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AVIARY and per se and…

AVIARY. Pictured: Hai Ha Le & Chloe Gordon. Photo: Carl Nilsson-Polias

AVIARY. Pictured: Hai Ha Le & Chloe Gordon. Photo: Carl Nilsson-Polias

Having commenced and failed to finish writing several blog posts prior to this, I thought it best to attempt something fairly unadventurous and relatively short in its composition. The last week or so has been spent madly running between studio, rehearsal room, radio or press interview, forums, meetings, theatres, and gymnasium (my one point of sanity). I’ve managed somehow to make it to several shows in the last week or so, including Beckett’s Happy Days at The Malthouse, which (although I feel it wasn’t perfect, for several very specific reasons I won’t go into here) I would recommend, if for no other reason than it is a truly rare and wonderful thing to see Beckett being done on a main Melbourne stage with a proper budget. Julie Forsythe’s work is wonderful, and gets stronger, and stronger throughout the duration of the piece. A must for the Melbourne Beckett kids.

An additional highlight of my week was this month’s Full Tilt the Talk Show – Beyond the Word: The Art of Not Speaking. Richard Watts is hosting a series of monthly talk shows for Full Tilt (yep, I’m coming in as a guest on one in a couple of months) on various topical issues amongst the performing arts community. Last Tuesday’s was on the non-spoken word, or as I like to think of it, the non-linguistic performance text. It opened up a huge can of worms for me, specifically, having been thinking about the notion of notation of script/text, versus the lack of notation. There was an interesting point made about the relative hierarchy of the text in the conventional or traditional theatre context: It’s rare for organisations/companies/funding bodies to trust a purely ‘devised’ work for performance (dance not so much, but ‘theatre’ certainly) as, with a script there is a sense of bankability. It’s a product in and of itself, it’s saleable, safe, easily recognised, a commodity, and something that can also be handed to an actor/director with the understanding that they will know what to do with it. The Full Tilt Panel comprised of: Heath McIvor (puppeteer), Jodie Ahrens (sensory theatre practitioner), Helen Herbertson (dancer/choreographer), Mike Finch (artistic director: Circus Oz). Jodie Ahrens, I suppose, was the artist on the panel who comes closest to being a ‘straight’ theatre practitioner – her work essentially, often being geared around audience members who are either hearing or seeing impaired. It was fascinating for me, as I felt that there was a huge chunk missing from the conversation, which was, I suppose, from the angle of the non-verbal or non-linguistic text-based theatre practitioner – the animateur, so to speak. I think there’s a huge dialogue to be had about creation, notation, value and regard for work that isn’t necessarily a well-made, Aristotelian verbal exchange in a drawing room or a holiday home. At any rate, it was deeply enlightening, for many reasons. Helen Herbertson at one stage spoke of art creation with ‘all borders down’ (with respect to crossing, and merging form), and within me, I felt such a deep surge of wistfulness – why is it so readily acknowledged that dance can and does practice in this way, and yet the definitions remain, relatively speaking so rigid within the context of theatre performance? We’re constantly having to categorise, de-categorise, or worse yet, denigrate efforts to create borderless art, art/performance that defies concrete definition, which I believe in theory to be theatre. Alas, a big conversation that I haven’t the energy to pursue right now. More on this at a later date.

And then, of course, there is Aviary. Director/Dramaturg, Melanie Beddie (with whom I have an ongoing collaborative relationship) approached me late last year, and commissioned me to write one of three plays for a new, design-based work that she was producing and directing at La Mama under the umbrella of her company, Branch Theatre. The brief was a work between 20 – 35 minutes in length that would be in response to a design stimulus given by Daryl Cordell, and to the three actors who were to form the performance ensemble: Chloe Gordon, Hai Ha Le, and Carl Nilsson-Polias.  The other two writers of the work that is now entitled Aviary are Anna Barnes and Dan Giovannoni, both of whom can wrangle the word in ways in which I am simply incapable of even attempting. The other designers are Natasha Anderson and Bronwyn Pringle, sound and light respectively.

So, I have been re-drafting, so to speak, for this entire time, really. In and out of rehearsals, on and off the floor, and it has been at once wonderful and extraordinarily difficult. Wonderful as there is something incredibly liberating in putting forth thirty-minutes of idea, and then stepping back and allowing someone else to do most of the work – it feels like a kind of reverse process for me. But incredibly difficult because I am not a playwright. I have really, really discovered this in the process of creating my third of the work, which is at present entitled, Movements for Three Actors (and I’ve suddenly realised how unimaginative that title is…). My work sits in stark contrast to the others (well, they’re all incredibly distinct in voice and style) – I suppose mine is the least easy to read – but that is a subjective thing, who can say, really? The other pieces, Revelation or Bust and Edmund and Grace (Barnes and Giovannoni respectively) both have stunning rhythm and turn of phrase, but a depth of emotional insight, too, with which I am particularly impressed. Themeatically they are also much broader (grander) than mine. I worry that I have a tendency make work with obscure, micro, and introspective themes. I do find the interior world so deeply fascinating and endlessly tragic. I suppose, interestingly enough, the themes of the work shrunk, to me throughout the duration of its creation, too. The last time I blogged about the work, it was very much rooted in the broader emotional conservationist tangent, and it has been not whittled, but honed, I suppose down to the manifestation of a much smaller experience being felt in the symbolic interpretation of our relationship to the environment. And if you think all of that sounds like a lot of airy theoretics, then I fear you’re probably right.

Aside from being in a period where artistically, I’m not particularly interested in narrative or conventional theatrical structure, and I have had to carve out a mini-narrative from the diverse and contrasting collection of scenes that I assembled for the work, that I feel now fit, but that I also now have absolutely no partiality about, I have discovered that without doubt, I am a theatre maker, and really, really not a playwright. And so, I wasn’t able to wrangle the scenes on the floor the way I would have otherwise, and I think that I neglected to take this into consideration. My work was as a writer, and not a maker/director, my job was to hand the script over to be poured over dramaturgically, and directed. Melanie Beddie has given me much more licence to come in and play around than a writer would normally ever be given. This was a fantastic gift, but also a huge lesson for me. Because of course, I felt most comfortable, on the floor, playing around with the material with the actors. To me, actually being on the floor felt like writing. That is to say, working the text, editing on the fly, et cetera, is for me, by definition, the act of writing theatre text. Text is in the body. Text is in the ‘blocking’ so to speak, the creation of stage images. But of course, there must be limits to this, and my role is as a a writer, and I did need to hand the reins back to Melanie. And so, it has been a sort of ongoing negotiation, both within myself, and between me and Melanie, to try and figure out the best way of carving this piece through the space with the bodies and the voices of the performers. And because the work is incomplete (the work is always incomplete), and there is always more that could or can be done, I don’t think I will ever be entirely satisfied with the outcome, no matter how much I love what is made of it. But it is something I have to leave, now, and accept that it is in other people’s hands, because I have to go off and make another piece of theatre, one and a half weeks after Aviary opens. And that piece really doesn’t have a script.

Aviary is a bloody exciting experiment in theatrical composition. As a whole, these three very diverse works were initiated with a design, and the writers meeting the three actors with whom they could play. The results are totally up for grabs, really, and shall be witnessed from this coming Wednesday, 15th July. Details are at the La Mama website, here. I have no idea what it’s going to be like, but I suspect it will be incredibly diverse, fascinating, and quite wonderful.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Jodi Gallagher permalink
    12/07/2009 10:30 am

    Hi Ming,

    I like the new blog, it corresponds to a number of the things I’m working with right now. Hoping to see you at the preview on Wednesday.


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