All photos by Adam Thomas, except some of the Neon Night Rider ones are by Martin Ollman
Wednesday March 18, 5.43pm- I’m at Canberra Museum and Gallery facilitating an artist named Aviva Endean. We’ve built her a booth (out of curtains and PVC pipe) inside CMAG’s glass-walled Gallery 4, in which she will be creating 15-minute immersive soundscapes for one blind-folded audience member at a time.
I watch Aviva test run her piece and it’s fantastic, but I’m nervous and pre-occupied. Two blocks away the shopfront that we’ve taken over will be acting as a first point of contact for our opening night audience, to be directed to a host of events around the city centre. If they show up. I’m one of two managing producers for the festival and it feels weird to be so far from the center.
5.52pm- I check Facebook on my phone and see that Smiths, one of Canberra most beloved and shoddily managed live venues, have announced that they are closing forever on Saturday. We’ve got several events booked in there for the Sunday, all a part of Noted, a new experimental writers festival launching in partnership with You Are Here. I call Kaye from Smiths and then Lucy from Noted, we sort out the first venue change of the festival.
7.05pm- I get a text from Samantha, our production manager. An audience member has fainted during Zak and Reefa’s Hollywood Funeral, a theatre show happening inside Landspeed Records, a record store. The show is part of Dangerous Territory, a suite of theatre shows designed to be performed in unusual locations in the city. It was my idea but I’ve delegated much of the curation and supervison to Morgan Little, one of YAH’s three new staff members for 2015. This is his first event of his first festival. By all accounts the person is fine and Morgan handled it no sweat, it was just very hot with 70 people crammed in there. I should have thought to give Morgan a hard limit on crowd.
8.32- I check in with Vanessa (the other managing producer and one of my best friends) at the Hub. Good numbers to everything so far. Alison Plevey’s piece in Garema Place (a dance work called Work It) has gone really well despite our conviction among the producers that Garema Place sucks as a venue. Lots of people have been through the Hub and checked out the East Row Museum, curated by another new staff member, Yasmin Masri. It’s a museum that subverts and satirises the nature of museums and I was frankly shocked by the high-end nature of the signage and fit-out, it stands out dramatically in the long-vacant record store shopfront that is our hub.
9.03pm- I’m not usually on Twitter but I am logged in to the YAH feed and my phone is losing it’s shit. This is the first time we’ve had a dedicated media and marketing person (Zoya Patel, who happened to be named ACT Young Woman of the Year about a week ago) and seeing all the social media updates just HAPPEN is a load off. I am personally pretty half-arsed at social media.
I really want to watch the whole of Reuben Ingall’s lecture on the history of slowed and time-stretched music but I have to head across to the merry-go-round. Working with such a small festival team means that for the next five days I will at whatever event is most practical for me to be at.
9.28pm- Chris Endrey and his team sent me the script and run-sheet for their event exactly one day ago. It’s a rumination on death and mortality that takes place in and around the merry-go-round and incorporates a sing-along to Bohemian Rapshody,
I notice that many in the crowd are hardcore fans of Endrey’s sex-pop band Fun Machine, and seem primed to expect something fun and raucous. The artists get me to hold up a sign announcing the sternly-worded rules of the event.
10.02pm- As the 50 people inside the merry-go-round are put through their conceptual paces, I see a line has formed outside. People think that there are going to be ‘turns’, they don’t get that it’s a one-off theatre show. The crowd inside are gamely engaging with tasks involving writing and contemplation, while spinning on horses. Some of them are clearly keying in to the intended headspace. The crowd outside realizes they are spectators only, most of them stay. At the very end the artists relent and do one more go-round for the outsiders.
11.10pm- Quick production meeting, we had good numbers to everything and the crowds seemed to take to the ‘start at the Hub then fan out’ premise.
Thursday March 19th, 1.05pm- We finally have time to take a team photo of the staff. It’s our smallest team ever, 9 of us returning from previous years.
7pm- Far Flung is a dance piece that happens at 3 different venues simultaneously- CMAG, Gorman Arts Centre and the Hub. The young dancers collaborate using streaming video, it’s risky in it’s tech-heaviness. The tech works mostly fine and the performers do a great job, but the turn-out is very disappointing. The low numbers seem even lower since they’re stretched across three locations. I wonder if the ‘dinner time’ slot is the problem.
7.55pm- Jillian Curruthers: Girl Reporter is a fictional 30s radio play that involves a watermelon getting smashed with a hammer live on stage. I lay down big sheets of black builder’s film and hope that will be enough to keep the sound gear safe.
8.50pm- I clean up as much melon as I can and clean the stage for World Of Payne, a contemporary dance duet by a Canberra ex-pat called Paul Jackson. Paul’s partner in the dance is a 6-inch doll of One Direction’s Liam Payne. The piece could not be more up my alley.
10pm- Finger You Friends starts. It’s a band/theatre show by my good friend Emma McManus. It’s sexy, high-energy, funny and smart, and no one dances. The previous acts just didn’t set the feel for a party. The original plan was to pair this band with Luke’s Faux Faux Amis murder mystery gig, but they’d had to pull out.
The crowd treat it as theatre and love it. At one point a naked woman joins the band on stage and mimes the song by making a mouth out of her belly. The woman in question is You Are Here’s 2014 production manager.
Friday March 20th
4pm- Exactly 4 artists show up to our artist-to-artist discussion session. Finding a good timeslot for it in a five-day festival was probably impossible. Still, we have a pretty nice chat about the motives behind durational performance, among other things.
7.36pm- My girlfriend Adelaide is also a YAH producer, the Neon Night Rider is one of her events. It’s basically a bike ride around the lake with mini-dance party stops, where participants are encouraged to cover their bikes in glowsticks and other illumination. It is COLD and I haven’t dressed appropriately. I worry the weather will hurt numbers. Bo, a musician who owns a military radio truck and runs full DJ and band rigs out of it, starts his set at the staging area.
8.26pm- I’m leading the ride, which is about 150 people strong, and feeling barely in control of the situation. We stop at Reconciliation Place and everyone jams themselves into the tunnel. The Rat Patrol have brought a double wide bike that incorporates a sound system. It’s very suddenly a huge dorky dance party and it’s amazing. Adelaide and I exchange big grins. Samantha radios to say that someone has come of their bike near the bridge, they took off on their own and now can’t be found.
9.27- After losing control of the ride at least 3 times, we get everyone back to the marshaling point safe. I lead a good chunk of the crowd back to the Hub for the No Light No Lycra dance party. As a non-drinker and a compulsive dancer I have a particular affinity for the NLNL events, and things are going smoothly enough for the staff to wade in and enjoy ourselves.
We take another staff photo on the stairs of the Hub, our production designer George isn’t there, she’s gone home early feeling sick. I’m constantly angst-y about how overworked George is compared to the rest of us and the photo feels like an uneasy metaphor of that for me. George works absolute miracles on an absolute shoestring and my fondest dream is that one day I can pay her properly to do a job that is smooth and easy with great working conditions.
Dancing in the Dark comes on as the final song, I’m off the steps and in the crowd before I even register what’s happening.
Saturday March 21st, 12pm- I rise late, under strict orders from Samantha. The day is going to go late.
I drop in to CMAG to bring Adelaide some lunch, she’s running an indie game developer showcase. After that she’ll be off to the parliamentary triangle to run an audio walking tour that exhorts it’s participants to roll down a hill in defiance of architecture as social control. Adelaide has some of our most logistically challenging events on her docket for the day and she’s juggling about 30 tasks at once, a typical state for a YAH producer.
Personally I’m much more comfortable delegating. I’ve charged Morgan with running a double bill of theatre shows out at the new Westside container village at the lake. It’s a risky location for a lot of reasons and it does make me nervous to not be there, plus it sucks to miss the shows after being so involved in the development process. But Morgs and I have been backwards and forwards through the site plan, he’ll be fine.
The Westside shows are called Eucapocalypts Now and A Chill Day In Hell. They came to us as fully formed shows, I was the one who convinced the artists to try them as site specific. I think the bleak futurism that the shows share will be enhanced by the weird environmental intersections of the space. Unless no-one comes, or the space is unworkable, then they’ll be no-one to blame but me.
3pm- I rock into The Street Theatre. We’re doing three events here and due to the notoriously high production standards of the venue and staff I’ve been assigned to oversee all of them. One of the events is a ten year anniversary celebration of HellosQuare Records, probably Canberra’s most creatively successful indie label. One of the bands on the bill is Cracked Actor, the band I play bass in. The gig will act as the Canberra launch of our new record Iconoclast. The decision was made without my input and while I’m excited about it it’s a tricky juggle to be in the band headspace on today of all days. I try and stay focused for soundcheck but I’m anxious to check in with the other events.
4.35pm- Street 3 at The Street is one of the most beautiful performance spaces in town and we’re using it to host Inflorescence, a experimental music/visual installation piece by a mother and son team called Dianne Fogwell and Reuben Lewis. Dianne is the visual artist and she’s clearly run many a project before. I’m strictly a spare pair of hands, helping to switch on tiny portable lights and making small talk with Reuben (a top-notch musician who I’ve known for years) and the other two guys in his trio. Reuben and Dianne have been particularly patient with the restrictions of working with YAH (our artist fees and events budgets are comically tiny). Their set-up looks amazing and I really really hope they get a crowd.
5.30pm- Fuck Decaf begins, another site specific theatre show. It’s set in a cafe shop and we are in fact staging it in The Street’s cafe area. That said, they built a stage and set up row seating. I would have rather see them go a little more in situ with it, but the play is excellent and the crowd love it.
6.30- A capacity crowd show up for Inflorescence. I want to go in for the performance but don’t feel I can turn my phone off for the hour.
7.03pm- I’m standing out the front of The Street when a woman and her two sons approach me and ask where they can find Excavate, one of our festival events which consists of a dancer named Gareth Hart and a cubic meter of dirt. I look up and I can the top half of Gareth’s body, he’s on the roof of the City West car park. I explain that the performance has begun and the woman says that she had no indication from the program that punctuality was a deal-breaker for the event. I apologize, it’s another oversight on our part.
8.15- Backstage with Cracked Actor, running the songs one more time with Seb (the bandleader). I want to play a note-perfect set, we’ve done plenty of rehearsal but am I prepared? I find myself wandering out into the foyer to check on the gig as a whole. I’ve roped two of my friends in as volunteer ushers, on less than a days notice. I watch them watching Lawrence English, a noise artist who is playing deafeningly loud, and wonder what they think of it.
10pm- Cracked Actor plays. We’re in Street One, the large sit-down theatre, it’s a first for us to be playing in a space like this. The crowd is warm and appreciative, there’s about 90 people which looks a bit thin in a 200-seat theatre. By my count I make 3 mistakes, otherwise I play pretty solidly. It’s a pretty exhausting hour and the rest of the band head off for a drink, but my work-day is only half done.
12.12am- I rock in to CMAG where our third annual overnight gig is already 40 minutes in. I’m not actually on shift again until 3am but there’s no point in trying for a nap now.
There’s a crowd of a few dozen in the foyer, the student ensemble from the ANU experimental music school is performing in a circle on the floor. Before I’m anywhere near them I can see and hear the problem- the Wah Wah Room, the miniature cabaret nightclub that we’ve set-up at the mouth of the second floor elevator, is sound checking their guitarist. You can hear it all through the building. It’s virtually wiping out the ANU guys, whose set is unplugged and quiet. This is my fault, I had assumed there would be no noise bleed between floors which is moronic considering the atrium style architecture. I watch Vanessa walk from artist to artist trying to smooth over my colossal mistake.
1.10am- The greatest event in the histroy of You Are Here is happening in the CMAG theaterette. Paul Heslin, a sound artist whom I’ve worked with a ton of times, is running Endurance Karaoke using only a laptop, a mic and karaoke videos from the internet.
The audience members request famous songs and then begin to perform them in classic karaoke style, then Paul starts to strategically loop sections of the song, effectively creating an infinite version. The audience member sings the song for as long as they can stand to.
The audience engagement is instantaneous and wholehearted. A 20 minute version of Blank Space gives way gives way to a 24 minute version of Hallelujah, and then it becomes all about breaking the record. I was sure this would be a small off-to-the-side event but more and more people come in until the ‘main stage’ foyer area is all but empty. I know that Ness is out there still dealing with disgruntled artists and I feel guilty.
2.05pm- The record peaks with a transcendental 30 minute version of What Is Love (Baby Don’t Hurt Me), the crowd cheer every moment. After that the durations settle down to a sensible average of 20 minutes.
I take the elevator up to the Wah Wah Room, the audience and I are presented with four performances and a big red button which selects which one we see. We draw 5 minutes of scathing stand-up on the subject of detention centers and refugees. It involves a properly hilarious and unsettling impression of Scott Morrison. The stand-up is provided by Struthers Murray, the Wah Wah Room is his baby and I’m glad to see it going smoothly. In the foyer, two artists who’ve come down from Brisbane settle into the second hour of their set.
2.36am- I cave in and ask Morgan how the Dangerous Territory Shows went. Solid turn-out and smooth running at Westside, that’s a relief. Morgan is more anxious to tell me about A KREWD Chorale, the show that happened in Bible Lane, Canberra’s scumiest alleyway, around the same time Cracked Actor played. The show is an agit-feminist gallery of the grotesque and was always gonna be fraught with safety concerns.
Morgan asks me to guess how many people were at it. I notice that he’s still buzzing with energy despite his long day. My guess of 150 is wrong by the same amount. Apparently the turn-out included the staff of the surrounding bars and restaurants and the police, all of whom seemed to dig it.
7.20am- After facilitating curated video playlists from 3-6am and overseeing a fairly abortive breakfast event (only 6 people stayed the whole night) we bump out CMAG and drop the stuff back to the hub. I’m stressed that Shane and Mick from CMAG will be disappointed in the event, they’ve been some of our most important supporters over the years, and they stayed up with us the whole night as usual.
Sunday the 22nd, 12pm- After a bit of sleep I rock back into the Hub for our last staff briefing. First issue of the day- we realize that the NCA application for use of Black Mountain Peninsula didn’t include opening the power box. The event that’s happening there in 7 hours, Dishes, needs power. It’s unclear where the comms broke down but I’m pretty sure it was me.
1.43pm- Sir Co, a theatre show about imprisonment, is happening in the back of Bo’s comabt truck in the alley behind the Phoenix Bar. NickMc (our tech co-ordinator) and I stand nearby asking Bo to use his truck to supply power for Dishes. Danny Wild, the principal artist behind Dishes, shows up to meet us. He’s already dressed in his costume, rubber washing-up gloves affixed to his clothes.
3pm- With some trepidation I switch my phone off and head into Street 3 for Inflorescence. I’m not missing this one.
5.32pm- I’m helping with the Inflorescence packdown, Dianne is making me feel like I’m a member of her family and they seem very happy with how it went. I bask indulgently in the moment, packing up lights and carrying stuff to their car.
7.02pm- Dishes has timed perfectly with the sunset. Two dancers start as white dots against the island and slowly move toward us. The low rumble of the combat truck isn’t a planned part of Danny’s soundtrack but it’s working for me. There’s a crowd of about 20 people, I feel like we all feel the same. The ambient electro segues into Enya’s Orinoco Flow. Thanks to another misprint in the program our videographer hasn’t made it in time to film this. You probably had to be there for this one anyway.
9.32pm- The last event, Primal Screen, has just happened in a packed Phoenix Pub. A live social media debate crossed with a game show, it was an event I got to do a lot of close development of and it’s just soared in front of the crowd. Techno-Skeptic Aaron Kirby is the principal artist and he singles me out for a thank you. I love praise.
I get up and do my last of many bits of MCing, I think I remember to thank everyone important.
I’m getting warm words from everyone around, I make a conscious decison to soak them up. Tomorrow will be bump-out and debrief, every fuck-up and thing to fix for next year will be raked over. Right now I’m with my team, my wonderful friends, and some Ideas became Things, and sometimes you’re allowed to call something a win, at least in the privacy of your own mind.