Staring into the mouth of a lamprey

Photo: Dr Kara McKechnie

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 4 / Day 3

Week 4 / Day 2

Week 4 / Day 1


Photo: The mouth of a lamprey

My day ends staring into the mouth of a lamprey. I was giving feedback on a film script for an Indigenous creature feature and these were the stars. Terrifying and yet beautiful. They can climb cliffs with the power of their sucker mouths. They’re parasites, sucking out the blood of other bigger fish. Perhaps dramaturgs are the same to playwrights? Did you see the Oscar-winning movie Parasite? The Farewell? Shoplifters? Crazy Rich Asians? As the director of Parasite Bong Joon-ho said: “Once you overcome the 1-inch-tall barrier of subtitles, you will be introduced to so many more amazing films.”

Today started with my article on the Indigenous theatre response to the climate crisis being published on the theatre commons HowlRound. I sent it to my Mum in New Zealand. She loved it… and sent me back corrections. HowlRound asked if I wanted to make any changes. I sent them four corrections and added another shoutout.

A work of art is never finished, merely abandoned.

My shoutout was to Lindsay Lachance, the Artistic Associate of Indigenous Theatre at Canada’s National Arts Centre. Lindsay’s dissertation for her PhD at the University of British Columbia, The embodied politics of relational Indigenous dramaturgies, features land-based, place-based and community-engaged dramaturgies. It provides a foundation and inspiration for all those working in Indigenous theatre.

Our family has survived the first day of moving. I feel like we should have ceremonies for our old and new house. I’m big on ceremony. I try to mark all the rituals no matter how cheesy: Valentine’s Day, Halloween, Anzac Day, Waitangi Day, Easter… one year we did: “What would Jesus eat?” Smudging is a powerful ritual for some Indigenous Peoples in Canada. They burn sage so the smoke purifies and cleanses. You can do this for yourself, for a group, or for a space, like when you enter a theatre.

So much life has happened in our old house. We came from New Zealand when our boys were three and four years old. I was the primary caregiver for three years while my wife worked in film, then ‘factual television / reality TV’. People can be very judgmental about this genre but it’s the bread and butter for a lot of media artists. I created a PowerPoint on its influence. For those who might scoff, let me remind you the President of the United States would probably not have his job without the name / face / family recognition he got from his reality TV show, The Apprentice.

Photo: Amazing Race Canada contestants

Amazing Race Canada contestants, (L-R) Anthony Johnson and Dr. James Makokis, Team Ahkameyimok (Photography: Cole Burston / The Canadian Press, source of image:

There’s also the winners of Canada’s 2019 Amazing Race: Two-Spirit Indigenous couple, Anthony Johnson and Dr James Makokis. You don’t see positive representations of Indigenous Peoples much in the mainstream / whitestream, let alone from the LGBTQIA2S community, let alone in a healthy relationship. Similarly, Project Runway has always promoted diverse gender and sexual identities.

Do they have dramaturgs? Well, they have story producers / editors. They are especially involved in the ‘soft-scripted’ shows. That would be your celebrity-driven show where ‘soft-scripts’ are written based on the lives of the Kardashians, Duck Dynasty, etc. The stars learn their lines and improvise around them. Of course, a lot of people still believe the cameras just follow them around and capture the drama as it unfolds, but no one has that kind of money. There has to be a shooting schedule just like a scripted show.

But back to US politics and lampreys. The Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, today unveiled a mural of masks that Americans had donated to his beleaguered state.

He also took a swipe at Republican states who supported denying federal aid to the likes of Democratic New York, while getting $30 billion annual handouts themselves. He attacked partisanship. He seems a voice of reason while VP Pence decides not to wear a mask at the Mayo Clinic and President Trump advocates bleach as an elixir.

Make no mistake, Trump is a genius. In the 2016 primaries, he realised the more bat sh*t crazy contentious he was the more media would cover him and ignore the voices of reason around him. The media presumed he was unelectable but great for ratings, so they gave him all the screen time he wanted to raise his brand awareness. The big mistake was people thinking his “locker room talk” on the bus about sexual assaulting women would guarantee Hillary Clinton a slam dunk win. That meant the Bernie Sanders voters felt safe staying away from the polls. But Hilary had alienated a whole bunch of folks by calling Trump supporters “a basket of deplorables”, and was unable to shake the spectre of Bill – the wayward husband she described as “a hard dog to keep on the porch”. US politics is our grand soap opera mashed up with Pere Ubu.

Yesterday, I talked about dramaturgs having to be historians. Yesterday’s news is tomorrow’s fish & chips’ paper. I teach documentary students communications. We do karaoke to help with oral presentations. They come in all idealistic, wanting to make documentaries that will change the world. They leave wanting the same but hoping they can get a job logging footage on a reality show. It’s a way in. It’s all stories. It’s networking. There’s editing, feedback, dramaturgy.