Date Published: Tuesday, 23 April 13
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 3 weeks, 5 days ago
By this point – 195 years after the novel was first published, 82 years after the most famous film adaption – it is impossible to walk into a production titled FRANKENSTEIN with a completely open mind. We've got neck-bolts and lightning bolts and poorly articulated sentiments (‘friend, good; fire, bad’) rattling around in our collective unconscious. We somehow know the plot without having read Mary Shelley's novel. We've got (gasp!) expectations.
'Usually in the films,' says director Mark Kilmurry, 'the Hammer films or the Universal films, or even the more recent films, we follow Victor Frankenstein.' Shelley's novel did the same, tucking narrators inside each other like nesting dolls; the Creature's story, told inside Frankenstein's story, being told to an explorer he meets in the prologue. 'We're following his progress, the nature and nurture of it: if we treat people badly, this is what they will turn out to be.'
Adapted for the stage by English playwright Nick Dear, this incarnation turns its focus to the anxieties of the newborn, abandoned creature, rather than listening solely to the 'unsympathetic and selfish' woes of mad scientist Victor. 'I've described him to Andrew Henry, who's playing Victor, as a sort of “IT guy” – the sort of guys who are so into IT, there's nothing else on the horizon for them. [Victor's] like that: absolutely obsessed with what he's got to do, and everybody else – family, friends – falls apart behind him, but he has to drive through. He's created a human being; I mean, that's a lot to cope with.'
But it's the Creature, both Dear and Kilmurry believe, who will be of more interest to the audience. 'We see his journey, from being born into being an adult; born as an adult and grown into being an adult.' This adaptation, Kilmurry argues, 'gives the Creature a real voice.' Shelley's flowery prose seemed a bit unbelievable on the tongue of what was basically a fully grown two-year-old; Kilmurry and the actors – not just Lee Jones, who plays the lead – worked intensively on getting themselves into the mindset of the Creature at the moment of his birth. 'It was a lot of intense workshops, with everyone being the Creature and being blindfolded and tied up. For about two weeks we explored the nature of being born an adult, and how you would learn to walk and how you would learn to communicate. It was interesting to focus on all those physical elements.
'I think people think of the Boris Karloff bolts, of the earlier Frankenstein films and that sort of gore. It has been made into horror films before but it's not really horror; it's more of a thriller. He's the Creature and we know what he will become, but Nick Dear has given it a fresh perspective.'
Frankenstein is showing at The Street Theatre, Sun-Sat May 7-11 at 7:30pm, with an additional matinee performance on Sunday May 11 at 2pm. Tickets are $35-$45 + bf from thestreet.org.au.
Date Published: Tuesday, 26 February 13
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 2 months, 3 weeks ago
HAPPY BIRTHDAY, CANBERRA: HERE, HAVE A COMEDY FESTIVAL
For two people responsible for starting a comedy festival, Tim Duck and Jay Sullivan are very serious people. They inspire hyphenated adjectives such as ‘business-like’ and ‘no-nonsense’. Their conversation is peppered with boardroom phrases like 'personal development' and they say things like 'going forward' un-ironically. Maybe this is a side-effect of bringing the laughs to the seat of parliament – or maybe they just take their comedy really seriously.
Their favourite word, when it comes to talking about the inaugural CANBERRA COMEDY FESTIVAL, launched in the middle of the centenary celebrations, is curated. Duck, the festival director, says it with conviction: 'We are curated,' he says, 'and we are going to stick to keeping it curated.' As artistic director, Sullivan utters it in more hushed, reverent tones. 'It's the only curated comedy festival in Australia,' he says, quietly proud.
It doesn't sound like much, but Sullivan's carefully selected line-up is something of a revolution in how Australian comedy festivals are run. Both men are critical of how other festivals – like the Melbourne International Comedy Festival – make it harder for new acts to break into the international circuit. 'I don't know if you've ever been to the Melbourne one,' says Duck, 'but it is massive. And it is cool, but also there's like 150 shows a night, and there are pros and cons that come with having something that size. We don't ever want to be that thing. We don't want to be that big, massive monster; we just want to have a quality festival that puts on a good amount of shows for the size of our community.'
Sullivan agrees, saying the boutique nature of the Canberra Comedy Festival will give local acts an opportunity to see how festivals work. 'They're not just going to Melbourne and just losing heaps of money. Because that's a reality for a Canberra comedian. "Oh yeah, go down to Melbourne and do a show where nobody knows who you are, where you've got to pay money to get into the festival in the first place, where you're away from your home for four weeks so you've got accommodation and all the expenses that go along with that." Just to chance your arm as a comedian down there, you're competing against hundreds of other shows. So with our festival the audiences are better off because the quality is there; the comedians are better off because they're not competing with every man and his dog that's putting on a show.'
Purposefully slotting their festival in between the Adelaide Fringe and the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, the guys hope future festivals will attract some of the bigger names that often skip over the capital. 'Stephen K. Amos has never been here; he's an internationally recognised performer, he's well respected in the industry and, you know, big tick in the box, he's never been here. Akmal [Saleh] hasn't been here for three years, [and] this will be the first time he's done his full-blown proper theatre show in Canberra. And that's what it basically came down to: looking at quality performers who we knew Canberra would be hungry to see ‘cos they weren't here five minutes ago.'
For every out-of-towner act in the inaugural Canberra Comedy Festival – from Tripod to Stephen K. Amos – there is an equal and opposite local support act. 'It's one of the things I'm probably happiest with in terms of my artistic direction for the festival,' Sullivan says. 'Every show has got a local supporter – even the local shows have had to go and find someone else who’s not doing a show.' The local emphasis benefits the audience as well as the performers, Sullivan argues. 'It happens with me all the time; because I'm based here, and I actually live here, I don't write the usual Canberra jokes about roundabouts and fireworks and Fyshwick and whatever. I write jokes about actual, specific Canberra things that you have to be a local to get.'
Both Duck and Sullivan are passionate defenders of the Canberra comedy scene, which they know firsthand – Duck has been running the Comedy Club at the Civic Pub for three years, having been hooked into doing sound for them nearly six years ago by Canberra-based stand-up Sullivan – to be a thriving one. Tickets to the opening night gala sold out in under a fortnight.
'The hardest thing has been just getting people to believe that we're serious about what we're doing and that we know what we're doing,' says Sullivan. Duck and Sullivan's curation of the festival has been carefully calculated, and drawing on their industry expertise and contacts, they've endeavoured to create a festival good enough to guarantee it will become an annual event. 'There's definitely an audience for comedy in Canberra, there's definitely the need to have a comedy festival here; but I figured that people wouldn't just come and if they got burnt, and it was an awful show, then they might not come back, so we had to make sure we had quality acts.' Ultimately, Sullivan just wants to make sure that 'Canberra knows we're not going anywhere.'
The Canberra Comedy Festival 2013 runs Tue-Sat March 19-23 across various venues. Tickets and more info can be found at canberracomedyfestival.com.au.
BETWEEN THE DESERT AND THE FOREST
'It's so hairy,' says Ruby. 'You lose a lot of paint.' There's a pause as we both let that statement sink in. 'But I've always wanted to do it.'
Artist RUBY GREEN paints on velvet (what were you thinking?) – rich, textured, greedy velvet that sucks up her paint as she works. Her paintings contemplate the often fraught body and the landscape it inhabits. Her first solo exhibition, The Complementary Woman, opens this Valentine's Day at Canberra Contemporary Art Space in Manuka. It is a sharply contrasted semi-autobiographical narrative of Ruby's life, full of the blue-greens of her south east, mountain-meets-the-shore childhood and her burnt red, dried out desert gap year.
The body is everywhere in her work: small, pale figures that traipse up and down the horizon and wend their way down into the foreground. 'If I were to paint a landscape without people in it, it would feel like I was objectifying the landscape, or pushing it back... I grew up in the bush and the bush is really important to me. It's a story that I feel is very common, that a lot of people have this. Australia... [has] always been a landscape nation or a bush nation, but now we're becoming a lot more urban and the relationship to the landscape is—' Ruby pauses, momentarily distracted, but I think the word she was searching for was 'changing'.
The bulk of the work displayed in The Complementary Woman was created during Ruby's residency with the Canberra Contemporary Art Space. Ruby and her fellow CCAS residents (class of 2012) are combining their talents for this year's Blaze, an annual exhibition dedicated to emerging Canberra artists.
While Ruby (somewhat sheepishly) admits that she didn't have much interaction with the other artists working alongside her Gorman House studio these past six months, she does describe them as 'united [by] our anxieties’ – namely, climate change. 'I grew up in the ‘80s and most of the people doing the residency this year grew up in the ‘80s. I feel like we were probably one of the first generations to really get educated about the impact that we as individuals can have on the environment. And I guess that there's a cycle of anxiety that our planet was not going to stay safe forever, and that we were really vulnerable... storms and droughts and things... nature was something to be feared rather than something we have power over; it has a lot of power over us.'
Ruby's art is about the idea of ‘home’: the when and the where, and how it will be in the years to come; how we ought to take care of it. Home is not easily defined. Even Ruby admits, 'I don't know,' and adds, 'Somewhere between the desert and the forest.'
The Complementary Woman opens Thursday February 14, 6pm, at CCAS Manuka. Free entry, food & drinks! Blaze 7 opens Wednesday February 20, 6pm, at ANCA Gallery, Dickson. Free entry.
Date Published: Tuesday, 4 December 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 5 months, 2 weeks ago
Wed-Sat Nov 21-24
Private Lives is everything one would expect from a Noël Coward play: quick, abundantly dry-witted and delightfully flippant. The theatre meets the sitcom in 90 minutes of sheer awkwardness. After all, what could be more uncomfortable – for everyone involved – than checking into your honeymoon suite and finding your ex-wife right next door? Oh, and she's on her honeymoon too. Brilliant. In circumstances like these, there's nothing to do but laugh.
Coward's script certainly provides ample opportunity for that, with quips, puns and diffidently delivered lines coming fast and thick from the very minute the house lights abruptly drop. Private Lives follows lead man Elyot (played by Toby Schmitz: clearly, from the way he gets all the best lines, the Coward-analogue of the piece) as he abandons his highly-strung bride, Sybil, for his equally difficult ex, Amanda, who in turn is ditching the straight-laced Victor, in order to give Elyot the second chance he most certainly does not deserve.
The blonde, clingy Sybil is a rather one-dimensional creation, but she's played to over-the-top perfection by Eloise Mignon. The same can be said for Toby Truslove's laughably proper Victor. Elyot's insistence that flippancy is the only way to deal with the absurdities of life – even when it makes him behave callously – makes Victor all the more appealing; perhaps by virtue of saying very little, Truslove gets the only truly sympathetic character of the whole rotten lot.
While almost every character is deliberately unlikeable, it seemed especially implausible that anyone would seek a reconciliation with Amanda based on Zahra Newman's thoroughly off-putting portrayal of her. Unlike the others, she left little space in between harsh, smug lines to create any sympathy for the character. Her inconsistent accent was also distracting; she veered from British to Aussie to twangy New Yorker throughout the night and often within the space of a sentence.
The strength of Private Lives rests in Coward's writing, his script offering a scathing examination of Elyot and Amanda's so-called love. They are a volatile pair, parting and reuniting at the turn of every phrase. Favouring content over packaging, the set designers and costumers took a modern, minimalist approach, but it was disappointing to see the cast contribute very little of themselves and rely instead on Coward's punchlines to see them through. The production took an innovative twist when, during one of their many self-imposed silences (designed to stop themselves bickering), Amanda and Elyot launched into a side-splitting bout of air-bassing and air-drumming to In The Air Tonight. Oh Lord – I never thought I'd find myself enjoying Phil Collins.
Although fun to watch and easy to laugh at, the circular nature of the script – and the irredeemable, spineless characters of Elyot and Amanda – tend to leave one feeling a tad empty. Even while wiping the grin off one's face.
@ Ainslie Arts Centre, Saturday November 10
A small crowd forms on the steps of the old school, a mess of bloodstains and oozing wounds, corsets and camouflage; zombies, vampires, killer robots, soldiers, bridal gowns and rented tuxedos. A man in too-short trousers and Coke bottle glasses tugs at his bowtie and adjusts his sandwich-board sign: THE END IS NIGH. Crowd members nervously compliment each other on their costumes as a brown-suited man addresses the crowd, ‘Congratulations, Class of 2012! You made it!’
The graduates are admitted into the hallways of the Ainslie Arts Centre and they form a queue that winds past the punch bowl and a row of old bubblers. As they wait to be let into the main hall, a fire alarm begins to sound. Unsurprisingly, no one reacts. We think it's all part of the show until the actual firemen show up – but as our brown-suited MC (who seems to be the principal) reassures us, ‘What's a prom without a good story to tell?’
This is exactly the message that our entertainment for the evening, the apocalyptic indie-rock local legends The Last Prom, have taken to heart. Their final show is an end-of-the-world extravaganza that the band has been building towards in the 18 months since their formation. Bloodstained couples have their prom picture snapped by the doorway and the hall has been suitably decorated, presumably by a high school committee: pink and blue balloons, ruffles of brightly coloured tissue paper. It's all about the story, the experience. The audience is 17 again, spiking the punch and making out in corners. DJ Dead Joke, whose bookend sets include remixes of The Doors' The End, warms the crowd up into a dancing mood.
The Last Prom's last prom comes with a graphic novel programme for those who wanted to follow along, but the basic storyline is this: the Antichrist has a band and the Four Horsemen are in it. Pestilence plays bass guitar, Famine is on lead, War is a kick-ass drummer and Death can play both piano and keytar. Premiering – on this, the last night on Earth – a selection of brand new material, the AC falls in love with Death (who’s in disguise) and unwittingly sacrifices himself as he brings about the world's doom.
There are songs for each of the Horsemen (Famine's The Hunger Only Makes It Harder being particularly noteworthy) and demon-hipster chicks who lead the audience in increasingly frenzied dance. There is love, there is rock, there are lies, there is a coordinated dance routine, there is audience participation, there are awkward, admonishing speeches from the principal and there is that prevailing sense that the end of high school is the end of your life.
The tightly-scripted show was dramatically engaging and artfully realised, though Death's soft voice was occasionally overpowered by heavy guitar and crashing drums. A more charismatic frontman than Nick Delatovic's Antichrist would be hard to come by. At the end of the night, he kissed each of his bandmates goodbye, before being poisoned by Death's kiss. Watching his lifeless corpse being carried from the stage was a truly heart-stopping moment. It was easy to believe, just for an instant, that the world might really be ending and that we'd all danced our way through it. After the death scene, the remaining band members dropped their instruments one by one, until only Death (the inimitable Julia Johnson) was left singing by herself.
It was a beautiful night for the world to end on.
In the stairwell halfway between Ha Ha Bar and La De Da hang two enormous paintings. In the first, a yellow and black trio – a cat, a dog and a spaceman – glare at each other from different corners of the blue background. The second piece is a little harder to read at first glance. It is mostly black, curled lines crawling over white space, looping in on themselves and pressing up against the massive crazed bear at the centre of the piece, whose thick red tongue hangs out as his ribcage is cracked open to reveal a coquettish, fully-bearded lady with a finger pressed to her lips. ‘Ah, the two winners,’ says Bobby Kennedy, looking up at these collaborative works from the foot of the stairs. ‘I wonder where the others are?’
Bobby is one of the many names behind COMMIT NO NUISANCE, a collective formed of some of the big blog and event teams in Canberra: Daddy Issues, Party By Jake and the newly-minted Us Folk magazine crew. Together they’re responsible for Live Art Battles: events where duelling trios of artists frantically slap paint, marker ink and whatever else they feel like onto a canvas in a bid for the affection of the audience (the winners are decided by a vote). ‘It’s not really an event run by anyone, if that makes sense,’ says Bobby. ‘The reason we decided to go with the Commit No Nuisance name, rather than the Daddy Issues or the Party By Jake or the Us Folk name, is that they’re all very “run by people”. And it’s been hard to do. It’s been hard to tell people that I really want anyone to be able to input into this. It’s hard to organise, logistically, but that’s what I’d really like: a big group of people that are organising an event that they feel like they own.’
Street artist Alyce Bell – the sexy bearded lady-creator herself – has been swept up into the project, going from a battling artist to a full-fledged directorial team member. ‘Once I wasn’t in it anymore, I still wanted to have my way with it,’ she purrs in a mock-seductive voice. To Alyce, the experience of painting in the public eye is an integral part of street art. ‘A lot of the time you sit by yourself and you do your art and it’s nice and it’s yours, but it’s really nice to be able to share it with other people, to see that they appreciate it. You’re sitting there drawing and you hear the little chink of people dropping tokens [voting] and you feel like a busker. It’s like art busking. It feels good, every time. You can lose yourself between the art and the canvas and the music.’
Getting notoriously secretive artists involved in such a public display of artistic affection has been a challenge. Bobby and Alyce discuss Abyss – notorious in the Canberra graffiti landscape, who insisted on covering his face in event photos – and compare him to other, less publicity-shy participants. ‘I think Jess Mess thrives on people watching her work,’ says Alyce. ‘It goes with her style as well, because it’s really erratic and feverish and just having people watch her would only drive that.’
Googling Commit No Nuisance will get you nowhere, nor will visiting any of the blogs involved. Bobby has avoided creating a web presence in favour of a street campaign; a team bonding exercise in which all of the artists involved create Commit No Nuisance paste-ups to plaster all over Canberra. In particular, the group have staked their claim on a pillar underneath the Gungahlin Drive Extension; a two-metre-high canvas they regularly use to advertise the next event. It’s all part of the collective’s ethic: to get all the creatives they can find in a room together and watch the art unfold.
‘[Commit No Nuisance] started out as an attempt to bring the culture that exists in Canberra, that no one is really focusing on, to the forefront,’ explains Bobby. ‘It’s something that’s really frustrating to me that there’s actually a lot of interesting, cool things happening in Canberra that a lot of people don’t see, and just see this boring public service town where nothing really happens. [Commit No Nuisance] plays off these old British signs that say “Commit No Nuisance”, pretty much a “No Loitering” kind of thing, but they got turned into a pop icon and came to represent the opposite of that. So we thought we’d pick up with that idea and run with the parody that in Canberra they might want us to “Commit No Nuisance” – but we’re actually gonna do as much as we can.’
Though the Live Art Battles favour street art, the organisers often throw a more traditional artist into the mix. ‘I think it’s more about the culture behind it than about whether you’ve actually got stickers and paste-ups and graffiti out on the street,’ Alyce explains. ‘It’s a kind of raw integrity to their work.’ The ‘ticking clock effect’ – whether a timer at a Live Art Battle or the risk of cops coming round the corner – is a crucial ingredient to the success of the Commit No Nuisance style. ‘It always ends up being a lot more personal,’ Alyce continues. ‘It’s not something that you have a lot of time to sit there and plan for ages, to look at something and try and copy it. It’s just something that comes straight out of you and onto the page or onto the wall or wherever it goes. It’s a lot more subconscious. It’s got a different pulse.’
Commit No Nuisance will hold another Live Art Battle on Friday December 21 at La De Da Bar, Belconnen. Keep an eye out for their paste-ups for more details.
Date Published: Tuesday, 6 November 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 6 months, 2 weeks ago
@ ANU Bar, Thursday November 1
No less than 113 beards (eight falsies, but points for trying) were counted in the swarm of people pushing through the doors of the ANU Bar. Honourable mentions go to the girl with the knitted beard and Viking beanie ensemble and the couple who had clearly knitted their own beards, possibly having only encountered the concept of knitting the day before. The security guards who had beards were treated with far more deference than the hairless variety, and the merch guy looked like Animal from The Muppets.
It didn't stop there. One-man-band wonder Kim Churchill, who opened the show, had clearly grown a beard during the tour in order to gain the trust of his hirsute overlords. In a spot of dexterous multi-tasking, Churchill wielded his acoustic guitar, harmonica, drumming and distortion pedals in a manner that would have left the members of John Butler Trio and Mumford & Sons wondering if that one night of passion had actually led to the production of this scruffy, cherub-haired boy on stage. His set was an endearing combination of experimental folk and good old-fashioned prison blues.
As The Beards frontman said himself, the next band – rock outfit The Snowdroppers – was only 50% awesome (read: 50% bearded). My impression of them was a little more charitable, though I couldn't quite shake the image of the ZZ Top cameo in Back To The Future III out of my head. They were a strange combination of rock and folk, with banjo and harmonica smashed face-first into thrashy guitar and hip-rollingly good basslines and just a dash (i.e. the lead singer) of Elvis Presley thrown in for good measure.
Then the lights went down. The essential bit of machinery for any novelty band – the smoke machine – whirred into life. An ominous voice came over the speakers: ‘It is the year 2012,’ it boomed, ‘and mankind is all but extinct. On this night, a few survivors gather in a decrepit ruin of a building once known as ANU Bar...’ And with a scream like Jack Black on a full moon, The Beards launched into their first song – I'm In The Mood... For Beards – at a furiously scruffy pace. What followed was a surprisingly educational gig. There were lectures on the appropriate amount of facial hair (with accompanying gift certificates and public shaming of the smooth-chinned), social commentary (the anti-anti-beard policy anthems I Won't Shave and Beards Across Australia Unite), demonstrations of proper beard-grooming (only if you paid close attention to the drummer though, who took to combing his beard in between songs) and, at its core, a simple message: 'No Beard, No Good'.
What really raised my eyebrows was the high standard of songs. You'd think there were only so many times you could make the same joke funny, but The Beards hit the same punch line over and over, managing to still convince the listener that they were telling an entirely new joke. I was blown away by the band's beardified folk song, Big Bearded Bruce, a sinister tale punctuated with a saxophone solo, but I completely lost my capacity for words when the lead singer performed a keytar solo while a leaf blower sent his beard streaming majestically over his shoulder. The crowd, naturally, completely lost its shit when said keytar solo morphed into the hit, Sex With A Bearded Man, to close out the night.
All in all, there's only one thing to be said about the show – and I'm quoting the singer directly when I say it – 'This was a song about beards. Goodnight!'
Date Published: Tuesday, 23 October 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 6 months, 4 weeks ago
The Street Theatre
Thu-Fri October 11-19
You enter the theatre and this is what you see: four people, two men and two women, seated in a row on the far side of the stage. The floor is strewn with little white notecards, each with a single word written on them, illegible from this distance. You can't tell exactly what is going to happen; some of the actors tilt their faces to the light and smile delirious smiles, others hide their faces and stare at their shoes. The house lights fall and the audience holds their breath. A long moment passes and then a sudden movement, expected but still startling when it finally happens. A woman rises, plucks a card from the floor and pins it to the wall. A camera somewhere is trained on it and projects its image onto the back wall of the theatre, the screen for the evening. You can finally read what it says.
Our Shadows Pass Only Once is an experimental play created and performed by an almost entirely local cast and crew. Playwright David Temme separates the play into fifteen vignettes, each heralded by an actor pinning another card to the wall; they read ‘LOVE’ or ‘HOPE’, and sometimes darker things like ‘BLOODY WATER’. These cards thematically unify the play, drawing it together with a significant word rather than distinct acts. The play is slow-paced, sometimes painfully so, though ultimately the way the actors move as though they are underwater carefully builds tension and cleverly emphasises the importance of each action. Every embrace, every turned head, every quivering hand, has meaning, and the actors physically convey this without ever overplaying it.
The play examines the difficulties of intimacy, communication and love. Its characters are suicidal, violent, uncertain and afraid. It focuses on two couples, who simultaneously perform their separate storylines on the same small stage, and as the play unfolds the anxieties of the two couples overlap. At times I was not sure if they were meant to be different people or if they were the same couple at different times – a nagging thought that was never clarified.
This is the central difficulty with Our Shadows. Temme's script occasionally sacrifices clarity for the sake of poetry and the lost actors lapse into their lines like high school students reciting Shakespeare. The unnamed characters sometimes deliver fractured lines a word apiece, a technique which emphasises the parallels between the couples but also make delivery awkward. This tendency for purple prose is offset by the masterful use of lighting and visual elements. Lighting designer Gillian Schwab creates a subtle, ever-shifting lighting display that unobtrusively draws your gaze to elements that may otherwise be overlooked. Close-up shots of the actors’ faces are interspersed throughout the play and projected onto the screen, allowing the audience to see what the limitations of stage-acting normally hide.
Our Shadows is a dark and unhappy reflection on love and language, grappling with the difficulties of honesty and communication within a relationship. In the end it only hints at these broad and complex themes without resolving anything for the characters – or for the audience.
Date Published: Monday, 8 October 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 7 months, 1 week ago
'Actually, can we make this a meeting too?' Festival producer David Caffery leans across the café table to curator Bec Chandler and begins listing issues that have popped up in the last 24 hours: artists that have backed out ('Street artists are so elusive,' he sighs), new artists who have come forward, ideas that came to him in the middle of the night. With only a few weeks left on the clock and 100 or more artists to wrangle, David and Bec sure have their hands full. This is the ART, NOT APART festival coming to life.
'The idea of the festival starts on a pun,' Bec says, 'but it's sort of letting in ideas of all different arts and what people see as creative endeavours; we have been pretty much open. There are things that have stretched my idea of what is art.' Listening to them describe it, the festival as they see it sounds more like a street party – albeit an enormously quirky street party – than an art exhibition.
'There's an amazing body painter coming up from Melbourne,' Dave gushes. 'She takes body painting far beyond kids’ fairs. [She's] turning the body into an artwork. On the day of the festival, we'll have contemporary dancers, circus performers and musicians roaming around and they'll all be body painted. Actually the circus performers are going to be a little highlight,' Dave grins as he outlines their secret plan to have the circus performers disguised as they wander the festival's laneways, surprising onlookers with spontaneous bursts of juggling. With everything from cigar boxes to spraypaint, it's easy to see the philosophy behind Art, Not Apart is anything goes.
'Anything that's passion-driven,' Dave corrects. 'As long as its not commercially motivate. We're not an arts market; we don't want people to come here to make money, we want them to explore their own artworks.'
Unfurling a massive map of the NewActon precinct, Bec and Dave walk me through the plan for the day of the festival. A central, 360-degree stage allows festival goers to view the eclectic music from all angles, while forcing the bands to fully engage with their audience. The lineup, deliberately and carefully built, includes improvisational funk band Goji Berry Jam, jazz-funk collective NYASH!, and, as Dave puts it, 'a quite psychedelic cellist from the Canberra Symphony Orchestra who's putting together a small ensemble to play with loop pedals and to blur the boundaries of classical and jazz.’ All this will culminate in a performance by dub-electronica-jazz musician Hypnagog.
'We found last March that people would come and they might come to see the classical music – but then there'd be spraypainting happening at the same time. But they'd be more open [to see the spraypainting as art] because they see this common thread of passion tying all the art together. And by the end of the festival... people will be more open to those sorts of new things that they haven't experienced before.'
There are three art exhibitions running: Model Citizen, Draw That Beast and a show from internationally renowned photography collective Oculi called Life As Art; these pop-up exhibitions will occupy two hotel lofts and transform an office building's lobby. (That the Model Citizen exhibition in part critiques the traditional spaces art is thought to fit in – like galleries or museums – is particularly apt.) Then there's the pop-up cinema, offering the best of the Canberra Short Film Festival and free popcorn, the organic food markets, the locally-designed clothing stalls and the Suitcase Rummage – a market in microcosm where the seller's luggage doubles as a stall. Bec enthusiastically points out the focus on handmade and vintage items, on the locally grown and healthy food, culture and art. Dave agrees: 'I think it's really important to have a local art focus with occasional national and international artists who influence [and] bring a different perspective. We organisers have travelled a lot and there's a lot of international influence on what we're trying to do here and I think it's really important to bring that to Canberra as well.'
Art, Not Apart is (as the name suggests) all about the connection between art and everyday life. The experimental, sprawling scope of the festival is a product of this philosophy. 'There's no fourth wall and there's no division between the observer and the artist,' says Dave. 'One of the things that the festival unveils is the making of the art. I'm a bit tired of going to exhibitions where everything's static and finished.'
'It's such a closed thing,' Bec agrees. 'You don't get to meet the artist, you don't get to talk to them about the creative process. This is about sharing that.' Dave continues: 'We think engagement with the artist will affect the art.' Many of the major exhibitors finish their pieces under the festival audience's watchful eye – from abstract painter Natalie Mather to Allen Geddes, with his life-size robot and life-size origami projects, to a collective of gold and silversmiths meticulously producing tiny watch cogs. Dave and Bec have also arranged for artists to create along with the musical performances, using everything from spraypaint to duct tape to create their works.
'I think Art, Not Apart shows how art connects to our wider lives and [asks] where is the boundary where art stops,' Dave muses. 'I'd like to think that this festival shows that it doesn't really stop.' The festival best lives up to this goal with it's plans for an interactive and artistic kids’ section – a jumping castle, playable musical sculptures and a plaster artist who will be inviting kids to contribute to her installation.
'It's all an experiment,' admits Dave. 'But I'm really looking forward to seeing how it goes.'
Art, Not Apart is on Saturday 27 October, 1pm-7pm, NewActon precinct. See newacton.com.au/ana for more details. The event is free!
Date Published: Tuesday, 25 September 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 7 months, 3 weeks ago
Get Thee To A Nunnery!
What does a man want in a wife and how does he get it? 17th Century playwright Molière was probably not the guy to ask if you were looking for some solid, rational advice. His play SCHOOL FOR WIVES, recently revivified by the Bell Shakespeare Company, is on its way to Canberra. It's an example of exactly what not to do if you want to get yourself a lady friend.
Arnold sends four-year-old Agnes to a convent in the hopes of engineering himself the perfect woman. Things go inevitably awry when Agnes is let out of the nunnery at the age of 18 and falls for another man. When the play premiered, Molière himself took the lead role and his own young bride took the role of Agnes. In a delightfully refreshing take, not a single dead French dramatist is cast. Plus, it’s set in Paris in the ‘20s.
Meyne Wyatt, who plays Horace (Arnold's rival and focus of Agnes' wandering eye), explains the decision to take Molière's classic on a time-travelling adventure. 'If you set it up today, it would be a bit far to suspend disbelief. So we set it in the ‘20s, when the situation could still possibly be. Somewhere that this would be almost possible, but funny as well. We're dealing with the silent film era and the costumes are all of that time as well.
'It's good to play with,' he adds. 'Some of the characters are doing slapstick and ridiculous falls.' There's a veritable mash-up of time periods occurring, with the two servants of the play drawing inspiration from everything from Charlie Chaplin to Manuel from Fawlty Towers. ‘They're the clowns!’ explains Wyatt.
While the script has kept some of the traditional structure (everything is still recited in rhyming couplets), translator Justin Fleming has added a hint of modernity, with social media references and Australian colloquialisms scattered throughout the play. '[Fleming] has put subtle and contemporary jokes in there without it taking away from the story. Little times for particular characters to look at the audience and give a little wink-wink nudge-nudge sort of thing.' Although one might expect the rhyming couplet format to present some difficulties, Wyatt says, '[We’ve] tried to put it as naturally as possible. People come out and say, “I love how you did that,” the translation has been so accessible.'
School for Wives derives its comedy from the pure strangeness of the situation, but Wyatt thinks, despite the going about it in an odd way, Arnold is ultimately a sympathetic character. 'He sets himself up in this ridiculous situation – it's just bound to fail for him! Once in the circumstance of things though, you can see he's just trying to find the perfect love. I think most people are trying to grab at that.'
School for Wives is playing at The Playhouse from Tue Sep 25-Sat Oct 6. Tickets are $45 +bf through canberraticketing.com.au
Date Published: Tuesday, 25 September 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 7 months, 3 weeks ago
At The Abbey, Wednesday September 12
Local band Lavers were picked up as support for the night, a brotherly duo who warmed up the crowd with duelling guitars. They played around with incorporating a honky-tonk piano sound into their song Love and Addiction, which didn't quite take, and performed their new single, Our Little Empire. While their brotherly banter was sweet and it's nice to get locals involved in big-name acts, singer Sebastian's voice was just not quite strong enough.
Similarly, Julia Stone has always had one of those voices – forgive me for saying this – the appeal of which I never understood. Babyish and irritatingly coy, lacking in impact. On a rainy Wednesday night I, among many others, shuffled into the grand Gold Creek venue and curled up uncomfortably on the ballroom floor, suppressing primary school assembly flashbacks along with my surprise (so many people! But it's a school night?!). Julia herself was another surprise; she was so small she didn't look old enough to be on stage.
And then she started singing. For the first few minutes my mind was completely emptied out by the sound of it. I watched her fingers curl and twist with her voice. I watched her stretch up on to the tips of her toes as she hit her high notes, as though she were reaching up to catch the sounds that had just escaped her lips. I was dumbstruck. I was – completely unfairly, it seems – simply not expecting such a powerful sound.
She opened the show with The Shit That They're Feeding You, a breakup song that bordered on performance art. She followed it up with her famous cover of Bloodbuzz Ohio, getting it out of the way, almost, before returning to her chosen pursuit of ‘depressing songs’. It became a joke throughout the evening, as she sipped her white wine between songs, for her to tell the audience her embarrassing failed love stories. Attempts to serenade lovers at airports. Sending someone a love song written just for them (the appropriately named For You) and having them respond with a song about their fear of death. Telling those stories changed what you heard when you listened to the song that followed, the way good between-song banter should, and as we sat gathered around her feet I kept thinking of campfires, folk tales and folk songs. By The Horns, a revenge song written about a cheating lover, revealed her dark, angry side, her voice dipping to threatening lows. She stepped neatly from this to a cover of You're The One That I Want from Grease to I'm Here, I'm Not Here, a song written from the perspective of a child watching their parents’ marriage implode. For the duration of that song, it was as though she was possessed; her movements and her smile became more childlike as she sang.
Through the show Julia would frequently glance down at her setlist and decide against playing a particular tune, and her cheerful calling-out of her changes in direction made the evening feel whimsical and unique, like you were getting a glimpse of the real Julia. She jumped between different guitars, piano, trumpet and just plain singing her heart out. Each song completely took her over, like a demon possession or a simple mood swing; at the end of each song she'd smile again and happily sip her wine as though nothing had happened. It was mesmerising to watch. If you've only ever heard recordings of Julia Stone then you've never truly heard her sing.
Date Published: Tuesday, 25 September 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 7 months, 3 weeks ago
24,883 people gave Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra $1,192,793 to make their debut album, Theatre Is Evil. They broke all the Kickstarter records without anyone knowing what they would sound like. Well, those lucky 24,883 can finally relish the opportunity to say 'I told you it'd be good!' – Amanda and the band (who, side note, can collect their award for Coolest Pun-Based Band Name anytime they like) have released an album that is at once energetic, enthusiastic, and absolutely heartbreaking. Taking the orchestra title to heart, songs like the lead single, Do It With A Rockstar, are multi-layered walls of sheer sound; crashing, banging, jangling, laughing, screaming delights, custom-made for singing while jumping up and down in a crowd. Palmer is joined by a full band for the first time in her career and deftly blends her tendency to pen sad songs with enthusiastically thrashing guitars and dramatic synth preludes. Long-time Palmer fans will be comforted by the dulcet sounds of songs like Trout Heart Replica and The Bed Song. These songs predate The Grand Theft Orchestra and present themselves in the form of piano solos by Amanda. The Bed Song in particular is heart-wrenching, beautiful and could have been taken straight out of an earlier Dresden Dolls album.
Theatre Is Evil is not really an album; it's more of a massive, collaborative art project. Songs were written from Twitter suggestions from fans, accompanying artworks have been produced and each song has a film clip (no one should listen to The Killing Type without watching the alarmingly bloody film clip – it will unutterably alter your experience of the song, if you can stomach it). Theatre Is Evil is an experience all of its own: not just songs, but a story; not just how, but why; not just for dedicated fans, for everyone.
Date Published: Tuesday, 14 August 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 9 months, 1 week ago
A Golden Age
I AM ELEVEN is a new Australian documentary. It takes 23 11-year-old kids as its subject and explores what it's like to be a child in the 21st century. Filming was an epic expedition spanning 15 different countries with 12 different languages and it took six long, unpaid years to make. A single decision made by director Genevieve Bailey at a crucial age could have snuffed the entire idea out of existence.
‘[When I was 11] I wanted to be a forensic scientist – I look back now and I just laugh at that! I was very into maths and science, but I was also very into filmmaking. I started shooting when I was quite young... just little strange home movies and special effects videos I’d make with my brother and sister. It wasn’t until high school that I thought, “I wanna go to uni – what do I want to study?” I thought I could do many things, but I was most passionate about telling stories and making films.’
Genevieve hopped on a plane in 2005 and started collecting stories. ‘I look back now and I think it’s really funny that I never actually did any research interviews to see if 11-year-olds were as interesting as I thought; I just got on a plane to Japan and spent the next six years making it!
‘I had hoped I would find a sense of optimism and willingness to say how it is, rather than worrying about sounding cool or whether it was “right” or “wrong”, and that’s definitely what I found. And I found that even though the kids were all living in different circumstances.’ The movie features children from France, England, America, Germany, Sweden, India, Morocco, Thailand and many more countries. ‘I didn’t just want to study Australian children; I wanted it to be a global perspective. I think that the world is a different place now in terms of a global economy and mindset, where people feel far more connected now with technology than we ever have before.’
While most documentaries focus on three or four subjects at most, Genevieve included as many of the kids as possible. ‘I was really conscious of the fact that what I was doing was quite different, but I was really happy that we managed to include so many voices in the film and that the audiences are responding so well to all these different, diverse characters.’
But why 11? Genevieve refers to it affectionately as her favourite age. ‘I look back at it as being a special time when you’re full of ideas and personality and opinions. You’re not yet a teenager but you also don’t feel like a little kid anymore – it’s sort of a cusp. I think you know your interests and passions by then and I remember just feeling like the world was big – in a good way. I think I’ve always been really aware of how insightful and inspiring kids can be, but I think a lot of people overlook that age. People don’t necessarily think to put them on a platform and hear their views, but there’s a sense of clarity when they’re 11.’
The kids in this film are surprisingly eloquent. Invited to share their opinions – perhaps listened to properly for the first time – the kids expound their views on everything from love and war, to religion and the environment, to family and the future. Genevieve smiles as she recounts the answers she received to the question, ‘If you could change anything in the world, what would you change?’
‘A lot of the kids said they would want to stop war and poverty and wanted everyone to be treated equally. Remi says that he’s always dreamt that there would be no more borders, that way there’d be no more inequality. Whereas Kimberly from New Jersey found that question really hard to answer; finally, she said, “Oh, I’ve got it! I would make it so that weekends are four days, and you only have to go to school three days a week.” ’
Audience reactions to the film have so far been overwhelmingly positive, though the film brings up some old anxieties concerning how fast kids are compelled to grow up in modern times. ‘I think it’s hard to assess... but I think it’s probably less than a lot of people worry about. I think the kids I met in the 15 different countries were more mature and had to face more adult, complex issues than others, but I also think there’s this united sense of playfulness and ability to be a child.’
The project will live beyond the rolling of the end credits. Genevieve has plans for an I Am Eleven sequel exploring what’s become of the kids and intends to expand the project's web platform, www.iameleven.com. ‘At the moment you can see the trailer, character profiles, audience reactions... things like that. The next stage is expansion to include even more 11-year-olds, so children who we met who aren't in the feature can go in there. More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to invite 11-year-olds from here and around the world to submit their own stories – photos, video entry or drawings... anything that they want to have shared with the world.’
I Am Eleven is now showing at Dendy Cinema, Canberra Centre. For more information on the documentary see www.iameleven.com
Date Published: Tuesday, 31 July 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 9 months, 3 weeks ago
@ Smiths Alternative Bookshop, Friday July 20
Squeezed into the back corner of a bookshop, somewhere between ‘queer lit’, ‘cooking/gardening’ and a sea of expectant faces, singer/songwriter Abby Dobson beckons to her audience. “There's still a few spots up the front here,” she purrs. “Get closer.” One couple get talked into perching on a tiny seat level with the songstress, and their relaxed and love-struck faces hover over Abby's left shoulder for the duration of the gig.
Abby Dobson is here for the ?edgling Paperback Sessions, an intimate performance series launched by Smiths Alternative Bookshop. As she tunes her guitar she chats with the crowd about her desire for a cosy, intimate gig and a chance to reacquaint herself with Canberra after a decade-long absence. “Terrible,” she nervously confesses, “for a girl who was born in Canberra.” The audience nods and hums appreciatively (‘Oh, so you're one of us!’). Someone even gasps. This revelation unhappily sets the tone in High School Reunion mode, and try as she might Abby is unable to shake this uncomfortable vibe for the remainder of the evening.
The set was a compact selection of songs from her previous solo album, hits from her Leonardo's Bride days (her half-English, half-French version of Even When I'm Sleeping was a crowd favourite), and as-yet-unrecorded tunes from her next solo offering. Songs like I'm Not Missing You, See What The Morning Brings, You Will Find Your Way and Two Swallows were all ?ne examples of Abby's obsession with composing lovelorn odes and musings on heartbreak. Coming to the end of the wistfully depressing What If? Abby herself jokingly sighed, “Oh, the smorgasbord of emotions and bad relationships. What happens to songwriters who meet the love of their life in their ‘20s?”
It's not unusual for an artist to build a body of work around a single theme. But after a while of listening to Dobson's heart being broken, song after song ending in a mournful near-whisper, you begin to wonder if she ever sings about anything else. Or if anything nice ever happens in her love life. Or if anything nice will ever happen in anyone's love life, ever again. Or if it might not be a good idea to give up on it all yourself, and break up with that lovely guy or girl you've been seeing for the past few months; maybe everything is destined to end with your heart in a million pieces on the bathroom ?oor while you cry into the bottom of an empty wine bottle and... Okay, I'm being a bit overdramatic now but you get my point. Surely it's not all that bad?
To add injury to the serious romantic angst I've developed by this point, Abby's exploration of this broken-hearted theme is a severely limited one. In reaching for a way to articulate her painful brushes with love and loss, Abby frequently falls back on cliché, and her songs all have such a similar verse-chorus-verse-chorus-fade structure that they begin to blur together.
Despite lacklustre material, Abby has a voice that had me reaching for some clichés of my own; ‘breathtaking’ and ‘haunting’ amongst them. I've spent a large amount of time looking for less bogan ways to say ‘Oh. My. God’. Her voice rose from a soft, endearingly baby-like sound to a surprisingly strong swell; the high notes made every set of eyeballs in the room curiously shiny, with every soul proverbially stunned into silence at the unexpected force of this tiny woman's song.
Date Published: Tuesday, 31 July 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 9 months, 3 weeks ago
Succinct + Delicious
We live in the Age of the Epic: a time when Batman movies are dark, intense and nearly three hours long; when fantasy series' get turned into TV shows before their author can even finish writing them; when everything is, at the very least, a trilogy. Enter an unlikely hero from an unexpected corner: Alex Broun, festival director of SHORT + SWEET and champion of the ten-minute play.
“You can't waste a second in ten-minute theatre,” Broun says, “You can't spend half an hour setting up characters or a situation. You can't dawdle!” The hundreds of bite-sized plays Broun himself has penned show a love of the abbreviated format. “I really like that challenge of compressing the action into ten minutes; to create something that's quite complete but only takes ten minutes to tell.” Broun has been involved as a writer/director for Short + Sweet since its inception. “When I first started, I tended to overwrite. It's wonderful for me, the discipline; to be succinct and exact with every single word.”
Bringing Short + Sweet to the capital for the fourth time, Broun has run a series of workshops leading up to the festival proper. A playwriting weekend hosted by the ACT Writers Centre produced many of the plays in the final line-up. Broun adds: “I've also run actor workshops and director workshops, which are also more focused on stage acting and stage directing.”
Broun takes an egalitarian approach to the directorship that has let the contributors make the festival their own. “I think [it's] a bit of a flaw with the artistic director model that so much of our theatre runs on – where you have one person saying: ‘This is what you have to do’. [Short + Sweet is] a platform for the writers, the directors, the actors involved in the festival to present what they feel is good theatre – what they feel works and what they feel the audience will enjoy. It's a very democratic arts event.
“What that means in Short + Sweet in Canberra is you get a really broad variety of plays. One play written by a young girl from Burma, Sumon Aye, called Sealed with Blood is about the student revolutions in Burma, and about people who she knew who died in that revolution. You’ve got that, and then against that you have a play like John Lombard’s play Dracula Kidnaps Someone’s Bridesmaid.”
The festival is a true mixed bag of entertainment, with everything from the polished Top 20 bill to the experimental Wildcard programme. “When you go along to traditional theatre you've got a pretty good idea what you're going to see that evening. In Short + Sweet it's always changing,” Broun warns. “You never know what's going to happen next.”
Short + Sweet will present 30 of the best ten-minute plays from the ACT and around the world, Wednesday August 22-Saturday September 1, at the Courtyard Studio. Bookings/full programme details through www.canberratheatrecentre.com.au or on (02) 6275 2700.
We see ourselves differently from how we are seen; we want to be seen in a certain way; we understand the world through other people.
These are the ideas broached by four Canberra artists in their exhibition SMOKE AND MIRRORS, an upcoming show at the ANCA Gallery about representations of the human figure in contemporary art. The group each work with different mediums: Daniel Edwards with textiles, Alexander Boynes with a combination of spray paint, etching techniques and light installation, and Annika Harding and Kate Barker with traditional paint mediums but unorthodox styles. Their common desire is to bring figurative art back into the forefront of the Canberra art scene.
“At this point in time, like we've never had in the past, we've got a real opportunity to present ourselves in the way that we want to be seen,” Boyne says. “We all have friends on Facebook that constantly put up ridiculous photos of themselves as proof, ‘My life is awesome’. It's all smoke and mirrors; it's all about how you want to represent yourself.”
Edwards uses social networking-sourced imagery in concert with nostalgic materials – flannel shirts and woollen blankets sourced from op shops. For Edwards, these fabrics are intrinsically masculine and he uses them to create portraits and silhouettes of bearded men who post their likenesses on the gay social networking site, Scruff. “It's like how they see themselves, as a portrait, not how I view them.”
“We've all had images to work with through the internet at some stage,” Harding says. “The photograph is a complete entity and it shows everything exactly as it was.” She indicates Barker's painting Sandwiches: two ‘50s-era figures in beach attire, a large empty space cut out of their legs where a sandwich tray would have rested in the original photograph. “By leaving things out, you're left with a more accurate representation of the memory, that moment in time which is now incomplete because of its distance.”
“I think figurative representation has a great deal to do with memory – whether you like it or not. There's always a strange sense of nostalgia,” says Boynes. His illuminated figures are bodies captured mid-movement, working with contemporary dancers and imagery from the London riots in 2011 as his models. “I've always been interested in capturing that movement and dynamism in the body.” The figures in Harding's work are much smaller and static; a point of focus in a vast landscape. Harding sums up the basic appeal of figurative work. “People instinctively want to associate with other people to share experiences.”
Smoke and Mirrors is an eclectic exhibition about the way in which we see ourselves, how this shifts and changes with time and, in our modern lives, with an audience.
Smoke and Mirrors is showing from Wed-Sun July 18-29 at ANCA Gallery, Dickson. The exhibition is open Wed-Sun, 12pm-5pm. Free.
Date Published: Tuesday, 3 July 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 10 months, 2 weeks ago
Ninja Turtle's French Ex-Wife
My interview with singer-songwriter ABBY DOBSON starts with a long detour through that potentially awkward territory: talking about the weather. This is rarely a good start to an interview – shouldn't we be talking about music or something? – but with Abby this usually dead-air-filler conversation piece is surprisingly revealing. “Today's been extraordinarily sunny and beautiful in Sydney after a lot of rain, so it's quite a mood enhancer; all of a sudden the world doesn't seem so grim – all feels possible and exciting again,” she tells me in her comfortingly husky voice. Her distinctive vocals will be familiar to anyone who encountered Abby in her previous life as lead singer for Leonardo's Bride, famous for their 1997 hit Even When I'm Sleeping.
Although she should be promoting her current solo tour – shows combining songs from her old album (2007’s Rise Up) and as-yet unrecorded tracks –Abby finds that she is easily distracted by so-called side projects. Speaking about her latest distraction – a collection of French songs performed with her friend Lara Goodridge – transforms her husky voice almost into squeals. “It’s called Baby Et Lulu,” she says proudly. “It’s a beautiful project, I absolutely adore it. [Lara and I] both love all things French; we also love to drink red wine and sing in harmony.” Abby and Lara put together a six-piece band and recorded an album set to premiere in August. “We get to wear froufrou dresses and get sloshed and sing! It’s our little side project that’s been taking over the whole frame.”
Her new album may be a little while off yet. “I was hoping to be recording by July and that’s not going to happen. I just keep getting distracted! People keep asking me things and I just go ‘Oh, yeah, I could do that’, and I just put my album on the back burner all the time.” Despite the temptation to continue discussing collaborative projects, Abby considers her Canberra show – an appearance at Smith’s Paperback Sessions – as a chance to reconnect with her audience. “I’m doing this show on my own because of the intimacy thing, which I do really like. I like playing in venues that are nice to be in. Sometimes you end up in a room and there’s no art involved whatsoever and there’s nothing on the walls, and it’s just cold and grey.” She explains why she was drawn to the idea of a gig in a bookstore, a small enough venue that means she leaves her backing band behind for a night. “I like the idea of playing in different sorts of places where people can get cosy and everybody can get close. They’re often the most challenging because of the intimacy level, but at the same time they can be some of your favourite shows because of that same thing.”
Surround yourself with Abby’s smooth melodies at The Paperback Sessions @ Smith’s Bookshop on Friday July 20. Tickets are $20 at the door or online at www.paperbacksessions.com.au . Her lovechild, Baby Et Lulu, will release its album the same day.
Sky Aquarium And The World of Tomorrow
My interview with digital painter PAUL SUMMERFIELD took place while he was in the middle of hanging his new exhibition. He was having difficulty squeezing the 18 intricately detailed works that constitute Sky Aquarium into The Front’s small cafe/gallery space. “It’s a really good space,” he tells me, taking a few minutes away from the assembly process. “It’s a bit more grungy than some other spaces. It’s kind of like someone’s lounge room.” Paul has shown his work in dozens of cafes across Australia and enjoys the experience of working in a busy cafe atmosphere.
But Paul’s paintings are sometimes too big to fit into cosy coffee-scented nooks. He was one of five artists selected to be part of Enlighten’s Architectural Projections; Paul saw his piece The Moad scrolling across the sides of Old Parliament House, blown up to nearly 600 metres in size. The finely lined and richly detailed nature of his work made him a natural fit for the large-scale project.
“I’ve tried to approach the art making process in a traditional way,” he says of his preference for digital methods. “If you have a canvas you can just slap on the paint – and there’s a point when you can go further or you can stop. With digital media you can keep working on it, you can add bits; undo, if you make a mistake. I still do those things – I use the digital medium to my advantage – but I try and look at it like it’s a painting.”
A previous exhibition was the product of a year spent living in Japan, but Sky Aquarium is not bound by such an earthly setting. “Sometimes I make up stories to go along [with the artworks]. There’s no real geographical counterpart but some of the works... [form] a series. The same kind of colours or buildings. I guess I’m building my own little locations; my own little imaginary worlds.”
His imaginary creations are full of the kind of hidden details you’d expect from actual places. Some of the paintings are crammed with activity; others are more subtly complicated. A particularly mesmerising piece from Sky Aquarium seems initially to be a simple arrangement of bright blue water and luminous pink flowers; closer inspection reveals fish painted so that each scale is visible. Allowing me a glimpse into the half-hung exhibition, Paul tells a story of how he once hid a picture of his own face in a painting. “No one noticed it for years,” he laughs. “Then once they realised it was there, it was all they could see.”
Sky Aquarium is a bright, curious collection of work full to the brim with half-concealed, fascinating detail. Undoubtedly the more time you spend with his work, the more beauty you will find lurking there.
Sky Aquarium opened Thursday May 3 and continues until Monday May 21 at The Front Café and Gallery, Lyneham. Entry is free.
@ The White Eagle Polish Club, Friday April 20
The stage of The White Eagle Polish Club looked like a giant pillow fort, or a stage erected by kids for a backyard production of a play. Draped with mismatching fabrics, dominated by a tangle of power cords and looking out over a sea of old plastic chairs and sofas rescued from footpaths, it gave off an air of effortless comfort; a wonderful accident.
Not so for the bands and performers assembled for the launch of Cracked Actor’s EP Solar Driftwood. The carefully selected line-up included solo acts Chris Finnigan and Rueben Ingall, as well as bands Elisha Bones and Mornings (who share a guitarist with Cracked Actor).
Those lucky enough to arrive early watched Chris Finnigan standing alone on the whimsical stage, meticulously looping and layering the simple sounds of his guitar into something close to the sublime. It was a quiet, slow set that left everyone in the room smiling. It was a hard act for fellow soloist Rueben Ingall to follow. His style, louder and somewhat discordant, was not well received by the then small crowd.
Next, Elisha Bones. Their set was a strange mix of sounds: eerie prog-rock contrasted with folk-like tempos. When the band played as a four-piece the sound was particularly heavy and bass-driven, but they gave their set an interesting twist with a guest appearance from American singer Sharleen Chidiac. She and guitarist/singer Michael Bones performed a haunting duet called Family Man that single-handedly silenced the now crowded venue.
Mornings began their set with an announcement. Lead man Jordan Rodgers awkwardly faced the audience and, as quietly as one can into a microphone, muttered: "Um, we don't usually talk. But some nice man told us to introduce ourselves, so—” Without further ado they launched into a mostly instrumental set, the band rocking back and forth as one. They played like clockwork, each song perfectly timed and refined to produce an energetic sound. Their final song ended with a mathematically precise swell of pure sound. The few attempts to provide accompanying vocals would have been best abandoned in favour of concentrating on this formidable instrumental strength.
When at last Cracked Actor took to the stage it was as though the audience had collectively experienced a revelation of the intricacies of the evening’s structure. From the first quiet notes struck by Chris Finnigan to the final wave of Morning's sound to hit the back wall, everything had been building towards this moment.
Cracked Actor were worth the wait, to say the least. Their polished sound is clearly the product of careful thought and hard work, and the final product is more artwork than album. The bass line was moving but not overwhelming, and lead singer Sebastian Field's unearthly vocals rose above the rest of the band. Their set was accompanied by a video clip: an unending loop of psychedelic colours, remixed footage of men standing awkwardly in hedge mazes, women feeding ducks, trees made out of broccoli and segments of an old US Air Force H-Bomb warning reel. The songs were interspersed with dated recordings of newsreader announcements.
Field's lyrics, as out-of-this-world as his voice, mirrored these apocalyptic themes. He sang of alien invasions and worlds ending. High-speed images of nuclear warheads bounced around the screen (the same image that graces the cover of Solar Driftwood) as the night drew to a close. The crowd swarmed around the stage, pockets of people spontaneously bursting into fits of interpretive dance. It really did seem like the end of the world.
Date Published: Tuesday, 10 April 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 1 year, 1 month ago
Exactly What It Sounds Like
Every time someone describes NAKED BOYS SINGING! to me, they use the same five words: exactly what it sounds like. The legendary off-Broadway production is currently touring Australia for the first time, and director Jonathan Worsley is very excited to bring the show to Canberra.
“Naked Boys Singing! did have a very short three-week run in Sydney ten years ago – it never went outside Sydney. What's really exciting about the show now is it's the first time anyone outside of Sydney gets to see it in Australia.”
While based on the infamous American production, the Australian tour has its own special Aussie flavour. “It's got completely new choreography, [and] you'll see a couple of lyrics that are uniquely Australian as well. But I think the storyline of the show – though there's not too much storyline! – is pretty universal. It's all about the weird situations we find ourselves in when we get naked.”
The Aussie tour was not difficult to cast – the huge, ahem, reputation of the American show helped hopefuls overlook the full frontal nudity aspect. “I think the most challenging thing was the fact that when we did the auditions, and [the boys] eventually had to take their clothes off, it was 12 degrees.” Jonathan put the emphasis on the singing part of Naked Boys Singing! “If they couldn't sing, and they couldn't perform, there's no way they'd make it to the stage – even if they did have amazing bodies.”
Bringing the show to Australia has come with its fair share of interesting moments. “We had the Sunrise crew come and do the weather from the set, and [presenter] Grant Denyer, um, participated in the show. I think for the first time ever they had to do the weather with half the screen blacked out.” Audiences have also been keen to get involved with the concept. “We were approached by a nudist group who absolutely begged us to have a naked audience night. They didn't laugh at half the jokes – they didn't find being naked that funny!” The all-Australian line-up have had all kinds come through their doors – from bachelorette groups laughing their heads off at every single line to church groups whom Jonathan thinks “might have watched the entire show with their eyes covered.
“There's something in it that will appeal to everyone,” says Jonathan. “I want to just encourage people to come and see it. It's not just for girls, it's not just for gay guys; it's for mums, it's for old Aunty Ethel, because she'll enjoy it as well. It's for everyone.” After all: it's got hot naked boys, witty dialogue, and more double entendres than you can poke a euphemism at. What more could you want?
Naked Boys Singing! bum-rushes The Playhouse Saturday April 14 at 7.30pm. Tickets are available through Canberra Ticketing for $58/$48.
Date Published: Tuesday, 27 March 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 1 year, 1 month ago
At The ANU Bar, Saturday March 10
If you say the words “punk scene” and “Canberra” in the same sentence, you’re likely to be met with raised eyebrows and incredulous comments. (“Yeah, sure, public servants really know how to rock.”) As a city we often find it difficult to escape our quiet, leafy, suburban reputation. Canberra Punk and Beyond, a punk collective formed in the ‘70s, banded together in order to challenge the notion that Canberra was a hardcore wasteland.
Their event Rock Against Boredom Revisited, held at The ANU Bar, looked back at some of the punk offerings from the scene’s rich history. The line-up included veterans The Young Docteurs and Capital Punishment, as well as some younger blood with the addition of Life & Limb and Call to Colour.
Call to Colour kick-started the night with a neo-‘70s, bass-driven Rage Against the Machine lovechild of a set, plus a light show heavily influenced by the classic rage intro. The four bands that followed let loose a more purist punk performance; Vacant Lot had a sound The Sex Pistols would be proud of, and the Capital Punishment faithful filled the floor (and created the night’s only mosh pit) as the band ripped through punk classics, churning out The Ramones’ I Wanna Be Sedated, The Sex Pistols’ Pretty Vacant, as well as a slew of their own punk rock gems inspired by the aforementioned legends.
The Real Gone Lovers were practically vibrating off the stage with an unadulterated nostalgic energy. Songs were dedicated to “anyone in the crowd who remembers [ANU Bar] when it was still upstairs” and to punk rock comrades loved and lost. The next band, The Young Docteurs, were even darker and more melancholy, growling out their own dedications to those lucky enough to have caught the original 1978 Rock Against Boredom show. The Young Docteurs and Vacant Lot were both part of that original line-up, as were members of The Real Gone Lovers and Capital Punishment.
The sixth and final band Life & Limb had the difficult job of closing out the night, and sadly seemed less than up to the task. With weak vocals and a seeming reluctance to even be on the stage (no one seemed willing or brave enough to step up to the centre mic, or speak to the crowd at all), their set made for an anti-climactic end to the showcase.
The younger bands lacked the strong vocals that the Canberra Punk and Beyond veterans provided; Life & Limb seemed to be missing their vocals entirely, and Call to Colour screamed with a generic kind of rage. Vacant Lot were a standout, with the lead singer’s deadpan delivery offsetting his absurdist lyrics about the coming household appliance apocalypse – “white goods are coming to take you away”.
The light show mirrored the bands on stage perfectly throughout the night, evolving from neon scrawl with the Call to Colour lads, a dig through drawers-full of old photographs projected behind Vacant Lot and Capital Punishment, and a strobe-fractured darkness to accompany The Young Docteurs.
Rock Against Boredom Revisited pitched itself as a retrospective, an opportunity to revisit the golden age of the punk rock scene – the ‘70s are pretty much where it’s at in punk rock terms, whether you were in Canberra at the time or not. So it was a disappointment that the night offered the audience no sense of progression; bands simply appearing on stage, playing their set, and disappearing without a word. Ultimately Revisited made me sad I wasn’t there the first time around.
Date Published: Tuesday, 27 March 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 1 year, 1 month ago
After Work Roasters: Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl @ Lonsdale Street Roasters, Tuesday March 13
David Finnigan climbed up on to the wobbly stools, cleared his throat, and announced to the tightly packed crowd squeezed into Lonsdale Roasters: “This is not some detached, ironic commentary – this is about how we feel when we watch it.”
“We” was himself, Jess Bellamy, and fellow festival producer Adam Hadley; “it” was all things Disney. As the strains of a dubstepped mash-up of classic Disney songs faded, Finnigan began a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Sunflower Sutra – and I was sceptical that the night wasn’t going somewhere terribly hipster. Bellamy read Edward Dyson’s Bashful Gleeson, and Hadley read an assortment of Grimm and original fairy tales.
In a matter of minutes the culture switched from high to low as the speakers launched into their monologues: retellings of some of Disney’s more ill-advised tween offerings. Finnigan gave a rapid fire account of his experience watching Selena Gomez vehicle Monte Carlo while trapped on an international flight. He pondered how “freedom” is inevitably represented by a ride on the back of some young hunk’s scooter, and extolled the virtues of grand musical finales. He declared: “Disney doesn’t kiss you – or if it does kiss you, it doesn’t kiss with tongue, and if it does kiss with tongue, then it doesn’t kiss with finesse”. He parted with Jonas Brother-bestowed wisdom (the Camp Rock gem “Everybody grab a mic and a hat and follow me”), breakdanced, and bowed out. The crowd was in hysterics.
Jess Bellamy was drier – though equally foul-mouthed – as she summarised Lindsay Lohan’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. A self-described LiLo anthropologist, Bellamy quickly, calmly, and with deadpan delivery, tore the film to shreds. She saw the film as a parable: Lindsay, darling, this is what not to do. Lohan’s character in the film is something of a teetotaller, persuading the rock star male lead to give up his wild partying ways. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Lindsay’s scandalous nightlife will see the irony in this. Bellamy’s ultimate conclusion: a list of films, writers, actors, and uses of your time better than watching Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.
And then Hadley took to the stage to dissect Mean Girls 2, the sequel most didn’t know existed beforehand. If you’re perplexed about why he’d bother talking about this waste of celluloid, by the end it didn’t matter – listening to Hadley’s rant was infinitely more entertaining than watching the film could ever hope to be. This absurd recap of the equally absurd regurgitation of the first Mean Girls was a marvel to witness; Hadley’s brow dripped with sweat as he screamed what everyone who had ever seen Mean Girls 2 had all thought: “Where is Lindsay? Where is anybody? WHO THE FUCK ARE THESE PEOPLE!?”
At the end of each speech the crowd screamed like the trio were rock stars. Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl was exactly what was promised: a visceral, emotional response to some of the most uninspiring Disney films in existence.
Date Published: Tuesday, 13 March 12
| Author: Lauren Strickland
| 1 year, 2 months ago
The Newsroom, Thursday March 8
“We’ve lost Ethel”
It was a curious venue; but then, it was a curious show. Occupying the space that once belonged to an infrequently visited newsagent, the cheerful light drew people through dark, rainy streets into a weird and wonderful cabaret extravaganza: Horseface Ethel and Her Marvellous Pigs in Satin.
The show opened with The Brass Knuckle Brass Band, Canberra’s own New Orleans-style street funk band, wending their way through the audience during their first tune. Right away, the crowd knew this show was something special in which they would be made to play a part. A few whispered nervously at the prospect of audience participation.
Horseface Ethel is an experience, one that creeps up on its audience. Before you know what’s happening to you, drag queen Tammy Pax is singing a version of The Little Mermaid’s Part of Your World that will “ruin your childhood” (I’m pretty sure the Disney version never mentioned fisting); balloon covered burlesque performer Sparkles is proffering an intense, crazy-eyed declaration of love to a girl foolish enough to sit in the front row; and magician Pablo is dragging slightly out of it “volunteers” onto the stage (there’s that audience participation we were all so afraid of) and pouring red cordial in their shoes.
Despite the wide variety of acts, the night had a sense of cohesion, each surprising performance fitting into place alongside one another. The only exception was pianist Marc Robertson: his gravelly tones and discordant playing evoked the show’s namesake (‘Horseface Ethel’ is a line from Tom Waits’ song Circus), but the sombre atmosphere he created seemed out of place with the rest of the line-up.
It was the Marvellous Pigs themselves who kept the night together – satin-wrapped girls in grotesque pig masks, who were constantly weaving their way through the audience. Their masked counterpart MC (festival producer Adam Hadley) would remind you every so often that “we’ve lost Ethel, but her Marvellous Pigs in Satin are still with us”.
Each act that took the stage was as unpredictable as the next, and the ambiguity of the program – even when acts were announced, their descriptions didn’t give much away – gave the impression you were no longer inside a forsaken shop, you were tucked in the back corner of someone’s mind, alongside all their creativity, imagination, and crazy. Maybe that someone was Ethel.