Monday, April 29, 2013

Grumpy With Mark Gambino

Grumpy With Mark Gambino

By Lee Bemrose 

Say hello to Mark Gambino. A random contributor to a magazine I once worked for when I felt like a fraud with no qualifications... primarily because I was a fraud with no qualifications. But I did seem to have a knack for spotting good writers. Lord knows whe had some terrible contributors, but one of the joys of that job was sorting through the  endless hopefuls and finding those few that really stood out.

What I liked most in potential contributors were the people that weren't afraid to do something different. That outside the square thing? That slightly not-what-I-was-expecting thing? If they did that, retained integrity to the topic and managed to make me smile, they were in.

In keeping with that ethos, here is an interview that didn't take place. Mark sent me a hastily written bio which answered all my questions before I asked them, therefore making the entire task of actually asking questions somewhat redundant. So what you have here is a series of imagined questions to real answers to unasked questions.

Read on. It's a rollercoaster of a ride.


Would you say the way you have been living your life has been very fulfilling?
Like many smart people, I’ve been able to comfortably get by in life by not doing very much. I realised recently that this is not a very fulfilling way to live. Since then I’ve focussed on following my passions and working my arse off, to very inspiring results. But where did it all begin?

That's a really great question, Mark. I was just about to ask you that very same thing. So tell us – where did your creative life begin?
My creative life began around 2001, after picking up a free street mag called Drink. It was about Melbourne bar culture. I thought I could write for it, so I pitched the editor. 

But wait on just a minute... did you have any real idea of how this writing business worked? Had you studied journalism?
At this point, having studied performing arts at university, I didn’t know how this writing business worked. But I could ACT like a writer.

I like your style. So you pitched to the editor of a booze mag. What happened?
She gave me a shot, and I began writing bar reviews. For free.

And then what happened?
I then picked up a Sydney dance music mag called 3D World.

Ah. 3D World. I think I've heard of it. What happened there? I hear they worked their staff and their freelancers like Trojans.
I pitched the managing ed, who passed me onto the editor - a guy called Grumpy - whereupon we started a nice conversation about Withnail and I. A friendship was born. I honed my craft working on this mag, writing everything from social commentary to a short-lived section of Melbourne bar reviews. I was given more credit than I deserved, but I worked like a Trojan for it.

Then what happened?
Then shit got real.

Oh no. I once saw that on a bumper sticker on the back of a ute... “Then Shit Got Real.” But you are a creative type. Can't imagine you driving a ute around.
I pitched a local fashion magazine (in Melbourne) and picked up some freelance work. It was then that I bought my first digital camera, and started taking photos to go with the articles I wrote. The publisher loved that they got two jobs for the price of one from me, and brought me on board to write, edit, shoot and distribute (I drove a fucking ute around and hand delivered the first issue)of a new sports magazine, Cinq. The irony is, I knew nothing about sport. In fact, I hated it. With a passion. You could say, when the subject of sport came up, I was passionate. It was certainly the best of times.

What else were you doing around this time?
During this time I also worked on General Pants’ Our People magazine. A thinly veiled marketing tool designed to pump what little money kids had out of their pockets and into the coffers or a corporate entity masquerading as a ‘youth brand.’ They weren’t the first. They certainly won’t be the last. See also: Monster Children.

How long did this gig last?
This lasted until the team employed to sell advertising in Cinq couldn’t, and I was turfed into the world of freelancing.

Do you have any stories about rollercoasters? I like stories about rollercoasters?
Years passed and I rode the rollercoaster of freelance writing.

I also like stories of scandalous love, pimps and prostitutes. Got any of those to share with us?
I worked part-time, then fulltime, at Borders. Fell in love with a married woman. Moved into a suburb where prostitutes would regularly fight with their pimps outside my window (“Why did you have to shoot him?!”).

How good would you say life was at that time?
Life was good.

And then?
Then came the call again: a fulltime job managing a team of people to produce web content on a ridiculous budget, to be sold to big companies for a ridiculous price. Out of fear of being litigated by one very large organisation that bought from us, I shall omit the finer details. Suffice it to say, I witnessed the worst in some people while in this job. It made me question my craft. I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion…

But I digress. 

That did sound like a bit of a digression of Haueresque proportions. Anyway. So what did you do? And do you have any more rollercoaster stories?
I quit. I dove into freelance life, and once again the rollercoaster began.

Oh no. Were things different this time?
This time, I was armed with a camera. And a shitload of experience shooting some of the world’s top music acts; interviewing some of the world’s most inspiring musicians and actors; and armed to the teeth with industry contacts.

And how is the rollercoaster of freelance work treating you these days?
My freelance ‘business’ has grown since that day - albeit with many growing pains - and now allows me to work anywhere in the world. As long as I have an internet connection, I’m always working.

 And rather than finish off with a final question, I'm going to predict that you are about to conclude with a statement I can relate to and which makes me doff my cap to you.
I've felt like a bit of a fraud most of my writing life. I may not have studied writing or journalism (I'm now a member of the Australian Journalist's Association - ZOMG!), but I have now made a career of it.
I've spoken on creative panels, giving advice to people way more educated than myself. I've quit jobs most people would step over my cold corpse to do. Most of the time I find all this hard to reconcile.

Cap doffed.Go here for more of Mark's work.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

No Child, Nilaja Sun Interview, Melbourne 2013 Theatreworks


Nilaja Sun questions by Lee Bemrose 

I missed this performance last year. I knew nothing about Nilaja Sun at the time. I researched. I found that another play about British convicts  transported to Australia (Our Country's Good) played a big role in her highly successful solo performance that began as a modest off-Broadway show.

It's a first hand account of a teacher's experiences with the education system in modern America, Nilaja plays an array of characters with minimal set and costume which is made up for in talent. Audinces are flocking to it and critics the world over are raving about it. By all accounts, a wonderfully dramatic and comical performance, I don't intend to miss it again.

Your use of the play Our Country's Good in No Child is intriguing. Was that play somehow inspirational for your work or did you decide to draw on it while creating No Child?
I used the play Our Country’s Good as a great example of people who feel imprisoned while also creating theatre and art. It may not be a play that I would teach at this young early age of 14-16 but it highlighted the struggles of my students and how they’re similar to the struggles of the convicts of Australia in 1788.

Our Country's Good dealt with breaking down oppressive discipline and instilling convicts with dignity and a sense of self worth... how similar or dissimilar are the themes in No Child?
Very similar. The theme of infusing the children with dignity, self worth and empathy is something that’s always been very close to my heart as a teacher and in reading Our Country’s Good I was inspired by the hope it brought thematically.

You must be pretty happy with how well No Child has been received by both critics and audiences. Did you have any idea it was going to be quite so successful?
No, no idea. I wrote the play to be performed on off Broadway for a four week run and then to be on my way in someone else’s play. But alas, fate would have it, here I am 700 shows later in beautiful Australia.

Have you talked to school-aged audiences after they have seen the show? If so,what have reactions generally been like?
Yes. I try to make sure to set up a post show discussion with every high school group that sees the show so that all of the kids have a well rounded theatre experience especially if it’s their first show. It is an extremely lively experience to witness high-schoolers witnessing No Child.

You drew on your years of experience in the public school sector to create this work, yet there is a lot of humour in it. Was there much laughter in the schools in real life?
Even more laughter. Our kids are extremely funny particularly when they trust you enough to open up.

In fact, the more you read about what bad shape the public school system is in America, humour seems at face value out of place when dealing with such a topic. Your thoughts?
Not from where I see it. I’m working with the kids as individuals not as a national crisis that many politicians might see them as. They are all beautiful, filled with life and fully human and so it is up to me to mirror their humanity in its most rounded shape.

Works like this are a great way of drawing attention to a situation. Do you think they can actually affect things and make a difference?
Yes I do. Perhaps it’s not a global difference or national difference or even a state wide difference but I genuinely feel that when teachers see themselves portrayed on stage in that hour they get a moment to breathe and laugh and cry and thus refresh themselves for the next day or even year of school – and that seems pretty revolutionary to me.

Have things gotten better or worse since you were moved to create No Child?
I would say, in many ways it has stayed the same however this new administration sees the value not only in students improved performance but also values great teachers. Ask me again in 10 years.

How difficult is it to address what is a very serious issue while creating a work of entertainment?
This piece of theatre reflects a great part of my life that I enjoy and I honour and so it was not a great challenge and plus I’m an entertainer at heart.

The title alludes to a Bush policy on education... how political is your play?
Oddly No Child speaks of this policy in one sentence of the play, the piece is more emotionally political.

Who do you find responds best to No Child?
The New York Times wrote “Teachers will love no child” and I’ve always found that anyone who is an educator and who loves and appreciates educators will love no child as it applauds the greatness in the teacher.

Which are your favourite characters to play and why?
As an actor when I am performing I am completely “being” each character so therefore I love whoever I am at the moment and have no favourites.

Do you have a favourite line from the play that sums up the essence of the play?
As a playwright I see the importance in every single word said and every word unsaid.

Read my review on Australian Stage here.

 Theatre works, 14 Acland Street, St Kilda
 Date: 07 May 2013 - 26 May 2013
Time: Tues-Sat at 8:00pm Wed & Thurs at 1:00pm Sun at 5:00pm
Price: $45 full / $35 conc & under 30 / $40 Groups 10+ [plus booking fee]

No Child...
Written and Performed by Nilaja Sun
Directed by Hal Brooks

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Grumpy With The Human Resources Obstacle

The Dreaded One has been out of work for a couple o f weeks now. Not good times. She worked (her arse off) for a totally petty bitch of a human. She went from being a casual chef to taking on the role of head chef, doing six days a week with sandwich hands instead of a single assistant chef. The owner of this particular catering company has absolutely no redeeming features. She cannot cook. She meddles unnecessarily. She fucks up constantly. Her office staff routinely add time onto their daily shifts yet the owner distrusts the chefs because... I don't know. Probably because she's an idiot.

Anyway, things came to a head. Part of the reason The DreadedOne wanted to get another chef in was because she knew she would not be around forever and the owner had no back up. The Dreaded One said she would be leaving in the not so distant future and the owner spat the dummy and said she had to give at least two weeks' notice. The Dreaded One said she was not giving notice yet, but yes of course she would give two weeks notice when the time came.

Then on Good Friday, the owner tells The Dreaded One that she has another chef and there was no more work for her. No notice at all. What a fucking cow.

So The Dreaded One is out of work. No biggie, really, because she always lands on her feet. She sends her resume out and FIVE MINUTES later a catering company calls to say what freaky timing - we're just about to advertise for a sous chef. They chat. They line up an interview.

I'll add here that other things have happened that have not been so good, so this is a real bright spot. Weboth know that The Dreaded One will bag it.

Then the HR person from the catering company calls to say that The Dreaded One has to bring her papers in to prove she is a qualified chef.

The Dreaded One is not a qualified chef. She has been chefing for maybe 20 years. She has been sous chef under Matt Moran's head chef at The Sydney Opera House. She has run her own catering company.

But she does not have papers verifying that she can in fact chef.

This was explained to the HR person but there was no budging. I know that if The Dreaded One was just given a trial shift she would be in. She knows the deal inside out. She is passionate and skilled, reliable and hard working. She has it all over some of the qualified chefs we've encountered... ass clowns, some of them.

It's this kind of thing that stopped me from applying for writing jobs so long ago. Invariably you get some HR jerk you have to go through first, and if you are not a qualified journalist or don't have appropriate tertiary qualifications, you're dead in the water.

It doesn't matter that I've been a magazine editor, or that I've been published in Quadrant and Southerly as well as countless other mags. It doesn't matter that I've been shortlised in competition and have even taken out a first prize in a national comp, have had a humour column for years... all this paper is meaningless because I don't have an official piece of paper confirming tha fact that I can write.

What a blinkered, myopic, hinderance of a concept Human Resources is. Get the fuck out of the way and let real people get in touch with the people who will recognise real skills and real talent.

It hasn't been fun seeing The Dreaded One treated so poorly. But she is soldiering on. There is one sure fire way to ensure you don't work for dickheads or have anything to do with Human Resources drones.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Grumpy With Small Talk

Grumpy With Small Talk

I've been noticing once again that I'm really not very good at small talk. For some people the stuff just pours out of their mouth. The person I work with at the moment is and absolute master of small talk. She rarely stops talking. Sometimes it's just garden variety small talk (weather/ what did you do on the weekend/how is your day going/gee that's a nice tie). Other times, it's more random. It's like there's no brain-to-mouth filter so that what comes out are the sometimes startling whimsical musings of a truly nomadic mind.

I had wanted to believe that I'm no good at small talk because I just don't care and small talk doesn't matter. I vaguely recall a quote in an interview about film maker Rolf De Heer in which one of his colleagues said, “Rolf doesn't do small talk.” Don't quote me on this because I can't find the interview in which it took place anywhere so it is quite possible that it was said about someone else... or it was the result of this nomadic mind thinking it would be cool if someone was interviewed about me and they said it about me. Because it struck me as being a pretty cool thing to say. Especially if it was said about me.

The thing is, small talk is a complex thing. There is the absolute utter rubbish small talk... that pseudo-scripted shit that goes something like this:

Person 1: “So how are you today?”
Person 2: “Oh all right. Can't complain.” (Dramatic pause). “Well I could but there's no point; no one would listen.”

People – every time this conversation takes place, a puppy dies... in a random instance of spontaneous combustion. In a little boy's arms. On his birthday. And the little boy, overcome with grief, wanders crying onto the street and under the wheels of a passing bus. The bus driver goes through counselling but never quite gets over the unbelievable coincidence of running over his own son on his 10th birthday right outside the family home. He turns to alcohol and eventually takes his own life. Which would have devastated his wife if she hadn't already taken her own life all those years earlier after witnessing the tragic death of her only son. Obviously the only remaining offspring, the once innocent daughter, is totally fucked up by the demise of her family and turns to drugs as a means of escape, then prostitution as a means to fuelling her ever-soaring drug habit. She falls in with a party crowd who ply her with drugs and abuse her body in the most debauched ways imaginable. She (again) overdoses at one of the wild parties but unbelievably is rescued by a visiting Hollywood A-lister who shall remain nameless due to legal reasons (we'll call him, I dunno, Matthew Newton? Because how hilarious would that be? Matty Newton – Hollywood A-lister. Get it? Hahahaha...).

Back in Hollywood, the daughter dries herself out in rehab but still attends the kinds of parties mere mortals like you and I can only dream of. At one such party attended by the impossibly rich and vacuous, she meets a short, fat, pretty idiotic, deranged leader of a renegade Asian nation with a newly improved mixed bag of nuclear arms which he is pretty keen to show off. The daughter, occasionally suffering flashbacks to that day when the new puppy spontaneously combusted and set off this haunting train of events, doesn't really believe that a short, fat, pretty idiotic leader of a renegade Asian nation would really fire nuclear missiles around the world and risk world destruction just to impress an ex-crack whore like little ol' her. But this is just the kind of opportunity Kim Lil Nong Nong has been waiting for. Bombs away! Missiles ahoy! Destruction! Retaliation! World annihilation!

All because you said I could complain but no one would listen. Think about it, next time you consider engaging in this bit of dialogue.

And then there's that other stuff that starts out sounding like pointless noise but ends up going somewhere. Nice necklace. Thank you, I got it in an exotic holiday destination. Oh really – I've been to that exotic holiday destination – we have something in common.

And then these people with something in common decide to go out for a coffee and talk about some other exotic holiday destinations they'd like to go to to buy nice things. On the way to the coffee shop, there is an unexpectedly loud explosion that sounds very much... like... a puppy dog spontaneously combusting...

Anyway, in thinking about where I was going to go with I'm-not-good-at-small-talk-because-I-don't-want-to-be I decided to ask the internet what it thought about small talk.

Big mistake. Here I was thinking that small talk is nothing more than a really annoying way to ruin a perfectly good chunk of silence that hovers between two people engaged in some sort of mutual activity between strangers, the occurrence of which, in itself, doesn't demand the blossoming of a lifelong friendship or even a fleeting friendship. Why does friendship have to come into it at all? You're the barrista. I need my coffee. Why do you have to interrupt my musings about the weird nature of small talk by asking me about what I did on the weekend? What is it to you what I did on the weekend? I just did stuff. But I can't say, “I just did stuff.” I have to stand there watching you make my coffee and think about the stuff I did. I have to go through it all in the time it takes to froth a jug of milk and pick out the highlights. Then I have to select the highlights that are socially acceptable (because maybe I got up to some really interesting stuff that's NSFW) and that are easy to explain in the time we have left that it takes to make a cup of coffee. I scramble. I say that I had a quiet one, what about you? Yeah same, nice and relaxing, it was good.

However, It's a big mistake to be so dismissive of small talk, according to the internet, because loads of brainy types have spent a lot of time studying the concept of small talk and have deemed it A Very Important Social Skill.

Which means I'm fucked. Like Rolf (real or imagined), I just don't do small talk. It's not my thing. I mean I do try. Working with my nomadic-minded small talk master, I have listened and observed and have seen the rewards... the rewards being a fair exchange of small talk. I have tried.

Them: Hello.
Me: Hello.
(Long easy silence which stretches and bends into a slightly awkward silence, because they are expecting actual small talk while I am trying to amuse myself with the comic potential of this ridiculous small talk thing people are so obsessed with).
Them: How are you?
Me: I'm good. Want to hear a good story about exploding dogs and the end of the world?
Them: Erm...
Me: Sorry. No. Erm...
Them: Erm...
Me: Erm...
Them: Are you okay? You like you're in pain.
Me: No it's okay. I'm just trying to think...
Them: Trying to think? What are you trying to think of?
Me: Something...
Them: Something?
Me: Something to say. Something to say that might, you know, be an appropriate thing to say in a moment like this.
Them: Ah. I see.
Me: Yes. Erm...
Them: Erm...

So don't take it personally when I don't small talk with you. I just totally suck at it.

Wednesday, April 03, 2013

Plums - Claire Hooper Review

I really enjoyed Claire Hooper's new show Plums. My Australian Stage review is here. Do go see it. You will enjoy, if you enjoy very funny story telling by a very funny, lovely human.

Monday, April 01, 2013

The Melbourne International Comedy Festival So Far

Melbourne International Comedy Festival... woohoo.

Been quite busy so far. In no particular order, here are a few things I've done for Australian Stage. An interview with The Pajama Men. These guys were a highlight for me at last year's festival. Wonderfully, wonderfully funny.

There's also an interview with Michael Workman, who didn't seem to want to do an interview. One with  Geraldine Quinn for her show Stranger, which I'm now hoping to see.

And a couple of days in I've caught two shows for review, Paul Foot's Kenny Larch Is Dead, which I wasn't a huge fan of, and Josh Thomas' Douchebag, which had me smiling for most of the show and frequently laughing at. Review to this one is not yet up.

Oh and here is another Q&A with one Imogen Kelly, sexy burlesque Queen Of The Wolrd. She is amazing.

More coming up. It's a big festival. Almost a month long and the more I see the more I want to see.

I'm looking forward to reviewing more shows, even though I really don't feel I'm very good. Give me a night of theatre and I'm fine. Something about the structure of story makes it easier for me to deal with. I never take notes at the theatre. At comedy I have to take notes, and that often gives way to more confusion... scribbled notes in the dark followed by attempted deciphering the next day... ergh.