Monday, September 22, 2014

LAX by Alyx

One of our workers sings and makes music. This is one of her songs. I think it is gorgeous. She is lovely and very funny, and today we had a lengthy discussion about the individuality of sneezing, and it was very funny.

Greatest thing ever is to have a good laugh while you are work. It brings everything back into perspective. I feel very lucky to have bumped into this particular human.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Grand Budapest Hotel

Finally saw this last night. What a wonderful movie. Am looking forward to watching it again. Such good storytelling, so many talented actors having fun with their roles, such overall excellent film making.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

Happy Father's Day

Apparently it was Father's Day today.  Meh.

Friday, September 05, 2014

A Tip: Treat Good People Well

One of the reasons The Dreaded One and I started our own cafe was because we both had terrible experiences at roughly the same time of working for awful employers. We're hard workers, it's just how we roll. And we were treated like shit and taken for granted. At roughly the same time, we both said enough, and quit.

We both decided that if we were working this hard, we should be doing it for ourselves. That way, we can choose the people we work with, choose the music we want to listen to while we work, and we can do nice things for the people who choose to work for us, like having the decency to give them the tips they have earned.

We are now still working hard. We're very much hands-on. It's a bit of a struggle. Who knows what's going to happen.

But you get these little, lovely moments, these small gestures that mean a lot to you. You get good customer feedback. You get the random positive online review. You enjoy a lengthy conversation with someone who has chosen to work for you, and they're talking and you find yourself thinking I'm really glad I met you. You're pretty fucking cool. Whatever happens in the future, right now I like you a lot.

And if you're really lucky, these employees you quite like will describe you as pals, and will want to hang out and have drinks with you after work hours.

And they will bring this up with you prior to you giving them the previous couple of months' tips.

I think we're getting some of this thing right.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Stephen House Interview, Almost Face To Face

Stephen House, Almost Face To Face.


Written by Lee Bemrose

Almost Face To Face
is the latest dramatic monologue from peripatetic award-winning writer/performer Stephen House. It's been a couple of years since the South Australian drifter performed his quite powerful Appalling Behaviour here, so I caught up with him to find out what he's been up to in that time, what drives him, and what to expect from his latest work.

So, what have you been up to since your last visit to Melbourne?
 My last show, Appalling Behaviour, kept touring. I did an Adelaide return (local council shows), a Tasmania Theatre Company season and a season at The Street Theatre in Canberra. I then spent some time in Sydney. I did an incredible writing development project with some blind artists at Tutti Ensemble SA, and had an extended stint in Whyalla SA doing a community youth theatre project for D-faces Youth Arts. Then as I often do… I disappeared from Australia and spent many months in Bali, Thailand and India – travelling, writing and existing.  

How was Appalling Behaviour received in those other cities?
The Hobart and Canberra seasons were both very successful and had incredible responses and reviews. It was wonderful to see it sit in a bigger company program at The Street Theatre (where it saw its 100th show). It always astounds me how that show pulls people in and sees them discuss what it means to them and what it says about our current world. It still feels like it’s an important theatre piece for the here and now. And that’s rewarding. Also, it was selected for publication by The Australian Script Centre. 

Have you ever taken Appalling Behaviour overseas? Or is it something you would contemplate? 
Well no, I haven’t, but just recently I’ve been in a conversation with a company in New York who are keen – which would be awesome. Also, for the last year or so I have been chatting to a company in India who are also keen. And if I do take it overseas next year I’m pretty sure I’d head to Edinburgh Fringe. I’ve never done an Edinburgh Fringe. So yes, it is kind of looking like maybe travelling overseas in 2015.  

How long has travel been important to you?
I’ve been pretty much on the road since living in the back of my station wagon for a few years when I was an 18 year old hippie surfer. And I still am on the road (not in the back of the car... well, not too often these days). That’s about 35 years travelling. Fuck… where has my life gone! I’m always travelling. Though I do have occasional bouts where I settle in somewhere for a few months a time.  

Why is travel so important to you?
I feel alive, challenged, inspired, amazed, free, on the very edge (sometimes), and excited. I’m addicted to being on the road, often alone, but not always. I love new people that come into my world for an hour, a day or night, or a month… or forever – crazy, beautiful encounters that come along, like unexpected gifts. But also sometimes I feel isolated, lonely, frightened, confused, excluded, and wondering what the hell I’m doing with my life. But all the feelings that go with just disappearing into the world and sometimes not knowing where I’m going are real, and make me feel so very much like I am living life.  

In what circumstances do you feel excluded?Just now and then in another place in the world, watching locals go about their familiar lives, it hits me that I am often an outsider, a wanderer, a nomad… this isn’t my place, or my home or my way. I have flown in like a migrating bird stopping off on a long flight to somewhere else. Excluded kind of; but that doesn’t always mean feeling bad though, sometimes it means just being on the outside of, looking in. It can also be empowering, to not be a part of something.  

Do you feel you are more creatively stimulated when in a foreign country?
I’m quite creative wherever I am. Even in my new Melbourne life (a room I just scored in Brunswick Street), I will feel inspired, I’m sure. I often have a current project I’m working on when I travel. I’ve just come back from several months Indonesia and Thailand. I was learning lines for Almost Face To Face while I travelled. I was also thinking about my novel (still in thinking and writing stage). Often when I’m in another place I do have a new idea, so take a few notes. In fact the first draft of Almost Face To Face, was written years ago on an Australia Council Irish literature residency, then put it away and forgotten about. Sometimes it takes me years to get back to something that sprung into my mind while travelling around somewhere. 

You don't exactly do the tourist thing when overseas, do you. Typically, what do you do when in a new city? What kind of experiences do seek out?
I’m generally looking for somewhere new that I want to live for a while, or returning to a place from before. I have a few regular stops. One is Rishikesh in India. In Rishikesh, I do Yoga classes with amazing masters, I wander alone along the banks on Ganges and bathe in her clean icy holy waters – direct from the Himalayas. I wander through dense city throngs and lose myself, completely. I catch up with old local mates, meet travellers from all over the world, and I write, think, and wonder. In big cities, I usually have different routines than in quieter places (more art, music, theatre, partying etc.) After Melbourne I’m heading back to Bali, where I’m making a life. My days there are often writing, swimming and surfing, and wonderful mates from all over Indonesia… and the world, other nomads. I also try to work out how the hell I’m going to survive! But don’t get me on to that! How the hell am I going to continue to survive, like this? 

Your new play... tell us a little about it.
A fragile travelling writer arrives in Dublin after a devastating stint in Paris. His trip to Dublin is not without a few dangerous elements. He quickly falls into a chaotic underworld, inhabited by off-beat characters, and finds himself living in a small upstairs room with a woman trapped there by the way her life has gone. But he ventures out on to the street and falls further into the hidden underbelly of Dublin. His creative muddled and indulgent life sees him fall into this new world and write it all down (again). But nothing comes without repercussions and consequences, and he is finally forced to face up to what he has become in life. It’s a play about having the courage to move on from what is no longer needed or valid, and having the empathy and understanding to realise that not everyone else can do that. Some of us are trapped by who and what we are, and always will be. And that’s ok. The play hits that home, I think. 

So how autobiographical is it?
There is a part of me and my story in every work I create. Even
Appalling Behaviour had more elements of me in it than people could ever know. There are parts of me and my life in all of my plays, and there are parts that grew from those parts and took their own life. My characters are not me, but they are a big part of me and my life, and I’m a big part of them and their life. But I never reveal too much about what (exact) part is me and real. I fall into worlds and write about them. I utterly live the worlds I write about.

What kind of play is
Almost Face To Face? Drama? Comedy? Other?
It’s a drama with elements of stream of consciousness story-telling and streaks of dark comedy. But others are better judges of that than me.

Given that
Almost Face To Face is set in Ireland, a country famed for its story tellers, do you thing you will take it to Ireland?I would love to take it to Ireland, and have thought about it. If fact regarding your question, the story telling tradition of Ireland had an effect on the style of this play and my inspiration for writing it. I performed a story telling type piece in Dublin many years ago. That experience has always stayed with me and had an effect on me as a writer performer, as did my time living in Ireland.

The dramatic monologue (it is what you do, isn't it?) would appear to be the most difficult form of story telling. Why do you do it when you could simply write a story to be read or a play for actors to perform?
Each time I embark on this journey with this form, I think why, why, why? It is so hard to crack. You can’t tell, not completely. It needs to be crafted in a way that some things are told, some are discovered and that the story filters out through a range of forms working together. Maybe the reason I do it is that it is such a challenge to get right. I love literary challenges. I never know if it is working until I get it in front of an audience. Its okay if they don’t like it (not everyone falls into the unusual worlds that do), but if they are with my story and engaged, then it has worked. That’s what I aim for. That they follow my story and want to know what happens. Dramatic Monologue for an hour alone on stage is a real challenge. Ah, scary! Why am I doing this, again?

What kinds of people will Almost Face To Face appeal to most?
I like to think that it’s a moving, human, sad and sometimes funny and beautiful story bubbling out of the underworld of Dublin. I think (and hope) that most people who see it will be taken on a real ride, somewhere special. My work is written for everyone; not only those who like to take risks. People that are interested in the human experience and condition should go with this work.

Do you have a line or passage from the play that encapsulates its spirit?
I don’t know if it encapsulates the spirit of the play but it encapsulates that moment of the play, and it’s a piece that often brings tears to my eyes, performing it…

Don’t’ go, he says. His call is like a knife in my heart. I so want take him away from this and them – from all that I am and have been too… find some of what is dragging me to escape and try for change and offer it up to him. But I can’t… I just don’t know how to give him anything at all, except money… I’m incapable… because I am struggling so hard to somehow help myself… to try to not be what I‘ve been for so, so long… that I have nothing left to help him along. And I’m nearly an old man. Fuck, what happened? Where do the years go?

Almost Face To Face is part of the Melbourne Fringe Festival. Season is at La Mama theatre from September 17 - September 28, 2014.

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Master Class, 45 Downstairs, Review

Master Class

Reviewed by Lee Bemrose.

Initially, I confused Maria Callas with Diamanda Galas. The latter, I thought, would be a great subject for a play. When I realised my mistake I was a little disappointed because although Maria Callas did indeed lead an eventful life and was obviously worthy of celebrating in the form of a play, I don't really like opera. And after reading the press release properly, Master Class was going to contain some singing. Oh Dear. I wasn't sure about this. I mean, opera, really?

Right from the start, however, this play cast a spell. It's a loving tribute to La Divina, very funny, warm, and gives great insight into what it takes to be a great performer, to really excel at any creative vocation. I loved the writing, the acting, the structure of the story and – get this – the singing. Not ever having been to a live opera performance I have no idea why I thought I didn't like opera. The power of this kind of singing is extraordinary, and I do believe I'll be following up on this epiphany.

In 1971, after her career had peaked, Maria Callas conducted a series of master classes at the Julliard School in New York. Maria Mercedes takes to the stage as Maria Callas, an imposing, demanding figure oozing confidence, an acute sense of self and an enviable reserve of quips, one liners and comebacks. The character comes across as hard, driven and passionate. At times she seems more passionate about the artistic process than the feelings of her students (we, the audience, are addressed as her students), but there are moments where a couple of the students stand up against her and prove their talent when their tutor softens. You can't be this passionate about creativity and be a complete ice queen.

As the students finally get to sing, memories are triggered, actual recordings of Maria Callas are cued in their aural sepia tones, and Maria Mercedes does a wonderful job of revealing what it was like to be Maria Callas: to grow up poor through the Second World War; of what it was like to struggle with her weight, her craft and the importance of her perfectionism. We hear of her relationship with Aristotle Onassis and of what it was like to triumph against the odds to become La Divina. It's all quite nostalgic whilst remaining current and relevant to anyone unfortunate enough to want to succeed in the arts. These more personal, nostalgic sections are perfectly counter-balanced by the frequent laugh-out-loud ones.

And so we come to that singing. Other cast members were Cameron Thomas, kind of a piano-playing sidekick, and Georgia Wilkinson, Robert Barbaro and Anna-Louise Cole as the students in the spotlight. It was a revelation to me to be so close to fellow human beings with access to such rich, stirring vocals. Clearly there is a magical recipe of natural talent and rigorous training at play here, and these voices, mere human voices, have the power to stir emotions. It seems I don't dislike opera as much as I thought I did.

45 Downstairs was the perfect venue for this story to be told. It's a very open space, much like a small lecture auditorium, making the whole experience quite evocative of being back there, back then in the presence of La Divina.


At 45 Downstairs, Flinders Lane, Melbourne until August 28.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Conversations With Our Customers: Oh Lord

A guy places his coffee order. I ask him if he wants a copy of the receipt. He says, "Yes, I should take it or my boss might get angry.

I go full Hoges Ozzie wink 'n nod as I look at his preist collar and say, "You don't want to make your boss angry."

I really don't know if this was funny or lame Dad joke.