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26 May 12:41 pm

Q & A with Jennifer Wong

Comedian Jennifer Wong is taking part in GRIFFIN SCRATCH – an adventurous experiment wherein we take 6 writers, comedy brains and theatre makers and lock them away together to write for a week, brewing up ideas that will be presented by a team of actors this Sunday at 5pm to a curious crowd (there’s still tickets, get them here.)

We let Jen out of the writer’s room – briefly – for some fresh air and to answer a quick Q&A. 

My autobiography would be called…

“I’m As Surprised As You Are That I Wrote This (My Autobiography)”

My advice for young and emerging Australian writers?

Find your own way. Mistakes are good. Take notes. 

The first thing I ever wrote was…

A story about how a fourth-grade teacher at our school (who’d had a small part in Strictly Ballroom in real life) was actually Elvis Presley. 

You can see me in…

How to English Harder at Belvoir St Downstairs on Saturday 24 June at 8:15pm, in Sydney after 11 sold-out shows at the Melbourne International Comedy Festival.

 

Jennifer Wong is a comedian from Sydney. With her love of language and wordplay, she’s written for Good News Week, presented Bookish on ABC iview, and performed at comedy and arts festivals in Sydney, Melbourne, Perth, and Edinburgh. Off the comedy stage, she’s appeared in the second series of Plonk, and was a writer/performer in the sold-out The Serpent’s Table at Sydney Festival (a Contemporary Asian Australian Performance and Griffin Theatre co-production). Jennifer is a regular guest on ABC Sydney’s Thank God It’s Friday, and her latest show How to English Harder is on at Belvoir St Downstairs on Saturday 24th June. 

25 May 5:22 pm

On tour with: Christian from Roald Dahl’s ‘The Witches’

It feels like only yesterday we were learning the ways of The Witches back in Sydney, and yet, we are already as well seasoned as a delicious Green Pea Soup… 

Our journey began in Townsville, Queensland. We were met with ominous clouds and something wicked loomed in the air…The witches sensed our presence…but we were not deterred. My companion, Sam and I moved swiftly into the Riverway Arts Centre and, through rain and wind, we successfully warned the people, and saved the children a monstrous fate. 

The next day, the cursed weather had lifted (our warnings clearly heard) and our trek down to Gladstone was clear. There, eager faces awaited us. The little boys and girls shrieked and laughed as we shared our story of courage, curses and mice and once again, all were saved. 

It seems our work is being thoroughly enjoyed. The people are wondrous, the applause is electric and I’m sure we will have more great success as our journey continues south. Next stop, Caloundra…

Love ,
Christian 

Christian Charisiou, Actor, Roald Dahl’s The Witches (2017 Regional Tour)

12:21 pm

A Note from Lee, 25 May

Hello from beautiful Brisbane. I am ensconced in the rehearsal rooms of Queensland Theatre working on Michele Lee’s play Rice. Her play won the Queensland Premier’s Drama Award 2016-2017, and it is a real joy to be bringing it to the stage. The playwright spotters among you may remember that Griffin first met Michele in StoryLab in 2013, a playwright development program supported by the The Girgensohn Foundation – five years later she is making her mainstage debut with Rice, first up here in Brisbane and then on the Stables stage.

While I am dissecting the complex relationship between an ‘Indian princess’ and her ‘Chinese cleaner’ (their insults, not my observations!), in Sydney you have a chance to look back and experience one of the foundation plays of Australian theatre in Patrick White’s The Ham Funeral directed by Kate Gaul. For those of you who prefer looking forward, our current development program, Griffin Studio, is having a showing of some new comedic writing on Sunday with Griffin Scratch. All while we are putting together the 2018 Season. GO you good thing, GO!

It is awesome being back in a building with Sam Strong, and there is no doubt that the legendary Queensland sunshine is warm, golden and welcome. But I am really looking forward to seeing a new play move between two cities. The conversation between Melbourne and Sydney audiences about The Homosexuals was awesome, and I can’t wait to see Brisbane and Sydney engage with Michele Lee’s observations about women, ambition, opportunity and courage. Her words have been inspiring great conversations in the rehearsal room and no doubt will continue to do so when they reach out into the world in performance.

Stay warm,
Lee

 

8 May 1:49 pm

A Note from the Director, Kate Gaul on The Ham Funeral


The subject of The Ham Funeral is not so much a funeral as a birth, the birth of a poet. We follow the Young Man’s journey through crises of intimidation and self-doubt, from the “great, damp, crumbling house” in which he hides, out into a world of compassion and responsibilityts tone ranges widely from disgust and pity, comedy and pathos, to brutality and tenderness. It’s also an autobiographical allegory of Patrick White’s struggle to break free from the ties that bound him to his mother, the country of his birth, his friends and lovers, possessions and obligations, indeed any nets beyond which he, as an artist, was hoping to fly.

The play struggled to be produced. In 1961 the Adelaide festival Governors reported:

 It is an abstract type of play which the general public will find difficult, and impossible to understand. Its complexity will limit its appeal to a few high intellectuals and even they would find it difficult to interpret the so-called psychological aspects of the play.

It’s no wonder the Festival governors struggled to pigeonhole the play: it doesn’t have a linear story-line, it doesn’t develop with a narrative logic, most of the characters do not have sustained psychological depth, and it doesn’t have a consistent style.

Neil Armfield described the world of White’s theatre as a kind of “vaudeville puppet stage… a magical circus”. The Young Man in The Ham Funeral is not only our protagonist, but also a kind of stage manager/chorus/puppeteer, even referring to the libidinous Alma Lusty as, “That poor Judy they’re bashing in the basement”.

White had what he called a “weakness for the music hall” and that ‘weakness’ is amply celebrated in the anti-naturalistic tragical farce that is The Ham Funeral.  The theatre, he realized, could combine symbolist intentions with psychological depth and great visual imagination, offering him tremendous scope. This liberated him from the technical and linguistic weights of naturalism. This still feels new and innovative today and young artists, theatre makers and audiences of all ages are challenged and inspired by White’s daring in its search for a vernacular lyricism reaching beyond the prescriptively confining four walls of Australian social realism. This production will remind us of the lexicon of theatrical possibility.

Patrick White’s play is rarely produced in Australia – large, unwieldy, stylistically challenging – one of the most intriguingly original plays in Australian theatre history. Geoffrey Dutton, summing up the immediate impact of the play’s production, said: “Perhaps there was among the audience the thought that a reactionary Establishment was being beaten on its own ground, that the evening was going to be a triumph of the imagination over mediocrity. So it was.”

White’s play shows a writer constantly exploring and pushing at the limits of his form. He is highly aware of the several languages of theatre, of how visuals and performance reinforce and complicate the meanings of speech, of the metaphor of the stage. He has a novelist’s gift for character, and, crucially, a poet’s ear for the sensuous properties of language.

The meta-theatricality and excess of his dramaturgy in the past caused puzzlement or hostility, and there is criticism around its  “literariness” — as if lyrical writing is somehow mutually exclusive to theatre. And yet it’s those very qualities that make this work exciting now to a generation of theatre makers who have never encountered the play and to seasoned audiences now hungry for innovation.

Producing this play for the stage deepens and extends our understanding of subversive theatrical form and tests our compositional skills as we create a theatre of philosophical tragi-comedy, grounded in physical expression. It is true that working on the most difficult material advances ones abilities and understanding of craft. Patrick White’s plays are an unwritten bench mark against which Australian theatre artists want to try their luck.

Our production of The Ham Funeral may have been written in London in 1947, anticipating the later plays of Ionesco and Beckett, but its idiom, its humour and its audacity are deeply and indefinably Australian. Positioned as it is amongst Griffin Theatre Company’s annual program, filled with new Australian writing, the revival of The Ham Funeral acts as counterpoint, mirror, avante garde to emerging writers and theatre makers.

Perhaps White’s misfortune was that he was a parochial playwright with an international sensibility. Parochial in the best sense, as Chekhov was parochial, his work was located in and responded to parochial conditions and, bringing to them a wit and insight, were anything but petty. But his plays emerged in a culture that was parochial in the worst sense, as was very clear when The Ham Funeral was rejected by the 1962 Adelaide Festival of the Arts.

This is Siren Theatre’s fourth collaboration with Griffin: a relationship committed to excellence, innovation and daring.

Siren Theatre Co. and Griffin Independent present The Ham Funeral, 17 May – 10 June.

1:46 pm

A Word from the Assistant Directors, The Ham Funeral

It feels like only yesterday that we were sitting round the table grappling with the text and trying desperately to honour the words of Patrick White…references and symbols and imagery and rhythm…and so much laughter. The kind of laughter that happens with a frowning face. Life summed up in one moment. It is this emotion, for me, which makes me feel most human. Harmolipi, as the Greeks would say; the simultaneous feeling of sadness and happiness.

With my head in the script over-analysing in rehearsal, there is a sudden burst of music with Nate Edmondson, and the actors break into song, perfectly timed, to remind me that “to understand the stars would spoil their appearance.” Sometimes you must allow the music of the words to take you there.

Now we are in the thick of it. Watching the actors walking the tight rope as they let go of all they have learned and start to make the bold choices. The jumps and leaps of discovery — the juicy stuff.

I wait impatiently to leave my day job and enter the rehearsal room again… 

Phaedra Nicolaidis
______________________________________________________

My name is Sally Dulson and I’m Assistant Directing on all things HAM.

What a fantastic play to be involved with. There is so much in the text to wrap your head around, and to be constantly discovering new things in each rehearsal is such a gift. A testament to good writing.

Kate has such a unique perspective on theatre because of her vast experience and her multiple-hat-juggling. So naturally, to help the rehearsal process run smoothly, I’m constantly asking myself: “What would Kate do.”

The Ham Funeralis on schedule and cooking with gas. Today we worked on scenes with the Young Man and Young Girl, and The Relatives. What a pleasure I have to be privy to the work of these actors. I’m experiencing constant lols and ‘edge of my seat’ moments, so I know we are right on track. I’m loving this production. I’m looking forward to the tech to see it in all it’s glory.

Sally Dulson

Siren Theatre Co. and Griffin Independent present The Ham Funeral, 17 May – 10 June.

1:33 pm

A Note from Phil, 11 May

“Some people believe football is a matter of life and death. I’m very disappointed with that attitude. I can assure you it is much, much more important than that.”
- Bill Shankly

Having bitten nails at a penalty shootout and chanted along to Smurf in Wanderland this past week, it struck me that I’ve always liked a bit of drama. Like many a ratbag boy-lad, growing up in the salty outer crust of the London boroughs, I loved football. I loved playing football, talking about football, playing computer football and talking about playing computer football.

“Winning doesn’t really matter as long as you win”
- Vinnie Jones

Don’t get me wrong, I was not team captain material, I was sort of mid-pick on the pecking order of the lunchtime kickabout. But at 18 years of age, teenage Phil was selected to play a semi-professional match (i.e we were paid a crisp £10 note and a bag of cheese and onion crisps).

“Behind every kick of the ball there has to be a thought.”
- Dennis Bergkamp

This sudden rise to sporting stardom as the right back of Wallingford Town FC was a dizzying time in my teenagehood. So dizzying in fact that after just seven minutes of this momentous game, I stuck a leg out, gave a penalty away and was promptly red carded. The Wallingford Town FC manager (his name was Andy, managers are always called Andy, there must be something in the coaching guidelines about being called Andy) gently patted me on the shoulder and firmly whispered in my ear that I didn’t need to come to training next week.

But the semi-professional football league’s loss is the small-to-medium theatre sector’s gain. Am I right?

Smurf In Wanderland finishes this Saturday, so it’s your very last chance to talk football (and play foosball) in the Griffin foyer. Don’t miss out.

Cheers,
Phil

Phil Spencer
Studio Artist

4 May 1:12 pm

Smurf in Wanderland review

“For Smurf is not just about football; it is about la condition humaine – where we all have our failures and humiliations, as well as our moments of triumph and joy.”

Maggie Mason from Arts & Tarts saw Smurf in Wanderland at Riverside Theatres and shared her review with us. 

When I knew I was going to Smurf in Wanderland at Riverside, I realised that I knew very little about football. But I DO know a lot about Riverside and the quality of its productions, in terms of being interesting, engaging, and dealing with the human spirit, and our relationships in the community.

And I was right.

David Williams – writer and performer – brings a wide range of skills to this solo show; from the beginning he speaks to the audience about this sport that he loves, and ‘effortlessly’ tells us that we are divided into two sides, with even the chairs in the Lennox theatre being red on one side and blue on the other.

He also tells us that we will be participating in the game, by repeating the ‘anthems’ of different clubs, – with the words being cunningly written on video screens at the same time, so that the production runs smoothly. And it is these visual details that add so much to our enjoyment, apart from the inclusive and sincere manner of the performer. The lighting contributes to creating atmosphere, objects fly from the sky, and a few banners are unfolded at certain moments, so that we can laugh – and yet further understand the ‘tribal instinct’ that informs passionate loyalty to football teams … in this case, in Williams’ home city of Sydney.

But one of the main themes of Smurf is the benign nature of this loyalty; and he refutes specific examples of unfair demonization, of dismissive and damaging reports of ’hooliganism’ – particularly in some newspaper articles. It is this intellectual rigour, combined with a down-to-earth delivery and humour which kept me entertained from beginning to end.

For Smurf is not just about football; it is about la condition humaine – where we all have our failures and humiliations, as well as our moments of triumph and joy.

Another narrative thread is the interweaving of Williams’ own personal history with dramatic moments of footy finals and so on. From growing up in Greystanes, going to uni, and revealing the pregnancy and birth of his son, we are drawn into a very personal and endearing story, and everyone empathised with the conflicting demands of ‘footy and family’!

This show could have been about any sport – or any theme. From the clever but unobtrusive production details to the smiles on audience faces, this National Theatre of Parramatta & Griffin Theatre Company creation was yet another success; it was a privilege to share in this wonderful experience.

- Maggie Mason

You can catch Arts and Tarts from 10am – 12 pm every Tuesday on 2RRR 88.5 FM

29 April 1:46 pm

A Note From Charles O’Grady

The Faggots and The Bitchy Trans: On Community in Queer Theatre 
By Charles O’Grady
Assistant to the Director, The Homosexuals or ‘Faggots’

Being trans, I have learned, is a lot about making concessions, and compromises, and sacrifices, and learning to be okay with things you’re not. Being a trans theatremaker is often much the same mentality. 

There is a certain extent to which I sacrifice other parts of my identity as a trans theatremaker. Often I am in spaces as, at least in part, a consultant figure. In the best situations this dynamic is respectful and sees me treated as a human being as well as an identity, at worst I become a checklist of lived experiences that allow me, even require me, in the minds of other theatremakers, to validate or approve or wand-wave difficult elements of the work.

The process of The Homosexuals has absolutely been the former, and the most open and supportive relationship of this kind that I’ve had, but in anything I work on I am inevitably forced to pull what I (problematically!) refer to as  “The Bitchy Trans”. In arguments about identity-based politic there almost always comes a point where you have to bring yourself into it and essentially exploit your own identity for the sake of a broader point. The Bitchy Trans is that moment for me – the moment where I stop trying to be a theatremaker and start saying: “You have to because I’m trans and I say so”. It’s not a moment or part of me that I like – it’s a moment I think often makes me a bit unfun – but you learn to be okay with things you’re not and you pick your battles accordingly.

***

In the rehearsal room over lunch one afternoon we discuss Matt Bomer playing a trans woman in Anything. Some say they anticipate this will be the last time a cis man is cast in a trans role of this scale and I laugh, because there is nothing at all to suggest that cis-washing for the purpose of Oscar bait will change any time soon – because the formula still works. Sure, there’s been more widespread outrage about Bomer, but that movie will still sell tickets and win awards and prove to us yet again that our identity is valid only when it is not embodied by us and our stories only have value when we are nowhere near their telling. It took us Jaye Davidson, Felicity Huffman, Hillary Swank, Jared Leto, Eddie Redmayne, Jeffrey Tambor, to stop automatically rewarding cis actors for the “bravery” of donning an oppression they can take off at the end of a day. It’s going to take a little longer before we take that next step.

Casting trans performers in Australian theatre is a different thing, most frustratingly due to a lack of accessibility for trans people in the arts until very recently. In this play we have a cisgender performer playing a transgender character — but we also have a non-binary transfeminine performer (Mama Alto) playing someone who shares that identity, a performer who has been engaged throughout the process in guiding and informing their own representation. In my own work, too, I see many young trans and gender diverse performers coming up through the ranks and slowly getting the opportunities they deserve. And that, regardless of what’s still left to achieve, is a huge step in a good direction.

In being an artist who is also a member of a minority identity, we have to reconcile ourselves to the fact that the steps we see will all be small, and will feel like a tenth of the effort we’ve put in, and take ten times as long as we want them to. What becomes the make or break moment is the active choice to persist.

***

The thing is, being a trans theatremaker is often about conceding your politics for the good of a dramatic moment.

The end of this play has been in contention since it began development. There is one ending that empowers a trans character who has been silenced throughout the whole play, and there is another which sacrifices that character to make a vital point about the oppressive cruelty of the world. Which of these endings more effectively conveys the treatment of trans people within the gay community, however, is not an answer that easily presents itself.

Everyone in the room, at some point, has had a differing opinion on this contention. Even Mama and I have disagreed about it. (Not every trans person thinks the same way about representation? Amazing.) What has made this process so worthwhile, and the final product so much stronger for it, is that this contention could exist, and that space existed for things to be prickly and complex and not easily solved – for things to be as complicated in the show as they are for the very real people these characters come from.

Most of the time as a trans theatremaker it’s about making concessions. I’m not used to being heard when it comes to these things. I was totally unprepared to be heard here. And yet I was.

Sometimes as a trans person you start to feel like the fight isn’t worth it, when everything takes so much time and energy, and the world at large is so reluctant to change. It is these moments where you “win” that keep us going.

***

I think a lot about why the arts is the main avenue by which I chose to flex my activist muscle.

Why this, fiction, representation and facsimile, of all things, when the sole statistic on trans life expectancy to be 30 years old? When every other week I read a suicide note in another trans Facebook group written by someone halfway across the world who you never hear from again? When I’m deluged by story after story about murder, assault, rape, incarceration, invalidation? When I still walk down dark streets in dread?

I think the answer is that these smaller wins matter, too. Whether or not they save lives or change policy, progress in trans representation does improve people’s experiences ­– particularly young trans people – and it does change minds. 

And sure, sometimes it’s about wanting to escape. Even for a moment, to escape the harsh reality of existing as a marginalised member of society. But more than anything at times like this, in this political climate, in the midst of this terror and violence, I just want to see a story where the trans character wins – even if it’s unrealistic, even if it’s small, even if it’s a victory marred by sadness. Sometimes I just want to pretend we can win, even just for ninety minutes in the back of a theatre.

And I know, okay, I know, that not every play – not even every piece of queer theatre – can be for trans people. Not every play can cater to my, or any trans person’s, desires about for how we should be represented. Art can’t make us happy, or safe, or less dead.

But I want to see us keep fucking trying.

***

I could not say I agree with everything about this play. I think perhaps it would be easier for me to wave a wand over this production and tell you nothing is wrong with it, but nothing is gained by closing off that discussion. I have learned over the last three months that perfect queer representation does not, cannot, exist. There is no way to write a trans character that avoids all the pitfalls that often come with trans representation, no matter what your identity or intentions might be, because the very act of staging a non-normative body and identity invites the sensationalist.

The thing is, if we tried to make every piece of theatre a textbook example of perfect politics, a handy “How To Be Woke” guide, we would be left either with very dull theatre or no theatre at all. 

So I will tell you that you should absolutely see this show in all its prickly, problematic glory. And you should talk about it, have the difficult conversations. If the show makes you uncomfortable, talk about why it did, what parts of it did, where that discomfort comes from. Is it discomfort arising from something offensive in the show? Or is it discomfort at confronting your own prejudices or foibles? Interrogate the parts of the show that make you laugh and what parts make you angry – are we as offended by every joke about a minority, or do we pick and choose based on what’s closest to home? 

The very best thing we can do is continue the conversation after leaving the theatre. And, in fact, if we don’t, we are wasting the immense privilege that is the ability to access the arts.

*** 

There’s a lot more I want to say about this process, and about this show – about the power of comedy to pull us through community tragedy, about the importance of staging flawed and bigoted people, about the fascinating intricacy of farce – but the last thing I want to tell you is this.

On the last day of rehearsals in Sydney, we have a few drinks in the Loft. At a certain point Declan discovers that, despite my efforts to appear a cool and disaffected queer, I am also a massive musical theatre nerd. “You’re a musical theatre queen?” he laughs. “Oh my god, you are such a faggot.” And I’m touched, really genuinely touched, for a few moments until it occurs to me that that’s a weird thing to be touched by. 

That moment sticks out to me, of all the moments from this room, because of the absurdity of its affirming power. What I have learned in this process is that the language of oppression is far more nuanced than the discourse of identity politics would have us believe. A word wrapped up in so much contention and violence can also contain the power to affirm someone’s sense of belonging, like a perverse badge of honour.

As a queer trans man I am frequently excluded from the broader gay male community. In working on this show I have felt accepted and initiated into a collective understanding of identity – I have become more than the trans theatremaker, the consultant, the Bitchy Trans. I found a community, which is all anyone is ever trying to do. 

By Charles O’Grady
Assistant to the Director, The Homosexuals or ‘Faggots’

27 April 1:07 pm

A Note From Lee, 27 April

So, for the past few weeks I have been commuting out to Parramatta to make a show called Smurf In Wanderland. It is coming to Griffin next week and if you are a fan of any kind of sport, not just football, this is a work written specially for you. One of Australia’s smartest documentary theatre makers was in the Griffin Studio program and Smurf In Wanderland is the result of that time. David Williams has created a portrait of Sydney that is in absolute opposition to how the city is so often portrayed by the media. It is a touching and wryly funny work that reminds us all that we find strength in unlikely places and with unlikely people. And a challenge to all you Sydney FC fans… the Wanderers have represented well in the Riverside season with the National Theatre of Parramatta… it’s your chance to show them that #SydneyIsSkyBlue.

With the excitement of the new play comes the genuine sadness of saying goodbye to The Homosexuals. Thank you to everyone who has been so supportive of the play and have taken the conversation it incites out into the wider community. We close the play on Saturday, eat pizza, and dryclean the front row cushions to get rid of the mashed potato stains. Love again to all the front row champions who braved the potato to spend a night in Warren and Kim’s awkwardly shaped living room. And cross your fingers that Declan Greene continues to write farce and that you are not the target of his ire!

Love,
Lee

Lee Lewis
Artistic Director 

1:00 pm

Reflections from Rehearsal: Nick Atkins on Smurf In Wanderland

On the first day of rehearsals, following the first read, a conversation started about the layout of Western Sydney. It comes up in the script a couple of times. During the performance, David Williams describes his experience criss-crossing the city. He points out where he worked, lived, where he went on to work and where he now lives. What struck me most, is that the middle of the compass was Parramatta. It seems like a small detail but I think it’s deceptively big. At least for me. I think I remember a question being raised about whether this would be interesting to people living in the area. I said yes. The Dramaturg, Kate Worsley, said yes. I’m retrospectively assuming David was in the yes camp too, having written the script. A short discussion followed around why we thought it was interesting. We didn’t agree exactly. There were common threads but three different experiences led to three slightly different perspectives.

I’m always happy to see stories from Western Sydney on stage. But what really excited me about this rehearsal room is that I wasn’t the only voice expressing my experience growing up and working out West. When it came to the question around why the compass might be interesting, I could be wrong. I could be very wrong. I could listen and learn and not feel like I had to represent a unified community of people living in a big bunch of suburbs wedged between the coast and the Blue Mountains. This was day one. 

Being able to hover on the outside of this process and look in has been an incredibly valuable experience. Currently I’m a theatre producer at The Joan, Penrith. From this role I oversee our theatre making program, The Q. My job gives me the opportunity to help grow new writing in Western Sydney and work directly with the established and emerging artists that make up our communities. I really love my job, but I think it’s important for artists to take time out of our regular collaborations, roles, venues and cities to listen and learn from the work going on a couple towns over. I’m very grateful to David, Lee, the team at National Theatre of Parramatta and Griffin for offering me this opportunity. 

Nick Atkins is a theatremaker and producer. He is currently Producer, Q Programs for The Joan and Board Member for PACT centre for emerging artists. Nick is the Creative Futures Participant for Smurf In Wanderland

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