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The Market is a Wind-Up Toy

"the bizarre is the true"

James Jackson from The Bloomshed reflects on making independent political theatre in Australia. Or maybe he should just open a window.

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Market Forces

Date: 6 May 2019

I’m writing this from the Old 505 Theatre in Newtown.

We’re plotting the show, start to finish. It’s not a long show. Not since we cut a scene (a few hours ago) and simplified the choreography so it moves as fast as light: a straight line that goes forever into the future.

A show is a manifesto, a collection of thoughts stitched to make strange new worlds. And while the lights are shifting up and down I’m caught up a bit: what the hell am I writing about?

The show contains the thoughts. Not only mine, either. So anything I say will be hewn from rough materials.

Then again, we built The Bloomshed (from a literal garage in my back yard, all those years ago) to make punk-protest attack theatre. At least that’s what we’re telling ourselves this week.

A theatre that doesn’t get bogged down in trite sentimental self-referentiality.

A theatre that tries to compete with Netflix and Marvel and a Ke$ha concert.

A theatre that collects bits and pieces from Australian politics, shoves them in a cannon and fires them into the crowd.

Suddenly there’s a knock at the door outside.

It’s strange because it’s so late at night and we’ve got the sound cues playing too softly to disturb the sleeping bourgeois around us.

Our lighting designer John Collopy goes to answer the door. But it swings open with too much force, knocking him unconscious against the wall. I’m speechless. My sound designer whispers something, but I don’t have time to think about it.

Immanuel Kant is standing in the doorway, his Objective Correlative clenched firmly in his hand. It’s a scene straight out of Freud’s unpublished dream diary.

Kant is furious. “This work,” he shouts, “is not objective enough! More structure! More clarity!”

Our sound designer who also doubles as dramaturg (everyone doubles as dramaturg when you have a zero dollar budget) tries to talk Kant down.

“It’s clear enough!” he cries. “You need ambiguity – the world needs ambiguity!”

He’s probably right. These are polarising times. Everyone has a strong opinion about nothing in particular. But Kant cannot be dismissed. He’s ripping up the set and smashing the lights. We try to stop him, but his Pure Reason is a force field against our unrefined assault.

A screech, a scream and a thump. Kant is on the floor, weeping.

We are saved. Delivered last minute from certain demise.

Marina Abramović stands over the emasculated Immanuel brandishing an original Spartan spear from 431 BCE. She beckons we follow her. And we do. We pick up our lighting designer, who is still unconscious, and follow.

She leads us through the fire escape into Eliza Street.

We sneak past the hoard of metaphysicians who had gathered outside to critique our reason.

Abramović is our saviour, our protector.

She leads us on until we need to stop to catch our breath. We are spent. She is not. Years of Yugoslavian resistance training have made it impossible to tire her.

“That will be thirty thousand.”

We look at her blankly.

“Dollars,” she says, annoyed that she had to clarify.

“But Marina, we don’t have that sort of money. After all,” we grin with shamed grimace learned by rote, “we work in theatre.”

Her face shifts.

“Fake!” – she booms – “Fake! Fake! You work in illusion! Smoke and mirrors! LIES! Real art uses real blood!”

Her spear glints hungry in the moonlight. Our lighting designer wakes with a start and throws his arms out. Whether by reflex or sheer frustration, Abramović flicks the spear and knocks him out again. Thwack.

I’m trying to reason with Abramović. She, like Plato, thinks that the theatre lies because it plays in illusion.

We are of the opposite camp.

We think art truth comes only when it uses fantasy. Like Dr. Seuss: the bizarre is the true. We want less verisimilitude (less ‘realism’) and more illusion. Less hyper-reality and more imagination. That’s what I try to tell her.

“Baudrillard wrote a book about it,” I say.

But she looks angry and I don’t want to bore her with the details. Everyone expects split second thinking. We don’t have time to sit and ponder. Maybe theatre, with its strict no-phone no-distraction rule, is the last bastion.

But Abramović is at the end of her tether. She kneels us down and draws out a scimitar, ready to ritualistically decapitate us.

No doubt this artwork is inspired by Saudi Arabia’s justice system.

“Fair is fair,” says our stage manager, although I get the impression she’s too tired to really know what’s going on. She’s slept a total of six hours in the past week. Art chips away at the body like nothing else.

I close my eyes, ready for the end.

But the blade never comes. I open my eyes. One of our performers is shaking me awake. “You got to get out,” she says. “One of the heaters is spewing out carbon monoxide.”

I want to go back to wonderland. But reality is always tugging at my sleeve.

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