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Staring into the mouth of a lamprey

Photo: Dr Kara McKechnie

Part of the Invisible Diaries series:

Week 4 / Day 3

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.

We were talking about Michael Moore, his satirical documentaries, and how the Republicans keep raising the spectre of socialism taking over the USA. I noticed some blank faces. I asked if everyone knew what socialism was. Fortunately, some were brave enough to admit they had no idea. Someone knew that Trotsky had got an icepick in the head in Mexico.

We were off to a good start. I smashed together a punk PowerPoint: Marx, Lenin, The Battleship Potemkin, Trotsky, Stalin, The Purges, Unions, WWII – Roosevelt and Churchill looking the other way, Berlin Wall, Stasi, McCarthyism, ‘Reds under the Hollywood bed’, The Crucible, Cold War, Cuba, Castro, Health Care, Unemployment Benefit, Pension, Free Education, Late Capitalism, Endgame Capitalism, Peak Oil, Stock Market Crash Cycles, Bailouts, Inside Job, The Big Short, China, Mao, Korean War, Vietnam War…, 9/11, Terrorism… we got a bit out of sync and off track, but history is slippery like that.

Meanwhile, in New Zealand, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is hailed as one of the most sensible modern leaders… and could lose this year’s election. She’s only the second head of state to have a child while in office. Her partner fronts a reality TV show called Fish of the Day, about fishing. We like fantasy. We want to believe in Paradise. The billboards propose that New Zealand is 100% Pure. I like to add… 100 % Bullsh*it… literally. The rivers are polluted by sh*t from dairy farms. Dairy is the second bigges industry. The number one industry is tourism… was tourism, pre-Covid. Supposedly, one in five tourists come because of The Lord of the Rings. We love fantasy. But you’re in a precarious place when you rely on foreigners to find you exotic, and to pay large amounts of cash to fly in and hire minivans to see a Hobbit Hole, consume authentic Maori culture, and then exit via the gift shop.

But, let’s face it, we’re all lampreys at heart 😊

Headshot by Tae Hoon Kim.

Lamprey photography courtesy of 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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