Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Starfuckers (Merrigong)

Gossip magazines are ridiculous. Seriously. Every time I go to the doctor’s or to Gwynneville take-a-way (for life), I am confused as to why I’ve begun to read about some d-list celebrity’s trip to the key chain store. I mean why can’t they just get their key-chains from friends as awkward “I didn’t know what to get you so I got you a key-chain” gifts like the rest of the world? Then we wouldn’t have to read about it. Instead we’d probably be reading about a c-list celebrity’s haircut disaster…

It is this sort of reportage of minutiae that is the basis of Laura Caesar and Malcolm Whittaker’s Starfuckers, a durational performance which was performed at Merrigong theatre in the Bob Peet Studio as part of the Independent Producer’s Programme. The set-up is very simple: Malcolm and Laura browse through gossip magazines and read from them, but instead of articles about celebrities, they read stories about their relationship, which has lasted eight years. Once they have finished reading the story, they rip out that particular page of the magazine and shred it in a document shredder. The shreds are then used to create paper-mâché models of famous couples from history, which are placed on a long table in the centre of the room. This process continues until the couple runs out of stories.

The result is mesmerising. I entered the space at 7pm, with the show finishing at about 9:50pm on this particular evening. The marketing makes clear that audience are willing to come and go as they please and stay for as long as they desire, but the desire to leave never took hold. The stories were honest and engaging and left me wanting to know more. Malcolm and Laura’s point about the needless voyeurism of these magazines was well made, for as the show continued, I became more and more desirous for anecdotes from their past. With both parties sharing their own side of the same story, there also developed a need to get the complete picture of any situation. If I were to leave, I’d never find out what Laura thought about the story Malcolm just told. If I stayed, there was a possibility I would hear her opinion. Also, as the piece went on and heard more and more stories from their relationship, I found myself reflecting on my own relationships and the similarities and differences I found.

The most interesting stories were those from the more distant past. Stories from recent times gave interesting insights, but there was something about hearing what these two people were like in their formative years that added another dimension to the experience. It is hard to reconcile your knowledge of someone as a performance artist with their stories of being a scout when they were younger. It was also the honesty of the stories that gave them their power, with everything from random fantasies about other partners, to masturbatory desires, to day-by-day frustrations one has with their partner being discussed. I think this played perfectly into the weird voyeurism of magazine culture that they were exploring.

This was my first durational performance. I’ve often read about durational works and thought “that sounds like a great idea, I wonder if it would actually be interesting to watch for four hours?” This one was, and I sincerely hope it will be restaged at some point so you can all get along to it.

- Simon

Monday, July 26, 2010

And we're back!

Ok so we lied. It’s taken a little bit longer than expected to get back on top of things here at the Perf, but back we are and I couldn’t be more excited. The reviews and commentary will hopefully come thick and fast in the coming weeks. As you may have noticed if you’ve been here before, we’ve changed the look of the Perf a bit. As we’re no longer students, I guess we’re trying to make the place look more professional or something. We’re also changing the purpose of the Perf a little bit at the moment so the new look goes with the new direction I suppose. This change has come out of a question we’ve been asking ourselves a bit…

Being both an artist and a critic – can it be done?
Last year when Mark and I started this blog, the idea was to reflect on plays in terms of our emerging practice as theatre and performance students. If we’re honest with ourselves, which we are, it was formed more out of a desire to get invited to Alison Croggon’s awesome blog barbeques and hang out with her and other cool theatre people than out of any great desire to write about theatre (whether or not Alison Croggon hosts such events is still a matter of contention). Once we started writing however, we really enjoyed it, and sometimes it provided a much needed outlet for all the thoughts that one harbours when they spend their days reading about, performing in and seeing theatre.

However, as we neared the end of our careers as students and began venturing out into the real world of the theatre, our fun was thrown into a very different light. We were certainly given pause for thought, when at our Equity day we were faced with a director whose play we had rather unfavourably written about. Since then I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems associated with being a creative and then ending up in the world of being a critic. My biggest worry is that one day I’m going to be auditioning for a play, and a director will recognise my name and call me out on the bad review I once gave them back when I was a theatre student. I’d like to think this wouldn’t happen, but it’s a possibility I have to accept if I want to keep reviewing plays.

I guess my response is that firstly, we here at the Perf don’t take ourselves too seriously and neither should you (if you need proof simply look to your right at our amazing photo). However in my discussions with the newest permanent member of the Perf team, Jenni (whom you may remember from our brief Sydney festival coverage) she brought up something else which I’d like to share with you here:

“When we review we do so as much to share a personal opinion as to create a discussion. We say something in the hope that someone will disagree openly because without honest commentary how can we ever hope to improve or really know how the theatre being created is being received and affecting people? If everyone smiles and says "good work" when is there growth? Should there not be an honest sharing of opinions that is not taken personally or as any kind of definitive statement but a starting point for discussion? When we stop taking offence and start openly discussing without worrying about repercussions, and if everyone starts doing the same, I think we start to create the debate and genuine sharing of feelings that good art should create in a community. And in not taking things too seriously this is possible.” 

I feel like we have this discussion about the nature and usefulness of criticism at least several times a year and must say it's a bit weird discussing it from the inside. But  I guess our hope is, as Jenni points out, that a sustained critical community will lead to a building, and bettering of the theatre community through discussion. That’s really what makes a blog different to a newspaper I feel. You can leave your responses straight after without having to wait for an editor to decide to print your letter. 

In line with this hope, I’m hoping that the Perf can become a place not just for reviews, but also for interviews, opinions and who knows, maybe even academic writings about theatre. We’re going to continue shamelessly advertising our own projects, (the photos that are in this blog post for no reason other than to make it look less like a mass of text are from Applespiel's recent hit "Snail Piece" which was performed at Underbelly Arts Festival) and those of other artists we love, and hopefully just have a good time while we do it. Please, if you have thoughts on this, hit us up with comments. We’d love to hear from you.

As well as this change in direction, which isn't that much of a change, we’re also having another changing of the guard. Mark is no longer writing from the Perf, and as I mentioned before, we’ve been joined by Jenni. If you would like to get into contact with us, or learn what we look like, those details are to the right of the screen on the home page.

It’s exciting times ahead for us. First review back is coming at any moment…

- Simon