Review: Meet Me At The Museum

ipod“Meet Me At the Museum” is a powerful, emotive and thought-provoking 40-minute theatre production best described as monologue-cum-radio play-cum-street theatre. Written and produced by Melbourne theatre creatrix and dramaturge, Nina Barry-Macaulay, and staged in the Queensland Museum, it is a multi-sensory, real time experience that defies traditional notions of theatre.

It is a dramatic gestalt: audio delivered by an iPod track, the stage set within several of the large permanent exhibits in the museum and live performances by a tiny cast of three (who act in a mime vacuum beyond the audio and look for all intents and purposes like any of the other patrons or museum staff on the day!)  All these combine for an interactive immersion of the audience where they are anything but passive consumers. Instead they create and redefine the narrative as their experiences within the museum combine and collide with Barry-Macaulay’s script.

The story of Amelia (researcher, zoologist and woman-interrupted) is at the heart of the “Meet Me At The Museum”. It is a raw, honest and at times very confronting insight into a life not-quite-fulfilled: a discourse on the imperfection of love and dreams as well as a philosophical exploration of entrapment, liberation and what it means to be human. Running in tandem with Amelia’s audio story is the real time performance defined by the problem of what to do with a nondescript box newly delivered to the museum.

The candid and often-brutal nature of Amelia’s story is undercut and cushioned by the beauty of Barry-Macaulay’s writing (which expertly balances the light and the shade, and is in itself a powerful piece of art). It combines with the exemplary narration of Amelia’s character and the low-key, pitch-perfect performances of the three actors, creating layers of nuance and emotion.

There is something almost voyerustic and stalky about following the characters through the museum: to be privy (from not too far away) to the innocent exaltation of the possibilities of dreams in the young Amelia; the grief and need for closure within Paul and the ‘professional’ confusion of the museum staffer trying to work out what exactly to do with the box.

The final scene is staged outside the museum, beneath the whales in the concourse, and it’s staggering in its simplicity and evocation of some of life’s big questions. It is also a stunning example of epistolary fiction at its very best.

finalsceneThe production work on the audio is outstanding, from the use of Flight Facilities’ haunting ‘Clair de lune’, the skills of the narrator and the understated, but timely use of sound effects to amplify the actual surroundings. The stage direction (aka herding of cats) is a stroke of genius, considering the often random nature of group dynamics and Barry-Macaulay’s intention to be present but absent as director within each performance. At the beginning of the audio, the audience is simply told to ‘follow the box’, thus seamlessly curating the audience’s movement through the museum.

There is also enough space and flexibility within the narrative to interact with the Museum. This overlay of a personal story on what can be, a rather impersonal collection, ultimately creates a timeless combined story between the audience, the exhibits and Amelia. I know every time time I visit the Discovery Room now, I’ll be hearing the story of Amelia’s mother and the cocoon. I’ll also be seeing my son walking toward Paul who is lingering at the display of owls, just as he was today.

There is something about being simultaneously part of a group experience (being privy to others comments and reactions) while at the same time taking a solo journey. I went with my almost 10-year-old son who didn’t once moan he was bored or ask questions to explain what he was hearing. He moved through the museum and the story with the same ease, amazement and emotional connection, as the adults did.

Like the best works of art, “Meet Me At The Museum” leaves more questions than it answers and I’m certain there will be many conversations in the future seeded from those raised today. Amelia’s thoughts on science and it’s implications on life and our understanding of humanity absolutely align with mine, but it won’t be congruent with everyone.

“Meet Me At the Museum” is proof that risking art outside of its ‘natural habitat’ is a risk in tradition and nothing more. Hopefully more performances find their way into places ‘beyond the glass’. And if the work of passionate and talented dramatists such as Barry-Macauley is anything to go by, the future of theatre in Australia is in safe hands.

“Meet Me At the Museum” is part of the Anywhere Theatre Festival and has a short run of dates, concluding Sunday 11th May. Tickets are $20 ($15 concession) and are limited for each session. Bookings can be made online at the Anywhere website.


Sylvie #MarchMonologue

March is the month of monologues. I’m using monologues as character development for the six characters of my birthpunk novellas. Here we see Sylvie, a young midwife, who wants to escape the world she no longer fits, alone in a darker, starker, more dangerous landscape.

One. Two. No…it can’t be. But yes…there it is: the second heart beat. How easy it would be to miss it behind its sibling.

Keep a straight face. Hold it close and work out what twins mean here where all the talk is of a chosen child. A child. Just one.

If you want one, you, glaring down at me, which one do you want? And what will you do with the other? I have never lost a baby. I don’t plan to. Not out here where there is nothing but death pressing in through every crack and crevice. Death might be your handmaiden but it is not mine.

The girl’s fingers are hot, wrapped around my cold ones. Always so cold, especially under Daniel’s hand in the back of the car. His hand jerking away from mine. Rejection, betrayal or survival? Or my will to push him away.

Doesn’t matter now. You’re far away Daniel. So far it doesn’t beg thinking about. I close my fingers around this girl who needs me. I squeeze hard enough to assert my presence, my belief in her ability to birth twins, but not too hard. I’m only here to support, not to control…not like the woman around us. Those who hold us against our will.

I’m so awfully afraid. But you are afraid too. Terrified.

What have I done?

I can’t…

The crone looks at me.

A piercing glance and the hairs on my neck bristle like a cliché. Everything is wrong about this. About her.  About the girl. This room and me in it.

Where is Sophie? Is she safe?

If only my beeper worked. I’d be able to let her know I’m still here. I promised her I would be there. And I will. I will Sophie. You believed in me. And I believe in you. I don’t go back on my word. I know you are scared. I’m scared too. If only the beeper worked. I could ask for help.

The crone looks at me, her gaze penetrating me like a rusty metal blade. Violent and deadly.

The pinnard is heavy in my hand. Not as heavy as the sentence I let go as I struggle to work out what to do. The words catch in a choking cough as though I’m not meant to say anything. They bounce off the crumbling walls of the room.

The crone nods. Oh my Goddess, she nods. And I have time.

The cold, sharp air… ahh, after the closed, stinking interior of the birthing room it’s a relief. Colder than the water I’ve just asked to bathe under. Colder than the glare Marcus, the man could as easily undo me as save me, gives me when I tell him what I want.

Are you for me, or against me? Tell me?

Your back is the only answer I get because, I can’t ask. The black cotton sticks in weird contours that defy anatomy.

One foot after another, after another, in the dusty tracks, leading me away from that building.

Lead me anywhere, away form there, deeper into the Dead Zone. It makes no sense, but I trust you. I shouldn’t, but I do. Keep me safe please, Marcus. Please.

I need to get back to Sophie. I gave a promise and I will do anything to keep it.

PS: Happy 500th post here at 1000 Pieces of Blue Sky!

Interior Monologues in Writing

The internal/interior monologue is possibly one of the least used points of view these days. An internal monologue is something associated more with the soliloquy of the theatre than a stand alone piece of literature.

“Points of View: an Anthology of Short Stories” is published in sections based on point of view.  The editors James Moffet and Kenneth McElheny say an internal monologue is like ‘overhearing someone’s thoughts’. They suggest three different scenarios which facilitate an internal monologue:

  • the narrator is reacting to his immediate surroundings – the monologue tells the story of what is going on.
  • the narrator presents their thoughts as memories – the monologue review past events and connects them with present ones.
  • the narrator’s train of thoughts are neither a record of the present nor a recollection of the past – the monologue is purely a reflection, and in itself, the story.

While few short stories are compromised entirely of a monologue, many writers use this point of view in a limited capacity. Stephen King’s “The Shining” utilises the internal monologue–in tiny snippets, rather than in large slabs–delineated from the rest of the narrative, through the use of brackets.

He closed his eyes and all the old phrases began to parade through his mnd, it seemed there must be hundreds of them.

(creaking up not playing with a full deck lostya marbles guy just went looney tunes he went up and over the hig side went bananas lost his football went crackers nuts half a seabag)

All meaning the same thing: losing your mind.

“No,” he whimpered, hardly aware that he had been reduced to this, whimpering with his eyes shut like a child. “Oh no, God. Please, God no.”

Monologues also appear in the guise of diary entries and letters, which perhaps are more palatable to a reader for large slabs of introspection.

Two stories in Chinese Whisperings: The Red Book are excellent examples of the use of diary entries as monologue pieces. Paul Servini’s uses the diary entry to good effect in his story “Discovery”, juxtaposing the assured, business-like Elizabeth, with her less secure inner self.

What now?

The last ten years of my life have been spent trying to forge a career in business. Yet, it was more than a career at stake. I was looking for an identity after Robin. I found it. The cost was high but I paid it willingly because it made me into someone. I needed that. So I closed my eyes and went for it. Today, someone opened my eyes and I recoiled.

Is this really what I’ve become? And is there any way out?

Jasmine Gallant’s “Not My Name” is told entirely through diary entries. Her narrator’s deteriorating mental condition is expressed in the confusion of the tenses – his memories are told in the present tense and his every day observations in the past tense. He alternates between observing the mundane now and the terrifying past.

I am so cold—huddled at my little desk, pounding on this keyboard— I feel the breath rush out of my lungs, freezing the air in front of me. A coffee sits beside me, its warmth leaks away. A cigarette smokes lazily in the ashtray. Rings drift to the ceiling like a young girl’s hair. Stray books and clothes have a life of their own and come to rest wherever they find space in our small, cramped living room.

Why do I write these things?

These things of no importance?

While internal monologues give us an unparalleled intimate view into a character’s life, thoughts and feelings, it is a fairly limited approach not to mention a biased one.

Interior monologues can also be tough to articulate authentically. Blair Hurley of The Creative Writing Corner, says the challenge with writing interior monologues is two fold:

  • thinking often does not occur in grammatically correct sentences. We don’t think in big words. Our thoughts are often broken and disjointed. Authentic-sounding interior dialogue needs to capture the essence of this, however…
  • if we are too authentic and accurately capture what thought is really like, we end up with an  incomprehensible quagmire of text.

Hurley says for a monologue to be touching and effective it needs balance.

While I wasn’t a great fan of Dorothy Parker’s “But the One on the Right” she does strike a working balance between cohesive expression and the sporadic, randomness of thought. It was just a shame I didn’t really care too much about the situation in which her protagonist finds herself (I’m not one for whinging which forms a fair chunk of the monologue.) Having said that, it comes with an excellent ending and a good example of how one might include direct speech into an interior monologue.

We all like a challenge don’t we?

March’s writing challenge is to spend 10 minutes writing a simple interior monologue. How easy is it to replicate your thoughts or the thoughts of a character in an authentic manner, but also allowing the reader ‘in’? A bit like trying to transpose Shakespeare into text speak?

This blog post first published on the Write Anything website March 1st 2010