Thursday, October 30, 2008

Bound for Glory (Plume) Bound for Glory by Woody Guthrie

My review

Woody rides the rails and takes us along for the journey. It’s growing up with a smirk and a knowing smile and seeing your country for all it is – the good, the bad, the ugly – and finding a way to put it all in song, in a way that feels special and pure to you. It makes you want to pick up an old nylon string and hit the road yourself. Sure, there’s probably a little poetic license in some of Woody remembrances, but that’s art – like Kafka said; it should be larger than reality, while still reflecting it.

From a dust-bowl boyhood with a mentally ill mother and financially struggling old man to falling in love with an apricot picking young girl whose family wait out the depression while Woody’s stream-of-consciousness singing keeps them alive.

Woody sees the inherent unfairness in the failed lassaix-faire Free Market Capitalism of his time, much as we are seeing now, but like another gangly man with a good voice that we are hearing today, he never gives up hope in the actual people he encounters and their ability to survive, mend and learn from their predicament.

Particularly poignant in this time of recession reading of whole groups of men going from door to door begging for work, (before Keynes pointed out that social security was a right and need and not a privilege) as Woody himself does before realising he can live by peddling his songs to sailors, dipsomaniacs and insomniacs in late night bars and taverns. Telling how those men are often turned away by those who can help most (nuns, priests and the middles classes) while those with barely enough to feed themselves will wrap something sweet in some oil paper without hesitation, and the only string attached being some recycled cooking twine.

I love the scene’s Guthrie vividly paints of his boyhood gang (The Boomtown Rats) fighting in hot dirt, then a young man discovering the magic and music of people and travel, and finally, when offered the chance to sell-out and become an Idol-like crooner in a fancy big show for The Rockefellers, he instead escapes to stroll as a proletarian pied piper through the streets of New York, a trail of children dancing behind him, before sailing into the unknown with bad whiskey on his breath on a stray barge...

View all my reviews.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

The Road The Road by Cormac McCarthy

My review

rating: 4 of 5 stars

This beautiful piece of writing could be described as an epic prose poem. With no chapters, instead broken up into self-contained stanza-like paragraphs, it's simple story of a father and son lost in a post-apocalyptic landscape is creamily rich with vivid poetic imagery and powerful emotions that are carried across with the sparsest of Everyman dialogue that subtly carries real human soul through the little white lies of caring the father creates for his son as he unconsciously begs for him not to lose faith, as his mother did, in humanity and the hope of finding other 'good people' alive in what remains of America.

The source of the apocalypse, or it's type, is only inferred and never named, as it is how the father and son deal with their imbroglio that is important, not what or who caused it.

In this and other senses it is often what McCarthy and his characters don't say, rather than what they do, that makes one feel the booms and bust of luck and misfortune as if you were a silent impotent deity watching these two hapless travellers and wishing them luck in their seemingly doomed journey along a road lifelessly bereft of all hope, or is it?

The evocative descriptive narration that says more that simple straight exposition could ever say is a fine example of that great creative writing teacher cliché 'show, don't tell.'

View all my reviews.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

In Conversation with comedian Des Bishop

Des Bishop

By Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, September 18, 2008

A former altar boy is one of Ireland's most controversial - and constructive - comedians.

"GHETTO tourist is the term I prefer," says comedian Des Bishop when reminded of accusations in the Irish press of being a "ghetto voyeur". It was his 2005 TV series Joy In The Hood, in which he mentored aspiring comedians in poor housing projects, that provoked such comment.

"When you decide to do a project like that there's a couple of things you expect, and one is some journalist is going to say that you're being exploitative, a ghetto voyeur, and you just take that on the chin because you go 'OK, fine'," he says. "But even if that was true it doesn't change the fact that perhaps some of these people will get something out of it."

As it happens, Bishop says at least two of his former mentees are working full time as comedians. Not that that's stopped the controversy in his adopted homeland. The 32-year-old was born the US but has lived in Ireland since he was expelled from school in New York at 14.

"Things have gotten so crazy [in Ireland] that if I say something out of line, it can end up on the front page of a tabloid, even though I didn't really say something out of line."

Bishop's supposed controversy stems from his comedy that often explores social issues such as alcoholism, the plight of the underclass and migrant workers, even Bishop's own battle with testicular cancer. How long after diagnosis does one start thinking of jokes about testicular cancer?

"What happened was very soon after I had it some of the tabloid papers decided to print stories about me having testicular cancer including an enormous front-page headline. I went to the Irish Cancer Society and said I have no interest in publicity about my illness. However, if you can guide any of this in a way that's positive for you guys I would be a hell of a lot happier. As a result of working with them I wrote a [humorous] piece for The Sunday Independent, and that was only within a couple of weeks, and it was in writing that piece that the largest majority of the material came out."

Although punters are always handy with more suggestions. "You'll say something like 'balls' to people and they'll go 'don't you mean 'ball'?"

With his accent swaying between New Yorker and Dubliner depending upon the topic - Catholicism bringing out the Irish, social change the American, Bishop is infamous in Ireland for telling audiences what they don't want to hear and admits he has always been drawn to somewhat dark social themes.

"The positive side of that is that when you can make them funny it helps other people to engage with things that sometimes they don't engage with, but that's the high ideal, in reality people are just laughing, which is fine by me as well."

Bishop believes comedy can bring about social change and remain entertaining.

"I think comedy can work in that way. Like, I did a TV show in Ireland about living on minimum wage [in the fast-food industry]. That did genuinely cause people to look at the way they behave when they're drunk. It was really just people looking and going, 'Oh, my god, is that what [we're] like at two in the morning? Is that the way we treat foreign workers?' "

Bishop himself is a teetotaller. "I stopped drinking at 19 but that wasn't because I went to too many chippers at two in the morning and abused staff. I was just a bad drinker."

The former altar boy also mines his Catholic upbringing for humour. Why does it appear that there is a disproportionate number of comics, and alcoholics, among lapsed Catholics?

"I think there's a lot of shame that goes with Catholicism," he says. "Particularly around sex, but even around expressing yourself and being who you want to be. If you've been shamed on a load of those things it's natural that when you get a voice you're going to want to, like, f---ing liberate those things."


September 23-25, Gaelic Club, Surry Hills, 1300 438 849, $32.

"Bardflys" TV Show (Pilot Episode) now online!

Friday, September 19, 2008

A Piece of Fonzo-Journalism from the Past

I've been asked to be part of Herding Kites, the 10 year Anthology of The National Young Writers' Festival in Newcastle. I will have the piece I first performed in Newcastle many years ago, "Case Management" in the anthology, as well as performing it at a launch tomorrow night. While remembering those days I found the report I wrote for Revolver magazine in 2001. It's not so bad as I remember, so here it is.

The 2oo1 National Young Writers’ Festival.
by Benito Di Fonzo.

(Originally Published in ‘Revolver’ 8th Oct. 2oo1.)

The ‘National Young Writers’ Festival’ (NYWF) has given the former steel town of Newcastle a fine local tradition. That of writers from Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide, Perth, Ballarat, Brisbane and all points in between swilling beer, bourbon and hash cookies as fast as they can scam them, whilst their ‘compoetriates’ rant black rivers of cynicism or blow Utopian hope-bubbles from the stage and street. It’s a great feeling for a two-bit wordsmith like myself, trying to cash in on everything from ethnic stereotyping to performance poetry, to find that all over Australia there are like minded merry pranksters.

At times it feels as if, for one week a year, Newcastle becomes Newtown by the sea, with a healthy dose of Fitzroy and St Kilda thrown in. Electro-ferals and day-glow turntablists share the town with bad-shirted poets, hip-hopping revolutionaries, confused short film makers, pissed street press, and the just plain ‘lost.’ This is because NYWF falls under the umbrella of the ‘This Is Not Art’ Festival, which also includes ‘The National Student Media Conference, ‘’ Sound Summit,’ and ‘Electrofringe.’

Aside from the odd interview for 2SER’s ‘Poetic Off-Licence’ (6pm Tues), I had earned my free bed by volunteering to MC the Saturday Night Cabaret Spectacular. Or something like that. As far as I knew the rest of the weekend could be devoted to ‘finding myself’ as it were. However, NYWF is a strange animal. A kind of drug fucked octopus in a vat of Kent Old. Hence, no sooner had I found Newcastle, found my Hotel, found my old muso buddy Philasophigas, found the Hunter Hotel, and found a likely seminar to attend, than that strange beast’s tentacles sprung maliciously out in the form of Australia’s most violent poet - Melbourne’s Phil Doyle.

Phil Doyle earned his reputation when he pulled a Bowie knife at the first NYWF. At the time it made the papers and got the event some free publicity. Phil Doyle handed me an article he had published in ‘Overland’ criticising NYWF, with particular venom pointed at “the Sydney poets” who were accused of committing what is considered a grave crime in Melbourne. We had made poetry entertaining. I was to defend the charge. Luckily, Philasophigas had bought half a bottle of bourbon off a guy in the street whilst asking directions to the nearest chemist. He left me with the bottle as he was off to see something ‘electrofringy.’ I poured myself a little poets’ courage, studied the article, and vehemently defended the charges. Sydney poets entertaining? Ludicrous!

There were a lot of other laid back yet informative events to attend between drinks. Highlights included Linda Jaivan talking about how to write sexy text, AJ Rochester on comedy writing, and of course the afore mentioned Cabaret night. For the sake of the Melburnians I tried not to be overly entertaining. In the end, failure is it’s own reward.

Of course, come Sunday the brutal reality of being in Newcastle on Grand Final night hit us like a bad simile. The afternoon went eerily quiet as several poets followed local boy and organiser Marcus Westbury’s advice and donned blue and red clothing. There was a sigh of relief when the local team won their little football game.

As a writer, I probably learnt more about humanity on that night than at any seminar, as I wandered through a cross between a kind of footy-yob Reclaim The Streets, and the Star Hotel riots.

“This is what football’s about” said one delirious Novocastrian as he passed me a beer in the street before climbing a traffic light so as to jump into a mosh pit of locals from the roof of the Great Northern Hotel. Now that, I thought, is art.


Wednesday, August 27, 2008

"Instructions For Modern Living"

Instructions For Modern Living

Sydney Morning Herald, August 21, 2008

Kiwi Duncan Sarkies's combination of spoken word and music has been described as "stoner theatre".

Testing ideas, one two... Duncan Sarkies.



Spoken Word


The Studio


Sydney Opera House, Sydney


3 September 2008 to 6 September 2008



Phone Bookings

02 9250 7777

Online Bookings


Wed 7pm, all other nights 9pm

"Hang on," says writer Duncan Sarkies over the phone from Wellington, New Zealand, "I've got one of those devices where you put the headset on and you can walk around the house. I walk outside and I continue with my stuff - like putting out the rubbish - while I'm rabbiting away. I think the neighbours think I'm a bit mad."

Sarkies's slightly manic state could be the result of insomnia, if the show he has written with fellow New Zealander, composer Nic McGowan, is anything to go by. In Instructions For Modern Living Sarkies and McGowan perform a series of vignettes about the psychological machinations of those who occupy the witching hours when most of us are asleep, performed against a background of "found" video footage.

"When we put together the show I really dreamed up this mythical world where someone was working from their basement full of old video tapes, so I went out to the tip and bought 50 bucks worth of VHS tapes," Sarkies says.

"They have all sorts of weird stuff on them," says composer McGowan. "From Nan's 80th birthday party to training videos for things you'd never want to do."

The show was born when Sarkies began word-jamming with music loops McGowan created with iconic instruments such as a Moog theremin and a Rhodes piano.

"Straight away," McGowan says, "we were creating great moods and [Sarkies] was dropping text and characters in there just like a musician would on an instrument."

Sarkies: "Nic builds these beautiful loops and they grow on each other and you get hypnotised. I think Nic and I infect each other. He can start playing in a gloomy fashion and I'll roll with him. There are a lot of laughs in the show but it's certainly a gloomy, moody experience."

The show is constructed from the best of the collaborative vignettes.

"It's a bit like watching a radio play being made in front of you," McGowan says, "but with lots of imagery. With the projection behind us you can watch us perform or just watch the screen."

Sarkies: "We do refer to them as songs in a way but of course it's all spoken word. I do have a device that shifts my voice around as I take on a variety of characters all making it through the middle of the night experiencing the same thing - loneliness."

The characters - including a bored astronaut, a talkback radio host without any callers, and a ghost - sound like grim subjects but Sarkies, who has written for hit comedy series Flight Of The Conchords, reassures me it isn't all gloomy.

"It's definitely not like the Conchords in that I don't try and pull a gag every three minutes," Sarkie says. "You know when you listen to Nick Cave or Johnny Cash and they go to quite a dark place in front of you? It's a really nice feeling to hear someone doing that because it proves you're not alone in those thoughts. I do show a side of life that is quite dark - you do need the comedy to go there."

After success in New Zealand, Sarkie and McGowan bring their show to Sydney via a sold-out season at the Barbican Theatre in London, where the themes of ennui and loneliness proved universal.

"They really dug it," says Sarkies of London audiences. "It's really nice when you discover there's whole communities of like-minded people all around the world."

McGowan feels the unpredictability of much of his old analog technology adds to the sense of theatre.

"It really is a live performance," McGowan says. "I get very disappointed by going to electronic acts and they're just stabbing a button on a laptop."

Sarkies dislikes the term "multi-media art" and admits he has trouble labelling the mixture of spoken word, music and visuals. Some have called it "stoner theatre".

"The stoner thing is fair because it's obviously a good thing to watch when you're stoned. We do take people on a crazy, hypnotic ride. I think I would describe what we do as black-black comedy."

So it's blacker than black?

"Yeah!" he says, laughing, possibly as he puts the bins out.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

"Brain Droppings"

Press Release:
"Wordjammin", in association with The Empire Hotel, present -
"Brain Droppings"
Grand Opening Night
Sunday August 3rd, 5 - 7pm
(first Sunday of each month thereafter)
an eclectic blend of music, poetry, spoken word, comedy and performance art.
First show -
MC: Benito Di Fonzo,
band: The Outer Space Cowboys (featuring Vashti Hughes)
poet: Colonel Funtastico.
Empire Hotel, cnr Parramatta Rd & Johnson St. Annandale.
A new spoken word and music evening will be happening launching at The Empire Hotel, corner of Parramatta Rd & Johnson Street Annandale, the first Sunday of every month, emceed by poet and performer Benito Di Fonzo, and with special guest poets, comedians, performance artists and musicians.
The Grand Opening Night on Sunday August 3rd, will feature absurdist-neo-retro-spoken-word freak Colonel Funtastico and band The Outer Space Cowboys, featuring Vashti Hughes, who says of the group -
"Think Kraftwerk mixed with Patsy Kline, Bobby Gentry crossed with Roni Size or Elvis done electro clash style and you will get the idea."

There will also be an open mic section for those bold enough to accept the challenge, and possibly some crap encouragement awards found on the street on the way to the gig by Benito.
for more info or interviews contact:
Angela Stretch (Wordjammin) [ ]
Benito Di Fonzo on [ ]

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Live Comic version of Alfred Hitchcock's 'The 39 Steps',

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald, July 10, 2008

Alfred Hitchcock's spy thriller film becomes a stage comedy - with four actors playing 139 roles.

The 39 Steps

"I don't like it when they come out all wicked at the beginning," says playwright Patrick Barlow of his villains. "I like it when they're played so that you think they're a perfectly nice English gentleman, terribly urbane and posh, and then slowly you realise that the guy's a terrible raving Nazi."

So it is that in Barlow's comic stage adaptation of Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 spy thriller The 39 Steps, itself adapted from John Buchan's novel, he has used history to embellish Hitchcock's gentleman villain.

"I made him into one of those extreme right-wing English aristocrat Hitler appeasers," he says. "There was a movement with Lord Halifax and that lot that thought Hitler was quite a good bloke, [which] is all kept quiet in English history books."

The 39 Steps tells the story of Richard Hannay, played by Mark Pegler, who has a close encounter with a beautiful murdered spy and is pursued across the muddy Scottish moors before heading back to England to clear his name and foil the villain's dastardly plan. Hannay famously does all this while remaining unruffled and clean-shaven in his spotless three-piece tweed suit.

Helen Christinson, who plays the beautiful dead spy among other female leads in the show, says the now-peculiar style of 1930s British cinema provides much of the humour.

"As Australians we're very laid-back and the idea of the British stiff upper lip is quite comedic in a lot of ways," she says. "What's particularly lovely is that it's Brits laughing at themselves."

The idea of a comic adaptation of Hitchcock's classic was brought to Barlow by producers after his troupe, the National Theatre of Brent, staged award-winning epic adaptations of the Zulu wars and the Russian revolution with only two actors. Shortly after her death, it even dramatised the life of Lady Di.

"That was our most controversial production," Barlow says. "It was called Love Upon The Throne. [John Ramm] played Diana and I played Charles and the Queen and all the other characters."

For The 39 Steps, Barlow doubled his usual cast, to four actors, to play all 139 roles.

"As soon as I looked at the film I had this instinct that it would work great on stage, particularly because it was such a challenge ... a railway chase, the fourth bridge [scene] and the Scottish Highlands. I said, 'Let's do it with four people and just a packing case and a ladder so the actors are absolutely challenged to the hilt."'

Barlow is right about it being a challenge. The New York Times described it as a "tour de farce" but Christinson confirms that it's no picnic for the cast - herself, Pegler, Jo Turner and Russell Fletcher - to keep up with the multitude of characters they play, as well as changing their minimal set into everything from a moving train to the Scottish Highlands.

"We all have about 20 costume changes during the show," Christinson says. "As they're walking through the downstage entrance a dresser is following, pulling off wigs and coats and putting on another wig and coat as they walk through the top entrance ... so literally it's a matter of seconds."

Barlow and director Maria Aitken knew the production would work best if the comedy was played as straight as the pleats in the hero's three-piece tweed.

"My obsession with this is to keep the style very innocent, very not-knowing," Barlow says. "They shouldn't know that they're funny, it should be played absolutely straight, very English."

The play also contains trainspotter moments for Hitchcock aficionados such as Bernhard Herrmann's original scores, references to other Hitchcock films and even the obligatory cameo by the big man himself, all done in what Barlow describes as "that kind of British, Pythonesque, Goons-type humour". So is it a spoof or a homage?

"It's a homage to the film, definitely, which is an absolutely brilliant piece of work and a wonderful style of cinema that you just don't get now. It's got a slickness and spirit and dash that is gone now. It's a very respectful homage, even though we do make a few jokes about it."

The 39 Steps







Sydney Opera House, Sydney


31 July 2008 to 17 August 2008



Phone Bookings

(02) 9250 7777

Online Bookings

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Benito in Cordite

Have a gander around the newly released Cordite # 28: Secret Cities, now with added Benito Di Fonzo... Just like a chocolate milkshake, only poetry... in particular, one I wrote in a bar in Roma one sultry July night...

Friday, June 20, 2008

6ix Quick Misfits...

Six Quick Chicks

Benito Di Fonzo
Sydney Morning Herald. June 19, 2008

Six Quick Chicks go where conventional cabaret fears to tread.

Lucy Suze Taylor (left) and Annabel Lines of Six Quick Chicks.

Lucy Suze Taylor (left) and Annabel Lines of Six Quick Chicks.




Riverside Theatres


Corner Church and Market Streets, Parramatta


4 July 2008 to 25 July 2008

Phone Bookings

(02) 8839 3399

Online Bookings

"We call it comedy cabaret," says Vashti Hughes of the eclectic mix of onion-enhanced burlesque, satire, song and vaudevillian comedy produced by the collective Six Quick Chicks.

Hughes created Six Quick Chicks after years hosting cabaret nights she felt needed more quality control. After touring her own show to Hong Kong, Singapore and Shanghai, Hughes returned to Australia and put together a line-up she knew could come up with the goods.

After 18 months of performances, including a successful season at Adelaide Fringe Festival, Six Quick Chicks are heading for a return season at Parramatta's Riverside Theatres.

Hughes's character and long-time MC of Six Quick Chicks, the "repressed secretary extraordinaire" Mavis Brown, hopes to break her seven-year drought of sex and get lucky out west.

"When we started off it was as if it was [Mavis Brown's] living room and they were having a girls' night in, entertaining each other. [For this show] Mavis has decided she's going out west to find someone out there because here [in the inner city] she only finds gay guys and married men."

Among the melange of strange sisters keeping Mavis company will be her sibling Christa Hughes, formerly of Machine Gun Fellatio (MGF) and Circus Oz, and fellow comic-chanteuse Jackie Loeb. Other regulars of underground performance nights also appear, including Celia Curtis, who plays burnt-out Las Vegas showgirl Anita Douche, Liesel Badorrek as German vamp Iva Sveetvun, and Lucy Suze Taylor as Carmen.Taylor describes Carmen as "a fabulously bosomy opera singer" with a 10-minute, over-the-top operatic tale of "woe, tragedy and, finalmente, death". No doubt with tongue firmly in corset.

One reviewer particularly praised the bizarre Vladimira, played by Annabel Lines. The character is an Eastern European sensualist whose 10-minute act consists of doing strange things with the onions she fries on stage, the skins of which mirror the layers of leopard print she strips off to Japanese sexploitation soundtracks.

Lines, who worked as an aerialist, contortionist, razor-blade swallower and burlesque dancer with MGF as well as circuses including famed new-circus pioneers?Archaos, fears that burlesque is becoming too safe and predictable for performers such as herself.

"When it first got popular in Sydney you could do different things," she says. "Now it's very much like, the last burlesque I did at [club] 34B, six out of the eight acts used feather fans!"

Lines turned to the strange world of leopard-skin onion-stripping in an attempt to give her act a darker edge.

"It's all about layers. I wanted to cry, that's why I came up with onions, but I could never actually cry."

Will she be getting her produce locally? "Well, I'm actually very particular with my onions," Lines says.

"Do you have to connect with them?" Hughes asks.

"Yes," Lines admits, "they have to be exactly the right looseness of the outer skin."

Spanish or white? "I only use the brown onions. I did use a white one once but I didn't like that."

Surely the Spanish onion would be more burlesque? "Yes, but they don't have that good, loose skin."

Vegetables aside, the women admit they were at first wary of taking their bizarre show Parramatta way but felt the urge for new audiences.

"The thing is we are misfits because you can't slot us into anything that already exists," Hughes says.

"But anyone who comes to see us generally really likes us. It's interesting out at Parramatta because they weren't our mates. We don't have any of our normal support groups out there."

For one thing, audiences "weren't the people that go to those nights that are underground comedy-cabaret-burlesque nights that do happen [in the city]. We thought we might not get anyone."

However, their boldness - and the Riverside's - was rewarded with a return season. "I was sitting behind three little grey-haired old ladies and they were loving it, giggling the whole way through," says Hughes before breaking into an old-lady giggle. "I was so excited. I thought, 'If the old ladies like it, we're doing great.'"

Sunday, June 08, 2008

Jabbernoir hits the airwaves, and stores!

Benito is happy to report that the first recorded (and written) piece of Jabbernoir (that blend of film noir and Lewis Caroll-like absurdism that permeates "Jabbernoir e Lychee Whine" has been released, with backing music by Andy Lane, on Going Down Swinging #26.

Furthermore, as well as local favourites 2SER FM, Jabbernoir e Lychee Whine has also been getting airplay on ABC Radio National, where Tim Richie talked glowingly of the way the authors 'play with words' on his show Sound Quality.

I must say, I feared I was hallucinating when I first switched on ABC RN late one Friday night after stumbling home from the Allen & Unwin party at The Sydney Writers' Festival. However, as Mr Richie said when I told him that tale,

"I really like the way you came across the playing of it on air.... that's about my dream scenario for someone who makes something and then finding it on the airwaves"

You can read Jabbernoir e Lychee Whine here.

And you can hear the track in the mp3 player on the right, or here.

Friday, June 06, 2008

"Celebrity Terrorist Makeover" (in conversation with Van Badham)


“I don’t do worthy,” says playwright Van Badham, “and [director] James [Beach] doesn’t do worthy. We had to hang out with those worthy people. At one stage in our political development the two of us were sitting in a room full of people who only ate fruit that had fallen from trees.”

So it is that for Poster Girl, the controversial playwright’s return to the Australian stage, Badham has camouflaged her political agenda in a day-glow-pink coat of black comedy.

“Essentially I followed the story of Patty Hearst’s abduction by the Symbionese Liberation Army in the 70s and recast it with what would happen if a similar organisation abducted a celebutante heiress of the likes of Paris Hilton,” says Badham.

“I’m fascinated with celebrity culture of the contemporary period because celebrity has reached new heights since the advent of reality-TV and internet porn. In previous years celebrities were at least actors, singers, dancers or politicians. We now have celebrities who are just celebrities. What would happen if we snatched a celebrity like that and put her in a revolutionary context?”

What happens is celebutante Mindy Xyloine (Shannon Dooley) gives her abductors a lesson in how to work the media. Like Hearst, who assisted her abductors in realising their demands, Mindy gives the Army of Revolutionary Struggle (ARS) a celebrity makeover, teaching them how to stay ‘on message,’ the art of ‘branding,’ and the craft of public relations coups. In this sense Poster Girl comments as much on radical-Leftists’ inability to use the media as on celebutantes’ cynical manipulation of it.

“I think that a lot of the Left fails to compete with these guys like Lindsay Lohan, etc. They are the poster girls of neo-liberalism, the absolute symbols of everything the Right-wing free-market lunatics who’ve totally f*cked-up this planet believe.”

Surely they’re just harmless entertainment?

“No they’re symbols, brands, and they are sending a message – ‘consume, consume, consume,’ because neo-liberalism doesn’t function without consumption. There’s no Market theory if there’s no Market.”

It was Badham’s passionate politics that drove her to “flee” Australia in 2001.

“I’m not a violent person, but five years of Howard was really pushing my boundaries. There are only so many demos a day you can go to. I needed some ‘me’ time so I went to another country.”

Van went to several, working as a playwright in London, Edinburgh, Europe and the US, controversy her only hand-luggage. The US Embassy in Britain even issued a travel warning to American tourists about her play Capital, which foretold Abu Ghraib’s atrocities and how spin-doctors might deal with it. Likewise her play Camarilla predicted a London bombing during a G8 summit two years before it happened. Her musical Ca$h In Christ provoked 7,000 Christian websites to condemn her within 24 hours of it’s London premiere, and got her the front pages of both The Baptist Times and Islam Online. For Glastonbury Festival she staged a musical adaptation of Waiting For Godot performed by a cast of rabbits.

Upon returning to Australia she received a commission from her hometown Wollongong, submitting a play predicting the recent political scandal there, which the commissioning authority refused to stage.

Badham, who claims to read eight newspapers a day, says her Cassandra-like talent to foretell the future is no mystery.

“If you read news media, consume information, you can make predictions about events. That’s what I try to do.”

She believes it’s important to couch those bleak insights in humour.

“First and foremost I’m in the entertainment business, and I don’t think it’s worth mobilising everybody you know and the great unwashed to come and see a show to bore the shit out of them.”

If her predictions are consistent Al Qaeda will soon abduct Nicole Richie for a celebrity makeover. How will that go?

“I think they’d be better dressed. One of the reasons Al Qaeda has stayed very much a fringe operation is because they’re not very stylin’”

Badham believes the theatre should be the one place she can say anything she wants without fearing the consequences.

“That’s the point of going to the theatre. If you want to have a bland evening stay at home and talk to your partner.”

“Poster Girl”

By Van Badham.

Directed by James Beach.

Starring; Shannon Dooley, Fayssal Bazzi, Sam Haft, Susie Lindeman, Peter East, Marika Aubrey, Lucinda Gleeson, Andy Lees, Simon Corfield.

Old Fitzroy Theatre.

$28/$20 ($34 for beer, laksa & show)

Bookings 1300 GET TIX


Thursday, May 29, 2008

Bob Dylan's Birthday

It ain't he, babe

  • Sydney Morning Herald. May 24, 2008

A cyberspace homage to Bob Dylan has got everyone drawling, as Benito Di Fonzo found out.

Even Kris Felscher considers Bob Dylan's voice to be an acquired taste.

"I think a dog caught in a barbed wire fence is a good way to put it," he says when reminded of one reviewer's response to hearing Dylan for the first time.

The Florida computer programmer and musician is the driving force behind International Talk Like Bob Dylan Day.

The project began as a website ( which Felscher built last year to celebrate Dylan's 66th birthday. He encouraged fans to record themselves talking and singing like their hero and post the results to the site.

The response was enormous: hundreds of video submissions and more than a million hits.

Today is Dylan's 67th birthday. And with interest in the enigmatic American singer as strong as ever - he recently scored a Pulitzer Prize to accompany his Oscar and multiple Grammys - Felscher is hoping today's International Talk Like Bob Dylan Day will encourage Dylanophiles the world over to find and film their inner-Bob.

"I get a lot of people sitting in front of their webcams playing Dylan songs," says Felscher, 31. "And quite a few saying 'here's a song inspired by Bob Dylan."'

While most of the films are simple productions, a few fans have gone to extraordinary lengths to honour their hero. One hilarious spoof, No Direction, Period, claims that Bob Dylan has written every pop song since 1964 and includes impersonations of Dylan singing such unlikely material as Sir Mix-A-Lot's Baby Got Back.

Felscher and his friends need no excuse to talk like Dylan - they do it all year. But he hopes the event also makes a comment on today's music industry.

"A lot of the music you hear now is just manufactured and fabricated and you don't hear popular music like Dylan writes," he says. "His songs really come from the heart and mean something and really speak to the soul."

So far there's been no word on what the man himself thinks of a day designed to make people adopt his drawl. "I hope he would find it amusing, but certainly if he were to call up and say 'stop it! You're pissing me off', the site would be taken down in a heartbeat," says Felscher.

He believes the secret of Dylan's longevity is the uniqueness of his voice, as well as his lyrical substance.

"Part of the magic and the appeal is that he isn't pretending to be something other than he is. It's not something fabricated for mass appeal. He's presenting himself naked on stage. I think it's a hunger for substance that has brought him back into the limelight."

Yet Dylan, born Robert Allen Zimmerman in Duluth, Minnesota in 1941, is also famous for his many noms de plume. They include Elston Gunn, Blind Boy Grunt, Lucky Boo Wilbury, Elmer Johnson, Sergei Petrov, Jack Frost and Robert Milkwood Thomas.

Is it possible Dylan might post a video to the website under a pseudonym?

"It would be especially awesome to see whether he wins," says Felscher. "Jerry Lewis once came third in a Jerry Lewis lookalike contest, so you never know. He may not sound Bob Dylan enough."


In 1966, when Dylan was asked for his thoughts on Australia, he said: "They don't have a baseball team here." The answer didn't suggest any great familiarity with the country but nor did it diminish his popularity.

More than 40 years later, Australians can celebrate Dylan's 67th birthday today by tuning in to 2SER-FM, 107.3, for its five-hour Bob Dylan Birthday Marathon from 8pm to 2am. Now in its 24th year, it is produced by Bill Kitson and Bruce Williams, who say Dylan was not at the peak of his popularity when the show first went to air in the 1980s.

"The Empire Burlesque album had disappointed many fans with its messy production," says Kitson. "Many were still getting over his 1979-1981 religious conversion."

However, the marathon created immediate interest and inspired the formation of the Sydney Dylan Society (

"There were many people out there like myself and Bruce … who thought they were alone in their inordinate interest in the man and the music," says Kitson. "The show brought us together and soon we were having monthly meetings."

The society watched keenly as Dylan's fortunes improved with the release of critically lauded albums such as Oh Mercy (1989) and Time Out Of Mind (1997), which won three Grammys, including album of the year. His most recent LP, Modern Times (2006), went to No.1 in the US which, says Kitson, "in 1985 you would not have believed".

The Sydney Dylan Society also organises Dylan Conventions that occasionally coincide with his tours. Amanda Rose, 31, an Egyptology student, went to her first convention in 1998. She obliterates the stereotype of Bobfans as grizzled-hippies who trade bootleg recordings in beer gardens and says the society gives her a place to discuss the twists of Dylan's ever-evolving life-narrative with like minds. "From the '60s right through to now he has so many different threads," she says, "and they're all quite different."

Those not wishing to stay glued to the radio can attend tonight's Tangled Up In Dylan tribute show at Canterbury-Hurlstone Park RSL (tickets $25, bookings 9559 0000). It features Karl Brodie, Steve Balbi and Brett Hunt, and will be repeated next FRIDAY at The Basement (tickets $32/$25, bookings 9251 2797).

Says Hunt, "when you get inside a Dylan tune and really learn it you get centuries of songwriting. It's all in there - blues, folk, early rock; he had it all down."