Performance Essays

The following is a selection of essays written to accompany works presented at Metro Arts by independent makers. Designed to introduce the work to an arts-going public, with an objectivity beyond the artist-makers involved, these writings illuminate key themes and ideas and contextualise their background.

 

MOTHERLAND
CREATED BY KATHERINE LYALL-WATSON & CAROLINE DUNPHY, OCT 2013
On tour with Critical Stages through 2015

Like its content, Motherland’s process has been one of the combination of talents of creative and proficient women. Katherine Lyall-Watson & Caroline Dunphy are each extremely skilled at their craft; between them, they have expertise in rigorous work of time-tested forms, and the capacity to interrogate practices and experiment with them to expand how we frame the known to establish new perspectives.

The story of Motherland is similarly dualistic: it encompasses histories both widely known and secret. It is an epic of multiple proportions, contained within a tightly disciplined performance and combining aspects of traditional performance styles with nuance and detail that borrows from experimental practice. Katherine and Caroline have created a work that simultaneously talks about the shift of both nations and affections.

Beyond personal and political, the work subtly evokes and communicated elements of the world of Motherland’s story – tension, displacement, the slow but certain passage of time – without forcing them to the forefront.

Instead, they form the ground and the frame for the unfolding story; the steely Nina Berberova and her friendship with the spry Nell Tritton, and how they deal with stubborn natures and a changing world.

 

PREHISTORIC
WRITTEN & DIRECTED BY MARCEL DORNEY, ELBOW ROOM, NOV 2013
– also presented as part of Melbourne Fringe 2014 & Brisbane Festival 2014
Green Room Award Winner, Writing/Independent Theatre

The mythologising of great and terrible events and people is a process both imperceptible and persistent. It is potentially dangerous; comparing battle scars, galvanising peers, retelling tales of iron-fisted rule and our thrashing against it, can bind us together to feel like we’re fighting the good fight – but each tale enshrines a foe monolithic in their reputation. Divorced from an appreciation of how something happened – the incremental steps towards injustice – it seems impossible to think it could ever happen again.

I grew up in Brisbane, but I don’t remember learning about Joh Bjelke-Petersen. He arrived in my mind fully formed; I inherited a mythology of Queensland’s history, the former premier cast large and one-dimensional. Ministerial corruption, the demolition of our heritage architecture, stories of police brutality – these aspects of our history were like his limbs. They were the same thing. Our fraught past had a name and a lifespan; the latter was over, but the first was held high in a defiant symbol that we would never let Joh Bjelke-Petersen happen again – a claim we make of so many historical figures whose violent and corrupt legacies recur with different names and faces.

Prehistoric begins to unbind the mythologies, to split the monolith up and reveal it as a complex rabble of those incremental steps. We must shine light on it; abandon a mythology of our long-gone past, memorise the shape, weight and texture of each small piece; and remember that when we demolish something, the pieces can find their way into what we rebuild.

 

NOT MUCH TO TELL YOU
CREATED BY KAITLYN PLYLEY, AUGUST 2014

Feminism is prominent in the international consciousness, at the moment perhaps more than any time in recent memory. Conversations both grassroots and political permeate, to the point that three days ago, the biggest pop star in the world stood in front of neon lettering four metres high branding herself a feminist – in a room full of cheering celebrities who until recently mostly denounced the term. Whether a statement of Beyonce’s belief or just marketing tactics matters less than the fact that the political discussion is playing out everywhere.

This is true across media, social and commercial; Karl Stefanovic asks Katy Perry where she stands, opinion pieces and hashtags sling back and forth, even as the treatment of our first female prime minister fades from memory (replaced by perspectives on the actions of a cabinet with only 1 woman out of 19 ministers). The bulk of the conversation, it seems, is around the intangible; abstract political perspectives, the actions of the rich and powerful. Discussions about intersectional feminism and emergent fourth-wave feminism sometimes have the effect of making the idea nebulous or conceptual rather than concreting it in the everyday.

One of the core texts of second-wave feminism, by Carol Hanisch, asserted that ‘the personal is political’ – refocusing and highlighting personal issues through the lens of socio-political structures . This work, in a way, does the opposite. Kaitlyn tells us that the political is personal. She tells us about her own life, foregrounding her own experience; with very real, very undeniable stories owning what she can talk about – and leaving space so that what she cannot talk about cannot be ignored.