LGL 2NICK: Of my 9 nerdy obsessions Songs Lyrics and The Writing Thereof are possibly number 1. Of the 6 things I hate most about modern journalism, the fact that you no-one is doing techy-craft based analysis of the Words Bit of songs is definitely number 1. Canberra has an embarrassing surplus of world-class lyricists, a hip indie writers festival that specializes in panel-y discussion-y events, and 1 arrogant dickhead who thought he would be the best person to present said world-class lyricists to an audience, despite having no experience with interviewing at all.

If the two-night event went well at all it was because of my Rogues Gallery of Guest: Damien Flanagan and Bec Taylor from Hashemoto, Luciana Harrison from Pocket Fox, Sam Seb and Cathy from Burrows and indeed the co-parent of this very blog Luke McGrath!

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I was spoiled to have such a diverse range of writing styles to pick apart, from the finely-wrought images of a Damo to the wry darkness of a Luch, to the haunted playfulness of a Cathy, to the anti-narrative embrace of pure sound that you get with a Seb. Each discussion was peppered with performances of songs, and I nudged the artists to find unusual ways to perform them in the hopes that the audience would approach them as products of craft and thought. Burrows swapped each others’ usual lead vocals around, Damo took us through a song that wasn’t finished yet and Luch stripped her songs right back from Pocket Fox’s normal 8-piece arrangements. I was most excited for what we did with Luke’s interview. We sourced a bunch of our favorite performers to do solo renditions of Luke’s songs while he sat in his chair and listened. The most amazing thing about Luke as a writer is the sheer breadth, diversity and quality of the songs he’s written, there’s no way to wrap your head around it by seeing just one of his bands. It was great to at least attempt to present him to an audience in a way that drives home how unique he is.

LGL 9As an interviewer I was just about passable. Luckily my guest were on-point and articulate because I was perfect storm of rookie mistakes- rambly questions, closed questions, reductive binary questions, the works. I didn’t frame the genius of the participating artists to the extent that I hoped, but they did a very fine job of framing it themselves. As I might have guessed, the best moments were the ones where I hung back and let the interviewee hold forth.

 

Who knows whether I successfully drew the audience into the nerdy study of language and music that I was trying for, but I can tell you the song performances hit home hard. As a raving fan of the acts in question the whole thing was a geeky delight.LGL 12

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Life is supposedly a bleak unjust affair but then the incredible Chiara Grassia asks you to write songs for her You Are Here project which is a tribute show for a legendary 80s Canberra Indie Band that never actually existed. And then the band turns out to be made up of some of the coolest and best and loveliest musicians there are (including members of some of you favorite acts like No StarsAgency Pocket Fox and Petre Out). And then you get to go full method on imagining the entire life and death of your favorite Canberra cult band that never was and attempting to write the parallel-universe indie-guitar classics that you’ve always wanted to exist. And then you show up to the first meeting and the band have written their own songs and they’re perfect and amazing and you realize you aren’t needed at all, but they still want to use a couple of your songs on the set. And then the gig happens and you’re in the crowd and your songs sound just like you imagined but 12 times better plus the songs that the others wrote are your new favorite songs and Nikki H made great music videos for each song and best of all at least some of the crowd are convinced that Slush Pile was actually a real band and the gig goes great and the tribute band (named Plush Style) are keen to make a record of the songs and sure maybe my life is a crazy miracle dream whatever.Slush Pile 7Slush Pile 2Slush Pile 9Slush Pile 3

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‘When a 20-something artist is accused of being ‘date racist’ by her long-suffering best friend she launches ineptly into the world of cross-cultural romance in an attempt to prove her wrong.

Come watch the making of your new favorite show as the creators work out how to make their sitcom about race and relationships right in front of you!

It’s a playful deconstruction of the TV Show Table Read. It’s the latest phase of the Writers Room X project, which uses the structural trappings of TV to devise the kind of stories and characters that TV doesn’t do enough.’

It’s been a year since the beginning of Writer’s Room X, the experimental group-devised indie screenwriting collective that I originally dreamed up for the 2016 Noted Festival. One year since the 1-week locked-room intensive that saw six writers (Tasnim Hossain, Khalid Warsame, Linda Chen, Chiara Grassia, Emma MacManus and me) create full scripts for a six-part web-based sitcom called Drunk White Friend. One year since I committed to produce Drunk White Friend and started the awkward process of working out how to actually go about that.

DWF 2The film industry, even at the indie level, is glutted with participants to the point of being utterly broken. The world of experimental art festivals is tiny by comparison and so can’t help but make more sense. It’s also a world that makes sense to me and where I have a little track record. Plus experiments in form are my whole thing, as WRX to date suggests. So of course my approach to producing a relatively conventional web series (I mean sure it’s trying to break new ground in terms of content and representation but it’s doing it within a clearly identified form, the sitcom) is to create a model whereby every stage of the development takes place at an arts festival and involves a live audience event. I can hear you groaning and you are right to. DWF 10

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In the same way that our initial writing process was structured around the conventions of a TV writers room, this one was conceived as a ‘Table Read’ in the classic TV production style. Really this was a spur to tackle what we knew would be one of our biggest challenges, nailing the casting of the show. Drunk White Friend only has four principles but the cultural backgrounds of the characters are specific, so we knew we’d have to look a little wider than our local networks. Sydney is still close enough that the meager artist fees we could offer for this stage wouldn’t be eaten up by travel costs, and so three of our wonderful cast (Toks Ogundare, Jemwel Danao and Hannah Goodwin) were sourced from there. Our fourth actor, Jim Nguyen, is a Canberran who I’d been looking to use in something since he auditioned for The Real a few years back.

That said, the casting decisions were thankfully not up to me. The not-so-secret edge of WRX is that every one of the writers is also extremely skilled and experienced in at least one other arts discipline. Emma and Tasnim are both in-demand theatre-makers and the only reason this iteration of the project went well (spoiler warning- it went well) is that they made time in their insane schedules to act as director and AD respectively.

Emma was the one who whipped my half-baked Table Read concept into an effective audience event. What she created was essentially a moved reading that made a virtue of super-minimalism, an old couch and a desk acting effectively as our five different story locations. Before we even got to that point Em and Tas worked for months on the audition process and their efforts were evident in the killer roster of actors that we ended up with.

As a thoughtless jerk I thought it would be a great logistical approach to mush the entire development into one day, including initial team meetings, rehearsal, script revisions and the final live performance. I also thought it would be a ‘fun’ twist for the whole thing to happen in a public space, which turned out to be the You Are Here festival Hub Space. This was a gross error in judgement for which Emma and the rest of the Drunk White Friend team should have rightly cut all ties with me and walked from the project. Instead they pushed heroically through the quite frankly fucked limitations of our noise-y chaotic working space. Who knows what our actors made of the insane working format, but they nailed everything we asked from them and it was a true thrill to finally see or characters made flesh-and-blood. Special thanks also to the other WRX writers for filling the variety of production, performance, songwriting and script-supervision roles that popped up along the way. Thanks to everyone but me the final performance was assured and clear, and the audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive (as well as full of constructive feedback for our next development stage).

WRX are some of my favorite people in the whole world and my belief in the merit of Drunk White Friend is total. The only possible weak link in the chain is me, so expect future blogs on the subject to be full of angst and misadventure as I do whatever it takes to Get This One Actually Made. Photos courtesy of You Are Here (I have to check whether Adam or Sarah took them then edit this post)

Wrestle V

Oh, it’s the live art show I’ve been developing for the last couple of years, about the nature of athletic competition and freestyle wrestling in particular, which includes live for-real wrestling as a fundamental component of the show.

Yes this is the thing I went to Belgrade for that I was so coy about at the time, and I’ve had a couple of developments on the down-low since then. Wrestling is such a key aspect of my life and creating a show that will exist partly to present the world of the sport to a lay audience is a nerve-wracking process. That said, off the back of a week-long development in Sydney involving several members of the incredible Sydney Silverbacks, a bunch of folk in the arts community are now aware of the project and I now have a producer on board. Plus our first public development is confirmed to take place at Crack Theatre festival in October. So really it’s time for me to start talking about it here.

The show is about what might drive a human to strive at a thing that they are never going to be the best at, or maybe even good at, and about the strange nature of competition as a way to negotiate worth. It’s about the strange intersections between niche communities and it’s about obsession. In form terms, we’ll be creating a performance model that different wrestlers in different touring locations can be plugged into, so that the nature of the show will be re-shaped each time by the specific participants. At least, that’s the aim.

The development showings have gone well but I’ve never felt such a sense of responsibility toward a project being all that it can be. So my future updates about the creation of the show might well involve some dark nights of the soul. That said, I am very excited for the outside enthusiasm the show has already garnered, and like everything I do it’s at least bound to get weirder from here.

 

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It’s 9.55pm on the Friday night of You Are Here Festival, and I’m moving in choreographed sync with microwave cooking guru/internet sensation Amelia de Frost on a stage littered with popcorn and backlit by LED-laden microwaves. Amelia and I are listless in our movements, three hours of literally non-stop Wellness-themed activity has left us shattered. The crowd have been watching us, transfixed by our agony and growing steadily that whole time. The crowd knows that in mere moments the participatory section that they have joined in on 9 times already will occur one final time. Their joy and support sweeps over us and our energy crests one more time as we lead them into a New Wellness Tomorrow. In that moment, as for the whole night, I am Babyfreeze.

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I am a precious flower as far as the projects I agree to do. Claire Granata is one of my best friends and also one of the most skilled performers I know, but when she first floated the idea of combining her brilliant Amelia de Frost character with my Babyfreeze persona in an aerobics-themed show I was meh on it. I LOVE dancing (and Claire and I share a certain aggressively athletic approach to doing so) but ‘aerobics’ as a premise seemed thin and I didn’t want to do anything that was just a joke.

Luckily I am as pretentious as I am precious and I have a couple of simple buttons that any potential collaborator can push. The first button was pushed when Claire suggested a celebrity infomercial-type format, and I realised that I could use this piece as a vehicle to dump all of the venom I’ve built up from 7 years of working in the fitness industry. That’s when it became Aerobicide: Feel Better, a vaguely-defined Wellness System through which we could throw shade on basically anything that’s ever price-tagged the idea of better health.

 

The final trap was sprung when You Are Here producer Rochelle White pointed out that this obviously had to be a 3-hour-long durational performance. I am an absolute sucker for the idea of physical and logistical ordeal as the heart of an artwork, and Claire is similarly fucked in the head, so in a moment we were excitedly committed to what became a three-month campaign of past-midnight rehearsals and teaser video shoots.

Claire brought most of the actual necessary skills to the table, choreographing a full 20 -minute routine (with me interjecting the odd goofy gym move) set to a sublimely-poptacular music mix by go-to sound genius Reuben Ingall. This mix provided the structure of the Aerobicide presentation, a punishing demonstration of the extreme wellness of (celebrity spokespeople) Amelia de Frost and Babyfreeze that was repeated 9 times back to back in the final performance. Rather than speaking live we had ourselves spouting dozens of fitness-based non-sequitur slogans as part of the recorded track. Our past selves therefore stayed immortally sunny and smug as our Live Selves slowly realised that they were trapped in a never-ending loop of Activeness.

The other vital components of the show were Adam Thomas’ incredible set design (comprising 9 separate microwaves all with their own individual lighting effects) and the tireless efforts of Holly Tranter and Matt Lustri as our Coach/Assistants, whose multifarious duties included changing our costumes live on stage 9 times across the night.

The whole thing happened at You Are Here’s Electric Avenues, a great big night-festival in Haig park. We were set up on a stage near the food trucks and I was sure people were going to interact with us like a telethon-type thing, checking in with us every now and then across the night. I was wrong. A huge amount of people camped out to see us repeat the same sequence again and again, descending further into madness each time. The bludgeoning nature of the central gag, where every time we think we’ve finally finished and then the music starts up again, got a louder cheer every time. Frankly I’ve never been involved in an artwork that the audience took to as ideally and perfectly as this one. As Claire and I finally shuffled off the stage at 10pm, taking care to walk in a shell-shocked slow motion, the crowd took up a chant of ‘THREE MORE HOURS! THREE MORE HOURS! THREE MORE HOURS!’

Photos by the wonderful Sarah Walker.

 

 

A5s

‘This experimental music event challenges the composers, performers and audience in equal measure. Canberrans Emma Kelly, Paul Heslin, Chloe Hobbs and Ben Drury have been commissioned to create new short works. BUT! the compositions must fit on an A5 piece of paper. WHAT’S MORE! They’ll be performed by a group of untrained volunteer vocalists who will only see their scores a few minutes before performing.

By ‘basking in their limitations’, the composers will no doubt serve up bizarre, wonderful, and refreshing new works. Their ideas and creative processes will be illuminated via a quick-fire Q&A.’

This was the program copy for Reuben Ingall’s You Are Here festival work, at which I got to be one of untrained volunteer vocalists. The results were chaotic, super-fun, and often sublimely lovely. A5S 6

This is of course just the latest in the never-ending string of creative projects by the beautiful Reuben Ingall, who’s insane breadth of excellent artworks was recently broken down here. Also special shout-outs to my fellow choir-members who, when pressed upon to come up with a name for our group, settled on the most obvious misreading of the event title. I’ll never forget my time as a member of Bunch Of Ass.A5 5A5S 8

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NICK: Running a full-scale gallery installation clearly wasn’t enough for us to be doing at a one-day festival, so Art Not Apart also featured the spiritual sequel to The Babyfreeze VIP Fan Cruise Of Lake Burley Griffin. The Babyfreeze VIP Fan Club Champagne Breakfast took place from 2pm-3pm (Rock Star Breakfast Time) in a tiny room at the National Film and Sound Archive. Champagne-like beverages were served to the crowd by Erin, who had joined the band as Bartender mere moments before the set started (SHOUT OUTS TO ERIN) and unsettling amounts of Impractical Dance Floor Food was passed around the writhing crowd. I ate as much barbecue chicken and pickles as I could while still actually singing the songs, much to the horror of all assembled. Handsome Luke’s plot-twist transition to Hollywood Handsome Luke (after having several of his songs optioned as film ideas) caused the set to devolve into a (super-dance-able) relationship crisis that as usual was solved in the nick of time by an emotion-drenched 6-minute-plus rendition of Defenceless (Loved Each Other). Trendoid delighted the crowd by finally tucking into his breakfast pinata. The audience as usual made the entire event by partying like mad under the most ridiculous conditions we’ve asked from them yet. This kind of positive reinforcement can lead to nothing good.

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8 hours later I was lip-synching to Heart’s How Do I Get You Alone in full drag as part of my recurring role as part of the Sound And Fury Ensemble. The Art Not Apart edition of S&F was themed around the word ‘heart’, producer Cheneoh Miller couldn’t have known just how much I love that song when she assigned it to me. Doing lip-sync drag felt like and odd and frankly problematic challenge to be taking up on a bill that also included some top-flight Actual Drag Queens as well as some of Australia’s best queer performance artists, but for better or worse the crowd response to my little bit was super-warm.

Much meatier for me was an hour later when I got to actually sing Nirvana’s Heart-Shaped Box backed by violin and guitar. I’ve always considered it to be a modern torch song and so doing it in drag felt really right (though I took the wig off for it to indulgently live out my Hedwig-at-the-end-of-the-movie-fantasy. Yes I am an amoral perfomance-art fuckhole). It was genuinely a big challenge to live up to what I thought could be done with such a great, iconic song, the threat of campy vapidness loomed every second. The actual performance felt like a high-wire act, an athletic/artistic challenge that I loved every second of. You’d have to find someone who was there to find out whether I actually pulled it off or not.