Australia

“Still Point Turning” is a Vital Affirmation of Trans People Through the Story of Catherine McGregor

“The unifying trans experience is rejection and repudiation.” So says Cate McGregor’s character in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production Still Point Turning: The Catherine McGregor Story. This one line summarises a sad reality of life for trans and gender diverse people. Despite coming from different cultural, religious and class backgrounds; despite there being so much diversity of opinion and politics; and despite expressing their gender identities in so many ways; what unites them is having experienced stigma and denigration. It is for this reason that writer and director Priscilla Jackman decided to dramatize the life of Cate McGregor, who...

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Li Cunxin, The Ballet Star Who Could Never Really Leave The Stage

Chinese-Australian dancer Li Cunxin has been enjoying his long yet productive retirement for years, and he has chosen to trade his ballet shoes for traveling across the world to teach young talents and be a motivational speaker. After an 18 year absence, the ballet star who came into prominence during the height of Mao’s cultural revolution finally made his stage comeback. One fine morning in September, I had the opportunity to observe a ballet workshop. I was told that it was a masterclass that was going to be led by a prolific dancer. Yet, for some reason, it still...

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“In the Club”: Tackling Sexual Assault, Gender, and a Male Dominated Sports Culture

A new play by award-winning playwright Patricia Cornelius tackles the prevalence of sexual assault, paying particular attention to Australia’s male-dominated sports culture. The result is a thematically and theatrically engaging piece with a gritty yet grand poetry, relevant to our times. Cornelius’ play, In The Club, was commissioned by the State Theatre Company of South Australia specifically to explore this topic. It follows three women Annie (Miranda Daughtry), Olivia (Rachel Burke) and Ruby (Anna Steen) on a night out. They’re in a nightclub filled with pretty young things, men and women in their prime and on the prowl. Each of...

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“The Second Woman”: A 24-Hour Lesson in the Gendered Performance of Intimacy

The idea that femininity is a social performance, while masculinity simply sets the coordinates for the social, explains why so many classic melodramas turn on the figure of the actress, such as Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950), Douglas Sirk’s Imitation of Life (1959), Ingmar Bergman’s Persona (1966) or John Cassavetes’ Opening Night(1977). Inspired by the latter, Nat Randall and Anna Breckon have co-created The Second Woman, which will be presented for the fourth time this month at the Perth Festival. Originally developed for Melbourne’s Next Wave Festival in 2016, it was subsequently performed at both Dark Mofo! in Tasmania and Liveworks in Sydney in 2017. It...

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“Memorial” Is A Shattering Excavation Of The Scars Of War Through Poetry, Dance, And Mind Blowing Score

Arthur Danto, in his Analytic Philosophy of History, calls the common noun “scar” a “past-referring term.” In this way, language acknowledges the passing of time, representing verbally what happens to us physically. The mystery of appearance and disappearance in the world–the cycle of life and death–is caught in the warp and weft of how we speak, the soul made manifest by the word. Memorial is a large-scale performance piece drenched in a sense of time passed. Based on Alice Oswald’s poetic exploration of the Iliad (the precise, and again temporally charged, descriptor is “excavation”), it brings together a transcendent...

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Dance Dramaturgy and The Art That Moves: Lim How Ngean

Art that Moves is an occasional series where we ask artists and other creative workers to reflect on artworks, performances or events that were personally important to them. Lim How Ngean (Ph.D.) is a performance-maker, dramaturg and dance researcher. In recent years he has dramaturged dances for choreographers such as Daniel Kok, Joavien Ng, Kuik Swee Boon and Ming Poon (Singapore), Pichet Klunchun (Thailand), and Amrita Performing Arts Group (Cambodia). He also initiated the Asian Dramaturg’s Network (ADN), with its inaugural symposium in Singapore, April 2016. The ADN will be holding a Satellite Symposium in Adelaide, Australia, between 1 –...

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The Great Australian Plays: “The Cake Man” And The Indigenous Mission Experience

In the introduction to her seminal book Creating Frames: Contemporary Indigenous Theatre, Mary Rose Casey observes: Indigenous Australian activists and artists have consistently utilized the potential for theatre… to create different frames…of Indigenous Australians…In a show like Basically Black (1972), the “gaze” as an expression of racial objectification was returned…Following this work, writers such as Robert Merritt, Kevin Gilbert, Gerry Bostock and Jack Davis individually and collectively altered the range of representations of Indigenous Australians in Australian theatres and writing. In doing so, they increased awareness of issues affecting Indigenous people and related those issues to [them] as human...

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“The Town Hall Affair” Brings Germaine Greer’s 1970s Feminist Debate Roaring Into The Present

The moment was 1971, Labour Day’s eve. The context: a biting critique of feminism published by journalist-novelist Norman Mailer in Harper’s magazine earlier that year. Mailer’s essay, The Prisoner Of Sex, sold more than any previous Harper’s edition. The event: a sell-out fundraiser billed as A Dialogue On Women’s Liberation promised an explosive line-up. Mailer was set to debate literary critic Diana Trilling, feminist-activist Jacqueline Ceballos, Village Voice author Jill Johnston and Germaine Greer. A raucous audience of New York’s intellectual elite crammed in to witness the fallout. The year is now 2018 and New York experimental theatre company...

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“The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time” Trades Deadpan For High-octane

The National Theatre’s production of The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time, currently playing at the Arts Centre Melbourne with MTC, is a lauded adaptation of Mark Haddon’s debut novel, of the same title. Haddon’s book was published to much acclaim in 2003. Its literary innovation is in part due to the author’s dead-pan characterization of the internal monologue of 15-year-old protagonist, Christopher Boone, whom the reader is led to assume is neurologically atypical. Publicity for the novel referred to the young protagonist, Christopher, as having Asperger’s Syndrome, something that in hindsight, the author “slightly regrets.” Rather,...

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“Rocky Horror” Allegations Throw A Spotlight On Acting Boundaries, On And Off Stage

Where do the boundaries lie between exploring every possibility an acting role offers and still behaving appropriately, with respect to other performers? This week Victoria Police confirmed they were investigating allegations of indecent assault and sexual harassment involving actor Craig McLachlan in his lead role as Dr. Frank-N-Furter in The Rocky Horror Show musical during 2014. Three actresses have complained about McLachlan’s behavior. McLachlan, who strenuously denies the allegations, has since left the production. McLachlan has reportedly described Rocky Horror as “a confrontational musical oozing with sexuality.” To “make” the show, he said, “actors have to perform certain actions,...

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Far From Being In Crisis, 2017 Was A Great Year For Australian Musical Theatre

In June this year, the annual Helpmann Award Nominations sparked concern that original Australian musical theatre was in crisis. John Frost, one of the biggest producers of musical theatre in this country, stated “I don’t think there will be a great Australian musical,” and suggested musical writers move to New York or London. Looking back through 2017, however, we find a surprising number of Australian musicals staged around the country. One of the most anticipated pieces of this year was the adaptation of PJ Hogan’s much-loved film Muriel’s Wedding. This co-production between Sydney Theatre Company and Global Creatures marked an exciting...

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The Fusion Dance and Theatre: What’s Required in Successful Intercultural Collaboration

Australian theatre-person and actor Trevor Jamieson on finding parallels between Indian and Aboriginal cultures, with an aim to create a dance performance drawn from the similarities. Trevor Jamieson could well pass off for a native, with his swarthy features, his wild and bushy grey beard, and summer casual attire of a vest and harem pants, with a ratty pair of flipflops, to complement the look. Until you hear that distinct Australian twang, that is. “When I’m out on the road here in the city, people automatically think I’m Indian. They talk to me in Tamil/Malayalam and they’re quite taken...

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Intercultural Theatre Practices – Interview With Frances Barbe

Interview conducted as part of the media partnership between Culture360 and International Theatre Institute (ITI).  Frances Barbe is a Director, Choreographer, and Performer and one of the speakers at the Asian Intercultural Conference in Singapore (which took place on 27-30 November 2017). Frances has shared her extensive experience in working in intercultural theatre and in particular with different training techniques, including butoh dance. Frances has worked all over the world. Her training combines western dance and theatre with contemporary Japanese approaches including butoh dance and Suzuki’s actor-training. She is Senior Lecturer at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts (WAAPA) in Perth where she runs...

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Out Of Character: How Acting Puts A Mental Strain On Performers

Performers are twice as likely as the general population to experience depression, according to the 2015 Australian Actors’ Wellbeing Study. Many suffer from performance anxiety and report high levels of stress arising from work-related pressures such as low income and job insecurity. Research over many years has acknowledged that those drawn to working in the arts tend to be highly vulnerable to depression and anxiety. However, there are contributing factors to the strikingly high levels of anxiety and stress specific to the acting community. These include the deep emotions they are often required to access and express when playing a...

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Blood on the Stage: “Let the Right One In” is a Vampire Love Story For Our Times

The popularity of vampires has endured since Johann Wolfgang von Goethe’s Bride of Corinth (1797) and Bram Stoker’s better-known Dracula (1897), based on a Transylvanian folk myth. Stoker’s novel set many of the literary conventions for the genre: drinking fresh blood, the constant search for new (young, female) victims, the male vampire as a lonely outsider, superhuman strength and agility, immortality, and many more. Black Swan Theatre Company’s production of Let the Right One In, directed by Clare Watson, revisits the vampire story and stays true to many of these tropes, using copious amounts of blood. But it has a major difference: the...

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“Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical” Is A Deeply Satisfying Tribute To Australia’s Most-Loved Dag

Muriel Heslop occupies a precious position in Australian cultural life. She is, perhaps, our most-loved dag. The creative team that has transformed her story into a musical have produced a deeply satisfying night at the theatre. Any moment of translation carries with it the possibility of disappointment and betrayal. But the Sydney Theatre Company’s Muriel’s Wedding: The Musical makes us fall in love with this story all over again. Muriel’s ABBA-propelled journey burst into Australian cinema in 1994 as part of a cultural moment in which Australian quirks became the object of tender and loving laughter on the big screen (alongside Priscilla:...

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Encountering Indonesia At AsiaTOPA (Part 2)

This is the second in a two-part series by Barbara Hatley. Read Part 1 here. Reflections on contemporary Indonesia and Australia-Indonesia relations at the AsiaTOPA festival Of all the images of Indonesia and representations of Australia-Indonesia relations in AsiaTOPA performances, the topic of Indonesian fishermen and refugee boats arriving in northern Australia was a recurring theme. Jaman Belulang (The Age Of Bones) by Australian playwright Sandra Thibodeaux tells the story of Ikan, a fifteen-year-old boy from a poor fishing village on the eastern island of Roti and working on a refugee boat, who is shipwrecked, picked up by the Australian authorities...

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Encountering Indonesia At AsiaTOPA 2017 (Part 1)

This is the first in a two-part series by Barbara Hatley. Read Part 2 here.  Indonesian performances at the AsiaTOPA festival opened up ‘creative conversations’ between Australians and Indonesians. Spanning more than two months, from late February to early April 2017, Melbourne’s inaugural AsiaTOPA (Asia–Pacific Triennial of Performing Arts), coordinated by the Melbourne Arts Centre, was a huge, diverse undertaking, involving many genres and venues and extensive collaboration with other institutions. In the view of festival organizers, this wide range of activities shared a particular focus. AsiaTOPA, was “not a survey,” wrote the directors in the program. It did not...

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“One The Bear” (La Boite) New Transmedia Storytelling

In true international award-winning Black Honey Company style, One The Bear bursts on the audience. In an apocalyptic aesthetic avalanche, its stars, the story’s titular One (Candy Bowers) and her best friend Ursula (Nancy Denis), emerge from a rubbish skip. One and Ursula are bears attempting to escape a hunter. Such is the reality of their untold herstories, which form the basis of this enigmatic work. The abiding hyper-real aesthetic comes courtesy of video designer Optikal Bloc. The accompanying explosion of fluorescent color details down to not just performer glasses but even the eyelashes behind them. As always, music is at...

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Big Bang: “Germinal” Creates a Universe Out of Nothing On Stage

In theatre-making, we often talk about world creation. “What is the world of the play?” teachers seriously ask their students, and dramaturgs their directors. This is because the process of making theatre is, in a very fundamental way, a process of building a complete universe in an empty black box: 19th-century Russia; Renaissance Venice in the imagination of the Elizabethan England; the existential wasteland post-WWII; and so on. These worlds are built with only a few tools: light, costume, humans and their words, sound, a backdrop or relatively spare props; and this world-making with a very reduced palette are,...

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