My ride to work in That meme

That moment when you realise the traffic isn’t as bad as it should be for 8.30am and you think there may have been some kind of doomsday event that you didn’t catch on the morning news.
That moment when the council truck is parked in the driveway and you have to jump down the curb.
That moment when you smell the coffee roasting instead of the car fumes.
That moment when there are more bikes than cars at an obscure intersection near the city.
That moment when you realise it is really quite hot today.
That moment when you realise the traffic is actually very bad.
That moment when you smell the fish markets.
That moment when there are five cyclists at the front of the lights at the big intersection and you all shepherd each other between bumper to bumper cars, buses and trucks.
That moment when you get annoyed at the bike/pedestrian planning on Pyrmont Bridge.
That triumphant tour de france yellow jersey moment when you make it through the bike lights on the cycle path between sussex and kent on king.
That moment when you realise all the carparks are airconditioned.
That moment when you have to dismount and walk because of Barangaroo infrastructure development has closed the cycleway for 10 metres.
That moment while you are walking when you imagine making a short film about a temporary road closure where drivers are asked to get out and push their car to the next intersection due to similar road works.
That moment when you overtake someone on the uphill bit where people usually overtake you.
That nasty northwesterly headwind riding over the harbour bridge.
That moment when an old lady in the volvo that tut-tuts you for riding the wrong way up a really quiet one way street.
That moment when you feel a bit guilty and think “get a life old lady this really should be where the bike path is anyway” at the same time.
That moment when a young woman with a pram makes everything better by saying “nice work” when you get to the top of the steepest bit of the entire ride.
That moment when the tow-truck driver lets you in.
That moment when you can’t help but think it might be the short shorts.
That moment when you top the hill and arrive at work and think it was a great ride and realise you are quite hot and sweaty and decide to write up your entire trip in That meme.


Bike Riding to the Airport: The Conclusion (Part 2)

The flight home from Perth was fast, aided by a tail wind. After only three hours and forty minutes in the air, I was back in Sydney. Craig (AKA the red-headed fiance-sized cycle buddy from Part 1) came to meet me from the airport. It was 37 degrees in Sydney on December 1, when I returned, and the mercury was still hovering around 29 at 10.30pm when my flight landed. I texted Craig as I got off the plane in excitement to see him and also in anticipation of hearing about the success or failure of this attempt to ride to and from the airport. When I didn’t hear from Craig absolutely immediately about the presence of my bike, I imagined that he was standing where my bike had been tied up unsure how to break the news of its absence to me gently. However, my doomsday scenario was incorrect! I arrived at the bikes about five minutes later to find his tied up to mine. Not too long after I saw Craig too. It was a very happy reunion both with me and my love and me and my bike!

CMJ and Jen Mae's Bikes at the Airport

CMJ and Jen Mae’s Bikes at the Airport

In summary, I would absolutely recommend riding to Sydney airport if you can carry your bags either in a basket or on your back. It is absolutely excellent to get a bit of exercise after sitting on a flight for so long and it is a really nice way to get home. My bike was parked in a well-lit area with many other bikes. It seems that both workers and travellers get to the airport in this way. We are heading up to Byron later in the year, so maybe we will get a chance to test the idea again then. Until then, safe riding comrades!


Bike Riding to the Airport: Alternative Carbon Offset? (Part 1)

This morning I caught a 7am flight to Perth for the ‘Shakespeare and Emotions’ conference at UWA. The abundance of interstate and international travel involved in academic pursuits is one of the more enviable aspects of the field. But such travel, as requisite for career development, is problematic if you travel to the other side of the world in order to deliver a 20-minute work-in-progress paper on culture, climate crisis and environmentalism, as I have done. That aside, when contemplating how to get to the airport from our new digs in Earlwood this morning, the idea of bike riding seemed the most logical. Train would require a bag-laden hike to Tempe and a train change at Wolli Creek and an exorbitant fare for very short ride. And a Taxi would require booking and money and the stress of traffic. But my bike was just sitting on the balcony, leaning sweetly against the wall, as if patiently waiting for me to ask it to take me to the airport. The only other time I have ridden near the airport was on the all-night summer solstice ride in 2009 when we went up and around all the empty airport roads at about 3.30am. But we can see the runway from our house on the hill and virtually ride across the runway on our way to UNSW. Surely one of the perks of living within spitting distance of the airport is that you can ride right to the departure gate, right? The pundits on the Sydney Cyclist website were undecided. But I found one strikingly affirmative review, which was enough to cancel out all of the negative ones.

Long Term Parking at the Domestic Terminal

The ride from my place takes in a short stretch of the Cooks River then Coward St, Bourke Rd and O’Riordan St. Bike lanes service the route until Coward Street, but then you are on your own with the monster trucks (unless you are lucky like me and have a red-headed fiancé-sized cycle-buddy!). 6am is peak time at the airport; cars, trucks and taxies were backed up several sets of lights leading to the domestic terminal. While it is fun riding between cars that are stopped in traffic, the airport lacks proper cycling access. Designers and engineers of infrastructure around the airport must think exclusively in terms of either high-carbon emissions, or high-power travel, or both. In the formidable presence of 747s and A380s it is perhaps unsurprising that the lowly muscle-powered bicycle is marginalised: the discrepancy between the power of an jumbo jet and the power of a pushie is so great that bikes seem entirely obsolete. Why ride a bike at 15km/ph when you can fly at almost 100 times that speed? Further, if you are interested in travelling at such high speed, why would you even be remotely interested in travelling so slowly?

Well if you live close enough, you buy yourself an extra snooze or two because the one big perk about bike riding is that travel times are reliable. Where as train travel needs to be shaped around time tables and cars get stuck in traffic, bikes just get to where they are going on time. Furthermore, you save at least $30 on train fares and between $40 and $200 on taxi fares, depending on where you live and at least $300 on parking if you’re crazy enough to drive. You also get a bit of exercise before the muscle-atrophying experience of air travel. So I popped my rucksack in a basket on the back of my bike and rode on over. It was really very fun. And, although I like having proper infrastructure to support a safe ride such as bike lanes or a shoulder, there is something still quite fun and intrepid in being the only bike or two on a clogged arterial road.

One other thing I wondered whether or not biking to the airport can be seen to be the equivalent of a carbon offset. Carbon offsetting is bollocks and I didn’t pay the $2.21 to ‘carbon offset’ my flight. I reckon I am right to be suspicious of both the politics and mathematical formulae involved in such hair-brained tree-planting schemes that often commercialise large swathes of land, make trees commodities and criminalise the people who try to use them to survive. But  I wonder if biking to the airport could also be seen as an equivalent form of carbon offset? Surely riding to the airport is better than paying a conglomerate to pay police to incarcerate people who try and build a roof from a branch of a tree that has been ‘sold’ to offset my flight to Perth, right? Also, although no trees were planted in honour of my trip to Perth, ‘No Iraqi’s died to fuel my bicycle’ either. That slogan used to be screen printed on a patch on my backpack and, as we overtook a semi-trailer that was caught in traffic, it was what I yelled to my red-headed fiancé-sized cycle-buddy this morning. I dunno how eco-friendly or radically political I was this morning really. Actually, I think that the joy I got from riding between cars stuck on a choked artery road was much greater than any benefit to the environment or to Iraqis who died during the most recent US invasion. Nevertheless, I rode my bike to the airport, parked it near the entrance and now I am in Perth.

This is only part one of this story. Whether or not the bike is still at the airport when I return on the weekend remains to be seen. I shall report back. But, for now, greetings from the most isolated city on the planet.

 


Climate Change, Neo-Liberalism and Progressive Policy Wonks

A “wonk” is a general and derogatory term for a nerd who takes meticulous interest in details of a particular field of knowledge. But it is usually reserved for people who are obsessively interested in the finer details of political policy. Lots of people in Canberra are “policy wonks”, for example. Although I have never been entrenched for long enough in a particular part of society to become fully wonkified, rest assured I am licensed to write about wonks because some of my best friends are wonks. And, let me tell you, although I love them to bits I wouldn’t invite all of my wonky friends to the same dinner party, nor would I design a panel discussion made entirely of real-deal wonks and wannabe wonks with a surrogate wonk as the moderator.

Last night I attended the City of Sydney’s City Conversations talk at Town Hall entitled “The Big Decision: How to fix Sydney’s Transport“, which was an incredibly important and energetic discussion designed in response to Infrastructure NSW’s completely ridiculous plan to “solve” the issue of traffic congestion with more roads. The discussion, while interesting was thoroughly hijacked by a panel of progressive wonks. But I will reflect upon the topic of the discussion first, before revealing precisely why the wonkish tone of the evening was a problem.

While in 2005 Seoul peeled back a highway to reveal the river buried beneath and that in 1995 Shanghai built a multi-billion dollar high speed metro system that by 2011 carried over 2 billion travellers annually, in 2012 InfrastructureNSW and the O’Farrell Government are planning a mid-twentieth century style concrete and carbon monoxide dreamworld of new motorways and bus tunnels. Firstly, the centrepiece of the State Government’s vision is “West Connex”. According to the PR video, West Connex “the highest priority project for NSW”. It is 33kms of motorway that allow motorists to avoid 50 sets of traffic lights. Tellingly, the video does not once claim that West Connex will ease congestion, but instead (and rather hilariously) they claim that it “will transform Sydney’s traffic congestion”. They remain unspecific as to what they mean by “transform”, thus there is the potential that the plan could be read as blue print for transforming congestion by creating new traffic jams on different roads. Secondly, there is the CBD Bus Tunnel,  the “CBD BRT” will, according to their website, “provide an alternative to light rail along George Street: a Bus Rapid Transit (‘CBD BRT’) tunnel from the Sydney Harbour Bridge to the Town Hall area, modelled on the underground busway that already operates in Brisbane.” It should be mentioned that the “CBD BRT” involves the partial pedestrianisation of George Street as well. But, in contrast the City wants to pedestrianise George Street and extend light rail network. For the moment, the City’s plan seems to be on the shelf, and in the next couple of weeks the Government will be deciding whether to move their own large-scale and insanely expensive infrastructure projects beyond the planning stages and into action.

The City Conversation’s talk provided a place for a public discussion and a collective response to this proposal. The City’s Lord Mayor, Clover Moore, alerted people to the fact that decisions are about to be made on these big plans and motivated them to state their opinions now. So, spurred by the discussion last night, let me lay my cards out on the table. In case you haven’t yet realised, I am a cyclist. I have been for about seven years. I lived in the inner west most of this time, and have recently moved out to Earlwood, adding about 5kms to my daily commute. I now commute from Earlwood to the CBD or the Eastern suburbs on most days. This is between a 10 and 15km commute one-way on a combination of bike paths, quite streets and main roads. It is a great ride with the exception of my unavoidable encounters with main roads that do not support cyclists at all, like Unwin’s Bridge Road in Tempe, Anzac Parade in Kensington and Elizabeth Street in the CBD. I have previously recorded my opinion on cyclists’ place in the transport debate in New Matilda in a piece co-authored with Craig Johnson. Basically I believe more people should be cycling and I am very pleased that more people are cycling each year. The benefits of cycling are manifold from public health (cyclists tend to be fitter and healthier) and the environment (no gasoline necessary), to the budget (the latter itself is manifold because the health-benefits mean cyclists lighten the load on the  health system and bikes do not require as much infrastructure and also do not cause as much damage to roads and paths so thus do not need to be maintained as much). But getting everyone to submit to my dream of a car-free, bicycle and razor scooter utopia is unfortunately not a viable solution in sprawling greater Sydney. Indeed, there is something unique and masochistic about cycling in a culture where everyone is coasting around in cars,* so I am a firm believer in a “transport mix” that is “heavy” on mass public transit and “light” on more roads. While building a bus tunnel may “free up local roads” for drivers and therefore ease congestion, mass-transit would have the same effect for the roads and be more environmentally sustainable long-term. This was also the main argument against the O’Farrell vision proposed by those on the panel at Town Hall last night, except they emphasised this as “economic” rather than “environmental” sustainability.

Although I agreed with panel’s economic argument against the State Government’s plan to “transform congestion”, the problem with the discussion last night was that it was almost 100% about economics and which proposed transport solution produced a healthier bottom line. Transport is more than just about getting from A to B; it is at the heart of how we conduct our daily lives and live in the world. For a progressive discussion on this issue to be entirely hijacked by economic modelling forgets what really matters. Which is unfortunately what often happens when progressive policy wonks allow a neo-liberal government to set the terms of the argument.** When pressed to comment on the bigger picture the panellists referenced trends away from cars and towards mass transit in other nations from the US and the UK to Asia and India, but gone was any discussion of the possibility of modes different of inhabiting and moving around the city, and lost was all discussion of the even bigger picture: climate. Although environmental sustainability is something that the City of Sydney clearly wants to address and although their proposal for a light rail system was both economically and environmentally sustainable, the environment was not mentioned last night. Instead questions like “How many hundred-thousand ‘wallets’ would ‘disappear’ underground if O’Farrell’s vision were to get the green light?”, “Wouldn’t it be better if those wallets were on the light-rail above ground” and “What impact would the construction of the bus tunnel have upon local retailers?”

I “live tweeted” at this event and called for the environment to at least be mentioned in the discussion. Nothing. It was like the recent presidential debates in the US, except no one was championing drilling for oil or gas, rather they were supporting public transit, walking and cycling. Despite the somewhat radical vision of the City, the rhetoric of the status quo reigned supreme. Part of me thought: “Maybe it is just too obvious an issue to rate mention”, but ultimately and tragically I think that the reason climate did not come up was far more cynical. When the host of the night, the ABC’s Quentin Dempster, introduced the evening by sarcastically stating he was going to set aside his cynicism, I should have realised what we were in for. The conversation was dominated by a bunch of relitavely progressive policy wonks, armed to the teeth with various statistics about the economic benefits of the City’s plan but they failed mention the elephant in the room! In other words, so successfully has the right come to dominate this transport debate in NSW that a progressive panel did not mention climate change. But climate should be at the centre of every debate about urban infrastructure as all decisions made without taking climate into account will be made redundant soon by the climate itself. Furthermore, trying argue for environmentally sustainable transport solutions whilst submitting to the terms of a neo-liberal Government’s policy framework is like trying to solve the problem of the melting ice-caps by building a giant freezer. It is the absolute wrong way to go about it.

Naomi Klein is the most articulate mainstream voice on the need for progressives to embrace a different kind of economic model. I agree with her argument that we need a new economic model to tackle climate change, because a more sustainable vision for future society needs industry regulation, collectivity and government intervention: all the things that neo-liberals loathe. Although Moore and her team at Town Hall also recognise the interconnections between the environment and the economy, those links were conspicuously absent from the discussion last night. The problem here as I see it is that if progressives erase climate change from big public discussions on issues as central to the environment as urban planning and transport infrastructure, what hope do we have? Indeed, progressive policy wonks need to unashamedly make climate change the centrepiece of their policy proposals at every opportunity and in the wonkiest of wonky ways. At the absolutely least a single voice from outside Wonka World should have been seated on the panel to keep climate and the environment alive as an issue when it comes to key discussions of massive infrastructure planning. Last night, with no non-wonky voice to remind them of the earth and climate and the ever-warming planet, these wonks were at the mercy of the O’Farrell governments neo-liberal facts and figures game, and they all seemed either too ashamed or too indoctrinated to think and talk about the issue of transport planning in anything other than economic terms. So, I am going to write to O’Farrell now and tell him that the State’s solution to Sydney’s transport problem is both environmentally and economically unsustainable.

*This is an idea to be explored at another time.

**N.B. Justin “Nightclub Baron” Hemmes was on the panel, I am not touting him as a progressive policy wonk, but he didn’t really contribute much to the discussion except to say that he thinks cars should be allowed back in after dark.


Monday Morning: A Closet Drama

Dramatis Personae:

  • Middle aged man, driving a bronze SUV, in sunglasses, windows up.
  • Cyclist

Cyclist wends her way down Wilson Street, Darlington. She’s thinking about the craziness of her life at the moment. Past. Present. Future. Thoughts can be represented with interpretive dance. Although it is 8am the traffic is light and she’s making good time. The sun in shining. The birds are singing. Life’s good. She’s wearing a bright red coat and a bright green helmet. She has second thoughts about her outfit: she thinks she probably looks like a Christmas tree. She comes to a roundabout and sees an SUV coming up the street to her left. She thinks unconsciously ‘no worries’; she’s got right of way two times over because he’s on her left and he’s not even at the roundabout yet. She enters the roundabout. She realises that the SUV is not stopping.

Cyclist: (loudly) Whoa, Whoa, Whoa.

She slows down so the impact is not dramatic. He hits her. Luckily he’d slowed to turn the corner too. Her bike scratches the front of his car, but she comes off the bike but does not fall over. There’s a short standoff. Cyclist looks directly at the driver desiring acknowledgement of his wrong and an apology. The driver gestures impatiently for the cyclist to move on.  

Cyclist: (Loudly, gesticulating wildly) Aren’t you even going to apologise for almost running me over?

The driver, unresponsive, reverses a little in order to get around the cyclist and speeds off down the street. Cyclist looks around for recognition of this injustice, and the impertinence and gall of the man in the unnecessarily large car. Nobody is around. Cyclist rides off thinking how glad she was to not be hurt, how much she wanted to kick the car, but also glad that she is that she had restraint, because by not kicking the car she retains the moral high ground. The second wave of thoughts can also be represented with interpretive dance, but ideally dancers would have a costume change to signal that the mood of the thoughts had darkened somewhat since the incident.

THE END.

——-

Playwright’s statement: This is a follow up to Wednesday Morning, a representation of the possible harmony between Cyclists and Pedestrians in future. This drama perhaps represents the particularly toxic dimension of the current relationship between Cyclists and Drivers in Sydney from the Cyclist’s perspective.


Wednesday Morning: A Closet Drama

Dramatis Personae:

  • Grandpa – MID 60s
  • Grandaughter – 5 or 6
  • Cyclist

The intersection of a bike path and pedestrian crossing. Grandpa is walking his grandaughter to school. They approach the pedestrian crossing at the same time as the cyclist. Cyclist stops. Grandpa and Granddaughter cross bikepath and road. As they are crossing the road the dialogue starts.

GRANDAUGHTER: Bicyclists stop for pedestrians.

GRANDPA: Sometimes.

Cyclist rides out of earshot.

THE END.

********

Playwright’s Statement:

I wrote this play because I feel it captures the possibility for the public opinion of cyclists to change in future, even if not in my lifetime. As a cyclist I am constantly confronted by angry pedestrians and motorists who believe that cyclists are there simply to make their day more difficult. Here the hope that things will change is represented as an intergenerational possibility; public opinion can change, but change is gradual. Perhaps cyclists need to be ok with this. We cannot hope for the attitude to change straight away, but perhaps take comfort in the knowledge that it might someday. The urtext is, of course, King Lear. Lear dramatises the transition of the kingdom; in Wednesday Morning we see the roads transitioning to the cyclists, “The younger rises when the old doth fall” says Edmund. Except my play expresses the hope that things will turn out better in the end, and whether or not Lear is a fundamentally hopeful play is debatable. Adapting Lear is a monolithic task for any playwright, I guess this is why I chose to get it out of the way early in my career. My main aim in adapting Lear was to strip back Shakespeare’s main plot to its bare bones, and represent it in a shorter form in line with the desires of contemporary audiences. I might add that this is verbatim theatre; there is a kernel of truth within it and it is that kernel that I aimed to represent in the work. I hope you enjoy the show.


Two Plays at the Old Fitz

I used to work for Tamarama Rock Surfers at the Old Fitz, and since my last project there finished up in late April, I’ve found it difficult to go back for a casual visit. I think my reluctance to return is analogous to not wanting to see an ex-partner for a little while; after a long relationship and difficult break-up, you generally need to wait some time before you see each other again. So, on Sunday I went to the Old Fitz and, no, we didn’t end up shagging in a vain attempt to relive the glory days, but the company was fine and the coffee was quite good. I mean that all quite literally, I was even given a warm cup of coffee from Kym Vercoe during the performance of Seven Kilomemetres North East on Sunday night.

SEVEN KILOMETRES NORTH EAST: Kym Vercoe & Version 1.0, in association with Tamarama Rock Surfers (N.B. SPOILERS WITHIN)

SKNE is a devised work that responds to Vercoe’s three trips to  Bosnia and the Balkans. And, in particular, her stays at the Višegrad Spa Hotel, near Višegrad on the River Drina. SKNE is a devised one-woman performance that is part personal travelogue, part political-history lesson that combines monologue and audio-visual footage in a hybrid-narrative performance. The monlogue and performance is very polished and all AV went off smoothly, in trademark Version 1.0 style, demonstrating just how AV can and should be done in the theatre. The video footage, all of which was taken on Vercoe’s most recent trip to Bosnia, was successfully drawn into the narrative and made an integral part of the storytelling.

SKNE is a piece about the complex relationship between the tourist (Vercoe) and the place she visits (Bosnia/Višegrad). We learn a cool new word, “thano-tourism”. This issue is really interesting; “thanotourism” is travelling to a place with a history of death and trauma. Naming such an activity instantly makes it easier to question why we go to places like Auschwitz or The Killing Fields, and what it means to visit such a place. In short, why do we choose to be thanotourists? Vercoe, we discover, is the “accidental thanotourist”. That is, she went to a location unaware of the specifics of its violent past. Seven Kilometres North East is an attempt to comprehend her experience as an “accidental thanotourist”.

I really like the brief: rather than a piece that works to demonstrate the complex relationship between past and present, and the always already problematic nature of tourism,  SKNE takes such entanglements as its point of departure. This is rich ground for a performance piece. I really like the set of questions the performance seeks to illuminate and explore: when we discover we are holidaying and enjoying ourselves on a site of genocide how can we respond? What can we do, if anything? What should we do, if anything? What do we do, if anything? How is the past implicated in the present? And, more obliquely, how is the present implicated in the past?

But, as a creative response to this matrix of problems, I do not think this piece really worked. And, in this I am somewhat alone, there is wide consensus that this is an excellent work of theatre. But it is because of the general affirmitve responses directed towards the work that I feel somewhat less afraid to get a bit more critical about it.

The entire performance was built upon Vercoe’s emotional response to the situation she ends up in: “Seven Kilometres North East” of Višegrad is the site of Višegrad Spa Hotel which was the site of mass atrocity. I want to go out on a limb and claim that the piece didn’t work for me because Vercoe’s own emotional response, especially really powerful emotions like guilt and shame, were not fully explored. And conversely, the specifics of the history were somewhat elided. This is important because it this piece attempts to link up the history of the place she visits with Vercoe’s emotional response to discovering that history. As a result, I read the central narrative outcome of the performance itself as a somewhat reductive substitution of the performer’s guilt at enjoying herself in Višegrad, for moral outrage at what happened. This emotional sleight of hand undoubtedly unlocks the personal paralysis caused by guilt, but what does it leaves us with? A feeling? An emotion? Or a rhetorical question: “why do people rape and kill each other?” Moral outrage doesn’t communicate the complexity of the problem the performer was trying to articulate. And, I would argue, it likewise does not get traction on her role, if any, within it.

The list of questions I traced above above seem pertinent here, in such a situation what can we do? what do we want to do? what should we do? and what do we do? are all different dimensions of a response, and, although the questions look very similar, I reckon real answers are likely to look very different. For instance, we can try and find the people responsible and bring them to justice, but maybe we want to go have a beer and stare at the river. For me, Seven Kilometres North East tried to pretend that what we can, should, want to and do do in a situation like this are the same, and, I felt that the performance was didactic in  that in the end it forced me to feel that way too.

Having said this, the emotional king hit of the ending (and I felt it to be sure), certainly made me think through why I was somewhat disinterested in the travelogue section of the piece and why I ended up with no real particular detail about what did happen in the past, but why I felt sad for both Vercoe and the women who were raped and murdered in the hotel. The piece was forced me to feel what she felt. And in this the piece is incredibly successful, which is a real achievement. But to really entangle the personal and the historical, a more rigorous excavation of the personal and the historical than what was undertaken by Seven Kilometres North East.

Still, it’s taken a while for me to articulate all this, so it is not a superficial piece. It is doing complex things, but from my point of view I would like them done differently. In closing, regardless of what I think, SKNE definitely worth a look.

Seven Kilometres North East is on at the Old Fitz until Saturday 16th October. Tickets available at rocksurfers.org

ANOTHER SPECIES ENTIRELY: Friends with Deficits

Well, in comparison to Seven Kilometres North East, Another Species Entirely really was really another species entirely. 30 minutes of strange things being done with fruit, vegetables, wine and locks of hair. Friends with Deficits are an emerging performance collective who want to perform together, according to their program, ‘until the grow old and wrinkly’. And I hope they do, I’d really like to see where their work ends up. This particular piece, which I assume is unfinished, defies clear description. It seems to be about friendship and intimacy, drinking wine and being cantankerous. I would claim there was a radical feminist sensibility locked deep within the piece, but perhaps I like to think everything does, and certainly I couldn’t claim to know precisely the nature of this collective’s sensibility anyway. It was non-narrative, it involved hair and white stockings and it ended abruptly, with the audience not knowing it was done until one performer, in a gesture too natural to be scripted, came out from under a sheet and said “we were going to wait until you were all gone, but I’m getting hot under here”.

The Late Sessions at the Fitz, I know from having worked there, is all about new work getting air time in order to develop further. So, to conclude this woefully inadequate reflection on Another Species Entirely, my suggestions are that 1) someone needs to put the pineapple down their stockings, everyone I spoke to was waiting for it, and 2) the show needs to be longer, we all thought it was over but we all hoped it wasn’t. I’m gonna stay tuned for the next installment.

Another Species Entirely was only on for two nights. They have another gig coming up at Art and About on October 21. Details on Facebook

TRANSPORTI had actually been around the WORLD on Sunday. I went on the “Keep it Wheel” bike ride and VegPledge for the 350.org global action day. Keep it Wheel was a well organised bikeride that was basically designed to reassure shop owners that “cyclists are consumers too”, in response to the panicked business owners who instigated class action suit against City of Sydney for damages brought about by its major bike lane project. VegPledge was a picnic in centennial park where we all posed for the camera and didn’t eat meat. Two really cool events. So, I rode from Newtown to Surry Hills to Pyrmont to Centennial Park to Woolloomooloo to Newtown. And, while I won’t describe the route in gory detail, it was easy and fun!


Port Kembla

Last weekend I rode from Thirroul to Port Kembla, through Wollongong. There is something scary and beautiful about industrial landscapes, especially on a Winter’s afternoon. It was a really great ride. We didn’t complete it, we were meant to get to Oak Flats, but there was too much to see along the way. Including model boats and an ice cream van. The ride comes from Bike Rides Around Sydney book – which I think is now out of print. Basically, the bike goes on the train at Central Station, its easy enough to get on the train, and as it was off peak it did not cost any extra to take the bike. And the bike, and you, get off the train at Thirroul. We’re reading Voltaire’s Candide, a novella about a young man’s exploration of the world through the philosophical doctrine that this world is the best possible world, an ideal formulated by German Enlightenment philosopher Gottfried Leibniz (who had amazing hair!). The great problem is that the best possible world is rather wretched. Indeed, the story functions as a scathing critique of the concept which suggests that it is the best possible world and that we can do nothing to change it; in Candide the world is wretched because of the way in which humans treat one another. We read Candide to while away the time on the train, but it is a really majestic train ride, especially if you sit on the left side of the train.

Going to the steelworks was a bit of a trip down memory lane. I grew up with views of the stacks at the steelworks. And, my dad used to take visitors to Wollongong on a night-time Champagne tour of the Coal Loader and Steel Works. There was something a bit sad about doing it last weekend. Went past my “childhood home” which is now a driveway, and went through the steelworks without any specific tips from my Dad. Here’s a photo from one of Dad’s “tours” in the early 80s. I was probably at home in bed, asleep, just a little baby!


There’s a fine line between voyeurism and surveillance

Measure for Measure is the second play I’ve seen in a week in which a character spontaneously springs into a headstand. The headstand is one of the key inversions in yoga. In Cageling, the headstand occurs when Mother Alba is struggling to contain her own desire and, incidentally, this yields the upside down penis I alluded to in my last post. In Benedict Andrews’ production of Measure for Measure, Barnadine the drunken prisoner, played by a very brutish looking Colin Moody, stands on his head at the end of an excellently staged drunken rampage. In both instances, the headstand is symbolic of the world being in chaos, but it is not true chaos. The posture represents inversion, but in yoga this is the inversion of an intensely disciplined body. Thus the chaos in both instances, I think, seems to remain within the strict disciplined worlds in which these characters exist.

This paradox of disciplined chaos makes sense in a play like Measure for Measure. Measure for Measure is one of Shakespeare’s so-called “problem plays”; meaning, in part, that although it is funny, it’s not really a comedy. The tension between the humour that is in the script, and the fact that all is not necessarily well, even if it ends well, is sustained throughout this production. This is most evident in the character of Lucio, played by Toby Schmitz, whose wry and sleazy asides, rouge-like metatheatrical commentary, and accidental heresy are a constant source of humour in the play. Schmitz is perfectly cast as Lucio, in a role that arguably functions like the Fool in Lear or Feste in Twelfth Night, and his grasp of the comedic nuances in the dialogue is remarkably clever. However, the achievement of Schmitz’s performance, which is perfectly restrained by Andrews’ direction, is that our laughter never actually disarms of the dramatic action.  We laugh at a situation, but remain conscious of its more serious implications, the sinister and hypocritical underbelly of the State. The way Andrews’ harnesses the “problem” of the play, is one of the highlights of this production.

Here’s the central premise. Duke Vincentio takes leave of the his post, only to return disguised as a Friar where he can observe the workings of the stage from another perspective. In his absence, Angelo is given power and almost immediately he orders the execution of a young man, Claudio, for having sex out of wedlock. Claudio’s sister Isabella then spends the rest of the play trying to save her brother’s life. Angelo gives Isabella an intensely hypocritical ultimatum, give me your virginity and I’ll give you your brother.

The play is about power and desire. It was first performed at the start of the seventeenth century, and grimly foreshadows the imminent Puritan rule, where the repression of desire was the major political platform and all the theatres were closed. But, this production is set in the present, in a snazzy hotel room. Ralph Myers’ set is perfectly generic; the bed is made with shiny beige quilted coverlet, light pink carpet, blonde wood furniture, 12volt dichroic down lights, bar fridge complete with mini-canned coke and a vase of oriental lillies (that Lucio will eventually “deflower”) sits nicely on the TV Table. Each scene is always plausibly in a different room, because all hotel rooms are the same (what French anthropologist Marc Augé calls the “non-place”). The could-be-anywhere hotel room seems to function especially well during prison scenes and sex scenes. It is especially sinister during scenes in the prison, where, like scenes out of some dodgy Hollywood hostage drama, the hotel room seems to function plausibly make-shift hold for hostages, and suitably seedy in sex scenes where it may be a room rented for only an hour. The nicest touch in the set is the medium-sized plasma TV, playing the weather channel for the most part, with the occasional flick through to a wildlife documentary, porn or Court TV. The play is about power and desire today, Porn TV and Court TV.

Screens are the key feature of this production, which is filmed by cameramen onstage, and a on a series of well-placed security cameras in the roof and behind the bathroom mirror. What is remarkable is how quickly this style presentation of Shakespeare in the theatre naturalises. You adapt to watching really quickly. The content is broadcast on two large screens which are mounted on the back walls of the stage. Just as audiences these days like to choose, the audience at this production can choose to watch the action live or watch it on screen. And in this a very very blurry line is created between the voyeuristic pleasure in watching sex on screen, and the regulative force of surveillance. This mirrors the porn/court TV on the plasma, doubles again in relation the play’s broad thematic concerns of power and desire.

At the centre of all this, as always, are the poor virgins and whores, the only two career choices for women in the play. Isabella, played by Robin McLeavy, is beautifully tragic as the model of virtue, whose virtue is at the heart of the drama and used as the measure of the value of her brother’s life. In fact, the whole cast is excellent in supporting this complex and contradictory tragi-comedy.

Andrews’ production is deeply intellectual, evidenced by the Zizek and Agamben quoted in the program, but also in the complex layering of design components to support his interpretation of the play. But, even with this intensely considered theoretical underbelly, the production is remarkably accessible and represents the theory in ways that are legible to a large audience. Shakespeare was a popular writer, we always have to remind ourselves of that because he occupies such a revered position in the western canon. Andrews’ production blends the popular roots of Shakespeare with deep academic complexity, the “low” works with the “high” (as if the two are ever really distinct anyway), resulting in an entertainingly sinister, and near-perfect production of this under-performed problem play.

This is an unofficial review of the performance on Saturday 26th June, 2pm

Measure for Measure plays at Upstairs Belvoir until July 25

TRANSPORT:

I rode to Belvoir on the lovely winter afternoon. From Newtown, along Wilson St and along the path on Cleveland. So quick. 15 mins or something. I went the wrong way up Belvoir St to save time, which is illegal but satisfyingly steep. Belvoir does not have enough bicycle parking out the front. I don’t know if there is hidden parking elsewhere, but there are just a couple of signposts to tie your bike up to. Come the revolution, this will not be able to accommodate all the City’s cyclists, so hopefully City of Sydney will remedy this dearth of bike racks sometime in the near future.


The upside down penis

Go bring the rabble, / O’er whom I give thee power, here to this place – Prospero (to Ariel), The Tempest, Act IV, scene one

THE RABBLE have been brought to CarriageWorks to present Cageling. Cageling is a physical exploration of the repression of grief and desire, set in an enclosed box with a perspex wall facing the audience, two seamless white walls on the sides, and a wall with a high window at the rear. When you enter the space, you are met with a cast of five. They are all in the box, wearing floor-length, black, Victorian, gothic dresses and black ballet slippers. They are lit with fluorescent lights, and arranged in an unsettling tableau. They are there as if waiting for the audience, but very little happens for the first fifteen minutes. Cageling is designed to leave you outside, distanced from the action inside this home, and it takes effort on the part of the audience to find a way into this private world. This is almost in complete contrast to the the last thing I saw in Bay 20, Matt Prest and Claire Britton’s Hole in the Wall in which you are literally invited inside the home. But, although you are left outside Cageling’s cage, if you are actively willing to find a way inside, you’ll be rewarded.

THE RABBLE are not controlled by Prospero, or Shakespeare for that matter, but they are controlled by another formidable magician, Fredericio Garcia Lorca. Cageling’s urtext is Lorca’s play The House of Bernada Alba, a drama about a recently widowed mother, who controls her grief by dominating her children. This play is “smashed open” by THE RABBLE, and rearranged through the use of ballet, contemporary dance and hymn, and enhanced by stories from Ovid, thereby exposing the unconscious, affective underbelly of the Lorca’s text. But, we keep the mother and daughters and Dan Schlusser is terrifyingly good as Mother Alba.

Mother’s rules are no weeping and no secrets. A tension is established at the outset of the work between desire and action; if you do not act, you do not desire, and you do not grieve, if you do not cry. The flawed theory, of course, is that grief and desire will disappear if they can’t find expression, therefore as long as order is kept, tears are avoided, hierarchies are respected and instructions are followed everything will be OK. But, everything is clearly not OK. Within this world the only actions Mother allows are carefully choreographed: the poised movements of ballet and the perfectly harmonised hymn. Cageling dramatises the Daughters/sons’ attempts to break free from these rules, and the Mother/father’s attempt to reinstate them. And, I use the word “dramatises” with all its conventional import in spite of the lack of the dramatic text. And I say Daughter/son, Mother/father because gender difference necessarily unclear because the work is about women without men, but who have internalised the patriarchal structure. (Actually, Women without Men by Shirin Neshat that played in the recent Sydney Film Festival, has some interesting affinities with Cageling)

There are so many dimensions to this performance, and this is because THE RABBLE put to use all the tools available to the performing artist–speech, song, silence, movement, tableau, dance, costume, gesture, vocal tone, makeup, properties, set,  lighting, sound–THE RABBLE treat each aspect of the artform with equivalent importance, no element dominates, each device in turn contributing to Cageling’s emotional and physical assault.

Cageling is extraordinary, it deserves much more time that I can give it here to unfold the dark matter that is explored in the white box. Cageling requires your active attention, I think the audience are given many ways in; the sound design, dance lighting and speech all had a refrain. If you miss those clues or willingly resist the offers, you might be literally left out in the cold. But, I love difficult theatre, I like being made to work to find meaning, I love work where meaning keeps emerging for days later and there are too many threads to possibly consolidate in one short review. For example, I didn’t even get mention the headstand and the upside down penis, so, perhaps the upside down penis can be your reward if you are willing to involve yourself in Cageling.

Cageling plays at CarriageWorks until July 3

This is an unofficial review of the Preview Performance on June 24.

TRANSPORT:

I managed to get back on my bike again yesterday. The rain abated. I rode from UNSW to CarriageWorks, the ride is so easy. Bike paths almost all the way along Anzac Parade, and I get to go along one of my favourite paths in Sydney–a cresent moon shaped path that cuts between Cleveland st and South Dowling–then down Redfern St, past Redfern Station, left onto Little Eveleigh St which turns into Wilson, and bam, you’re at Carriageworks. I go the slow way, there is a quicker way through the industrial estates of Alexandria, but I like the slower pace, mostly off the road.