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WORDS

Last Prom FlashbackThe zero version of Bomb Collar was a show I did in 2012 called The Last Prom (pictured above). It was a stage musical built around a band I was in at the time, also called The Last Prom. The band was cast as the Four Horseman of the Apocalypse and I played the Antichrist, who in this show was a teenage nerd attempting to stage the Apocalypse as a 80s-teen-movie-style prom night.

The Last Prom was presented in the strict format of a live set by a band. All of the storytelling, exposition and drama had to be delivered as either song performance or between-song-banter and crowd work. It was a bit of a creative straitjacket, the sort of thing I really like. Like a lot of my stuff it was a foolishly self-indulgent blend of my different pop culture obsessions. But it went well. The crowd Responded To What We Were Doing.

Bomb Collar has carried over the dramatic conceit of the Live Gig. Everything the audience experiences is encapsulated by the Last Pop Singer Alive performing to his Audience, who are a comically threadbare revolutionary army staging a haphazard push into the Deep Sea Colonies.

So why? Short answer is that 15 years of playing in rock bands has left me with deep, complex and conflicting feelings about the Live Gig as a thing. You do it for long enough and accepted facts of life like stages, support slots and sound checks become absurd constructs crying out for deconstruction. Even in the gigging bands I currently play with (Babyfreeze, The Missing Lincolns and the earnestcore cabaret act that evolved out of The Last Prom, now just known as PROM) I’m neurotically tugging at the edges of what it means to be on a stage delivering a set of songs to an audience. Theatre work like Bomb Collar allows me to interrogate the Gig in an even more aggressive and direct fashion, using fantastical genre trappings and conceits to smash certain metaphors into your face.

My hope is that the gig structure also provides a recognizable anchor for the audience and helps me get away with ladling all kinds of artistic and cultural reference points into the one show. At the very least it’s a rigorous format with some clear standards for success or failure. If that’s a particularly dorky way to talk about what bands do, well that gives you a very good indication of what to expect from the show.

All the good and bad types of pain

I won’t speak any lies, You’re only gonna speak my name

When we’re together.

BC Broadway

So let’s Year 12 Business Studies this bad boy.

BOMB COLLAR S.W.O.T. ANALYSIS FOR POTENTIAL INVESTORS

Strengths- The show has been around the place, it’s pretty well-drilled and evolved. The story world is clear now, people get what’s going on and who the character is. I’ve learned how to stand still when I have to. I’m singing well these days. While I was doing the Fringe photo shoot with Adam the other day I finally worked out what kind of moving around I have to do in the final scene. I have an actual producer for this season who really knows what they’re doing. I have an incredible venue right in the Fringe Hub and it’s the exact right size (28 seats).

Weaknesses- I’ve never tested my modest, lo-fi sound and lighting rig across 7 nights. Reckon I’ll need to have a whole back-up rig made but I don’t know if Adam and Paul have time to make it also how do I repay them for all the free work they’ve done on this project for me. Promotional Avenues for sci-fi black comedy cabaret are proving a real challenge to find. One day I’m going to make something in just a single genre and medium. I promise. I haven’t 100% cracked the ultimate version of the costume yet.

Opportunities- I need to tweak the script so there’s versions of the thing that can play to tiny (sub-five people) audiences just in case that happpens. That’s fine, I’m actually excited for that, it’ll be good for me. That said I’ll gonna try to really DO the promotion and social media stuff this time. I have lots of help this time, I can do it. Whatever happens it’ll make the next thing easier. Man I’m looking forward to the couple of weeks in Melbourne, there’s some people up there I’d love to collaborate with while I’m there. No wait, bad Nick. Focus on this one thing, for once in your life.

Threats- That NZ Fringe performance got a bad review. People will see it, maybe it’ll come up ahead of the good reviews. Some of it was just the reviewers’ taste but more of it was that I didn’t meet the task of performing to a tiny crowd. CANNOT HAPPEN AGAIN. I LOVE TINY CROWDS. WILL ROCK THEIR LIVES WITH INTIMATE INTENSITY. I HOPE IT’S ALL TINY CROWDS, CAN’T WAIT. Also the same old threat that the total potential crowd for a sci-fi black comedy cabaret is limited, but look I refuse to admit that.

Don’t Let Your Blood Cool Down

I Need You All Gone Crazy

I Think You Understand

I Think You Want It Maybe

It’s Like A War In Heaven

Bomb_Collar_Credit-Adam_ThomasImage By Adam Thomas

So I’m thrilled and daunted to announce that the one-man sci-fi black comedy cabaret show that I’ve spent the best part of the last two years developing and touring has secured a seven-night season in the Melbourne Fringe Hub (The Parlour Room to be exact). Tickets on sale here.

Regular Lick-Nuke-ers have followed Bomb Collar’s genesis from a seed of an idea through development shows in Newcastle, Manila and Wellington to it’s Proper Debut as part of The Public Theatre program in Canberra late last year. Still, it’s feels like the rubber only really hits the road from now. I’ll have seven nights in which to make crowds laugh, cry and sing-along to the bleak adventures of the Last Pop Singer Alive, armed with only myself, a handsome-if-aging 30-seat theatre space and around $150 of lo-fi sound and lighting effects strapped to my body. I invite readers to follow me for the next six weeks as I focus up and hunker down.

I’m gonna share a few lyrics from one of the songs from the show in every post. This one was written long before our main characters birth, by someone whose peaceful-but-drab life in the deep sea colonies had them questioning what lay above.

Who built the lens at the top of the tank

That filters the sunlight down?

Who let us know that there’s more than this ocean

And made a boy dream of the ground?

Far from these trenches that stretch through the deep

There’s lands that are dry and flat

Why let us know it

Why make me dream of that?

 

 

 

 

 

 

WRX

Noted is Canberra’s independent festival of writing and writers. Nick Delatovic is a writer who likes to create insane challenges for himself. Put them together and you have Writers Room X, a week-long experiment in content creation/sanity destruction that begins this Sunday.

Like many folks I dream of being part of a professional TV writers room. Like many folks, I’m far removed from this scenario becoming reality. Unlike many folks I lack the maturity to accept my lot in life, so I convinced the producers of Noted to let me try and create my dream right here in Canberra.

I’ve selected a team of 5 writers (half from an open public callout, half from just approaching people I’ve been wanting to work with) plus myself. We haven’t all met in person yet, but from Sunday we’re going to be shut in a room together where we’ll write full scripts for a six-part web series from scratch. They’ll be a public reading of the scripts the following Sunday, whether we’re ready or not.

I have no doubt that we’ll succeed in completing the scripts. The question is, can we make them good in just 7 days? I’m way too pretentious to just have a bit of fun with this, I want to create something that’s going to actually be shot and turn out well. I’ve got a killer batch of writers, so probably the whole thing hinges on how well I facilitate as the nominal ‘showrunner’. We’ll seeeeeeeeeeeeeee!

Noted also have me curating an event called Binge Watch, a panel discussion in which clips from TV shows are screened and dissected on writing grounds. As you can imagine, I’ve been waaaaay overthinking the choice of clips.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Bomb Collar NZ 2

Here are some nicely blurry phone photos of my recent weekend in Wellington, where I performed two nights of Bomb Collar in the bar area of the Vogelmorn Bowling Club. VBC is the home of Barbarian Productions, a multidisciplinary troupe who’ve carved out an delightfully fruity arts hub within the leafy paradise that is suburban Wellington.

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Luckily the bowls club aesthetic is still strongly in evidence. It was fun to take the show back into ad hoc site-specific territory after the relative slickness of my Public Theatre season. I also got to debut some extensions to the ‘set’ in the form of portable lighting units created by Adam ‘My Light In The Darkness’ Thomas. I’ll go into more detail about those when I have some better photos, and maybe even get Adam to do a guest blog (that’s right Adam, I’m calling you out!)

I also got to do my alternate 20-minute time-travel-y version of the show as a late night Fringe Club slot. This version is a LOT looser and impro-y, all the better for rowdier late-night crowds, and my crowdwork skills have definitely improved somewhat. As in, they actually exist now. I couldn’t have achieved any of it without production costumer/co-star/emergency front of house and production assistant Adelaide Rief. Adelaide features in the show as battalion commander who introduces me to her troops (aka the audience) at the start of the show, a device that’s allowed me to effectively address so many of the expositional challenges inherent to a dystopian sci-fi cabaret musical.

My bowling club crowd was at least half made up of grandparents and grandchildren, not a crowd I would have thought to proactively court. It felt like a well-timed challenge to play to a less artsy demographic and the show seemed to play well. New Zealanders are so lovely that it’s hard to tell, but I think the 14-year old boys in the audience were vibing pretty hard on the sci-fi elements.

I’m toying with the idea of a Melbourne season next, I think I want to go extra-gritty with the location. Maybe a supermaket back dock.Bomb Collar NZ 1

 

 

 

 

Digby and I performed our Words On A Wire piece last Thursday.

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Entitled EP42 (Elvis Has Not Left The Building), it takes the form of a pseudo-lecture, backed by downtempo and acid tracks.

 

The genesis of the piece was the phrase ‘Elvis has not left the building’ getting lodged in my head. I began riffing on different ways this sentence could be true – commercially, culturally, metaphysically, et cetera. I didn’t know where I was going with it, but after about five build-ups, I knew the payoff had to be big. And then it hit me – the reason Elvis had not left the building was simply literal – he was there that night and ready to perform.

 

In the whole piece, but especially this overture, the writing is as verbose and flowery as I could manage. I was aiming for Humbert Humbert, and trying to evoke the same sense of overkill as the first chapter of Moby Dick, where Ishmael lists example after example of how humans are drawn to water (if you haven’t heard Tilda Swinton read it, do so now).

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From here, the piece goes into a tangent on where Elvis Presley has been post-1977, mixing conspiracy theories, facts, actual recordings, Cold War paranoia, and a large measure of the absurd. In short, I play a journalist who invents a hoax around Elvis’ death, before I slowly lose my mind and convince myself my made-up conspiracy theory is true. The twist comes at the end when I reveal that I am in fact Elvis Presley – it’s left open whether this is true (at least true for the story-world), or another example of my fractured consciousness.

 

It’s a post-modern conceit, and I sought to make it work on multiple levels. Take this excerpt:

Far more appealing would be to enter the mind of the paranoid fantasist, take a theory at random and argue its validity, to systematically prove it possible and thereby show how porous the border between fact and fiction actually is. My goal was for the reader to enter the article with a sense of incredulity, and then over the course of the piece, turn their mind from ire to wonder, from refutation to speculation, before finally, I would admit the entire exercise to be itself an elaborate hoax.

 

This is what my journalist character was seeking to do within the story AND also what I was trying to do reading aloud the piece on the night. It’s something I’ve inherited from some of my favourite authors, like Jorge Luis Borges and Grant Morrison, and is showing up more and more in my writing (my murder mystery musical is another meta-piece where the night goes off-script and someone starts literally killing the band, before it concludes with three possible endings and leaves it to the audience to decide which one is true).

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Digby was a great collaborator and mega-supportive of the concept from the get-go. We’ve become good friends – in fact all six of us performing that night have bonded and begun hanging out. Digby’s music provided a lavish counterpoint to the story, and subtly gets darker and trippier as the story does.

 

When I started the writing, I hadn’t solved how (or even if) Elvis Presley was actually going to perform that night. That came after talking about it with Lou and we hit on the idea that I could reveal I was Elvis. It was perfectly ridiculous and cracked me up just to think about it – I took it as the endpoint and started working backwards. That’s how this piece came together – the beginning, then the end, and lastly I filled in the middle.

 

The piece concludes with me singing Are You Lonesome Tonight? under a lone spotlight. I gotta say, it was one of the best singing experiences I’ve had. I added in some understated Elvis vocal inflections and mannerisms as the song progressed (an upturned shirt collar, a shake of the knees). The audience reception was fantastic. And getting to be the King? Even if for just one song? Incredible.

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If you’d like to read the story, it’s available here:

EP42 (Elvis Has Not Left The Building) by Luke McGrath

Best listened to with some Bottlebrush playing.

As a post-script to the whole month of workshopping and performance, it wasn’t until yesterday that I came across this article on Orion, whose tale is nearly as crazy as the story I concocted. I’m looking forward to the upcoming documentary!

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Lastly, I was fortunate enough to have small roles in the other two productions on the night – including dad-dancing/blissing out to Fossil Rabbit. A magnificent night.

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All photos by Adam Thomas

 

Bomb Collar Public 1It’s been a full year since I started touring Bomb Collar, my one-man science fiction cabaret musical. I’ve done the show in a storeroom full of pigeon feathers in Newcastle, in a 100-year-old puppetry theatre in Manila, in a live music venue in Belgrade and in a shipping container decorated in animal heads in a Melbourne park. None of these were as nerve-wracking as doing the show in my home-town.

The Public Theatre is the brainchild of Julian Hobba and his Aspen Island Theatre Company. A two-week outdoor theatre festival staged in a purpose-built temporary theatre space right outside the Canberra Theatre Centre, the whole thing was curated with an aggressive commitment to the experimental. I couldn’t resist the chance to perform there, even though it cut against the militant zero-external-tech approach I’ve taken to Bomb Collar so far.

Bomb Collar Public 3Of course once I was into it the chance to augment my costume/instrument with full-blown theatrical lighting was wonderful. At this stage the script has become a sort of mental deck of cards that I can slightly reshuffle in the moment, and the festival techs did a miraculous job of improvising cues with me on the fly. I was the ‘after hours’ show on three consecutive nights and fluked some beautifully warm weather. The space, while much bigger than I’ve had for this show before, was still intimate enough for me to zero in on individual crowd members with ease. There was something great about having open sky above me while insisting to the audience that we were deep beneath the sea.

I’ve had a year to monkey with the performance and expositional challenges of the play and I can really see that work starting to pay off. The succinct description of the basic plot in this City News review gave me a huge sense of relief. Talking to people afterwards it seems that the (pretty involved) story world of the play is communicating clearly to people regardless of how many sci-fi reference points they might already have in their head. At least enough for people to be able to comfortably engage with the live character journey.  I like to think that improvements in my acting have make as much of a difference to this as tweaks to the script.

Next stop for the show is New Zealand Fringe in February. Now that the story side of the work has leveled up somewhat the production team (Adam Thomas, Paul Heslin and Sam King) and I are keen to push the envelope with the nature of the Bomb Collar itself. If you missed this run don’t sweat it, the longer you take to catch the show the weirder it’ll be!

Bomb Collar Public 2Photos by Luuuuuuuke McGrath!