Pillar of Salt Anyone?

It probably hasn’t been long enough for my poor addled brain to process seeing ‘The City They Burned‘ yet, but I’m going to have a crack at a response.

The website lists it as a retelling of the story of Lot and the fall of Sodom from Genesis 19 (in the Old Testament, I looked it up). It’s got everything you’d expect from the vengeful God era; death, genocide, angels of destruction, rape, sodomy (a word which originates from Sodom), incest – all the things!

Fleur Kilpatrick’s adaptation moves the morality of the original story from a parable of good and evil to a story about all the terrible decisions people make; her world of Sodom is all about grey morality, there is no black or white in this.

The City They Burned - photo from Attic Erratic/Facebook

The City They Burned – photo from Attic Erratic

This production is showing as part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival, and states it’s a fully immersive theatre experience, so I don’t know what I expected, but I thought it would be fun. I don’t want to give too much away in terms of the staging of this production, because I think not knowing what’s really going on is part of what makes it powerful. I will tell you this, the first half pushed the boundary of audience participation, and the second half, while not participatory, was not any safer.

So, what were my thoughts? Of the first half: it was intense, it was constant. The performers never once broke from their horrible, uncomfortable characterisation. In the first half, with the audience so close and visible, I think it would have been easy for the actors to feel as uncomfortable as we did. It would have been so easy for them to giggle awkwardly, look to the others for confirmation, shuffle, fidget, or generally crack. I would have struggled because knowing I was making people nervous would have made me want to stop, to break character. But they never did. The silence, the unspoken tension, the derisive laughter, the scorn, the violence, it was all supremely controlled. I watched as other members of the audience avoided eye contact and squirmed away from the actors.

And of the second half; it was intense, it was constant. While we had the cover of darkness and the anonymity of being unseen, the level of tension did not drop. I commented to a fellow next to me, ‘Do you think the second half was better? I mean we were safely in our seats, but it didn’t seem to help’, he laughed, but his eyes had a sort of traumatised glaze I’m sure was reflected in my own.

A quote that springs to mind is that art should disturb the comfortable and comfort the disturbed (I can’t find the original attribution online, but it might be Finley Dunne). This is an extremely disturbing experience, it is way, way outside my comfort zone, and yet I feel somehow accomplished for having done it. It’s good to push your own boundaries every once in a while. It felt like I was being a good student of the arts.

If you’re looking for a fringe show which is as dangerous and thrilling as it is well executed, look no further than ‘The City They Burned’. It’s less than $30 and you’ll never be the same again. I’m giving it 4.5 out of 5.

First Day of Spring

Ah, first day of Spring, how dreary you are,

and how dreary I am in sympathy.

Facing forwards and travelling backwards

the abyss of reality opening, chasmwise, to me.

But a ray of light, over a the Frankenstein place,

reminds me that everything is not as it seems

that your perfume is strong, vibrant, bursting

with new life – brush away the cobwebs.

Replenishment, exhaustion, all things rise and fall,

are birthed and die, and their deaths make room

for the newness of the first day of Spring.

Roasted Beetroot and Feta Salad

I haven’t posted a recipe before, and I feel a bit awkward that I don’t have a picture to go with this one either, but here goes, this one’s for you Ben, in case you want to make it for yourself.

 

Ingredients:

  • Fresh beetroot
  • Sweet potato
  • Chickpeas (canned/fresh soaked)
  • Red onion
  • Feta
  • Balsamic vinegar

 

Method:

Chop the beetroot and sweet potato into 2-3cm cubes, and roast until soft and slightly crispy. The beetroot will probably take longer than the sweet potato, so maybe but the beetroot in about 20min before the sweet potato.

Once roasted, allow to cool before assembling the rest of the salad.

To assemble, but into a bowl, place the cool roasted veg, drained chickpeas, finely chopped red onion and crumbled feta.

For dressing, add balsamic vinegar to taste. You can probably add salad greens if you want it to be a bit more, well, green.

 

It’s a pretty easy recipe, but it’s so, so tasty and pretty healthy I think. I should have taken a picture, but we ate it all before I could.

Gaga oh la la!

It’s hard to know where to start to talk about seeing Lady Gaga’s ArtRAVE at Rod Laver Arena last Saturday, there are so many things to talk about! I guess I’ll start with my outfit. I thought it was fitting given that Gaga is renowned for having outrageous and unusual fashion to wear something outrageous and unusual to her concert. I mean I was never going to come close to her level of bizarre but it pushed boundaries for me, shown below.

On my way out.

On my way out, it’s very serious.

I wore black tights, with green fishnets over them and then a pair of underpants as bloomers, a black long sleeved top with a pink fishnet top and black singlet on top of it, big black boots and a bum bag. I also wore black lipstick and rectangles of blue eyeshadow. I wore no pants on public transport. I admit I did have a long jacket over this outfit, but I still felt quite exposed.

The first thing I noticed when I arrived at Rod Laver Arena was that there were people, lots of people, who did not dress up. I had assumed, wrongly, that people who were fans of Gaga would be all over any excuse to dress up. That’s not to say there weren’t some amazing costumes going on, because there were, just that it was only about 20% of the crowd.

I was also struck, as I always am, by the number of people who don’t see the support act. In this instance it was a DJ called Lady Starlight. Her website says she’s a hard rock DJ, but in this performance she was making what I would call minimalist acid house music live with a selection of small electronic devices. I think I enjoyed it, but the music was largely beats and bass, there was very little melodically to get your teeth into. There were also no vocals, so I felt like I couldn’t quite get into the groove of it, although towards the end of the set I was starting to get the hang of it.

After Lady Starlight left the stage the houselights stayed dimmed when she came out at last, Lady Gaga was exactly what you would expect – she was wearing a fantastic outfit, complete with giant blue ball chest piece and wings. She went straight into Artpop, the title track of her new album. The setlist here shows a number of intermissions, these were where Gaga went off stage to change her costume. Part of me felt like the constant costume changes interrupted the flow of the performance, and I wonder if it might have seemed more fluid if she hadn’t had so many breaks, but then again, costuming is a big part of what she does so it would probably never happen.

Photo from Just Jared

Photo from Just Jared

I found Lady Gaga’s stage persona to be strangely bipolar – at one moment she was screaming at the crowd to “jump motherfuckers”, and then in the next song she would be cooing about how much she appreciated our support, about how she loved her fans, and how we all needed to embrace our own special and unique creative abilities. It might sound weird, but I felt like both of these extremes were genuine. I get the impression as a person, Lady Gaga would be an intense companion.

Performing the entire concert with a live microphone meant that there were times when Gaga’s voice was not as polished as it is on her records, but I felt much closer to her as a performer for it. The slow, soft ballads were brilliant at showcasing her beautiful voice, while the more energetic numbers got slightly more off course, which is to be expected, as she’s gets very active!

The experience was joyful, sensual, sexual, and visceral. I haven’t even mentioned the set design or the backup dancers, but as you might imagine they were spectacular. As a performer Lady Gaga gives it all, she doesn’t do anything by halves and it shows in her commitment to the show. Even people who aren’t fans of her music would have to admit that she certainly gives you your money’s worth!

Wait, did I just think that?

On Thursday night, I performed at ‘Velvet Tongue’, an erotic spoken word performance night run by the lovely folks at Little Raven Publishing. I’ve done open mic stuff before, and I’ve even done ‘Velvet Tongue’ before, but this time it felt different, this time the audience were different.

So let me be specific, the audience was much more vocal, and in particular a group at the front of the room, composed mainly of women, who would whoop, and phwoar, and generally express their pleasure and arousal as each performer spoke.

While I sat in the audience, up the front near them. before and after I did my little piece, I found myself uncomfortable with this level of enthusiasm. I thought unkind things – I felt like they should really stop making such a fuss, I felt like they were putting it on, I felt like it was off-putting for people both performing and listening.

I managed to restrain myself and did not glare, or otherwise chastise the group, nor did anyone else that I could see. But I’ve been thinking about it over the last couple of days. I wondered why I reacted the way I did, and I came up with a few uncomfortable reasons:

  1. People shouldn’t vocally enjoy erotica in public;
  2. Women shouldn’t enjoyment of sexy things.

The first is all about sex and shame. People shouldn’t enjoy sexy things, and therefore people should definitely not enjoy sexy things loudly, obviously or in the company of others. The second is more particularly about the invisibility of female desire; that women are/should be sexually passive, lacking agency, of denying women’s pleasure and expression thereof.

Realising that I think these things is really confronting for me, especially given how much digging I had to do to get to that point in myself. I don’t want to think of myself as sexist, or misogynist, or racist, or ableist, or homophobic or any other sort of unpleasantness, but clearly sometimes I am a bit. Sometimes I think things which are consistent with views I don’t want to hold, and that’s weird and hard. Sometimes I need someone, even if it’s myself, to gently call me out  on it.

It reminds me of a speech made by Panti Bliss about her own internalised homophobia, where she talks about how difficult it is to be completely accepting when you grow up and live in a society like ours. She concludes by suggesting we kind with ourselves because you’re doing really well if you’re only a little bit homophobic.

I’m not really sure what this post is trying to say, but I suppose it’s about seeing yourself, about knowing that sometimes when people irritate you, it’s because you’re wrong. Sometimes I find it really hard to articulate why things are sexist, but this experience demonstrates to me that we should think of ourselves, and our society, as a work in progress, rather than as a completely finished, perfect thing. I don’t know if anyone else ever thinks about the same things, but I do.

Quills – Review

On Friday night I took myself to see a production of ‘Quills’, by Doug Wright, performed by Mockingbird Theatre. Some of you may know that ‘Quills’ was made into a movie with Geoffrey Rush in 2000, which is an excellent film and I would encourage you all to see it at some point.

'Quills' poster, by Mockingbird Theatre

‘Quills’ poster, by Mockingbird Theatre

The question is how is one to review this production? I should probably start with stating this play made me uncomfortable, and that’s great. It’s an uncomfortable work, exploring lots of difficult subject matter – censorship, obscenity, moral responsibility, insanity – and I commend the entire cast for committing so completely to making the audience shift in their seats.

The cast was quite large, along with the main speaking parts, seven in all, there was a chorus of 21 lunatics who where always on stage or roaming the audience. Each lunatic had their own specific way of being, some were catatonic, some manic, some lewd, some withdrawn. The note from the director states that the lunatics were not written on the pages of the script but their presence certainly grounded the work in the very, very strange.

The play was performed in a space called the Meat Market, so named because it was the site of a meat market, in North Melbourne. It is a vast, empty warehouse of a space. The audience were in four blocks, with the stage set up in three sections in the middle. The use of space was very clever and I felt the line between on stage and off was blurred, adding to the uncomfortable feeling of being inside Charenton.

It seems appropriate now to discuss the protagonist, the Marquis De Sade, who was committed to the Charenton Asylum, for criminal and moral transgressions, where he died. Played here by Adrian Carr, the character of the Marquis is complex, stubborn, tender and vicious. He also spends more than half the play nude, having been stripped of his clothing for disobeying the asylum staff. The poster and tickets both warned of adult content and nudity, however I doubt the audience expected that much nudity! The Marquis, and of course by extension Carr, was regal in his nakedness, all of the mannerisms, the strut, the peacock-like pride, remained even when the costume was gone. That being said, one could argue that the costume was still on, emperors-new-clothes-style, that Carr was wearing the character of the Marquis as a costume.

Of the other leading actors I particularly enjoyed the Abbe de Coulmier, played by Dylan Watson, whose journey through the play is almost as remarkable as the Marquis’, although less nude (still a bit nude). Throughout the performance I felt like Watson was playing the role for himself, and I felt strangely voyeuristic, particularly towards the end, looking over his shoulder as he disintegrated.

It interested me that the ending of the play is quite different to the ending of the film, not so much in overall outcomes, but in the detail. I’m always fascinated by the way that people get around the difference in media – the things you can do with a live audience, because they’re so sucked into the world of the performance are often more extreme, more melodramatic, or just more, than the things you can get away with on screen (with a few exceptions).

If I had to give one criticism of ‘Quills’ it would be that it got a little bit shouty at the end. I acknowledge that it was the climax of the story and that the characters were becoming more and more desperate, but the variation of tone sort of slipped away a little, though this is a minor criticism.

Overall, I would rate this performance a 4.5 out of 5. Get out there and support your local independent theatre productions, you may be surprised how it turns out!

Oh India!

Part of me wants to open this post by saying I’m sorry for not posting. But I’m not going to. The reason I’ve been uncharacteristically quiet recently is because I went to India, then I moved house and started back full-time at uni as soon as I got back. I’ve been busy, I suppose you could say.

The first thing you might be wanting to know is why India? I suppose there were a few reasons. Firstly, I took a subject in the first half of the year which looked at European empires in the early modern period (that’s 1500-1800) a large portion of which was devoted to the British in India. I was interested to see some of the places where these fascinating, world altering things happened. Secondly, India is different. It’s one of the most different places I could think of to my home Australia and that sounded like a good reason to go. Thirdly, I’d never been to a country where you needed to get vaccinations – no Bali, or Thailand or Malaysia – I’d only been to Europe, the United States of America and New Zealand, and they’re not really that challenging, you know, culturally they’re similar, or at least familiar in certain ways. And lastly, it was cheap. I knew that I was leaving my permanent part-time job, and would be returning to full-time study, and therefore less income, on my return, so being able to get the experience of throwing myself into a completely different setting without spending too large a chunk of my savings was an important consideration.

Traditional dance demonstration in Udaipur, Rajastan.

Traditional dance demonstration in Udaipur, Rajastan.

The second thing people generally want to know when I say I’ve just been in India is where did I go? Well, I joined a prepackaged tour and we took in Delhi, Jaisalmer, Jodhpur, Udaipur, Jaipur, Pushkar, Bharatpur, Varanasi, and Kolkata in three weeks.

I went alone, but I was travelling with a group which had both advantages and drawbacks. The advantages were in having a local guide, who spoke excellent English and could translate for us where required, that the itinerary, bookings, travel etc. were all taken care of, and that I had travelling companions who I got to know quite well. The drawbacks were that the group, twelve in all, were all women, predominantly Australian with a couple of Brits (which says something I’m sure, but what I don’t know). This meant that any time we went out as a large group we were a spectacle. People stared. No, men stared.

Camel back safari into the desert near Jaisalmer, Rajastan.

Camel back safari into the desert near Jaisalmer, Rajastan.

I can say men stared because nine out of ten people we encountered were men. Men in shops, men in the street, men in trains and buses, men in restaurants. I suspect it has to do with purdah, the veiling/seclusion of women in both Hindu and Muslim cultures, but when asked our guide insisted that women are uncomfortable being in jobs where they are constantly coming into contact with strangers, and therefore chose not to be in those roles. Although I was in India for only a short time, I was continually aware of the very male nature of the general public I encountered.

India is beautiful. It has a long and rich culture and history. It has some gorgeous and diverse natural surroundings and environs, great temples and palaces, and a people who are proud to follow their traditions and to take pride in their way of life.

India is dirty. The streets are full of rubbish and stray animals – cows, dogs, goats, monkeys, squirrels – the water is polluted, the air is polluted, and there is a serious sewage issue. India is loud and intense. The colours are brighter, clothing is highly patterned and full of bold colour (particularly compared to grey old Melbourne fashion!) and the air is full of noise, from temples to car/bike/rickshaw horns (so many horns!), and people going about their business. 

Yep, that's me at the Taj Mahal.

Yep, that’s me at the Taj Mahal, Agra.

At the end of the trip I have a much better appreciation for what I consider normal. I had an understanding of what I expected, what made me stressed, what I could do to self-soothe, and what I ultimately needed and wanted to feel happy and calm. It’s amazing what you can deal with when you’re faced with a series of things which make you uncomfortable and you have to focus any reaction on the most salient thing and the other things just slide away. For me, the biggest thing I had to cope with was the cows, I just couldn’t get comfortable around them. I kept expecting them to lunge at me, even though they generally just stood there looking docile and not giving a single fuck about the chaos around them. 

Visiting India was one of the hardest, most rewarding, most exhausting, most exhilarating experiences in my life. I cannot begin to describe what it felt like to be in a place that’s so completely foreign, to be such an outsider. It feels like I’ve been able to redefine myself through comparison, but I also feel like I’ve learned a lot about myself and hopefully grown from the experience. And now back to our regularly scheduled programming (whatever that is).