[End of April, Beginning of May] The magic number “seven”

There were a few things in End of April, Beginning of May that I found somehow similar to the working experiences in a blackbox theatre. It may sound absurd, but it is very real in my body. Firs day is the high in getting into the theatre and get to immerse yourself into the real space, second day is the adjustment for everything that doesn’t meet your expectations, third day are the harsh time between technicians, directors, and performers, fourth day are the busy catch-up with all the delayed schedules, and, the fatigue that finally started to build in your body. Fifth day the illness usually get worse, sixth day I probably can’t care much about the sickness, even if it’s getting worse. Last day is the best. I may be sick to death, but it’s going to be over very soon.

Even if I may be in the theatre working seven days as a stage manager instead of a performer, to perform 7 days in a row, that is, to be in the same role for seven days, is extremely similar.

It’s the magic number of seven. Seven is a very social constructed number. Of course it has something to do with religion. But most importantly it has something to do with the modern life that is hugely affected by our working schedule.

I’m a research student and I Taiwanese, both signifies the possibility in defying the seven-day work/rest rules. But in Australia I’ve learned that if it’s Friday (such as today), if it’s well passed 5pm, don’t expect anyone to answer your email. Don’t even bother to write any emails. The only place that has ever replied my email in the weekend are the insurance companies I signed up with as an international student. They are also the companies that doesn’t put you on hold for 30..no, 45 minutes just for one 40-dollar bill. Besides that, you don’t get much on the weekend.

7-day is also the possible number for taking leave. Of course, once again, this is very much an Australian thing. I’ve worked in the academia for two years and according to the regulation I was supposed to have vacation time, which never happened. After that I worked in the film company and we all used what’s app for communication which meant that I’m basically working 24/7.

To live in Australia, facing the sometimes inefficient (in my eyes) communication, envying the labour rights the Aussis have, isn’t a very easy thing.

But I’m too close to whining and too far from reflections on the project.

Back to the point, it’s the social constructed working schedule and the fact that Clinton is likely to take 7-day leave, that made End of April, Beginning of May possible. Of course my status as a research student who’s not in the completion stage helps as well. If I’m in completion I would have some trouble in not attending seminars for sure. I’m taking classes based on interests in dance and the kindness of the dance department.  I wonder if they’ll still have me back after being absent for three whole weeks. I dread to know. But anyway, you see, 7 is a magic number.

7 days, signifies something. It’s not only the spiritual possibility in the 7 (I don’t even know how spiritual 7 might be). It’s the fact that this number is deeply interwoven in our daily lives that matters to me. It’s also the fact that to get one production in the blackbox theatre, unless you own the space, otherwise the max you can do is to get in there in 7 days.

And on that aspect, a site-specific performing for 7 days in a row, may be very similar to a single performing project in door.

I still remembered I caught a cold after the 5th day in the theatre. The air-conditioning is killing. There were only one or two hour break between rehearsals and performances. And when there were two performances in one day, if there’s no sun in the noon, life felt very miserable.

It’s also the mindset that I have to get everything ready in these seven days that is totally similar to End of April…If I did not make something on that particular week, nothing would remain.

Among all the friends who came, there was only one friend who knew me before he knew Clinton. And he knew Clinton soon after he met me for the Hong Kong protest in Melbourne last year.

This magic number of seven, it consists of the days that you can ask for leave, it consists of the days that I can skip class. It consists of the days that my friends may have major assignments to do. But most importantly it consists of the basic element in putting up something performative both indoor or outdoor.

If I’m doing repertoire I’m sure it would be a total different story. I’ve only had chance to work in the smaller project that didn’t have a chance to become a repertoire. And I’ve only worked part-time or on a volunteer basis that I didn’t jump from one project to the other.

It is the utter fact that neither Clinton nor I were making our livings on performances that made this project very important for us. But it also meant that, no matter how hard it was to work with every element in it, there was still a sense of vacation-ness in it. Even if I was actually working between projects and study, I knew that I didn’t really need to push myself in reading two more paragraphs of Attali or Certeau. I did feel extremely anxious in not getting enough reading done, but after End of April I didn’t progress too much (partially because I was really sick).

The magic number of seven also reminds me of all the ordinary things that I would like to do, or have prepared myself to face, on the laundry, on the different deadlines in my school life, on the different deadlines for my other projects. It would be great if I could really take it as a vacation, but even I focused only on this one project, I would still need clean pants to wear at one point anyway.

The most important thing, in the project, besides all the performances that I’ve done with everyone, was the fact that, life still went on, no matter how tired I felt, how hard it was to travel between the city and the suburb, or the fact that I really wanted to sleep but I had to proofread for my Taiwanese project, or the sheer two-hour time differences that pushed my sleeping life to an extreme that I was still working after 12am.

It’s just part of life.

There were elements that I would really like to simplify for a performance project. But it’s not really an ideal world. The best I could do was to suck it up and pat my own shoulder in all those solitary moments when I was working very hard before and after the performances.

There’s no need bragging or over-emphasise the trifles in life.

But it is with all the trifles that I feel a little bit more humble towards the world.

Also, of course, it is interesting in finding connections between all the dots that I find commonly taken that I would have to reflect on it at a later time, such as the magic power of number 7.

[End of April. Beginning of May] Reflections

Day 7 – photo: Jennifer Callaway

Day 7 of End of April Beginning of May, the last day, was a picnic. Chun-liang and I had the idea to end with a picnic for guest artists and audiences very early on in the planning of this project (we’d been planning this since November 2014), and for me it was a significant way to end. I think most people who attended this final day, or who were present at the State Library, were unsure whether it was a performance or not – I don’t know the answer to that, either. People did strange things, and everyday things. People made strange sounds, and everyday sounds. I remember one point where three of us were reading books aloud (Shani Mohini-Holmes read from Finnegans Wake, I read from Ulysses, and Ren Walters read from Cage’s Silence), and at the same time about 3 or 4 conversations were going on around us. It was one of the sonic highlights of the week for me, and it also represented an aspect of the project that had emerged somewhat unexpectedly throughout the week – the social aspect. After every performance, Chun-liang and I had coffee and/or a meal with audience members and guest artists. These social events had no agenda, but often we discussed the performance just gone, how the project was going, or a range of other things, over long breakfasts or lunches, or late night drinks/meals. As the week went on, I appreciated these times more and more. For me, improvisation is inherently a social activity; an interaction between individuals; and these social gatherings seemed an extension of this activity. They were also forums to debrief, for reassurance and support. I felt very vulnerable many times throughout the week, either because of confrontations during performances, or just general exhaustion There were a few key moments for me in these social gatherings of important support from fellow performers, but also from audience members and friends. But like our performances, these were not all non-stop joyful experiences! Like any social occasion, there were awkward and tense moments as well. Like improvisation. Like life, really.

Sometimes, I think that I don’t completely comprehend what Chun-liang is doing in her performance practice. But I am fascinated by it, and sometimes frightened as well. She claims she is not a dancer, and I often answer that she is more than a dancer. The social aspect is, for me, a big part of what Chun-liang does. Indeed, interaction was a conscious aim of this project. During End of April Beginning of May, she danced and moved and existed in a public space, and sought interaction with strangers and passersby. Every time I saw her approach someone, I felt scared. I’m not exactly sure why. We have had heated encounters with passersby at public space performances before, but this wasn’t exactly what frightened me. Chun-liang approaches people with trust and openness, and this could be seen as an inherently vulnerable position. I feel that vulnerability was a big part of what we did that week. I certainly felt vulnerable in performance as well. But maybe there is a power in this vulnerability, this openness. The people Chun-liang approached and interacted with often seemed disarmed and taken aback by her. That the majority of people seemed to react in a positive and friendly way to her is something worth considering, especially for someone like myself, who often has assumptions about people and their attitudes.

As for myself, I’m still not really sure what I learned. Maybe that I could complete such a demanding project, but not without challenges; especially the psychological and emotional ones that seem to be amplified in these situations of heightened vulnerability. Musically/sonically, I have no idea if what I contributed was successful or not, but in some ways I don’t think that’s the point. Instead, I hope those sounds found a place in the often cacophonous public space that is the State Library forecourt, that we were either harmonious or discordant. That the sounds existed there, and then were gone. Because we were there, Chun-liang and I. We were there for 7 days.

[End of April. Beginning of May] DAY 5 report by Chun-liang

7:52, I’m home, on the bed.

Clinton and Gabi and I gathered together at 2:45am, shortly after that Jordan showed up on the pavement (he basically walked there I suppose), then Mon showed up with her sleeping bag (no kidding). Joel was there with his camera, Greg was the last.

When we started, I saw a guy hanging around a homeless woman in Melbourne Central. I was very alert suddenly, after watching for a bit I decided to run over there to check if he’s harassing her. Once I get there I realised there were two women on the floor and the guy was holding an unlit cigarette, asking “What’s the problems?”

I ran really fast and was struck by the question because from the look of it they were only chatting. I said nothing, no problems. The younger homeless girl said that “I could have one of those leg warmer.” And I said “Yah sure.”

I was really going to take off my shoes and gave her the leg warmers and she said “No, No, you keep it, keep yourself warm.”

The memory was blurry now but I remembered the guy hinted that I should leave and I did. After I went back to the pavement on Swanston Street, Joel gave me a hug. He was probably the only one who had a slight idea about my sudden burst of running.

Also I find it hilarious that I choose not to cross the bars between the tram lines but I didn’t really walk on the crosswalk, either.

I remembered Gabi dancing on the floor quite seriously, and she rolled on the stairs, each by each.

Photo: Greg Wadley
Photo: Greg Wadley

Clinton was the first one to start the journey on walking along the library. I was inclined to follow him but I also knew that Gabi was still dancing right in the middle of the pavement. At first I ran between Gabi and Clinton with the blanket flying in the wind, then I kneeled down and held out my hands, Gabi saw me, came over, and gave her hand to me. I gave her my lantern, bell, and the blanket, and went to the middle of the pavement for Gabi’s. We hesitated in who goes first for a mere second, then she headed off.

That was the time when the water sprinklers started to work. Clinton was on the pavement at La Trobe St., I was on the lawn, Gabi was at the corner. We held up our lanterns to signal that we’ve seen each other.

We walked a long the pavement on La Trobe Street. There were two security cameras and Clinton and I each held up our lanterns toward it. Gabi was in between the bars on a small platform.

A few taxis drove by, I turned my lantern toward them whenever they drove passed me.

At the intersection, I pushed the walking-light button and started to run on the crosswalk. Soon Clinton and Gabi started to run. And Gabi did several cartwheels on the road! Jordan was at the other side of the library at one point as well.

We turned and walked along Russel Street. Clinton was making sounds with an iron gate. I stood in the middle of the road, where there were carparks. There was a sign saying ‘car park only’ on one side.

There was nothing written on the other side.

Clinton made several long notes. I responded a little bit.

Gabi tied her blanket on the pillar in the middle of the road.

Clinton walked on, I gave Gabi my blanket again and went back to untie her blanket.

Clinton and Gabi were at one of the window of State Library.

There were more people who came passed us who were drunk.

A guy took my blanket when I held it in the air. He turned back to me and apologised.

“Sorry, I didn’t mean to take it.”

He put the blanket on my head and his friend said that you have to keep it like this.

“There’s a ghost on the street.”

I reached out with my right hand and he was slightly shocked. They kept on walking.

Gabi and Clinton was still beside the window.

I started to do handstand with the support of the wall.

Later on, I think, the same guy and the same group walked passed me again on the same pavement, different direction. I walked along him for a few meters, he stopped and said to me,

” You look like a happy person. But you’re allowed to be angry.”

I waved at him when they crossed Lt. Lonsdale St. He also looked back several times.

I could smell the alcohol in his breath.

I was really tired.

Greg was pretending he was a passerby and asked me what I was doing.

I was holding back my nasal mucus.

I was really sick.

At one point Joel hugged me. And he wrapped me with the blanket. Then Joel wrapped me in the sleeping bag.

I was very weak.

It was a twisted feeling. If I could, I would just sleep there.

I couldn’t breathe properly.

After I got out of the cocoon, someone, probably Jordan, pushed down the front of my head. My nose and mouth were fully covered. It made breathing a lot easier, it also meant that I couldn’t see anymore.

I walked the whole way being blind on Lt. Lonsdale with everyone’s help. And I rode on a trolley for quite a while. After we came back to the flat ground, Clinton was trying to help me walking, especially with the steps. I remembered being stubborn about not wanting any kind of help, and pushed him away.

I guided myself by kicking my left foot first so that I would know if there are stairs ahead of me.

Flat ground, base of the statue, the light on the ground permeating into my hat. Traffic, water sprinkler. Jordan raised my hat.

The sky has turned white.

A security guard came by and asked us what we are going to do. I said we’re doing nothing, we’ve finished. He was good about it and reminded us that no videography. We shook hands.

After that everyone went to Stalactites for coffee and some food. We were all tired. When I went back to Clinton’s car to get my bag, we realised he didn’t lock the door.

Joel and I took an express from Flinders Street that went to Mooroolbark. We didn’t know that train would stop at Box Hill and it was a nice surprise. I slept on the train with my hat over my face, until Joel raised my hat and woke me up.

Now, I’m home, I’m showered, I’m in bed. The sky is cloudy, I can hear the bird.

Everything feels very much like a vague memory. We started End of April on Sunday, but to be honest it feels like last year.

It’s now 08:30.

[End of April. Beginning of May] Progress report 2

I always knew intellectually that possible obstacles, complications, challenges would almost certainly arise during the course of this week. There are the unknowns of working outside, in a public space, but beyond that the complications weren’t even that hard to predict: inclement weather, loud buskers and construction work, interventions by security guards or other officials/authorities. Yet when some of these things actually transpired, I was surprised at the emotional impact they still had on me.

Our Day 3 performance was at 9am, and just Chun-liang and I with no guests. As with most of the 7 performances, I had planned in advance the objects/instruments I would bring and had a vague idea of how I could use them. But a rainy Tuesday morning meant that I had to quickly reassess what I was bringing (some instruments would be ruined if they got wet). I was also quite anxious about performing in the rain, dreading one or both of us might get ill as a result. As Chun-liang can confirm, I had been hoping for the opportunity of a rainy day performance, but now it was here I was nervous. Yet when I left the house in the morning, something shifted in me and I felt very clear about it all. The weather had forced me to abandon all pre-conceived ideas, and I was really going to have to operate purely on instinct, and this felt like a gift.

It did rain, and it was wonderful. I remember looking across and seeing Chun-liang dancing in the rain with her scarf over her head, damply clinging to her face, and it was beautiful. This looks to be the only day we do not have any film or photos of, but I think for those who were there (our ‘actual audience’ of Adam and Ada, and our accidental audiences of passersby) it may be something they do not forget for a while.

Day 4 was my most difficult day yet. I felt at the beginning the three of us (with our guest, Ren Walters) did not quite gel for a while, but after some time I thought to myself that it was time, in the middle of the week, for a difficult performance. I think we each eventually found our space and role, and soon the familiar ‘fog of improvisation’ descended upon my mind.

After about an hour of performing, I was deeply focussed on what I was doing, really not that aware of anything else (both Ren and Chun-liang moved off elsewhere at this point, out of my sight), when I saw a women squatting down in front of me. I will try to recall as much as possible the conversation. I kept playing my metal bowl on the steps during this exchange; it wasn’t an act of defiance or anything, I was just very much in the fog and didn’t think to stop.

Authorised Employee: Hi. People have been complaining about the noise.

Me: OK, I’ll keep the volume down.

Authorised Employee: And you were hitting the statue with the bowl. You’ve been filmed doing it. You should move down to the bottom of the steps, off State Library property, or they may call the police and have you removed.

Me: OK.

Photo: Jennifer Callaway
Photo: Jennifer Callaway

I gathered up my things, got up and went to walk down the bottom of the steps. I was feeling quite calm up until this point, but I couldn’t see Chun-liang and Ren, and that upset me a bit. Suddenly it was important to know where they were, to make sure they were OK, and also to get some support from their presence. I’m forever grateful that I saw Jenny then, who had been filming close by, and she pointed out Ren on the far lawn, and she said that Chun-liang was around somewhere. Eventually we all found each other.

My feelings were very confused at this point. I was shaken by the exchange, and felt there was a veiled threat in the woman’s words about being filmed and calling police (I didn’t and still don’t feel any enmity towards her, though; I’ve worked at public libraries myself where I’ve been the Authorised Employee who’s had to say such things to ‘troublemakers’). Her words that ‘people had complained’ also stayed with me. It’s stupid, I know; I am aware that the music/sound I make is ‘challenging’ to say the least, but I was feeling very vulnerable. I also felt like our performance was ‘broken off’, ended prematurely, and I felt like that was my fault, that somehow I should’ve kept going.

I’ve written previously about the importance of our ‘actual audience’; people who especially come to these performances, and you people were so important to me after this incident, just with the reassuring things you all said to me, and emailed to me later. I am especially appreciative of the kind words Dur-e Dara had for me, saying that I handled it the situation perfectly and with poise. I certainly did not feel that way, but hearing Dur-e say that made me feel a lot better immediately. The theme of the performance had been the State Library Entry By-Laws, so perhaps it was a perfect ending for the performance to be shut down by an Authorised Employee for disturbing the peace. And last night, fellow performer and comrade Jennifer Callaway (our guest on Friday night/Day 6!) posted her photos on Facebook in an album she entitled ‘Acts of Civic Virtue’ (see Progress Report 1 for ‘civic virtue’). That really meant a lot to me. I thought about the faceless people who complained, but I also thought about the few times I looked up and saw quite a large crowd of ‘accidental audience’ standing around, enthralled by Chun-liang’s contortions and the extremities she was putting herself through. I remember seeing a young girl with blue hair smiling quietly to herself. I remember Ren walking around an engaging strangers in deep conversations. I felt virtuous. And I remembered that noise is powerful.

Photo: Jennifer Callaway
Photo: Jennifer Callaway

[End of April. Beginning of May] Progress report

Two days into our seven day project, I thought I would reflect here on a few key moment/incidents for me personally so far:

– A security guard has intervened on both days. On the first day, the guard removed a copy of our principles/manifesto that I pinned to the plinth of the Redmond Barry Statue out the front (I wasn’t that surprised), and this morning a different guard said we couldn’t film without permission (we had a camera set up on a tripod, which made it pretty obvious; somehow I think handheld filming wouldn’t be a problem).

GW 3
Photo: Greg Wadley
GW 2
Photo: Greg Wadley

– Some of our audience remonstrated with the security guard on Day 1. One guy, who later introduced himself to me as Keith, asked Chun-liang and I separately “Why were we doing this? What did we get out of it?” I found it a little hard to answer, besides some things from me about bringing art performance to the general public, but Keith had actually proposed this as a rhetorical question. He took a small notepad filled with handwritten notes from his pocket and pointed out a quote to me from Redmond Barry (who founded the library, and was the judge who sentenced Ned Kelly to death, amongst other things) saying that he intended the library to be a place of “civic virtue, not private entertainment”. “That’s what you are doing”, Keith said. “Civic virtue”. That just about made the whole project worthwhile, right from day one.

Keith's note
Keith’s note

– As we ate a decadent breakfast after our dawn performance on Day 2, Carmen showed me this quote from John Cage’s “Silence”:

John Cage 'Silence', p. 68 (thanks, Carmen).
John Cage ‘Silence’, p. 68 (thanks, Carmen).

I had lent this book to Carmen just a few days ago, but I have no memory of reading this quote previously. I think maybe it is another possible response to Keith’s question of “Why are you doing this?”

– Audiences (I mean, people who have actually come to see us, as opposed to passersby/accidental audiences (who are really important as well, but in a different way!)) are vital for me as moral support. We had quite a nice gathering of friends on Sunday afternoon, and a couple at dawn on Monday who had come to see us especially.

– This morning (Day 2), I was playing a string of bells against a metal rubbish bin. A garbage man, who I didn’t notice, was waiting to empty the bin. He waited patiently for me, until Chun-liang drew my attention to him. He came and changed the bin, then let me return to what I was doing. Some of the security guards have been annoying, but I am grateful to the people who have let us go about our craziness, even if it is interfering in their jobs, like the garbage man. We are just doing what must be done.

I think we are both feeling quite worn out, after just two days. Dawn was really hard (getting up at 5am to be there at 6am), but so worth doing. A magical experience. We will have to pace ourselves over the week. 3am on Thursday night/Friday morning is going to really challenge us, but I think we will be ready.