NZ Writer’s Week: Miranda July: Lost Child!

This, this right here, this is why we have literary festivals: so we can meet people like
Miranda July.

pp_miranda_julyI’m not sure how to describe her session. Based on the blurb in the Writers Week programme, I had mistakenly thought it was a screening of a film called Lost Child! followed by a q&a. It wasn’t at all: instead it was a talk, a multi-media presentation, a performance, an audience participation, a collaborative artwork.

Lost Child! is a book July wrote when she was a child, and she says it set up a theme running through her work, of leaving home, going into darkness, and surviving discomfort. “Origins are always the most interesting part”, she said, and told us about her life and her art, sharing recordings of past performances. She was warm and funny, wise and direct. I fell in love with her immediately – we all did. The atmosphere in the Opera House was convivial and intimate.

July told us about the plays she had written, and how she started her performing life in punk clubs, eventually moving to more mainstream theatre spaces when she started using film in her performances and was concerned for the safety of her projector. She set up a project called Joanie and Jackie – “I thought of myself as an organisation” – collecting films made by women, eventually moving into making films herself.

She was careful not to make it sound like it was easy, and throughout her session kept telling us which day jobs she had at which point. She found the interruptions of paid work annoying and jarring: “I lost my train of thought every time I had to go to work”.
cv_me_and_you_and_everyone_we_knowEventually she quit her jobs to make art full-time, thinking that if she stayed “in perpetual motion” she could try and live without working. One of the results was the feature film Me and You and Everyone We Know, which I watched this afternoon as prep for this session, and which she starred in and directed, as well as wrote. As her session progressed, my understanding of her film deepened. For example, I learned more about her artistic investigation of “the very real, sacred world of child sexuality”, and about the film’s title: “the audience for my first movie is everyone in the world. My second movie is for me and five women I know.”

As well as being a filmmaker (and author, hence her inclusion in Writers Week), July is also a fine artist. She told us about the art she created for the Venice Biennale: “Making art is less laborious [than performing onstage] because you don’t need to be there. I wanted to figure out how to make something that would automatically be shared. People like to pose with things, and the photos people take [of themselves with the art] are the pieces.”

She has also created an app called Somebody, whereby strangers deliver messages between friends. “I wanted to instigate performance without ever calling it that. Because there’s a smartphone involved, it looks like you’re doing something normal. I want to make audience participation feel necessary rather than arty.”

July seems to always return to performing: “the reason to keep performing is to be with people in the present moment”. We performed a sort of little play with her in the Opera House. At one point she told us to hold a stranger’s arm, and then she set out various scenarios for how the relationship between us could develop. It could have been weird and awkward; instead July created, for that brief time, a strangely genuine bond.

July spoke a lot about creating her own space as a woman and as an artist. After she moved to LA, she said that all the other directors she knew were men: “My way of doing things no longer seemed that magical … I continue to forget and to remember that I am free.”

Then we got to the Q&A section, which July said was her favourite part. There was the inevitable awkward pause when the house lights went up and people started shuffling towards the mics. July, though, thrives on awkward pauses: “This is my favourite moment, where there’s just total ambiguity and yet here we are … I feel like I’m swimming.”

The Opera House was packed with fans and the questions were of a generally high calibre (thank god no ‘where do you get your ideas’ or pleas for advice). She chatted to us further on various topics: “In marriage, the ups and downs of your mental state aren’t as fascinating as they were during courtship, you need to parcel out that burden.” And on making art: “You don’t need to have done well, you just need to have tried … you have to deposit terrible ideas into the bank in order to build the brain.” On performance: “Willingness to be vulnerable is a superpower. I can survive that.”

I came away from my Miranda July experience with the overwhelming sensation that art is possible and that I can make it. I’m thrilled to see what else Writers Week can throw at me. Bring it on!

Attended and reviewed by Elizabeth Heritage

cv_the_first_bad_manMiranda July: Lost Child!
Opera House, Wednesday 9 March
Part of the NZ Festival Writer’s Week 

Latest Book: The First Bad Man
Published by Canongate Books Ltd
ISBN  9781782115076



The ACB with Honora Lee, by Kate De Goldi, adapted by Jane Waddell

Circa_TheACBWithHonoraLee_website_hero_940x270px_1.2-940x270I was lucky enough to go along to the world premiere of the Vivien Hirschfeld Season of The ACB with Honora Lee on Saturday night. Originally published as an award-winning junior fiction novel by Kate De Goldi in 2012, it was adapted in 2014 for a radio reading by Jane Waddell. The relationship between Perry and her grandmother Honora Lee struck a chord with Waddell, and led to her creating a play from the book.

Perry does piano on Monday, after-school tutoring on Tuesday, clarinet on Wednesday and music & movement (M & M) on Thursday, at least until her teacher for M & M hurts her back and it is cancelled for the rest of the term. Perry and her Dad visit Honora Lee, his mum, in her new nursing home on Saturdays, and Perry has the great idea that she should visit Honora by herself on Thursdays. Honora has Alzheimer’s, and her mind is scattered – but with each word she loses, Perry creates a new entry in the ACB that she is writing with the old folks at Santa Lucia.

The staging, graphics and music were perfect. The first thing you see and hear is a bee, then Perry, drawing a bee in her book. The first conversation her parents have as they join her is about how many bees are around, dead and dying, this summer. The theme of bees carries through the play, as Perry and her nanny’s son Claude keep a collection of dead bees that they examine regularly.

cv_A_B_C_with_Honora_leeWaddell has adapted the book extremely faithfully, down to the lines that each character says in many places. Perry’s frustration with her busy parents – “Only children must be kept busy” – was obvious through her Tourettes-like outbursts, whenever she was frustrated. Lauren Gibson played Perry extremely well, making her age clear and her showing her eccentricities perfectly. If you are reading the book in preparation to see the play, you will note a couple of discrepancies from the source, but they add to the play’s drama.

Perry’s relationship with Honora Lee (Ginette McDonald) was believable and natural, and the other characters from Santa Lucia are fantastic for adding comic and dramatic tension. I particularly enjoyed the male characters played by Nick Dunbar. The graphics of the alphabet as Perry creates it with those at Santa Lucia Nursing Home, are just right for a 9-year-old girl, and added to the story well.

Throughout the play, Perry adopts phrases from her Grandma and others around her, something I remember doing at that age (I learned “Oh My God” from my grandma). So I was amused near the end when a 9-year-old girl behind me whispered to her mum “has she passed away?”, as that is one of the phrases the adults use to dissemble the death of some of Honora Lee’s friends.

You should go to The ACB of Honora Lee if you enjoy the workings of family; if you can see the light in the dark side of life (and death) and of course, if you love Kate De Goldi’s work. It is a very special experience, and one that shouldn’t be missed. I think it is suitable for kids, those aged 7 and up would enjoy it, though older kids will understand more of the subtle humour.

Reviewed by Sarah Forster

The ACB of Honora Lee
by Kate De Goldi, adapted by Jane Waddell
Circa Theatre 40th anniversary season
Book here for: 27 February – 20 March 2016 – tickets are available as part of the New Zealand Festival
Tuesday – Saturday 6.30pm
Sunday 4pm