Debate: We Gotta Get Out Of This Place @ Smiths Alternative Bookshop, Thursday March 15
I headed over to Smiths Alternative Bookshop for You Are Here and Scissor Paper Pen’s debate, We Gotta Get Out Of This Place, which posed the question: as an artist in Canberra, do you stay or do you go? My personal question up for debate was: aren’t debates terribly boring? Will anyone attend?
I was sorely mistaken.
I arrived to find a large and enthusiastic crowd packed into Smiths Alternative Bookshop to hear the debate, which ended up being a combination of debate and entertainment: debatertainment.
With this description in mind the first speaker of the affirmative team, Sam Townsend, aka drag queen Venus Mantrap, began with fervour. A product of Canberra, Townsend voiced harsh words for his hometown, such as the opinion that “Canberra and its people weren’t willing to nurture its soul”.
BMA Magazine editor Julia Winterflood opened the negative team’s debate with finesse; humorously tearing shreds of the fortunately absent Julia Johnson, the missing third speaker for the affirmative team and famed songstress. She described Canberra’s community by saying “We’re young, but we’re keen!”, which drew cheers and whoops from the crowd.
Following Winterflood was affirmative team’s Andrew Galan, local yeller and published poet. I mostly had no idea what he was saying (or spraying; at one point an umbrella was erected in the front row by a wet patron), and the only part I fully understood was a two second impression of Uma Thurman’s dance from Pulp Fiction. However, I saw others in hysterics, hanging onto bookshelves for support, which made it all worthwhile.
Next, journalist Eleri Harris began illustrating (quite literally) her arguments for the negative team. Armed with her cartoonist talents, marker, and easel, Harris highlighted the benefits of Canberra’s lack of hipsters, its abundance of time, and the fact that “I [Harris] am standing here with a shitty biro, and saying shit but people are loving it!”
The final speaker for the affirmative, and last minute ring-in, was Rosie Stevens, writer, poetry advocate, and operator of the absent Julia Johnson’s cardboard cut-out face. In a speech that was indeed more poetry than vicious debating, she mused that it was necessary to leave the ACT to ensure a roof over one’s head, and that “we need to leave to anticipate our return”.
The debate closed with Fun Machine’s Chris Endrey who brought the debate to its pinnacle by comparing *NSYNC to The Beatles. He described the capital as a “beautiful melting pot of people coming and going” and that it’s nice not “being shot at”.
With vigorous applause, the wildly entertaining debate came to a conclusion and it was no surprise that Canberra herself was the winner. The entire event echoed the success of the You Are Here festival; the city has been enlivened by local writers, musicians, and performers, and faith in Canberra has been wholeheartedly restored.
Pub Theatre: Going to Hell in This Handy Basket @ The Phoenix, Thursday March 15
You might recognise Professor Richard Pritchard and Doctor Arthur Downwards of The Landlords from their promotional vid dropped right before the You Are Here festival. It featured the two dramatist/comedian/rappers, known in the real world as Melburnians Jordan Prosser and Sam Burns-Warr, prancing in front of Melbourne alleyways and spitting rhymes about Canberra’s better features. Sure, they were trapped in the labyrinth of stale Canberra references – swans, public servants, blandness as a lifestyle choice – but they manage to mine some unexpected gold in there as well: “This city needs a fringe scene, desperately, madly / the feds are busy spending all their cash on Frankie Valli”.
Their show, Going to Hell in this Handy Basket, trod much the same knife-edge. They’d picked one of the stalest topics in the world – religion – and sat comfortably on the shoulders of previous comedic giants for most of the show. They even did a pretty good faux-British Footlights-style ‘authority figures who know nothing really’ thing, including accents. The crowd were there with them throughout the whole set, and it was wonderful to see comedy making some ground in The Phoenix, a venue so music-focussed that there are afterimages of guitars burned into the plate-glass windows. Still, the material was old news – how crazy it is the Catholics worship graven idols in the form of the saints and follow the Pope, who can seem a bit inherently creepy; how the Mormons were founded by a serial con-artist; how Jewish people talk strangely and dance to klezmer music. This angle got a lot of its laughs from the enduring political correctness of the Canberran – and in a larger context, Australian – audience.
Ultimately, and this should be a no-brainer in comedy, it was when they deviated from the script that they really won over the Phoenix crowd. Some unexpectedly spot on slides provided belly laugh punchlines, and seemingly impromptu rap-stylings showed off quick wits that are a real asset. They sparred off of the crowd, and their timing was best when it was set up to catch everyone off guard. Maybe I shouldn’t have turned up to a pub comedy gig sober, but in the end it wasn’t quite enough. The Landlords got a good rolling laugh out of the crowd, but I wished they had a bit more to work with than playing off of religious stereotypes for an hour. Making a final judgement should really be left up to God or Gods or materialism or someone, so I’ll leave it at: go see The Landlords. They’re good, and they’re going to get better.
Poetry Is The Real Winner @ The Phoenix, Sunday March 18
In the ordinary world, poetry isn’t the real winner. My poetry lecturer frequently laments the fact that Tim Winton outsells him 500 to one, and most aspiring poets would find it difficult to convince their neighbours to switch off the television and listen to a spoken word performance instead.
Most aspiring poets’ neighbours don’t know what they’re missing.
The final event of Canberra’s You Are Here festival brought together the capital’s finest spoken word poets for an afternoon to prove that yes, poetry canbe the real winner.
Poetry slams aren’t a more cultured version of the rap battles in movies like 8 Mile, as some (me) may have been anticipating. They’re poetry readings, but with more attitude than the ones you encountered in high school.
At Poetry Is The Real Winner (the brainchild of slam poetry family patriarchs Andrew Galan from BAD!SLAM!NO!BISCUIT! and Julian Fleetwood from Traverse Poetry) the audience was treated to poems about the city of Cocksville, sex with Lego and talking breakfasts.
Raphael was the star of the afternoon. His poems had depth that defied his youthful appearance, including a haunting but brilliant poem about the night that Canberra burnt down and “we didn’t notice because we were in The Phoenix reading poetry”. There is nothing like hearing about the silver goon bag in Garema Place shaking off its blanket of homeless people and soaring into the sky while those odd metal sheep statues outside the Canberra Centre Subway come to life.
The audience loved Malcolm’s piece about poets and authors in a mock horse race, read in horse racing commentary style. He also performed a very sweet, longing poem about the class divide in Canberra and sneaking glances at upper class women on Murray’s buses.
The lack of female performers was a little disappointing. Surely there are more lady performance poets in the nation’s capital than the sole female poet, Ali McGregor? Her poems, particularly her piece on why solace trumps hope, were strong and heartfelt, but it would have been lovely to see some more girls on stage too.
It was heartening to see that poetry can exist (and thrive, judging by the packed Phoenix bar) outside of classrooms and musty textbooks. It’s events like these that will help your bogan neighbours to come around to the idea that poetry can be the real winner, as long as they’re back in their lounge room before Home and Away starts.
Scissors Paper Pen Panel – Where Do We Go From Here? @ Theatrette, Canberra Museum and Gallery, Saturday March 17
On the second last day of the You Are Here festival, Scissors Paper Pen’s Rosanna Stevens expertly chaired a panel of the YAH directors – Yolande Norris, Adam Hadley and David Finnigan – to discuss the festival’s past, present and future.
When broached the question of just how different YAH 2012 was from YAH 2011, David noted one great advantage: time. The 2011 festival was put together in a mere 100 days, while this year the lead up of six months proved invaluable. YAH 2012 also benefitted from a greater variety of art forms and, as Yolande pointed out, a greater public awareness of what YAH has to offer. This awareness is, in part, due to the directors’ commitment to maintain an active presence in social media whilst also manning ‘The Newsroom’ which acted as the festival’s hub and an impromptu event space.
Though all three directors emphasised the importance of appealing to a variety of audiences, Yolande noted the local media’s tendency to attach words like “alternative”, “underground”, “youth” and “emerging” to YAH. At best, this label-fest does little to describe the festival in any meaningful way. At worst, it deters audiences who don’t see themselves as part of these narrow categories. For Hadley, the need for balance between giving the festival context whilst appealing to diverse audiences is an ongoing issue for YAH.
The panel’s audience was also given a chance to broadcast their views about YAH. In evident nostalgia for the festival’s end, some wanted YAH’s successful Facebook page to remain active in continuing to promote artists after the festival’s close. Others suggested artist-led workshops be incorporated into next year’s program, just as the panel discussions made their debut in YAH 2012. Perhaps the most contested question was one posed by David to the audience concerning the place of interstate artists in YAH. Opinions were divided between making YAH an exclusively Canberra artist festival and one with a greater interstate presence, while still more opted for a comparative middle ground, as they hoped for collaboration between Canberra artists and the world “out there”. I think Yolande summed it up best when she said that interstate artists shouldn’t be those of the fly in, fly out variety, but should stay more than two hours and give something back to Canberra.
In other words, YAH welcomes all, as long as you’re willing to stay with us for the ride.
Petite Public Art @ Canberra Museum and Gallery, and in and around the CBD, Thursday-Sunday March 8-18
It’s The Little Things That Count
Canberra’s CBD has been unknowingly hijacked. The culprits are miniature art installations. You Are Here have invited a range of artists to create and distribute small artworks around the city centre. This comes as a reaction to the millions spent on bigger public artworks which often seem out of place, and are laughed at by visitors to our capital (the giant sculpture of Optimus Prime’s pubic hair, along the GDE, springs to mind).
The shame Canberrans have felt for so long over these embarrassing artworks is over! Petite Public Art flies against the traditional, and takes its viewers to a new level of appreciation and respect. Armed with only a map, the art must be hunted down. But be warned, the map acts only as a rough guide, and while the hints from the artists are vitally helpful, you may draw a few odd looks from those not in the know.
Yolande Norris, one of the producers of You Are Here, described searching for the artworks as “looking like you’ve lost your marbles… looking under park benches”. This I soon found to be true, as I wandered down alleys, rummaged in pot plants, and peered into tree tops. But I’ve not had as much fun since I was a child on an Easter egg hunt. The thrill of suddenly spotting a tiny creation is like seeing a hidden chocolate egg! You’ve won! But with the triumph of finding a piece, comes the disappointment of realising what you thought was an artwork, is actually just a half-eaten finger bun. But it is seeing that finger bun, staring at the beer bottle, and judging the artistry of a tap, which is truly the art in this whole endeavour. This project enables us to look, and see Canberra like we’re seeing it for the first time.
But when a finger bun can be mistaken for art, what is the expected quality of the art? The answer is modest, but revolutionary in its simplicity. The beauty of the art comes from appreciating the materials used, the creative position of each piece, and in the joy it takes to find them.
After Work Roasters: Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl @ Lonsdale Street Roasters, Tuesday March 13
David Finnigan climbed up on to the wobbly stools, cleared his throat, and announced to the tightly packed crowd squeezed into Lonsdale Roasters: “This is not some detached, ironic commentary – this is about how we feel when we watch it.”
“We” was himself, Jess Bellamy, and fellow festival producer Adam Hadley; “it” was all things Disney. As the strains of a dubstepped mash-up of classic Disney songs faded, Finnigan began a reading of Allen Ginsberg’s poem Sunflower Sutra – and I was sceptical that the night wasn’t going somewhere terribly hipster. Bellamy read Edward Dyson’s Bashful Gleeson, and Hadley read an assortment of Grimm and original fairy tales.
In a matter of minutes the culture switched from high to low as the speakers launched into their monologues: retellings of some of Disney’s more ill-advised tween offerings. Finnigan gave a rapid fire account of his experience watching Selena Gomez vehicle Monte Carlo while trapped on an international flight. He pondered how “freedom” is inevitably represented by a ride on the back of some young hunk’s scooter, and extolled the virtues of grand musical finales. He declared: “Disney doesn’t kiss you – or if it does kiss you, it doesn’t kiss with tongue, and if it does kiss with tongue, then it doesn’t kiss with finesse”. He parted with Jonas Brother-bestowed wisdom (the Camp Rock gem “Everybody grab a mic and a hat and follow me”), breakdanced, and bowed out. The crowd was in hysterics.
Jess Bellamy was drier – though equally foul-mouthed – as she summarised Lindsay Lohan’s Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen. A self-described LiLo anthropologist, Bellamy quickly, calmly, and with deadpan delivery, tore the film to shreds. She saw the film as a parable: Lindsay, darling, this is what not to do. Lohan’s character in the film is something of a teetotaller, persuading the rock star male lead to give up his wild partying ways. Anyone with even a passing knowledge of Lindsay’s scandalous nightlife will see the irony in this. Bellamy’s ultimate conclusion: a list of films, writers, actors, and uses of your time better than watching Confessions of a Teenage Drama Queen.
And then Hadley took to the stage to dissect Mean Girls 2, the sequel most didn’t know existed beforehand. If you’re perplexed about why he’d bother talking about this waste of celluloid, by the end it didn’t matter – listening to Hadley’s rant was infinitely more entertaining than watching the film could ever hope to be. This absurd recap of the equally absurd regurgitation of the first Mean Girls was a marvel to witness; Hadley’s brow dripped with sweat as he screamed what everyone who had ever seen Mean Girls 2 had all thought: “Where is Lindsay? Where is anybody? WHO THE FUCK ARE THESE PEOPLE!?”
At the end of each speech the crowd screamed like the trio were rock stars. Tokyo Tween Knife Brawl was exactly what was promised: a visceral, emotional response to some of the most uninspiring Disney films in existence.
Now Here This @ The National Film and Sound Archive courtyard, Tuesday March 13
Now Hear This was an evening of enlightening, hilarious, but at times slightly waffly, real life stories. Eight performers were tasked with telling a story about ‘The First Time…’ doing, seeing or achieving anything, in less than ten minutes.
The arriving audiences were serenaded by Zach Raffan’s marvellous musical talents, and as the sun set, the spectators settled down in the intimate courtyard of The National Film and Sound Archive. The weather was in favour of the outdoor event, and stayed pleasantly rain-free. Unfortunately the mosquitos seemed to enjoy the change in weather as much as the crowd.
But the mosquitos were soon swept aside when Joel Barcham began to recall childhood memories of catching and ‘pacifying’ a fish with his father, a traumatic event he described as arising from a “biological desire to impress my dad”. Stephan Walker sent spines tingling at the Indian funeral of Indira Gandhi. Ben O’Reilly spun a tale about suffering a botched hair extension job, after getting desperate living with “Marge Simpson” hair. Jane Vincent told of the pride in winning a bronze medallion. And an inspirational walk along the Kokoda Trail was on the menu thanks to Nick Peddle. The cringe-worthy account of Rod Saciler holding up cricket at the MCG with an announcement blunder made the audience laugh.
An honourable mention must go out to Kylie Walker and Jeff Thompson. Walker who tugged at our heart strings as she shared her pain and joys in overcoming cancer, and Thomas by retelling the first time he experimented with “nightly emissions”, and almost being caught by his evangelical family, in a can’t help but pee your pants funny story.
Between these tales of delight, Melanie Tait, our host from the ABC and whose brainchild Now Hear This is, explained to us the rigorous process the speakers undertook in order to take to the stage. The procedure involved scrupulously auditioning and workshopping their tales, and most notably memorising their scripts. Indeed the memorised stories enabled the tellers to become more animated in their movements, but disappointingly only a few of the performers took the opportunity. Instead the rehearsed lines led to some of the acts feeling slightly stale at times. Another fault of the overall show was the time limit. Where at times I felt a conclusion had been reached, many of the storytellers continued to press on, presumably to fill in the allotted ten minutes. Perhaps a more succinct time limit would be more entertaining, and lead to crisper climaxes? Pardon the pun!