Much of the Melbourne Fringe is pure entertainment. There’s erotic physical comedy and there’s pirate-themed circus arts, but there are plenty of shows that take the opportunity to tackle a big theme. Three creatives share their ideas, and the struggle to bring them to life.
Eric Gardiner on Bounty
Do you remember Campbell Newman’s 2013 decree that the criminals of Queensland be sentenced to gladiatorial battles for constituents’ entertainment? No? That’s because it’s from writer Eric Gardiner’s Bounty, a fictional piece of farcical political satire, produced by theatre company MKA. Buy why does a satire of Queensland politics belong on a Melbourne stage?
Gardiner says: A big motivation for making Bounty was a frustration with the left-wing. Our laughter often takes the place of protest. People like Donald Trump and Clive Palmer have become self-satirising politicians, because it gives them enormous power. Mungo McCallum said about Joh Bjelke-Petersen that he fed on that laughter like Godzilla chomped on powerlines. Treating these men like clowns really does just make them stronger.
Bounty came out of reading up on Campbell Newman, who at the time of his election as Premier of Queensland in 2012 was the highest-ranking Liberal in the country. The Queensland political language from the ’70s to now is beautiful as well, and so melodramatic: Joh Bjelke-Petersen once said “I’m a bushfire raging across this country”. A lot of the script is drawn from verbatim quotes from people like Campbell Newman and Bjelke-Petersen, and from Women’s Weekly and Roman gladiatorial melodramas. So it’s not in any way a documentary. It’s absurd.
But the key to absurdity is rigour and discipline. Even the most ridiculous satire has to be backed up with research. Also, it’s about owning your material, not trying to have it both ways. You need to take the characters seriously. The self-knowing wink at the audience doesn’t work. A large part of this play is adapted from Albert Camus’ play Caligula, so it takes on tragic elements as well as farce.
For me, Queensland is this fascinating microcosm of the Australian political psyche in terms of how it embodies that lucky country mentality, and how business and prosperity are the most important aims, and everything else is in service to that. It’s a specific context we’re using to tell a much bigger story about Australia. It’s a play about Tony Abbott in a way that a play about Tony Abbott couldn’t be.
Matthew Adey on Homme
Matthew Adey is known for his odd, discomforting abstract performance pieces. You may remember the Theatre of the Uncomfortable at Abbotsford Convent in August. His show Homme is a deconstruction of traditional gender roles and the damage they do. But how do you use theatre to tackle gender?
Adey says: I’ve only started to think about all this since I had a daughter a year and a half ago. This show is my way of talking about the world she’s growing up in, and the heteronormative behaviour I’ve been a part of for my entire life. I wanted to deconstruct that, as part of building a new, better narrative for the future of my daughter. Being part of the patriarchy, being white, being privileged is an important topic. I was born into it. With this show I want to ask how do I make a difference, and how hetero men can educate each other on these issues.
To do that, I had to sidestep my own ego, and I’ve ended up creating something quite different to the usual work I make. It’s not a straightforward performance—it’s about getting everyone in the room together, and making them complicit in the narrative we’re trying to produce.
It’s changed a lot since the original idea I brought into the rehearsal room. It was originally going to be just me performing, but we realised that would be playing the male as a victim, which didn’t fit with what I was trying to say. So Bec [collaborator Rebecca Jensen] is in there too, and we’re both tackling the same problems. It’s changed through collaboration.
I’m not a trained performer, so the movement in the show is more like intricate pedestrian movement. I’ve stripped back a lot of the theatricality, and brought it down to the basics. There’s no formal seating. The audience can then navigate through it themselves. They might not get specific gender politics out of it. They might see something else entirely that's personal to them. But essentially it’s about a man and a woman grappling with heavy objects, in a literal and metaphorical sense.
Rebecca Jensen on Pose Band
How do you describe a dance show about the corruption of JPG files? More to the point, how do you make it? Dancer and choreographer Rebecca Jensen explains.
Jensen says: This show started when I had a very timely thought about social media. These days, you don’t need to go out and see a show. The images are uploaded after the fact, and they give you a sense of what you missed. Or at least, you think they do. Images can lie. There was that Dutch girl all over social media a while ago that posted images of her holiday in Thailand, but it turned out she hadn’t been to Thailand at all and the photos were just taken at her friend’s pool around the corner. http://www.mamamia.com.au/lifestyle/photoshop-holiday/
We are completely saturated with images all the time, and everything is multiplied instantly without a concern about what might be lost in the process of replication. Each time you take an image and remove it from its original context, the meaning is lost. But it gains a new meaning when it’s put somewhere else. How many times can you do this? Do you end up with an image that’s completely meaningless? Just like JPG files deteriorate, maybe we’re blurring out of focus.
So Pose Band is about asking: what can an experience offer you that an image of it can’t?
I wanted to make a beautiful, photogenic show. You can take a picture at any point and it’ll look like something interesting is going on. I’m usually about process—so it’s weird to do things just because they look cool, but this is driven towards getting sweet documentation out of it. So in a way, it’s a work for this time.
It’s not a traditional dance show by any means. It’s about pushing what dance can do. I want the form of the show to be quite fluid, feminine, almost. It’s not linear. It works in spirals. People are going to see bodies, stillnesses, lots of satisfying formations—some symmetrical dancing, some slow motion movement, as well as coloured scarves and bodies in positions that seem familiar but you can’t quite put your finger on.
We’ve been looking at transferring information across media, using scarves. The scarf is two dimensional, and takes the form of whoever is wearing it. Walter Benjamin said about replication that the original has an aura that is impossible to copy. People go to see the real Mona Lisa because she has an aura that no postcard can touch.