a love letter to Melbourne (aka associate artist EOIs)

An example of having lots of brilliant ideas and writing them down.

VIMH is incredibly excited to announce that in 2021 we are going to be running our first associate artist program, inviting four artists to work with us across the year to develop their individual practice with a focus on fostering and strengthening connections within our community. 

2020 has presented intense and unique challenges to the arts. Individual artists, institutions, companies, venues and audiences have all been impacted by the social and economic challenges of the extended Melbourne lockdown, by restrictions on gathering and by the emotional tolls of fear, uncertainty and isolation. Our community has been badly bruised (but not broken) and it’s in the spirit of healing and reconnection that we have decided to run the VIMH associate artist program. We’re thinking of it as our love letter to Melbourne.

The program will take place across nine months between March and November. Each associate artist will be asked to bring a “project” to the program that they want to work on across the year.  This project could be a performance work they’re creating, an area of creative investigation they want to delve into, a specific skill-set they want to develop, or something else that we’ve not thought of that excites that artist. 

Across the course of the year the four artists will meet online together with VIMH on a monthly basis to collectively engage with these various projects, develop skills and approaches, provide feedback and support, and create a collective practice of creative critical thinking and ongoing reflection. We hope that this monthly coming together through shared practice helps to develop deep connections between the artists involved as well as provide a platform for each artist to extend their practice.

The associate artists will also have the chance to observe the work happening in VIMH’s rehearsal rooms. In 2021 will be presenting two new works, The View From Up Here by Fiona Spitzkowsky (directed by Julian Dibley-Hall), and let bleeding girls lie written and directed by Liv Satchell. The associates will be invited to be a part of the community of artists that are bringing these new performances to life and Liv and Jules will facilitate critical dialogues with the associates around what they’ve witnessed, how and why certain processes are being used, working methodologies, and care as a priority in the rehearsal room.

In 2021, VIMH will also be running a number of “in-person” workshops which we will offer to the community more broadly. The associates will be invited to attend these events as part of the program to further their individual and collective practice. These workshops will focus on creative community development, with topics including: producing a values charter; idea articulation and development; financing projects; and ecology mapping. We hope that by opening these workshops out to more members of our community, we can be a small part of creating energy, connection and space to dream where we as a community might go next.

As we sail into the last weeks of this storm-riddled 2020, VIMH would like to extend our love, respect, admiration and care to every one of you. We are deeply moved by the resilience that’s  been evident this year despite the individual challenges everyone has faced. We can’t wait to connect with you either through one of our 2021 programs, at a show, over the phone, over a coffee, in a rehearsal room. Take care of yourselves and each other.

With love,

Jules and Liv x

VIMH associate artist EOIs will be open until Tuesday 8 December, 11.59pm. Please follow the link here for the EOI form and shoot us an email at thevoiceinmyhands@gmail.com if you have any questions.

making art in a plague year

I’m writing a play called let bleeding girls lie. It’s about three strangers donating plasma in the same row of chairs when a terrorist attack is broadcast live through a blood donation centre in Melbourne. Two nail bombs have gone off in a stadium full of pre-teen girls. The internalised violence it triggers in these three women (played by Chanella Macri, Belinda McClory and Emily Tomlins) makes them seek safety in each other, foregoing small talk for grief-induced intimacy.

What’s this play about?

It’s about intimacy as resistance, about women overcoming strangeness to manage the threat(s) of public space. It’s also about grief and care, forming the final part of a trilogy I’ve been writing and directing since 2016. It was meant to receive its world premiere at La Mama in October of this year, but the world imploded. Instead, I’ve been working on the text with my team via Zoom, getting it ready for whenever we may be allowed back into shared space (and our art form).

This has made me think a lot about how COVID-19 is impacting our work. I’m not thinking about the slew of solo shows that are almost inevitable once/if we get out of this: “My Isolation”, “Lock Me Down”, “10 Things I Learned to Do Rather Than Sitting With My Own Thoughts”.

I’m also not thinking about the material impact – the existential crisis triggered for a craft defined by people sharing public space, when the sharing of public space is now tightly legislated and potentially lethal. 

I’m thinking about what we have become sensitive to in this new world order. There is a book that I loved as a kid that helps me here – Pamela Allen’s Mr Archimedes’ Bath. In it, Mr Archimedes’ bath always overflows, and he always has to clear up the mess, until the day he decides to find out where all the overflowing water is coming from.

Mr Archimedes’ Bath by Pamela Allen.

A short story short – he realises that the more his body sinks into the water, the more water is displaced. It’s a story about volume metrics, and I wonder if I can reverse engineer it to pinpoint these new sensitivities.

What if: COVID-19 is the body of Mr Archimedes, and we can measure it by what it’s displacing. What is the water in this analogy/tenuous thought experiment?

Cut back to the scenario for let bleeding girls lie, which occurred to my partner Julian and I at the Collins Street Blood Bank in Melbourne in May 2017. Jules was donating plasma during the first 90 minutes of the Manchester Arena Attack and we watched as hundreds of girls streamed out of the stadium, covered in shrapnel holes. I transcribed the captioned reportage from that morning, thinking of three women who may – in this scenario – bypass the conventions of small talk and reach out to each other in this moment. I wrote it in bits and pieces across the end of 2018 and throughout 2019, and we had our first creative development at Bluestone Church Arts Space in Footscray in November last year. All definitively pre-COVID.

Back when we were allowed to stand this close to each other – the let bleeding girls lie team during our Bluestone Church Arts Space development. Photo by Jack Dixon-Gunn.

Cut to May of this year and our first Zoom reading. I have not touched the script since Bluestone. November 2019 feels like a lifetime ago (instead of only 6 months). I gaze at the beloved faces of my collaborators and friends as they start to read aloud from St Kilda East, Carlton, and Pascoe Vale South. What immediately strikes me – two elements of this text have now become radically active. Previously, they were part of the work, but they were not What The Work Was About. Now, they ring out like fire alarms.  

  1. The risk of going outside

Lou:               Imagine being at your first concert and then this happens.

Juice:             Roll of the dice, isn’t it?

Lou:               I guess there’s always the risk of something like this happening if you go outside these days.

Grace:           God, is there? You’d never leave the house if you thought like that.

Lou:               (shrugs) Maybe you think it’s worth the risk.

Grace:           You can’t always think about it though /

Lou:               But it still impacts the choices you make. […]

Risk. In the “old” play, it was speaking to a) the arbitrariness of nature and our inability to control our environment, and if we are willing to succumb to or accept this; and b) the physical and emotional vulnerabilities of a minority body in public space.

But risk has a whole new meaning now. “You’d never leave the house if you thought like that” feels particularly bittersweet in Melbourne right now, when its citizens have sat or are sitting on a spectrum of lockdown that directly correlates your choice to leave the house with making yourself, your loved ones, or even complete strangers sick, perhaps terminally so.

2. The need to connect  

Think back to that first lockdown in March and the frenzy of social contact almost all of us engaged in (in this tenuous analogy I like to think of people as sharks, and a bucket of chum as the internet). Zoom calls with your family, friends, people you hadn’t spoken to since high school; offers to do groceries; offers to check in on frail neighbours or relatives; international concerts, yoga, forums and panels now streamed into our living rooms; our eyes falling out of our heads and our hearts from our sternums as our screens sucked us dry from our need to connect in some way as it became physically impossible to do so.

Chanella spoke to this in our conversation after this first read, particularly about how this played out in public space. The phenomena many of us experienced when getting our walk of the day, of counterbalancing the wide berth we gave each other in the street with the “active greeting”. There was something about needing to go so out of our usual way to physically avoid each other that we needed to remedy it by making sure we made eye contact and that we said “hello”. I know I greeted more strangers in that month than I perhaps ever had before (and it’s not uncommon for me to talk to strangers).

This is what now rings out about the opening of let bleeding girls lie. These three women, strangers to each other, spend the first 12 pages of a 61-page play (almost one fifth of the work) trying their hand at making conversation. The nail bomb hasn’t gone off yet, and they’re just three people passing an hour. But what is remarkable is the yearning in each of them for this connection. They each have their reasons for this – grief, loneliness, curiosity: a whole rainbow of desire. But that’s what pops now – the active effort of reaching out, the importance of trying to connect (however short of the mark it may fall).

So, the water here is to do with our bodies in relation to other bodies. It’s about our desire to share space and the dangers of now doing so. It’s about our fundamental need to be physically together -this is what’s displaced by the wretched body of COVID-19 getting into the bath.

To me, this is how the pandemic is impacting our art. It’s a new context – a 1-in-100-year one. It is framing new sensitivities, which are to do with foundations that are no longer there. They’ll come back, but we’re now aware that they are carpet rather than concrete.  

This online development of let bleeding girls lie has been supported by a City of Melbourne Quick Response Arts Grant. The show is scheduled for production in 2021.

mentorship program announced

VIMH is delighted to announce the first two participants of its mentorship program, Oz Malik and Kate Cameron. We can’t wait to spend the rest of the year with Oz and Kate – keep your eyes peeled here for news about their work in the program – and we’re very grateful to all of the fantastic candidates that applied for this opportunity.

Oz Malik

Oz Malik is an up and coming actor from Melbourne. The 24 year old University student has had a love for art and acting since he was young and has been involved in short films, theater shows and commercials. Oz is extremely passionate about creating positive change, accessibility and solidarity in the community for all. Oz volunteers as a youth mentor, public speaker and adviser. His goal in life is to combine these two passions of his. Oz is a lover of Rumi poetry, mindfulness, good music and cats.

“From this mentorship, I hope to build my knowledge and skills in acting. I want to further develop my craft and bring to life ideas I have. I also hope to incorporate what I learn into creating future programs and help facilitate art/acting classes for disadvantaged youth in my local community. I am looking forward  to collaborating and working with Liv Satchell and taking advantage of her knowledge and absorb as much information as possible, as well as other artists. Most importantly the mentorship will provide me support and space to follow my dreams. “

Kate Cameron

Kate Cameron is a producer, director, and playwright based in Melbourne. She is a graduate of UOW’s Bachelor of Performance, ATYP’s Fresh Ink program, and NIDA’s Directing Actors for the Stage. Her company, The Kate Cameron Company, provides a producing service for original works by emerging artists in Melbourne and Sydney and has seen successful runs at Melbourne and Sydney Fringes, and presented at La Mama Theatre, The Butterfly Club, and Siteworks. Kate’s theatrical credits include Bedtime Stories for Girls (2019)Love Bird (2018)Foreign Woman (2018),The Last Five Years (2017)The Tempest (2017)Spring Awakening (2016), and Equus (2014). Her film credits include Fragmentary (2019), Too Pretty To Be Witty (2017), and The Daughter (2014).

“VIMH have such a strong history of supporting artists and new work and I am so excited to be joining that community as a mentee. I am looking forward to taking risks and finding new sources of inspiration to inform my practice and voice as an artist. VIMH has such a generous insight into the next level of theatre-making and a wealth of knowledge in work development that will be invaluable as a source of guidance in the next steps of my practice. “

VIMH mentorship program – EOIs open

the voice in my hands (VIMH) is launching a new mentorship program in 2019. VIMH is an independent Melbourne theatre company that makes bold original new work and provides frames of development for the new writing and performance community. VIMH commits to risk, rigour and care in every project it undertakes.

VIMH has previously run new writing development program dinner and a show, which explored the generative process of coming together over a shared meal and supported over 15 writers across a two-year period. Artistic Director Liv Satchell also co-founded Small and Loud, which is a monthly performance program run out of The Channel at Arts Centre Melbourne.

VIMH is now turning to a more concentrated and sustained version of this development support by working closely with two artists over an 8-month period (May – December 2019). This will be a dynamic program, tailored to the needs of each artist. This means that we (this is Liv here – hello) will have a conversation about what you want to achieve by the end of the year, and then we will build a structure together that will (fingers crossed) get you there.

Who is this for?

It’s for artists who might be interested in:

  • Community facilitation – how to create and hold space
  • The terrain of text-based theatre-making
  • Refining a project idea
  • Dramaturgical support
  • A conversation series to specify your practice

What does VIMH want from you?

  • Creative development support (planned periods are June [TBC] and 21-26 October)
  • Assistance in researching community development initiatives (eg. The Generosity Bank)

How do I submit an EOI?

  • Tell me about yourself. Not a bio – what you care about and what you’re thinking about at the moment.
  • How would you describe your practice? (If your answer is ‘I don’t know’, tell me about a moment that you’ve been proud of when you were working creatively).
  • What do you want to get out of this 8-month mentorship?

These answers can be as long or short as you like, and in whatever medium you prefer. Please email them, and any questions you might have, to thevoiceinmyhands@gmail.com by Wednesday 1 May, 5.00pm. Pending applications received, there may be a low-impact interview process before final selections are made.

standing on the steps of private planes by jane e thompson

STANDING ON THE STEPS OF PRIVATE PLANES:

“A SHARPER CRITIQUE OF THE MALICE SUFFERED,”

An unsafe adaptation of Molière’s The Miser by Jane e Thompson  

I’ve never been interested in writing adaptations of plays before. I’ve vaguely tried adapting several novels (none of which I got close to finishing) in my 20s when I ran out of ideas mostly. I’ve performed in adaptations of other plays: Chekov, through the lens of Andy Warhol and Wedekind via Nirvana. I didn’t mind: it meant I got to play Nico and Courtney Love. I have nothing against adaptations per se; although I am a playwright of new work. I generally just don’t see the point of a straight adaptation—the reworking of an old work for today: do we get stuck in another time we should have ideally moved on from? What are the biases and tropes we may be perpetuating when it comes to gender, religion, class and race in these old works?

It was literally because we had to write an adaptation for an assessment in my Master of Writing for Performance that I started this adaptation; a whole two scenes. Sold to us as being ‘good for playwrights in order to better understand structure’—I was on board. I was there to learn; to better understand structure.

No one said it would be so fun. SO FUN! I’ve never enjoyed writing so much! Via Google translate from the original French, I adapted my whole two scenes. I handed in my two whole adapted scenes and thought: That was so fun, I must finish this one day! And sure enough, one day, when I needed a break from another thing I was writing that was very much not fun… my adaptation! Whatever happened to that..?

For the assessment, we were encouraged to choose a play from a playwright unlike ourselves and out of copyright. Hence, I chose Molière. And because I didn’t want to deal with verse, I had either The Hypochondriac, or The Miser—which I chose for my love of all themes greed and money. The first two scenes of the play feature Élise, the daughter of the miserly protagonist, with first her lover Valère, and then her brother Cléante. Simple. The problems arose in the third scene when we meet Harpagon, the miser, whilst berating his son’s steward, La Flèche. In my enthusiasm over adapting the first two scenes, I hadn’t properly considered the presence of the miser himself—up until that point, I hadn’t needed to. I also didn’t think he’d be a problem: he was the protagonist; I’d just have to make him work.

I reread the play. I considered the stage-time allocated to Harpagon in the original text. I recalled what I was drawn to when I originally set about adapting it. None of it had anything to do with Harpagon himself. He was a construction, an arrangement of morals and attitudes that reflected the society. His humour comes from his vulgarity in just how much he shows: too much for polite society, an open wound of tight-fisted flesh. His morals are not wrong—his behaviour is. He is an extremity, one that consumes the play, which is fine, if performing Molière’s The Miser.

I knew I’d need another title, because this wasn’t Molière’s The Miser. But there was something about the work that interested me nonetheless. And as an exercise, there were elements in the script and structure I was keen to use. In the original play, I was struck by how the women and subordinates are treated as trivial, punching down you might say. While we laugh at Harpagon, his actions harm other people much more than himself. He remains almost entirely ignorant to his issues with money, and doesn’t really learn anything at the end—he doesn’t have to, as is his privilege. It is a comedy-of-manners which takes aim at a particular class of society, which form the audience so that they may laugh at themselves and so nothing really changes or is challenged at the end. This is the form I wanted to subvert. Reliant on the wit of the dialogue, the language is very important to me: what do these words really mean? Who controls the language? Why do we laugh? Is this enough anymore?

In my new text, perhaps most noticeably, the main character in this play, Harpagon, is not present, and only exists off stage. It is also to highlight the limitations of too-direct translation: the problematic nature of translating a 350 year old text for today’s audiences. We seem to do a lot of Molière in Australia. In Hilary Bell’s recent adaptation of The Hypochondriac at Darlinghurst, some critics asked what makes a play worthy of adaptation, and how we, as an audience, can so easily chuckle over a father pushing his daughter into an arranged marriage (alternatively, a convent), without a more radical approach to the new text:

The Hypochondriac … is a portrait of an abusive man who humiliates his maid and locks up his daughter. And lives happily ever after. To be fair, The Hypochondriac is an arthritic farce almost 350 years old. But this all-too-faithful adaptation from Hilary Bell has nothing much more to say than Molière of French society way back when. Arguably less. … They’ve dodged the radical surgery required of Molière to really make a point, merely suturing together a blunt translation.” –Jason Whittaker, Daily Review

“A deeper question comes into view: what makes a work worthy of adaptation? … The bigger issue is the play’s gender and sexual politics. Molière’s backward men and trapped women don’t translate easily today, at least not without a sharper critique of the malice suffered by Angelique and Toinette and even Bèline. It’s hard to gel a plotline of a father sacrificing his daughter to an arranged marriage, or else sending her to a convent, with a contemporary setting and it’s been quite some time since a Sydney stage has hosted such a brazenly wicked stepmother character as Bèline. The ‘gold-digger’ archetype is recycled with little renovation.” –Lauren Carroll Harris, Audrey Journal

Critic Diana Simmonds goes further and questions whether there’s any steam left in producing Molière on contemporary Australian stages after experiencing The Misanthrope:

“In the end, however, despite witty direction by Lee Lewis and Justin Fleming’s cleverly wrought verse, there is something anachronistic about the basic premise of the play(s) that will not quite transfer to 2018. The seam of comedy gold that was Molière-goes-Mod Oz is now exhausted, no matter how much glister is applied.” –Diana Simmonds, Stage Noise

With Bell Shakespeare presenting The Miser in 2019 with John Bell in the lead, Molière is not yet exhausted in this country. And sure, that doesn’t mean I need to contribute to the surplus versions of plays by this 396 year-old playwright. I’ve persisted with it to get to the crux of the text, condense it to find what’s at its heart. If you listen to the words as they are, if you read them without the histrionics of the characters, without judgement, then the discrimination is not funny. Some of the words, as they are, are quite chilling; the power-imbalance, overwhelming. I am struck by aspects of the script that persist now in our age, but not the tone, nor some of the intricacies of the plot.

Greed, materialism, inherited wealth and privilege.

In the original, Harpagon’s actions force the hand of others because he’s a miser. Characters react to his greed and hogging of cash. To waste this opportunity in our current, decadent state of late-capitalism is to make light of it—like the original does. To remove Harpagon physically, but maintain his attitudes and morality, he is no longer the comedic scapegoat that absolves us.   

In this work I’ve kept 6 of the characters, whose relationships to one another remain the same or have close ties to the original text. I’ve changed their names, though they start with the same letter as their original counterpart. Some plot points remain the same as the original, and some that were quashed in Molière’s text come to fruition in mine: allowing the consequences to play out and differ from the original. Again, so that we cannot be so easily absolved as an audience. For example, in the original, the two patriarchs from the two families want to marry each other’s daughter. Written 350 years ago, it’s completely normalised in the script. Anselme’s lip-service to consent is that he doesn’t want to marry anyone ‘by force’, but he does not consider the notion of an arranged marriage to a woman young enough to be his daughter a problem per se.

Which is to get to the core of it: in a comedy-of-manners nothing can be too nasty or critical. The problematic elements of those wielding the power are softened by their incompetence, bumbling nature or lack of self-awareness. Because comedy. Really, we’re chuckling at tyrants, abusers; normalising them, excusing them and their behaviour. Sound familiar?

If Harpagon is married to Mariane in my version, how does he favour money over her? (As he does in the original—it’s what makes it ‘funny’ in the original—that at his age, he could marry this young beautiful woman, and he’s still penny-pinching where he can, demanding dowry even though she is poor…) Is it the way he treats her? (But in my version he’s not onstage…) Is his view of her transferred through his son’s behaviour towards her? Cléante who is supposedly in love with Mariane? Does Cléante’s jealousy take over? He allows himself to embody his father’s attitudes towards her because she is no longer his. He loses respect for her; his love for her was conditional.

What are the actions and what do they mean? If actions are foiled, why? And what if they instead come to fruition? How does this change the tone? Is it really funny anymore? If the old men do marry the women young enough to be their daughters, what does it mean? How does it play out? Do we still laugh? What is changed? What does it mean to be a refugee today? And lose your family in a shipwreck? Where are you from? What is at stake? Who is deterring you from entering a country? Why do you have to change your identity? If you’re an heir to a vast fortune but have been cut off, how do you make money to continue the facade, maintain your lifestyle? How do you treat women? People of colour? Do you still live in the family home and all its opulence? Who do you employ? What do they do for you? How do you treat your employees? What do you pay them? What do they think of you? What is their loyalty? What do you expect their loyalty to you is? What is your loyalty to your employer in the marketplace? How can you get ahead?    

Standing on the Steps of Private Planes is an adaptation of Molière’s The Miser. It is a deviation, a departure of the original text. It is not a comedy-of-manners—though there is humour in it. And it became very, very un-fun to write. SO UN-FUN.

I believe it’s a version of the original text that exists in the original text if you look hard enough.