Sian Prior

Writer, Broadcaster, Singer, MC & Teacher

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February 28

Forthcoming Events 2010

Saturday March 13th – Recital of French songs and clarinet pieces, featuring Sian Prior (soprano and clarinettist) and Katherine Gillon (pianist), Benalla Art Gallery, 5:30 pm. Tickets at the door – $20 / students free.

Sunday April 11th – Crazy! Songs of Mad Love, Jealousy and Revenge, featuring Sian Prior and Vanessa West (sopranos), Angus Grant (baritone) and Warwick Sharpin (pianist), at The Toff in Town, Swanston St, 5:30 pm. Tickets $20 / $15 (concession) Moshtix 1300 GET TIX (438 849)

Thursday May 6th – Kenneth Myer Lecture, George Fairfax Fellowship, featuring guest speaker Kim Williams and a panel discussion hosted by Sian Prior, St Michael’s Centre, 6:30 pm.

Thursday May 27th – Madmen forum, hosted by Sian Prior, ACMI, Federation Square, 7pm. Panel discussion of the hit US TV series, featuring screen experts Mark Nicholls, Debi Enker and Russell Howcroft.

Sunday June 13th – Wild Things: Sian Prior in conversation with Melbourne’s Lord Mayor Robert Doyle about the things that ignite and inspire his imagination – 2:30 pm at The Malthouse Theatre in Southbank.

Thursday July 7th – Non Fiction Writing Workshop (first of five) conducted by Sian Prior for the Victorian Writers Centre, 1 pm to 4 pm. Enrollments now open.

Friday August 6th – Byron Bay Writers Festival (August 6th to 8th), with guest panel host Sian Prior.

Keep an eye out for forthcoming feature articles by Sian Prior in The Age newspaper on the topics of food intolerances and travelling around the south-west corner of Western Australia.

January 23

Mad for Madmen

I have been invited to host a panel discussion on the award-winning US TV series ‘Madmen’ for the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI, at Federation Square) on Thursday May 27th. Panellists include Mark Nicholls (Melbourne University), Debi Enker (The Age Green Guide) and Russell Howcroft, and the event runs from 7 till 9 pm.

Before that, though, i’ll be co-hosting The Conversation Hour on 774 ABC Melbourne with Jon Faine on Friday 19th February (11 am) – our guests are Niki Savva, author of the new memoir ‘So Greek – Confessions of a Conservative Leftie’ and Rebecca Starford, founder of the literary journal ‘Kill Your Darlings’.

On Saturday March 13th I’ll be performing a recital of French art songs and clarinet pieces at the Benalla Art Gallery – all welcome.

On Sunday April 11th I’ll be performing in an Opera Sessions concert called ‘Crazy!– Songs of Mad Love, Jealousy and Revenge‘ at The Toff In Town, Swanston St. Melbourne – starts 5 pm.

And keep an eye out for my review of David Carlin’s memoir ‘Our Father Who Wasn’t There’ in the A2 section of The Age on Saturday 30th January.

December 26

2009 – The Good, The Bad and The Bloody Marvellous

As the young folk say – So Random! That’s how i always feel about the end of the calendar year. Why do we insist on these numerical markers of change, when really we’ll all wake up on Friday and the same sun will be shining and the same possum will have relieved itself inside my loungeroom wall cavity again?

And yet I’m always exhaustedly grateful for the end of the year and feel a whole lot fresher on January 1st. In spite of the possum piss. Go figure.

But no journalist worth their salt can let the year end without doing some kind of sum up of the highlights and lowlights.

So here goes:

THE BAD

– ‘Poor Boy’ – Melbourne Theatre Company musical involving a bunch of songs by Tim Finn (whose work i love and for whom I am always happy to go into bat in the eternal Neil vs Tim debate that rages around me) strung together by (usually brilliant) playwright Matt Cameron and featuring a big-hearted performance by Guy Pearce. But good songs and big-hearted performances are not enough. It all felt strained and at times really obvious. Unmemorable, I’m afraid. (So why am i reminding you of it, you may well ask?)

– The Victorian bushfires of February 7th. Hard to comprehend the level of horror for those involved – and we all know someone. My parents former home disappeared in the inferno. I still shudder to remember my relief when the wind changed direction at dusk. That’s when things went from appalling to entirely hellish just about a hundred kilometres from my safe little inner suburb.

– Art Garfunkel’s original songs, which he sang at the ‘Simon and Garfunkel’ reunion tour gig at the Rod Laver Arena. Listening to them felt a bit like eating way too much fairy floss and later on finding pink shards of it sticking to your clothes. Thank god for Paul Simon’s songwriting genius.

– Swine flu. Well, any flu really. And i had about three of them. In a row. Winter wipe-out. Blech.

– St Kilda losing the Grand Final. I mean come ON guys! To take us so far, so gloriously, and then to throw it all away with some slip-sliding away on the day. Winter wipe-out. Blech again.

– Some idiots destroying The Knitted Bridge, a key part of the ever-inventive Big West Festival, the night before it was officially launched. Made me want to weep. I guess it’s just ignorance. If you knew how much heart, soul, blood, sweat and tears had gone into knitting that bridge, you wouldn’t dream of wrecking it. Would you?

– Another year of failure to grasp the nettle on a carbon-reduced economy. Twenty years ago i was campaigning for the Australian Conservation Foundation on the so-called ‘greenhouse effect, and two decades on we STILL haven’t acknowledged how bad climate change is gonna get. Read Margaret Atwood’s novel ‘Oryx and Craik’ if you need some scary scenarios to get your campaigning juices flowing.

– The new fee structure for TAFE courses, announced this year and to be introduced by the Victorian Government in 2010. So now if you’ve had some education but want more, you’ll have to pay thousands of dollars. Wanna become a writer or an editor? Considering doing a TAFE writing and editing course? Start saving now, and maybe i’ll see you there in about a decade.

THE GOOD

– ‘The Flood’ – a gothic drama by playwright Jacqui Smith at La Mama Theatre which was one of a raft of shows i’ve this year about children in danger. (See the post below for a weblink to my article about this cultural trend). Great performances by the three female actors and i loved the set design – incredible that a black box the size of a large bathroom could be transformed into a whole farmhouse in the middle of the wide green yonder, inundated by flooding rains

– ‘Spontaneous Broadway’ – a comic impro show by a bunch of folk whose imaginative leaps take my breath away (or is it just that i’m laughing so hard i can’t get any air in?) Julia Zemiro is a goddess. The Goddess of Naughtiness. And John Thorn’s piano improvisations in the style of whatever-the-hell-you-like just get better and better. (And better.)

– ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ – Opera Australia’s production of Andre Previn’s version of Tenessee Williams’ play. What a great choice, to stick so faithfully to the original text. And what a great example of how new(ish) operas can still feel so fresh and relevant and theatrically satisfying and musically listenable. (See my second-last post for a weblink to my review in The Age). OA’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte’ was definitely in the GOOD basket too – sexy, silly and beautifully sung.

– ‘Dirtsong’ – the latest musical production by The Black Armband. Almost all songs were performed in indigenous languages. Moving, inspiring, and yet another interesting new development from this ever-changing ensemble. Congratulations to the BAB on being awarded a big fat dollop of Australia Council funding for 2010.

– A bunch of great new Australian films – ‘Blessed’, ‘Beautiful Kate’, ‘Samson and Delilah’, ‘Balibo’, ‘Mary and Max’, to name just a few. What a relief, to come out of the cinema feeling like your money’s been well-spent on a home-grown product. Go see’em, cobbers.

– A bunch of great Australian theatre productions, including the MTC’s ‘Knives in Hens’ and ‘My Year of Magical Thinking’, Theatreworks’ ‘The Lower Depths’, Malthouse Theatre’s ‘One Night the Moon’ and ‘A Commercial farce’, and My Darling Patricia’s ‘The Night Garden’.

THE BLOODY MARVELLOUS

– Travelling the world – this year i went to Italy (Sicily and the Amalfi Coast), East Timor (third trip), New Zealand (to play at the Christchurch Festival), Byron Bay, NSW (twice), Cabarita, QLD (surf heaven), Alice Springs, NT (and the community of Santa Theresa), Sydney, NSW (no Bondi Beach Rescue required) and Altona Meadows, Vic (often). Hello Samantha!

– Devouring entire TV series on DVD – ‘The Wire’ (all seasons), followed by ‘In Treatment’, followed by ‘Mad Men’ (can’t wait for season three). Why leave home? (and yet it seems i did, often)

– ‘Africa’ – the latest show created by theatre ensemble My Darling Patricia. To all Ye who scoff at puppetry – eat Thy words. There was more subtle characterisation in the little child-puppets in ‘Africa’ than i’ve seen on offer from many flesh-and-blood actors on the theatre stage. This tale of three children who are struggling to make sense of an often indifferent and violent adult world was entirely gripping. Funny, sad, nutty, abject and cathartic. Suburban Australia is more dangerous for many children than the wilds of Africa, and the Victorian Ombudsman has the stats to prove it. My Darling Patricia are one of the most original and inventive theatre ensembles in the country at the moment and I can’t wait to see what they will do next.

– ‘Progress and Melancholy’ – the latest physical theatre show created by director/choreographer Bagryana Popov. She took Chekhov’s play ‘The Cherry Orchard’, delicately dismembered it and sewed it back together again with its own movement language and a cast of performers who were allowed to simultaneously play themselves AND the characters in the play, constantly blurring the lines between the two. As a result, the ground continually shifted under our feet – just as it does for the members of the Russian aristocracy whose beloved cherry orchard is about to go under the hammer. Even the performance space (forty-five downstairs) became part of the fluid universe of ‘Progress and Melancholy’, with subtle comparisons drawn between the history-laden, rickety old Melbourne city building (presumably eternally vulnerable to re-development) and the hallowed cherry orchard. The ensemble cast of actors from a diverse range of ethnic backgrounds brought their own rich emotional and cultural provenance to the production. The third wall crumbled, the audience talked back, the violinist serenaded us and Chekhov would have been waltzing with joy to see his play so (dis)respectfully treated at the end of the twenty-‘noughties.

December 4

A Streetcar Named Desire; Remembering Balibo; Tiny Tots in Terror

Check out The Age website for my recent review of Andre Previn’s opera ‘A Streetcar Named Desire‘ (Opera Australia).

On the afternoon of Sunday December 13th i’ll be doing a reading at the St Kilda Library (Carlisle St) from my essay about the Balibo Five, ‘Remembering Balibo’, originally published in the 2009 Spring edition of Meanjin literary magazine. The event runs from 2 – 4 pm, there’ll be wine and cheese, and it’s free.

Keep an eye on the arts pages of The Age newspaper on Monday 14th December for my Canvas piece on our communal anxiety about children manifesting in Australian theatre and film.

November 20

Good Theatre and some Wireless Chat

On Tuesday 24th November i’ll be co-hosting The Conversation Hour on 774 ABC Melbourne with Jon Faine – 11:00 am to 12:00 midday. We’ll be talking about community newspapers and vexatious litigants.

Then later in the day i’ll be heading over to the Malthouse Theatre in Southbank to watch ‘Africa’, the new production from innovative theatre ensemble My Darling Patricia.

Tonight i’m heading into town to Fortyfive Downstairs (45 Little Collins St) to check out ‘Progress and Melancholy’, a new physical theatre work conceived and choreographed by Bagryana Popov and based on Chekhov’s play ‘The Cherry Orchard’.

And i can highly recommend Opera Australia’s latest production of Mozart’s ‘Cosi Fan Tutte‘, which i saw at the Arts Centre in Melbourne last night. Brilliant set and costume design, a cast of sexy virtuoso singers who can ALSO ACT, and even the entirely naff plot becomes palatable in the hands of director Jim Sharman. He takes the silliness and runs with it.

November 6

Words, Words, Words – and Music

On Thursday November 12th i’ll be running the final of five non fiction writing workshops for the Victorian Writers Centre (who have just moved into their new home at the Centre for Books, Writing and Ideas). If you missed out this year, or if you like the sound of the workshops, i’ll be running them again in the second half of 2010, so keep an eye on the VWC website for enrollment details.

On the evening of Tuesday November 17th I’ll be attending the 21st birthday celebrations of the RMIT Professional Writing and Editing course (in which i’ve been teaching part-time for the past four years) at the Trades Hall in Carlton. As part of the celebrations an anthology of writing by former students (originally published in Visible Ink magazine) will be launched and one of my short stories (Una Festa) has been chosen for inclusion.

And on the afternoon of Sunday December 13th i’ll be doing a reading at the St Kilda Library (Carlisle St) from my essay about the Balibo Five, ‘Remembering Balibo’, originally published in the 2009 Spring edition of Meanjin literary magazine. The event runs from 2 – 4 pm and is free.

Diary date: i’ll be performing a recital of French art songs and clarinet pieces at the Benalla Art Gallery on March 13th, 2010 – all welcome.

October 18

Reading, Writing and Arithmetic

This Thursday night (October 22nd) I’ll be reading a couple of my published ‘dodgy travel’ columns for the Visible Ink writers event ‘Read You Bastards’ at the Empress Hotel in North Fitzroy – all comers welcome. If you’re on Facebook you can check them out here.

On Saturday October 31st I’ll be running a workshop on non fiction writing for the Northern Rivers Writers Centre in Byron Bay. Hardship posting, i know… give me a wave in the surf if you’re up there too.

And i’ve been offered a work space for 2010 at the Glenfern Writers Studio in East St Kilda – hooray. Last weekend i went to a recital at Glenfern which was raising funds for the Dili Hospital in East Timor. I had the privilege of hearing some teen geniuses (genii?) performing on a Schimmel grand piano belonging to The Team of Pianists and I decided that listening to a Bach fugue was the closest i will ever get to understanding the beauty of mathematics.

October 2

Singing in the Mother Tongue

The Melbourne International Arts Festival begins on October 9th, and one of the highlights promises to be dirtsong, the latest creation of The Black Armband. This innovative musical ensemble features many of the best indigenous singers and songwriters in the country, and dirtsong can be seen on October 24th and 25th at the State Theatre. The musical coordinator of the project this year is Iain Grandage, who received the $20,000 Emerging Composer award at the 2009 Ian Potter Cultural Trust Music Commissions awards night that i hosted this week (to hear a broadcast of the award ceremony and a performance of music by some of the winning composers, listen to the audio streaming of ABC Classic FM’s New Music Up Late for Friday October 2nd).

Earlier this year i did a research project for the Black Armband, locating approximately fifteen songs in indigenous languages that could be considered for inclusion in the dirtsong program. Around eighty percent of the songs will be performed in language, and i look forward to hearing which ones made the final cut.

Here are a couple of quotes that informed my research:

‘Language is politics – it is the ‘earth tongue’ or ‘mother tongue’ that speaks the body and constructs dialects of ownership and knowledge. Song in Indigenous cultures is a key mechanism for enculturating land’ – Liza Lim, Australian composer, from notes for her work ‘The Compass’.

‘The world’s languages are melting away. According to UNESCO, they disappear at a rate of one every two weeks. And if we don’t stop the decline, 90% of the world’s languages will be gone by the end of this century…

Languages are part of the world’s intangible heritage. The inexorable march of English across the globe is partly to blame for this shrinking pool of language diversity. And this is nowhere more evident than in Australia. We have the worst record of language extinction on the planet. Before the arrival of Europeans, there were more than 250 languages spoken here. But only half of them are left, and all of them are critically endangered. This means they’ll cease to be spoken in the next generation if nothing is urgently done to save them…

Once a language tips into ‘extinction’, the process of bringing it back… is a long and very challenging journey. But that hasn’t stopped Aboriginal people from undertaking this project’ – Hindsight program, ABC Radio National, ‘Holding Our Tongues’.

September 11

Art in Alice, Stone Brothers at the cinema, music at the Melba Hall

Just back from five days in Alice Springs, where i had the pleasure of visiting the Desert Mob Art Market at the Araluen Arts Centre. Four hours, four gazillion works of Aboriginal art, all for under four hundred dollars each. I was counselled to avoid going early as the bunfights between serious art dealers over these bargains have been likened to the Myer post-Christmas sales – only uglier. So when i arrived at about midday it was busy but not bestial, and i was able to browse (like a child in a lolly shop) and pick up a few small hand-painted plates, mirrors and diary-covers – the only artworks i could justify purchasing given the lack of wall-space at my place.
I was also privileged to visit the Santa Teresa community, about an hour out of Alice, where they were celebrating the 20th anniversary of the Keringke Art Centre and the launch of a book about one of the most exciting artists to emerge from that centre – Kathleen Wallace (published by IAD Press). There was musical entertainment from Paul Kelly and some local musicians, traditional dancing, a big barbecue lunch, all followed by the cutting of a giant birthday cake for Keringke Arts.

And to top it all off, i got in a walk around Ormiston Gorge and a freezing swim in Ellery Creek, where the rainbow bee-eaters were having a feast on a tree branch above our heads. Hard to come home to Melbourne…

The consolation prize for heading back to the chilly south was an opportunity to see a preview of Richard Frankland’s new feature film ‘Stone Brothers‘ at the Nova Cinema in Carlton. It’s a kooky road movie featuring two Aboriginal cousins from Kalgoorlie, one Italian stallion, one transvestite and one big hairy spider journeying together across the Western Australian landscape in search of ‘home’. Plenty of giggles, plenty of hope and a feel-good ending make this a fascinating contrast to ‘Samson and Delilah’, the other impressive indigenous movie to come out this year. Next up – Rachel Perkins’ film adaptation of ‘Bran Nue Day’. Can’t wait.

If you’re interested in hearing The Conversation Hour that i recently co-hosted on 774 ABC Melbourne with Jon Faine (September 10th), you’ll hear us chatting with guest authors Jack Marx and Paul Kelly (from ‘The Australian’).

On September 18th i’ll be singing in a concert in the Melba Hall at the University of Melbourne, Parkville. ‘Songs for a Changing Planet’ features musical settings of the poetry of Michael Leunig, David Howard and Graeme Ellis by local composers Natalya Vagner and Johanna Selleck, and is a fund-raiser for the Australian Conservation Foundation. For bookings phone (03) 9758 2641

And on October 1st I’ll be hosting the Ian Potter Foundation Music Commissions awards night at the Melbourne Recital Centre. Two new Fellowships will be awarded to Australian composers, and there’ll be a special recital from musicians Michael Kieran-Harvey, Merlyn Qauife and Vanessa Tomlinson of works by previous award-winners.