I’ll be on Radio Fremantle 107.9fm from 10.30am this morning, reading some of my poetry and having a bit of a chat. Tune in if you’re in the area!

In other news, the Buzzcuts Perth program has been going well! The crack team of writers I’m coordinating have been writing up some fantastic reviews of Fringe World. You can read them on the Buzzcuts blog, or on PerthNow.com.au

Speaking of Fringe World, if you’re in Perth you should definitely be checking out some Fringe shows! There’s 150 shows on offer, with heaps of variety. I especially recommend the story showcase Barefaced Stories at the Blue Room. I might be a bit biased because I’m one of their storytellers (I did the Barefaced opening night on Tues) but seriously it’s a brilliant show! And it’s different every show, so you can go to more than one.

So much to do! Huzzah!

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The Forensic Psychiatrist

Transports of Delight

Plugging away at my iPhone on the train, I look up for a moment and catch an intriguing tableau.

A young teenage boy is sitting sandwiched between other passengers: a pair of older gentlemen on one side, and a man in a wifebeater on the other side. The older gentlemen are quietly discussing something, with their heads close together. Wifebeater Man is slouching, knees wide apart (one of the hallmarks of the male Public Person), with long slicked-back hair and a plaid shirt tied around his waist. But this isn’t what catches my eye.

The man in the wifebeater is reaching his arm across the boy, middle finger stuck determinedly in the air. He holds his arm straight out for a good minute, pointing his fist expectantly at the pair of older gents. But the gents don’t notice, so the tableau holds like this for a long pause, while the teenage boy sits awkwardly in the middle.

Finally, Wifebeater Man bellows “OY, LOOK AT THAT,” and when the gents notice him flipping them off, they roll their eyes and ignore him. Wifebeater Man cackles long and hard.

The teenage boy, evidently a very well-mannered teenage boy, assumes (as I do) that the man is friends with the older gents. The boy says to the man, “Sorry, did you want to sit next to them,” offering to trade seats. This is how Wifebeater Man replies:

“NAAAH, NAAAH, YOU’RE ALRIGHT. YOU LISTEN TO ME, SON, YOU MARRY YOUR MISSUS, YOU BECOME A DOCTOR OR SOMETHING, AND THEN ONE DAY, YOU’LL FIND YOU’RE A GRANDDAD!” More cackling. “I’M A FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST!”

The teenage boy looks like he doesn’t know how to respond to this, and smiles politely. (I’ve noticed during many Transports of Delight that Public People tend to latch onto teenagers when looking for targets to talk to, because younger people are generally flattered by the attention and aren’t yet cynical enough to ignore the crazy person.)

Wifebeater Man continues. “YOU GOTTA MISSUS? YOU GOTTA MISSUS IN YOUR LIFE?”

The boy, speaking so quietly that he can’t be heard by the whole train carriage, responds with a negative.

“SHE BROKE UP WITH YOU?”

The boy, a little louder now, says, “Other way round, actually.”

“AARRH, WELL, YOU GOTTA GET A MISSUS. AND YOU MARRY HER. I’M FIFTY YEARS OLD, YOU LISTEN TO ME. YOU’LL DO ALRIGHT. AAARRHAHAH.”

The boy asks, “Do you have a missus?”

Wifebeater Man grins and stretches himself out contentedly, and I know from years of experience that we’re about to be treated to a Tale of Woe.

“I HAD A MISSUS, YEP I HAD A MISSUS. BUT I LOST HER, SHE KICKED ME OUT. I LIVE, I LIVE ON THE STREETS, I’M A HOMELESS PERSON ON THE STREETS.”

I’m starting to feel bad now, not just because it turns out that this guy might be homeless. I mainly feel bad because I have serious doubts that he’s homeless. How much of a cynic have I become? My response to hearing that someone is having life troubles is suspicion? But then I remember that there are different types of homelessness that don’t involve sleeping rough. He’s probably moving from mate’s house to mate’s house, until he finds a place. This makes more sense, because he doesn’t look like he’s been sleeping under bridges.

But I never get to find out what kind of homeless he is, because at that moment we pull into Claremont Station. The teenage boy stands up and farewells Wifebeater Man, who waves him off good-naturedly. The man falls into silence for the rest of the journey. I go back to my iPhone.

Bogans on the Bus

Transports of Delight

I get on the bus, and it’s empty except for three other passengers. One man in very nice shoes is sat right up the front of the bus, looking like he’s trying to practise invisibility. The other two are a couple of clearly drunk middle-aged persons. I tag on and walk past Mr Nice Shoes. He stares straight ahead. I soon learn why.

As I’m about to pass the couple, the bleary-eyed man says “Heeeello” and reaches out a hand to grab at me. I dodge him, say “Hi”, and keep going. This from the Grabber: “F–k you c—t, I was only being polite.”

From my position far, far down the back of the bus, I now notice that the woman with the Grabber is holding a dirty Chux to her forehead. She starts a halting but firm diatribe at the man.

“Who are you … even though I’m with you … who ARE YOU to tell me … to tell me to shut up?”

Man: “Oh, here we go.”

Woman: “Who … are you …”

Man: “Heerre, suck on this.”

Woman: “I’m not sucking on anything! I’m bleeding!”

Man: “Just finish this [evidently meaning drink].”

Woman: “I won’t finish it! … We’ll share it.”

Man: “How will we share it with you … with you bllessshhudinuh?”

 

The woman suddenly shrieks at the bus driver. “SHUDDINAHHHERE? We gone past it?”

The bus driver, to his credit, calmly replies, “Yes, we stop at the train station.”

Woman: “This gaawdutha train station?”

Bus driver: “Yes [sigh], we stop at the train station.”

 

Me? I press the bell and get off at the next stop, no matter where the hell it is. Sorry to the bus driver and Mr Nice Shoes, you’re on your own.

With the support of Express Media, Fringe World, and the Sunday Times, I am very pleased to introduce BUZZCUTS PERTH!

Buzzcuts is a program that trains young writers and broadcasters in critical arts reviewing. After running successfully in Melbourne for 15 years, this year the program is expanding to include Perth, with the support of Express Media, Fringe World, and the Sunday Times.

Buzzcuts Perth gives successful applicants the chance to see several Fringe World shows for free, write reviews and see them published on the Perth Now website. Participants will also be trained in writing critical arts reviews at a free orientation session.

The program is open to writers aged 18-25 who live in the Perth area and are interested in developing their skills as entertainment/arts writers.

Participants are expected to attend at least two shows during Perth’s Fringe World festival (26 January – 19 February) and to produce two accompanying reviews. In addition, participants are required to attend the compulsory orientation to be held in mid-January (date to be confirmed).

To apply, please submit the following:

  1. Your contact information (name, street address, email address, phone number, and date of birth)
  2. A cover letter outlining why you would like to be involved and any experience you have relevant to the area (experience in arts reviewing is preferable but not essential)

Send applications to:

Kaitlyn Plyley

kaitlynplyley@gmail.com

Applications close: 5pm, Sunday 14th of January 2012.

Successful applicants will be contacted via email.

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Voiceworks #87 Launch: WA knows how to play

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Last night we launched Voiceworks #87 PLAY in Western Australia, and holy moly it was awesome.

Comedian Libby Klysz was our host for the launch, a perfect host for the PLAY issue as she joked around with the audience, played up performers’ introductions, and promised everyone “games … with prizes!”

First cab off the rank was sweet singer-songwriter Caroline J Dale, whose quirky lyrics and gorgeous voice never fail to win over an audience.

Next we had a poem by emerging artist Alex Wolman, who led us on a dark journey through relationships and suicide. Sj Finch came in with the lighter side; the dotdotdash editor and Voiceworks contributor performed a clever and entertaining piece that had the crowd chuckling.

Everyone was pretty engrossed by the performances, but in between-times they had a chance to wander around: looking at the Perth Zine Collective‘s amazing array of hand-made zines; buying copies of the latest Voiceworks issues; and admiring artwork by Western Australian artists Sam Pash and Mel Pearce, whose works have been respectively published in Voiceworks ‘V’ and ‘Play’.

Zinester and Voiceworks contributor Anna Dunnill opened the second bracket of performances with a reading of an intelligently written piece. She was followed up by hip hop poet David Vincent Smith (dvs) who slammed us with a barrage of clever wordplay. Holy shit that guy can poem. dvs was supported by his friend DJ Silence, who mixed sound effects and hip hop beats behind dvs’s poems, adding yet another dimension to the words.

Last, but certainly not least, we were blessed with a performance by the beautiful ‘Ofa Benness. Best known around Perth for fronting her band Odette Mercy & The Soul Atomics, last night ‘Ofa had ditched the band and played a solo set. Performing a mix of singing and spoken word, between songs she chatted with the audience, relating the theme ‘Play’ back to her life and her music. Then ‘Ofa brought the whole venue to a standstill with her breathtaking vocals and wryly beautiful lyrics. I totally have a girl-crush on her.

We wrapped up the night with a pretty raucous game of Heads and Tails, and two happy and highly competitive audience members went home with book prizes kindly donated by Express Media.

Many, many thanks to Mojo’s Bar for being such a welcoming venue, to Libby Klysz for being an entertaining host, and to all the performers for kicking ass. I can’t wait for the next launch.

Theatre People feature: “Watts Up With Alvin Sputnik”, Nov 2011

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A feature article I wrote for Theatre People, interviewing WA’s Tim Watts.

It’s the opening night of the Perth Theatre Company’s latest production at the State Theatre Centre. An eager crowd pours in, primed by two years of rave reviews from this show’s runs in New York, Seoul and Edinburgh. Reviewers have used no shortage of gushing adjectives for this show, even calling it the theatrical equivalent of a blockbuster Pixar film. But if this audience is expecting a big-budget production, they aren’t going to get it. They’ve come for the story of one little man made out of a buoy and a white glove. This is the fringe theatre darling known as The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is set in a bleak future where the seas have risen and wiped out most of humanity. Someone must volunteer to journey down into the watery depths to find a new place for the survivors to live. Alvin Sputnik takes on this dangerous mission, hoping to follow the soul of his beloved wife, to be with her once more. Alvin Sputnik is told through a fusion of live performance, animation, mime, puppetry, projections, music, live drawing and even a ukelele. Alvin himself is portrayed by a mix of performance, stick-figure animation, and clever puppetry.

Two weeks before the show’s opening night, I’m sitting in a North Perth café with Alvin Sputnik’s creator, Tim Watts. He has come a long way since the first performance of Alvin Sputnik at The Blue Room in 2009. The show was quickly picked up by the Perth Theatre Company and went on to tour the United Kingdom, the United States, South Korea, India, New Zealand and, of course, Australia. Watts and Alvin picked up a swag of awards along the way. Now, in 2011, Alvin has come back to Perth a hero, starting a season at the newly minted State Theatre Centre.

After all the positive press over Alvin Sputnik, is Watts feeling the pressure to deliver? “I’m just worried that it’s going to be over-hyped,” he admits. “Towards the end of the UK season, I think people came in with really high expectations. I think no matter what happens when you go into a show and your expectations are through the roof, it can never really measure up.

“At the beginning of the show, where I’m just doing the live drawing, I try to bring things down to a basic level, so that people aren’t necessarily going to expect a big song and dance. Then I can surprise them from there.”

Despite the show’s accolades and years of touring, Watts has been careful to preserve what he calls its “nice little handmade quality.” Since Alvin Sputnik’s first incarnation at The Blue Room in 2009, Watts has added more animation and more puppetry, but says it is still essentially the same show. “You don’t want to polish it up to where it doesn’t have any heart left.”

Watts developed Alvin Sputnik in collaboration with fellow Perth theatre peep Arielle Gray. Their development process focused on audience response; they would work on the show together, then present showings to their friends and ask for feedback. Watts was prompted to try this kind of process by watching stand-up comedians.

“I got really jealous of stand-up comedians who’d have an idea for a joke, and could get up that night and try it out. They got real feedback as to whether the delivery was right, whether the joke was any good. They could work on their set through actual response from the audience, as opposed to a lot of theatre shows where you have an idea, you write out a script, and you spend six months putting it on. Then you perform it for two weeks, and no one is really honest with you as to how it goes. If anything negative is said about it, you just go and sit in a hole. You think, ‘Well, there’s nothing I can do about it now’.”

The character Alvin was created in a puppetry workshop with ‘Spare Parts Puppet Theatre’ in Fremantle, out of a buoy and a white glove. Under Watts’ expert hand, these abstract objects take on a very human life. He attributes Alvin’s anthropomorphism to the audience’s imaginative engagement. “To be able to pretend that this is a little guy … it’s as though you’re delighted at your own imagination. Then, when he does something human, it looks even more human,” he says. “When you’re really imaginatively engaged with something, you’re more likely to be emotionally engaged as well.”

Whenever he mentions Alvin, Watts absently arranges his hands into the shape of the little puppet, so for a moment it’s as if the deep sea explorer is at the table with us. It’s clear that Watts has formed a strong bond with the little round-headed man. So, how long do they plan to stay together? “Next year I’m kind of winding it down a bit. I don’t have a finite date where I’m like, ‘2015: no more Alvin’. I’m happy to keep doing Alvin, but I’m hoping to introduce more shows into my repertoire.”

But for now, it looks like Alvin will be sticking around. It’s the opening night of Alvin Sputnik’s Perth season for 2011, and I’m sitting in the State Theatre Centre’s Studio Underground, holding my breath in anticipation. Watts needn’t have worried about the hype. It’s not often you see a show that wins over the audience’s heart so quickly, or so completely. But Alvin Sputnik does it. During the performance, theatre-goers of all ages are sitting forward in their seats, faces shining, completely enamoured of Alvin. There are soft gasps of delight the first time puppet-Alvin emerges, and bursts of joyous applause throughout the 45-minute show.

Alvin’s underwater adventures arc towards a poignant finale. This is the second time I’ve seen The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik (having seen it during its inaugural season in 2009), so I reckon I’ll be able to steel myself against the emotional gutpunch and maintain a cool demeanour. Err, not so much. I straight-up weep. But I am relieved to see plenty of other patrons dabbing at their eyes as we leave the Studio. Something about this simple story of love and self-sacrifice has certainly captured people’s imagination. Perth audiences are usually dour and bestow admiration grudgingly, but Alvin Sputnik receives an ovation that seems to go on forever, and cheers such as are usually reserved for rock stars. But that’s how it is now. Alvin is a rock star. And it’s only a matter of time before Tim Watts achieves the same status.

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer is showing at the State Theatre Centre of WA (Perth) from Tuesday 22 November to Saturday 3 December.

Tim Watts performs with one of the Alvin puppets


Theatre People review: “Flirt Fiction”, Oct 2012

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A review I wrote for Theatre People, of Blue Room production Flirt Fiction.

Red Rabbit Collective, Perth’s sexiest new performance ensemble, brings their new show Flirt Fiction home to Australia, fresh off the back of a run in Edinburgh.

The show is a web of seductive tales woven around two competitive writers, Ana (Kathryn Delaney) and Henry (Lawrence Ashford). The two friends set each other a new writing challenge: sensual fiction. Each writer must attempt to write erotica. Henry accuses Ana of being uptight, and Ana tells Henry that sex isn’t all about penetration. They each struggle to take on the challenge, facing up to their personal taboos and secret fantasies. Centred in their sensual scenes is the waitress from their coffee shop, played by Zoe Cooper. The writers craft their characters in her image, and she becomes goddess, whore, dominatrix, whatever they need her to be.

Flirt Fiction production still, courtesy Angela H King
Zoe Cooper and Kathryn Delaney flirt with fiction.

Flirt Fiction is an interesting exploration of erotica, and how we craft our fantasies. With a strong script by Jessica Craig-Piper, the show explores the vulgar and the obvious in erotica, then goes deeper, reflecting on how our identities inform our consumption of sex. Woven through the story is a sweet thread of romance, which elevates the play from a collection of vulgar sketches and creates an engaging narrative.

Ashford is the stand-out performer of the show; he had the audience from his opening monologue and held them right through the play. Delaney, too, gave a strong performance and played her character with an admirable mix of strength and vulnerability. Cooper was perhaps the least engaging; although she gave a brave performance as the muse who is stripped of her clothes and bent into any position the others wish, she was somehow too brittle, and not terribly convincing as a flirt.

On the night this reviewer watched the play, it was unfortunate that the audience was not terribly responsive. There were a few murmurs of laughs at some of the naughty jokes, but mostly just the tense silence of an uncomfortable audience. While Ashford’s comic timing was spot-on, Delaney and Cooper missed a few chances for laughs, so that the energy fell flat. Unfortunately, the biggest laugh came in the middle of a heartfelt monologue about bestiality and rape, which was clearly intended to be an emotional peak in the story. Instead, the audience was left chuckling and hoping for relief from the confronting sound effects. The play’s finale was undercut by The Blue Room Studio’s black box set-up, which means that the actors freeze in their final position, then immediately unfreeze and wave goodbye to the audience. Awkward.

Despite some setbacks, this show is enjoyable and intensely interesting. Although not, perhaps, for the faint-hearted. At the end of the show, a man loudly said to his friend ‘I did NOT like that’, and two young women from the front row were evidently most concerned that they were going to be hit in the face by a strap-on dildo. It seems the show did not ‘find its audience’ that night. But if you can get past the graphic sexuality and the desire to giggle like a schoolgirl, then you’ll find Flirt Fiction a rewarding experience.

Flirt Fiction is showing at The Blue Room until Saturday 22 October.

Read this review and heaps of other up-to-the-minute info about Australian theatre on TheatrePeople.com.au