So there you have it! Our big announcement!
Since The Female Subject, the work at Citizen Theatre has focused on preparation for our exciting new show we will be presenting at the 2018 Melbourne Fringe Festival. This is a very special time for us, as it marks the first time Citizen Theatre has ever been part of the festival, the first time Citizen Theatre will be presenting work at indie theatre sanctuary Theatre Works, the first time the Citizens will perform together and the first of our experimental music theatre works.
Our resident visual designer Stu Brown is creating an 8 part documentary series detailing the process and the growth of the company this year. So I’m going to write about things that (probably) won’t appear in that documentary.
The world we are creating is wacky and wonderful. It’s like no other musical work you will ever have seen before. We create giant versions of small body parts – for example there’s a giant hand that is made with 4 legs, 2 backs and a thigh; there is another scene that will portray a full facelift. The opening scene is about getting a haircut, featuring wigs and hair puppets, accompanied by a string quartet (composed by our incomparable resident composer Imogen Cygler) – then in another scene we explore the hilarity and sadism of the dreaded bikini wax. There is a recurring song, affectionately known as the ‘smell song’, where one character sings “I worry that I smell” and her ‘friends’ reply “you smell” in a nightmare of trying to predict others’ perceptions.
How the hell did we get from creating a series of wacky ‘walks’ in our training to working on a show about smells and body parts and giant hands? Great question! It’s still amazing to think about really…
The show started as a short scene, written as part of a project that Stu and I call ‘100 Days’ – something he heard about whilst listening to a podcast. I was writing a new scene everyday inspired by 2 words created on a random word generator, for 100 days (you can actually do this with anything – Stu did ‘100 Days 100 Lyrics’– it’s an exercise I get some of my students to do too because it’s so valuable to commit to something for that long, no matter how inane or silly or impossible it seems. After 100 days of anything, you inevitably learn something!). The words for this scene were ‘injection’ and ‘load’… it ended up being the last scene of the show. But of course at the time of writing in that 100 days project, I had no idea what was ahead. Within about 2 months I had a draft script. At around the 3 month mark we were doing early workshops in the CT training sessions. Over May-July I got serious about the performance draft and even this weekend have been editing and further refining the script.
Anyone who knows me knows I love the body – I love bodies, I love learning about them, understanding how they work and I’m endlessly fascinated by their intelligence. Like pretty much everything I ever write for the stage that I care about, this show is very much driven by this fascination. The second thing I am deeply passionate about – as you might have noticed from previous blog posts – is understanding the position of the female body in our culture. The female body is one that has been compartmentalised in our visual culture, typically in advertisements. We are so accustomed to legs without heads, stomachs without eyes, feet without knees. We are so accustomed to objectifying the parts of the female body and assessing them for their aesthetic value (and of course the person that these are attached to gets lumped in with that assessment). We are so accustomed to watching and participating in this process that we do it to ourselves and each other every day, piece by piece, part by part – men are increasingly included in this. Unfortunately, this fragmented way of looking at ourselves and each other isn’t going anywhere – certainly not in a world with Instagram and the like. So in Ascent, we look at this process and explore the possibilities for revealing the intelligence of the body, in each of its parts, sometimes by having body parts play each other (a hand plays the role of the stomach for example). Without giving too much away, throughout the show the ‘discarded’ body parts have a way of reminding us of their value, their uniqueness, agency and intelligence.
I think it’s incredible that in the act of committing to an exercise or activity, your whole year can change. That’s what happened – on day 40 of 100 Days 100 Scenes, I wrote this weird 2 page scene, felt deeply curious about what else would sit around the scene, started drafting an outline, then began crafting a script around what the Citizens were bringing to training and now the better part of the year has been focused on cultivating this thing into a production.
Not only that, the production was programmed in a venue that I have wanted to work in for years. It has also received ShowSupport funding – a fabulous new funding initiative run through Melbourne Fringe where philanthropists can get behind new art that they believe in. We are so fortunate to have been selected for this grant, sponsored by Monica & Sam Abrahams and long time Citizen Theatre supporters the, ever-generous Ron & Margaret Dobell Foundation. Now of course the money is fabulous and such a massive help, but I think it’s important to note that even more than that, to be recognised and have people publicly announce their belief in the work you are doing through such a program is the most humbling and valuable thing of all.
I hope for those of you reading this, whatever your line of work, you can take away something from the story of how a small seed of potential can become a wonderful tree that can change the course of your year. That potential is always there. The work of the artist is to plant as many seeds as possible, to then fill themselves up with as much excellent stimuli as possible to water and care for those seeds, then watch for which ones sprout and help them grow. I like plant metaphors. You should see my balcony.
Ascent has been the result of months and months of workshops, writes and rewrites, video and photographic documentation, experiments with weird movement and wacky music and lots of laughs and creative fun in the rehearsal room. Ascent embodies a rigorous and thorough approach to music theatre making that is starting to establish a unique process for Citizen Theatre. But it also embodies the fun, the love and the creative spirit with which we work every week. It is a thrilling time to be a Citizen! I do hope you will join us by booking a ticket and sharing in our creation.
P.S. Early bird tickets are now on sale until 25th August – only $26 each (full price $32)! Book now and you can use the savings for a cheeky foyer drink :)