Review: Genderification (The Leftovers Collective)

Venue: Surry Hills Library (Surry Hills NSW), Sep 27, 2018
Director: Curly Fries
Cast: Mara Aplin, Andrew Guy, Dr. Jessica Kean, Sophie Kelly, Kipp Lee, Ladonna Rama, Rosie, 2 Boys in Saris

Theatre review
An ancient text from the Jacobean era is presented seven times, in vastly different ways, with Dr. Jessica Kean appearing like a master of ceremonies in between to facilitate discussions around the gender that we had observed each time. Although not always obvious, the performers in separate instalments have something individual to say about identity, and we are encouraged to consider the phenomenon of gender as a kind of social exchange, involving not only interpretation but also intent. Genderification is an exercise in respect, of understanding the boundaries between what we think to be female and male, and the infinite ways that each person might conceive of themself in those gendered terms.

These are sophisticated ideas, embodied by all the actors who bring fascinating dimensions to the overarching discussion. Performer Sophie Kelly’s bold approach makes a sensational statement about femininity, within oscillating contexts of time and class, to confront our petty bourgeois attitudes. Ladonna Rama extends reflections to something futuristic, almost post-human in their rendering of a theme that is often too binary in our estimations. Not everything is dealt with a satisfactory level of rigour in Genderification, but we certainly do encounter important questions that seek to broaden our minds, and expand our hearts.

It might be easy to imagine a world without gender, and hold dear those ideals, but to navigate real life, we require daily strategies, both conscious and unconscious. We have to deal with prejudice, with how others react to the self, based on shorthand information that can only ever be cosmetic and shallow. Sexism wants us to attribute to people, qualities that are ultimately unjust and erroneous; strong or weak, good or bad, respectable or shameful, these presumptions that force people into categories that will enable an oppression that is ultimately of benefit to no one. To debunk gender, is to help us be rid of that sexism, but in the meantime, we can all be wiser, and kinder, in how we treat each gendered subject.

5 Questions with Mara Aplin and Andrew Guy

Mara Aplin

Andrew Guy: When did you first realise that you weren’t just a gender, what was happening during this experience?
Mara Aplin: I think at around age 16, when I first started coming to terms with my sexuality I found myself really drawn to androgynous people. This kind of forced me to assess my own gender expression: I think androgynous people are beautiful, but I don’t express myself as such. I began to question why I feel so comfortable with femininity, and began to experiment with expression etc. I shaved my head last year which made me realise that expressing my femininity is important to me, but I’ve come to realise that my own beauty and appeal does not depend on typical feminine expression. My sexuality also has allowed me to explore the irrelevance of gender, I try not to put any label on my sexuality because even bisexual seems limiting and like I owe a kind of consistency in my relationships that I just can’t guarantee. I have come to realise that, when it comes to choosing partners, gender is as relevant as hair or eye colour, I notice it but it’s not make or break, I can appreciate it (in whatever way it’s expressed) but it doesn’t really play a part in how I feel about people. Even in the LGBT+ Community, I think there’s a lot of stigma surrounding bi/pansexuality because we are still so stuck on gender, I’ve had queer women tell me they wouldn’t date me just because of my interest in men or male presenting people, like there’s some kind of stain on me because I’m not a “pure” lesbian. This strange sense of reverence that surrounds gender pervades all corners of society, which I find so strange and limiting.

What’s your favourite colour combination on yourself?
I just love wearing colour. Red, yellow and green are my favourites to wear but often not together. I often try to combine loads of colours if I can, but I like going for warm tones together and cool tones together. Red and orange or pink, orange and yellow are popular choices, but I never really know until I put it all together. I love bold patterns and colours in general, whatever I can get my hands on.

Describe a moment you took your power back while working in the industry?
I just don’t work with people who I don’t feel respect me and my work, particularly if that work is unpaid. I left a theatre company I was involved in because the director was asking us to workshop a script he’d written and would use our ideas and then claim them as his own when we did showings for feedback. He was also pretty sleazy and just didn’t know how to work with women, I had to stand up for myself and other women in the company a lot and it just got to a point where I couldn’t justify doing free work for someone who didn’t respect me in any way. I think maintaining your own power in this industry is not letting yourself be used. My work is valuable and it means something, so I deserve respect and credit where its due.

Does gender have a place in art?
I think it does because we’re so obsessed with it as a society. Gender plays a role in power, relationships and identity in present society, and art is meant to reflect society, but also to criticise it. I think art about gender makes us think about gender and whether it really means anything.

What is your definition of gender?
This one is hard. I think if you find comfort in a gender identity, that’s a great thing, but if you don’t that’s also fine. I think we’re so obsessed with putting names on everything, which can be so harmful because so many things cant be put in a box or behind a label. I think gender is just a scale of masculinity and femininity and how these are expressed, regardless of physical sex. I think we’re taught to assign femininity to female biological sex, and masculinity to male biological sex, but it doesn’t have to be that way. elements of both these traits are useful in understanding your own identity.

Andrew Guy

Mara Aplin: How has your own expression of gender benefited you? How has it hindered you?
Andre Guy: I’m sorry I can’t answer this question as gender has never been a forthright expression I have taken control of, it’s always in my experience just happened or been placed upon me.

Do you think gender plays some kind of positive role in society or should it be completely eradicated?
Gender plays a positive role in society I think if those playing the role they’ve been given (or chosen) are happy with what that role entails intrinsically. In short this rarely happens as people use the gender construct for all sorts of special “access exclusive area” games which excludes, oppresses, abuses and ultimately creates and reinforces human disconnection.

Eradicating it would be interesting to see, my greatest fear is that we’d turn into pleasant-ville sameness characters on a spinning rock in space, fear of the exposure of stepping into an expression that’s been soaked into our sense of self since the day we became human. People also like a box to fit into if they’re insecure in who else they know themselves to be (who am I if I’m not my gender?), so it has a place still, in short “man up everyone, be brave” so we can be done with this as a box on a form!

What are your thoughts on the use of labels in terms or gender, sexuality etc?
I think it serves individuals questioning their identity and how they feel the best feel accepted in society. Some like to be placed into their box. I personally try to exist each day with as little interactions with the terms as possible. Though saying that, I chose to medically transition for the social acceptance and the affirmation of being seen and treated as male by others. I’ve fallen victim to the social conditioning of others in society because my instincts tell me that’s what’s going to make you feel best. Any sway from that is futile to my existence, so actually maybe the terms are the most important thing in keeping me on this planet (biggest note of hypocrisy yet! 🙂 Thank you very much X.

Does gender have a place in art?
Whether I think it has a place or not, it’s palpable and used as part of the skeleton of a lot of work everywhere, find me a script or a piece of work without the use of pronouns and names where we don’t know who or what the genders are …

What is your definition of gender?
I don’t know any more, from travelling along a spectrum from one end to another (as the construct suggests and exists as), I forget its there and I no longer know how to live with in it as many do. Take me away into an oblivion where I can give you only feminine or masculine energy away from any form, as this bunch of molecules understands.

Mara Aplin and Andrew Guy are appearing in Genderification, by The Leftovers Collective.
Dates: 27 September, 2018
Venue: Surry Hills Library

5 Questions with Lou Pollard and Tim Hansen

Lou Pollard

Tim Hansen: What was your first Shakespearean role on stage?
Lou Pollard: Portia in The Merchant Of Venice when I was a teenager questioning my entire life. My mum’s family were very religious and I spent years going to Sunday school at my grandparent’s church. So I have a lot of hymns and prayers in my head that don’t mean much to me! This play was the first time I actually understood the biblical concept of God teaching man to show mercy to fellow human beings. “Though justice be thy plea, consider this, That, in the course of justice, none of us should see salvation: we do pray for mercy; And that same prayer doth teach us all to render the deeds of mercy.”

Who is your favourite Shakespearean villain?
I do love Lady Macbeth, but is she a villain, or just a woman with the strength to stand by what she believes, and do what the men around her do not have the courage to carry out? She reminds me of British PM Margaret Thatcher, a woman with a hard heart and strong convictions surrounded by powerful men. Or maybe she was just a complete cow with no empathy whatsoever. Humans are
very complicated beings, Shakespeare understood this so well. “Come, you spirits / That tend on mortal thoughts, unsex me here, / And fill me from the crown to the toe top-full / Of direst cruelty. Make thick my blood. / Stop up th’ access and passage to remorse

How are you preparing for the show?
I’m feeling very white bread, so I’m listening to rap tracks. My youngest daughter loves Nicki Minaj so I’ve had her on repeat at home. I’ve also been reading monologues and sonnets, and I read Bill Bryson’s book Shakespeare: The World As Stage which is a fascinating look at the history of the time and where Shakespeare was living when he wrote most of his work.

What monologue are you prepping, and why did you choose it?
I’ve picked my favourite sonnet because I want to play with the rhythm of it. I’ve been a big Eminem fan for a long time and I’m thrilled I’ve got the opportunity to maybe bring my humour and
sense of play to a ‘serious’ work. Some acting friends who are well-versed in Shakespeare feel that the sonnet I’ve chosen is a bit of a downer, but I think it ends on a really positive note. I first learnt the sonnet 25 years ago and as I age it becomes more of a truth in my life than ever before.

Why do you think Shakespeare still resonates with audiences after all these years?
Shakespeare was so smart and funny and understood that relationships are tricky. His writing conveys that he understood the complexity of humans and the tangled, messy lives we lead. His
sense of humour was so sharp and his observations of the frailties of human life were so acute, that we still understand when he says, “to be or not to be, that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer. The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles. And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep– No more–and by a sleep to say we end. The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to.” That’s why I love working with the Leftovers. Their clever shows provoke an audience to question how we as a society deal with gender roles, crime, racism & intolerance; the same issues that Shakespeare was writing about.

Tim Hansen

Lou Pollard: When did you fall in love with Shakespeare?
Tim Hansen: I was first meaningfully exposed to Shakespeare in high school and it wasn’t exactly love at first sight. Like a lot of high school students I could not understand why we had to trawl through this archaic language and try to understand it and write essays on it and pick apart conceits and sonnets and metaphors. It wasn’t until I was in year 9 and my school participated in the Shakespeare competition (is that still a thing? I went to school last century) that I really began to “get” Shakespeare. I grew up in a country town and there were really limited opportunities to get up on stage and perform, so when my English teacher said there was a competition that involved being on stage and performing I was totally in – I would have been happy reciting the ingredients on a box of clothes detergent as long as there was an audience. My group performed Act 3 Scene V from Romeo And Juliet, where Capulet rages at Juliet because she won’t marry Paris. I was Capulet. I remember walking around and around my backyard with my script in hand reciting the lines to myself in order to learn them, and I remember loving it because the language had this rhythm to it that just kind of synced with my steps and sunk into my brain like a hot ball bearing into butter. To this day I can still remember my opening lines. So studying it in English sucked all the fun out of it, but once I got up on stage to perform it, I got it. Now, I read Shakespeare for my own personal pleasure. It’s calming and beautiful. I love it.

Why did you want to work with the Leftovers Collective?
I’m a weird performer. I have a theatre degree but have kind of patchy actor training. My main vocation is actually music composition, and music is where I spend most of my creative
headspace. Music is my job, whilst theatre is my passion, and though I love my job I miss getting up on stage. Plus although I love conventional director/actor/script/audience set ups, I’m very attracted to experimental collaborative processes where no one’s really sure what’s going to happen. And then, suddenly, there’s a collective that takes you as you are, that doesn’t ask for you to strictly mould yourself around the requirements of one person’s vision but instead says “what are all the things you can do? Let’s find a way to make theatre together”. That kind of thing is totally my cup of tea.

What’s your favourite Shakespearean insult?
For sheer overall relentlessness you can’t go past the interactions between Kate and Petruchio in The Taming Of The Shrew – I think it was a production of that play by Bell Shakespeare way back in like 2000/2001 I saw that was the first time I laughed out loud from beginning to end at a Shakespearean play. But I think my favourite would have to be from Troilus And Cressida: “Thou hast no more brain than I have in my elbows”. Brutal.

Are you a trained dancer? Will you be dressed in dance gear for the show?
Um I am most certainly not a trained dancer. I move like a rusty clothes line blowing in a gale. So yes I will absolutely be dressed like a tragic reject from Wham!

Where would you most like to perform this show?
I have this vision of us all getting together in some deserted car park and having an 80’s style dance-off with boom boxes and breakdancing like at the beginning of Michael Jackson’s Bad video clip. Except please don’t ask me to breakdance. I’ll just break.

Lou Pollard and Tim Hansen are appearing in Shakespeakre Dance Party, with The Leftovers Collective.
Dates: 11 March, 2018
Venue: Hustle & Flow Bar, Redfern

Review: Don’t Go To This Show (The Leftovers Collective)

Venue: Yellow Umbrella (Potts Point NSW), Nov 25 – 26, 2017
Devisors/Performers: Veronica Alonzo, ​Tom Beynon, Danica Burch, Lauren Clair, Veronica Clipsham, Sabrina D’Angelo, Peter Defreytas, Lakshmi Fernandez, Curly Fries, Claire Giuffre, Tim Kemp, Lana Kershaw, ​Michelle McCowage, Alexander McIntyre, Charlotte Rose Pietsch, Angel Rodriguez, Gemma Scoble, Denis Tarrant, Brendon Ussher, Nick Woods

Theatre review
The show takes the form of an art gallery exhibition. Everything happens in a glamorous white room, with each piece (or scene) assigned its own station. Western art authorities are always ripe for mockery; it is easy to disrupt the way they are determined to take themselves so seriously. The concept of bad language can be thought of similarly. The rationale behind these taboos, so strictly enshrined, are patently flimsy. It takes the collusion of deluded masses to adhere to these behavioural codes, and in Don’t Go To This Show, we take a look at swearing and consider the arbitrary nature of these social contracts.

There are at least 8 “artworks” that constitute the event. We walk from one to another, usually spending cursory time with each. It is a gleeful exercise, playful and absurd in their various manifestations in accordance with the theme. The ideas are simple, as are performances, but the production is well executed, with an irrefutable ability to amuse and fascinate. Although not entirely thought-provoking, the experience is nonetheless delightful, with Claire Giuffre, Lana Kershaw and Gemma Scoble particularly memorable as comedic elements that add a sense of exuberance.

The very purpose of language necessitates concurrence. In that process of communication, we want words to affect, and by the same token we want also to be able to control, how we are to receive them. When words are issued, intention floats in the ether, and can transform at the point of interpretation. We cannot always be sure if and when offence is the objective, and it is not always the objective that dictates offence. Our communities need to be kinder, that is for certain, but it must be incumbent on every individual, not just the polite, to improve how we can live together.

5 Questions with Lana Kershaw and Gemma Scoble

Lana Kershaw

Gemma Scoble: What is freedom?
Lana Kershaw: Freedom comes in degrees, and I think it’s often invisible to those who have it. In Egypt, my father’s homeland, repressive laws impact on freedoms relating to religion, sexual preference, and gender-based power. As a result of this, a number of our extended family came to Australia as refugees in the early 2000’s. Grateful for the freedom to make choices about how they lived their lives without fear of imprisonment or physical harm, there was still a sense of disempowerment that came with having to leave their home. Having freedom is not always exactly the same as having power. And when freedom is reduced to language, it can become a passively oppressive force, allowing us to turn a blind eye to discrimination present in our own society. When ‘freedom’ becomes a defence for hate speech, it becomes actively oppressive. So I think it’s a loaded term.

What space would you like to claim as an artist?
I would like to occupy the gaps and silences in our social narratives, to glory in the spaces we avoid, gloss over, or pretend not to see. I’d like the ideas I explore through my art to resonate, to disrupt the comfortable spaces. Ultimately, I think art is such a paradox; simultaneously transient and immortal. In a temporal sense, it’s such a gift to be able to claim a finite space of time with those who come to share in a performance. But there’s always the hope that the experience of that performance will be retained, relived, reconstructed and remembered. That the expansive realm of the subconscious will take the work and find a space to make sense of it, and reflect on its purpose and relevance. So I guess I want to climb inside you and jump around a little bit.

Have you worked with the Leftovers Collective before?
Yes. We collaborated together on Encounter My Heart. I love that the collective trust in the artistry of their performers, and that there’s no fear in raising questions we don’t have the answers to. The Leftovers celebrate such a wide diversity of experiences, both in relation to the artists and the audience, and it’s exciting to be working together again.

Do you believe in the power of words, or is it just sounds at the end of the day?
The only language my parents shared was English, and so that ended up being the language I speak. When I was a kid, I used to sit on my dad’s lap with my ear against his chest. I’d listen to him speaking
Arabic with his friends, and it never occurred to me that he was saying words. I listened to it as a
musical arrangement that echoed in his chest and often lulled me to sleep. I still find immense
comfort in listening to my family conversing in Arabic, though I don’t understand what they’re
saying. Words need context to have meaning, and a shared one at that. Give them context, and they
can tear holes in your flesh.

If you could add a word to any language what would it be and what would it mean?
Etialiseh: it would be a universal word with a flexible meaning, used to express feelings not able to
be adequately expressed by language.

Gemma Scoble

Lana Kershaw: How did you become involved with The Leftovers Collective?
Gemma Scoble: I auditioned for the Leftovers Collective this year when they held general auditions. It was the most open, accessible and freeing audition I’ve had. I left feeling genuinely inspired and empowered by my own creativity. I jumped when they asked if I wanted to be a part of Don’t Go To This Show. I also know Curly from working with ATYP and quite simply have the highest opinion of him as
director and a human.

What weren’t you allowed to do as a kid that would have changed your world?
My mum wasn’t really strict on us a kids so I was allowed to do most things – with the exception of
The Simpsons – I remember that being turned off a lot, not because of the swearing or content but because it was “American” and not made in Australia (turns out Mum was an early advocate of
homegrown content – she also bought us Australian Monopoly which always confuses me now
when I play other editions. I just know the dark blue is what you want.) I’d say the thing that would’ve really changed my world as a kid in a big way would’ve been moving to a bigger city. I’m from Townsville which is a great place to grow up for many reasons, but the arts industry is definitely larger in Brisbane or Sydney. I had dreams of running away as a kid to “make it in the big smoke”. So probably that.

Clean or dirty, which is better?
Dirty. I used to be a clean freak but now I think a little bit of chaos and imperfection is useful and
it’s fun.

There’s a saying that “He who controls language controls the world”. What are your thoughts?
I’m reluctant to bring up Trump any more than is necessary, but I do think we’ve recently seen an
example of how powerful language and narrative can be. And it doesn’t even need to be true.

Without using the words “and, the, but, I, a” can you describe your vision for the future?
Hearts full of empathy + compassion. Fear combated with love.

Catch Lana Kershaw and Gemma Scoble in Don’t Go To This Show.
Dates: 25 – 26 Nov, 2017
Venue: Yellow Umbrella, Potts Point

5 Questions with Curly Fries and Tim Kemp

Curly Fries

Tim Kemp: Did you ever imagine you’d start your own company?
Curly Fries: Oh god that’s an interesting question. When I was younger I always fantasized about having a Shakespeare company that was contemporary. But then, the more I got into acting, and acting school, it was seen that Shakespeare or classic verse was ‘daggy’ or ‘not that exciting’. So, I steered away from it even though I really liked it. Looking back now there was a real push at acting school (or maybe actually something that the students put on themselves) that we would be working in the popular culture and Shakespeare wasn’t part of that. It was only last year when I got really pissed off with the situation that I
decided to use Shakespeare as a way of making some sort of connection and use political theatre. ‘The leftovers’ was born. I can’t imagine my life without it and our team behind it.

If you had an infinite budget what would change about the way you make work?
Definitely I’d want to pay my actors triple the award rate because what they give me and the collective, apart from their time and their work, what they give me is their artistry which has no price. I’ve always been totally blown away by the sheer magnitude and interpretation of the work. I would hope to one day be able to give the artists that. I would probably also have a fancier set. Haha! I don’t know maybe not…actually, maybe not. Actually, definitely not. AND – it will always be free to the public.

How many business calls have you taken dressed as a clown doctor?
… erm …Probably each round I’m a clown doctor, and they can range from 1-3 a week. So maybe about 1 call per shift, 5 texts and a couple of emails. The funny thing is having that clown nose on me during those calls gives me a different way of treating the business. It gives me a different slant on it. It reminds me of the bigger picture. The hospital is really great for that. Every time I come out of the hospital after entertaining the patients (children) I’m just so grateful that I have what I have.

Could a Leftovers’ experiment ever be a failure in your eyes, if so, how?
Absolutely. Part of our manifesto is that our experiment can fail. And each experiment sometimes turns a certain way. It can go from looking at the body to ownership of art in one experiment which was a total surprise for us. It can go from a piece about language becoming a piece about guilt of Australian culture, again a total surprise. It can go from a Jacobean ‘who-dunnit’ to questioning the need for gender binary identification. So, each work experiment morphs into something. I used to be scared of failure and now I totally embrace it because it means that we, the artists and the audience, all learnt something together. So, you could say that potentially every experiment thus far has been an absolute failure – and success.

Encounter My Heart was inspired by an execution. How do you separate your own opinions from your experiments to ask unbiased questions?
You need a really pretty fucking good team behind you. You need people that are not afraid of taking your idea, ripping it up and throwing it on the floor in front of your feet. I have a handful of exquisite artists that I trust implicitly with my artistic life. Anytime I have an idea, especially with this last one, Encounter My Heart, I take it to them and I ask them for the honest authentic and visceral response. It is the team behind the yellow ‘X’ that does make the work fair, unbiased and experiential. It is them. Wholly it is them.

Tim Kemp

Curly Fries: We were at dinner once and I said, “take a seat…” You said, “I am.” What’s it like being so tall?
Tim Kemp: I thought that was a joke. I can’t believe that’s one of your 5 questions you absolutely gorgeous fool of a man. At 6ft 1 I’m hardly especially tall? You’re the kind of person that would waste a Genie in a Bottle. To try to take it seriously, one thing that I had to learn at ACA was that you can be big and have good intentions. People will read that and not fear you. I came to Sydney with a lot of baggage from Newcastle as a footballer – that I’d be identified as a thug. It was a kind of self-fulling prophecy because I was so physically guarded it read as stand-offish? To summarise – I think my biggest journey at acting school was learning to be comfortable in my own body.

Why do you work for The Leftovers Collective?
I mean there’s a whole a series of reasons why I do work for the leftovers collective. I think my major motivator is your respect for individual artistry. If I help you make a promotional video, or a document or devise with you on a show, it’s a true collaboration and the product is something I’m proud of. I feel agency and I’m actually more proud of how much we throw away in our artmaking. The objective of the works are always to ask a question and we make sure that we do that.

Encounter My Heart deals with confessions, do you have something small you’d like to

I’m a fiddler. Anytime I’m thinking deeply my hands are busy. I think in all honesty it was a very lame attempt to be cool at 16. Showing off to the ladies my speed records for 3×3 and 4×4 cubes. It is still a great icebreaker though.

Does the strong nature of our work concern you?
In a word no. To take Adonis Procedure for example – our provocations were Greek ideals of beauty and how we still subscribe so much worth to those physical ideals. Yet the night was a carnival of fake cash and glamour and laughter. It wasn’t until AFTER the experiment was over that we talked about the questions the work brought up. People were allowed to experience the work without judgement. I think that’s the key. I think we’re interested in witnessing a true response to our works – ugly, beautiful or indifferent. We’re not at all interested in making a judgement or a statement on those responses.

What’s your take on the conviction, trial and execution of Myu and Andrew?
I think in true “Leftovers’ fashion – I’m unsure. I don’t think there is a simple answer. It is a question of humanity and mercy. Also I understand the fear that leads a community to be uncompromising. It’s a search for security. I think there’s nothing to be gained by vilifying either side. I think the tragedy is sometimes there’s no right answer to a moral dilemma.

Catch Curly Fries and Tim Kemp in Encounter My Heart.
Dates: 21 – 29 Apr, 2017
Venue: The Two Wolves, Broadway

Review: Invasia (The Leftovers Collective)

leftoversVenue: Hustle & Flow Bar (Redfern NSW), Jan 26, 2017
Devisors/Performers: Veronica Alonzo, Nisrine Amine, Alison Bennett, Lauren Clair, Darryl Cooper, Curly Fries, Fiona Jopp, Tim Kemp, Lorna Munro, Lap Nguyen, Paul Ryan, Wendy Strehlow, William Suen

Theatre review
Australia Day remains a celebration for some, but for many others, it is an occasion to remember the atrocities that originated in 1788, and continue to happen to our Aboriginal peoples on a daily basis. There is no question that a significant proportion of the population understands the remorse that should feature on the day, although very few are able to conceive of any proper action that would extend beyond words of sorrow and guilt. We run the risk of turning the occasion into an opportunity for a kind of emotional absolution, that is ultimately inconsequential.

Invasia imagines an absurd scenario, whereby a new ruler is democratically elected to take over the Australian government, with dictatorial powers that enable them to determine a whole new way of life. Five individuals take to the stage, reciting passionate diatribes, in various non-English languages. We are mostly confounded, restricted by our monolingualism, unable to understand anything. Listening takes on a different meaning, as we move away from the activity of deciphering words, to becoming open to the other signifiers in communication. We are forced to connect on other levels, heart to heart perhaps, in trying to reach something concrete, and mutual.

It is easy to talk about the dismantling of failing systems through radical ideas, but we never go through with them. We take small steps instead, and are frustrated that change is invisible. If the problem is identified as being a white patriarchal thing, we want to conceive of a solution that simply replaces an ethnicity for another, a gender for another, except existing power structures will easily determine that the staus quo remains. The art of Invasia provides no answer to our Australia Day woes, but it is a strong articulation of the many questions, relevant and pertinent, even if we comprehend none of its words.

5 Questions with Nisrine Amine and Wendy Strehlow

Nisrine Amine

Nisrine Amine

Wendy Strehlow: What inspired you to become a performer?
Nisrine Amine: Had it not been for my high school years at Our Lady of Mercy College Parramatta under the guidance of my Drama teacher Ms Julia Homfray, I don’t think I would have ever had the
courage to enter a career in the arts. She saw my potential and believed in me so strongly that
it subsequently made me (bring out the violins!) believe in myself. I am also inspired EVERY
SINGLE DAY by my family and friends, by the people I meet, the people I observe on the
streets (in a very discreet and non-creepy way), the stories I read, the sounds I hear. How can
we live in a world, on a planet, that is BUSTING with stories and life and heartache and
conflict and love and struggle and courage and NOT be inspired? Not be inspired to write
about it all? To share and celebrate it all? C’est impossible!

Who do you admire as an artist?
Not any one person in particular but generally speaking (and excuse my French) those who
don’t give a fuck. The ones who are so strongly compelled to be nothing but themselves, who
own their craft, who own their voice and who see artistry and creativity as being something
bigger than themselves – a duty, a responsibility. On a more practical note, I admire people
who are persistent and consistent, primarily because I can tend to be neither of those things.
Oh, and I love writer/director/producer combination people. Like Lena Dunham and Mindy
Kaling or people who turn their real life experiences into art like Benjamin Law and Josh

What made you join the The Leftovers Collective?
I got a random call one day from Curly whom I’d never met but who happened to be a friend
of Bali Padda (who I also hadn’t really met but we were FB mates which counts for a lot in
this day and age – Hi Bali!). Curly said that he was looking for an Arabic speaker to join the
crew and Bali had recommended me and the rest is history. I did my first show with the
Leftovers where I had to recount a Jacobean text in Arabic. I think I scared half the audience
because the Arabic language is harsh enough let alone using it to deliver a passionate speech
from the Jacobean era. Ai yai yai. It was a lot of fun though! Experimental, social,
provocative theatre isn’t something I normally gravitate to but being part of this collective
has definitely helped to cultivate my fondness of the art form.

Have you ever experienced racism in your daily life and in the arts industry?
There have been many times where I’ve visited parts of Sydney and felt a little ‘ethnic’. Like
I very much am aware of the fact that sometimes, the ratio of ‘me people’ to ‘white people’ is
1 to A LOT. Which is so so silly because for goodness sakes, I’ve been in Australia for almost
30 years (we migrated from Lebanon when I was three and a half). But in terms of direct
racism, no, never. Oh, although, I did visit Tamworth once with some cousins of mine and I
could swear that a group of girls at the pub were pointing at us. I think one of them mouthed
the words ‘Oh, they must be Sydney girls’. Maybe they just had an aversion to Sydney and
not necessarily Lebanese people. Who knows. As for racism in the arts? No. Maybe there
have been conversations and opportunities lost behind my back, but I choose to believe that
people are good and so I don’t invite that sort of treatment into my space.

Tell me the background of your first and last name.
Well, my first name comes from the Persian word ‘Nasrin’ meaning ‘wild rose’. So I’m
named after a flower which is great because one of my favourite shows is Keeping Up
Appearances and the four sisters in that are all named after flowers. A fact that makes me feel
that much closer to Hyacinth Bouquet. Not ‘Bucket’. (Only true fans of the show would get
that joke!) As for my last name, not too sure where that comes from. Somewhere in Lebanon
I imagine. My ancestor’s surnames were Maatouk so I think ‘Amine’ is an evolved version of
that. Oh, here’s a question: if my grandfather was born in Cuba to Lebanese parents, that
makes me a tiny bit Cuban, no? Am I allowed to claim that?

Wendy Strehlow

Wendy Strehlow

Nisrine Amine: You won a Logie for Best Supporting Actress in 1985 for your role of Judy Loveday in A Country Practice. Do you remember what that night was like and what you were feeling?
Wendy Strehlow: I do remember the night very well. Bill Collins and Anne Baxter gave me the Logie and
Country Practice won a swag of awards that night. I felt really proud of the show.

Having been in the industry for well over 30 years, what has been the one thing that has kept you coming back (despite the ARGHH that sometimes comes with being an actor)?
I have a passion for telling stories and I do feel like I have found my tribe. I love working
with actors and creatives and it gives me such joy to be able to do so.

What made you join the The Leftovers Collective?
I met Curly during Love’s Labours Lost by Sport for Jove and we clicked! I like the way he
thinks outside of the box and love exploring new ways of presenting Shakespeare.

Invasia is a social experiment in racism and rule playing at Hustle and Flow Bar Redfern on Australia Day. What does it mean to you to be an ‘Australian’?
My family came here from Europe and ended up in Central Queensland. I have always felt a little outside of things but to be Australian I want to be inclusive and compassionate because WE ALL CAME HERE FROM SOMEWHERE ELSE!!! This always was and always will be Aboriginal Land.

Tell us an interesting story about your name.
My last name is Strehlow, but it may have been anglicized from Stralov we think. Over the years misspelling and bad listening skills have morphed it into Strehlow.

Nisrine Amine and Wendy Strehlow can be seen in Invasia by The Leftovers Collective.
Dates: 26 Jan, 2017
Venue: Hustle & Flow Bar, Redfern

Review: The Adonis Procedure (The Leftovers Collective)

theleftoverscollectiveVenue: Hustle & Flow Bar (Redfern NSW), Nov 1, 2016
Devisors/Performers: Liam Benson, Curly Fries, Chantelle Jamieson, Tim Kemp, Lou Pollard, Courtney Stewart, Ronan Sulich, Paul Wilson
Image by William Suen

Theatre review
In a small bar, a drag queen by the name of Aphrodite greets us, as we gather to participate in a rare happening, a throwback to art events of the sixties that most have only read about. The performance is carried out by all in presence, as everyone is required to invest into the playacting that creates a scene of a high-status auction. First part of the show involves a series of presentations that investigate the 5 lots being put on sale. Classic Greek statues, brought to life by 5 actors emulating poses and reciting classic verse, while a cameraman zooms in tightly into a single spot on their bodies. A screen shows us skin and hair in hyperbolic detail. Thereafter, the crowd is encouraged to bid on the items, using money previously distributed by Aphrodite.

The crowd very quickly begins to pool their cash. We realise that these iconic objects are beyond the ownership of single persons. Entities begin to form, and wars break out over these relics of beauty. Ronan Sulic, the auctioneer from Christie’s is conducting the proceedings and we are all swept up in his verve and excitement, for the art, and for the money. Frantic contests to acquire esteemed works of art have occurred since the rise of the middle class, but it is an unusual episode for independent theatre and emerging artists. Our society values art, but not all of it. Money is channelled to certain people, while others languish in neglect. The system pretends to be based on merit, but it is not. In its alleged estimation of values such as beauty, skill and social significance, artists are placed in a triangular hierarchy that favours few and subjugates many. It is a problem of economic rationality, and a problem of applying capitalistic principles to how art comes to be in our lives.

When the crowd battles it out for their desired articles, it is the squabble that becomes the centre of attention, and any intrinsic qualities each statue might have had, fade into irrelevance. Art is social, and in this case, it is about who comes out on top, and who faces defeat. Of course, we all understand that great works should exist in the public domain, and not be controlled by individuals or organisations, but we are unable to fulfil that idealistic principle in how we actually carry out the business of art. Our institutions fail us, and our governments fail us. The increasing privatisation of everything in Australia, means that how we do art, is in accordance with how the elites will profit from all activity in the industry. The big guys are a dictatorship that determines the rules of what art should look like, and the small guys have to choose whether to submit to a career of emulation and placation. Forces in the economy want everyone to believe in the survival of the fittest, and when artists forget to question things, which is their most sacred purpose, art will die. In The Adonis Procedure however, subversion and interrogation of norms is its intent, and the key to making a kind of art that is lively, surprising, and necessary.