A range of factors led to Melbourne, and to coming for a full six months, but the “inciting incident” was an invitation from the organizers of thePerformance Studies international conference (PSi22, “Performance Climates”) to curate an event for the opening night of the conference. We knew there would be some kind of budget, and we knew there would be a built-in audience of some of the most interesting folks from around the world and from Australia, so we jumped at the chance.
The other “given circumstances” we began with were that the opening of the conference would be Bruno Latour‘s keynote address on the Parkville campus of Uni Melbourne, and that the space booked for the opening reception/dinner/party was the Meat Market, a huge, romantic theatre space about a kilometer away in North Melbourne, the site of the city’s historic meat market.
So we were tasked with getting a few hundred guests across town in Melbourne’s winter weather to some kind of event appropriate to both our Foodways Melbourne project and the conference themes of Performance Climates. We were intrigued by the possibilities, but from the moment we began people were warning us to expect likely rain, wind, and chill on the night.
We knew from the start that we wanted to engage with the walk from the campus to the Meat Market, rather than letting the conference pause after Latour and begin again at the party, with attendees left on their own to make the trip. So we set about figuring out how to take care of and entertain participants along the route, without slowing them down too much or making them stand around in the rain. Along with the conference organizers, we were also concerned with the need to help new visitors to Melbourne navigate the walk easily.
Around 7:15, conferees left the lecture hall after Latour’s talk, and Laurie Beth and a team of volunteers greeted each participant and gave them a sash made of red-checked gingham.
As they passed through the arch under the Biosciences building, we served them hot miso soup from Eskies, poured into the Keepcups we had designed for the conference to give away to every participant.
We heard many reports that the soup was welcome and warming, as it was quite chilly and had begun to rain heavily just as the keynote talk ended.
A bit further on, two more volunteers handed out Anzac biscuits for further sustenance. We were interested in these cookies as “typically Australian”, but had also been wary of possible militaristic associations. The history of the biscuit is undeniably linked to a pointless loss of life at Gallipoli in 1915 (nonetheless a moment when many traditionalist Australians felt their country came into its own on the world stage), but we were also persuaded that the recipe had since become more generically and less politically “Australian.” (We’ve also heard that Anzac biscuits are popular in London coffee shops because of the strong New Zealand influence there).
At the corner of Grattan and Royal Parade, we had more than half a dozen hardy, sodden volunteers helping participants cross the wide busy streets with their short crossing lights. At the far corner the brand new cafe in the brand new cancer center served up sausages.
As they entered the lobby of the Meat Market, a dozen performers greeted the line of walkers. This was the “Climate Chorus”, which we thought up ourselves, but which was organized, developed, and executed under the leadership of honors theatre students: Joey Lai & Jack Currie, who we’d worked with in several ways over the year. The chorus was inspired in part by the sound of the hawkers in the nearby Queen Victoria Market; it was also motivated in part by the desire of the conference organizers to explore “climate” as a broad theme, including global climate change, of course, but also social, political, artistic, and educational climates. Here’s some very rough video shot on the fly by Jojin Van Winkle; we weren’t trying to capture audio really, so it’s pretty harsh, but it gives an idea of the atmosphere at the entrance.
And here’s a prettier shot of the climate chorus warming up:
This liminal entrance space delivered participants to Michael and a volunteer team inside the space proper. Each attendee was guided along a velvet rope line to a small stage, where the glamorous Robert Walton and Kaylene Tan introduced each one by name and read the “Foodways” from their sashes.
We put a lot of effort (and delicious research time) into curating food for this event, with the aim of reflecting some of the diversity of Melbourne’s food culture. The effect was inspired in part by the “night markets” around town, especially at Queen Vic, where multiple food stalls serve up food and drink in a smoky, bustling atmosphere.
- Traditional ANZAC biscuits from Heavenly Delights
- Miso soup from Plush Fish
- Mini Hot Dogs from Super 8
- Taste of White Rabbit Dark Ale at Bev & Mick’s Turf Club Hotel
At the Meat Market:
- Pizzas from Soul Kitchen
- Falafel from Very Good Falafel
- Tofu and Pork Bao from Wonderbao
- Sushi from Plush Fish
- Hoppers and Vegetable Curry from Drums Cafe
- Lamingtons from Ministry of Cakes
Rather than programming a discreet entertainment portion of the evening, we wanted to fill the event with ambient and intermittent performativity. Key to this was Dan Rizk, who performs as DJ MzRizk and who responded perfectly (and with a reliable can-do cool) to the prompt to play an all-Australian mix that could come in and out to support first the introductions of everyone, and then the “Toasts” and “Climate Reports” that we interspersed throughout the evening. Michael, Dan, and the fantastic sound/light tech Taran intermittently broke into the party vibe to introduce our toasters and reporters:
The “Toasts” were moments of celebration:
Angharad Wynne-Jones toasted the lives and struggles of artists, Marin Blazevic offered the first of what would be several call-backs from this conference to the Fluid States events that had been held around the world in the previous year, Maaike Bleeker toasted the organization’s Future Advisory Board, and Eddie Paterson toasted the conference he so carefully curated.
The “Climate Reports” were short performative pieces touching on different interpretations of climate from different continents:
Rachel Swain and Dalisa Pigram (of Cut the Sky) reported from an imaginary future Australia, while Jazmin Llana brought virtually an entire dance/theatre troup to the stage to report from the Philippines.
This was more than enough material to fill the evening, and the crowd had started to thin when we brought out the final treat of the evening, lamingtons from Ministry of Cakes (another iconic Australian food.) Everyone was pretty full by this point, but lamingtons keep well and we enjoyed them at coffee breaks for the next couple of days.
We had a blast that night, and felt like we’d helped bring our project and the conference agenda together in a compelling and fun way. To be sure, everyone got rained on, and a few people were grumpy, but we thoroughly enjoyed welcoming, guiding, and nourishing this crowd and these ideas.
Finally, a massive thank you to all whose volunteer efforts made the evening fun, functional, and safe. A partial list of those we haven’t already mentioned here: Adele Varcoe, Ali Mikulyak, Alice Lewis, Amaara Raheem, Amelia Burke, BJ Torio, Brooke Rayner, Chris Babinskas, Danielle McCarthy, Erli Guan, George Akl, Harley Hefford, Helen Bullard, Josh Abrams, Juliana Keller, Kat Lieder, Katherine Mezur, Liam Smith, Louisa King, Mich Harrington, Rajni Shah, Ruby Johnson, Sarah Berry, Tania Splawa-Neyman.