The Pill side effect they don’t tell you about…

Over the last 3 decades, the number of women who’ve been on the Pill long term being diagnosed with a type of benign liver tumour known as ‘hepatic adenoma’ is on the rise, but doctors aren’t currently advising patients about this possible serious side effect, as it’s thought to be uncommon. It’s been revealed that this understanding is based on information from a 1979 study of 79 women that took place in the United States. Listen to the news podcast to hear from women with the condition and what doctors have to say about it.


Rooks, JB, Ory, HW, Ishak, KG, Strauss, LT, Greenspan, JR, Hill, AP, & Tyler, CW 1979, ‘Epidemiology of hepatocellular adenoma. The role of oral contraceptive use’, JAMA, vol. 242, no. 7, pp. 644-648.

Margonis, G.A., Ejaz, A., Spolverato, G., Rastegar, N., Anders, R., Kamel, I.R. & Pawlik, T.M., 2015, ‘Benign Solid Tumors of the Liver: Management in the Modern Era’, Journal of Gastrointestinal Surgery, vol. 19, no. 6, pp. 1157-1168.

Buell, J, Tranchart, H, Cannon, R, & Dagher, I 2010, ‘Management of benign hepatic tumors’, Surgical Clinics of North America, vol. 90, no. 4, pp. 719-735 17p.

Dhingra, S, & Fiel, I 2014, ‘Update on the New Classification of Hepatic Adenomas: Clinical, Molecular, and Pathologic Characteristics’, Archives of Pathology & Laboratory Medicine, vol. 138, no. 8, pp. 1090-1097.

Szor, DJ, Ursoline, M, & Herman, P 2013, ‘Hepatic adenoma’, Arquivos Brasileiros De Cirurgia Digestiva: ABCD = Brazilian Archives Of Digestive Surgery, vol. 26, no. 3, pp. 219-222.

Reddy, KR, Kligerman, S, Levi, J, Livingstone, A, Molina, E, Franceschi, D, Badalamenti, S, Jeffers, L, Tzakis, A, & Schiff, ER 2001, ‘Benign and solid tumors of the liver: relationship to sex, age, size of tumors, and outcome’, The American Surgeon, vol. 67, no. 2, pp. 173-178.

Curry, MP & Afdhal, NH, 2010, Hepatic adenoma, UpToDate, viewed 2 March 2016,


Here I Sit…


In today’s digital era, just about every modern-day sage, artist and activist has a device and social media platform by which to project their pearls of wisdom, art or revolutionary ideals to the masses. But long before we were all wired into the matrix, and long after the ancient Egyptians were carving hieroglyphics into pyramids, one of the most popular ways of getting a message out there was via latrinalia – the graffiti you see on public toilet walls.

By no means do I think vandalism should be encouraged, especially by those who choose to do the uninspired, uncreative, spray-painting equivalent of cocking a canine leg to piss on a tree – taggers. But I have seen some brilliant gems on some of my visits to public loos. As an appreciator of sharp wit and creativity, I can’t help but admire those who, during a brief evacuative sojourn, can craft a comment or drawing so clever, it leaves an indelible imprint on your mind.

To those subversive individuals; the reflective philosophers, critics and radicals; the blocked up; the vengeful and the crass commentators; I thank you for sharing your kooky art, intimate stories, unexpected observations and reassuring words to live by:

“Never forget, you are so powerful that one of your pubes could shut down this restaurant”.

Sometimes I stay a bit longer just to peruse your cubicle etchings. I laugh (only on the inside – it’s weird to laugh out loud in a public lav) when I discover one-upmanship, wisecracks and ongoing conversations like this one: “We buy things we don’t need, with money we don’t have, to impress people we don’t like”, which was followed by: “We vandalise things that aren’t ours, with quotes we didn’t write, to impress people taking sh*ts”.

The ‘grout pun’ movement – those of you who scribe grout-related puns in tiny lettering into the tile grout – have had me squinting to read amusing, dad-joke-esque lines like “rumours of my death have been groutly exaggerated”.

You’ve left me pondering, “what if the hokey pokey IS what it’s all about?”, if anyone ever showed up to “Meet me here at 2pm” and what happened when they did? And has anyone ever actually had a good time after calling that number?

I know I’m not alone in my appreciation and awe. There are countless websites like that are dedicated to the archival recording and celebration of these works. One public amenities block cleaner said, “As someone who has to scrub this stuff off bathroom walls, I appreciate when someone writes something unique or different. If you’re going to vandalise, do it with creativity and style”.

Friends who attended the Limerick School of Art & Design circa 1979 say the stall scrawl that’s stayed with them all this time is, “Art is like morality: you have to draw the line somewhere!”. My sensibilities may be considered base, but I agree: sometimes, public toilet walls are a brilliant medium for the anonymous artistes among us.

Shepherds of the Cheegan Flock

I’m what is known as a cheegan. I worship at the salty, creamy alter of all things pressed curd. Except if it involves goats. There’s a reason people associate goats with Satan and let me tell you, it’s not the horns. It’s the milk. Pure evil. My pilgrimage on this holiest of cheesy journeys led me to the discovery of a little cheese bar in the once grungy, now gentrified inner-western Sydney suburb of Newtown.

From Thursday to Saturday, you can’t make a dinner reservation at The Stinking Bishops. Regardless, I still made the hour-and-a-half trek from Wollongong one Friday evening, such is my dedication. Upon arrival, a small hipster fellow greeted me and added my name and phone number to their waiting list. I had a half hour wait before the ritual could commence, so I nipped off to the pub up the road to await the phone summons, which, on the exact 30-minute mark, it did.

The space had a cosy, casual atmosphere and I took my seat at the bar, with a view of yet another small hipster chap slicing cheeses and assembling cheeseboards in a manner that was so precise and dramatic it could pass as performance art.

Another of the wait staff, a small woman who’d clearly spent many years employed in inner city hospitality (tattooed, hurried, a carefully measured level of polite), promptly came to talk me through the menu and wine list. Her speed and efficiency was contagious – within a couple of minutes I’d settled on an adventurous dairy degustation; a four cheese board, mac ’n’ cheese and for dessert, a gorgonzola cheesecake.

The board arrived with my selection; a hard Spanish cheese, Los Llanos Manchego DOP; another hard number, an aged Reypenaer VSOP Gouda from The Netherlands; an Irish blue mould, Grubb Cashel Blue; and a French washed rind, Époisses Coupe perriere. Accompanying it was a basket of sourdough bread and artisan crackers, fresh muscatel grapes, a sliver of quince paste and a slice of fig and walnut log.

Aged naturally in an historic warehouse on the Old Rhine River, and with fruity caramel notes, the gouda sure was good. Historically, Ireland isn’t renowned for its cheesemaking, so I was surprised to discover they know how to craft a decent blue. The Cashel is Ireland’s original, farmhouse blue cheese, and while not the palate onslaught I’d ordinarily opt for in a blue, it still left a deliciously stinky impression. The buttery, pungent and gooey French fromage was superbe, the 60-day rum wash having had a special kind of alchemical effect. The hand-churned sheeps milk manchego tingled sharply on the tongue, acrid and acidic, and was the least pleasant of the four. It must be a requirement for Stinking Bishops staff to have a degree in cheeseboard maths, because the ratio of cheeses to accompaniments was spot on.

This extravaganza was followed up by the mac ‘n’ cheese. Fond childhood memories of this dish have left me on a life quest to find somewhere that serves one as comforting and tasty. I’ve so far failed dismally on this mission, until now. This was a deeply satisfying excavation through enoki, pine and swiss brown mushrooms, smoked chedder, al dente macaroni and shredded taleggio. I think there may have even been a smidge of truffle oil in there. It wasn’t at all like how I remember it from childhood. This was the serious, grown up version, but it now stands as my mac ‘n’ cheese benchmark.

The gorgonzola cheesecake was not the wild oxymoron you might expect. Some have suggested the deconstructed food trend needs to quit, but the chef here is yet to pay heed. The Italian blue was delicately hidden in a creamy spoonful of yum, surrounded by a generous sprinkling of coconut and oat crumb and a halved Turkish fig.

2013 Padrillos Malbec

A 2013 Ernesto Catena Malbec Padrillos was recommended as the best match to wash it all down with and oh lordy, wasn’t it just. So smooth and subtle, it didn’t dominate the palate, but complemented the flavour of everything else I was putting in my mouth. Quite the quaffer.

It suffices to say, The Stinking Bishops have truly found their calling as shepherds of the cheegan flock.

Climate change makes rough sleeping rougher for the Illawarra’s homeless

Recent torrential rain and flooding in the Illawarra caused damage to homes, power outages and inconvenience to commuters and road users who grumbled about ongoing, daily disruptions and delays. Far less visible was the desperate search by the region’s homeless to find somewhere safe and dry to wait out the bad conditions. For those who have no place to call home and subsequently ‘sleep rough’ – often in parks, beaches or train stations – finding shelter during sudden, extreme weather events is tough, and Australia’s changing climate means they’re going to be faced with having to seek shelter more often.

Source: Photo: Sylvia Liber

More than eight hundred of the world’s top climate scientists from over seventy countries spent five years compiling the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, released in 2014. The report warned that climate change is the single greatest threat to humanity and the planet. In Australia, one of the main effects will be an increased frequency and intensity of flooding from extreme rainfall events.

Founding councillor of the Climate Council and Macquarie University ecologist, Professor Lesley Hughes, says the impact of future extreme weather events in Australia and on those experiencing homelessness will be multifaceted. “Virtually all the climate modelling indicates that extreme events will continue to increase in frequency and/or severity. We are expecting ongoing increases in extreme hot weather, but also decreases in extreme cold weather, so for people living rough there will be both positives and negatives.”

This doesn’t mean that finding shelter during heavy rainfall and flooding will be any easier for the region’s homeless. The Illawarra and South Coast Tenants’ Service’s Warren Wheeler, whose focus there is on equipping tenants with the tools they need to prevent them from becoming homeless, says recent changes to Government funding for emergency accommodation has major implications: “It resulted in a number of local services merging, closing, or radically changing the services they provide. In real terms, this resulted in a loss of beds in the region.

“Governments are more and more expecting social services to be self-funded. It’s an ‘expensive’ exercise looking after the community and the Government doesn’t want that burden. Funding cuts – and funding freezes where there’s no increase in line with demand – can only result in people being turned away.”

“In the event of a natural disaster, councils open up community halls and the like to provide for those suddenly without shelter. Sadly, the same treatment is not afforded to those who are homeless everyday.”

Rough sleepers Shaky and Kevin, two men aged in their forties, said that they had slept on trains to stay warm, travelling back and forth along the Illawarra line. This comes with risks, such as getting train fines and being kicked off the train in a foreign area. Fines then impact their ability to manage finances and prohibit getting licences. Said one, “I’ve been hit with a bottle, and then spent time in hospital before being let out in the same wet clothes I had on when I first got there.”

They said others sleeping rough sometimes band together with their limited resources. When sharing with people who have drug and alcohol problems, this can create problems if they then continue to stay with or around them.

“Apart from trains, there are few places to stay and more people are turning to office blocks and car parks to stay warm. Being exposed to the elements is too hard when it’s this cold and wet.”

One woman who experienced homelessness in Wollongong and who wishes to remain anonymous said that during torrential storms and flooding, she was able to go to a refuge. Her homeless Aboriginal friends however, had to rely on other Indigenous people in the community for help: “They stay with other Indigenous mainly, or ex homeless. Basically, Indigenous means everyone shares.”

For those with an animal companion, Wheeler says finding shelter is even less likely: “This is an ongoing problem. For some people, a pet may be all the companionship they have. Housing NSW have the standard “we house people, not pets” response to those looking for shelter with an animal. I have assisted many clients who have chosen homelessness rather than having to give away their pet. That’s a sad reality.”

Wollongong Homeless Hub support worker Lee Robinson said “I am aware of only one service in the Shoalhaven area that used to allow men with mental health issues to keep their dogs with them on long term accommodation in a very rural setting, but nothing in relation to services or agencies that cater for animals in emergency conditions.”

“The biggest issue faced by the region’s homeless during extreme weather events is to their health and finding a dry place to sleep. Continual cold conditions cause overall health issues. Lack of showering and washing facilities also make it hard to stay warm, dry and clean. The Homeless Hub has purchased a washing machine for this reason, which clients can use during the day after booking in at no cost.”

Wheeler says an overhaul of current Australian tenancy legislation would help to reduce homelessness and therefore the numbers of people seeking emergency accommodation during extreme weather events: “Australia is one of the few countries in the world that allow ‘no just cause’ termination of tenancies. This means that if you assert your rights to your landlord, you can be given your marching orders and the landlord does not need to justify their actions.

“The effect on this is two-fold. Firstly, it undermines tenants rights, as tenants are too scared to assert them. Secondly, where a tenant does assert their rights, it can and does lead to homelessness. There is a cultural understanding here that a landlord is “entitled to get their property back” if they want it. This is not a view shared by many other countries around the world. Get rid of ‘no just cause’ evictions and we’re one step closer to solving homelessness.”

Until such time as Australia has solved its homelessness issues, Professor Hughes says there are ways the community can be better prepared to cope with sudden, extreme weather events, and provide assistance to those experiencing homelessness: “We need good health alert systems for times of extreme weather, and need to resource our health and emergency services appropriately to handle increased risks.”

There are also opportunities for those who want to help homelessness support agencies by donating goods, money, services or volunteering. “Work within the community you know,” says Wheeler. “Whether it’s your local school, place of work, knitting club, book club, pub mates… Passion is infectious and once your community, your mates see your passion they’ll want to jump on board. Also, be creative. Passing a hat around is all fine n’ dandy, but if you can have fun with it, then everyone’s life is a little bit richer as a result.”

The Wollongong Homeless Hub welcomes donations. Phone (02) 4244 4121 to find out how you can contribute funds or items for ‘rough-sleeper’ kits, toiletry and food packages.

Cobain: Montage of Heck was just that

Disclaimer: as a Nirvana fanatic (more than simply ‘a fan’) since they first called to attention disaffected youth in the early ‘90s, this wasn’t going to be anything other than a religious experience for me.


I’d pre-booked online, nervous that I might miss out on tickets with the rush of other local middle-aged Seattle grunge lovers flocking to the cinema to catch Cobain: Montage of Heck during its run at Shellharbour Greater Union. I needn’t have bothered; I could count on one hand the number of fellow devotees seated around me in quiet meditation as we keenly anticipated the start of the 9pm screening. Perhaps the session had been competing with the lure of booze and an ‘80s tribute act at the nearby workers club and had subsequently lost a chunk of potential audience to it? Regardless, the dedicated few were here, ready to be transported back to the days when ‘alternative music’ became so popular, a category for it had to be added to the music charts, and to perhaps find some answers to a story we already knew the ending of. It’s been 20 years since Kurt Cobain took his own life at the height of his fame and this is the first authorised biopic to have been produced in that time. The film’s title is said to come from the handwritten label of one of the many unheard, unreleased homemade cassette tapes Cobain had recorded his own audio onto.

Director Brett Morgen is known as the “mad scientist” of documentary filmmaking. Cobain’s wife, Courtney Love, gave him the keys to the archival storage facility where the accumulation of Cobain artefacts are kept in lockdown, and gave him free reign to do with it as he pleased. Throughout the film, you see how he has carefully mixed and measured portions of Cobain’s life remnants to produce a work that is at once familiar, but also uncovers some revelatory truths. Hand-scribbled lyric sheets, paintings and intimate Super-8 home movies are interspersed with interviews not with all the music industry talking heads you might expect, but from only a select few who would’ve attended Cobain’s funeral whether he’d been a rockstar or a janitor; friends, lovers, family and bandmates who played a main part in shaping the man he was.

Not surprisingly, a big part of why this film resonates so deeply is the audio. The film makers have crafted it in such a way that when the live concert footage begins, the surround sound becomes all encompassing, ripping right through you; suddenly you’re there in some seedy, sweaty club with the other punks, losers and square pegs getting lost in communal disconnection, anarchy and rage.

The end of the film has stirred some controversy, with some saying it’s too abrupt, there’s too many questions left unanswered. I’ll save the spoiler alert by not going into detail, but I will say this: this film is not about his death. It’s about his legacy – a legacy that has reached mythological proportions.


A Cultural Cannibal On Being Brave

Flames crawl up her arms, lasso her body and circle her face, and yet her eyes show no fear, only delighted, childlike wonder. Kerosene fumes permeate the air and tiny mirrors sewn into her handmade costume reflect a fiery mosaic. This Wolf in steampunk bedlah clothing has harnessed a blazing serpent as her dance partner in an electrifying, hypnotic waltz. A transfixed Newcastle Bellydancing Festival crowd encircles the fire djinn, dust rising as her bare feet pound and twist into the earth.

People are often stunned when they see the width of disciplines performer Wolf Ifritah’s arts practice covers. Some see a fire performer, some a dancer, a maker of amateur electronics, a graphic designer, costumer, object manipulator, visual artist, geek coder. Her Crack Theatre biography describes her, amongst other things, as a “cultural cannibal”. At 42 years of age, Ifritah’s gypsy-like existence, with formative years spent living outside conventional and traditional societal norms, has lead to her evolution as a creative chameleon of sorts. Her dyslexia may also have played a part.

In Islamic theology, it is said that djinns, or ifrits, are winged creatures made of “smokeless fire” who live underground and are noted for their strength and cunning. While Ifritah’s background isn’t quite as fantastical, it is no less unusual, and the challenges she’s faced along the way have furnished her with these traits. Her childhood was spent growing up in western Sydney in group houses and communes with radical hippies and a politically-active gay parent.

“I often don’t tell people about my childhood because there really aren’t many others who would have had the same experiences. The idea of gay parenting is not 100% accepted in society yet.

“My upbringing in a non-traditional environment gave me many life skills, such as questioning authority, thinking for oneself, analysing, gauging what you can get away with without being chased down the street with pitchforks… On the other hand, it’s also given me social isolation, a persecution complex and the inability to feel like I can be myself with most people. You know, most people are alarmingly conservative. Having said that though, I wouldn’t swap it for quids.”

Although you’d be hard-pressed to find it on a map, Ifritah’s road-less-travelled passed through Canberra, where she moved to in her early teens and completed high school. It was here that she first ventured into the world of performance.

“Early performances were with a group called Splinters, a weird anarchic mob that did large-scale works involving fire and puppets and pyrotechnics. I left after a friend lit some firecrackers and got himself hospitalised. I decided it wasn’t actually safe. It was predominantly heterosexual – before I came out. My focus shifted to bellydance, which at least made me income. For some time I worked in restaurants and one in particular where I felt comfortable.”

Cosmopolitan Melbourne then caught the eye of this gypsy, so she parked her caravan there for a spell.

“In Melbourne, the expectation of me as a bellydancer to embody a certain type of woman was too much – I stopped performing. It took many years to come back to performing and even longer to make performance part of my “arts” practice. There’s a certain cultural elitism – an implied value that dance forms that are not ballet or contemporary dance are somehow worth less or have a lesser cultural value. For a long time I was not brave enough to step out and perform the kinds of work I really wanted to make.

“I don’t necessarily perform as myself. Rather, most of my performances are in character. Even as a bellydancer, I used to joke it was a form of drag. I never really wanted to dance for the male gaze. I’m far more interested in how females respond to a performance.”

Little academic research has been done to document the issues faced by emerging queer performers in regional Australia. There are, however, studies like A Queer Country (A. Gorman-Murray et al. 2008) and Screen Actors Guild-America’s 2013 study, Sexual Orientation & Gender Identity: Diversity In Entertainment, along with anecdotal accounts from a chorus of queer performers like Ifritah, that give some insights into what it might be like for those in a minority, historically discriminated against, to be standing up in a small town and drawing attention to themselves through their art. In the Gorman-Murray study, which looked at the politics of ‘queer belonging’ in one particular Australian country town, it was found that the town’s support of queer performance events garnered it a reputation for being gay-friendly, but that there was underlying resentment from local residents towards the queer community. It’s a situation echoed throughout regional and rural Australia with discrimination, bigotry, misunderstanding, censorship, artists’ self-censorship due to fear of reprisal, and lack of opportunity and support on many levels the recurring themes. It was during Ifritah’s time living in Wollongong that some of these issues became particularly pronounced.

Ifritah says, “There’s a lack of focus. In Sydney, you have Mardi Gras as a huge arts festival with great opportunities. In regional areas, gay culture can be harder to find – it’s usually hiding under the cover of heteronormative disguise, lest it be chased down the road by fork-wielding bogans. It’s expected as a cultural norm for gay males to be part of the theatre – it’s almost a stereotype – but for women, I think the issues are much deeper. Women working in almost all art forms seem to get less recognition and less money. I’m currently working in a women’s circus and sometimes I really do feel like the only gay in the village. It can be lonely and there’s a lack of intelligent dialogue ‘cause the whole landscape is full of minefields. It’s dangerous territory… there be dragons… Oh wait, I am the dragon.”

A scan of Wollongong news media may have you believing that queer performance in the region is confined only to the hosting of a drag show every other year. In Ifritah’s experience, this is a reality. Even going underground doesn’t offer any other opportunities, albeit of the surreptitious sort.

“Let’s call it the gay ghetto. Aside from arts festivals, the landscape there is pretty barren. It’s no wonder most sensible queers will move to larger cities. In Sydney, my peers have Hellfire, the Red Rattler and a few other year-round venues and festivals that are more queer-oriented.

“Underground can be very much a clique of recent graduates and locals. Though my sexuality is not at a point where by I’d be ruled out of these networks, they are for the most part predominantly heterosexual. The drag clubs are predominantly gay men, so I slip down the cracks and am lost in the gutter of underrepresentation.”

For now, Ifritah calls Newcastle, NSW home; not quite the big smoke, certainly not a sleepy coastal village, but just big enough to keep her connected and producing. Although she is yet to find a comfortable sense of belonging, it is here that our lone Wolf has been encouraged to develop her arts practice.

“I live 5 metres from the local drag pub. I don’t go there often, but it makes me feel comfortable, more like I fit in somewhere. Most of the dancers and circus freaks I know are heterosexual. There is room for me to fit in with their performances, but no place or venue that I would say my performance fits. I’m working on that, but it will take some time.

“My current practice has evolved into costume play and object manipulation wrapped in the sugar coating of dance. The last performance piece I did, The Electric Naga, was a kind of emergence for me as a soloist after many years of working in a troupe. As a visual artist and person who has made large-scale puppets (also for Mardi Gras), I enjoyed the process of creating a costume and character and exploring the potential for storytelling. As a tech geek, I enjoyed the making and prototyping of the props using LEDs, learning to program the micro controllers and batteries. As a performer going solo, I enjoyed disproving and experimenting with structured improv and object manipulation.

“The characters I am interested in exploring don’t fit in this world. Nominally, you might say they have no hope of ever being accepted as “normal”. This for me is part of the status quo. I’m deeply drawn to the monstrous feminine, the unseen and the unreal. I guess it’s a form of hyper drag that has crossed over from playing with gender to playing with notions of humanity and the acceptance of diversity and difference. The Electric Naga in a sense can be read as an exploration of the inherent beauty and sadness and anger of the feminine monster archetype.”

Although pushed to the fringe in part because of her queer identity, Ifritah doesn’t hide this aspect of herself from audiences, although what they see may be in camouflage.

“My identity is not only bound to my performance, but is so ingrained into the bones of it that it’s hard to identify it as separate. Arguably the very fact that I’m standing up and being visible is driven by my queerness – a reaction to my invisibility to the mainstream. The denial and vilification of my culture by the mainstream makes just existing from day-to-day a queer performance. By bringing my characters out into the light to be seen, I am both forging their creation and validating my right to exist.

“The Naga was very much conceived in the world of online gaming as an avatar. It’s very much a part of queer culture to engage in identity play. Often people will focus on the gender part of this play, however I think that this ability to create and play out character’s alternate selves is not just a part of queer culture, but a survival trait. We learn very early on who we can trust with the truth of our lives. We censor and blend our personalities, traversing fluidly, becoming chameleons.”

Fortunately for Ifritah, being a queer performer in regional Australia hasn’t all been about being chased down the street by pitchfork-wielding bigots.

“Most people just see the pretty lights. I’ve got good feedback from the Naga so far. People are fascinated by the costume and I love to point out the Apple keyboard and the wires and plastic bags that make her. The costume was created from consumer waste and has a strong environmental message. It was kind of post apocalyptic. The Naga was reclaiming her habitat from humans. It’s arguably queer to engage in non-human costume play (Google ‘furries’ or ‘furkind’), however that connection is most likely very lost on a straight audience and I’m not going to jump up and down and point it out – it’s hard enough just being a dyke. Let’s say it’s post-human.

“People really have quite diverse reactions to this work. I am learning that whatever my agenda, most people will bring their own stories and interpretations to the work I put out, and that’s ok.”

As with The Electric Naga, Ifritah’s latest performance piece is one with a message. And fire.

“Most of my work is also influenced by gamer culture. The title for my next performance “l007”, or lewt, comes from gamer culture. I’ll be using my graphic design skills to create counterfeit money, distributing it and setting it alight. I’m interested in female roles that are rebellious, dangerous and scary. I’m interested in characters that have agency and use it. I want my audiences to be more involved, so I’ll be inviting audiences to burn the money as well. It’s technically illegal to burn currency, so I’ll be using counterfeit money – a simulacrum of a simulacrum to show the illusion of value in our society. Probably more punk than queer, I guess. Ultimately I address gender by not playing to the expectation of femininity or masculinity – both are binary definitions I’m not really interested in exploring at the present.

“I’m still emerging. I know I’m 40-something and though I haven’t spent my life hiding under a rock, I feel like it’s taken me a long time to stitch the separated pieces of my identity into a practice I can call my own.”

To other emerging queer performers, Ifritah offers this advice: “Be brave. Your story will make others brave.”

What’s Hidden Backstage?

Watching a live theatre performance is a kind of magic. You’re transported to new worlds, shown different perspectives and given an intimate glimpse into to the lives of strangers. Time stops, disbelief is suspended, your focus transfixed on the stage.

Your attention might be held captive by the goings-on of what’s happening before your eyes, but there’s also a great deal that goes on behind the scenes to make these stories come alive.

This audiovisual piece takes you behind the theatre curtain into the echoic corridors, brightly-lit dressing rooms and dark control booths to show you what’s hidden backstage at the Illawarra Performing Arts Centre (IPAC) in Wollongong.

Merrigong Theatre Company manages IPAC and it’s here that we’re introduced to two of its staff, Blair Dutney and Steven Robinson, who take us back-of-house to share some of their industry insights.

Blair is only 24 years old, but his passion and talent for lighting has seen him secure a respected position as Merrigong’s Head of Lighting. He shared a few theatre secrets for this story, including a lesser-known rule originating from his colleague Will Jacobs: “Don’t take your shoes off”.

He explained, “Will took his boots off one day while he was operating and fell asleep on the ‘go button’. He clocked through about 150 cues in 30 seconds. It was one of his first operating gigs, mid-show, for Sydney Theatre Company. I don’t know if STC knows that he fell asleep, but we know!”

Steven’s role with Merrigong is that of Technical Coordinator, responsible for maintaining the venue’s toilets, garbage and air conditioning. “All of those three things are broken all of the time”.

There are plenty of secrets to making the magic happen onstage, but there are also people working behind the scenes with a few hidden talents of their own. Steve revealed, “There’s heaps of techs that are performing artists. I’m only doing this job because I had too many kids”.

“The backstage starts off as a way to pay the bills, and then suckers you in,” Blair added. “Are techs real? No. They’re just other artists that aren’t doing art right now”.

“I’d like to do a gig here and get all the people behind the scenes to do what they do on stage,” said Steve. “We could put on a Wharf Revue style ‘Merrigong Revue’ if we wanted to.”

“And, it’d save Merrigong money because they’ve already got their techs doing it!” quipped Blair.

View the story to see what other secrets of theatre are revealed.

Social Journalists

I’ve been following journalists Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop, Jenan Moussa and John Safran on Twitter. Twitter plays a big role in each of their respective practices. Whilst not claiming Twitter profiles to solely discuss their work – there are some personal opinions and interests being shared as well – they are all prolific tweeters who use Twitter to collect and share information, find sources and promote their own work as well as the work of other journalists.

When it comes to Facebook however, there is no professional profile for Sean Rubinsztein-Dunlop. Jenan Moussa has a profile but you have to send a ‘friend request’, so it’s a private profile that isn’t openly accessible. John Safran is the only one of the 3 who has an openly-accessible Facebook presence. Ezra Klein of The Washington Post says journalists prefer Twitter to Facebook because of immediacy – often this is where news breaks first and where journalists report on news as it’s happening. John Safran’s focus is on documentary making and true crime stories. As such, there is great pop culture interest in his work and therefore a Facebook presence makes sense; it’s where a community of his fans can congregate and interact with him, and because of the nature of his exposés, there’s less urgency for him to get the facts needed for his work.

John Safran's eight-part comedy-documentary 'Race Relations' aired on ABC TV

John Safran’s eight-part comedy-documentary ‘Race Relations’ aired on ABC TV

I’ll show you what’s hidden

One of my great loves is the performing arts, both as an audience member and performer, but also as one who’s worked backstage to “make the magic happen”.

For my final JRNL102 assignment, I’d like to share the stories of people who work backstage at the theatre; sound and lighting technicians, directors, actors, stage and costume designers, stage managers and make-up artists. As well as exploring “what’s hidden” backstage, I hope to reveal something unexpected (hidden) about one (or more) of my interview subjects. It will give insight into the work they do, as well as their individual characters and unique, sometimes surprising, stories. Meta.

Local media capture photos and video of Bangarra in rehearsal at IPAC

Local media capture photos and video of Bangarra in rehearsal at IPAC

The story will take the form of a photo essay, with the addition of audio interviews with people who work backstage and ambient sounds of the theatre e.g. bump ins/outs, rehearsals, stage cues etc.

Playing Favourites

The convergent journalism stories listed below are all impressive in their own way; powerful, engaging and technically proficient.

Nuclear Nightmares: Twenty Years since Chernobyl
Marlboro Marine
Suspect America
Goa Hippy Tribe
Starved for Attention
Tomato Can Blues

Even though it doesn’t incorporate as many elements that a convergent story of today would, the story that particularly impressed me is Nuclear Nightmares. This project was produced in the early days of convergent journalism, when those of us who were privileged enough to have internet access were beginning to migrate from dial-up to high-speed connections. Although interactive storytelling online was still in the experimental, slow and clunky stage – unlike today where we can immerse ourselves in highly-refined, viewer-intuitive and fast-loading packages – it meant it was feasible for journalists to consider adding more elements to stories, like video and audio, because page-loading speeds were becoming less of an issue.

It isn’t as “tricked up” as the convergent stories we get today, but I still like Nuclear Nightmares because the black-and-white images are striking; they tell a thousand words.

© Photograph: Robert Knoth 2006

Aside from the first and second last pages, the text isn’t too overwhelming, just enough to give context or background, and when you hover away from the image it disappears so you can appreciate the full photo.

To finish, it has links for you to get more information and viewer responses, so you can gauge the effect it’s had on others. I like that these links aren’t ‘forced’ on you – instead, you’re given the option of engaging further. There wasn’t much focus on sharing capabilities in 2006 when this work was produced, so you’re not inundated with heaps of share buttons at the end. Instead, people shared the link via email, online forums and on some websites, which was enough for it to go viral. There was virtually no focus on a project’s capacity to be viewable on a mobile device, but even so, it still looks good on an iPhone.

This work is a perfect example of “less is more”.

The work that was my least favourite in terms of looking at convergent journalism, or interactive storytelling, is Suspect America. My reasons are purely semantic, because if you take it out of the context of convergent journalism, it is a brilliant video animation that does well to both captivate and inform the viewer. Back in the convergent journalism context however, I feel it lacks interactivity, resulting in the viewer being subjected to a passive experience. This story only offers 2 hyperlinks to other web content and has a comments section that has only received 2 comments in 3 years.

Suspect America - only 2 comments in 3 years

The video works well on mobile devices and is clever, controversial and educative enough that it has the potential to go viral if pushed through the right channels. Clearly, the producer hasn’t taken advantage of social media as well as they could have.