A decade of critical upgrades

A lecture performance by David Williams. First performed at This is the time..., curated by pvi collective. Artrage Festival, Perth, 1st November 2008.

“Righto! Thank you. Righto. Ladies and Gentlemen: Please! Please! Please! Ladies and Gentlemen. My fellow Australians. Heh. Heh. Heh. Can I just say, please please, first of all that I am truly humbled by this extraordinary expression of confidence in the leadership of this great nation by the Coalition. And the first thing I’d say to the Australian people in accepting their charge to lead the nation over the years ahead, the first thing I’d say is to re-dedicate myself, and all of my colleagues, to the service of the Australian people. This nation by, this nation, by reason of the circumstances of history and by reason of its great capacity, and the great capacity and dedication of the Australian people, this nation stands on the threshold of a new era of great achievement. This is a proud nation, a confident nation, a cohesive nation, a united nation; a nation that can achieve anything it wants if it sets its mind to it. And no Australian should ever shrink from a passionate belief in the ability and capacity of this nation, not only to provide a wonderful homeland for our twenty million people, not only to be a partner with our friends in our own region, but to be a beacon of democracy, of tolerance, and of hope, and of achievement all around the world. Ours is a great democracy, there can only be one winner when an election is called. We face that great moment of electoral judgment and electoral truth. We are happy, we are joyful that the verdict has been given by the Australian people but we never forget the fact that governments are elected to govern not only for the people who voted for them, but also for the people who voted against them. Heh heh heh…”

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

In the beginning, we accidentally called ourselves version 1.0, and the name stuck because none of us could think of a better one. For a decade now we’ve threatened to upgrade to version 2.

In our work we have explored material drawn from contemporary political discourse, using performance to interrogate the operations and language of power.

We believed that it was our civic duty to use the theatre to speak back to power using its own language.

We used performance to re-publicise forgotten and half remembered public documents – speeches from politicians, media interviews, news programs, opinion pieces, and parliamentary proceedings.

We believed that it was in the public interest to ‘perform citizenship’, and creatively engage with these dense, politically loaded, and defiantly non-theatrical cultural documents.

In 2002, we started working with the transcripts of a Senate Inquiry, and proposed to deconstruct it, like an updated Australian version of the Wooster Group’s LSD Just the high points….

We found that the material had other ideas.

David pours anddrinks a glass of wine

We became both fascinated and appalled by the ramifications of ‘verbatim’.

For us, it was always about representation.

We re-presented in the domain of performance the words of our representatives in the domain of politics.

We replayed the tapes of recent political processes, prising open the cracks.

We dug in.

We kept digging.

We called it ‘civic archeology’.

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

"Now is not the time to relieve the pressure on Iraq. And there is only one form of pressure that Saddam Hussein understands - the threat of military force.

We have tried sanctions and containment.

Sanctions can be a very powerful instrument of persuasion but have little influence over a dictator who cares nothing for the wellbeing of his people.

The brutal treatment by Saddam Hussein of his own people can be seen through his cruel and cynical manipulation of the Oil-for-Food Programme.

Tragically for the Iraqi people, Saddam Hussein has rorted the programme, violated its provisions and evaded its constraints.

It is the threat of military action which has proved to be the most effective, and perhaps the only, means of attracting President Hussein's attention."

We found ourselves at an interesting moment in history, and we took our chance.

We got mileage out of twelve years of neo-conservative government.

We built a profile out of twelve years of neo-conservative government.

Politics became the subject of our work over twelve years of neo-conservative government.

In the aftermath of twelve years of neo conservative government there were many many questions about what in the hell we would do next.

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

Very early on, we decided that we wanted to keep it real. We accepted that some of us weren’t very good actors, so we made a concerted effort to keep it real.

We got drunk onstage on sponsored booze, ate sponsored food, and never met either sponsor.

We imagined that global capitalism was a religion.

We sang Ave Maria while carrying Coca Cola.

We presented ourselves as Scouts in the Garden of Eden.

We cherry-picked parliamentary transcripts for jokes about theatre.

We became obsessed with Hansard and Lateline.

We became obsessive readers of Miranda Devine and Janet Albrechtsen.

We announced truthfully that “despite the rumors, in tonight’s performance the role of Senator Mason will not be played by Brad Pitt”.

We announced half-truthfully that “due to continuing threats of legal action, version 1.0 would like to declare that tonight’s performance is not about Sally Robbins”.

We announced untruthfully that “every word is this performance is true”.

“We had a lot of informal discussion within the AWB trying to think of ways in which this trucking fee could be executed. I believed it was a fee to cover trucking, but it wasn't a fee to cover trucking from point A to point B. It was a marketing cost. It was a fee. It was a few million dollars. Some part of that fee would be passed on to the Iraqi Government. Indirectly, or directly, yes.”

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

After the Australia Council demanded the return of $5000, we realized that reporting a surplus in grant acquittals was probably a bad idea.

We didn’t know what to do, but we didn’t want anyone to tell us.

We listened politely and argued vigorously.

We were terribly disorganized, but it always seemed to look like we knew what we were doing.

We were excellent liars and convincing self- deceivers.

We let things get out of control.

We lost our way, even though we didn’t really know where we were going.

On one occasion we tried to direct a scene blindfolded. We never let ourselves forget it.

We drank too much, far too often. We were various shades of green all the way to the airport, and had to stop the taxi to vomit in the gutter. On the long plane trip home, it was even worse.

None of the truly incriminating photographs ever made it to Facebook.

Sometimes, we shook so much that the nail walking scene was deeply deeply frightening.

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

Reading the newspaper, we found that someone thought we were “a refreshing new vision in performance”.

Apparently we “needed more time to dream”.

Apparently we were “challenging and hilarious”.

Apparently we had “more charisma and gravitas than the real thing”.

Apparently we weren’t “quite able to control the seven-headed hydra”.

Apparently we used repetition too much.

Apparently we used repetition too much.

Apparently we “had ideas, but told no story”.

Apparently we didn’t “have strong characters” and, as such, “had no clear character motivations”.

Apparently we were, from a distance, interesting enough. Close up however, we were “cluttered and unfocused”.

Apparently we used “lighting that added little to the creation of mood or tension and offered no direction "as to where the audience ought to focus its attention”.

Apparently we progressed through “a series of vignettes that had little cohesion, and failed to move towards a crescendo for the characters, who remained considerably underdeveloped”.

Apparently we "lit the way to the theatre of the future."

Apparently we went “the extra mile”: we entertained, informed and then contributed to the “betterment of our democracy”.

We made sure that we never gave up our day jobs.

We were a bunch of mother fucking c--t dogs.

We sang burn motherfucker burn, often for no reason.

When we fell asleep during the lighting plot we filmed ourselves using a mobile phone and spliced this image into the tech run that evening with the overlaid title ‘Sleep mother fucker sleep’. Some of us thought that this was hilarious.

We tried to steal a tank.

We planted advertising material for a show in the dioramas at the Australian War Memorial, focusing especially on the Vietnam war displays. The plan was that if anyone tried to stop us, we were to run off screaming: “FUCK OFF WAGES OF SPIN. STREET THEATRE, $24 CONCESSION.” Like many of our plans, this remained nothing but talk. We thought that this was probably for the best. We were amused a couple of years later when we discovered that this advertising material is now listed as part of the War Memorial’s official collection.

While we rehearsed, our family members died.

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

"Dear version 1.0,

How's it going?

May I preface this letter by saying that my ____was in the crew, though I haven't even spoken to ____ about this play, and for all I know ____ probably doesn't even care about it. I've met ____ once or twice, but wouldn't say that I know ____ at all.

Anyway, I felt I should write and let you know of my disgust upon hearing of plans for the play; truly a concept that is shit-to-the-core with bad taste, bad timing, and has an overwhelming stench of useless arty-farty endeavour.

Sure, the event was controversial, and raised questions about what was acceptable conduct in the sporting arena. Maybe it was a reflection of some deep-rooted aspect of being Australian? Who flamin' knows?! Perhaps these issues should be explored, but this incident should not be used as some sort of "type-example" or snapshot of the Australian psyche, because you have no understanding of the inner workings of the team, the personalities at play, the prior history, the pressure of the situation etc. To put it forward as a study of "un-Australian" behaviour (or whatever), without having full knowledge of the situation is ludicrous and, as stated above, in very bad taste.......shit taste in fact.

In closing, a general fictional play on the subject would be fine. Perhaps even a very similar situation, but in a different sporting field? But a specific performance of a very recent and, for many people, very tragic situation, involving people that are still trying to go about their lives, is indeed a disgusting and opportunistic farce. Shame on you.

Sincerely, ____ ____”

David pours and drinks a glass of wine

When asked on national radio if we were artists or activists, we said that we were artists. We often disagreed on this point, but then we disagreed on most points.

Sometimes nothing we said made any sense, but that never stopped us talking.

We were pathological, delusional, idealistic, and pig-headed. And that was on a good day.

An observer described our process as “Big Brother, but with smart people.”

We loved cheap gags, and not only for budgetary reasons. We kept joking that the next project would be a Chekhov.

We got away with it, and sometimes we had to be content with that.

We can still live with ourselves, and sometimes we had to be content with that.

We were forced to repeatedly embrace compromise, and sometimes we had to be content with that.

We lived in Australia, and we had to make sense of that.

Sometimes, we felt that we came pretty damn close.

"So again I say to my fellow Australians, thank you for the enormous trust that you have placed in us. I said at the beginning of this election campaign that it was about trust, it was who the Australian people had trusted to manage the economy, to lead this nation at a time of international peril, who did the Australian people better trust to keep the budget strong, who did the people better trust to lead it. In the first part of the 21st century ... The Australian people have given their answer, we thank them for that, and we start work immediately to justify and fulfill the trust that they have given to all of us tonight."

Thank you, and goodnight.

Jacob Patterson, Stephen Klinder and David Williams (onscreen) in version 1.0's The Wages of Spin (2005)

Beck Ronkson and David Williams in version 1.0's questions to ask yourself in the face of others (2003)

Rohan Thatcher in version 1.0's Preludes and Fugues (1999)

Chris Ryan, Yana Taylor, Harley Stumm, Deborah Pollard, Stephen Klinder, Nikki Heywood, David Williams and Shireen Magsalin in version 1.0's Unconditional Positive Regard (2004)

All photography by Heidrun Lohr.


CT said…
Oh my god I'm in love again.
funkylamb said…
Yes we can! :)

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