a shared trike ride, or sneaking off to the teahouse on Maginhawa to work and write, and then heading back to Mapagkawanggawa to the Papet Theatre, the festival hub, to start seeing work.

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The heat, the heat all day, except when it rained, and then brief respite – except sometimes the rain came down so hard it drowned out the performances altogether, as when Tassos, Chris and Issa had to stop their performance on the last Sunday so we could attend to the monsoonal rain pelting the rooftops below us. And then art, performances, conversations, more people, more good chats, and winding up at TomatoKick or Flying House, through until 1 or 2am.

I always found myself leaving the late night parties early, walking home, and that’s one of my favourite times of day in Manila – between midnight and 4am, the streets quiet and cool, but not empty – never empty – and the conversations sleepier, more peaceful.

And then the next day, again. And again, for two weeks.

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The work was killer. Holy shit, I don’t even know how to say. For me, the standard was way up from last year. Issa Lopez. Chris Aaronson. Clyde Enriquez. Sarah Salazar and Detsy Uy. Teresa Barrozo. Bunny Cadag. Isab Martinez. Adrienne Vergara. Ninya Bedruz. Ness Roque. Daniel Darwin and Perky Parong. Kollab Company.

And the internationals this year were also brilliant. It was magic seeing the international guests from last year return and deliver on their proposed projects in really exciting and unexpected ways. Chikara Fujiwara – oh man, Engeki Quest. Riki Takeda. Natsuki Ishigami. Nikki Kennedy. And Tassos Stevens, rolling across from London, landing in the thick of it and not even batting an eyelid, knocking out two workshops and a full new show in a matter of ten days or so.

Me, I was there to do Foreignoy, the work I started late last year and which so far comprises of a song&dance number and a little bit of scrap writing around it. I didn’t really have the time to go much deeper in my research, so it was more a case of just trialling new material and seeing what came of it.  I had two shows, so I tried two totally different tacks.

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The first was a spoken word piece, essentially. I was butting up against the inevitable dead end of trying to write about identity politics, white guilt, privilege, all that stuff that still exists, partly because of who I am, partly as a hangover from Kids Killing Kids. I knew it wasn’t getting me anywhere, but I couldn’t write around it, so I had to write through it. And digging deeper and deeper into that, the end result was a slightly insular work where I was digging in my own head for my motivations – why do I even want to create work at all? The theme under it all was desperation.

So yeah, I got naked in Black Soup and talked the audience through what a white body looks like. (I’m not very hairy for a caucasian, but I think, white dudes are generally more hairy than filipinos? Sa tingin ko.) The only image I have of the show is Bunny’s shot that I just linked to above, but as soon as I took my underwear off someone came racing in from outside with their ipad up ready and filming, so I guess there’s footage out there somewhere. Thank goodness.

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The second show, I threw all that out and handed the entire show over to the audience. I got them to reenact an episode of Eat Bulaga, complete with Tito Sotto, Ryzza Mae, Lola Nidora, AlDub, a round of Hakot Pa More, Pinoy Henyo and Foreignoy. It was loose as fuck and super chaotic and I had a lot of fun.

And that show opened into my hosting Strange Pilgrims, Sipat’s beautiful open mic event, which ran through until 3.30am on Tomas Morato, and closed with Shing Shing Taberoarrr smashing out a violent set and me collapsed on a table outside watching through the window. Lot of feelings, lot of feelings.

And then Monday, on a plane again. Touched down to a message from an Australian, ‘You in my country on my coast!’, and, I guess I am.

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Now it’s straight into my research residency at Carlton Connect with Jordan, we’re presenting the results of our work on future scenarios next week in the form of a police procedural set in 2050 about the murder of a boy band member entitled CrimeForce: LoveTeam. And then Best Festival Ever opens in Arts House on 6 July. And then… what? I don’t even know.

The tricky thing is, what do you do with something like Karnabal? I’ve written this down, but how do I quantify it? How do I make it add up to something? I saw rad art, I had good conversations, I performed new work, I got sick then got better again, now what?

I don’t know. I never know.

Notes from a conversation with Liberal MLA Brendan Smyth

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While in Canberra this last week, I was able to take some time to meet with Canberra Liberal MLA Brendan Smyth. Smyth is the ACT Shadow Arts Minister, and in that position, he voiced his opposition to the Kill Climate Deniers project in 2014, calling for the funding to be reconsidered.

Since his press release and critique of the work in the Legislative Assembly, I’ve wanted for a long time to chat with him about it. As part of the You Are Here Festival, I held a forum to discuss some of the ideas and questions he’d raised (about taxpayer-funded political art, outrage and censorship), but unfortunately he was not in town for it. However, he kindly agreed to take some time to sit down with me this week to unpack his perspective in a little more detail.

Of course, the play’s title is deliberately attention-grabbing and provocative. I believe it’s justified by the content and by the context, but I could be wrong – and it’s always worth listening to people who disagree with you.

Smyth’s criticism of the project is down to the use of the word ‘kill’ in the title. He argued that the word is an unfortunate choice, and that the English language is so powerful, the choice of words in a title is crucial. To Smyth’s eyes, having the word there legitimises the thought. I asked if he thought that the title of the play increased the risk of violence against climate deniers – he said, ‘odd things have triggered violence’.

I agree with Smyth that the English language is incredibly powerful (as I should, I’m a writer), and that we must be careful with our choice of words. I also agree with him that we have limited arts funding – too limited – and that we need to use the funding we have wisely.

In Smyth’s view, art and artists are at the centre of our culture – and that the creative industries represent the future of our society. Artists are key drivers of innovation, and that is something we don’t harvest enough as a society.

Smyth and I also agree that the world is in a state of conflict and strife, and has been for as long as we’ve both lived. Having served in the army, he certainly has a perspective on political violence which I don’t, and I acknowledge his expertise in that area.

It’s also worth acknowledging that Smyth has been active for many years in pursuing environmental and sustainability outcomes for the ACT – including lobbying for the ACT to take up the Kyoto Protocol back in 1997. Whereas I consider myself functionally a climate denier, Brendan is definitely closer to being a climate activist, and I have to admire his work in this area and the real outcomes he’s achieved.

I asked Smyth if he had tried to contact Aspen Island Theatre Company, ArtsACT or myself for clarification about the work before sending out his press release, to find out anything about the artists or their intentions. He had not. When he led a call for the work to be defunded, he was not interested in the artists, the content or the context at all.

His critique was limited solely to the use of the word ‘kill’ in the title. Smyth does not believe that this word has any place in the title of an artwork under any circumstances. For example: Smyth has not seen Kill Bill, nor would he allow his children to watch it. Not because of any violence or explicit in the film (he identifies as a big Tarantino fan), just because of the title.

This is an internally consistent viewpoint and more or less impossible to debate, but it’s also not particularly interesting or insightful.

A provocative title like Kill Climate Deniers could (and maybe should) ring alarm bells. However, choosing to ignore altogether the content and context of the work you’re criticising doesn’t feel like a particularly useful or constructive way to conduct arts policy. If it’s a philosophy, I don’t think it’s one that usefully grapples with the complexity and specificity of arts and art making. So I felt like the opportunity for Smyth to fully stand behind his comments was a little lost.

All that said, I was impressed and inspired by Smyth’s obvious passion for the arts and creative industries in Canberra. I was pleased to give him a copy of the Kill Climate Deniers script – which he features in. Hopefully, when he’s read it, he’ll be able to make a clearer call on whether or not he thinks KCD deserved ArtsACT funding – and if not, why not.

I’m looking forward to hearing what he makes of it.

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(For those of you who are interested, the Kill Climate Deniers script is now available to purchase. There’s also a review of the play by conservative commentator Mark Fletcher, and some remarks on the above-mentioned forum by Don Aitken.)

Now Kill Climate Deniers exists in the world and how does that feel?

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Last week I was lucky enough to be a part of the You Are Here Festival, launching the Kill Climate Deniers project.

This is what happened:

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First, the festival and I put together a conversation event at the Canberra Museum and Gallery. Journalist Ginger Gorman, legal theorist Mark Fletcher and artist Bernie Slater gathered to speak about the idea of taxpayer-funded political art. Kill Climate Deniers is an ideal example of this, but Bernie Slater’s work also frequently falls into this mode. The conversation was fantastic, a really rich and lovely discussion, with probably just the right amount of raised voices and threats of violence. Don Aitken (who wrote one of the initial posts in response to Kill Climate Deniers receiving funding) wrote a reflection on the event which is well worth a look.

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Then that evening, I presented my solo performance (An Attempt To Perform) Kill Climate Deniers at the festival hub. Sitting somewhere in between a performance lecture and storytelling event, this is my effort to capture the whole blockbuster action story of KCD in a single hour-long event. The crux of the event, and the most wonderful thing to happen to me in a long time, was that the solo show was backed with a dance party, with Reuben Ingall in his Dead DJ Joke guise playing a set of classic House and Techno from 1988-93. And there was no gap, the live performance went straight into the dance party with no break. And the audience were totally on board for this nonsense, and the second Reuben kicked off with Unbelievable the whole crowd burst to their feet and went for it.

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Life is good sometimes, and by sometimes I mean when Reuben is playing.

Now the outcome of all of that is that the Kill Climate Deniers website is launched, and the ebook playscript is available for download. Which is exciting, and if you feel the urge, you should get amongst it.

The next step is that the album will come out, with music by Reuben and words from the play, released through the Clan Analogue label mid-year. But meantime, a couple  of quick thoughts.

This was the first public outing for Kill Climate Deniers, after being in development for more than 18 months. It felt really good to put this show out, even in rough form. It felt even better to dance about it. It felt good to dive a little deeper into what it means to create an overtly political work. It felt good to get to unpack the benefits and costs of rolling with such an evocative / clickbait title.

It is a divisive project – and bless all the people who have told me that they think it’s too much, too angry, too blatant, too inconsistent, too intellectual, too trashy, too everything – I appreciate the criticism, especially as a representative of all the people who might think the same things but not say it.

So many people have come through and fought for this thing to exist. So many people have given their time, energy, passion and commitment to this project for nothing, except out of the kindness of their hearts. People are good people. And I hit a point of being pretty exhausted about it all post-festival, but the truth is, when I lift my eyes up and focus on the end goal, on the work, on the thing that exists in this world, I am EXCITED.

This is the crux of the matter.

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Images by Sarah Walker.

What is wrong with my writing, as best as I can tell at this point

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A friend said to me, ‘I like the stuff you write that’s about you, that’s from your heart.’

Which, yeah. Me too. But on its own, that’s not good enough. For one, all the spoken word / super personal writing I do is just another white dude spilling his feelings into the world, which, we don’t exactly have a shortage of in the universe. And secondly, it’s not good enough on its own. There are poets and spoken word artists and so on who specialise in speaking the truth of their hearts eloquently and with passion, and bless them, but that’s not me, and I’ll never be one of them.

And then there’s the more cerebral stuff I do – stuff like Boho, which is sometimes probably too cerebral for its own good. And that’s doing well right now, but then, it’s also really niche, and it’ll stay niche. And I can’t invest my whole self in science communication, no matter how important I think it is, or how interesting it can be. Work should always be plugged into the world, but if my whole output is just about communicating the interesting ways in which scientists describe aspects of the universe – well, there are other people out there better at it than me, and they care more, too.

And then there’s the trash genre stuff I write. Which, let’s be fair, no-one is crying out for more of. Battalia Royale went well, but that was probably despite my writing rather than because of it. There are people who are both better writers of genre than I am AND better satirical commentators on genre. They know and love and care about nothing else. I will never be one of them.

And so these three strands in my writing keep pulling me in different directions, and everything I write is a mess because of it. Like Kill Climate Deniers – it’s a genre work-out, because I want so much to throw an audience into the world of a high-speed action film, fuckit, gunfights in Parliament House to a killer soundtrack, it feels right to do it. But stapled to it is all the high-concept bullshit I can’t stop thinking about and can’t put down – Geoengineering, Stealth Denial, Media Whiplash… And then I can’t remove myself from the picture, either, and there’s all my own commentary and fears and neuroses on display in sidebars and footnotes, undermining any energy or point the script manages to conjure.

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I mean it goes almost to the point of self-sabotage. When I was on the ATYP playwrights camp some years ago they asked us all to write monologues for young performers, and they’d pick the ten best to include in a published book of monologues that would be available for high school students. And I knew how hung up I’d get if my script wasn’t picked, so I wrote a piece that deliberately couldn’t be included – that referenced pop culture stuff that would be out of date in five months, that came with a stage direction saying it could be performed a maximum of nine times in total, and that mixed in text sampled from Lion King trading cards. Keeping it interesting for myself, but also, protecting myself from being compared with other writers by any meaningful measure.

I submitted a play to Playwriting Australia a couple of months ago entitled ’44 Sex Acts in One Week’ thinking to myself, ‘well, at least this won’t be accepted, I don’t have to worry about it’. Feels like there’s something maybe not healthy in that.

So yes it’s an avoidance, it’s an excuse, it’s a way of justifying the fact that I’m not a good playwright, I’m not a good poet, I’m not a good science communicator, I’m a dabbler across fields because I don’t have the commitment or persistence to really apply myself to any one of them.

But at the same time, and I can’t help it, I believe that there’s a reason for it. If I get it right – and I haven’t yet – but if I got it right – if I found the right balance, the right mix, then all three elements might sit alongside each other and somehow speak to each other, to an audience, to a reader, and say something real and purposeful.

Because pure writing from the heart, as beautiful as it is, often just feels like self-involved emotional indulgence to me. Because trash genre work-outs, as joyous as they are, don’t say anything interesting about the world. Because articulate non-fiction, as inspiring as it is, doesn’t usually crackle with a fierce energy that makes my hands shake.

But all together, sometimes, in my head, I can sometimes almost see it working – how a tiny nugget of facts about the world could be dropped in the midst of a flowing river of story, bright hard knowledge flashing in the heat and energy of a swirling high-speed action story or romance, and then that too pulling back at moments to show the scaffolding, the skeleton, the intentions of the maker, and those things sparking against each other, running parallel to each other, speaking to each other, clashing and jarring with each other, causing friction as they segue abruptly or shifting almost imperceptibly so the audience barely even knows they’ve been moved.

I don’t know if it’s hard, impossible, or I’m just not very good at it, but I want to make it happen, a lot. And I know it’s possible to mix 2,800 samples into a unified, coherent flow, so how can I not try?

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So the commitment is, if I make it at all – and by ‘make it’ I mean survive the next two years of my practice and still be an artist, even as the slope gets steeper and the cost to play gets higher – then I make it with all the mismatched parts of my writing. I don’t drop anything to focus on the other bits. I don’t give up the bad genre-writing, the earnest over-revealing personal nonsense, the incredibly unpalatable writing about science, none of it.* I’m trusting my gut on this one, which is a terrible guide to making decisions, but is at this stage of the game literally the only thing I’ve got to go on.

If I’m right, then in hindsight it will make a kind of brilliant sense. Of course there was some reason to keep trying to tape together vivisected fragments of science ideas, pulp genre and autobiography; This is why, this work (this work that doesn’t exist yet) that makes sense, has a real audience and connects with enough people deeply enough to keep my practice afloat a little longer.

If I’m wrong, then in hindsight it’ll look a lot like it does now – like I’ve spent years frantically running in multiple directions at once, unable to commit to any real progress in any of them and creating a body of work that doesn’t hang together or have any kind of audience.

At this stage in the game, being wrong and being right look a lot like each other.

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*Unless, let’s be real, unless anyone offered me any real money or a good opportunity to do so. It’s easy to make these sweeping statements about yr creative integrity when there’s nothing else on offer; I’ll fold like a paper towel as soon as there’s a reason to. Give me a reason to.

A month in Sweden with Boho

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It’s the beginning of February 2016. For a few of my own quiet reasons, it’s taken me a while to really get my head around planning this year, and now it’s upon me, I’m realising how crazy intense it’s going to be. But in good ways, I think. I hope.

2016 is a big year of Boho stuff. After a huge push in 2014 to get to London and finish Best Festival Ever, it felt like 2015 was a down year, at least for the BFE project. We did the first Australian season at the Street Theatre in Canberra, and also some corporate and private gigs, but no new developments of new work. And that was good, we needed that down-time, and it got us excited to get started on something new. And that’s now.

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A few weeks ago, the BFE crew (myself, Muttley, Nikki, Rachel and Nathan) jumped on a plane to London to spend a week with Forum for the Future‘s Systems Innovations Lab. We’ve been chatting with Forum for a while – they do incredible work using systems thinking to help businesses and large organisations tackle sustainability challenges. We developed Best Festival Ever as a tool for organisations like Forum to use in their work – and now we’re hoping to be able to create something more specifically for them.

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So we shared BFE with some of their partners, ran a game design workshop with them, and had some good days hanging with like-minded people.

Then to Sweden, for a month-long development with Miljoverkstan, an NGO based in Stockholm. We’re here to build a new game, in the systems-science-meets-interactive-performance format of Best Festival Ever, but based on the Flaten nature reserve south of Stockholm.

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Flaten is a lake, surrounded by beautiful forest (oaks, pine, spruce, trees 500 years old or more), and a place where a lot of different groups intersect – swimmers and dogwalkers, itinerant workers camping in caravan parks, squatter camps in the forest, the nearby suburb of Skarpnack… Miljoverkstan want to try to capture some of the complexity of this system, and they want to do it through a game. So they’ve invited Boho over, to map the system with them and turn it into a game experience, a platform for learning and conversation.

We’re working in Miljoverkstan’s office in Flaten, a beautiful cabin on the shores of this icy lake (which I walked across on the way to work last week!). It’s a pretty stunning location to be in, and I don’t think I’ve ever worked anywhere like it.

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The first week was spent in meetings, some preliminary resilience assessment mapping, performing Best Festival to a group of teens from a high school in Karrtop. Important work, but a bit fragmented, and we were all a bit dazed and sick, flying straight into the Swedish winter.

This last week – our second week of work – things started moving quicker, going deeper. A few days with just the five of us, in the fun creative phase of turning our research into a systems model, then making games. 11 of them so far, all terrible, but good to test our skills, generate material and be sure we still know how to do it.

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On Friday we built a loop of five mini-games – games that each took inputs from each other and spat out outputs – in a mirror of our ‘Bateman’s Vegas’ effort from University College London in 2012.

By the end of this month, we’ll have completed our systems mapping R&D and settled on a broad format for the work, as well as creating some placeholder games. And then we come back in August and October to finish it off, and present it for the first time to a Swedish audience. This is a big project, with a short timeframe, and that’s pretty intimidating, but it’s exciting, too. And it feels like exactly what we’ve been working towards all this time, a practical application of all the things we learned making Best Festival Ever.

Plus it’s beautiful here.

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(This was just a brief outline of the project – if you’re interested, we’ve got a really active project blog maintained by the five of us, diving deep into the creation of this work.)

All the pretty nature pics in this post are by Nikki Kennedy. The London ones I think I took, and Rachel Roberts took the Deer and the Fish shot.

This is my alternative Asialink acquittal

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Dear Asialink,

This time I tried something different.

I went to the Philippines twice this year (well, three times, but you didn’t fund me the first time and it was only two weeks anyway). I did my Asialink residency in two parts: 11 weeks from March – May, then 6 weeks over November – December.

From March to May, I was in town doing all the things I promised in my residency application. Worked with Sipat Lawin on our new large-scale participatory work Gobyerno, which we toured to Korea for Festival B:om in its prototype version, before running large-scale tests in Manila. Helped produce the international stream of Sipat’s Karnabal Festival, bringing 18 artists from around the world to collaborate with local artists in a two week festival laboratory. Wrote some new pieces with long-time performer collaborator Isab Martinez and kicked off a new American-Australian playwriting collective with a development in Camiguin and a scratch show in Karnabal.

This was all the stuff I promised to do in the application and it went well, I promise it went well, albeit as ragged and emotionally chaotic as always.

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In November, though, I came to Manila with a whole different set of goals. Still worked on Gobyerno (we toured it up to Baguio and ran it for La Salle University students up there), did a bit of prep towards Karnabal 2016, but honestly, for a few weeks, I turned my head in a completely different direction.

This trip was my ninth visit to the Philippines in nine years. I have this sense that I’m in it for the long haul with my relationship to this country. And it seemed like time to do something with that relationship.

I spent a lot of my time this time listening, waiting, sensing – rather than leaping towards a project that I’d already articulated, I arrived with time up my sleeve, ready to follow opportunities where they emerged. I wanted to absorb more Pinoy pop culture and go deeper in my relationship with the culture.

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Full disclosure: my collaborators and host company, Sipat Lawin, are also my dear friends. We live together, we tour together, we make art together and we also hang out and talk, constantly, unpacking and chewing over ideas, stories and feelings. This time I let myself be guided somewhat by that friendship, and I offered my time to them, to give each of them a nudge towards making something new, beginning a period in which Sipat will be presenting a series of new solo works. The earliest nascent forms of some of these solos were kicked off at a Strange Pilgrims event, a performance night we held at the TomatoKick on Tomas Morato in Cubao.

But alongside all this organic flow, I also came prepared with a very specific purpose.

Before I went over there this time, Asialink, I spent weeks in preparation, putting together a weird little parcel. Long distance, over many conversations, the members of Sipat helped me put together a collage of iconic Filipino poetry, folk music and pop songs, a sort of audio sampler of Pinoy culture. We sourced kareoke and instrumental versions of all these tracks, and then Australian sound artist (and also Sipat collaborator) Nick McCorriston mixed them into a single audio collage.

I didn’t tell you I was doing this, Asialink, because I was worried you wouldn’t take me seriously. And this project is very, very serious.

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When I got to Manila, I began memorising this six and a half minute slice of Pinoy poetry and lyrics. I spent a lot of hours on this. It’s awkward to say how many hours, but one day I will share the rehearsal footage of me running each line of the Abra rap a thousand times, before piecing them together into the whole verse. You will probably say, why, what was the point of all this time and effort, but you don’t get anywhere great without a training montage, and this was mine.

At the end of it all, Sipat and I (and videographer Brandon Relucio) filmed the result – a one-take, long-shot performance video through the ruined school of Pugad Lawin in Quezon City. I framed it as an ‘audition’ for reality TV gameshow Foreignoy, even though Foreignoy is no longer being filmed. It seemed like a good way to help people make sense of it, though Carlos Celdran got it closer when he called it ‘an artistic intervention’.

The video went up on Youtube and got 1500 views within three days. After a huge cluster of people shared it with the producers of Eat Bulaga (the daytime show that produced Foreignoy), they got in touch to let me know they’d put me in the next lineup for the show, when and if that happens in 2016.

There’s a new show in this, Asialink, and here’s what happens next:

I’m going to get back to the Philippines in the next 12 months, and then I’m continuing on my journey to get up close and personal with the Pinoy showbiz industry. The machine, for want of a better word. I want to see it up close and get my head around it.

There’s a particular place that foreigners occupy in Pinoy pop culture. It’s hard to put your finger on precisely, but you see it in the over-representation of Mestiza (people of mixed Filipino and foreign ancestry) on TV, in the countless adverts for skin whitening creams and soaps, in the tense place that Americans occupy in the country’s cultural discourse, and particularly in shows like Foreignoy, in which foreigners literally compete to prove their ‘Filipino-ness’.

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It’s hard to justify a project that doesn’t exist yet. We do it in grant applications frequently, but often there the language is, if not dishonest, at least not very true to how artists think and talk about our projects among ourselves. I can make a clear case for the value of engaging with the Filipino television industry in formal terms, if I need to. I would say things like, ‘this subject speaks to the complex ways in which Australians are represented within Filipino culture, and to our place within a broader Asian cultural context.’

All of that is true, and important. But honestly, I’m pursuing this because I have a gut feeling that this is a story worth pursuing. There’s something there. I don’t know what, and I won’t know what unless I dive all the way, and even then maybe I’ll be wrong (I’ve been wrong often enough before).

But in the meantime, Asialink, I got within striking distance of being cast as STEVE, a 40 year old ‘man of power’ and father-in-law of Filipino reality TV star Daniel Matsunaga in new ‘interracial love story’ soap opera BE MY LADY (I was not ‘heavy’ enough to pass for 40 years old, dammit), and I know this isn’t the first time you’ve accidentally nearly launched a south-east Asian soap opera career, but isn’t this at least slightly why Asialink exists? Don’t most, if not all, Asialink recipients end up as E-list daytime TV celebrities in whichever country they’re travelling to? (Don’t answer that question.)

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I didn’t put this down on my official grant acquittal form, but I got really really close. And the quest isn’t over. Not even a little bit, not even at all.

Thank you for letting me sit with Sipat Lawin pursuing mad schemes this last few weeks, Asialink. I promise it’ll make sense in the grand fullness of time. You will look back on this and there will be some kind of meaningful artistic result, some kind of creative outcome that adds up to something worthwhile.

Or there won’t, but you still won’t regret it.

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Sexting Play pitch

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In 2010 I received a phone call from a Canberra theatre company that makes work for young people. As one of several ‘emerging’ playwrights in Canberra at that time, my name had bubbled to the top of a list of potential writers for a new project.

The lady asked me if I’d heard of something called sexting. I told her, ’Yes! Yes I have!’ She explained that they were interested in producing a new play about sexting, aimed at 14 – 17 year olds, and would I be interested in writing it? I said, ‘I absolutely would, I already have some ideas. It’ll be pro-sexting, right?’

The pause that followed was one of the most awkward silences I’ve ever had over the phone. Eventually she said, ‘It should portray both sides.’ And then she promised to email me a brief, which I could respond to with a pitch.

I never received that email, which means I never got to submit them my pitch, and as far as I know their sexting play never got made. In the meantime, after I complained at length about my missed opportunity, Hadley beat me to the punch by writing his superb piece ‘The Sexting Play Finnigan Was Commissioned Specifically Not To Write’, which is the best piece of theatre anyone has ever written.

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EXCERPT OF HADLEY’S ‘THE SEXTING PLAY FINNIGAN WAS COMMISSIONED SPECIFICALLY NOT TO WRITE’
USED WITHOUT PERMISSION

A kid with a wild gleam in his eyes, Ricky, crashes into the room.

RICKY (outrageously): FUCK YOU SIDEWAYS, YOU MESSY PACK OF CUNTS!

Everyone cheers – Ricky is their king!

AMIRA: Did you get it?

RICKY: Did I fucking get it, I’m Ricky. I get what I want.

ANITA; Show it to us!

JIM: This is going to be fucking awesome!

BEN: Anyone need cigarettes?

SAL: On us, motherfuckers, this is too fucking exciting!

The kids all throws cans of beer to each other, pack up bongs, light up cigs.

MARCO: Wait, what are we doing?

JENNY: Yeah, no one told me!

Ricky poses, a light shines on him.

RICKY with great magnitude: We’re going to sext Corrigan’s mum.

JENNY: Hahaha, Corrigan… Mr. Corrigan, the woodwork teacher?

RICKY: Yeah boiiiii

JENNY: Haha, well you’re not using my phone.

RICKY: Oh, we’re not using a phone. We’re using this.

Ricky pulls an Ouija board out of his bag.

RICKY: Corrigan’s mum is dead.

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(I got distracted writing this blog post by re-reading the whole of Hadley’s script, it’s a goddamn masterpiece, maybe the only real masterpiece to exist)

But now, chewing through some old notes, I found my notes for the proposed youth theatre / theatre-in-education play, which sadly never even got the chance to be taken for a spin. Never even got rejected.

Fast forward a few years.

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Mid-2014, none other than Glyn Roberts sat down and chatted with me about being a playwright in the Australian arts ecosystem circa 2015. He made the excellent point that in many ways, actually writing a playscript is a negative thing.

Have a great idea, sure, share that great idea with a theatre company, offer to build something in collaboration with a company or self-produce and go wild, but having a written script? Who wants an unproduced playscript? No theatre company wants to be inundated with completed scripts that they have to read, have to struggle through, have to shrug over and reject.

I can only imagine the dismay that you must feel as a literary manager when you receive another perky email from a playwright with a 125k PDF attached to it. (obviously a pdf because if they sent you a word doc you’d edit it and run away with the ideas yourself, right?)

I’ve grossly oversimplified Glyn’s comments here, so apologies to him and please don’t take this as a real representation of his opinion. If you’re curious about his actual take on the industry (and you should be, he’s a wise soul), go on and find him.

1149308_514864335249994_1848213069_oLook at those kind eyes.

What I took from Glyn’s comments is that it’s time for me, as a playwright, to stop writing plays, and instead do a better job of finding theatre companies, directors and collaborative artists who are willing to jump on board and support the growth of a good idea from the outset.

So the hell with it. I didn’t write this one, it’s there waiting to be written. All I need is a committed, passionate partner with the strength of will and conviction to turn this grit in the oyster into a pearl of Australian theatre.

Get at me let’s do this.

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SEXTING PLAY: A PITCH FOR A SEXTING PLAY
by david finnigan

It is the recent past, say 2013. A teen girl is contacted by an angel
             through her phone

The angel advises the girl that in the past, the agents of the Lord are struggling against the forces of those who oppose God’s word. The angel has managed to obtain smartphones from the present day, and sent them back in time to key moments in history where the conflicts are most desperate.

The girl can text help to those soldiers fighting in the past for God’s cause. By sending them nude pics, she can support their battle against paganism, against heresy and against tyranny.

Naturally, our heroine goes right ahead and sends nude pics to those phone numbers. She is rewarded by news from these ancient battlefields that her contribution has turned the tide, that the fight is finally going their way.

But! In history class at school, the girl learns something extremely disquieting about the Australian frontier wars, the Crusades, the anti-Communist purges in Indonesia in the mid-1960s, and many other historical atrocities. At a number of famous massacres, a naked female soldier with a strange accent and unusual turn of phrase stepped into the fight and slaughtered many innocents.

She realises that every sext she sent into the past has become a vile killer, a murderer of the helpless and a weapon for the unjust.

She refuses to send any further sexts, despite the angel’s demands and pleas. When she refuses to capitulate, the angel becomes angry and curses her.

Around the world, ancient naked versions of herself that she sent into the past and who have slumbered for many centuries begin to awaken in creaky museum cases, archive drawers and on ochre-painted cave walls. They gradually amass and march inexorably towards their originator, to slay her.

Now it’s one girl against her own message history in a bloody fight to the death, and there are no excuses and there is no escape.

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‘I think there’s something worth mentioning here about the fact that most conflicts feature men, not women. And history is made of men’s stories rather than women stories. So there’s something sad and ironic about her part in history being made by the fact that she can send pictures of naked body, the main commodity. So this is a political conversation.’
– Jess Bellamy

For real, if you feel anything about this, go ahead and get in touch. There’s no reason this can’t happen.

when I win Foreignoy more sex to a better soundtrack

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There’s a Jorge Luis Borges story called The Zahir. It’s about objects which ‘have the property of being unforgettable’. Once you see one, you won’t be able to get it out of your head – and eventually, it’ll be the only thing you think about. The zahir in the story is a coin – the protagonist finds it and then throws it away, the same evening. But he can’t forget it.

At first he tries to forget it – and he’s able to, more or less. In fact, he’s able to forget it so well that he thinks he can even afford to bring it to mind, occasionally. But that’s a mistake. Because more and more he finds his mind turning to it, and it’s constantly in his mind. He sees it day and night, awake and asleep, at all times the coin hanging in his vision. He sees both sides of the coin – not because it’s transparent, but more like his vision is spherical, with the coin in the centre.

He’s writing the story with what he knows is gonna be his final coherent thoughts. He says, ‘other people will think I’m mad – I will think of the zahir. Maybe I can wear it away by thinking about it. Maybe on the other side of the zahir I will find god.’

I didn’t think, when Ness told me about it, that I would ever watch a full episode of Foreignoy. I didn’t think that I’d ever expend any energy on an oddball reality TV show on a daytime GMA talkshow. But that was 18 months ago. In the last year and a half I feel like my whole life has narrowed down to a very sharp arrow – pointed straight at Foreignoy.

I don’t really remember what I used to want – if I wanted anything different, it was the product of a life that I no longer subscribe to. I want to be on Foreignoy. That’s the only thing that I want.

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Now one minor issue is that I speak konti tagalog (maraming konti! grabe konti!), which is a major feature of the show. Another, more significant issue is that they are no longer producing Foreignoy. But this is only a real problem if you don’t have willpower.

Willpower and a group of patient, caring friends who are willing to manifest your insane quixotic dreams into being against all rational sense.

So my team of expert advisors devised a strategy for me to get on the show.

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First of all, JK Anicoche, chief architect of my dreams. JK’s plan is to present me as something non-threatening. I can’t sing, I can’t dance, but maybe my awkward helplessness will be appealing in itself? My target market, according to JK, is the Titas of Manila. Now it goes without saying that my audition would include a pabebe wave, but JK stepped it up a notch and insisted that I give a wink while waving – he’s hoping to push #pabebewink into being.

Ness Roque, pinoy cultural expert. Ness, as well as teaching me all the tagalog I know, translated my poetry into filipino and selected and arranged a collection of classic pinoy poetry. Francisco Balagtas, Andres Bonifacio, Jose Rizal, Jose Corazon de Jesus. I’m going to share Ness’ commentary on Florante at Laura as a piece unto itself, because holy shit she’s good, and also utterly foul-mouthed.

Alon Segarra, Clyde Enriquez, Teresa Barrozo, Sarah Salazar, all helped me pull together a selection of classic and contemporary pinoy pop. And Ienne Vergara, who reverse engineered Sarah Geronimo’s choreography from watching this videoclip.

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Nickamc, with his mad audio chops and extraordinary tolerance for my insane bullshit, mixed this collage into being. And it was filmed by Mr Dreamboy, aka Brandon Relucio, with the help of Ralph Lumbres.

This is me asking for your help. Help me. Help me get on this show. Help me get inside the machine.

Look I understand that there’s a lot of confusion, panic and pain in the world right now
but when I win Foreignoy, I promise, things will get better

When I win Foreignoy there’ll be no more pain
no more panic

when I win Foreignoy you’ll wake up in the morning with those aches and pains just gone
just gone
just flowing out of your system like the rivers to the sea

when I win Foreignoy everything will be a remix
everything will be a cover
I’ll be sarah geronimo, JK will be sarah geronimo, we’ll all be sarah geronimo
nothing but sarah geronimos, as far as the eye can see

when I win Foreignoy more sex to a better soundtrack

when I win Foreignoy it’ll be okay
it’ll be okay
daijobu dayo
magiging okay lang ang lahat

when I win foreignoy no more bad dreams
when I win foreignoy no more bad dreams
when I win foreignoy the heat the energy
when I win foreignoy the fire in the street just like the fire in your heart
when I win foreignoy the scream only you can hear

when I win foreignoy your only certainty is the certainty that we are not coming down. not ever.

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#pabebewink there it is JK there it is!
so far no titas have expressed their appreciation for this move but the future is bright, the future is orangutan