The view from six months in

Posts, The Other Movie Project

It has been six months since I started The Other Movie Project. On New Year’s Day, 2015, I vowed that I would watch every movie released near me that did not revolve around a white guy. Most movies we see here in Australia are about a white male character; I was interested in the stories about everyone else – the other movies. At first, it was an easy gig; January was quiet. There was only one movie that really qualified for the project: Reese Witherspoon’s Wild. Slim pickings for women and people of colour who wanted to see stories about them (and this one movie was about a white woman, so, really not great for people of colour). But Wild was so vibrant, so different to the storytelling I was used to seeing at the cinema, that I couldn’t wait for the rest of the year.

I’m interested in representation. For two years, I spent every Sunday co-hosting a feminist radio show on community radio. I’ve been writing intermittently about women in film for some time. But I wanted to challenge myself to see more films, gather more intel on what is available to movie-goers. And then I read this article on Colorlines: ‘Study Finds White People Don’t Watch Black Movies. Who’s To Blame?’

Dear White People (2014)

(Hint: it’s white people.)

The article notes that people of color are underrepresented across all aspects of the film industry. It’s notoriously hard for non-white actors to find roles, let alone good roles, let alone the kind of starring roles that kickstart a successful career. Studio executives get nervous that casting non-white people in important roles will put audiences off – because, y’know, the white experience is universal and everything else is niche. Right? Well, it turns out this bias may not be (just) a top-down cultural conspiracy, but the market responding to consumers. The study featured in the Colorlines article found that “‘minority cast members’ do in fact lead white audiences to be less interested in seeing certain films.”

Like, holy shit. That’s pretty damning. The industry exec’s are shovelling whitewash down our throats because we are kind of asking for it. And when I say “we” I do mean white people.

I realised that I was guilty of this bias, too. How often did I seek out movies about characters who were Black, Asian, Middle-Eastern? Yet how often could you find me searching “Anne Hathaway movie” on YouTube late at night, yelling “take my moneyyy”? I am a white person, comfortable in an entertainment culture that is insanely whitewashed. (I don’t even want to talk about The Last Airbender.) OK, so maybe I’m not that comfortable with it anymore. Some things can’t be unseen. I dearly hope that means I’m growing.

Geena Davis, whose Institute on Gender and Media is collecting critical data on the disappearance of women on screen and behind the camera, has said:

[M]edia images exert a powerful influence in creating and perpetuating our unconscious biases. However, media images can also have a very positive impact on our perceptions.

Before this project, I’ve self-imposed filters on the stuff I watch before, to great positive effect. There was the year I cut out all romance narratives from my life. Movies, books – if they were in any way classified as ‘romance’, I was out. It drove one friend of mine crazy (sorry Tiff), as she tried to introduce me to The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. But LBD is a Pride & Prejudice adaptation, which is kind of romance, so I refused. (As soon as the year was up I binge-watched that puppy, all 100 episodes, and hooo it is good. I was pleasantly surprised to find it is mostly about the relationships between Lizzie Bennet and the women in her life, and has a bunch of non-white actors who are just there, no big deal, just acting, just not being white.) Cutting out romance was just what I needed to purge some toxic gender-role bullshit about relationships from my mind and soul. After 12 months without any exposure to Matthew McConaughey shushing women, I felt better able to engage with romantic narratives without letting their sinister voices get inside my head.

At the end of last year, I realised – with the help of people smarter than me explaining it to me on the internet – that I would need to actively seek out movies with better gender and race representation. Movies like Jurassic World and Ted 2 (good god) would be thrown in front of my eyes on buses and billboards all the time, but I’d need to work a little harder to filter out the white-dude bias.

Which brings me to The Other Movie Project. I wanted to have a regular film writing project, while challenging some internalised bias and hopefully making my feminism more intersectional. So I thought I’d try filtering out the white guys for a while. Of course you can’t get rid of them completely, because they’re everywhere (again, The Last Airbender), but I decided to avoid narratives where the point-of-view character was a white man. I’ll talk about the practical difficulties in doing this in a moment. The Other Movie Project was designed to road-test industry statistics about film, in my little pocket of suburban Brisbane, Australia. Would the line-up at my local cinema be a vanilla sausagefest?

It’s the beginning of July and results are mixed. January saw just one movie that was actually about a woman, 14 movies about white men, and zero about people of colour. February, the ratio was about even (that is, “white men” to “everyone else in the world”). In March, things got bad again, with only five films qualifying for the project, and 19 films about white dudes going unwatched by me.

Since then, though, the number of films about (white) (usually blonde) women has been skyrocketing. I have not been able to keep up with my viewing quotas. And unfortunately, foreign-language films and movies about anyone who isn’t a white man or woman don’t seem to get many sessions at the cinemas, so if I miss a couple of days, I miss the film. A lot of what I watched during busy months ended up depending on what was showing on the days I did feel well enough to go to the cinema. (I live with a chronic medical condition, more on that over here if you’re interested.) Since movies like Pitch Perfect 2 were given plenty of sessions, I was more likely to see them. Movies like Salut D’Amour, however – a South Korean romance-dramedy about two older people re-learning how to date – seemed like they flitted through the cinema on a breeze and were gone.

Salut D'Amour, 2015

The worst, the very worst thing about doing The Other Movie Project – that has been researching people’s ethnicities to find out if they are “white”. Or, “how white they are”. Oh, it is awful and I regret this parameter. On one hand, people have been helpful in alerting me to actors whose non-white ethnicity is often erased in pop media (case-in-point, Vin Diesel, who identifies as a person of colour, which I did not know until Twitter told me). This has given me a better understanding of how racial identity is constructed (and, tangentially, a better appreciation for the Fast franchise, which I plan to watch asap). On the other hand, nothing makes you feel like a gross person so much as typing “What is Carl Barron’s ethnicity?” into Google. (The only results were from white power forums.) All I can say is that my reading for this project (along with the zillion think-pieces I’ve read on Rachel Dolezal, because internet) have helped my thinking become much less … no I’m not going to say “black and white”. But, that.

When I set the terms for this movie filter six months ago, I knew that I might not be able to meet all of them. And I haven’t. April is completely missing from the project as I was directing/co-producing a play and everything else kind of fell by the wayside. June is gone too, as I spent half of that month being too ill and the other half staying somewhere with no cinema. And there have been movies I thought qualified that, upon watching them, turned out to be about white guys, as well as movies that probably qualified but promoted their white male lead like it was going out of fashion (it is, heh).

Thank you for (still!) reading this. We’re at the halfway mark now, so I will regroup, gather my cinema coupons (one wonderful Twitter friend sent me cinema coupons! How great are people), and hit the cinemas for July. Wish me luck. I’ll see you for next month’s blog post, when we will be back to our regularly scheduled program of non-white-guy movie reviews.

 

 

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February: The Second Best Jupiter Ascending Over Selma And Alice

Posts, The Other Movie Project

Whoa! February actually achieved parity in white-dude and non-white-dude movies released near me! I didn’t even manage to watch all of the films that qualified for my project, for reasons I will explain further on. What is my project? I have challenged myself to watch every movie released at a cinema near me that is not The Story of A White Guy. I am interested in how intersectionality affects my movie-going choices, so I am watching every movie available that is about a woman and/or a person of colour.

Still Alice Twitter screen shot

1. Still Alice

I put on my pinkest pants and my most mentally healthy head and made sure I was exposed to plenty of sunshine and put chocolate in my purse and then I went to see Still Alice.

I needed every self-care strategy I had.

Still Alice is the story of Alice (Julianne Moore), a linguistics professor who finds out she has early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. We watch her deteriorate on-screen. It is brutal. Thank goodness the cinema was nearly empty and I was sitting up the back because I wept from credits to credits. Yet the film is gentle, elegant. Not only is Julianne Moore the queen of everything, but the film direction makes sure the story is told from her character’s perspective. I didn’t notice until the end of the film that none of the action takes place out of Alice’s presence; it is entirely her experience of the disease. So often, stories about devastating illness focus on the experience of the people who must care for the ill person, but Still Alice never stops being about Alice.

Kristen Stewart is wonderful as Alice’s youngest daughter, who steps up to play a major role in her mother’s care. “Thank you for asking,” Alice says to her daughter when asked what Alzheimer’s feels like. Still Alice shows us the creativity with which Alice manages her condition, and her determination not to lose herself. It asks, What is it like to live with this? As someone with a debilitating and poorly understood disease, I was grateful to this movie for asking.

2. Selma

The first movie released near me this year to be about a person of colour, and, unbelievably, the first theatrical movie ever to feature Martin Luther King Jr as a main character. No, really. The first. And it took Oprah Winfrey and Ava DuVernay to push it through.

I knew this movie was about Martin Luther King Jr, but I’m going to have to step up right now and admit that I thought Selma was the name of a female character. My US Civil Rights’ Movement history is sorely lacking. But you don’t need much prior knowledge to be affected by the significance of the film’s events. It is narratively tight; the movie opens in the town of Selma, at a time when King is already an influential civil rights leader and African-American people have won the legal right to vote. But legal rights haven’t translated into equal rights, with black people still being blocked from voting by systemic racism. King fights to raise support for the Voting Rights Act through a historic march from Selma to Alabama’s capital. The opposition to something as simple as the equal right to vote is violent, ugly and all too familiar, with scenes reminiscent of Ferguson.

Let’s go back to the thing about Selma being the first MLK film. I found out while researching this post that most films about the American Civil Rights era have accessed the events through a white character (for example, The Help). David Oyelowo, who plays King in Selma, has said:

“There was a study done around the police in a certain state in this country, and they admitted that there is an inherent fear of the black male … So subconsciously or consciously, to have black powerful men driving the narrative as protagonists is frightening for America. And frightening for Hollywood. Subconsciously there is an allergy to it.”

It is indicative of my blind spot as a white person that, although I’ve always admired MLK, I had no idea that he’d never been the main character in a movie about him.

Selma contains breathtaking moments of violence, all the more shocking because they jump out between talky scenes of bureaucracy and strategy meetings. The movie also features a particular moment during which I punched the air and shout-whispered “WINFREY!” Oprah is so, so good in this, and she also co-produces. Selma cements its feminist cred by being directed by the first African-American woman to be nominated for a best director Golden Globe, and by passing the Bechdel Test with flying colours (thanks to one of my favourite scenes, in which one African-American woman speaks at length to another African-American woman on why she is proud of her ancestry).

If this is still showing near you, go out and see it.

3. The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

Alternate tag lines I suggested to no one:
‘The Sequel That’s Keeping It Dench’
‘The Dames Are Back In Town’
‘Downton Abbey Lost Its Money And Moved To India’

the-best-exotic-marigold-hotelI was charmed by the first Best Exotic Marigold movie, and the sequel did not disappoint. This is sweet comfort viewing, dripping with fairy lights and even a couple of dance breaks. The sequel builds on the first movie’s already large ensemble cast, adding Richard Gere, Black Books‘ Tamsin Greig, and a bigger part for the formidable Lilette Dubey. Sonny (Dev ‘I’ve Been In Love With Him Since Skins‘ Patel) wants to open a second hotel before his wedding, with the help of reformed racist Muriel Donnelly (Maggie ‘Dame By Name, Dame By Nature’ Smith), but his myopic ambition is threatening his relationships. Will he learn his wedding dance in time to save his marriage? Will they find out who is the mysterious spy sent to appraise their hotel? Will Bill Nighy make it through a complete sentence? It’s all adorable and I love it.

There were quite a few moments in the movie where I balked at what seemed like blithe colonialism: white gentry moving in and taking Indian jobs (leading regional tours even though they have to have a local child feed them information). But I thought there was poetic justice in the way Sonny gets his second hotel in the end (spoiler!), and the property he takes over is the Viceroy Club – a leftover of British colonialism. The last we see of the ‘White People’ Club’s romanesque columns, they are being decked out for an Indian wedding reception. It seemed right.

I enjoyed watching a movie that represented younger and older generations without resorting to ageist stereotypes or confected intergenerational warfare. It just avoids progressivism, however, by falling into the sequel trap of attempting to tie up all their stories with neat (hetero-normative, monogamous) bows. I note with interest that the franchise’s only gay character (played by Tom Wilkinson) died in the first movie after a lifetime of unrequited love. But look, the straight people are dancing!

Look, the main thing for me was that The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel begins and ends with the Dowager Countess Maggie ‘McGonagall’ Smith, and you can’t go wrong with that. I found it genuinely uplifting, and frankly I needed that after Still Alice and Selma.

4. Fifty Shades of Grey

The movie adaptation of the book that reportedly romanticises an abusive relationship. I wondered if Fifty Shades would even qualify for this project, since the title refers to its white male protagonist (antagonist?), Christian Grey. But a quick skim of the internet showed that the story is about Anastacia Steele’s emotional journey/’erotic awakening’. I don’t know how true that is, because I have not seen the movie. I am not going to see this movie. At least, not at this time. I am sorry – to the people who said they were looking forward to my review, and to consistency for breaking it – but I just cannot. Not for political reasons, although I have those; I’m avoiding Fifty Shades of Grey for personal reasons. At the top of this post I talked about self-care, and this is me doing that. However I would like to note that this is not a stance against BDSM or erotica or romance – or even Twilight fan-fiction – in any way. I just don’t have the spoons to watch something that potentially dresses up abuse as romance.

5. The Wedding Ringer

I also missed this Kevin Hart comedy, not for any reason other than I was travelling and did not have time to catch it. I will try to watch it soon and include it in a later post.

6. Jupiter Ascending

Fuck, this was bonkers. Channing Tatum was a dog person? Mila Kunis nearly married her grown-up son? Eddie Redmayne was trying to be Gary Oldman in The Fifth Element crossed with Richard Roxburgh in Moulin Rouge if both of them had had lip implants?

I almost didn’t watch Jupiter Ascending for this project because, based on the trailers, I’d thought it was about Channing ‘White Guy’ Tatum, with Mila Kunis as his romantic interest/trophy to save. In fact, most of the marketing made it seem this way. I didn’t even realise until I was watching the movie that Jupiter is the name of Mila Kunis’s character. The movie is all about her: she is the title character; she has the main arc; she is in nearly every scene; she even narrates the introduction! Channing Tatum is her helper friend. And yet, this is how the billing was listed wherever I looked:

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

From IMDB

From IMDB

From the trailer's YouTube description

From the trailer’s YouTube description

From the poster

From the poster

… And please don’t tell me Tatum is the ‘bigger name’. Mila Kunis was in Black Swan, people. BLACK. SWAN.

Anyway, I didn’t hate this film. It was fun. They went BIG. Mila Kunis is endlessly watchable and got a few good laughs from the audience. (Eddie Redmayne got the only other laugh, unintentionally. Sorry Eddie.) The cast was diverse, for Hollywood, and it was exciting to see Gugu Mbatha-Raw (from the seriously underrated 2013 film Belle) pop up. In fact, instead of watching Jupiter Ascending, maybe you should go find a copy of Belle. Belle is great. Watch Belle.

If you’re still not sure whether you are someone who would enjoy Jupiter Ascending, it is easy to find out: does the following phrase appeal to you? ‘AMERICAN-AUSTRALIAN SPACE OPERA.’

My answer was yes.

Number of movies released near me during February that were about white men:

Five! Not bad, world.

January: Into The Woods, Wild

Posts, The Other Movie Project

This is the first post for my 2015 blog project, The Other Movie Project. I am challenging myself to watch every single movie showing near me that is not about a white guy. For the month of January, I found two movies that qualified. Two. Find out more about The Other Movie Project here.

Into The Woods

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 10.21.43 pm
Tricked by posters and IMDB and cinema listing citing the lead actor as Meryl Streep, I thought Into The Woods would be a movie about a kick-ass witch who is unexpectedly complex and sings touching songs and has long chats with other complex female characters. Or, Into The Woods was about Emily Blunt, or Anna Kendrick. So many rad ladies in this ensemble cast, it had to qualify! So I went to see it, and discovered that it was actually a story about a whiny baker man.

Though there is a large cast of characters, all of their stories somehow center around The Baker (played by white guy James Corden). Emily Blunt The Baker’s Wife is also there, who is named The Baker’s Wife even though we are introduced to both of them in the bakery at once, both very definitely and very equally baking. Like bakers. Although I suppose technically what Emily Blunt is doing is baker’s-wifing. She is a prominent character but I’ll get to why the story isn’t about her in a minute. The action really begins with the witch (The Indomitable Streep) bursting into the bakery and telling The Baker that she put a curse on his family over beans or something. She gives James Corden and Emily Blunt a series of tasks to complete and a clear deadline and disappears to go advance the plot somewhere else. Then begins a tediously recurring conversation in which James Corden tells Emily Blunt to stay home while he goes on adventures because he is The Baker and she is only The Baker’s Wife.

The rest of the movie is James Corden learning lessons and growing as a man and realising that his wife may actually be more competent than him, while his wife runs around doing most of the work and then dies so that The Baker can feel sad about it. The finale of the movie is all the remaining woman and children (those not killed in the giant attacks caused by Beanstalk Jack’s reckless disregard for other people’s property) gathering around James Corden and asking if they can go home with him. There you have it. James Corden learned to sort of respect his wife. James Corden learned not to abandon his baby. James Corden learned to be a leader. James Corden is rewarded with a family and Cinderella The New Baker’s Wife. The emotional arc is James Corden’s. James Corden narrates the whole damn film. Into The Woods is about James Corden. So tricked.

This movie had so many holes, and most of them were fallen into by female characters. The greatest threat to life in this movie was Falling Over. Jack’s mother (unnamed) is killed by being pushed over. The powerful, terrifying giant (“a female giant!!”) perishes by lying down unexpectedly. Meryl Streep and Emily Blunt fall out of frame and presumably die, without warning or fanfare. I was sure they were fake-outs, and kept waiting for them to spring back into frame, the witch cackling and Emily Blunt saying “Surprise Baker, I’m back, now get your cow eyes off Anna Kendrick”. I was gobsmacked because I naively thought the whole “helpless women sprain their ankles at inopportune moments” trope had died with the 70s.

And feminism dies with the last words spoken by a female character in this film: “Yes [indicates male character], I will come live at your house. There are times when I actually like cleaning!”

FUUUUUCK.*

(All that said, I really loved the scene where the two campy princes sing a campy song about their man-feelings atop a waterfall. Would like to see re-released as a Cracked short film titled Princes Have Feelings.)

*I have been told that Into The Woods is not a great film adaptation of the original Broadway musical, which I haven’t seen, so please know that I am only critiquing the movie as a stand-alone text. I hold out hope that the stage musical makes a tonne more sense.

Wild

Out of the woods and into the wild. All the promotion I’d seen for this Reese Witherspoon vehicle made it look, frankly, super boring. Promoted clips were mostly of her walking, looking tired, or fiddling with her shoes. The general impression I got from reviews and people’s comments was that the central character, Cheryl Strayed (Reese Witherspoon), was unlikeable and had “made a lot of really bad life choices”. I’d seen Sean Penn’s Into The Wild (2007) a few years ago and thought, OK, I guess I’m about to see the girl version of that.

Nope, nope, nope.

Wild was so much better.

Wild is glorious. I recommend that you go see this if you can. I did not find it boring for a second, and I don’t know why I had that impression. I hope it’s down to poor marketing, and not too much to internalised sexism.

I don’t want to make too many direct comparisons to Into The Wild, but it’s so easy. Where in Into The Wild Emile Hirsch’s McCandless felt inscrutable and self-satisfied, Witherspoon’s Cheryl Strayed is someone I could relate to. We are invited into her inner monologue, her motivations, her meditations on her own flaws. I felt wholly invested in this character. When I saw Into The WIld, I couldn’t help thinking that the film idealised McCandless’s abandonment of his family. Wherever he went, he always seemed so pleased with himself. Yet Wild doesn’t rely on sweeping vistas to insert poignancy into the narrative. Strayed’s backstory is revealed in well-paced flashbacks, and the scenes between her and her mother (Laura Dern) are so painful it’s perfect.

One criticism would be that too much is made of Strayed’s promiscuous past when the narrative calls for examples of her “bad life choices”. However, just when it looks like slut-shaming, Strayed has a one-night stand that has nothing to do with self-destruction and everything to do with her own pleasure. She is complex and has agency. Thank the Lady Witherspoon (who optioned Strayed’s book and got this movie off the ground with her own money).

It is a rare movie that shows a variety of male micro-aggressions against women from a woman’s perspective, and futhermore presents them as incidental to the story. Male entitlement is part of Wild‘s landscape, no more or less than rattlesnakes and empty water tanks. And, blessedly, we don’t have to witness any graphic violence. Casual sexism aimed at Strayed isn’t a ‘primer’ for some awful act; it is the act in itself. I don’t think I’ve seen a film that captured this particular social phenomenon so accurately. And it was done with wit and compassion. Good stuff.

Number of movies showing near me during January that were about white men:

Thirteen.

Also notable:

Out of the two movies I saw (Into The Woods and Wild), I recall only one speaking role occupied by a person of colour. So, yep. Not great.

The Other Movie Project: Here we go!

The Other Movie Project

For 2015, I have challenged myself to watch every single movie released in a cinema near me that is not a story about a white guy. Is the movie about a woman, or a man who is not white? I must watch it. Is the movie about someone who does not identify within the gender binary? Heaven help me, I must watch it, because it would be wonderful to see.

I’ve noticed how many movies (and TV shows and books and articles and narratives in general) centre around a white guy. If a woman or a man of colour does occupy a leading role in a film, they are almost always an offsider or partner to a white guy. They’re the love interest, the villain, or the best friend. They’re the other character. I am pushing myself to challenge this internalised bias, that stories about white men are inherently more valuable. I feel like I’ve watched plenty of movies that follow the emotional journeys of white men. I want to watch the other movies.

So I’m putting my money where my mouth is. If a film is released in a cinema near me, and the narrative centres around a woman and/or a person of colour, I will go buy a ticket and watch it. Movies about women of colour? Bonus points!

By seeking out movies about non-white-guys, I’ll have to actively notice how many movies are about white guys. At this point, I’m not sure what the stats are. I might end up watching hardly any movies for this project. I might end up spending heaps on movie tickets (I kind of hope so). How do industry statistics translate into session times at Australian cinemas? I’m going to find out, at least for Brisbane.

After each month is over, I’ll blog about the movies I saw (and the ones I didn’t). First post coming soon. Here we go!

I’ll be here all week (and next)

Posts

Last night was the opening night of Not Much To Tell You at The Sue Benner Theatre, Metro Arts. It was a wonderful start to the season with a really great crowd and a good feeling in the room. I’m looking forward to doing it all again tonight, and then Friday, and then Saturday, and then Wednesday-to-Saturday next week! Tickets are still available from metroarts.com.au, or you can buy at the door tonight.

Here is a picture of my super hi-tech set:

I also had the pleasure of being interviewed by Sally Browne for yesterday’s Courier Mail:

‘Scuse me while I go laminate my copy. #sorrynotsorry

Not Much To Tell You is a part of the program for the most poetic weekend in Brisbane’s calendar – the Queensland Poetry Festival! QPF has its opening night tomorrow at the Judith Wright Centre, to usher in the greatest poetry festival in the southern hemisphere! LET’S HEAR IT FOR POETRY.

I’ll be giving my top picks for QPF on Metro Arts’ Instagram, so keep an eye out for that. Or you could just pick up a QPF program and throw a dart at literally any part of it, and I guarantee it will be good.

Take me to your money

Posts, Selected Posts

Being an artist in Australia feels a lot like that time I was a tourist in Pompeii: none of the fucking maps look alike. Seriously, there’s a road marked here on this one, but it’s not on any of the others. And I’m standing in a courtyard that eight out of the ten maps claim does not exist. Where the hell am I? How do I get back to the food court? (I swear I remember a food court in Pompeii. In Pompeii. Under the shadow of Mount Vesuvius, among one of the most remarkable archeological finds ever, I ate a dodgy parma.)

ABOVE: Pompeii postcard, made thanks to art

Pompeii postcard, made thanks to art

Aside from the fact that I rarely get heckled in Italian during tech rehearsal, the Pompeii metaphor stands up pretty well. I entered the creative industries the same way I entered that ancient Roman city: in awe, seeking culture and history and something bigger than myself. Then two street dogs started fighting near my leg and I got scared. But this is not a rant against life as an artist, or Pompeii (one of the coolest historical sites ever). This is more of a generalised puzzling. I’m that lost idiot wearing a bathers top as clothes because my campsite doesn’t include a laundromat, gesturing emphatically at my street map and saying “HELP? WHERE GO?”

Basically, in artist, all of this translates to: my project didn’t get funded.

Bummer.

OK, so, if you’ve seen my bio, you may know that I am one of the three Hack Residents at The Edge, State Library of Queensland. I started my residency in January and I have to say, The Edge is awesome. One of Brisbane’s better kept secrets. I actually resent telling people about my residency because then I’ll have to tell them about The Edge, and I want to keep all of its wonderful resources for MYSELF, ME, JUST MEEEE HAHAHAARR. Other Brisbane artists I’ve spoken to have expressed a similar annoyance that people are starting to know where that cave-like corridor between the Art Gallery and SLQ leads. It’s like Fight Club: it’s an open secret now. We used to just find each other by chanting “His name is Daniel Flood”* until someone else knew what you were talking about. (*That is a very specific Fight Club reference that only makes sense if you’re familiar with The Edge’s programming staff, so sorry to everyone except the three people who laughed at that.)

ABOVE: Yes, this is that concrete hallway you’ve been avoiding because you weren’t sure if you were allowed down there. YOU ARE. DON’T TELL ANYONE.

My residency project is a live event where people can interact with stories from marginalised communities. At the moment, I’m recording interviews with women who work in male-dominated industries – people who have ‘hacked’ (eh?) into workplaces where they would traditionally be excluded. It is fascinating work. I am a nerd for analysing work practices and gender studies and storytelling, so this is pretty great. But I have a problem: not enough funding.

The Edge is supporting my project with in-kind support, for which I am grateful and stoked. One of the wonderful things about the team there is their understanding that creative practice needs space and time for experimentation. The thing is, it also needs money. I was counting on additional streams of funding to make this project go. When two grant applications came back ‘negatory’, it was a blow. I’m not proud of how sad I got. Failing doesn’t come easy to me, as I’m sure it doesn’t to most. Plus, I had no idea what to do next. No map. Without funding, the project was stalled.

I am continuing anyway, because I love this project and I’m crazy-passionate about it, but I cannot afford all the hours of work, the resources, or the fees for additional artists without being paid for them. I will keep applying for further grants and funding avenues, but sometimes it seems like most of my life as an artist is spent writing applications rather than working on my art. And those applications need me to have already spent a lot of time figuring out the art part and getting really good at it and justifying why I should get the money to work on it further. I had hoped that this was just a symptom of me not managing my time properly, but from reading Justin Heazlewood‘s memoir/self-help book Funemployed: Life as an Artist in Australia, I gather that it’s not just me:

“Being an artist means running a business; a tiny one, sure, but as valid and high-maintenance as any other. Only when you are a few years into your practice does this dry reality begin to dawn. Like an extended practical joke, you look around from your desk to see if the cameras are rolling. All this time you’ve been a contestant on Admin Idol, duped into your own temping job by the faceless men at Officeworks.”
— From Funemployed (2014), p. 75. Seriously, buy it, read it, it’s good.

If I’m sounding a bit strident and self-justifying, it’s because I’m fighting against a lifelong conditioning that the arts are inessential. You don’t think about artists doing piles of admin for their art, because you don’t think of art as a job. Like, that sounds fun, but what do you really do?

This isn’t a hobby; this isn’t hanging out after work on the weekends. This is my career and I need to be paid at some point. It’s no coincidence that this period of reflection on my career path comes immediately after I filed my latest tax return. I’m barely treading water here. As a society, we can’t expect to benefit from everything that art brings to our culture and make artists pay for it all out of their own pockets. I was extremely gratified by Charlie Pickering getting shouty on The Project tonight, half-jokingly telling news outlets to stop covering art. Because, Pickering said, the news covers art and they talk about how much it will cost and then people get all “What’s the point of it” and – he yelled – “It’s ART! What’s the point of it? IT’S ART!” Cheering studio applause, echoed by my spraying of nachos at the TV: “Go Charlie!”

So, I’ve had my sulk, nailed my rejection letters to the wall and pulled myself up by my bootstraps. This project has hit a speed-bump but we’re still going to get there eventually. I don’t have a reliable map but I have the same things I had in Pompeii all those years ago: blind optimism and an unshakeable belief that I look awesome in this tankini swim top, no I don’t care that we’re standing in a museum, gimme another parma per favore.

Something to tell you

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I’m happy to say that I’ll be presenting a two-week season of Not Much To Tell You at Brisbane’s Metro Arts!

It is wonderful to be presenting the performance at the very home where it was nurtured and developed. I was selected for Metro Arts’ Creative Development program during their July-December block last year, and they were warmly supportive and critically helpful in developing my first solo show. Not Much To Tell You had its first season in Perth earlier this year, co-presented by Fringe World and The Blue Room Theatre. Since then, some people have been asking “Are we ever going to see it in Brisbane?” Yep! This one’s for you, Brisbabes.

This show was developed with financial support from the awesome people who contributed to my Pozible campaign last year. I want to thank you all again: Ashley, Mark Cottman-Fields, Rae White, Amy Fletcher, David Vincent Smith, Kate Zahnleiter, Sam Vaughn, Larry Cox, Alexis Malinkowski, Sandy Torode, Tom Hogan, and many more anonymous supporters.

It was nice of Metro Arts to have me back even though this is what I do when they leave me alone in their performance space:

Not Much To Tell You opens on 27 August and runs through the Queensland Poetry Festival, until 6 September. Tickets go on sale soon – more info at the Metro Arts website.

KP_NMTTY

Blog hop hooray, ho, hey, ho

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Twitter friend and author Chris White has invited me to take part in the #MyWritingProcess blog hop. It’s kind of the blog equivalent of a chain letter, and I get to chat to myself about writing. How it works: you get an invitation from a writer-blogger to answer four questions about your writing process, then pass the torch along by asking other writer-bloggers to answer four questions about themselves. I’m looking forward to peeking into the lives of other writers and hopefully finding out that they, too, make death noises into the keyboard.

I’ve been given the chance to participate by Chris White, whose work spans, among others, two of my favourite genres: magical realism and science fiction. He blogs at chriswhitewrites, and you should definitely check out his tweets because he curates a pretty great Twitter feed. I always learn stuff.

OK. On to my answers to the blog hop questions:

1. What are you working on at the moment?

I’m writing my next solo show, the format of which is inspired by the lecture as performance. I’m a big fan of TED Talks and the like; I’ve seen a few comedy and poetry performances that used slides as props to great effect. I’m still in the early stages of the concept, but I’ve found that applying for grants to develop the show has really helped me focus my ideas. Limitations usually help me be more creative, so if I have to create the work by a deadline or fit it to specifications (i.e. touring on a budget, justifying it to funding panels) it is easier to put my head down and write.

2. How do you think your work differs from that of other writers in your genre?

Hmm, this is a tough question, mostly because I’m not sure what my genre is. I mostly write for performance, sometimes page poetry, and very infrequently opinion articles. I guess my work differs from that of other writers in my genre(s) because my collection of interests is going to be different to theirs. I admire the scientific process, reason, and logic; I try to employ them when I’m writing a poem. (I use my work to explore social and political issues; it’s my way of trying to figure out the world. It’s important to me that I can justify each choice I make in my poetry.) When I’m trying to put a feeling into words, I pretend I’m a forensic scientist looking for the most accurate words (I wanted to be a scientist or a poet when I grew up, so this is a nice compromise). I’ve definitely stopped performing some poems because new information showed me that their internal logic wasn’t sound. Got to make sure all the ideas add up.

3. Why do you write what you do?

Because I can’t write anything else? Haha. Through a process of elimination, I have found that writing poetry suits: (a) my perfectionist fear of lengthy projects (novels are my Everest); (b) my passion for language and aesthetics; and (c) my love for an audience. I’ve found that performing poetry suspends the audience’s reality for a while and they’ll let me get away with heaps more earnest flights of fancy than if I was telling a joke or a story.

I write opinion when I can, because getting paid for my opinions is pretty much 15-year-old-me’s dream job, and damn, I owe her a lot (she discovered Harry Potter for us).

4. What’s your writing process, and how does it work?

I’ve been writing and dating all my writing/ideas in journals since I was 10. I often write down ideas for conceits, or a few lines, to go back to them later. They usually marinate in my journal for a few months, maybe a couple years. Then I go back to them and smash out the rest. The super-personal stuff takes the longest to marinate. I get out all the self-indulgent, cliched stuff in my journal, then rewrite it with fresh eyes. Edit, edit, edit. When I think I’ve got the shape of the thing, it goes into a Word doc on my computer for more editing.

I started writing for theatre last year, and that process has required more formal organisation. I’ve started using Scrivener. After I’ve thought of a show idea, I spend a few months pumping research and thoughts into a Scriv doc, setting myself inquiry questions. I do a lot of background reading. I think of my solo shows as research projects, and the final work is my thesis … Except, the kind of thesis where I don’t have to show any of my research. And I can be totally subjective. And I can revise it every time I perform. OK so they’re the funnest research projects in the world.

 

That’s it for my blog post! Thanks for sitting through me nerding out about my own writing, haha. Next week, please check out the ruminations of these fine writer-bloggers …

1. Kate Wilson

Kate Wilson

kwpoet.blogspot.com.au

Kate Wilson lives in Bunbury, Western Australia, where she writes and performs poetry that’s designed to entertain and inspire. Kate started writing poetry at the age of 7 while sitting on her garage roof. At the end of her Speech and Drama studies in 2008, Kate entered and won her first poetry slam, and has kept writing and performing ever since. Kate has appeared at dozens of events and festivals in WA, sharing her words and teaching poetry, voice and performance workshops.

 

2. Zenobia Frost

zenobiafrost.wordpress.com

Zenobia FrostZenobia Frost is a Brisbane-based writer and editor whose debut poetry collection, The Voyage, was released in 2009. Her work has been published in The Guardian Australia, Southerly, The Lifted Brow, Overland, Going Down Swinging, Voiceworks and QWeekend Magazine. She is fond of graveyards, incisive verse, theatre and tea.

Finding Eygpt in the weirdest places

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Ever lose track of where you are? You’re walking along, face in the breeze, and the matter of which city you’re in becomes momentarily academic? This happens to me kind of frequently. It’s a bit worrying, actually – when I can’t remember if I’m in Perth (where I spent most of my life), or in Brisbane, the place I’ve made my home. They both feel like home to me now. Sometimes I think I’m going to turn a corner and see my friend Alexis peering through the window of a vintage clothing shop, or run into Daryl going for a coffee. But they live 4336km away (I looked it up) (this is a factually accurate blog).

One time, I actually did see a Perth amigo on George Street, while I was on the phone at a bus stop. She was strolling with a colleague, in Brisbane for the day on business. But I didn’t know that. So, at the bus stop, next to a Pie Face, while my bus squealed into the stop next to me, I had a very delicate meltdown. “Oi!!” I shrieked at her, pinwheeling my arms, while yelling down the phone, “HOLD ON, DAD,” and instructing the bus driver to “WAIT JUST A MINUTE! HOLY SHIT”. Internally, my mind was all jigsawed: “WHERE ARE WE? EAST OR WEST? I WAS SO SURE THIS WAS BRISBANE: THERE’S SO MANY BATS!!”

In case you’re wondering, yes, it probably was my proudest moment.

Brisbane must really be ‘Australia’s New World City’, because I come geographically unstuck here quite a bit. (Side note about the ‘New World City’ thing – are we talking Pocahontas New World? Is Brisbane claiming Queensland as some kind of wild frontier? I guess it pretty much is, I mean, Bob Katter, right? Or is this a freshly minted World City? Hasn’t Brisbane been in the World for a while? I guess if we’re continuing with the Queensland satire, then the answer is ‘no’. Nya ha ha.) Brisbane City reminds me of a lot of other cities (I guess metropolitan life’ll do that to you).

I wrote a poem about this kind of feeling, and the lovely editorial staff at The Suburban Review published it: ‘There’s Cairo In This City’ appears in Volume II of their gorgeous zine. My copy came yesterday!

Zine mail is the best kind of mail (after Harry Potter merch).

Zine mail is the best kind of mail (after Harry Potter merch).

I’ve also recorded myself reading it out, because yolo. It’s up on my SoundCloud (I had to put something on there eventually).

I had a great experience working with the editors at The Suburban Review – and they pay for print submissions! – so I can recommend submitting to them if you’re a writer/artist/photographer. Between figuring out which city you’re in, of course (is it just me??).

Newsletter time!

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Last year I started a monthly newsletter about storytelling and performance poetry things in Brisbane. I decided to start it in answer to people who often come up to me at gigs and ask what I do, and how they can find out about more events.

(Click here to read the latest newsletter.)

The January edition is out, and it includes a charming photo of my latest crop of Yarn storytelling workshoppers. (They were a pretty charming group.)

I’ll be pretty flat-out over the next few weeks as I fly to Perth for Not Much To Tell You‘s first fringe festival appearance/interstate premiere. But I’ll be tweeting and instagramming the whole way, and I’ll try to update this ol’ blog as often as possible.

Please subscribe to my newsletter if you’d like to keep getting updates on how to get involved with storytelling and performance poetry in Brisbane. People are always saying “I love events like this but I don’t know how to find them” WELL HERE YA GO. 🙂

It’s JAMuary – as in JAM-PACKED WITH STORYTELLING GOODNESS. (I’m sorry.)