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Fried Brains

Photo: Dr Kara McKechnie

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 4 / Day 1

Photo: Fried Brains (David Geary)

My brains are fried! I’ve been marking for what feels like two weeks solid. By 4pm today all the final grades for my students had to be in. One assignment came in 15 minutes after the deadline, after I had failed them… I hate failing students. Fortunately, Covid-19 means we have some wiggle room and can be compassionate – blame the internet, give an extension.

I find grading degrading for all concerned. We are reduced to numbers and letters. I find it difficult to give unique feedback after the 100+ student. I try to practice the Compliment Sandwich: Praise / Constructive Feedback / Praise. When I worked in TV, we called it the Sh*t Sandwich. There often wasn’t much praise-bread on either side of a whole lot of “This is sh*t and needs to be better… by tomorrow!” I’m being melodramatic but TV and film people don’t have a lot of time to tell you what you did right. They are on big deadlines, balancing budgets.

One student quoted Alejandro González Iñárritu, the Mexican film director (Birdman, The Revenant) saying that directing a movie is “like trying to write a poem while on a rollercoaster”. I get it. Another student wrote a paper on toxic masculinity titled “Hard Bodies and Hot Heads”. It was about the dangers of the athletic tough-guy stereotypes vs. the rise of the ‘softboys’ as personified by the actor Timothée Chalamet in Greta Gerwig’s films. I get it. Coming from New Zealand, I’m pleased Jemaine Clements and Bret McKenzie of The Flight of the Conchords helped promote softer ways for boys and men to be.

I learn a lot from my students. The Māori world ako means to both teach and learn – they happen at the same time. The old idea of the all-knowing Professor filling up the empty vessel of the student is bankrupt. The kids are alright, in fact, they’re a lot better than alright. They’re trying to reclaim the world we lost.

Tomorrow, in a pre-Covid world, I would have been planning my trip to Mexico City for the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) annual conference. I’ve been to three of these: Vancouver, New York and Berkeley. They’re a great way to connect with dramaturgs from all over and not have to explain yourself. We cut to the chase. This year the conference will happen online (so you can all go on a discount rate).

At the Berkeley conference in 2017, I led a session on Indigenous dramaturgy. I Skyped in leading Canadian Indigenous theatremakers Tara Beagan and Andy Moro of Article 11. They were great. We finished with a haka. This is often translated as a ‘war dance’ but it’s a lot more than that. I’ll talk more about this during the week. Dancing and ceremony are important to me. I think Indigenous Peoples gravitate towards musicals of all kinds because it is closer to our traditional performance rituals. I wrote an essay about this in Performing Indigeneity.

Aroha mai / Sorry, where are my manners? Day 1 I should acknowledge the land and the Peoples whose land I’m lucky to stand on now. Nga mihi nui / big thanks to the Tsleil-Waututh, Squamish and Musqueam peoples whose unceded territory I live, work and play on, here in Turtle Island / Canada.

Land acknowledgements are a thing in Canada – before shows, by politicians, before meetings. But often they feel like they’re being rattled off like late night warnings on infomercials or with the long list of sponsors. We need to acknowledge that there is no show, no meeting, nothing without the colonising of the First Peoples’ land. Here are the Calls to Action from the 2015 Truth and Reconciliation Report.

It’s been a work in progress, and the scorecard isn’t good so far.

Is anyone missing sports? Usually, at this time of year, I’d be cheering my sons at baseball and the NHL Stanley Cup Finals would fill every screen. I’m a sports nut. I love the improvisational performance aspects, the corny rituals, and the distractions from ‘real life’. I still love putting on my costume and puffing around a field playing touch rugby with a bunch of other bezerkers. But arthritis is rust in my knees, I’ve had two Frankenstein zaps to correct an irregular heartbeat this year, and it’s dawning on me that I’m not immortal. Bummer. It means I’m suddenly very picky about what projects and work I commit to.

My bread and butter is teaching at Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada. I’m lucky. I have a job… for now. We’re all having to adapt to remote / online teaching. Old dogs are having to learn new tricks. I like turning my camera off and checking my social media during classes and meetings. I consider it multi-tasking, but research says that… sorry, I got off track. Someone at work accused me of going down too many rabbit holes. Let’s get back to the land. There are two Indigenous women you should follow for their takes on land-based dramaturgy: Kim Senklip Harvey and Lindsay Lachance.

Lindsay works at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa. Here’s Lindsay’s dissertation for her PhD at the University of British Columbia, The embodied politics of relational Indigenous dramaturgies. And here is Kim’s blog.

Kim was a guest for my playwriting class this past semester and blew everyone away. The students need to hear other voices. I get very sick of my own. What we all need to be is good allies by finding the authentic voices who can better tell the story in this moment. And pay them good money. Sure, an Ally can Step Up if they see a gap, but they should always be looking for the real deal who can better serve this position. Step Up, Support and Promote others, then Step Aside.

At the LMDA conference in Berkeley, a cis white woman was speaking for some time about the need for diverse voices. A person of colour in the audience put their hand up and declared that this woman needed to understand the acronym WAIT = Why Am I Talking? Especially when there were a lot of other more diverse voices waiting to talk. I guess that is my wero / challenge to myself, and us all, in this world full of noise: Why am I talking?

Photography by Tae Hoon Kim.

Illustration by David Geary.


David Geary is a playwright, dramaturg, director & screenwriter who writes haiku on twitter: @gearsgeary

David is of Māori, English, Irish and Scottish blood. His iwi / tribe in New Zealand is the Taranaki. He grew up immersed in the Polynesian trickster tales of Maui and is now honoured to live, work and play in the lands of the Coyote and Raven tricksters of Turtle Island/Canada.

He is an award-winning playwright, dramaturg, director, screenwriter, fiction writer and poet. David works at Capilano University in North Vancouver, Canada. He teaches screenwriting in the Indigenous Digital Filmmaking program, documentary, and playwriting. David’s recent work includes short plays for Climate Change Theatre Action and Centre Point.

David also teaches playwriting for Playwrights Theatre Centre (PTC) in Vancouver. The Māori word ako means both to teach and to learn, and he finds as a teacher he learns as much from his students as they do from him. David’s most recent fiction work can be found in the Penguin Random House collection Purakau and Bawaajigan: Stories of Power (Exile).

He’s a member of the Literary Managers and Dramaturgs of the Americas (LMDA) and does script consultation for theatre, TV and Film, most recently with Women in Film and Television (WIFTV).

David lives by the yogic mantra: “Life is short, stretch it!”


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