Sunday, September 28, 2008

Things at Fringe (2)

Drop and Roll

Another of the free (FREE!) events on at Fed Square as part of Fringe, this family-friendly show is a collaboration between one of Australia's leading parkour and free-running companies, Trace Elements, and South Morang's First Impressions Youth Theatre. The result is a fascinating display of athleticism and community cultural development presented by a combination of professional traceurs and amateur traceurs and traceuses, with video used to tell the story behind the show. While not quite as tight as the show by Team Loco which it follows up, in some ways Drop and Roll is even more engaging, as it shows that the skills on display can be cultivated by anyone, given time and dedication.

Three whoops of awed delight out of five.

The Kindness of Stranglers

Written and produced by Rebecca Cook, this show about an office drone at an ad agency who decides to try devoting his life to doing good unfortunately failed to engage or entertain me. The narrative was confusing, and its dramatic tone varied wildly; while the occasional moments where the cast burst suddenly into song struck me less as awkward and rather forced. Maybe you have to be a dog person to really like this show...

Two occasional chuckles out of five.

Deceased Estate

The creators of this show, Will Tait and Jodie Ahrens, have won plaudits and praise in recent years for developing a performance style which utilises all the senses, not just sight and sound. Having missed their previous show, Source/Sauce, I was extremely eager to catch their new Fringe show, which is staged in the garden of their own home. And god I'm glad I did. While there were some minor dramaturgical problems with the work the night I saw it, these are sure to be overcome as the season gets underway and the show itself gets tighter. In essence, Deceased Estate is the story of a house, as presented by the house itself. Instead of a straight-forward narrative, the show consists of fragments and impressions of memories, evoked using sound (hammering and sawing as the house is built), scent (Dettol), touch (a silk sheet) and by brief encounters with the men, women and children who once lived on the premises. Vivid and delightful; a triumph of imagination and emotional resonance.

Four ear-to-ear grins out of five.

Disclaimer: the views expressed in these reviews are personal, and not those of the Fringe Board or staff.

Things at Fringe (1)

Team Loko's Human Graffiti

This free show, on as part of the Fringe programme at Fed Square, is TOTALLY BODACIOUS* and should be seen by all. As displays of physical prowess go - think backflips performed from the temporary platform created by the interlinked hands of two lithe and muscular blokes (note to self: don't drool) and forward rolls performed by two ace chicks off a head-high platform - it's fast-paced, spectacular, and is guaranteed to make you feel more unfit than you've ever felt in your life.

Three and a half awed gasps out of five.


An unholy fusion of the lives of Adolph Hitler and David Hasslehoff that's performed by a cast of three with the assistance of some simply superb video projection (congrats to Anto Skene and Puck Murphy) this twisted piece of camp irony was outrageous and laugh-out-loud funny. It did seem to drag a little towards the end, so I think it might have benefitted from being maybe 10 minutes shorter (though this may also have been an opening night flaw, as I was told today the show ran overtime on its first night), but for the most part it's a very silly, very funny, and very wrong show. Special mention should be made of of Simone Page Jones and Exra Bix, who between them play a punishing range of characters, and do so with comic aplomb.

Three and half 'did he just say what I think he said?' gasps out of five.

Andrew McClelland's Somewhat Acurate History of Pirates (1550 - 2027)

The strictly limited return season of McClelland's mock lecture about pirates and piracy, complete with limes to ward off scurvy and wonderful props - puppets, forts, even a cannon (!) - was one of those shows I circled the minute I got my hands on the Fringe programme, and I wasn't disappointed. Having already seen the show once I was worried that it wouldn't live up to my memories of it, but I'm pleased to say it exceeded them. McClelland's awkward, endearing, slightly bumbling shtick isn't to every comedy fan's taste, but it definitely works for me. Arrr!

* Dude. You like, said, 'bodacious'. That's so awesome.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What do YOU want to see in a new art magazine?

It never rains but it pours: in the opening days of The Age Melbourne Fringe Festival, my boss has asked me to take on a new project: the creation of a brand new fortnightly GLBT arts, lifestyle and entertainment magazine. I've agreed.

So, from Monday I'll be stepping across from being editor of MCV to editing this new, as-of-yet unnamed fortnightly magazine.

So, oh denizens of the arts worlds, what I want to ask you is:

  • What do you want to see in a new arts and culture magazine, which, though stylishly designed and catering for GLBT readers, is also envisaged as having a much wider readership?
  • And do you have any great ideas for a name?
I'm all ears! Or eyes! Or something!

Monday, September 22, 2008

One day to go until the Melbourne Fringe!

3000 artists. Almost 300 shows. 19 days of arts goodness. What's not to love?

Yes, The Age Melbourne Fringe Festival kicks off in just one more day, and I can't wait! My copy of the programme is already thoroughly adorned with circled shows and hand-written exclamation marks and asterisks, and my diary is bulging with dates for the delights to come. It's my favourite festival in the world, and unlike other Fringe festivals around the planet, which predominantly feature interstate (hello Adelaide) or international guests (yes Edinburgh, I'm looking at you), the Melbourne Fringe consists almost entirely of shows and exhibitions and indefinable creative strangeness created by Melbourne artists.

It's an expression in art of Melbourne's creative and cultural soul.

As I said before, what's not to love?

There's wonderful comedy to be seen, such as Andrew McClelland's not to be missed special short return season of A Somewhat Accurate History of Pirates (1550 - 2017). There's the post-modern melange of psychosis and pop culture that is Tom Doig's Hitlerhoff; and the top secret soft assault that's set to unwravel across Melbourne on Wednesday, K2TOG.

Maybe you'd prefer a spoken word exploration of Madonna's Like a Virgin album at Babble's Liner Notes; or the visual documentation of Melbourne's punk scene that is Punk - A Photographic Journey? What about having the dreams of a house brought to full, rich, touching-all-your-senses life, in the must-see, must-experience Deceased Estate.

Then of course there are zombies. Lots of zombies!

And you can't go past the glorious Festival Hub and Club, where you can catch 64 events over 14 nights all in one compact North Melbourne precinct (a great introduction to Fringe for first-timers or the time poor - see a show, grab a drink in the bar, see another show or two all in the same night - even the same venue - thanks to the carefully scheduled programme); and more, more, more.

Circus! Visual art! Cabaret! Theatre. Artforms I can't begin to describe!

Yes I'm biased, I'm the Chair of the festival Board. But I loved the Fringe long before I was officially involved with the organisation. It offers audiences and artists alike the chance to take a risk, creatively; to expose yourself to artistic innovation and excellence and raw passion from professionals and first-timers alike.

So, seize the Fringe program in both hands and select, randomly or rationally - or perhaps best, a combination of the two - a range of shows across artforms and locations. What are you waiting for?

Go to to browse the programme and book tickets, or call the lovely crew in the ticketing office on (03) 9660 9666, or swing by the Ticketing and Info Centre at Federation Square.

And hell, if you find browsing through the festival guide and selecting a bunch of shows daunting, then post a comment below and I'll recommend something for you - hell, I might even invite you out with me for a night on the town!

Ah, Melbourne Fringe. What's not to love?

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Ah McCain, you've done it again

Photographer Jill Greenberg, you're a bloody deadset legend! The above, photoshopped image is an outtake from a recent series of shots the US photographer took for Atlantic magazine. You can read the full story here...

Monday, September 15, 2008

Where the wild things are (gay)

Illustrator Maurice Sendak, author of the classic children's book Where the Wild Things Are, has publicly come out at the age of 80.
In a New York Times interview, Sendak responded to the question if there was anything he’d never been asked.
“Well, that I’m gay,” he answered. “I just didn’t think it was anybody’s business.”
Sendak lived with Dr Eugene Glynn, a psychoanalyst, for 50 years before Glynn’s death in May 2007.
Sendak said he never told his parents about his sexuality because he wanted to make them happy; and that he hadn’t come out when younger because the idea of a gay man writing children’s books would have hurt his career when he was in his 20s and 30s, the paper reported.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Oh, the things that I've seen (part two)

Two more brief impressions of some of the events I've attended in recent weeks (certainly more recent than the last post of this nature, which covered events that were staged up to two months ago). I think this should cover the majority of them, save for the latest, Vamp, which I'll cover in my next post.

Oh look, there have been a few events or occasions here and there that I won't be blogging about; the Victorian Premier's Literary Awards, for example (I was seated next to one of the Premier's police bodyguards; a big burly chap who didn't read much but who was an interesting conversationalist indeed - though I felt sorry for him that he had to sit through so many speeches at so many events just because he was babysitting Mr Brumby), and the wonderful launch of the 2008 Melbourne Fringe Festival programme (more of which shortly); as well as a disappointing film or two such as Hellboy II - The Golden Army, and a good film or two - such as the wonderful, animated memoir Persepolis, but you don't really need to know about them.

Do you?


Last year's BalletLab production was the inspired Brindabella, which you can read about here. This latest work was more inimate, but while it may have lacked the grand scale of Brindabella it was no less ambitious, as I have come to expect from choreographer/creator Phillip Adams (who I interview about the production here).

Inspired by Fred Schepsi's film, The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith, this dance piece was a meditation on Australian colonial identity and the gothic tradition; and a physical exploration of the clash between Indigenous culture and European sensibilities.

Blood-red lights lit the hazy dance floor, which dancers then proceeded to tear up piece by piece (a literal depiction of the impact of European settlement on the environment?) as the ominous, metronomic sound of champion axeman Lawrence O'Toole (pictured) wielding his blades echoed across the set. A work replete with tension - generated by the presence of so many axes swung hynotically close to the dancers' bodies - and creating a palpable sense of drama, which the sound of woodchips spraying across the floor and the scent of freshly-hewn timber succinctly emphasised.

Women in ornate Victorian gowns drop casual racial slurs into their gossip. An Aboriginal dancer establishes a new tempo. Tension builds to a near hysterical pitch, and suddenly the film's explosive violence is screeened on the studio wall. For me this was the only off-pitch moment of the show, as if Adams was so attached to the film which inspired the work that he couldn't let it go, even though its presence felt almost irrelevent in this context. Finally, the dance reaches its end; the closing sequence promising a calmer future; evoking closure, completion, the end of the cycle.

An inspired work.

Tiny Dynamite Theatre's THE LONESOME WEST

The cavernous space of Theatreworks, in which this play is staged, works against the success of The Lonesome West right from the start, reducing what could be an enjoyably intimate, oppressive and claustrophic experience into something much less memorable. Director Gorkem Acaroglu's choice to emphasise the comedy at the sake of the darker emotions which run through this play also detracts from what could be a masterpiece of black humour spiced with the ever-present threat of violence.

The last in a trilogy of plays by Martin McDonagh set in the small town of Leenane, on the isolated west coast of Ireland, The Lonesome West centres on two brothers who hate each other yet who are forced by circumstances to live under the one roof. Valene Connor (Luke Elliot, pictured above, left) is a miser who has returned home only recently; Coleman Connor (Ben Grant, pictured above, right) has lived in the village his whole life, until recently with his father, from whose funeral he has just returned at the start of the play, accompanied by the local priest, Father Welsh (Mark Tregonning).

Welsh is something of a broken man; an alchoholic who is struggling with his ministrations in the violent village ("The murder capital of Europe") and who sees the feuding brothers as his last chance to succeed in his posting.

The fourth and final character in the production is Girleen (Gemma Falk), the teenager who keeps the brothers supplied with poteen (a highly potent triple-distilled liquor, often akin to moonshine), and whose motivations and desires only become clear as the play unfolds.

The tension and chemistry between Elliot and Grant is superb, though as previously mentioned, the production focusses more on the comedic aspects of their relationships rather than the violence; and Tregonning successfully presents the conflicted and tragic aspects of his character. But while these three do well, and also credibly maintain their thick west Irish accents, I was much less impressed with Falk, who brought little in the way of credible emotion to her role.

This lack of emotion was, for me, the production's greatest flaw. Not once did I get a frisson of fear or impending violence as the play unfolded; and while there is humour-aplenty in the work, it seemed emphasised at the expense of the play's blacker moments. Certainly The Lonesome West is far from being a bad production, but it struck me as a play that could and should be much, much better.

The Lonesome West
is presented by Tiny Dynamite Theatre and is now showing at Theatreworks until September 21.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Fame at last!

Hoorah! I've been verbally spanked by Sydney's version of Andrew Bolt, the conservative sexual predator Mr Piers Ackerman, over my part in awarding the John Curtin Prize - the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Journalism - to Richard Flanagan for his passionate polemic in
The Monthly last year. Finally, I can die happy!

Thursday, September 04, 2008

Tackling homophobia

In its 150th year, is the AFL finally ready to deal with the poisonous presence of homophobia? Richard Watts reports.

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

According to Australian Football League (AFL) Media Manager Patrick Keane, the AFL’s existing rules and codes of conduct are more than adequate to police a case of harassment on the basis of sexual orientation, should such a situation ever arise.

“In terms of Rule 30, which is called ‘Racial and Religious Vilification’, under the terms of that, a person can lay a complaint on any form of abuse or harassment that’s directed towards them, which includes someone who abuses or harasses you for your sexual status,” Keane explains.

That may be the case, but it’s also true that the AFL rule in question makes no mention of sexual orientation; instead referring only to ‘conduct which threatens, disparages, vilifies or insults another person on the basis of that person’s race, religion, colour, descent or national or ethnic origin’.

Conversely, the AFL Player’s Association (AFLPA) specifically acknowledges sexual orientation in its Code of Conduct.

‘AFL Players must not vilify other AFL Players on the basis of their race, religion, colour, sex, sexual orientation or other related characteristics,’ item 3.4 of the Code states. The Code also prohibits AFL players ‘from making public comment that vilifies or tends to vilify persons on the basis of their race, religion, colour, sex, sexual orientation or other related characteristics’.

Dr Pippa Grange is the AFLPA’s General Manager for Psychology, People and Culture. She believes that acknowledging issues of sexuality such as discrimination and vilification are important to both the AFL and the AFLPA, but recognises that the AFLPA have “perhaps gone a little bit further in being explicit about it”.

That said she’s also aware that there’s much more that needs to be done on the issue.

“We can get more explicit in the way we air topics around gender diversity and sexual preferences ... I think that any topic that involves diversity comes from a core value of respect, and when we talk to players about any of these topics more broadly, we’re coming at it from that angle; but we don’t do anything specifically to educate or raise awareness of diversity around sexual preference or gender diversity, and that’s possibly something we can look at, moving forward,” she explains.

Grange’s enthusiasm for fostering acceptance of sexual diversity among the AFL’s playing body is tempered, however, by her awareness that a culture of homophobia exists to some degree within football circles.

“Individually, when I speak to players one on one or in small groups, they’re really very tolerant. I haven’t seen examples of overt, explicit or spoken homophobia,” she says.

“However, the cultural, traditional norms that the whole group espouse are something different. I do think that homophobia is alive and well in AFL football - as in any groups of Australian males, particularly in traditions where the whole part of you being involved in it is the gaining of masculine capital. It is there, but I don’t think it’s implicitly stated, and I don’t think it’s deeply held by the individuals.”

However, Grange is also quick to point out that generalising about AFL players as a whole – such as suggesting that they are all homophobic, based on the words or deeds of one or two individuals – will not help anyone.

“What happens then is that [the players] withdraw their voice from the conversation; I think it could be a really powerful voice, and I really hope that on the whole we’re able to use the players’ voice for any role-modelling, and any power that the brand of AFL football has, in a really positive way, rather than as a negative label being applied to the players,” she concludes.

Grange’s perspective on homophobia in football culture is not shared by AFL Media Manager Patrick Keane.

When asked if the AFL has even a slight problem with homophobia, he replies simply: “No, we don’t.”

Nor will Keane speculate, when invited to do so, as to why Britain’s Football Association sees homophobia as a problem, whereas the AFL does not.

“I can’t speak for the British Football Association, only the AFL,” Keane said.

When asked to conjecture, he replied shortly, “No”.

On its website, The Football Association (The FA) states that: ‘Male or female, an individual’s sexual orientation should never be a barrier to people taking part in – and enjoying – our national sport … As the guardian of the game in this country, The FA is uniquely placed to tackle issues such as homophobia … we can – and will continue to – amend the laws of the game to outlaw homophobic behaviour.’

The AFL, meanwhile, shows no such commitment, as illustrated by its response to the case of Ken Campagnolo (a Victorian football trainer who was sacked by the Bonnie Doon Football Club when his bisexuality was made public).

Keane agrees that the AFL is the peak body for football in this country, but says of the organisation’s response to Campagnolo’s sacking and ongoing discrimination claim: “That does not mean we are responsible for the actions taken by another person at another completely different level of football.”

As the peak body then, does he believe that the AFL has a moral obligation to lead other clubs?

“Yes, and we believe we do that,” Keane replies. But when asked if the AFL’s response to Ken Campagnolo demonstrates moral leadership, Keane can only repeat, “I said, we believe we do that”.

p11_cover_feature_cont_4eddie.jpgWhile the AFL is dragging its heels on this issue, other members of the football fraternity are adamant that the sport has a moral obligation to tackle sexuality-based discrimination. One such man is Eddie McGuire (pictured), the influential President of the Collingwood Football Club.

“The one thing that we are is the club for anyone who feels disassociated. We don’t care what your race, religion, sex or sexual orientation is - we believe absolutely in tolerance and respect and empathy,” McGuire tells MCV.

“We won’t tolerate – as long as I’m president of the club anyway – we won’t tolerate any form of discrimination.”

In terms of fighting homophobia, the Collingwood President compares the issue to the AFL’s successful battle to eliminate racism from the game.

“I refer it back to the same principles as tackling racial vilification – when we started to tackle racism, I had a lot of people come up to me and say ‘Thank god we’re doing this: I used to shout racial abuse because I thought it was what you were supposed to do, but I didn’t really believe it’. It’s the same classic pack mentality in regards to sexual orientation, and football should be leading the way in that regard,” McGuire concludes.

This article originally appeared in MCV #400, accompanying an article by Doug Pollard in which he compares the steps taken by Britain's Football Association to address homophobia to those taken by the AFL. You can read Doug's article here.