Wednesday, November 24, 2010



"MINCED is a new NIDA initiative for performing artists encouraging them to take risks with their chosen forms of expression."

Two recent graduates from the NIDA Directing Course, Paige Rattray and Nikola Amanovic (both 2009), auditioned a collective of performing artists across many skills, ages and backgrounds: actors, dancers, musicians. In the first piece by Ms Rattray some 26 artists volunteered their time and skills. Mr Amanovic involved some 12 performers. Enthusiasm galore.

First, BLESSED ARE THE WILD. Ms Rattray inspired by the Merce Cunningham's experiments with chance, devised over 2 weeks, 3 dance/movement components by chance (no choreographer is credited). 3 spoken work pieces were prepared from different sources and 3 lighting states were prepared and 3 musicians were primed.

The audience on entering the theatre were greeted by all the performers to the accompaniment of the band. The excitement energy was palpable. An MC introduced the evening and then the audience selected, by show of hands, the combinations of groups for performance. Talking to the performers, afterwards, it was interesting to hear how the combinations altered each night. Not very radically it turned out. Chance was defeated by conservatism. Out of hat draw or the throw of the dice might have delivered more interesting combinations.

On my night the sexy street walker with a monologue called STRAIGHT EDGE RAZOR was coupled with red light and a saxophone backing (James Loughnan). The BEAT POET with white light and drum kit (Ben Kidson and Alex Barry) DREAMTIME with torches and the electric guitar (Felix Kulakowski). All fairly predictable. A microphone was used (unnecessarily) to tell the stories. Inevitably the spoken texts, then, dominated the experience. The dance and the music, relatively, differently, becoming support.

The success of the evening seemed to hinge on the skills and dynamics of the "speaking" performers. The real success of this half of the program was the combination of skills from Shari Sebbens and her DREAMTIME story telling, verbal range and clear freshly minted imagery, supported by the choreography and dancing of two of Sydney's great contemporary dancers, Anca Frankenhaeuser and Patrick Harding-Irmer (quite a coup, for Ms Rattray to have such talent available to her).

STRAIGHT EDGE RAZOR an excerpt from A FEW MORE YEARS by Timothy McDonald was a monologue of a streetwalker that was so repulsively abusive and delivered in such a carelessly shoddy manner - deliberate I am sure - that I wished that the audience also had a gong to terminate the piece when possible. More direction to assist the instincts of the performer, Netta Yashchin, would have the helped the piece, that was seriously dated both in its content and naive shock tactics. Boredom was the reason for my need of a gong. Tedious, hardly amusing, except to the adolescent, perhaps.

BEAT POET written and performed by Anthony Taufa was seriously impaired by performing skills that needed directorial attention. The poetry and it's content was buried in the posing persona of the performer and slurred vocal delivery. Even with microphone it was difficult to get the grist/gist of this ' beaten' poet. The dance support by a large co-hort of actor/dancers supported by the drum kit duo was a welcome distraction from the gabbled gibberish of the verbaled text.

It seems the form of BLESSED ARE THE WILD occupied the rehearsal time of the work which was tantalising in its possibilities, but marred, in performance, by inattention to the story telling skills of two thirds of the event (Although I note that Ms Rattray had directed the whole of the Timothy McDonald piece with Ms Yashchin in July. The whole work! If this was a representative sample, one may have needed more than a gong to stop it- a whole orchestra perhaps?!!) ). If the expressive communication skills are a problem then the work loses it's full impact. The experience of the work diminished. The contrast that the first two pieces made, on this night, was startling in their ineptness to the simple direct quality of DREAMTIME - class all the way through. The conceit of the Merce Cunningham chance mechanism hardly revealed here as relevant. Content delivery defeated any interest in the form of the experiment.

The second half of the program TICK TACK BOOM, rehearsed over the same two weeks, with some of the same performers, was a different risk taking expression of 'form' by Mr Amanovic. Gathered from his program notes he seems to impulse his creative urges from a view that the theatre can be useful in changing the world: "We have decided to declare war on political correctness in the theatre and give a voice to people who usually have to' keep their opinions to themselves' ".

Mr Amanovic prepared the actors by "a day before the first rehearsal (he) provided the actors with newspaper articles, poems, essays, texts from blogs and magazines and other inspirational material..." He goes on to say that "using Stanislavsky's later approach (presumably he means Action Analysis) and the Mike Leigh method (presumably actor motivated research) to develop character through constant improvisation. He goes on to say that the actors did most of the writing with his job as director, "solely to worry about the dramaturgy."

Letting actors carry the responsibility of writing their own material. Not often a good idea. Here is the evidence of that. Maybe the initial material provided by Mr Amanovic was too wide a scatter gun of interests, for, several weeks after the event, when I try to specify the content of the material, that has stuck in my head, from TICK TACK BOOM, I come up with, banalities: the need for women to have an orgasm (Oh, not again - I thought the Vagina Monologues had got that and the nineties passed away!!) no matter the supposed satire of writing and performance, and, then, the avoidance of germs in public transport!!! (Getting public transport to run on time, might have been a more politically savy issue to explore!) Hardly world shattering as far as politics goes. TICK TACK SPLODGE not BOOM.

It seemed to me that none of the performers had any real passions to champion or speak ‘politically incorrectly’ about. There was no shock or taboo crossed without a follow up comic laugh in this bourgeoisie exercise of navel gazing. SOUTH PARK still demonstrates more courage than this project did. It seemed more intent to entertain and score laughter than to confront the audience with the state of the world or real concerns. If their is no expression of suffering here or any real, other than middle class lounge chair politics going on, it turns into the usual Aussie piss take of serious events and concerns or dreadful earnestness.

Please note that the pursuit of character is more than improvisation, it does, if Mike Leigh is the model for the project, as stated, take, months and months of detailed research by the performers and director to give substance to the material. Depth and reality - the light weight satirical thumb nail drawing of character and issues presented by these well meaning artists was disappointing and dispiriting. Mike Leigh would have been more than his usual grumpy self with this superficial appropriation of his techniques.

Character is the sum total of what a character says and does (basic Stanislavsky). Most of these characters ended up being smug, self righteous stand-up comic two dimensional blatherers. No real knowledge of what they were satirising from any lived or gut observation (especially if they are using the magazine found speak) or research. Not really meaning what they were saying and never been convinced of the circumstances of their inventions except as cartoon - Inspector Gadget dropping his tools at startling moments.

The world and it's problems seemed as distant to these artists as Australia's perceived geographic position. Let alone dealing with the shameful issues facing our culture in our very own backyard. The Female orgasm versus the indigenous human rights issues? Germs on public transport versus the racism and discriminatory instincts of our selves and neighbours as demonstrated daily, especially, and even in our parliaments? Enough problems BUT....

Here again, as in the first half of this program, the director failed to assist the actors with their sometimes problematic performance skills. If the voices and bodies can't deliver the material technically clearly, no matter what they are saying, it is handicapped and ultimately underwhelming. It may as well not have been said.

Then, form is not enough for this project to succeed. It must be accompanied by the choice of artist that has their attention supported by rigorous skills and preparation not just availability and enthusiasm. Then the director's eye must be ready to assist the problems of communication, otherwise as an end product, that is intended for an audience to be changed by, as a result of giving their time to attend the project, it is a frustrating experience. Family and friends might support the event but the paying punter will not.

Ms Rattray has demonstrated quiet exciting skill in her co-op production of BRONTE at ATYP Wharf, earlier this year, as did Mr Amanovic in a less successful exploration of SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME at PACT Theatre. The opportunity taken here was surely a terrifically advantageous learning curve and a valuable laboratory journey for all involved, but it does require more than an idea and enthusiastic supporters. Real preparation and ready skills are the assets missing here.

Minced. Minced meats. The better the quality of all the ingredients, the better the product will be.

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