Wednesday, December 23, 2009

space to imagine

I saw Real TV's production of Children of the Black Skirt on 14th August at The Sacred Heart Chapel in the Abbotsford Convent. I wrote a review for December's Lowdown Youth Arts Magazine, which is changing to an online only publication in the new year. It was sort of sad to see this last edition in print...I think I really am a print newspaper girl at heart. Maybe it's the ink in my veins*. Here's what I had to say:

On a wintry Melbourne night a large crowd gathered to catch one of only two return showings of Real TV’s successful production, Children of the Black Skirt. First performed in 2003, this show has been revised and reworked after extensive touring and critical feedback from teachers, students and artistic colleagues. I’m so glad that Real TV has persisted in showing this work. It is a deeply haunting and carefully constructed piece of theatre written by award winning writer Angela Betzien.
The play opens with the sound of laughing kookaburras, and immediately we are in hot, rural Australia. Three girls run onto the stage playing and giggling together. Although it is a lovely scene, the audience is unsettled by an eerie echo; our first hint of the haunting that underlies this new world. The children decide to play dress ups, and when one of the girls zips up her black dress, we are immediately transported to a nightmarish space.
Black Skirt, played by Jodie Le Vesconte, is the haunting figure of this story-book world. She floats around the stage snapping huge black scissors straight from a gothic fairy tale. An enchanting musical score written by Pete Goodwin is filled with spirit voices and chilling sounds. Director Leticia Caceres also uses the silent figure of Black Skirt to insert moments of stillness and heightened suspense.
Towards the end of the play Vesconte plays Harold Horrocks, the grotesque orphanage inspector. This stylised character transformation is highly visible and provides one of many beautiful theatrical moments. Caceres uses this Brechtian technique and multiple characters to continually remind the audience that stories of displacement are prevalent throughout Australian history and are not unique to any one time or place.
We are introduced to many characters in this outback Australian orphanage. Day to day orphanage routines, washing and cleaning rituals and punishments are explored through snapshots and impressions. In one scene a girl is made to keep scrubbing until she has scrubbed off her colour. “I’m Aboriginal” she protests. Through children’s games and role plays we learn of stories which haunt the Australian landscape. Tragic stories of new arrivals are acted out and include tales of murder, transportation and retribution. Transitions between scenes are seamless. It’s almost as if the haunted souls are floating within the landscape, and they come to rest on the actors for a while. Despite the heavy subject matter, scenes are often incredibly funny due to exceptional character acting by Vesconte, Louise Brehmer and Melodie Reynolds. The young adult audience clearly enjoyed the skilled comic timing of the three performers.
Real TV’s production is a wonderful example of good storytelling. It manages to be playful, scary, hilarious and thought provoking. We don’t know everything about the characters we meet: who they are, where they came from. What makes this play really successful is that it provides the bones of a story. It draws from historical events but is not prescriptive. It allows the audience to bring their own fears and imagination to the story while also leaving space for creativity and conversation to continue beyond the walls of the theatre.
Children of the Black Skirt is an eerie reminder of our complex colonial history. The variety of voices heard in the play move the audience outside of a linear history, into a space that is able to be flexible and inclusive. In this play Real TV are exploring a new space in which to begin the possibility of negotiating colonial trauma. It is my sincere hope that this important and exploratory work tours for years to come.

*"Ink in His Veins" is the title of the book my Grandfather wrote about his father. They were both owners and editors of the Wimmera Mail Times in regional Victoria. I have inherited the Lockwood love for the smell of a fresh newspaper, a good old fashioned story and, of course, correct grammar [but please don't judge mine].

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

faith on film

I recently saw a short film online called 'A Land Called Paradise'. Apparently it's had millions of hits on youtube but I saw it on the website for Campfire Film Festival. The film description reads: "Over 2,000 American Muslims were asked what they would wish to say to the world. This is what they said."

No words are spoken in the film; people hold up signs which hold their messages. Makes me wonder why we always overcomplicate our thoughts and ideas- simplicity is so powerful...

It's only 5 minutes long and I reckon it's worth those's heaps more worthwhile than watching, for example, "Deep Impact". I'm still bitter about never getting those 2 hours of my life back and that movie was released in 1998.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

no words

I watched Rudd's apology this morning to the Forgotten Australians and former child migrants. It is interesting that amongst all of his big politician-type words, it was the absence of words that moved me. Rudd quoted Garry, a man who was seperated from his family at the age of four or five, and was asked to tell his story.

This was his reply:

 “what am I going to write down?... you can't put tears on paper.”

Thursday, November 12, 2009

time to celebrate

I felt really privileged recently to be invited to a school in Albury to speak at their student leadership day. I came away excited and invigorated by the energy and creativity of these year 11 students who created the space to discuss what leadership meant to them, their school and their community. I was struck by the wisdom and thoughtfulness present in all discussions. There were many occasions when I heard a desire to understand others in their community. At one point the group was asked how they would respond to a simple situation as a leader: what would they do if a student arrived at school and wasn’t wearing their uniform properly. The answers given were not reactive or interested in exerting power. One student said “I would ask how their morning was. There could be something really bad going on for them” These students constantly showed a deep understanding of the whole person. I look forward to spending more time with this group of young adults. I think they are going to teach me a lot about respect, creative thinking and wholeness.

These reflections of inspiring young adults are not the pictures we often see painted in our mainstream media. I always get upset at this time of year, as the media gets stuck in to school leavers, calling them everything from “unruly” to “unethical”. People everywhere seem to sigh “oh, the youth of today, they are so (insert derogatory adjective)…blah blah blah. ..” Little space is given to reflect or ask questions of the education system or the wider community. Every year, it seems, another fear campaign is launched against young people. This article in the Age tipped me over the edge and I had to respond:

I find it fascinating that the press continues to portray school leavers as one narcissistic, heaving mass. There are countless stories of young people from across the country planning creative and sustainable experiences to celebrate the end of their schooling. Last year a group of school leavers volunteered in East Timor during Schoolies and next year, in 2010, school leavers from across the state will participate in Schoolies With a Cause, an alternative schoolies program which will take young people on exposure trips to Indonesia, Cape York or Grampians National Park. Volunteers across the state also support school leavers in their local communities by driving shuttle buses, hosting free bbqs and making sure people get home safely.

Why this constant shallow reporting on end of year celebration stories? It is clear that this is an important time for young adults. We all need rituals and celebrations to mark out milestones in our lives, to grieve what has gone and welcome what is to come. Many year 12 students are celebrating this particular milestone in respectful and caring ways. And we can join them. What are we afraid of finding out if we were to get to know the school leavers in our community and ask some deeper questions? I am excited that our community has the opportunity to join with these young adults in celebrating their 13 years of schooling.

(This post is only partly to plug the Schoolies with a Cause program that we are working on for next year and mostly born out of a desire to celebrate stories of young people)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


Jess and I visited a school in Launceston last week for work and met some Year 10 students who recently attended a Round Square Conference in India. One young woman wrote the prayer that the school contributed to the conference prayer book, made up of prayers from across the world. I was deeply moved by her evocative writing and wanted to share it here:

We give thanks…We give thanks for the dark, for the night time,
for standing in a room with the lights turned off,
for standing in a shadow of something beautiful,
for floating on our boards, watching ripples become waves;
and not surfing them,
for standing with our eyes closed.

We give thanks for the quiet and calm,
of sleeping and dreaming,
of the chance to feel other senses, to learn
Then, we give a hand, or take a hand
fasten a leggie, share some words, throw out a rope.

Be led or be a leader
to flick on the switch, in our minds, in the minds of others,
into the surf, to ride the waves,
from the shadow- to spy something beautiful,
to open our eyes in readiness for the day.

We give thanks.

By Aisling Hinchley

Monday, November 9, 2009

my favourite bookshelf

how i love berlin...Alicia and I found this tree on our last morning in Berlin together.
books sitting in a tree waiting for the right person to come and take them...
it's almost as magical as Enid Blyton's Faraway Tree...

I find it really hard to reconcile that this is the same Berlin in which a wall came down 20 years ago. As an almost 10 year old, I remember that night really clearly. We watched these strange images on tv from a land I had never visited, but one I had heard many stories about... Grandparent's parents who came from there on boats, awful dictators who killed millions of innocent people, Kings who lived in fairytale castles. We lived in the States at that time and I have a vivid memory of an East German friend of mum and dad's crying as he watched. I didn't understand any of the implications, but I knew that history was happening in my presence.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

eat the streets

I just got really excited to see that Canadian company Mamallian Diving Reflex have been back in Australia. They were in Launceston doing a new project called Eat the Streets:

"4 weeks, 12 restaurants. A jury of children deciding what they love, hate and which washroom is the worst."

Last year they brought the ‘Children’s Choice Awards’ to the Melbourne International Arts Festival. Primary school students from Footscray were given a chance to walk the red carpet and voice their opinions on shows they had seen during the Festival. It was pretty piss your pants funny. I was in stitches listening to rave reviews and some pretty harsh judgements. It was amazing to be in a space where children took the stage as the experts and reinvented the rules. The young people invented their own award categories which meant that the framework for the ceremony wasn't structured by adults with adult agendas. The event asked: what happens when adults and their important artistic agendas aren't the ones measuring the art? I was tickled pink by the award ceremony and left with many more questions than answers. And this is the sort of company I'd like to be asking questions with...

Darren and Natalie from the company are pretty awesome. They spoke at Artplay last year and it was really exciting to hear them talk about their work- much of which focuses on moments of connection (and much of their work in the past has been with young people- another favourite project is haircuts by children - where adults let young people cut their hair!) It's also very very cool that Lenine Bourke from YPAA is involved with their next project- it will be great to have more and more of this influence in our own youth arts sector.

On their website MDR talk about wanting to create work which:
dismantles the barriers between individuals, fostering a dialogue between audience members, between the audience and the material and between the performers and the audience.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

laugh for laugh's sake

I was asked to speak at a couple of chapel services on Monday and naturally, the idea terrified me. After a fair amount of anxious deliberating, I decided to speak about something I knew friends. Thanks to those friends who continually inspire me...and give me something to talk about to secondary students across the state! This is what I came up with:

love and laugh with your neighbour...


The other night I went to see an orchestra playing at Hamer Hall in Melbourne. I had flown in from Sydney that morning and was carrying a lot of bags (one of which was pink and floral), so I decided to go and check in my coat and bags at the cloak room. My friend Phil and I went over to do this, and after I had handed over all of my stuff, I looked over at Phil who was not giving the staff member his jacket or bag, but calmly and seriously handing over a single lemon. I had to turn away to hide my laughter, but I could hear the staff member saying “thank you sir, I will be sure to look after that carefully for you” through what sounded like a large grin.

Now, this type of event is not that unusual when hanging out with Phil. Every year Phil undertakes a new experiment, and this year it is called: “2009: A year with lemons”. Every day he engages in one lemon related activity. It may be leaving a lemon instead of a tip at a restaurant, giving a lemon a tattoo or last week he was in Malaysia and fed a lemon to a monkey....In 2006 Phil gave a flower to a different person each day. He called it “2006: A year of giving flowers to people”. He lived in England, France and Australia during that year with a mission to give a stranger a flower every day. He then blogs about what happens- with reactions ranging from delight, to confusion, to annoyance, to tears of joy.

I once asked him why he does these quirky things with his life. “Because I’m a human and I want to interact with other humans” I was a bit surprised by this answer. Wasn’t he hoping to say something profound by giving a flower to someone every day? Or by leaving a lemon as a tip in a restaurant? Isn’t he trying to be provocative… or… kind? But he is doing these things, not to make a statement or to cause a scene. He is simply creating frameworks in which people can interact with each other in a way they maybe wouldn’t have done otherwise. He puts himself in places where he is asking people to see life in a different way, even for a moment. He doesn’t have an agenda that he is running- he isn’t hoping to get something in particular out of these interactions...he just wants to see what happens when strangers start talking to each other.

presence in public spaces

I find it very easy to slip into a routine and not notice all the people or places around me. Every day I catch the tram to work in the city and sometimes I get to my destination and realise I’ve been sitting with other people for 40 minutes and haven’t even noticed them. I’ve been in my own little “Sarah bubble.” Recently, when there was a big storm, the whole of the Melbourne CBD was advised to leave work at 4pm. I found myself sitting on my tram next to an older man who started talking to me about the storm. Usually no one even makes eye contact on my tram, so this was a big step. We spoke for the entire journey- he worked for the Melbourne City Council and had helped to plan the city’s tram routes. He was so passionate about city planning and his excitement was contagious. He made me look out the window and appreciate my city- not bury my head in a book. This stranger opened up my eyes to the moment I was living in.

“interrupt the ordinary, inspire the extraordinary.” Peggy Holman

I’m sure we all have stories like this- when a conversation makes us see life through a different lense and we realise that we are sharing life with lots of people all around us. My ordinary, everyday tram ride was changed forever. It made me realise that in every moment there is the possibility for the ordinary to become extraordinary- in a moment of connection.


I asked friends recently on my facebook site if they could tell me the favourite thing about their neighbourhood. Over 30 friends replied, and many of them said that the favourite thing in their neighbourhood was a person. Sometimes this was a person they knew, sometimes it was a local celebrity- like the guy in Prahran who rollerblades down chapel St being pulled along by two little dogs, or the old Italian man who gives everyone tomatoes when they walk past.

People are examining their neighbourhoods all over the world and asking what makes them special. Improv Everywhere are a professional group of actors working in New York who create surprise performances in very ordinary locations. Charlie Todd formed the company in 2001 with no fixed agenda other than to make comedy for comedy’s sake. He wants to create opportunities in his neighbourhood to “make someone laugh, smile, or stop to notice the world around them.” One of my favourite examples of their work is their Grand Central Freeze.  The company also completed a mission recently where 2000 new Yorkers took their invisible dog out for a walk. Another favourite activity of this company is to break into musical in ordinary unpredictable places. Recently they staged a musical in the fruit and vegetable section of a supermarket: Grocery Store Musical. Another mission that got a lot of views on youtube was their food court musical, where workers broke out in song much to the surprise of people eating their lunch.

These experiments are unpredictable; anything can happen. The company has made many people laugh and many friendships grow. They recognise that people carry a strong desire for love and hope and they create opportunities for them to share this joy with the world. There is also a recognition that we are all in this world together, and that we need to imagine new ways of interacting with other people.

Improv Everywhere and my friend Phil both recognise it isn’t outcomes or achievements that matter. This is a hard idea for us humans to get our heads around. We live in a competitive world. Movies like Mean Girls show us how easy it is to fall into the trap of becoming competitive and jealous. But rather than competition what we need is space to be creative- time and places to connect with other people in interesting, fun and unique ways. When we give ourselves time to imagine, we are more fully ourselves, and give ourselves the space to love others.

People and relationships matter. Our local community, our school community and our global community matter. As the writer and thinker Margaret Wheatley says, "If we free ourselves (from competing with our friends and colleagues) we discover that it becomes easier to love them...We realize that we truly are in this together, and that’s all that matters."¹

This week I urge you to give yourself some space. Look at the world through a different lense. Love for loves sake, laugh for laughter’s sake, and maybe even give someone a flower.

¹Wheatley, Margaret; The Place Beyond Fear and Hope; Shambhala Sun, March 2009

Sunday, October 4, 2009

the now in forever

sometimes i try to describe what i'm feeling and thinking about and then something comes along that describes it far better than words would have. This time the thing that came along to explain the jumble in my brain is an artwork by one of my most clever friends Tom. He has used some words from a piece of prose by Richard Jefferies.
I feel really drawn to the young person in this picture. There is something so assured about their gaze; a complete comfort in this captured moment.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

my vice {in haiku}

sweet juicy bacon
how will I ever become 

Friday, September 18, 2009

painting rainbows

So, I thought I'd start a blog... I have always been quite nervous about making my thoughts so public, but have decided I'll ease into it for a while and see how I go. It might be nice to have my thoughts written in one place, Currently my thoughts are written on little scraps of paper all over my office and bedroom, in the margins of books I'm reading or in a dozen half finished notebooks and journals. It's time to consolidate.

I just wrote this piece for a youth arts magazine I contribute to called Lowdown and thought I'd put it here too:

I always make my husband tell me a story about him and a friend from Kindergarten days. Every morning they would fill up cans of paint, run over to the Kindergarten cubby house and paint it an array of bright and fabulous colours. The next day they would return and the cubby would miraculously be back to its dull brown. “Great!” they would shout, “this means we get to paint it all over again!” I love the way he tells this story: with a continuing sense of awe at the “rainbow coloured paint” that the teachers allowed them to use for their task. It has only been since he has been older and reflected on these occasions that his adult logic has kicked in and explained away the magic: the cans must have been filled with water, not magical rainbow paint. But in his memory he sees the cubby in all of its fabulous multi coloured glory. I am so inspired by this story of imagination and wonder. 

I get concerned that in many settings we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to maintain a sense of wonder and open up a whole spectrum of creative responses to life’s twists and turns.  When I was in a creative development last weekend, walking around with a cardboard box on my head, (we were robots-of course) I was reminded once again not to take the rehearsal room for granted. I felt really lucky to be in a space with friends and colleagues, having a chance to wonder and explore. I hope that in the midst of the busyness of life, you get some time to play and imagine. Personally, I think it’s the best bit.