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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.

Bomb Collar NZ 3

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!

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was elated to be asked to participate in the Words On A Wire series being held at the Ainslie & Gorman House Arts Centres. The event involves pairing a writer and a musician to create a twenty minute collaborative work, to be performed live at the Ralph Wilson theatre. It’s inspired by the rise of storytelling podcasts and other mixed-medium formats.

Luke McGrath - photo by Adam Thomas

I’ve been paired with musician Digby Tomes. We had not met until onstage last week, where we (and the four other participants in this series) shared a short example of our work. I read a short story I wrote while in Edinburgh, heavily inspired by Lorrie Moore and Richard Brautigan.

Digby Tomes - photo by Adam Thomas

The program director also provided each coupling with an image from the Ainslie & Gorman House Arts Centres’ archives, a ‘provocation’ to use as a starting point for the piece. Ours is a still from a 1988 production of The Emperor’s New Clothes, by the Canberra Youth Theatre.

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I’ve begun work on an exciting idea, and I’m especially keen to see how it works with Digby’s music.

Oh, and this is the photo I sent them for my writer’s bio…

Luke McGrath Words On A Wire

 As I write this it’s a cool sunny day in Zemun. I’m sitting by the water eating one more heavy Balkan lunch, and I’ve never felt more exhausted in my life. 11 wrestling sessions in 15 days, topped off by a raucous gig at KC Grad last night. Not exactly trench warfare but I’ve felt like I was operating at my limits for the whole time.

 I know I’ve been circumspect about the nature of my project, if you’re wondering exactly WHY I felt the need to come here and do this then trust me, your polite bemusement has been shared by my gracious hosts. All I can say at this point is that I came here still not sure if there was really an effective piece of theatre to be made by me about wrestling, and now I’m positive that there is.
I couldn’t have done it without my endlessly generous hosts, both at the wrestling club and at KC Grad, without a doubt the most inspiring arts venue I’ve ever seen.

 Speaking of KC Grad, my set there last night was an absolute highlight of my performing life and that was largely thanks to my new friend llija Ludvig. llija is a Belgrade local and a singer/songwriter of rare vitality and talent. He’s also a huge presence on stage and off. Our collaboration was brokered by Ljudmila at KC Grad llija agreed to help me put a set together without meeting me first, and with one rehearsal he was playing my songs better than I do. I was lucky enough to see him play his own set twice while I was here, and I can’t wait to track his output in the future.  As for the wrestling, I don’t know how to encapsulate the experience of training the sport of I love, in a language I don’t know, to a level of intensity I’ve never experienced (but which I run-of-the-mill for my hosts). Luckily my whole project hangs on me eventually working out how to do so. Here is a photo of me with my main training partner Miljane at the end of my final session, my bedragglement probably speaks for itself.

 Nick here, saluting you from Sunnyish Serbia! I’m here for a 3 weeks as artist-in-residence for KC Grad, a simply delightful multi-arts venue who are acting as my patron and guide to the wonders of my grandfathers’ culture.
So this is the first time I’ve had to resort to taking my own photos on an arts trip, and my shortcomings have swiftly become apparent, as this poorly framed shot of Tvoje Lice Mi Je Pozano, the currant KC Grad installation work, attests:

 I’m here to train with a Serbian wrestling club, write about the experience and interview the wrestlers, as research for a multi-year theatre project. I know that may sound like I’ve used my status as a theatre-maker to wrangle a cheap wrestling camp for myself, but I assure you that that’s only part of what’s going on here. This will likely be the most personal project I’ve ever done, and considering how self-indulgent my art usually is that’s saying something.

The indie-arts scene here is vibrant and unique, and I’m trying to see as many gigs and events as my post-training fatigue will allow for. So far my hot music tips are an electro act called Lira Vega and a wonderful experimental noise artist called Svetlana Maras. I’ll do another update toward the end of my trip, providing I survive training!

Most readers know Joyce modelled Ulysses on The Odyssey – lesser known is that he based each section on an organ in the body. It’s irrelevant to your enjoyment of the novel, but it helped him structure his work. I’m a structuralist – I can’t work without parameters. It’s why formats like screenplays appeal to me, and why I self-impose restrictions like an album of one minute songs.

FFA MURDER

L’Assassiner de Faux Faux Amis is similar – an opportunity to work within (and against) the tropes of the murder mystery genre. Still, it didn’t gel until I overlaid another level of structure. In this case, the perfect through-line for a show about death was the five stages of grief. Each stage became an act heading, and gave me a framework (and confidence) I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Many of them only influence the narrative laterally (‘Part 4 – Depression’ incorporates a blues song), but I found them handy to guide the progression and choose the right place for each reveal in the story. The audience never see this scaffolding, or at least that was my intention – Faux Faux Amis think it might be neat to screen them like silent movie title cards behind the performance.

I’m working on my first (non-musical) play right now, and I’m this close to nutting out the structure, to finding the right model with which to box myself in. Once I have that, I can take my piles of notes and start seeing what fits and what doesn’t.