#writingwhilefemale at EWF 2015

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I had such an amazing time at the Emerging Writers’ Festival #writingwhilefemale day. I sat at the back of the room listening intently and tweeting madly, watching a room full of women share skills, network, support each other and generally live it up. Amaryllis Gacioppo did an amazing job of programming the day, and the whole EWF team (particularly Kate Callingham) did so much work to bring this to fruition.

I had the pleasure of telling the women in the room about the formation of WILAA, making them the first people to hear about what I hope will be a valuable organisation that makes a tangible difference for the women in our sector. I also published an update on the industry roundtable that took place in 2014 on the EWF blog, which speaks to many of the origins of WILAA.

Launch of Women in Literary Arts Australia

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Today is a day I have been eagerly anticipating for a long time. I finally get to share the project I’ve been working on for months, Women in Literary Arts Australia. I’m proud to have been working with Kate Callingham and Lisa Dempster on this, two women I respect and admire so much. We saw a need for something that supported the women in our industry to gain professional development, better networks and ways to work together more effectively. We committed to taking the first steps to creating an organisation which might meet these aims. Our hope is that these small beginnings will grow into a strong presence in the sector which makes a significant impact for women. I’m looking forward to our next steps, which will be to form a committee of women from all aspects of the sector to come together and set the agenda for the organisation.

You can follow WILAA on twitter or Facebook, or sign up for our newsletter here.

MICF Review 2015 – Stuart Bowden: Before Us

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The latest tale from storyteller Stuart Bowden delivers a melancholic and bittersweet hour of entertainment.

Before us were our parents, and our collective human race. Before the lime green bulbous creation on stage before us were also her parents, her collective race, but they’re all dead now she tells us. This is the true story of her death, her extinction.

The latest of Stuart Bowden’s creations is this forest-dwelling creature living alone under a rock. In a mix of storytelling, dance and music, the tale of this creature, the last of her kind, on her last night alive, unfolds. Her loneliness is a melancholic offering to us. Her lamenting songs and soliloquies explore the loss of her family and friends and the emptiness of having her once adored perfect form now languishing with no-one who understands its beauty left to admire it.

While Bowden’s work is often discussed in terms like lo-fi, the truth is Before Us is deceptively simple. The lo-fi costume and lighting are an understated companion to the tightly woven, precisely executed story. The live looping Casio keyboard, banjo ukulele and sung soundtracks create an emotion-charged backing to the storytelling and dancing.

Where some use dance and physical theatre as an overblown dramatic technique, it is the darting precision of movement in the creature’s walk and the whole-body expression in her dancing that have the audience investing in her truth. There is no over-exaggerated, embarrassed stereotype of interpretive dance, but instead a measured expression of the emotion she is experiencing.

Taking the audience’s discomfort with the intimate performance and sometimes surreal material, Bowden commits entirely to his beautifully drawn character and her final hours. He uses suspense and repetition to deliberately provoke and disquiet the audience, keeping them as awkward and unsettled as she is laying her unfamiliar form bare before us. Her vulnerability makes for compelling viewing.

Bowden’s great talent is in taking the audience along with him, coaxing their participation in this surreal journey. Despite the usual resistance of being pulled further on stage and into the action that most audiences are comfortable with, when Bowden draws them into the tale they follow willingly. It is this talent that takes the surreal material from the unusual to the sublime.

In a tale that makes the audience confront death, loneliness, isolation and failed connection the humour here is a tender, wistful, perfectly bittersweet kind.

 

This review first appeared on Arts Hub as part of their MICF 2015 coverage.

MICF 2015 – Three down, infinity to go…

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I started my MICF 2015 off with a great night. This photo was captured by the MICF official Jeez Louise photographer, who is dashing around asking audiences about their favourite female comics. I usually avoid being photographed like the plague, but couldn’t resist sharing how I’d enjoyed my darling friend Sarah Bennetto’s show. It was the first I saw this year, in the Ladies Lounge at the Forum, and it was such a heartwarmingly lovely way to kick off my festival. Sarah is an effervescent joy on and off stage, and audiences adore her.

After Sarah’s show I headed up to Trades Hall to see Lawrence Leung and Andrew McClelland’s shows, both of which were the best I have seen from either of them in years, perhaps ever (and that’s saying something). I love, love, loved them. Lawrence’s show was a return to a more pared-back, standup format. It allowed him to focus on delivering a high-energy, high-laugh performance which the audience ate up. He’s been getting consistently good reviews, and it is easy to see why. Andy’s show nearly killed me. Literally. I laughed so hard I choked. I left with my stomach aching and my cheeks hurting. I can’t speak highly enough of it.

With shows like this on my first night, the bar has been set very high for the rest of the season.

MICF 2015

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Melbourne International Comedy Festival 2015 kicks off today, and it looks to be a bumper year. I have managed to create an ambitious schedule where I attempt to fit in all the shows I would like to see, but it is hard to balance the realistic aims of seeing as many as I would like with the reality of writing reviews and features on them all.

I’ll be updating here with reviews after they have been published on their original sites (I’m reviewing for Arts Hub and Lip), and I hope to have a long-form essay on an aspect of comedy/the festival at some stage.

January/February 2015 Update

It’s February! This is exciting, because it means I’m relieved of my summer childcare duties and back to the writing desk. Lots of ideas have been percolating over my break, and I’m very eager to get back in the swing of things. Obviously there isn’t much work to update you on, but I can report that my reading challenge for this year is well on track. In fact, I’m two books ahead of schedule. Lets see if I can keep that up once my writing hours increase.

I have spent what little time to work I had over the summer on planning and preparing to work. Setting goals, creating project management plans, plotting timelines. It’s hard to hold back from just diving into the writing itself, but I know myself well enough to know that a good plan to keep everything on track is vital, otherwise I’ll find myself neglecting certain projects or aspects of what needs to be done.

So here I am, staring at a freelance writing life. But what does that actually look like? Well, for me, it means having approximately six hours per day, five days per week to dedicate to research, pitching to magazines, journals and newspapers, managing paperwork, dealing with corporate clients, dealing with editors, corporate editing and writing, writing features/articles/reviews/opinion pieces and working on the Big Project.

I haven’t had chunks of time like this to write in for a very long time, so I have used my project management skills to try to create order where there could very easily be none in the messy landscape of freelance writing. I thought I would share how I go about managing both the projects themselves and my time, as I think it’s something lots of us writers have to learn the hard way. It has taken a lot of years of frantic working up until deadline, or underestimating the time involved in a job, before I have gotten to a comfortable system to keep myself on track. Hopefully breaking down how I go about it will help other people struggling with workloads and competing timelines. Look out for another post about this soon.

The outlook for 2015 and a look back at 2014

At the precipice of a new year it is often tempting to set enormous goals, or to think about radical change. For the past few years the outlook at this time of the year could be boiled down to ‘more of the same’. That wasn’t a bad thing, per say, it was just that with my main work focus being Express Media I didn’t have a great deal of wiggle room in setting ambitious goals in other areas. The thing I most keenly wanted, and aimed for, in 2014 was professional development.

I wanted to be challenged to think about the big picture of my programming and curatorial work. I wanted to have the space to learn, rather than do. I wasn’t set on what kind of professional development it needed to be — a course, a conference, a mentorship — but I did know if I was going to do another year (or part thereof) doing programs I’d already done multiple times before, I needed this kind of engagement. To that end I applied for multiple opportunities, and multiple streams of funding. I was lucky enough to be accepted into the European Festivals Association Atelier for Young Festival Managers. This was a really exciting opportunity; a week to immerse myself in workshops, discussions and presentations on the finer points of creating and running cultural events. On top of this, I was also lucky enough to receive support in the form of funding to take the trip to Poznan from Copyright Agency. They receive so many applications for funding, so to have mine accepted was a wonderful surprise. It made the difference between the Atelier eating all of my savings and only part of them. I’ve written a bit about my Atelier experience, so I won’t go in to it now, but suffice to say it was certainly a great professional development opportunity. I’ll be thinking about the discussions and lessons for a long time. I also found that while I was there my synapses were firing and I came up with lots of exciting ideas I’d love to bring to fruition.

I had also set myself some other goals for myself in 2014. I wanted to have another contribution to a book, as I had done in 2013 with The Emerging Writer. This lead to my inclusion in The Noobz. I wanted to do more facilitating of panels and live events, which is one of my favourite things to do, and was fortunate enough to speak with truly wonderful writers and industry experts such as John Marsden, Paul French, Briohny Doyle, Rosanna Stevens and Oliver Mol. I also chaired a panel of Australian women writers at the Emerging Writers’ Festival and presented our manifesto at the EWF closing night party.

So what is ahead in 2015? A very different picture. A return to freelance writing, a big new long-form project I hope to start, more work on the issues of women writers, maybe some producing work… it’s all pretty fluid at this stage. Which is wonderful. Since returning from the Atelier I have focused on having family time, resting my body, tying up lose ends from 2014 and thinking about what I will expend my energy on in 2015. I feel ready to set some goals and move into a different kind of year.

#writingwhilefemale

Maxine Beneba Clarke
Maxine Beneba Clarke

Maxine Beneba Clarke has launched a brilliant initiative gaining some attention at the moment. Her hashtag #writingwhilefemale is a fascinating view into the experiences of women writers.

The Wheeler Centre published an interview with Maxine today where she talks about why she started the hashtag, which you should read.

Make sure you check out the hashtag on twitter as more people add their experiences, or even better, contribute your own.

Leaving Express Media

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After three and a half years, I leave behind this familiar (now empty) desk and set off on new adventures. My time at Express Media has been rewarding in so many ways, but it has also been exhausting and all-consuming. It was well and truly time to move on, but I’m sad to draw a close to this chapter of my life.

When I started at Express Media, working with Joe Toohey as General Manager, my son was barely one, my CFS/ME was in remission, I hadn’t yet been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder and I had been working freelance for many years. I stumbled upon the job advertisement by accident, I wasn’t looking for work. But when I read the ad, I knew I had to apply. I’d applied to work at Express years before, and had always had it on my radar as a place that perfectly aligned with my interests in emerging writers/writing, nimble not-for-profit arts organisations who weren’t afraid to try new things and a dedication to responding to the needs of communities of artists. I was so excited to get the job.

When I walked in the door, Express was undergoing a period of change. They were moving from a co-CEO model with an Artistic Director and General Manager, new projects were at infancy stage and Joe was fresh to his role six months earlier. The role was three days per week for my predecessor, the amazing Bel Schenk, and for me in the first two years, but in my time the projects grew exponentially. I started off by launching The Signal Express, The Under Age and National Young Writers’ Month (which Bel had conceived of and found partners and funding for). As the years went on Joe and I also conceived, launched and administered an expanded Buzzcuts program, Hologram (Jojo Jakob’s project which launched us into publishing novellas), Signal at EWF, Global Express, Scribe Non-fiction Prize, Young Writers Innovation Prize, Literary Salon public events, an annual Best of Express ebook, an education program for schools to create their own publication, a new website, the State Representatives program and numerous small or one-off events and projects.

Having the freedom to create projects from scratch, or bring to fruition amazing endeavours like The Under Age was an amazing opportunity. I also had the great pleasure of working with partner organisations such as 100 Story Building, EWF, MWF, Melbourne Fringe Festival, Writers Victoria, SYN FM, Scribe Publishing, Hachette, State Library of Victoria, Centre for Youth Literature, Triple R, RMIT, Centre for Multicultural Youth, Australian Poetry, Small Press Network and The Wheeler Centre.

Now is the time to move on for a few key reasons. Firstly, I strongly believe that in a youth organisation young people should be making the decisions and be in control. I’m not ancient by any stretch, but I’m now four years too old for any of the programs Express runs. I was lucky enough to sneak in a few years in before it felt disingenuous to be doing ‘youth’ work anymore, which I’ll be forever glad for. In addition, the current General Manager, Steve Lamattina, has been in the role for over a year. Joe Toohey kind of beat me to the punch leaving when he did, and once he was gone I felt responsible to stick around long enough for his replacement to be settled and provide the organisation with some stability. I’m sure Steve will enjoy having a new partner to imagine the future of Express Media with. Lastly, there are also the factors that come with working in small, under-resourced arts organisations. I remember Bel telling me when I took over the role that she felt like there were so many projects she was always dividing her attention between things, and it got too wearing. After adding on so many projects to the workload, I also felt divided all the time. I also felt like I never had the time to do each project justice. I felt eternally behind on emails and administration. I started to feel like I wasn’t meeting my own standards for the work we were able to do. And I think I just got plain old tired.

I’ve been lucky to have two jobs now that have felt like they challenged me and made me exponentially better than I was before I entered the roles. The first was editing Rabelais for two years, and the second is Express. You leave these positions knowing how lucky you were to have the autonomy, the support, the opportunity. And you wonder if you’ll ever find it again.

My time with Express has been invaluable for my professional development, and I’ve found great friends here as well as colleagues. I’m sure many of the people I have worked with will be future collaborators at other organisations and projects. I’m proud of what I and the people I worked with have achieved. I feel like I’ve made valuable contributions. I suspect I’ve gained more than I gave. My replacement is yet to be appointed, but I look forward to seeing who they will be and what they bring to a brilliant development role.