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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Image by Stefan Keller from Pixabay

... god still loved her in spite of the fecal rains that poured down on her and from which she was made to drink ...

Ant Generals and Lazy Fat Ant Queens of the Ant Brigades are furiously working on the normalization of war and war talk and expectation. They write their opinion pieces and try sounding intelligent and knowledgeable to dispel any thought that they might in fact be moronic arseholes with reasonably high IQs. Farting out their shitty minds garnered from prestigious families and sewer rats, the Ant generals and lazy fat queens of the ant factories soil the cultural psyche with their fakery skills and semonic fertility drugs to masturbate the minds of vulnerable and isolated and desperate beings clinging to the impossible thought of finality being truly final. And for the child there is the over-riding dread; that shudder vibrating from the first cracks of thunder and the roar of the death jets supporting the darkest shadows of innocent imagination. While all the while Skull watches from one of those shadowy corners devastated by bland indifference. Skull no longer feeds but offers a kind of terror in nourishment to frighten even the mask of some gruesome Impaler. Skull fakes art and theatre in the fragile nests of ants that build monuments to their futile civilizations. And you say it is all so incomprehensible, an AI LSD fueled cartoon of charlatan investors in some orgy of sharks fucking in storm-water drains of one's educated mind and frugal study. So must we surrender to the Ant generals and lazy fat queens of the ant brigades in order to save the child watched over by the Skull.


Potato Head dreams of death. He sees the Chinese stamping on the heads of new born babies so he can triumph over the devastation as a great war-time leader like King Leonardo, the king of Bongo Kongo, or even some pelican prince from some sand bank rising above a puddle somewhere or other. And the court of White Russian democrats await death in basements for their lack of zeal to the Movement of History as advocated by those who really KNOW. The idealist holding an ancient gun pointing at the child of some Has-Been is convinced of the necessity to sacrifice the child to the demon of socialist sainthood. Yes, this is the cause. Potato Head can quote such atrocity to support his advocation of a Chinese war with Tasmania or some inland penitentiary. Potato Head is sincere. A sincere Penis waiting for god to intervene and rejuvenate a lost opportunity. Potato Head is also a Penis. A penile man of no substance except for the harboring of semonic seeds of fakery and delusion.

And Potato Head reproduces himself throughout the education system for the education of spiders and poisonous roaches. Yes, his mission is clear. His sincerity is unquestioned. His devotion to the Ant Generals and Lazy Fat Ant Queens is undeniable. Potato Head pisses in the direction of the Skull that watches him and shows no emotion as it questions Potato Head's philosophic and ideological pretentions. The Skull is no intellectual. The Skull simply IS. And Potato Head has no answer.


The little girl is crying. She saw her mother being raped by ten soldiers as she was held down by an officious female of no fixed ideology. She saw her father being hacked to death by the masculine poet of politically correct world visions. She was forced to bury her brother alive under fear of her own personal mutilation. And she was made to feel thankful that god still loved her in spite of the fecal rains that poured down on her and from which she was made to drink. And she came to admire the depths to which men would plummet for the sake of cultural honor and the plight of Ant Generals and the Lazy Fat Ant Queens.

And she learned NOT to cry; she learned to look into the eye of the bull ant kingdom and lazy-fat queendom and vowed to take up the Aukus to obliterate the laser-light certainties of emotional equivalence that surrounded her. She embraced the Skull and when it was appropriate, she made it her lover and she danced within the tombs of lost cities and forgotten arts. She became the shield of Medusa and the cry of the crackling fire where potatoes were being baked for late night bar b cues for harbor-side parties of the wealthy and conservatively dispositioned who laughed a lot and made funny jokes about farts and fisting. She became the muse of her Skull whose eye sockets became the all-knowing dreaming of dispossessed and disillusioned dreamers and artists who were both fascists and anarchists at the same time. "There is no art" she would scream from awakened dreams on hot nights; "only needles in the eyes of certain death".

And the SKULL remained dispassionate. The child became old eventually to be consumed within the Ant nest of the Ant Generals. And if the Skull could dream, it would be of that child who is buried with her own dreams within the weight of unspecified detachments and centuries of fakery and ruins. Yet from the grounds we see Potato Head spewing up as a newborn growth that defies all logic and all possibility.

Stalin, Hitler, Jack Smith and Jill Hill welcome the little brat ... Skull sits on the mantle piece of some godly man being served a meal by a dutiful wife ... the war rages on a 1960s TV set in between the televising of the cricket and some Trotskyite pours another beer to recall the glory days of all those who were part of the movement ...

Joe Woodward 25 July 2023

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Image by Stefan Keller

Beauty in theatre is often found in the grotesque. Think of Beckett, Ionesco, Lyndsey Kemp, Butoh, Berkoff, Artaud and even Brecht and Shakespeare ... Let alone much contemporary theatre expression! Culture is at its basic core a closed system of repeated affirmation of myths and routine rituals that solidify all knowledge and all that could possibly be known and understood. It is the sanctification of the seemingly obvious and the cult of morality enforcement that accompanies all authority vested in the protectors and definers of cultural propriety. It is the grounding that human beings seem to need in order to face and negotiate the terror of oblivion and total disorder. It provides the structural straitjacketing of human desire, lust, ambition and delusion that forms one's identity. Theatre and culture are thus often at odds as theatre becomes the provocation operation (PO as de Bono suggests). Theatre is in fact, historically and logically, then a force for change and a challenge to stereotypical thinking and enforced cultural hegemony. In short, it is a vital component in the education and platforming for societal and cultural critical and creative thinking and action that goes back a long time: perhaps preceding even the Ancient Greek experience! So perhaps our educational and cultural managers need to embrace the grotesque that is often found in theatre as a reminder of the necessity of the Elizabethan "All Licensed Fool" that reminded Queen Elizabeth 1 of the illusion of her own power!

Political Drama from the Left and Right

The "New York Times" recently published "It’s Getting Hard to Stage a School Play Without Political Drama". (Michael Paulson, July 4, 2023 Updated July 5, 2023). You need to be a subscriber to read the full article. But it pointed to the growing use of agenda politics in the US to silence the voice of theatre expression. I might suggest it points to the silencing of the "all licensed fool" that might point to the delusional life within agendas of cultures and sub-cultures. The vested interests in the social constructions of various realities is becoming the cynical and a savage playground of the shapers of thought and viewpoints.

Social constructivism can be interpreted in many different ways. However, the recognition that belief and perceived reality is a social phenomena separated from normative considerations has a strong hold on twenty-first century thinking. So there is a tendency for controllers of public perception to go out of their way to restrict all forms of counter suggestions that might defer or deter people from deviating from the sanctioned agenda and correct viewpoints of thinking and attitude. Both the ultra-left and ultra-right recognize this need to shape and control the construction and advancement of particular realities. This effectively straitjackets people; preventing consideration and exploration of the unknown and of alternatives. So is this relevant for our theatre?

The Social Construction of Reality

Berger and Berger's "The Social Construction of Reality" (Berger, P. L. and T. Luckmann, 1966 Garden City, NY: Anchor Books) might well have taken unforeseen directions in the decades since publication. Lev Vigotsky's (Vygotsky, Lev, 1978 Mind in Society. London: Harvard University Press) advanced Piaget's theories of cognitive development pointing to the role context and social development had on cognitive growth. Perhaps, drawing on this idea and that of similar theorists, it isn't too large a leap to suggest then that personal belief systems and ways of interacting with the world are socially constructed. One's very cognitive development is thus interlaced with culture.

To greater understand and confirm how belief systems actually shape culture and one's interaction with it, have a look at this simple video: "How Belief Systems Work". Just click on the image.

Artaud and the Challenge for Theatre and Education

While some would argue that belief systems are not only necessary but are in fact inescapable facets of the human being, our programming is such that it is impossible to escape from some world view and some belief system without replacing it with another. Our very means for perceiving the world and ourselves depends on it. Antonin Artaud recognized this essential point and suggested a radical view that theatre could challenge one's very belief system with shocks to the personal perception that an audience might have.

While it is debatable whether Artaud's view ever was even partially realized, his "Theatre Of Cruelty" and the grotesque avenues it inspired has had a very significant influence on both stage and screen presentations. The ability to challenge and break through the straitjacket of conventional thinking and experience has certainly been a major part of Artaud's legacy.

The timid child being psychologically smothered by their parents into a frightened and self-conscious being with low self-esteem or, in reverse, with an over-bloated ego so devoid of the ability to engage, is at once shocked into leaping from the boiling water just as the boiling frog was forced to leap away when thrown into the death trap of 100 degree water that would have killed it. Yet most of life is in tepid territory protected by the straitjacket of cultural and familial certainty. Currently, our younger generations are being bled of their ability for resilience by the immersion into tepid social settings that shield them from any challenge to their cultural and social upbringing.

The theatre, both as presentation and as a process for participants, is one area of experiential engagement that offers a challenge to this impending destruction. So when the controllers of social construction use their power to censor and restrict theatrical exploration and presentation, we need to recognize it for what it is: ie. nullification of what it is to be human; a blanketing of curiosity, empathy and challenge!

Nullification of Challenge and Growth

Without the Licensed Fool of theatre being able to express unfettered observations, reflections and responses from within the closed system of culture, one's very reality is likely to implode or be obliterated from existence. The neurotic adherence to delusions and the whims of charlatans from the political and social domains means that the limitations of restricted experience and opportunities for thinking will result in personal stagnation and social restriction.

The NAZI extolling of the beautiful in art and culture was a lie and a façade covering the most hideous of sanctified action by a ruling elite. Such art practice tolerated no challenge to its aesthetic. Today, there is a growing tendency in Western cultures to limit and destroy artistic practice in theatre that counters the bland art of distraction. This is particularly evident in education. The New York Times article reflects just the tip of the ice berg. Self-censorship and the slide into shying away from sensitive and essentially challenging theatre subjects in schools is ensuring the strengthening of the hold cultural straitjacketing has on its subjects.

As teachers, directors, writers and artists of all kinds, there is an onus on us to lead by example in a mission to rejuvenate cultural connection, artistic courage and life-long engagement with processes of creativity and design. The grotesque must be embraced; there lies the seeds of beauty. With the challenges offered by mind-numbing social media propaganda, the task of becoming the licensed fool is ever more necessary for both individual and societal sanity. We live in a mirror maze of narcissistic obsession. The real question for our theatre is how to break out from it! The actions of state and self censorship as indicated in the New York Times article makes this ability to escape so much more difficult. This then is the prime task of our arts and theatre in this country to ensure nothing of that scale ever is encountered on our shores.

Joe Woodward

See other essays on similar topics:

Theatre Songs of Protest

The Blistering Cold of Left-over Tears

Exploring Oceans or Just Following Drain Pimes in Teaching Drama

See the movie: "Under the Light"

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  • Writer's pictureJOE WOODWARD

Image by Stefan Keller

When we hear that a strange growth on our skin or a lump somewhere or other on our body is "benign" and not "cancerous" we feel a relief. Ah ... It won't kill us. So we go on our way and keep doing all the things that might in fact bring about the malignant form to a growth or lump or whatever in our system. Theatre raises significant points and issues that might seem at first viewing as simply benign fringe hysteria. Much of society only sees the results of disasters and even then views such results as "crap" to quote a recent Liberal Party Prime Minister. Belvoir Theatre in Sydney provided a powerful challenge to all such benign thinking with its production of David Finnigan's "Scenes From the Climate Era".

I have loved the work of Belvoir. I also loved the previous company, Nimrod Theatre Company that occupied the same space prior to Belvoir. The work of John Bell, Richard Wherrett and the remarkable Ken Horler stand out as seminal in the Australian history of theatre. I remember the late Ralph Wilson describing Ken Horler as the unsung hero of the advent of Australian Theatre's renaissance. The early NIMROD was never benign. It was an aggressive, exciting and skilled arrow shot from a targeted bow aimed as a defiance into the heart of lethargic and arse-licking conformity. Belvoir benefitted from the work and insight of Ken Horler who purchased the space for a dollar. I noted that Nimrod Theatre Company productions are still featured on posters on the walls of Belvoir Theatre Company.

David Finnigan's early work was in Canberra, before he embarked on an amazing artistic creative venture internationally. I couldn't miss driving up to Sydney to see "Scenes From the Climate Era" and it didn't disappoint. Brilliant and incisive writing and directing meant this intelligent exercise in dialectics opened discussion and pointed out the weakness in momentary zeal. This was really engaging theatre of serious intent but not presented as a catch all "you better believe it" style work. Finnigan's theatre touched the very heart of people trying to survive and make sense of an ever increasingly complex universe. The brilliance of its construction meant it worked and people left discussing and nagged by doubts of their own contributions while not feeling hopeless or defiant of the issues.

This was in sharp contrast to another production on the same issue seen recently where the proposed choice for action centered around a Pol Pot style genocide solution of all knowing and unknowing contributors to climate disaster.

The maturity and research tinged with comedy and brilliant stage writing set Finnigan's work apart and hopefully will be a source for people's consciousness raising. At present, use of plastics, for example, might be seen as a benign action bearing a benign though noticeable result; but one wonders for how much longer before the true malignancy becomes obvious and a killer.

Joe Woodward

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