Malcolm Whittaker, creator of Star******s, is in Reykjavik right now. His show about relationship breakdown, papier-mache and revealing too much to a live audience has him pumped, but right now it seems he’d be better off sleeping. He hasn’t even had a chance to check the weather outside.
“I’m still in bed,” he says, but that’s fair – it’s 9am over there. “I toured a show, and now that’s finished, so now I’m just travelling on a bit of a whim, and that whim brought me to Iceland because I thought it would instil some adventure in me.” Throughout the interview, his speech is peppered with vaguely hidden yawns.
Star******s, Whittaker’s latest show, is a performance installation that documents ten years of a relationship. Malcolm and his partner Laura Caesar read out diary entries that document their ups and downs, then use each page to create papier-mache people. As you may have noticed, papier-mache relationship construction is not what most people do for a living. But how the heck do you define a guy who has done everything from a writing a project about spoiling film endings (He Did It!), to a fitness test of speculative creatures (The Beep Test of Imaginary Beings), to answering questions about a film that doesn’t exist in front of a live audience pretending to be a press pack (This Is It)?
He seems at a loss himself. “I usually just say ‘artist’, but sometimes I facetiously say entrepreneur…whether [it] be a performance or an exhibition or a writing project or whatever’s right for the idea is the form [my] works take.”
And his works – however they are structured – enjoy a certain degree of playfulness. In the case of Star******s, Whittaker quickly discovered that councils will pretty much always nix the idea of using ‘fuck’ in a show title.
“We originally called [the show] Starfuckers,” he says, “but when we did it before it was through a council-run theatre in Wollongong just south of Sydney. For reasons being associated with the council, they couldn’t bill a show like that. The same with Arts House being associated with the City of Melbourne, it couldn’t have a profanity in the title of works that were going to be splashed around. But then I thought it looked like a more interesting title this way anyway, this ambiguity of what it might mean.”
Star******s is performed in collaboration with his long-time partner Laura Caesar, who is described on advertising as a ‘primary school teacher and arts and crafts enthusiast.’ (You’d want to be, with all the papier-mache.) She is not a performer by trade and shows a certain amount of gumption agreeing to perform a four-hour show about her relationship, with the performer standing right next to her. Revealing intimate details of your shared history can’t always be that easy.
“I’m quite easy going. Laura…” here, he draws in his breath, “…not so much. There’s been a bit of bickering about that. We did a bit of a presentation of it at Wollongong. We hadn’t read any of our diary entries to each other before; we just read them out that opening night. So I got a bit of a telling off for the details from that night!”
Audience members may come and go as they please while Laura and Malcolm rehash the past. And while four hours seems an unusual length for a show, Whittaker seems quite optimistic in general regarding audience participation, or their investment in one of his projects. Through his collaboration with collective art group Team MESS, for example, he performed This Is It.
“We threw to the audience to ask questions on a film we haven’t made and the film sort of takes shape [with the audience] asking questions as if they’re in a press conference.” He says. “We got a local film critic to host the event to give it a little more authenticity and as soon as he turned to the audience…normally there’s a bit of a pause, but everyone just dived straight in.”
Star******s is not quite as demanding of an audience. In fact, it seems as though it will be more of an introspective and retrospective excursion into someone else’s relationship more than anything. Whittaker admits that this type of show does have some unexpected drawbacks.
“Laura and I have been together for quite some time. I think every now and again we touch on…” here, he struggles for the right words, “…previous goings on.” He can’t help but chuckle here. “The simple structure is to read out the diary entries. They were all largely written retrospectively, because we didn’t keep diaries ten years ago. We started it about two or three years ago, but then we also had some long chats about good times and bad from before that. We just wrote a big long list of memorable events that we could remember, banal events as well, and wrote down our own personal perspectives and our thoughts and feelings based on those occasions and those times. [It’s] just straight up personable storytelling for people with both short and long attention spans.”
Star******s may be about the ups and downs of relationships, but it’s certainly no thorn in Whittaker’s side.
“It’s like I’m living the dream at the moment, but the dream has become proper work. But that’s OK, it’s all I ever wanted.”
BY SIOBHAN ARGENT
Star******s will run at the Arts House from Thursday September 6 – Saturday September 8. See artshouse.com.au for more information and bookings.