Community is a warm word, a comfy word: we all want to belong to something larger. But community does not exist without exclusion: how else would we know whether we’re on the outside, or on the outside? This warm and safe place, community, is a place of obligations: to behave well, to act right, to lie for your mates, and to see no evil; to not recognise harm even when it is done to you, because it’s done by one of us, and we must stand together. And not everyone gets a good deal on the inside. It is from within that Audre Lorde wrote: “If I didn’t define myself for myself, I would be crunched into other people’s fantasies for me and eaten alive.” It is from within that Virginia Woolfe wanted a room of her own.

In the fifth, upcoming season of Audiostage, we will ask what it means to want to belong; what it means to be let in, and not let in. We ask about being made an outsider even when we want to be insiders, and about the choices we make in order to step out of places we were never let into. We began recording in the week in which the Australian Government has started to weaken Section 18c, the part of the Racial Discrimination Act that makes it an offense to use racial or ethnic slurs. We recorded from a country in which so many of us are constantly reminded that we, perhaps, do not belong here.

May 23, 2017

MATTHEW TODD / HOW TO BE GAY AND HAPPY

“We’re just a whole group of people swirling around together, trying to get on with our lives, not knowing that we’ve been traumatised.”
– Matthew Todd

Our final episode of season four, #queer, takes us to London, where we speak to the author of perhaps the most extraordinary book of 2016: Matthew Todd.

Matthew Todd is a sometimes stand-up comedian, and a playwright, whose play Blowing Whistles, described as one of the most popular gay plays of recent times, has had sellout seasons in the UK and Australia. A long-time editor of the UK gay magazine Attitude, and a person who has actively participated in, and even helped shape, contemporary LGBT culture, Matthew has recently published a stunning book under the title Straight Jacket: How to be Gay and Happy, in which he takes a critical look behind the shiny façade of this culture. Part memoir, part investigative journalism, and part polemic, the book asks if gay people are as happy as it seems, and as happy as they could be, and as happy as the LGBT culture depicts. If not – why not?

In an unflinching, honest conversation about crystal meth, bullying, and fascination with divas, we cover everything that straight people rarely know, and the LGBT people rarely talk about.

“Being gay is more complicated than we have thought. … We’ve presented it as if it’s just like: ‘some people have blue eyes, some people have brown eyes’. … I think to be LGBT is really different, actually, and that goes against the grain of what we’ve been thinking over the last 10-15 years, that it’s exactly the same… Even if you go into a gay bar, it’s very different from going into a straight bar: the way people behave, the way people look, sometimes, the way people dress. There’s nothing wrong with that. If we can’t think about that, investigate that, and ultimately accept that, how can we feel OK in ourselves?”
– Matthew Todd

THE RABBLE / QUEERING ICONOGRAPHY

“We try to pose ourselves impossible questions.”
– Emma Valente

In the episode four of season four, on queer performance, Jana and Beth are joined by the extraordinary Emma Valente of the performance collective The Rabble. Self-described as “an on-going conversation between its Artistic Directors Kate Davis and Emma Valente about aesthetic, space, gender, theatre and representation”, since 2006 The Rabble have created a small, but distinguished body of work. Their eleven performance pieces to date always put the female experience at its centre: sometimes through excavations of our iconographic unconscious, sometimes by shredding to bits canonical texts such as The Picture of Dorian Gray or Story of O.

Today we talk about feminism, iconography, and queering our visual heritage.

“Yes, I think [the canon] is male-dominated, without even getting into the content, and what gaze it sits through. The repetition of the male voice over and over again through history, and then legitimising it, is undoubted.”
– Emma Valente

MATTHEW DAY / ON DANCE AND PHYSICAL AFFECT

“Maybe doing nothing for a while is the best way an activist, an artist, or an academic can do anything.”
– Matthew Day

In our last episode of season three, on dance and value, Jana and Beth are back in the studio together, this time joined by co-host Audrey Schmidt, to talk with choreographer Matthew Day about affect, physical touch, and how we can be queer outside of queer theory.

Matthew is one of the most interesting among the younger generation of Australian choreographers, appearing seemingly out of nowhere at Next Wave 2010 with THOUSANDS, a work of fully formed brilliance which would later form part of his Trilogy series. He has recently completed a Masters of Choreography at the DAS Graduate School in Amsterdam, and is about to present his new work, ASSEMBLAGE #1, as part of his Housemate residency at Dancehouse. Whoever has seen the Trilogy series – described as “a suite of visceral eviscerating works” of searing minimalism – would find it hard to imagine that, as a teenager, Matthew was a ballroom dancing champion.

Audrey Schmidt is a writer, curator and editor of contemporary art publication Dissect Journal. Her continuing research focuses on contemporary art, gender, biopolitics and identity in late capitalism, and her writing about Australian queer art has underpinned this series.

“I feel like – forget theory for a minute – I feel like, hanging out with my queers, that’s where I learn. I didn’t learn this stuff from reading books. My queer education was on the street – it was in bars, it was organising, it was going to buy beer, and squatting places, and putting on parties, and fucking up, and getting lessons, you know? For me, it’s messy, it’s always been messy, it’s never been binary. And embrace that mess, you know?”
– Matthew Day

SARAH-JANE NORMAN / HOW DANCE OCCUPIES THE SELF

“We talk a lot about white guilt, and it is a real phenomenon. … That guilt is kind of like the wages of privilege. But I’m interested in reframing it through my work, not as guilt, but as shame. Which is a different thing. It is a profoundly different thing.”
– Sarah-Jane Norman

In the fourth episode of season three, we discuss the politically explosive work of Sarah Jane Norman, Aboriginal Australian, queer, non-binary, cross-disciplinary artist.

SJ’s whole body of work traverses performance, installation, sculpture, text, video, and sound; it is anchored in a multitude of physical disciplines, as well as the written language. SJ has presented their work at Venice International Performance Week, Spill Festival of Live Art, Fierce Festival, In Between Time, Edinburgh Festival, as well as Performance Space, Next Wave, the Australian Experimental Art Foundation, and Brisbane International Festival. A proud Indigenous Australian of both Wiradjuri and European heritage, SJ grew up in Sydney and regional NSW, but today divides their time between Australia and Berlin. Most recently, SJ Norman was one of the artists In Residence with Marina Abramovic in Sydney, and has presented their Unsettling Suite at Melbourne Festival, as part of Dancehouse’s Dance Territories program. Looking through their rich body of work, we discuss inheritance of history, continuing transgenerational trauma, and the value of dissecting the effects of the politics of colonization with the artist’s body today.

“It’s a huge amount of emotional labour that I have to do on a daily basis, not just as an artist, but as a person. But, you know, it’s the same kind of emotional labour that every person of colour or Indigenous person has to do, living in a white-dominated society. That is invisible labour. Part of my practice is to make it visible. And to make it clear, the imbalance that exists in the cultural expectations, that we’re the only ones who have to do it, and that we’re the only ones who have to carry and hold back history.”
– Sarah-Jane Norman

SISTERS GRIMM / THE POLITICAL DRAG, THE QUEER MAINSTREAM

“The weird thing is that LGBTIQ exists as a category of being, that’s designated by mainstream culture, when actually it’s unbelievably fragmented. And there’s so much intra-group conflict because everyone actually has really, really different aims, and different objectives, and their struggle doesn’t mirror that of the other groups at all.”
– Declan Greene

“You find these little things that help… ‘If I can channel Judy Garland, If I can channel the strength of this survivor’… For some reason, it usually is a female survivor, because you don’t want to identify with the straight men that are making your life hell, or that you don’t relate to. You relate to the women who are outsiders as well.”
– Ash Flanders

In the third episode of season four, we discuss what queer is and isn’t with playwright Declan Greene and performer Ash Flanders, who together make up Sisters Grimm, Melbourne-based queer performance collective par excellence. Sisters Grimm have risen through the ranks of Melbourne’s independent theatre with a series of extremely well received shows, very quickly progressing from backyard performances for friends to sold-out shows at Malthouse Theatre, Sydney Theatre Company, Melbourne Theatre Company, Sydney’s Griffin Theatre and Belvoir. By now, they have, together and separately, performed in all of Australia’s major theatre houses, and won an incredible number of awards. They have been described in The Age as ‘treading the line between the frivolous and the furiously political better than anyone in Australia right now’.

And it is their brand of frivolous, furiously political queer theatre that we talk about today. Drag, the way it speaks gender as a foreign language, and its undercurrent of dissecting, enabling, and owning, victimhood, as well as its central position in queer culture, is one of our great topics. Drag features prominently and aggressively in the Sisters Grimm oeuvre, which features every kind of cross-casting imaginable, most notably when appropriating Euro-Australian colonial narratives. The queer eye is particularly suited to dissecting national and colonial myths because it is an outsider eye, say Ash and Declan, giving numerous examples of the ways in which the queer individual grows up interested in aesthetics, in surfaces, in the performativity of identity, and the way in which oppressive power is exercised through cultural myths – and perhaps becomes particularly fluent in ways to dismantle that power.

“I think you develop critical facilities, as a queer person, because you learn to question the texts that you receive culturally… You know that those narratives don’t articulate your experience of being, so you have to figure out how to dismantle them, and to insert yourself into them in order to identify with them.”
– Declan Greene

BOJANA CVEJIĆ / THE DANCE MARKET & THE DANCE WORKER

“Artists lack political education.”
– Bojana Cvejić

In the third episode of season three, on the price and value in dance, we speak with Bojana Cvejić, performance theorist and dramaturg extraordinaire. With degrees in musicology and philosophy, Bojana works with performance-makers and choreographers ranging from Jan Ritsema to Xavier Le Roy, and has been teaching at prestigious institutions, from PARTS in Brussels to SNDO in Amsterdam. She has published a number of seminal books on contemporary performance, investigating it from the perspective of practice, labour, and social organization. And that’s what we talk about today.

“There was a moment around 2000, where single authorship was contested on artistic grounds. Then it was re-valorised, politically, economically, in relation to the value of the contribution of the dancers themselves. Now we’re in a moment where it seems that spectatorship, audience, reception decides – and programming relies on the judgement of the audience.”
– Bojana Cvejić

RACHEL PERKS / TO SPEAK AS A QUEER WOMAN

“Feminism is still, in most circles, seen as radical… What you’re really saying is, misogyny is equatable with normativity.”
– Rachel Perks

And the fourth season of Audio Stage continues with the question: queer? What is queer? What is not queer? How does queer exist in performance? How does queer performance exist in the world? What is its political power, and what its aesthetic urgency?

In the second episode of the season, Jana and Beth talk to Rachel Perks, Melbourne-based performance-maker who has, in only a few years, created a whole series of acclaimed shows that explore a woman’s experience of this world: ANGRY SEXX, We Get It (with Elbow Room), and now Ground Control.

As we speak – from the comfort of Jana’s bed – Rachel has only just closed Ground Control, a courageous new work developed for Next Wave 2016, and there is an exhaustion and exhilaration, a tiredness and hopefulness, as we talk about love, about being female, about cyborgs and myths, and about how sometimes love is a duty.

Trigger warning: This episode contains mention of sexual assault and our experiences with it.

“In Australia, we feel that emotions are a totally invalid place to speak from, invalid in general. They are also associated with femininity, feminised.”

ZVONIMIR DOBROVIC / WHAT IS AND ISN’T QUEER PERFORMANCE

“I remember the first time I went to a funding meeting, and the guy who was responsible said: “Can’t you get a boyfriend without a festival?”
– Zvonimir Dobrović

And it’s time for a new season of Audio Stage! The question we are asking is: queer? What is queer? What is not queer? How does queer exist in performance? How does queer performance exist in the world? What is its political power, and what its aesthetic urgency?

In the first episode of the season, Jana is talking to compatriot Zvonimir Dobrović, curator of Queer Festivals in Zagreb and New York. For the comfort of our listeners, the conversation is NOT in Croatian! We talk about his controversial curatorial policy, the power of norms, and how Queer Zagreb developed out of the anti-war activism in 90s Croatia.

When you have fear in the public sphere, you can do anything with people. You can manipulate, because it plays with the basic notions of safety. Conservatism always plays with fear, and it’s always fear of the other. And anything can be that ‘other’. … This education, constant education of acceptance and tolerance of the ‘other’, can’t be forgotten. You have to do it with every generation. It should be in schools from the earliest age.”
– Zvonimir Dobrović

DEBORAH JOWITT / THE VALUE OF DANCE CRITICISM

“I have not seen anything in the US as extreme as what I have seen [in Australia] in the past week.”
– Deborah Jowitt

In the second episode of season three, Angela, Jana, and Beth speak to Deborah Jowitt, legendary dance critic and the idol of everyone in the room. A long-term critical columnist for The Village Voice (1967-2011), Jowitt has created an immensely influential body of work that includes four books – the latest of which, on Jerome Robbins, was published by Simon and Schuster in 2004. Having lectured at Princeton, Barnard, and Tisch School of the Arts, and recipient of two Bessies, and a Guggenheim Fellowship, Deborah Jowitt is one of the seminal voices of and for the 20th century dance.

“People were concerned, there seemed to be disaster all round: enmity between countries, the possibility of bombs falling. I really thought: we’re going aerobic. We’re going to tone our bodies so we can run all the way from New York to Westchester county without getting hit.”
– Deborah Jowitt