Hello My Name Is

“So this is a community centre.” I’m in the same studio space I was in last October, playing table tennis and drinking wine, my thumb on a hand held buzzer that I was to press every time anyone either talked about anything personal or heavy, or made an inappropriate comment. “This is no longer [tapping the tennis table] over there, it’s over here.”

Nicola Gunn is a dazzling theatre maker, relentlessly touring and developing her work here and overseas. Her current project Hello My Name Is is a partly solo work that takes place in a community centre and demands audience interaction on a very particular level. The latest incarnation of the piece happened with her season at the Blue Room in Perth last month.

 

“I really used it as an experiment with audience participation and I really push it and push it to just really make sure that I don’t like it. I don’t want the audience to be left to their own devices. It’s not the kind of show I want to make.”

 

Audience participation is a hard sell, which Gunn knows better than anyone. But rather than forcing the audience into the uncomfortable position of furthering the story, and ‘performing’ the work for her, in many ways they are there to keep her company. “I don’t like audience participation, but I also don’t like solo shows. And the great dilemma is that I am a solo performer. So it’s about using the audience to perform with me, and to acknowledge the fact that I need someone to talk to. And that, unfortunately, will have to be the audience.”

 

Gunn included a slighter level of this audience interaction in her last show At the Sans Hotel, for which she won The Stage’s best solo performer award at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe. Her shows in the past have included lonely characters in vacated buildings, desperate to reach out to a slightly bewildered, yet bewitched audience. These characters, she is slowly discovering, are part of a broader, more autobiographical work in progress. “I’m discovering this autobiographical thread, along with this sort of gothic sensibility. This is the first show where I’m actually being myself, Nicola Gunn, and not having a mask or a character or a funny accent. So I think every show leading up to this has been this gradual unmasking. And this is the final one where it is actually just me. It’s following this performance art tradition of making the artist the art. It sounds really self indulgent to say that well, I am what I’m making, but it is me.”

 

This self-consciousness she is discovering in her own performance, then, might be a reflection of the self-consciousness the audience feels when asked to participate in her show. “In Perth it was really hard because people wanted to act, and pretend they were in a community centre, and I really hated this, the audience acting and breaking the magic, so I had to explain ‘It’s not really a community centre,’ and then we’d have to get into this conversation. So this time there is this narrative of the audience arriving for a workshop called ‘How To Change The World Through Social Transformation,’ so I’m assuming that everyone wants to be here, it’s set up in this very bureaucratic way. Also out of an audience of 50, I only get maybe, 15 people up to do things, so there will always be people watching. So there is still the sense of a show and being watched.”

 

Which at least means the terminally shy have the option of opting out. Although this may also trigger a feeling of regret, or even jealousy that their shyness has inhibited them truly taking part in the piece. “The idea is that if people opt out of doing activities, I want people to leave going, ‘Wow, I wish I did something, I wanted to but I stopped myself,’ and that’s what I want, that’s the feeling that I want.

 

At the Sans Hotel tagged itself as a psychological detective story. The feeling that runs through Nicola Gunn’s work, the feeling that makes it so unlike anything else going on in Melbourne is that her shows, like mysteries, don’t actually have a complete story in them. It’s more that each character has their own fragmentary back-story that the audience investigates. The fragments that are there have a greater resonance.

 

“The show again is playing with that kind of form, because there is no narrative, and people really have to infer their own meaning. I had this eureka moment of actually realising what I was making was a retrospective of Nicola Gunn’s life and work, as if ­– not as if I was dead, but as if I was someone who was really important, because I’m interested in how we value things, and how we value and don’t value people. And that’s kind of when the show started coming together for me. Because I am personally going through a bit of a career crisis of actually just quitting. And so it’s about choices, and why am I doing this? And again, if I were to retire, this is the retrospective of my life and work at the age of 33.”

 

Here’s hoping that that doesn’t happen, because even through Nicola Gunn’s work is never going to be easy to describe, or always participate in, it is always going to be work worth seeing.

See the original article here

What I learned at the Edinburgh Fringe

The best time to philosophise about the pros and cons of travel to an international festival, or specifically Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is when you are in extended transit on your way home. Hungry, smelly, tired, and still yet to buy enough duty free alcohol to kill a Jersey Cow, now is the perfect time to reflect on the whirlwind of the Ed Fringe.

Our show, SNAFU Theatre’s Murder at Warrabah House, ran for approximately sixteen nights from the start of the festival. The beginning was when crowds were still getting into gear and there was a freshness to the whole event. As time wears on, audiences, as well as critics, tend to dig their heels in more. Trends appear. Doors to amazing and innovative ideas open. People get very, very drunk, all day long.

The final weeks of Edinburgh Fringe tend towards the more prestigious acts that have received a lot of buzz from previous success in the Fringe or from critical buzz generated from festivals in other cities, such as London or the Brighton Fringe. An example of this was the Belarus Free Theatre, a company whose leader lives in the UK in political exile and whose members suffer constant threats from the country’s dictatorship. From the outset this was a must-see show, developed in London and premiering only in the final week of the Fringe with heaps of publicity to back it up. The buzz was well deserved and left me needing a quiet sit down afterwards.

But we are already about to delve into the Edinburgh Fringe’s mess of contradictions. The real hit of the festival (or arguably one of them?) was a little show by a bunch of kids vaguely associated with the Bristol Old Vic graduate program called the Wardrobe Ensemble. Their devised musical called Riot! was about a riot that occurred at the opening of an Ikea store six years ago in London. The ensemble of eight talented and annoyingly youthful artists incorporated a thoughtful story with belly laughs, physical theatre, dance, music and simple yet incredibly effective art direction (including a canny use of Ikea lamps as their sole lighting gear) to make a great piece of theatre. The reason I went? Because a friend saw it and told me to. How many people did I tell to see it? Three. How many people did they tell to see it? Who knows. But Riot! got its consistently large audiences from enthusiastic word of mouth, as well as from excellent reviews that they seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to receive. And you know what? I saw them out flyering on the street as well.

Both of these shows ran in the early afternoon. A trend that we did not know about before, but have learned now, is that theatre is generally on from the early afternoon until around 6pm, after which the stand up comedy kicks in. The rationale in many audiences’ minds is that they can see theatre and bawl their eyes out during the day, and then cheer themselves up and get drunk at stand up that night.

For us Australians living a 26 hour flight then a five hour train ride away from the excitement and fun of an Edinburgh Fringe it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of people who choose the Edinburgh Fringe as the vehicle to mount their production simply because they live two hours away. Not everyone is sinking thousands of dollars and jet lag into appearing there. As well as the companies like Belarus and Wardrobe, there are also high school groups bringing up their plays, lots and lots and lots of sketch comedy; there’s buskers and puppeteers participating in the free fringe, and so many other types of performer. The quality and verve with which participants are involving themselves varies massively.

I will definitely participate in the Edinburgh Fringe again. However, thought needs to be given, perhaps, to the merits of Australian artists continuing to participate, or seeing the pinnacle of exposure within the confines of the Edinburgh Festival.

One of the things I found surprising during my time in Scotland was that those that ran the Fringe, as well as the audiences hitting the streets, were genuinely pleased and enthusiastic that anyone had turned up at all. Then there was the receptiveness and curiousity of the audiences. People bought tickets to whatever tickled their fancy, whether they knew the performers or not. There were certainly ‘hot tickets’, but the overriding idea was that everyone has their own tastes, their own ideas of what they would like to see. People saw shows because they could, not because they should; a motivation that I sometimes feel the Australian arts scene needs to work on.

The Edinburgh Fringe, like so many other Fringe and art festivals reflects that old phrase: If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own; that refreshing new hit, or special discovery is out there, you just have to take the chance and go out and find it.

Link to the original article http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/what-i-learned-at-the-edinburgh-fringe-185610

How to put on an Edinburgh Fringe Show

Firstly I have a few questions: are you into the arts? Do you have a sense of adventure? Are you relatively unafraid of ending up massively in debt? Do you like Sixteenth century architecture? Then the Edinburgh Fringe festival is for you.

The brief for this article was to tell the story of SNAFU Theatre’s journey to the warm rainy cockles of the Scottish heart of the Fringe, in the hope of encouraging and advising others to follow suit. But the only thing I know from running a theatre company with my friend May Jasper, who acts as our producer and playwright, and the many talented and dedicated theatre nerds we have met on our way, is that each person’s purpose and experiences behind upping sticks and getting a show on the road, whether it be to Edinburgh or Northcote, is different. And well it should be too.

The main thing about ‘getting yourself in’ to the Edinburgh Fringe, or to any Fringe festival for that matter, is that the big papery programmes that are printed each year are not releasing the names of the artists most meritorious of putting themselves under the banner of the festival. Every act, every show of the Edinburgh, of the Melbourne and Adelaide Fringe festivals, simply pays a registration fee and are therefore in the programme. From Simon Callow to North Carolina High, the initial registration fee, in relation to the rest of the costs you incur later in the show, is really a blip on the horizon.

Which leads to the advantage of launching your new piece in a Fringe environment; an idyll in the seemingly competitive field of the performing arts (competing for funding, reviewers, and often, as an afterthought, audiences).

Most audiences who ‘do’ the fringe see at least two shows a day, more often four or five, so by day three they consider themselves to be festival connoisseurs. To put it another way, punters may walk out of your show after five seconds if it doesn’t take their fancy, but it won’t be down to bitchiness or hard feelings, rather the incessant need for every footpath-hitting show-goer to see as much as humanly possible within the confines of August. Not that anyone has walked out of our show – that would be terrible.

May puts it much better than I, so I’ll paraphrase: If you have a show, an idea of a show, and you’re willing to do the work, and you have some semblance of an ability at fundraising (you’d be surprised how far selling boxes of Freddo Frogs goes), then there is nothing stopping you from putting on your own Fringe show. On top of that, the only way that you’re going to learn how to edit, produce, direct and act in a show well is by doing the work and being crap at the start. To paraphrase May again: making art is like making pancakes. The first one is always going to be soggy and inedible but when you get into the rhythm of it, you’re making a whole stack of perfect pancakes with bacon and maple syrup on the side.

To be slightly more practical
To be slightly more practical with this article, and to deal specifically with Edinburgh:

– Book accommodation early because it will fall through and by the time you find somewhere else to stay you’ll be so desperate you won’t mind paying to live in a closet for a thousand pounds a month.

– Don’t rehearse in your living room because it’s distracting and you’ll end up having to do twice the work for the same result.

– Look for a venue for a show early; those that run them will think you’re well organised and much more responsible than you really are, and in terms of Edinburgh’s geography with its winding stairways and bridges, the two points on the map that look close to each other may not be as close as you think.

– And finally when it comes to marketing, listen to everyone and no one’s advice, because there is no winning formula.

Don’t forget to delegate
Also, there is a lot of work on the producing side of the show, so don’t be a megalomaniac and think ‘the piece will speak for itself’. Delegate tasks as much as humanly possible, and respect the people who are putting together marketing and publicity materials. They are the ones who may well just find the right audience for you.

My follow up article might have a more philosophical wrap up once our Fringe run is over and I’ve had some sleep, but right now I’ve got to go to this show that’s starting soon and then I’ve got to go to this site specific thing that this random person told me was awesome. It’s at this vault and….

Murder at Warrabah House
SNAFU Theatre
TheSpaces @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
Time: 22.35 (55m), until 20th August (except 14th).
www.snafutheatre.com/

Read the article where it was originally published here:

http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/how-to-put-on-an-edinburgh-fringe-show-185180?sc=1

Melbourne Fringe: Girls@Work

Theatreworks in St. Kilda have taken their opportunity at the Fringe festival this year to showcase the wild and wonderful women of Melbourne theatre, covering straight performance to Cabaret, from serious subjects to do with immigration and feminism, to the dissection of the female orgasm. Entitled Girls @ Work, and encompassing five separate performances, as well as two workshop-based events working with women in the business, it’s a large and diverse undertaking for the venue. I spoke to Angela Pamic.

“We’re celebrating our thirtieth anniversary and were going through the archives for the venue. It became apparent that the company itself had a strong female presence right throughout its history. The founding company members had some really strong women amongst them, one woman in particular, Kaz Howard who has since passed away.  She was, by all accounts, an amazingly fiery, energetic, charismatic, woman who kind of pulled the company together and created these amazing works and an ensemble… And so when we realised that we thought it would be nice to celebrate our thirtieth birthday about women and actually to celebrate the artists in the industry today, to give them a platform to show their work.”

 
Of the five works being shown, two are physical/dance pieces (PaPer Man & The 499th Day, The She Sessions), two are straight theatre (I Could Be You, Instability Strip), and one is cabaret (Le Petit Mort – The Orgasm). All of the shows are on most nights, which means that if you go, you might not end up seeing just one type of live theatre.

 
“We wanted a broad cross range of performances, not just theatre or dance.  An audience member could come to the venue and see three different things in one night, broadening their arts experience. This way they get to see things they might not normally see.”
 
GIRLS @ WORK
VENUE: Theatreworks
DATE: Various
TICKETS: See website

See the original article here: http://www.beat.com.au/festivals/2010/09/23/melbourne-fringe-girlswork/arts-australian-comedy-festival-film-fringe-fringe-festival-gig-girlswork-show-t

Tomorrow, In A Year

Ralf Richardt Strøbech is the director of Tomorrow, In a Year , an opera mounted by Hotel Pro Forma and a highlight of this year’s Melbourne Arts Festival. It takes the life of Charles Darwin as a starting point, with music scored by Swedish duo The Knife and choreographed by Hiroaki Umeda.
 
Strøbech’s opinions on the opera are both open and precise, so it’s a good idea to let him do most of the explaining, starting with how much the production has evolved since it was first mounted. “It’s not the same piece as when it opened, which is nice because Darwin also made several changes in his Origin of Species. In the sixth edition it only contained 21% of the original book… so if it was insistently the same way every time it would be non-Darwinian.”
 
But what is the story, really? “It’s only fragments of a narrative… although there definitely is an underlying structure. The big one is about the life of Darwin himself, split into four parts. The Beagle voyage is the first where it’s about youth, then there’s the death of his daughter Annie, so that’s much more about middle age, and making a family, and then the third part is about the publication of his book, and the last part is about how he becomes a recluse and allows the world to exist around him. Then there is of course time itself, all evolutionary time starting from 4.65 Billion years ago.”
 
Darwin’s daughter Annie died at the age of ten after a series of health complications. The effect of Annie’s death on her parents was devastating, moreso as Darwin’s theory of evolution developed and he wondered if her death was because he had married his cousin. I ask if this interests Strøbech. “It does… The second part of this performance treats that a little bit… [There] is this beautiful story about the letters of Charles Darwin. He’s with his daughter at the hospital and Emma’s actually at home with all the other children… she gets these letters sent by messenger describing how Annie’s state deteriorates while she must keep up her face because she doesn’t want to alarm all the other children. So this to me was extremely interesting: How do you cope with that? And this is a pivotal image in the play, sung by the mezzo soprano, the dilemma between actually having an emotional storm on the inside while having to keep up appearances on the exterior.”
 
He just answered my next question. I was interested in who the Mezzo Soprano was supposed to be representing, because she’s female and it’s the story of Charles Darwin, so I was interested in the choice of gender roles. “In a sense they don’t represent anyone, the three singers; in a sense they just represent themselves, to be very hardcore post-romantic. That being said, there are times obviously the male singer is very much Darwin, you can’t help but read him that way. [The mezzo soprano] has moments when she is an actual person, I would say in Annie’s Box she’s really Annie’s mother, but other times she’s more like time itself, because [her voice is] very grand and has the capability of suggesting something outside the individual’s body… she’s also somewhat distanced from the audience whereas the second lady Lærke [Andersen], who is an actress, is much more a representative of the audience onstage.”
 
And as for live musicians on stage? Turns out there are actually none. “None, exactly none, there are no musicians on the stage or in the pit, it’s all electronically produced,” says Strøbech. “The music was all made by The Knife who are completely incredibly fantastic. They make everything from scratch, so Olaf [Dreijer] went to the Amazon to record sounds, he also went to Iceland and then they were kind of transformed into this electronic score. The singing is live and there also is live voice manipulation and vocal coding so the singers can be in harmony or even in rhythm with themselves.”
 
If that’s not enough for you – the story of the greatest scientist of our time, incredible choreography and the mind-blowing music of The Knife – here’s Strøbech’s advice: “I think the most important thing to say is that we always tend to look for explanations in things but… this performance is really about accepting that the origin of thoughts is from sensing and observing. I think this is Darwin’s method. It’s only because he freed himself of all preconceptions that he was able to find a new path.
 
“And I think this is the most important thing about the opera: that it doesn’t want to bring one specific reading, it’s much more showing something that speaks to the senses more than the brain… and that was very much how we would work, the Knife and Hiroake… It’s a process and that in itself will read its meaning, much as the way a rosebud doesn’t mean anything other than a plant wants to get laid. It’s not symbolic in any way apart from to just be.”
 
Hotel Pro Forma’s Tomorrow, In A Year plays at The Arts Centre from Wednesday October 20 until Saturday October 23 at 7.30pm. Tickets range from $25 to $110.50. You can book through The Arts Centre or Melbourne Festival.

View the original article here: http://www.beat.com.au/content/tomorrow-year-0

Fleur Elise Nobile

 

Visual, and now performance artist Fleur Elise Noble comes over the line from her hotel room in Korea, and we both know we have a task ahead of us; close to the opening of her multi-disciplinary and conceptually diverse show 2 Dimensional Life of Her, a performance which incorporates projections, live action, visual arts and puppetry all in the one space, where do you begin talking about it? Well, how about starting with the obvious, which was why was she calling from Korea? “I’m here on a two week residency, working with digitised art and music, using traditional Korean culture as a basis.” Sounds excellent, and quite far from her background in Adelaide.
“I studied painting and sculpture in Adelaide and then New York. My main focus until two years ago was in drawing, but then I moved into other mediums like animation, puppetry and performance, and from that exploring different ways to bring it all together in a new show.”
That show is 2 Dimensional Life of Her, running out of the always surprising and dynamic Meat Market in mid August as part of the Mobile States program, which is produced by Performing Lines, a touring contemporary performance initiative that targets small production companies and arts practitioners going solo. The initiative favours the more multi-disciplinary and technically ambitious members of the art world, “they kind of knit together the whole tour through other venues throughout Australia, this particular work will have performances in Brisbane, Perth and Hobart. Usually they do Adelaide as well, but since that’s my home town I’ve actually done this show there before.”
The Mobile States project goes for the highly experimental, which is where Noble’s work comes in. Set in her studio, it is a multi disciplinary show about the artist confronting her own work. “It’s a theatre production that’s ninety five percent made out of projection. The intention came from spending so long working with two dimensional artworks. Drawing for me was always about something emerging from nothing, but often when it was exhibited it became about interpretation of the established text, just a final product, a picture hanging on the wall. This was finding a way of bringing people into the space where something is in the process of being made. It’s about the unexpected things that can take place in the process of creation.” This can be seen in the snows of paper that are both handled by the animated puppets in the performance, as well as being used as a projection surface for those selfsame animations. Searching for another explanation she says, “It’s almost like a pop up book, a three dimensional pop up book. All the surfaces are constantly changing. [The performance is] A book with an inside and an outside, so they can become two dimensional objects as well.”
A lot of the projections in the show utilise puppets in the form of stop animation. This painstaking process involves multiple marionettes each with their own coordinated movements. The use of the puppets seems to be an act of separation, an extra stage entered between the conception of the piece and the artist’s final involvement in it. The artist inhabits the construction of the setting, physically assembling the elements of paper, projection and puppetry, but she still allows these elements their own life in the act of performance, which is the point the audience becomes that little bit more than mere spectators.
The use of these figures also highlights what seems to be an increase in the use of puppetry in performances for both adults and children in recent years. “For me it comes out of doing so much sculpture, and wanting to bring those pieces to life. I animate my sculptures, my puppets, then project them during the performance.” A technically challenging performance, how much preparation went into it? “Two years, with lots of different phases, loads of experiments to work out what was possible. This particular show, making the puppets, took ten months full time to put it all together on very little funding, with all the objects made from nothing. It often involved twenty four hour working sessions in places that I’d hired overnight, so it was pretty epic.”
Have you done the show anywhere else before? “Well I just got back from a European tour of the show. I did it at the International Festival of Live Art in Scotland, as well as the Danish Children’s Festival. I mean those are the polar opposite in terms of audiences. [The show] doesn’t just go across mediums, but also audiences, from little kids to high end Arts people.”
And what happens after your show in the Meat Market? “There’ll be a New Zealand tour, then Europe again. After that I’ll be working for five months doing a creative development grant for a new show that will be premiered at the World Theatre Festival at the Powerhouse in Brisbane in February. For that I’m again going to be working on live performance, working on its visual language.” A visual language that seems to be strongly established in 2 Dimensional Life of Her.

Beat Magazine, Issue August 4th, 2010

Talanoa: Shigeyuki Kihara

The Emerge festival is upon us again. Presented by Multicultural Arts Victoria, it is a showcase for those artists newly arrived on our shores, presenting their art practise and traditions, establishing a basis of understanding amongst the variety of communities that cohabit Melbourne. One of the highlights of the festival is the Talanoa: Walk the Talk VII performance and forum, which will be kicking off on the 20th of June. Conceived and mediated by Samoan performance artist Shigeyuki Kihara, this is the seventh instalment of her trans-Tasman project. “As a Pacific Island diaspora artist… I wondered: in an age of global migration that results in cosmopolitanism in many big cities, how can we actually live along side by side with people who are already there, who are making their homes where they are, amongst other people who are making new homes for themselves?” Thinking about ways to bridge this gap, Kihara thought of the ancient Samoan concept of Talanoa. “It alludes to a process of exchange of dialogue between two conflicting clans, coming together to establish a mutual ground based on love, respect and peace. I strongly believe there is not enough Talanoa in this world.”

To explore this process, Shigeyuki brings together seemingly disparate groups with different cultural backgrounds, and mediates a process of understanding and sharing, culminating in a collaborative performance of song and dance. “I think there’s all these government policies… and a lot of critics that talk about concepts of ‘cross cultural’, ‘transcultural’, etc. etc. But all those fancy rancy terms are always up on high, and never trickle down.”

Her first Talanoa was staged in Auckland, between Chinese Dragon dancers and a Scottish Highland Pipe band. This time for the Emerge Festival, Kihara has been working with the Dambai Dancing Sudan Group and Te Roro n Rikirake Kiribati Youth Group. “My project has been understood by those who I have worked with as a community icebreaker, it’s a great way to get to know one another… And funnily enough, most of the time when I bring these communities together, like for example when I brought the Kiribati, which is a very rural pacific island, and the South Sudanese community into this, and the Sudanese said things like, ‘you know I wouldn’t have guessed there is such a country called Kiribati,’ and there are other cases where some members of the Kiribati and the South Sudanese were literally neighbours, they’ve never spoken to each other until they were engaged in this exercise.”

At first the project seems like a massive undertaking, if anything because of the dance groups’ radically different backgrounds. “My father’s Japanese, and it’s my mother that’s Samoan, and people often say: ‘My that’s an interesting, odd mix.’ But what is the right mix? There’s this really static idea that culture does not evolve, that it does not engage. When I approach them… a lot of the communities that say yes are communities that want to engage, and are prepared to share where they come from.” This means anything from fusing rhythms together to preparing afternoon tea for each other with traditional foods. “I’m trying to provide opportunities for people to explore each other, because most of the time we think we have to travel abroad to understand where a community comes from, when they’re just literally next door.”

When the concept of Talanoa is introduced to these communities, is there an equivalent in their own culture? “I find that a lot of traditional ideas from the Pacific, which is where my background is, are universal. It’s just a matter of, how do we apply it in this environment. Because I’m working with grassroots communities, and it’s always intergenerational… it’s more of a forum for the older generation to pass on the core values of the community: self-confidence, social responsibility, community engagement… because in the mainstream we only dance when we go out and get drunk at a nightclub, but for some communities song and dance is what they do all the time.”

Kihara is a powerful and eloquent speaker for Talanoa, and that drive is infectious. “When you strip away the costumes and the ethnicity, the gender, essentially what they are trying to pass on… are core values about social responsibility, which has been really inspiring. I’m trying to go beyond the surface of, what they wear, beyond the kilt, beyond the grass skirts, beyond the drums. Why is it that these communities are so attracted to coming together through music.”

Beat Issue June 16th 2010