Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Hugs

Image result for meerkat hug

Today in the cafe... so it begins again; the search for Grumpy's next front of house sidekick. I've had such a dream run of beautiful souls. There have been ups and downs and mostly friendships and hugs.

The hugs have become a feature lately. New workers early on just embracing the daily hug or two. It's quite beautiful. Hugs in the workplace. Beautiful. Just fucking beautiful.

And I find myself wondering what has happened over the last couple of years. I am solitary man. I don't consider myself obviously open to hugs because I am Grumpy.

But there are hugs. Lots of hugs.

When I was in my 20s, I remember being with friends who had been friends for a long time, and they hugged, and I remember smiling and being quietly envious... would I ever have friends who would hug me so easily? Because I am Solitary Man, I'm just not someone people hug, not for my whole life. These people, I thought, are lucky people.

Something has changed, apparently. The hugs come easily these days. Solitary Man, the huggers have found him.

And I'm cool with that. Now I'm a lucky people too.

Friday, September 15, 2017

I See Invisible People

I look around and see all the invisible people. The people who made the bridges and the roads and who made the internet work. I see the invisible people who made telephones and remote control devices and velcro and zippers and GPS and bridges again... can you imagine if you were the one who had to build that bridge? That great arching bridge?

Sorry to go on about the bridges, but seriously, some of those bridges...

The medicine, the gaffer tape, the glass and the metal, those fucking skyscrapers with their cocktail lounges and time itself, the measurement of time. Specs that allow us poor visioned to see, all these invisible people made all these things. The young soldiers who gave their lives for our easy lives and our freedom.

Just saying, cheers to all the invisible people. All the invisible people who are around us each and every day.

Monday, September 11, 2017

Down On Eddy Street



Down On Eddy Street.

It's sunny down there, down on Eddy Street, Tenderloin. Saddest place I've ever been. Hotel's good, with my view and my privilege and my escape plan, and my temporary status as a tourist.

They shout at each other, down on Eddy Street. There's drama, always fucking drama. I watch the sadness and drama unfold beneath that giant mural of the guy and his microscope, looking microscopically at his own heart, ripped it seems by his own hands, from his own chest. He's really checking this heart thing out, and I wonder what he makes of it all.

I see two people, down on Eddy street. Fucked. Fucking fucked. Their lives are fucked. They are fucked. Right now they are chemically fucked and the hedonist that I am thinks good on you, you've found a way of being fucked on the streets of Tenderloin, San Francisco. Good on you. It's not the Summer Of Love, but good on you.

I watch, fascinated, from my privileged place, as he does this basically, fundamentally beautiful thing: he takes his filthy rag from his filthy bag, and she screams what the fuck are you doing? He says kind words and goes about his task. But what is he fucking doing? One corner of his filthy rag goes up on ledge, stabilised by a heavy can. A luggage bag stabilises the next corner on the same ledge. On the ground, stumble and stagger, a sun couch folded forms the third corner, and I see it now.

He tucks the fourth corner through the pop-up handle of the luggage case (lost or theirs – who knows?), and there is shelter of sorts against the sun.

And it strikes me that I am actually seeing beauty. This broken man is doing the decent thing, that thing we all aspire to: he is providing shelter for someone he loves, down on Eddy Street.

They pull their things inside the shade he has mad. Sanctuary, in a harsh part of town in this wealthy city. They scramble inside, and others stumble by, some glancing inside, most stumbling carelessly by, focussed on the own pointlessness of their own pointless day.

The guy's legs pop out from the beneath the shelter he has so carefully constructed on this shitty pavement down on Eddy Street. Why go perpendicular, I think from my Ivory Tower, when you can stretch out horizontally?

Then a cop, a young guy with a take-away coffee, he stops and peers properly inside. There are words, a shake of his head. No way, his body language says, no fucking way. You can't do this, you have to move on.

Eventually the guy who built the shelter, he kind of stumbles from his shelter, down on Eddy Street, and he pulls up his trousers and buckles up his belt. Cop leans on the street sign as he waits for these losers to pack up their stuff. The girl finally emerges, shade cloth is pulled down, things thrown into bags as thoughts are shouted, and they get on with their day. Not here, not today.

Not down on Eddy Street.

Sunday, September 03, 2017

At Gold Beach

At Gold Beach

At Gold Beach, Oregon
Somewhere nearby,
Fires burn.
Heavy smoke darkens the light,
And in the hazy smoke,
Shapes of things loom.
The summer looks like winter
Smoke like mist
Above us
A blood red sun
Scatters fire on the ocean
Later
A blood red moon
Stares accusingly down.

In the dark
In the forever black dark
I listen to the waves
Crunch insistently against the sand
And I think about the light.
I want the light
She wants the dark
So I lie there in her dark
And think about my light,
I dream about going
Into the light
Into the light,
Into the forever light.

Thursday, August 03, 2017

The Vagina Monologues
At The Butterfly Club until August 6th

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose



What I knew about The Vagina Monologues prior to seeing this local production at The Butterfly Club: it's a controversial piece of theatre that has been around since the mid-90s; something about Whoopi Goldberg being involved in one production; there might have been a movie version; it's basically a bunch of women talking about their vaginas.

My preconceptions prior to seeing this production (featuring Dayna Boase, Luci Klendo and Linda Cookson): It is theatre for chicks; it's probably anti-male; even though I quite like vagina's it's probably not my kind of theatre because I'm not a chick; in spite of its longevity and apparent critical acclaim, it's probably really just novelty theatre because how can you have a show that runs for an hour that's just women talking about their vaginas?

(I'd like to add here that the only show I could think of that has also been around for many years and is about penises is Puppetry Of The Penis, in which, as far as I know, some men get up on stage and basically play with their willies. I'm not suggesting for a minute that the underlying political, social and cultural explorations of Vagina Monologues and the blatant childishness of Puppetry says anything relevant about the differences between the sexes... no wait – maybe that's exactly what I'm suggesting... hmm).

What I knew about VM was a result of background noise, and I was pretty correct about it all. As to my preconceptions... pretty much, all completely wrong. These were my interpretations of the facts, and wow, I really was very wrong on all counts.

At this point, I'd like to say that if you consider yourself a thinking male and you've read this far but haven't actually seen VM, take that step and go see it. I found it by turns funny, sad, tragic, entertaining and somewhat – just by the nature of the thing – educational (that's the wrong word... enlightening? I don't know – just go see it and you'll know what I mean).

Written by American playwright Eve Ensler, VM is a selection of a collection of around 200 interviews in which a wide variety of women discuss various aspect of their vagina and experiences being women. There really is a broad range of topics, ideas, histories and stories. This is not novelty theatre. It's important theatre, which is obviously why it has been doing the rounds for so long. Duh.

There were many favourite sections, but I'm reluctant to go into too much detail. There was an alphabetised section in which all the imaginable nicknames for the vagina were covered; the personification section in what would your vagina wear/say etc; there were accounts of women who were variously ashamed or ultimately proud of their vaginas; the c-bomb was reclaimed in dynamic fashion; and much more. All accounts felt deeply personal, coming from existences that most of us are blessed to only be able to imagine.

And obviously, as men, we can only imagine the significant impact on a human-being that having a vagina can have; we can only imagine what it is like to be a woman. At various times throughout, I found myself wondering, really? That has happened? That happened to you? You were made to feel that way? Someone did that to you?

Actually, another preconception I had was that this would be a confronting piece of theatre. I was correct here. In parts it was – albeit poetically – highly confronting, but in the way that the miraculously natural process of a painful birth is confronting. I was happy to be confronted by these very real stories.

The performances were solid as the three performers took on a myriad of characters, each having their moment to shine, all clearly enjoying performing.

I can't compare this production to others, as many probably can, but I do know I found it very satisfying theatre indeed. For me, the best theatre makes us laugh and it makes us cry as it gives us a glimpse into the lives of others. Women will, of course, recognise and definitely empathise. They will attend and will enjoy. I just hope more men go along for this short season, because they will also enjoy some quality theatre. It's definitely feminist in nature (ultimately asking, as it does, is this fair? Or perhaps making the statement, this just isn't fucking fair!), but unless you are sexist, what's the problem with that?

Monday, July 31, 2017

On Being Immortal

And Black Rainbow
After a lifetime of jokes
About being immortal,
Realised that he was actually
Immortal.

They were all gone,
All the good ones,
All the ones he loved all gone,
And he was all alone,
Just he and the bad ones
Left.

Oh fuck, he bemoaned,
It's just me and the fuckwits then,
For eternity.

Fucking fuck.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

What Was She Thinking?

What was she thinking
When you told her of another dream
When you came up with another idea
Another adventure
Another plan.

A dream and an idea and adventure
That came to nothing.

What was she thinking
When the dream
And the idea
And the adventure
Came to nothing?

What was she thinking?

What was she thinking
When she agreed to stay with you?
Really, what was she thinking?

Sunday, July 02, 2017

Moira Finucane, The Rapture, Review



The Rapture

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose



Short review for the Moira-converted: Just go see it. Duh.

More detailed review for those who haven't had had The Divine Moira Experience: Wow, where to start.

This is without a doubt a strange show. At times, it is positively weird. At times you might not even know what the hell is going on. Splitting hairs, perhaps, but I didn't feel that this was burlesque,as such, but more performance art. 80 minutes of thrilling Gothic weirdness. A kind of surreal dramatic monologue with flashes of humour and musical interludes, stunning costumes, lots of nudity and some tomato sauce.

In the past I've only seen Moira Finucane as part of an ensemble that she has curated. She has brought together the world's most talented burlesque artists frequently over the years and has appeared amongst them, usually standing out, with her performances being dark, powerful and often hilarious.

With The Rapture, it's a treat to see Moira do her thing for the duration of the show with assistance from a mere handful of performers. It's a pretty demanding task to set herself. In The Rapture, Moira is a story teller. She tells stories and stories and stories, acting out the narration as she tells us these stories. I wanted to be a more conscientious reviewer - like the chap across from the stage in the white shirt and red scarf who ostentatiously scribbled in his notebook throughout the performance (anyone know who he was? I'd be interested in reading his review) – but to be honest I was just too enthralled by what was happening on stage to take notes.

Moira is an engaging story teller to say the least. But she also an engaging actor. In The Rapture, she is a shapeshifter. She is a growling, dark and dominant Goddess who it would be wise not to anger, then the most feminine of girls going through the phases of love. Physically, she can have a strong, almost masculine presence, but she can also appear, well, just really beautiful.

And that beauty would appear to come from within. Moira is obviously a feminist, but there is an all-embracing feel to what she does. There is an undeniable celebration of the feminine in this show, as there has been in all her previous shows, but it would appear that she wants to celebrate the beauty of life in all its forms. The revelation that Moira is an Environmental Scientist came as a bit of a surprise, given the accomplished performer that she is. And yet it shouldn't surprise.

Highlights for me were many. The costumes... such lush creations. The scene where Moira acted out the various phases of love to the accompaniment of U2's With Or Without You (I think this is correct – as I said, too enthralled to take notes). The general pagan feel of the night including the breaking and sharing of bread. Shirley Cattunar's version of A Daisy A Day... wait on – this deserves its own paragraph.

Another highlight is that all of the performers hang around and mingle and hug and talk. I was lucky enough to thank Shirley Cattunar for her version of A Daisy A Day, and I hope she doesn't think I was just being nice. This is a song I haven't heard for a lifetime, but its simple lyrics are so beautifully sad, delivered here in such a raw, almost frail way, that it made me tear up. Nice work, you beautiful woman.

Do see this show. It's a strange and darkly beautiful creation that you won't quickly forget.

Friday, June 30, 2017

Today In The Cafe: Real Generosity

Two beautiful things today.

A customer was reading my stories with interest. My co-worker Noraa told me she seemed shy and was surprised that the stories were mine and that she would tell me what she thought about them before she left.

Before she left, she hand wrote a poem on the back of an art gallery flyer. The poem is beautiful. The sadness comes from the fact that we didn't talk. I'm kind of introverted as well. I liked her poem. We could have talked about writing and poetry and thoughts about things and things and stuff and more things and stuff.

But she was gone. The beautiful poem on the flyer though, I have that.

The second beautiful thing today.

The door to the cafe is closed. An ancient Asian lady knocks on the door. I open the door. She tells me she needs one more bucket, a five litre bucket like the ones we use all the time and throw away. It's for the old people, she tells me. I get one such container from the kitchen. She is so grateful when I give her this empty plastic container. Thank you, she says, in her broken English, it's for the old people. I have no idea what she intends to do with the containers. She is dressed in rags.

Wait - do you want some food? I ask her. Her expression is blank for  a few moments. I gesture about free food, for the old people. Her ancient face lights up. I ask her to come inside and wait.

I show her the food I can give to her and she looks so happy. I start putting the food - delicious pastries and sandwiches crafted by Heart-Shaped Lollipop Girl that we had been intending to eat over the weekend - into a takeaway bag, and this is where the beauty thing happened, because this is not about me being generous.

Ancient Asian woman in her raggedy clothes looking after the old people, she insists I stop. "You keep some for you. You keep some food for you."

Now that is generosity. What a caring, generous soul she is.

Wednesday, June 28, 2017

Cigarettes After Sex

Today in the cafe... my new front of house helper Nøraa and I were working away during a lull in customers. Out of the blue, she struck up conversation with, "So eeeh... you know cigarettes after sex?" Spoken in that hybrid French/Spanish accent.
"Erm... yeah?" I replied, thinking that she was asking if I was aware that people enjoy smoking cigarettes after having sex but not having any idea where she was going with it.
She nodded slowly almost to herself. "Mmm. Is good."
"Okay."
I waited for a while, thinking there was more to come. Maybe the results of a new study or something. I don't know. But that appeared to be it. Apparently she had just wanted to tell me that she enjoys a cigarette after a good bonk. Which is cool. That's fine. Random as hell, but fine.
"So..." I asked eventually, "What made you share that with me?"
"What?"
"That you like smoking after having sex."
"No the band that is playing this song. It is Cigarettes After Sex. Is good."
"Oh. Oh I see."

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Tiger Air Australia

Dear Tiger Air,
The official reason we were given for you totally ruining our weekend away to catch up with beloved friends was that you swapped our plane for a smaller plane that was not able to land in Sydney's notoriously wet conditions.
I'm curious about why the plane was swapped for a smaller, inferior version. This was particularly frustrating when other flights with yours and other airlines were flying out for Sydney as scheduled.
I'm also curious about why we were told our flight was boarding in four minutes, only to be told that the flight was delayed for an hour, then to be told that it was actually cancelled altogether. That's kind of shitty service, however you look at it.
In between that four minute notice and the hour before being told the flight had been cancelled due to you incomprehensible ineptitude at doing your job, my partner and I made the mistake of ordering some crumbed squid from The Two John's or whatever that place is called, because by now, after a long day at the end of a long week of providing food and service in our cafe, we were hungry.
The squid was awful. It's possibly the worst squid I've ever had. But it was my mistake to order the squid, so I don't really hold you accountable for the squid.
However... We closed our cafe early (unknown dollars lost), caught the Skybus to the airport ($38), drank two glasses of wine each ($32), ate that memorable squid, were dicked about until finally being told that our flight had been cancelled because you can't do your job. The cab fare back home was $60.
Fortunately we hadn't airbnb-ed our home out as planned because we would have then had to book a hotel. We just had to kick friends out who had planned to stay. They were good enough to cook us dinner (much better than that squid... seriously, that squid...), and it was a lovely night in the end, just not what we had planned.
Because I am sitting here in Melbourne writing this letter when I paid for flights to be in Sydney, I would appreciate a full refund, because you didn't deliver the service I paid for. I also have receipts for the Skybus and the taxi fare home. The wine and the squid... look, I really wouldn't have ordered that awful squid (have I mentioned how awful the squid was?) if you hadn't lied to us all about the four minute boarding-one hour delay before cancelling thing, but I'll take the squid mistake as my own. I should have ordered a salad or something unfuckupable.
I've done a fair bit of travelling and have never experienced this level of ineptitude. I've also eaten quite a bit of squid in my time and never have I… okay, I'll stop going on about the squid. Although I would suggest that if they can't get the squid right, they stop doing it.
I think I am a fair and kind person who thinks that if someone doesn't do their job properly, they should be held accountable. For example (and I know I said I'd stop but I just can't help myself) if we served squid like that in the cafe I would basically give the customers back their money as soon as they ordered it, because really, it's the worst squid they are ever going to eat and as a human being I'd just feel awful taking their money for such an awful experience.
The human who was dealing with your stuff-up was wonderful. So calm in the face of so much anger around me. My words with her were quiet and understanding and she really did do a wonderful job and I hope all of them have a much better weekend than their Friday night. I hope all the pointless anger has abated. I hope everyone, all the passengers on that “flight” are going to enjoy their weekend, even if it wasn't the one they had planned.
I do hope you will do the right and fair thing and refund my flights as well as reimburse me for the expenses incurred of getting to and back from The Flight That Never Was. I suspect you don't give a rat's arse, as they say, but it would be nice and fair and decent if you proved me wrong.
The squid's on me.
Regards,
Lee Bemrose.
#tigerair #tigerairaustralia #yuckysquid
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Sunday, June 04, 2017

Some Of The Humans, They Are Awesome.

I'm kind of a solitary man, but I keep encountering these people, these amazing souls who wander gently into my life and quietly go about having a big impact on my life. It's quite fucking awesome.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Trash Goes Down The River, Interview With Clare Mendes


I recently received a review request from a theatre company I'd done a review of a few years ago. I liked the concept of the play enough to offer to do an interview. Here it is in full. It's long, but it's perfect. I love the close, the quote from the play. I love having the opportunity to talk to artists about their art.



How has your day been? What have you been up to?
By 7.15am I was on the 18th floor of a Collins Street multinational. This play about homelessness is largely being funded by my corporate clients – this is the reality of being a writer in Australia. There was a homeless man setting up in front of Dior as I came back down the hill – even Collins Street isn’t trying to hide the problem any more. I went home to two sleeping cats, a pile of washing and a few hours spent on MWT projects; I run Melbourne Writers’ Theatre and we have two shows coming up, plus one in Fringe, which is exciting. Then a newspaper had asked me to write an article on TRASH so I did that. This is a typical day for me – business mixed with creative pleasure, constantly switching from one to the other like a coin that keeps flipping over. I love it.

How are you feeling leading up to opening night of
Trash Goes Down The River?
To be honest, I haven’t had much time to think about it. I handed this script over to my director (Elizabeth Walley) at the first rehearsal, and I feel like it’s hers now. I saw her a couple of days ago and she said she had changed some lines, and hoped I would be okay with the changes – I just said I trusted her and then went back to the task of marketing. TRASH is a product now; it needs to be sold. Actors are entitled to perform in front of good houses – apart from which, if your audience numbers are low, there’s almost no point having written the play because the thing you wanted to say with it won’t be heard by enough people. Having said that, if I take a moment out from it all to look ahead to opening night, I do feel quietly excited. TRASH will be opened by Simon McKeon AO, who is respected for his contributions to social justice in this country and currently holds an advisory role with The Big Issue, and for our guest speaker we are honoured to have Vicky Vacondios (‘You Can’t Ask That’ – ABC iview), a formerly homeless mother-of-three who now speaks publicly about issues relating to homelessness. So yes, now that you mention it, I am definitely looking forward to 14th June.

Rehearsals have been going well? What can you tell us about the cast and crew?
I’ve put them in a nice rehearsal space – it has a marble stairwell and leadlight windows and natural light flooding in. TRASH has a cast of three – Alec Gilbert, Emma Cox and Clare Larman. They’re all highly intelligent, all erudite and articulate. This is perhaps another reason why I have detached from the script; these are smart actors and thinking human beings and I trust them with my words. Clare Larman, who will be playing Trash, posed for a very long time in a city doorway on a freezing Sunday afternoon to give us that striking image. She doesn’t seem to flinch from things. Alec (Rich) has a real power to him but also a tenderness in the way he deals with people, which is quite similar to the character he is playing. Emma (Melody) is unbelievable. She read the part of Melody at the public reading we did of TRASH at La Mama Courthouse back in 2015, so she has lived with this character for a while now and there’s no one else I would have asked. Our Lighting Designer is Bronwyn Pringle – she has worked at Bluestone before and likes its spiritual ambience; well, it is an old Wesleyan church – and Left Bauer Productions are producing this show, which I am happy about as they intuitively understand theatre like this and have a lot of vision.  My director is ELIZABETH. Capital letters. Elizabeth is also Resident Director at Melbourne Writers’ Theatre. Slick, stark, intelligent direction, always.

Have you re-worked the play much since the readings at La Mama a couple of years ago? If so, in what ways?
Gosh yes – it’s a different play. From memory, after receiving the feedback from that reading I churned out a few drafts that were fairly interchangeable, but late last year I did a further draft which pretty much constituted a rewrite. A dramaturge who had happened to read the script had flagged a problem with Trash. In the earlier drafts, Trash was a silent character who conveyed all of her thoughts and intentions through actions, mime – I wanted to reinforce the fact that the homeless have no voice. But this dramaturge said quite bluntly, ‘Your character doesn’t work in her current state – for an audience to relate to her and feel for her, she needs a voice,’ and in case she’s reading this I’ll name her: Emilie Collyer. Thanks Emilie. It was sound advice which I took on board, because Trash now talks. This puts her on an equal footing with her co-stars, and really, with society.

You wrote the play before the Flinders Street homeless were moved along earlier this year. How did it make you feel when action was taken to remove them?
You know, it was a bit dreamlike to watch the police and the City step in, and then the protests and the scaffolding going up along Flinders Street. That was the only thing I hadn’t predicted, the scaffolding – everything else had been forewarned by Melody in TRASH. I was at a chess tournament when the protests around the Australian Open broke out and I picked up a newspaper that one of the players had finished with – I’d seen a headline relating to the homeless camps along Flinders Street, something about them being broken up. I texted Elizabeth and said Have you seen today’s paper? The events came thick and fast after that; every day there was a new headline, a new travesty. I took a collection of these newspaper articles along to the first rehearsal and laid them across the table, so that we could all understand where TRASH had come from – in the end, it wasn’t just plucked from the air.

Homelessness is obviously a serious problem, but evicting homeless people, so to speak, has only displaced them, hasn't it? It hasn't really solved the problem.
As I see it, the solution to this problem lies in the provision of affordable housing and a LOT more of it. And to be fair, the City’s disbanding of people sleeping rough in the CBD has been delivered with a fair degree of transparency and an emphasis on finding solutions. COM staff don’t roam around the city at dawn looking for homeless people to dislodge – to some extent they are still turning a blind eye to rough sleepers, and their policy is to only ‘move on’ an ‘illegal camper’ in the presence of a representative from a recognised charity/housing provider who can provide the affected person with some kind of action plan and support towards the next step. But you are correct – eviction without any back-up plan will never be a solution. It just moves the problem further uptown, or, in the case of TRASH, further upstream.



It struck me that there is such sad irony in the fact that Melbourne is frequently listed as one of the world's most liveable cities, yet we have such an obvious problem with homelessness. What are your thoughts on this?
I was speaking to someone about this recently, someone who has a broader comprehension of the situation than many of us do. He cited the widespread lack of affordable housing in Melbourne as the source of our homelessness problem, and he also suggested some more contentious reasons for Melbourne’s current homelessness predicament. The rising number of foreign-owned investment properties, the rental of which are often mis-managed by landlords, for instance – it is a fact that there are houses and apartments throughout Melbourne currently sitting vacant while people sleep on the footpaths in front of them. There is also a widespread and accepted lack of scrutiny of both foreign and domestic landlords, which creates a free-for-all mentality in which landlords can charge whatever rents they want without any requirement to operate within a reasonable ratio of what is ‘affordable’ for a low-income, or no-income, citizen of this city. The problem is not with Melbourne, which is indeed a most liveable city – it is with the laws, and the lawmakers, around and beneath which Melbourne operates.

I haven't been down to Flinders Street recently. Do you know what it's like down there at the moment?
There’s really not much there at all – it’s barren. The train station is covered in scaffolding, from the Clocks right down to the Elizabeth Street entrance, and this is reinforced by cyclone fencing that covers half of the footpath. So the life that was there has vanished – to where, I’m not sure. Homeless people tend to look for better cover when the weather cools down; those who were camped along this street in the heat of the summer are possibly now living under cover a few blocks away, or it’s possible that the scaffolding has broken their resolve. I suspect, as do many, that it was intended to do this. It was also perhaps intended to restore Melbourne’s reputation as the World’s Most Liveable City for the tourists who serve as our weekly retainer. I think if they saw Flinders Street right now, they wouldn’t bother sticking around for the City Sightseeing tour but would hop on a bus to the Great Ocean Road. Apart from commuters and scaffolding, there is very little to see.



I do remember walking along Flinders Street very early each morning, during winter, and seeing one particular guy most mornings rugged up in a thick doona, looking quite snug and protected against the chill. One morning, his doona was gone, probably stolen. He was in his same place, but no longer protected against the cold. I took an old sleeping bag with me to work the next morning but he wasn't there. It brought home to me how hopeless the situation is. Do you feel it's a hopeless situation?
I’m sorry you had that experience, but it’s a profound one to have had. No, I don’t think this situation is unfixable. For some members of our population, it’s just going to take a long, long time to break the cycle. There are many degrees of homelessness, and a man sleeping in a doona on Flinders Street cannot be put into the same basket, or offered the same solutions, as a woman in the suburbs who is couch-surfing with her kids. An infinite number of variables need to be addressed, not the least of which are the physical and mental health of the homeless person requiring assistance and the events which have led that person to this point. Your fellow with the doona, and the rough sleepers like him, can be helped out of homelessness, but not with a one-size-fits-all solution. You would not approach a person living in a house and say, ‘Here is a generic solution to your problem which I am really hoping will fit you’ – you would have a lengthy consultation with that person to ascertain her or his individual wants and needs, strengths and fragilities. Homeless people are individuals, and individual problems necessitate an individual approach. Our homeless need tailored solutions, and they need people who will stay by their sides as they attempt to implement these solutions. In the end, they just need people.

Have you been following the situation or any individuals affected by it?
Yes, I follow Melbourne’s homelessness situation every day. It’s impossible not to if you have your eyes open. I’ve noticed that the media coverage of this issue has really dropped off as the year has gone on – more than one person has suggested to me that June is a very good time to present TRASH, simply because issues like this fall off the radar when they lose their ‘spectacle’ factor. Homelessness in the CBD is not as visible as it was in the summer months – this is not because the problem has been ameliorated but because it’s harder for our homeless to live on the streets as winter approaches. They will go somewhere warmer, perhaps onto a friend’s couch or into a car or onto a train. I have a friend who is fortunate to be in public housing now but was on the streets for some time, and also slept rough whilst pregnant. The child she gave birth to is beautiful, but my friend’s adolescence is gone – you don’t get those years back, and you don’t fully recover from them. When she has to send her kids overnight somewhere, she sends them with enough clothes and belongings for a week – in case they find themselves homeless, perhaps. She has described to me very bluntly how it was and how it is. It’s another planet, the twilight world of the homeless.
Can you tell us a little about the main characters in your play?
They are all trapped in an intricate, three-way social catastrophe. The happiness of each one depends on how much leeway the others will allow them to develop the ambition they are desperate trying to fulfil. Trash, real name Dianne, is quietly ambitious. The last thing she wants is to be sleeping on a stretch of concrete on Elizabeth Street – it’s not how she imagined life at 56 – but a combination of domestic violence, debt, unemployment and abandonment by family have led her to this point. A different ambition has led Melody to Trash. A perfectionist who is constantly scrutinising her life and her body to pinpoint the reason for her perceived failures, she dreams of a world that is ordered and clean - of a city that sparkles. Trash, sitting on her piece of filthy cardboard, is thwarting Melody’s goal, and her husband Rich seems to be deliberately sabotaging it. As the Deputy Lord Mayor, Rich has his own ambitions, his own plans for making Melbourne sparkle again – unfortunately he is too low on confidence, too much of a people-pleaser, to fulfil these by himself. To succeed, Rich needs Melody’s strength; for Melody to succeed, she needs Trash to yield. For Trash, success will only be possible when this unhealthy, unhappy, co-dependent man and woman make the decision to support each other. What these people really need is to stay a long, long way away from each other and try to make it on their own. But that’s not possible in this situation. In sickness and in health, for better or for worse, they are fused together.

How much research did you do in writing the play and what form did it take?
I didn’t do any research while I was writing TRASH – the material I needed was in front of me, in the doorways, and at the time of writing the first draft back in 2015 there was very little in the way of a public conversation relating to homelessness, so TRASH was just an imaginative ‘what if’ story that I had fun writing. That may sound flippant, given the topic, but it was fun to write about this uptight, neurotic events manager (Melody) organising her Big City Clean-Up, her council teams at the ready with their brooms and mops – I had no inkling that this scene would one day play out for real. I just wrote a play about what I was seeing as I sat waiting on Elizabeth Street each night for my tram home, and how it made me feel – and then how it made Melody and Rich feel. It was just a little dystopic play. But research, yes – once the very real events of January and February started to roll out like a grubby red carpet, I began to research quite obsessively, trawling the daily media for news relating to Melbourne’s homelessness crisis. Those grim headlines meant that a lot of the fanciful events described in my play could now be presented as facts. So suddenly, for example, Melody had a justification for ordering her Clean-Up of the city’s homeless camps – because in February 2017 the City of Melbourne passed a by-law making it illegal for people to ‘leave items unattended in public’ – and so on. From January onwards, each time a new initiative, protest or arrest was reported in the daily media, I would take this information and cede it back into TRASH. I don’t know what you call that kind of research-in-reverse, but I hope I didn’t miss anything.

Does the play suggest any solution or is it more about drawing attention to the problem and perhaps giving a voice to the homeless?
Melody, Rich and Trash come up with some cracking solutions to homelessness – judge them as you see fit. Within this interview, I’ve suggested a few of my own solutions. I rarely do something just to ‘give a voice’ to it – I am solutions-driven rather than creatively driven – but in this case I think my job was to draw the public’s attention to something that is important and then step back into the shadows. I have people coming to this show who can tell you what to do about homelessness. Simon McKeon and Vicky Vacondios, as I mentioned earlier, and on Sunday 18th June Launch Housing will be delivering an address just before the 5pm matinee. They have concrete answers, and that show is a 100% fundraiser for Launch Housing. Open Canvas will be displaying artwork by disadvantaged and homeless artists throughout the TRASH season, with an exhibition in the space on Saturday 17th; at any session of the show you can buy one of these pieces of art, all proceeds going back to the artist, so there is another solution. And for the show on Thursday 18th June we’re collecting funds for Vinnie’s, who have their CEO Sleepout on the same night, and that’s a third solution.

What kind of audience do you think will be drawn to the play?
I’ve thought a lot about this. I’m asking Melburnians to come to Footscray in the middle of winter to see a play about an issue they thought they’d dealt with back in February. Even that word is enough to put some people off: ‘issue’. A colleague who loves independent theatre and always supports my work looked at the flyer for TRASH last week and said, ‘Hmm. I don’t know, Clare … I probably need something more cheerful at the moment.’ I really think she won’t be coming, which is a pity because she likes comedy and there are a lot of funny lines in this script. And creatively, TRASH is fairly out-of-the-box – here are these two women on a ferry chugging towards Utopia, and there’s barely any set, the set will be created by Bronwyn’s lighting and a soundscape that is currently being created. It’s magnetising – a bit hypnotic. There are frequent moments of beauty throughout the play, too. If that all sounds too harrowing for some people, I don’t mind if they stay home, but the rest of you should come.
How do you think audiences will feel after seeing the play?
I think they’ll think, ‘That was 80-minutes of very good theatre and Clare’s done herself a disservice by pitching it as a play about homelessness. If she’d pitched it as a compelling drama about three people trapped in a knife’s-edge situation, she would’ve sold more tickets.’ I know how it’s done – I used to work in advertising. But remember that we’re aiming to raise awareness of the homelessness crisis with this play, or rather, to reignite awareness, and beyond this we want TRASH to raise money for the three organisations who have partnered with us – Launch Housing, Open Canvas, Vinnies. To do this effectively, I need to mention the issue first and the art second. But TRASH GOES DOWN THE RIVER is definitely art.

Do you have a quote from the play that best captures its spirit?
At the first rehearsal, I said to the director and actors: ‘Do what you want with this play. Change what needs to be changed. But there’s one line I want left exactly as is.’ Upon arriving at that line, Elizabeth gave me a look and the actors started shaking their heads and saying, ‘No, Melody can’t say that’ and ‘I really don’t think we can have Trash doing that’ and ‘When was the last time a homeless person did that to you, Clare?’

That was the line,’ I said. It goes like this: “I can remember the exact moment when I identified that thing in her, that X-factor. She spat at me, hard – it landed this close to my mouth – and I thought, There’s something about this woman.”

The last I heard, it was back in. Good.

At Bluestone Church Arts Space, 8A Hyde Street, Footscray 13 -24 June






Wednesday, May 17, 2017

In Flagrante, Butterfly Club 2017, Review

In Flagrante

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose



Something about this In Flagrante performance at The Butterfly Club intrigued. I Googled. I saw a weird clip with women in G-strings pretending to be horses to the accompaniment of some really quirky music and I thought, this is weird. I like weird; I'm going to check this out.

In Flagrante is basically a dance-based burlesque show celebrating, I think, the empowerment of femininity as well as offering a feminist reply to the idea of sexual fetish. It's a dance group of four artists performing vignettes that vary quite a bit in mood and tone but all celebrate some aspect of what it means to be female, or occasionally deride male perceptions of what it means to be female.

The overall vibe is one of playful sexuality. This is not a pervy show, even though it's wall-to-wall g-strings and boobs. These women are dancers and although there is much eye candy for anyone with a taste for the semi-exposed dancer's body, there is so much going on in the narration that thought is stimulated as much as anything else.

There is much fun to be enjoyed during this showcase. The aforementioned horse/pony fetish piece, which possibly alludes to the outdated saying of a woman being “a fine filly” is just as wonderfully weird on stage as it is in that film clip. The traffic cop is hilarious, as is the can-can piece with its exuberant and cheeky irony. There's a moody and darkly arty piece about binds or holding back, another retro piece based on actual text when ignorance was the voice of what it meant to be a woman and what her duties entailed, this one quite tragic given that it it and others like it were the voice of authority of a bygone time. Bound. Bondage. Bond-age.

Music was varied but as with the performance on stage, always engaging. The music highlight for me was Nick Cave's beautifully brooding Water's Edge. So good.

But the whole thing, all these little stories, it was all so good.

At The Butterfly Club until 21st May 2017.

Sunday, May 14, 2017

Thank You

Thinking about the good people. Thinking about the friends. Thinking about the love. Looking at that sunset - thinking about how amazing it is that I am still here today. Thinking about how fortunate I am. Wondering why everyone isn't as fortunate as I am.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Farewell Bendy Giraffe Girl


Today in the cafe... well for a while now in the cafe... the departure of my latest front-of-house teammate, Bendy Giraffe Girl, has been approaching and now is finally here after six months. April has been a dream co-worker. We've reached that level of working together where we just kind of morph around each other and operate as a single blob of efficiency. In the beginning I was kind of possessive of my work space, but for a while now it's been a bit of a free-for-all as to what task each is doing and how the other slots blobbily (mostly gracefully blobbily) in to what is going on. It's a trust thing. It's a mental telepathy thing. Sure, sometimes she startles me with a random spillage or breakage, and yes she has often SCARED THE FUCKING BEJESUS OUT OF ME BY JUST SUDDENLY BEING THERE NINJA-LIKE-RIGHT BEHIND ME AS I TURN AROUND expecting void only to be confronted by SURPRISE BENDY GIRAFFE GIRL!!!

It was her last day today, but she has kindly offered to come in to help out tomorrow, because that's the kind of person she is.

I had a replacement lined up. All was good. New Person seemed fine. We did some trial shifts. All was good. I turned down so many other offers and resumes because all was good. I threw out all those resumes. One person, Spanish Norina, had been so persistent but ultimately couldn't make a trial shift which is why New person got the gig. I had been disappointed by this because Norina had The Vibe. I like The Vibe.

Late on Sunday, New Person texted to say that she had, after all, decided to take another job.

Fuckity fuck.

I know it's just a banged up little cafe, and I know it's a first world problem, but I've had such a good run of co-workers. Recently Team Awesome with April and Jodie has been pretty perfect, so I've been spoiled. I had three days to find someone to fill Bendy Giraffe Girl's big, threadbare and holey shoes. It's been a stressful couple of days.

I asked if Norina was available for a shift today. She was. She came in. There is a slight language barrier again, but within minutes I felt The Vibe. She starts tomorrow and seems so very happy to have the job. Feedback from the others is that she has a good vibe about her. I think things will be all right. Stressful days ahead until we find our blobby morphiness, but I'm sure we'll find it. Hopefully she won't frighten the fuck out of me by sneaking up on me as often as BGG did.

But I shall miss my Bendy Giraffe Girl. How lucky I was that she slid that awesome resume under the cafe door that day when the cafe was closed. How happy I am that she has become a good friend, and a good friend to many of my friends. How grateful I am for the conversations, both serious and silly. I've learned things from her and laughed with her in the quiet times and in the after-work times.

I hate goodbyes. But some goodbyes are the result of the most beautifully unexpected hellos.



Thursday, May 04, 2017

Miss Blossom Callahan, 2017, Review



Miss Blossom Callahan

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose



Actor and playwright Stephen House returns to the iconic La Mama theatre, this time as director of one of his own works, Miss Blossom Callahan. During post show drinks and discussion, I overheard Mr House ask wryly, “Can you tell that this is one of my works?”

Oh yes, yes you can.

Miss Blossom is a dark comedy following the story of aged hooker Blossom (Rosemary Johns), her alcoholic one night stand Max (Marc Opitz), landlord Geraldine (Ruth Katerelos) and a local petty crim/drug dealer/junkie Junk (Will Ewing). The story starts out on a bleak, hungover morning, and as the sun rises reluctantly into the sky and the rain falls, things get even bleaker.

Which is not to say that this isn't a wonderfully engaging play; it is a totally wonderfully engaging play. These characters are probably so foreign to the average person able to afford the luxury of a theatre ticket as to be grimily exotic. In real life we catch glimpses of them in the street from time to time, but we never fully see their existence. We might see them nodding off in a park, eyes rolling back in their head or we might see them screaming intoxicated abuse at each other, but it's all so fleeting for us. What else goes on in the rest of their days and their weeks and their lives that are as long as our lives? How does their life pan out? What are the minutes and hours of their days actually like?

This is the magic of Stephen House's writing. He gives a voice to the marginalised ones who don't have a voice, who are mostly invisible to us. He gives them their voice to tell their story, and lemme tell you, it's authentic stuff.

The story of Blossom's life is a tragedy that unfolds through the telling of her dreams and fantasies, a life spent dreaming of possibilities and possibilities. Her head lives in the most colourful of dreams even as she wakes in the filthiest gutter, sleeping with so many rats.

And all are rats in Blossom's story. All are addicted to drugs and booze or some other need. Everyone's need dictates their loyalty. Betrayal is a means to an end. It's every man for himself in this world, baby.

It's fair to say that it is a black comedy, though I doubt you'll hear much real laughter during the performance. There probably won't be much of the raucous stuff, but that's because it is all so very real. It's more a kind of slow, head-shaking laugh. But trust me, you will laugh.

And with any luck, once you are back in your nice comfortable world, maybe when you catch a glimpse of Blossom Callahan and her cohorts, you might give them some thought. This is not a play suggesting a solution to a problem, more, it is an expose of lives less fortunate than yours or mine, so engagingly written and so perfectly performed.

On at La Mama in Carlton until May 14


Monday, April 24, 2017

Today In The Cafe 24/4/2017

Today in the cafe... I love watching our customers. Not in a creepy way, I just love watching their interactions with each other. There is comedy and drama each day.

Today I watched these two friends. They walked back to their table with the fluffy giraffe, their table I.D. They fell into conversation, these two friends. The conversation was deep. He seemed a little distressed. They talked some more. Beautifully - so fucking beautifully - she leaned across the table and hugged him. The hug lingered and was so very heartfelt. I cleared their table and smiled at their very human murmured thank yous of friendship.

These customers, these friends, they talked in confiding tones about things and things and things, and eventually she left.

Weirdly, this is when he had a reaction. Now, as she left, this is when he teared up. This is when the full appreciation of her friendship hit him. Suddenly when she left, he was overwhelmed with thank you, you awesome dude. Dudette? No actually, just dude. Just friend.

And that's the end of that story.  Probably not the end of that friendship, as far as I could tell as an observer, but the end of that episode in that cafe on that day.

Shortly after that beautiful encounter, my schizophrenic friend Jeff Collins came into the cafe. I think his name is Jeff Collins. I feel for this guy. I've become part of his crazy mixed up world. I've given him sandwiches and coins and some of my time. And today in the cafe he thanked me for the 20 years of being kind to him and his father and told me that he appreciated my 20 years of attention. It's been two years max. It's all so sad and crazy. But hey, what do you do?

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Three Little Words, Melbourne Theatre Company, Review


Three Little Words
By Joanna Murray Smith

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose



Upon the audience's entry, the vast stage in The Sumner is already richly detailed and fully lit. The cast sit in the dining room of a well furnished home. Husband and wife Tess (Catherine McClemments) and Curtis (Peter Houghton) and their close friends Annie (Kate Atkinson) and Bonnie (Katherine Tonkin) – also partners – are engaged in apparently convivial conversation. It appears we are about to embark on a very mainstream, commercial play aimed at a very mainstream audience. The pop music being played would also indicate that this is so.

And so it is. And when that big shiny stage starts spinning, the whole thing feels very much like one of those cheesy TV comedy-dramas so popular with nice urban families. This feeling of watching an affable TV show never quite left thanks to that spinning stage and the loud pop music interludes... it was like a commercial break, time to get up and get a cup of Milo or something. I found these interludes truly distracting and annoying and could not see what they achieved at all. I mean, yeah, it's kind of impressive, but over and over again... just annoying.

The story is about the repercussions when Tess and Curtis announce to their good friends that their relationship is over. After 20 years, Tess wants to find out what it's like to be her own person. She wants to fulfil her yearnings. In the beginning, Tess and Cutis still seem kind of in love and certainly full of respect for each other, it's just that Tess want find out what else there is and Curtis agrees that if that's what she wants, so be it. Annie and Bonnie are shell-shocked. What follows is indeed an affable comedy-drama examining the repercussions of the breakdown of a relationship that is seemingly rock solid, the ripple effect that breakdown has, and what individuals want and expect from their relationship. The original civility between Tess and Curtis deteriorates, and the relationship between all four – all quite different in nature – is tested.

For the first 30 minutes or so, I just wasn't getting it. The humour seemed a little contrived and over acted and I just didn't get why it was getting such a good response from the audience. The lines or the physical humour – though impeccably timed and delivered – just didn't seem deserving of the LOLs. Perhaps I was alone in the audience, but I just wasn't feeling it.

However there was a point (not sure exactly when) when the humour gave way to a little more drama, and I started to feel it. I think what happened is that at a certain point, Tess, Curtis, Annie and Bonnie felt less like characters and more like real people. There was something happening on stage that started to feel very real. A rawness seeps in and you start to feel for Tess and Curtis the way we feel when our real life friends break up. When the good ones - the relationships you've thought were solid - go through hard times you want them to get through it because if they can't make it work, what does anything mean? Maybe there really isn't anything in this idea of being a couple.

There is still plenty of humour throughout all this, and either it got better or something was happening to me, because I had crossed over to the dark side and was, on occasion, laughing out loud. There was quite a nice balance between drama and humour. There's a unique bitterness when a relationship devolves from love to hate, and if you can portray that unique, personal viciousness so accurately and manage to get some laughs in there, you're doing something right. The cashed-up, mainstream audience Joanna Murray Smith's latest play is aimed at is probably going to love it, and with good reason.

At Southbank Theatre, The Sumner until May 27

Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Heads Or Tails

Production shot of a sensational new drama by Melbourne Theatre Company titled Zed Is All Ears. It's a Romcom featuring a smart-arse talking cat and the ups-and-downs of a modern Melbourne share household.

Actually, just some current friends. Good people. And a cat we might have adopted.

This was a good day.
Good days,
Bad days,
Like the flip of a coin,
Happiness
And in a flash
No will to live.
Must remember to remember
The good days
In the no will to live times.

Friday, April 14, 2017

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit Review

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose



Dear Nassim Soleimanpour,

It was a pleasure to meet you last night via your inventive theatrical experience, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit. I did as you asked and refrained from reading reviews prior to seeing your play. I also avoided reading a detailed synopsis. I knew the barest detail of the concept: a play by an Iranian writer prohibited from leaving his home country because of his political beliefs; no director; a different actor each night; the actor does not see the script until he/she opens the envelope containing it as the performance commences.

Who could not find all of this intriguing?

You'll be happy to know, Nassim, that the performer on this opening night at The Arts Centre in Melbourne, April 2017, was the talented Eddie Perfect, and he did a splendid job. He appeared to enjoy the experience, and the audience enjoyed this enjoyment. There were many, many laughs. Eddie Perfect generally leans towards comedy but likes a bit of social commentary in his work. This might explain why he enjoyed this experience so much, because as well as some absurdist comedy, your play has a lot to say. With White Rabbit, Read Rabbit, you convey some very important messages, deftly coupling humour with seriousness. I hope someone has sent you some photos of Eddie (and indeed some of the audience members who found themselves on stage as part of the performance) in action during the show. Oh and very good of you to allow us to leave our phones on and encourage us to take photos during the show – just one of the many surprising elements of your experiment.

The set design was minimal. Just a couple of household items and some things borrowed from the audience. This is all that's needed, because really, the magic is in the writing and the concept of the work.

The big irony, Mr Soleimanpour, is that while your show has a lot to say, I'm guessing that even in a review, you would like the writer to refrain from saying too much about the show itself. This is a big ask, but I will respect your wishes post-show as much as I did pre-show.

I would like you to know that everyone in the room thoroughly enjoyed this piece. You would have enjoyed it. You would have enjoyed our enjoyment. And strangely, in spite of your absence, you actually felt very present. Your humour, your wit, your deep understanding of how society and systems and individuals work... all of this was palpable, and you may as well have been sitting in that chair kept vacant for you. I don't think I was alone in feeling that I met you last night. It was a real pleasure to have met someone with such a sharp sense of humour, with such deft story-telling ability... oh yeah, another thing: I was aware of the experimental nature of White Rabbit, Red Rabbit and thus wondered if I would find it satisfying. I wondered if it might be a bit gimmicky for someone who goes to the theatre to be told a cracking good story. I needn't have worried. I found this a deeply rich and satisfying theatrical experience indeed.

So there you have it. I'm pleased to have met you, even though we've never met. I'm grateful that you have shared some of yourself with us. The memory of your play feels real and important, like the memory of a friend.

Wishing you all the best my friend,

Lee Bemrose.

Wednesday, April 12, 2017

The Work In Progress

I've neglected the play for a week now. Today, I got a little bit scared about that. What if the momentum has gone? What if this is yet another of my ideas that comes to nothing? What if these characters I've been calling down from The Forever have moved on?

I was about to leave the cafe today but thought no, I have to find out if these characters are still there, so I sat down in my quiet and empty cafe, and I called out to them.

Silence.

Silence.

And silence.

And then, eventually, they were there.

The first thing they said to me was, Where the fuck have you been for the past week?
I told them I was sorry and that I have missed them. They said they had missed me too. Then we got to work, and they said dramatic and witty things to each other, and I took dictation, and all was good in my world.