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NICK

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2 years since the inaugural Cell Block 69 Dance-Off. 1 year since Luke and I were roped in to being part of Catherine ‘Benevolent Tyrant of Dance’ James’ winning team, Mergers and Acquisitions. 3 months since Catherine split us into two separate teams, Mergers AND Acquisitions, as part of her escalating philosophy of ruthless Dance-Off Dominance. The 1 time per year when Luke and I are most happy to be mere cogs in the creative war machine servicing someone else’s agenda. As well as the greater agenda of John Farnham and Robert Palmer.

 

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The notorious enabling force that is the You Are Here festival  has lead Claire ‘Tour De Force’ Granata and I to formalise Total Spray as an ongoing theatre company and take our 3-hour telethon of physical ordeal to festivals around the country. Our first stop was Bondi Feast, where they set us up in the ballroom at Bondi Pavillion. The fact that said ballroom routinely hosts actual aerobics classes led to a very specific, almost unsettling version of engagement from the local crowd. Hopefully we repaid their enthusiasm and endurance with a truly holistic wellness(tm) experience. Next Stop- Crack Theatre Festival!

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Maybe you’ve never put any thought into how PROM might end. Maybe you don’t get sucked into the various bullshit narratives around the breakup of bands. But I dare say if you thought about it it would occur to you that a band as snottily meta and story-world-y as PROM would probably rent a theatre and present their last gig as the culmination of a seven-year-long live indie-pop genre show.

If cooler heads (read: Julia) hadn’t prevailed I would have tried to smoosh everything the band was into one show- the initial apocalyptic-horror stuff, the half-assed deconstruction of the nature of pub gigs, the audience choreography. For Jules the simple heart of the band, the main thing all along, was that we are Playing Our Own High School Prom. Every gig we’ve ever done has been about refusing to graduate, whether by choosing oblivion instead or just wallowing in a loop of pop-music arrested development.  Anyone who isn’t an idiot like me would have known that we were heading for a Final Actual Graduation all along.

In a way it was still a Greatest Hits show. Joel Barcham MC’d in his SOCE Teacher persona one last time (he finally got a name- Mr Harold), augmented and elevated by Claire Granata as the authoritarian principal Ms Bizcut. Julia basically created a complete theatrical set from $80 of materials, just like always. Chris broke a guitar string two songs in and still played spectacularly, as if to prove that he is utterly irreplaceable (yes he’s moving to Scotland that’s what’s actually happening here). We picked a couple from the crowd and crowned them PROM King and Queen and made them slow-dance awkwardly, casting a comical frame over the what is actually one of my most earnestly-written songs (Run To The Love). Dead DJ Joke played a set either side and is the best DJ in the world of course. We did all the most PROM things.

I couldn’t even to begin to wrap my head around the fact that this was the last time I’d be doing these songs with these people, with Matt, Sam, Julia and Chris. Or the fact that Mel, my dear dear friend who the whole band began with wasn’t there (I mean she was in Brisbane where she lives now so odds are she was having a good time that night regardless, Brisbane is very good).  The crowd came in force and in costume but with the various jokes flying around the stage and the detention essays Ms Bizcut was forcing them to write it’s likely they didn’t spot just how nakedly emotional I was at my inability to square exactly how to most correctly think or feel. Which reminded me more if my actual high school graduation than anything else possibly could.

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We played Cost In Lives last and the chorus high note that has been the bane of my existence for seven years came out as easy as sighing. Thank you to all of you who made this band what it’s been to me.

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Photos by Adam Thomas

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.