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Emilie Collyer, who had an awesome piece in the latest Torpedo, has a creative, thoughtful and immediate kind of blog, between the cracks

- Literary Minded

Between the cracks is an ongoing collection of moments and observations, captured in words. Designed to give pause for thought, maybe a laugh or other kind of cerebral refreshment. I hope you enjoy.

The work on here is a small sample of what I do.

Words from between the cracks.

Where sometimes you unexpectedly find fifty cents and sometimes you find whole new worlds.

 

Wednesday
Aug122015

On the Cusp - a theatre response

This is a lot longer piece than I usually post but I wanted to share. I saw Yours the Face by Fleur Kilpatrick as part of Theatreworks FLIGHT Festival of new writing. Fleur, a playwright and arts writer, had written a wonderful response to Dream Home and she invited me to reciprocate. So I wrote this:

 

On the Cusp

 

A response from Emilie Collyer to Yours the Face by Fleur Kilpatrick and the audience in attendance on Friday 7th August 2015 at Theatreworks in Melbourne.

 

It’s unusual to see a group of teenagers in the front row of an independent theatre show on a Friday night. I sit behind them with a twinge of apprehension. Will they squirm, talk, or be hostile? I’ve read on social media that performer Roderick Cairns shares my apprehension. No mean feat to perform a solo show full stop. Let alone a solo show described as ‘gender bending’, containing full frontal nudity, to a school group, with most of them sitting in the front row. The show starts. Cairns strikes several model-esque poses. The students snicker, wriggle, settle in.

This shouldn’t necessarily be the focus of my response to Yours the Face, a play written by Fleur Kilpatrick, directed by Sarah Walker and performed by Roderick Cairns. It’s not a piece about how young people behave in the theatre. But this is what’s so wonderful and – at times – terrible about this form. We don’t watch in a vacuum. Our response is tainted by that of those around us. The giggles, restless legs, guffaws, silences, the latecomers, the person who really must eat that foil wrapped lolly because they apparently have no way of getting through a one hour show without sustenance – it’s all part and parcel.

I couldn’t help but partly watch Yours the Face through the eyes of the young people in front of me. I was aware this was an unusual, perhaps foreign experience for them. I have theatre audience training. I know what to expect and what to do with my body and my reactions if I am moved or startled or bored by a piece of theatre. What is so scary and brilliant about being in an audience with a group of young people is that they’re not yet quite as savvy about the rules.

The first character we meet is Emmy, a nineteen year old model. She’s American. So Cairns is playing cross gender, cross culture and cross accent. He does it without a hint of irony or apology. It is gentle, sinewy and subtle. The students in front of me are all boys so my frame for consuming the first five minutes of the piece is adult woman / teenage males / adult man / teenage girl. We’re all performing our roles, some of us safe in the dark, Cairns in full view.

This initial moment captures for me what is powerful about Yours the Face. There are many tangible, theatrical things to engage with in the work: writing, performance, lighting, choreography, sound, image. But what strikes me most is how the work as a whole facilitates a fluidity of experience. Its form is its content. It invites us to question what we see, how we create our frames, where we put our gaze. The structure of the show and Cairns’ performance demands this. In this way it offers the best of what theatre can do: provoke a lived experience in our bodies as we watch and therefore provoke a shift in how we see the world outside of theatre. Once we leave the space we are changed, simply by virtue of having our perceptions of reality (male / female / face / body / beauty) mixed up and messed with for an hour.

When Cairns flips to the second main character in the show – male photographer Peter – there is a palpable rumble of relief from the front row. They were fine with Emmy, they took her on board, but here, with Peter, they are more comfortable. Peter is blokey and direct. He’s funny. I’m pretty sure Cairns eyeballs a few of the front row. This is smart. Whether he does it in every show or his actor instincts kick in and he knows it will work in his favour to make a genuine, human connection with those in the audience least sure of how to react and what their relationship with him should be.

From here the show rockets along. As a writer I relish being witness to Kilpatrick’s skill in character creation and storytelling. In this regard there is something delightfully old-fashioned about the play. I don’t mean outdated or irrelevant. I mean ‘good old-fashioned story telling’ – create characters audiences connect with and put them in a situation where we want to know what happens next. Yours the Face is beautiful story telling. It’s warm and human. It has body and blood. It isn’t cynical or despairing or cold or clever for the sake of it. I am in a room with a writer who likes people. I sense her genuine curiosity about what makes us tick. She cares about us humans. She wants us to do well while being well aware of our flaws.

Kilpatrick writes about the fashion industry and the world of modelling in both a very obvious and a completely surprising way. The beauty, the emptiness, the photographer in love with beauty, the older man having sex with the young woman, these are things we expect or are at least familiar with via other narratives we see of this world. We can situate ourselves. We bring our own baggage and prejudices. We like beautiful images too but we know that what lies behind them can be ugly. We are in an arena that is part and parcel of our daily, image saturated lives.

What surprises is the humanity. The simple and fierce survival instinct of Emmy, the pragmatic romanticism of Peter. The hints of their lives that got them here and the waves of possible futures planted in the last few moments of the play – this is the stuff that lifts us, sideswipes us, takes us somewhere else. This is the stuff of all of us, regardless of what we do for a living or how much our faces are worth. We all try to connect and find a place to belong. The play doesn’t slam the fashion industry, it doesn’t judge the people who work in it. We are presented with moments, images and pictures that allow us to build our own meaning.

My front row friends continue to react verbally and physically through the show. Yes they squirm a bit when Cairns takes off his clothes. But not for long. The strength in the writing, the direction and Cairns’ performance leave no room for awkwardness. Here is a body, we are being invited to look at it. Again, form and content marry. In popular culture the male gaze is privileged. Images we see, from fashion pages to cinema, from catalogues to billboards, television ads to product endorsements have been, still are – on the whole – created by and seen through a male lens. To be specific (although perhaps less so in high fashion than other more commercial endeavours) a male, white, cis lens.

During the nude section in Yours the Face, the audience is cast in this role. We are gazing at a male body as it morphs between a male and female gender. This body is appealing to look at. It’s long, lithe, and muscular. The key difference between this interaction and our usual interactions with images is that in this one the subject – Cairns – is active, not passive. We are consuming him but he is in control of how he presents his body. This kind of nudity invites connection not objectification. He is three dimensional, not flat. This is theatre, it’s live and it’s a conversation, a dynamic, between actor and audience. We’re in it together.

The characters we meet in Yours the Face are not queer. But the very fact of watching the two (and more) characters inhabit one body invites certain shifts in awareness and gaze. We see that of course a vulnerable female energy can be present in a male body, a male face with hair can voice the pain of having sharply beautiful features. The form and the embodiment of the piece opens up alternative ways of seeing and experiencing gender.

As the play enters its final third something shifts in the audience. I put it down to three key elements. The first is that we hear the characters talk about a couple of key moments in their past. We are once more in the world of ‘old fashioned’ story telling. It’s powerful. We’ve come to know these characters through their actions. At just the right moment Kilpatrick then deepens our connection with them by allowing them to reveal something of their past. In each of the stories there is a moment that shows a weakness, a vulnerability or an act of cruelty.

Second is that one of the characters, in the here and now of the play, performs an action that also has elements of cruelty, selfishness, amorality.

Third is that the ending is left open. These two people have met, they’ve impacted each other, but that’s it. A moment in time. Any kind of future might unfold for these characters.

The thing that shifts in the audience? The students in front of me are all leaning forward in their seats and they are completely silent. They’ve been invited in. I don’t know if they are conscious of it, but the play and the performance are generous enough to make space and say to us: You are part of this. There are gaps in this narrative for a reason. Theatre is where we start conversations but we don’t finish them. I sense that by the end of the play the young people in the front row really care about these characters and they want to know what will happen to them. I also think they care about the actor. They respect what he has done and want to show their appreciation for that too.

After the show I try to catch some of the conversations between the students. One stands out to me. A young woman telling her friend that at the moment when Peter was describing how he let a bee sting him and then photographed it as it died, she thought that in the play, at that moment, it would be revealed that Emmy was dead. I could hear her excitement at making meaning from the image, and the fact that the play offered, time and again, these clues and then subverted them delighted rather than frustrated her.

I don’t think Yours the Face was specifically written with young people in mind. But by the end I see it is a perfect piece for this audience. Teenagers are smart and they live so fully in the world. They have opinions about models and beauty, fashion and images, sex and love. They also have bodies and they are right on the cusp of those bodies becoming part of the adult world, of work and trade and value and betrayal and ambition. This play pulls no punches and offers no easy answers. Rather it opens up a plethora of conversations and meditations on what all of that might mean.

As I leave the theatre I am happy to have been in this audience on this night. It makes me think that this is how we should always approach both making and attending theatre. As if we are on the cusp of change, as if transformation is possible, as if a new way of seeing the world is about to open up.

Friday
Mar132015

Autopsy of a Comedian e-launch

Today my second e-collection of short stories with Clan Destine Press launches!

I'm celebrating by holding an online launch and releasing audio snippets of the stories via Facebook and Twitter.

I've gathered them all here for your listening pleasure, just click the titles to listen. And if you'd like to buy the collection, you can get it here:

http://clandestinepress.com.au/ebook/autopsy-comedian

Audio teasers:

Autopsy of a Comedian

A forensic pathologist is confronted with a case that gets under his skin and inside his mind.

Fifteen Minutes

A private detective – down on his luck, whose daughter is missing – has an unexpected encounter with the living dead.

Glisten

They’re the perfect couple with the perfect life, until one day when the mysterious pods start arriving.

Masterpiece

For a has been artist, now teacher, one final chance for artistic glory comes at a price.

And as a bonus track, a teaser of the lead story in my first collection, the award-winning:

A Clean Job

You can buy that collection here: http://clandestinepress.com.au/ebook/clean-job

Thursday
Sep112014

Last game of the day

A short story!

This spec fic story of mine appears in the sci-fi and fantasy magazine: Allegory. First few paragraphs here then click the link to read the rest of the story ... Hope you enjoy :)

The last game of the day

The problem wasn’t so much in the game. The problem was in the aftermath of the game. We were always spent and wanted to knock off. But the Playground was usually a mess.

‘Day’s not over yet, people. Clean up duty. Now.’

He was blonde, lean and dressed as a security guard. None of us could tell at that moment who was Halo and who was Human. It was hard enough any time, but straight after a long game, judgement was particularly impaired. Blondie was holding a gun so we gave him the benefit of the doubt.

‘Sunday tomorrow. Family day. This place has got to be spotless for the little kiddies.’

I tried doing a head count, wanting to know how many we’d lost today. But there was a bunch of us and my eyes kept jumping. It was late, already dark and we were all exhausted.

I’d noticed two new Gamers but only picked up one new name. She called herself Didi. 

Read full story here (it's free!)

Wednesday
Aug202014

Blog Hop!

So I've been invited to blog hop by Beau Hillier who blog hopped last week. Thanks Beau! You can read Beau's post here. In turn, I have invited two wonderful writers, Demet Divaroren and Andy Jackson to join the hop. So go visit their blog pages in the next week or two and see how they Hop To It.

My answers to the 4 Blog Hop questions are below:

 

What are you working on at the moment?

The main thing at the moment is a new play for Melbourne Fringe Festival called Once Were Pirates. It's a dark comedy about two men who used to be pirates but are stuck in the real world now and have to figure out how to live. One way to describe it would be a cross between Samuel Beckett and Pirates of the Caribbean. Other than that I am currently in the midst of a novel called The Looking Glass Spy which is about an ordinary woman who falls into a spy novel and finds she is the main character.

 

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

Well you can see a theme in those two works - crossing genres and mixing fantasy with reality. Nearly all of my work has a speculative bent and I like to blend, mix or twist genres. For example I like playing with pop culture genres when writing theatre (in 2013 I wrote a sci-fi play called The Good Girl). I explore existential questions via my short stories, plays and novels. I dig deep and try to stretch myself and the reader to question how we look at the world and why. I think genre is a great way to do this. It gives me a framework to start with that I can then push the boundaries of. It's also a lot of fun to find new ways to create worlds and bend rules. 

 

Why do you write what you write?

I write from a place of asking questions. Often these start with: What If ... and that's where the speculative element comes in. Some of my writing comes from a deeply personal place of questioning my own life or things that I've experienced. But I also respond to the world around me, moral and ethical questions, social trends and mores. I want to connect with people. I want to ask questions that I don't know the answers to. I want to create imagined worlds where characters and readers can play.

 

What's your writing process, and how does it work?

I am usually working on several pieces at once, either in different forms and / or at different phases. I write pretty quickly and try to complete whole drafts of things then I go back and re-draft and re-draft. In that re-drafting phase I may also plan a little more carefully - especially for longer form works like plays or novels. It takes me a draft (at least) to work out what it is I am exploring in a piece, where the heart is and what the shape of it should be. I'm interested in shifting how I work and experimenting with more planning up front to see how this might affect my work. I try and write every day but not in a regimented way, more to ensure I am keeping my skills honed and also that I am staying connected to the pieces I am working on.

 

Thanks for reading! And remember to check out Demet and Andy's posts in the coming few weeks ...

 

Demet Divaroren was born in Adana, Turkey and migrated to Australia with her family when she was six months old. She writes fiction and non-fiction and is the co-editor of the anthology, Coming of Age: Growing up Muslim in Australia (Allen and Unwin, 2014). Demet’s writing has appeared in Island magazine, Scribe’s New Australian Stories, The Age Epicure, The Big Issue, and was commended in the Ada Cambridge Biographical Prose Prize 2013. Her first novel, Orayt?, was shortlisted for the Australian Vogel Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript.

Demet is the recipient of an Australia Council Artstart Grant, a Rosebank Residential Writing Fellowship, a Varuna Fellowship for a Writing Retreat and a Glenfern Grace Marion Wilson Fellowship. She is the Artist in Residence at Deer Park Art Spaces and has appeared as a panelist, guest speaker and workshop leader at literary festivals, universities, and schools across Melbourne. Demet is currently writing her memoir, aided by an Australia Council Jump Mentoring Grant. She is represented by Curtis Brown Literary Agents.

Andy Jackson has performed at dozens of events and festivals (including The Age Melbourne Writers FestivalPrakriti Poetry Festival [in Chennai, India], Goa Literary & Arts Festival, Australian Poetry FestivalQueensland Poetry FestivalClifden Arts Festival [Ireland], Newcastle Young Writers Festival and Overload Poetry Festival), had poems published in a variety of print and on-line journals, been awarded grants from the Australia Council and Arts Victoria, been the recipient of an Australian Society of Authors mentorship, and self-published two collections of poetry.  He has been awarded residencies from Victorian Writers Centre, Katharine Susannah Prichard Writers Centre (Perth) and Asialink.  He is also an infrequent collaborator with musicians, sound artists and other writers.

His first full-length collection of poems, Among the Regulars,was published by papertiger media in 2010 – this book was shortlisted for the NSW Premier’s Prize for Poetry (the Kenneth Slessor Prize) and Highly Commended in the Anne Elder Award.  A collaborative puppetry-poetry performance with Rachael Wenona Guy entitled Ambiguous Mirrors won the City of Yarra Award for Most Innovative Work at the Overload Poetry Festival in 2009.  He won the 2008 Arts ACT Rosemary Dobson Award for Best Unpublished Poem for Secessionist. In 2013, he won the Whitmore Press Manuscript Prize.  The resulting collection of poems – the thin bridge - has just recently been released. Another collection – Immune systems: Poems and Ghazals on India & Medical Tourism – is forthcoming in 2015 from Transit Lounge.

Andy has the genetic condition Marfan Syndrome.  He is currently based in Melbourne.

Monday
May262014

The Poetry of Lists

It's been a while since posts. To celebate my upcoming week of multiple poetry events, a few words to get into the mood:

 

The poetry of lists

I just want to feel better.

I say that and he laughs and tells me to put it in something, a character who throws her arms up in the kitchen.

I mean I sit around in one room.

Then I stand and move to another room.

I want so bad to turn to the TV on.

The house is full of books I haven’t yet read.

The Americans make such good TV drama, when they do it right they really do it right.

It’s autumn and we all eat more bread than we should.

The comfort of gluten fills our mouths and bellies.

Are you really in pain? he asked once, or are you just needy and neurotic.

I bought two brown pears but we didn’t eat them.

They turned sour and spurted fluid into the fruit bowl.

I wiped down the apple, it’s okay, but I might peel it first.

I wrote a poem about my failed novel.

It was about grieving something that never existed.

If we’re going to monitor what people say and do on the internet we should ban happy holiday photos.

That would be a start.

I have no car right now and the empty space out the front of our house is sort of exciting.

I’ve planned the train I need to catch and I’m ready to go.

It’s raining, it’s been raining so much, hence the spoiled pear and the damp wooden floor in the laundry.

And the need to take an umbrella with me today and wear sensible shoes.