Event Review: Spineless Wonders Presents, 26 November 2013, The Wheatsheaf Hotel

For a while now I have been eagerly trotting along to the Wheatsheaf Hotel four times a year on a Tuesday night to attend Spineless Wonders Presents. So it is an absolute pleasure to finally get around to writing a blog about it. Don’t know what’s taken me so long!

I guess the benefit of having taken so long is that I can now reflect on SWP as an established event, one that has earned its rightful place in the folklore of performance storytelling, and one that Jen Mills said is a ‘reliably enchanting event … closer to New York’s Selected Shorts than anything else in Australia’.

Well, I ain’t been to New York, but what I do know is that I look forward to SWP more than any other event on my calendar – and that is a calendar that has been filled in recent years with more Fringe shows than I can count, and plenty of Festival, Cabaret and other miscellaneous events. As wonderful as many of these events have been, going to SWP feels like visiting a favourite friend. This friend, who I have come to rely on and trust, takes care of me. She sits me down in a cosy room lit with twinkling fairy lights that encourage intimacy and revelation, puts a bevvy in front of me and proceeds to keep me entertained until I am fortified by the communion and wonder of story and ready to return to the real world.

While I sit there, surrounded by the warm feeling of trusting what is about to happen while simultaneously being excited by the prospect of being surprised, some of Adelaide’s finest actors take to the stage and read – no perform – stories written by some of Australia’s finest writers. And in between, beautifully unique musicians fill the spaces with melodies and musical stories.

One of the many things I love about SWP is that it is not an event for the literary elite – although they are just a welcome as anyone. This is an event for the punters, people who don’t care who is published by whom, but just want to be entertained, to hear a story, to remember the simple pleasure of being read to.

In a world that focuses so much on screens, SWP takes your gaze up, up, up. Higher than the screen in your hand or on your desk, back onto a stage, which is an entirely different experience. Sitting in front of actors on a stage is visceral, energising and just plain fun. You smile, you laugh, you might even cry: you feel the actor’s energy coursing through your veins, you respond to their energy.

It is a filling up, not a sucking dry. The stage is beautiful whether you are on it or watching it.

Curator Caroline Reid hand-picks stories, actors and musicians for each event, and the most recent event on 26th November 2013 had some old favourites as well as some newbies.

A highlight of the first set was Threasa Meads’ ‘The Wish’ (read by Holly Myers). Meads’ story imagines a new world order and a child’s poignant wish. The moment of silence from the audience as Myers finished reading spoke infinitely louder than rapturous applause. We had all been transported by Meads’ extraordinary imagination and just for a moment forgot the protocol of the performer-audience contract – we forgot to clap. This surely must be the mark of a magical experience.

Tamara Lee’s reading of ‘Bulldozer’ by Mark O’Flynn had the opposite effect – instead of sheer fascination and transportation, the audience laughed – hard. O’Flynn’s ability to write a child’s voice is utterly convincing and was supported brilliantly by Lee’s terrific reading. Lee’s timing and gestures were immaculate.

Reid challenged seasoned performer Emma Beech (pictured above) with A.S. Patric’s ‘nothing to do with anything’, a story written without punctuation. If ever there was a challenge to an actor, that was it. Beech pulled it off with panache. Nothing phases her. She found her rhythm in the story, connected with the voice and nailed it.

Choral Grief, who describe themselves as ‘a choir that sings sad songs’ provided the musical interludes. They performed two a Capella sets – the first consisting of sea shanties cleverly constructed into the chapters of a story, and the second consisting of Christmas carols. They certainly do sing sad songs, but they perform them with infectious joy and wonderful skill so that the audience is lifted and is never left feeling the weight of that sadness.

SWP is taking a break over the Fringe season, but will be back in May 2014. For more info, head over to the SWP Blog, and I hope to see you at the Wheaty in May!

The confusing idea of perfection OR How to forget everything you know

Rejection can feel like a firestorm. It burns hot, it swoops in and swiftly fells you. It is confusing. Heartbreaking. Poisonous.

I have just been rejected for a big-deal international opportunity because I am not published enough.

And so, as I always do, when I am faced with rejection I curl up and sulk for a few days and nurse an intense feeling of depression. I allow myself to feel this way for a few days, I recognise it as a direct result of putting my heart on the line and being rejected, and then I move on. But it is getting harder and harder to move on. Where do you move on to when the trail behind you has more ditches than bitumen? You start to look ahead and question the wisdom of the journey.

What is it with writers? Why do we do this to ourselves? Why do we continue to slit open our veins and pour our blood and guts onto the page only to be told it’s ‘not quite there yet’ or ‘you were very close to the top of the list’ or ‘it’s not right for our publication’ or maybe even just ‘sorry’. I’ve had all these rejections, and others. Some are kindly, some are blunt, some totally anonymous and generic. However they come, they are always cruel. Very often the publisher is right – it’s not quite ready. So you put it aside, revisit it later, see what the publisher’s fresh eyes saw and you work on it some more.

But what is with this pathological seeking of perfection that we call writing? Writers must be fastidious, obsessive perfectionists. These are not characteristics that make for happy people. Happy people are not perfectionists. Perfectionists are never satisfied, and therefore happiness is always out of their reach.

I want to be happy.

I don’t want to be a perfectionist. But I want to be great at my craft.

I also don’t want to have my feelings of self-worth dependant on the rejection or acceptance of a small piece of my work, by a person I have never met. That is not healthy.

Still I strive. Still I seek perfection, and the more I seek it the further it is from my grasp. The more confusing the idea of ‘perfection’ becomes. What is a perfect story? Who gets to decide that? Is it perfect if it wins an award? Is it perfect if it sells 1000 copies? Is it perfect if it gets you another 50 Twitter followers? Is it perfect if a stranger comes up to you on the street and tells you they liked your story? If it gets made into a short film? If it is adapted into a play?

You see, there are endless ways writers have of reminding ourselves that we are not good enough. You get a story published, but it’s not in the right journal. You get a story read out at an event, but it’s doesn’t get the biggest applause of the night. You get longlisted, but not shortlisted. All these things have happened to me, and all of them have eaten away at me. Just a little bit. And all of them, despite being successes, have left little potholes behind me. I look back on the road and see the darkness, not the light.

This is not healthy. How do you be a writer and be healthy?

I don’t know, but I’m guessing it has something to do with shutting all that out and remembering why you chose to write in the first place.

For me, it all started when I was about 7 or 8. I would spend school holidays filling whatever notebook or scrap of paper I could find with stories. The story would be as long as the paper. If it was a notebook, it would be a long story. If it was an A4 sheet, it would be a short story. That was how I spent all my spare time. That and reading.

There was magic in those creations. I wish I still had them. They were pure, wrenching emotional purges. I was creating, and expressing myself in the most honest way possible. Without the self-editor in my head. Without the knowledge that I have now of what a story ‘should’ be. Of what editors and publishers look for. About what the fashion is right now. None of that mattered. All that mattered to that little kid was that she had something to say that was too complicated for a conversation, or too precious for a conversation, or too risky for a conversation. The page made it safe, made it clear and made it real. That kind of writing made me happy.

I need to find that 8 year old kid again.

So when all else fails, when small accolades are not big enough, when rejection is cutting to the bone, when the ditches and potholes make it impossible to go back and too scary to go forward, I will remember that little girl and forget everything else I’ve learned.