• 17 Feb 2014 /  AUTOBLOGRAPHY, Life Stories

    James Waites. (Photo by Brett Monaghan)

    James Arthur Waites (06.03.1955 – 12.02.2014)

    Arts journalist and writer, mentor to many in the arts community and theatre critic James Waites passed away at Coogee Beach on the morning of the 12th February, aged 58.

     James had been suffering from long-term illnesses and had recently been diagnosed with Parkinson’s Disease. With his health in terminal decline, he made the considered decision for his last swim to be at Coogee while he was still in a position to do so.

     Jim Waites will be remembered by all who knew him as a deeply compassionate individual who was a Son of Josette and Tom,  much-loved brother of David, Frances (dec.) and Tricia, beloved uncle to Kirsten, Christopher and Aiden’ and favourite nephew and cousin to Waites, Heffernan, Jenkins and Craig families.

     He was a colleague,  lover, mentor, teacher and friend of many.

    Details of a memorial service will be available on this site and elsewhere from Friday 21st February 2014.

    The Australian Arts community have  acknowledged his passing on Facebook, Twitter, blogs and print press. Selected links are included at the end of the brief and potted biography that follows. Read the rest of this entry »

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  • 23 Dec 2008 /  Reviews

    Hi there kids! It was a week of shows for young people about young people by young people for young people (I was gate-crashing!) It started off with a trip to Australian Theatre for Young People (ATYP) to see ?Y! – an unpronounceable self-devised extravaganza about what it is like to be Gen Y and treated that way in the media. Or something like that. The show ‘interrogated’ themes of self-centredness and narcissism, addiction to music downloads, branded clothing and celebrity gossip. Kids being kids, showbiz is fun – and so despite all the efforts at social critique the main message communicated was more long the lines of: “We are having such FUN doing this!” And so they should be at that age. So far as theatre training is concerned, all I can say is that it was great to see such a lack of self-consciousness on stage and lots of physicality. And yes, even I had scrawny little tummy muscles like that once. Not that they were such a ‘cult item’ back in my day. Nor was branded underwear, eyewear, iphones, ‘fuck-me’ heels, tattoos, etc….

    You Need More Than One!

    First Bite

    This rare visit to one of the cauldrons of training in this city brought back delicious memories of the blue-light cocktail party I attended some years back, graced by the presence of our Nicole and her (then) …gosh I always block his name. Anyway her then husband, the short guy who used to do a lot of movies. Wow he is really short. It was very exciting coz he was carrying around a tray of pink baby franknfurters and the young girls were nearly fainting – wondering if they had the courage to take their first bite. I rather nervously accepted one myself. It was nice – but not what you would call a big experience.

    One flashback leads to another and so I was then reminded of our Nicole being on Oprah not long after the separation, being asked what life was like post celebrity marriage. At last she could return to high-heels. Good answer I thought. A nice little ‘howzat!’. I like our Nicole, she has done some great acting in her time. Though admittedly there is not a lot on show in Australia – the movie that should have gone all the way and been a musical  – like M. Rouge, and R+J I can see why she is getting pummeled, particularly for the early sequences when she is still Prim Little Miss England. While the whole film has cartoon-like elements, the first 15-20 minutes are so cardboard cut out it’s no surprise many who have seen the film fail to see much good in it. It puts you off the rest. This opening is very like Moulin Rouge with maps, and massive crane shots disappearing into elaborate models, and Nicole marching around faking ‘angry’ with little hands clenched and elbows tucked to her sides…all very plastic, off-putting and quite bizarre. But M Rouge keeps up its style, where Australia wanders from one to another, without being overtly postmodern in the way it packages quotation. That said, there are lots of quotes: The Wizard of Oz and Gone With The Wind being the most overt. Follow the score, it is a veritable fruit tart of allusions.

    Little Miss UK

    Little Miss UK

    I am very disappointed in G. Greer has put in her boot. Okay the movie might be crap, in some ways to some people, but its not right to attack it for getting the humpies wrong! And, if you’ve read her piece, she’s not just kicking Baz’s, but Marcia Langton’s head too. Here are three of my current favourite Australians – all are in my elite leadership group. To see them in combative freefall is very distressing when there are so many Australian a-holes out there much more deserving of a bashing for the crap work they do or shit values they uphold. Whatever its shortcomings, I am with Marcia however, the film does give a wonderful tick to post-apology reconciliation. It’s splashed right across the opening sequence in big letters and sustained to the last twist in the plot. Popcorn entertainment to one side, it is the one of the film’s thru-lines of lasting value. I liked the poll in  the SMH that asked for feedback: one of the options was: ‘Hey, it’s a Baz film!‘ I think that is right on the money. Germaine!

    Burn This

    Burn This

    If you can get past its many oddities, esp. the stylistic inconsistencies, there is quite a wonderful film here. I would take my kids to it if I had any. It bites off way more than it can chew. Okay so don’t go if you are looking for an elegant degustation. But it also overflows with goodwill, passion, and a fabulous excess of ideas. It is very like Titanic and Pearl Harbour in scope, except that neither of those block busters has a heart or a soul. Australia does: and what is wrong with a  big romantic sweep now and again. Okay, it is a stylistic mess compared to the ‘visual quality control’ of Quantum of Solace. But for its good timing and great looks, Quantum has NOTHING to say, is a movie without soul. Utterly sucked of possible meaning with a view to mega global sales.

    Pleased To See Me

    Pleased To See Me?

    I am not surprised Australia has suffered ‘not quite’ box office results It is neither a film for grown ups nor for kids. Neither for the cinematic cognoscenti nor the popcorn animal. It smelt like a possible loser from conception. But that does not explain or justify the ill-will it has prompted in so many, especially among fellow Australians. I was invited a couple of weeks back to join a Facebook group dedicated to ‘those who hate this film’. Hello. Even if it is a bad film, which I don’t think it is, how many other crap films premiere every year. Where are all the other ‘I hate move XYZ’ Facebook groups? Why this one?

    The problem with Australia, the movie, I think, is that it had too big a budget. Which is the last thing Baz is gonna want to here. But maybe he will have to, since it is unlikely he will be given this much money to spend again for a while. The credits roll for minutes with acknowledgement of dozens of special technical units that, one presumes, worked on this bit of the film or that. The Japanese attack on Darwin is more fake than Atlanta burning. But the realisation goes way beyond GWTW’s gaudy backdrops and licking flames. The bombing of Darwin must have cost fortune. Yet you never get a single realistic long shot of the town. Surely there are heaps of towns left up north that look a bit similar? Why go too so much trouble – we are not making Apocalypse Now Too – or are we?

    How Did That Get In Here?

    How Did That Get In Here?

    Where the movie is fabulous is when you have real landscape and real horses and real cattle – the camera flies around. These sequences are enthralling and you so fall in love with Nicole and Hugh falling in love. Gulpilil’s face stamps authority, though midshots of this gr8 wize man standing on one leg are a bit postcard.  My overall view is that Baz had not been financed to resort to so many special effects, he would have had more control of the look of the film. it would have had a more personal feel and, in turn, been better received. I would really like him to go low budget next time and let his raw talent flow.The movie gets better as it unfolds, its three hours approx feel like half that length; and the performances (to the extent that they are allowed to act) get better as the broader sweep of romance and adventure take hold.

    It was immediately after seeing an afternoon session of Australia that I took the bus from Newtown to Circular Quay and on horseback around Hickson Road, helicopter for the last leg, and then buggy to ATYP studios underneath Sydney Theatre Company Wharf.

    SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - NOVEMBER 10:  Vanessa Hudgens, Zac Efron and Ashley Tisdale arrive at the premiere of 'High School Musical 3' at the Greater Union George Street cinemas on November 10, 2008 in Sydney, Australia.  (Photo by Mike Flokis/Getty Images)

    Quacks Like Kiddy Porn

    Later in the week we had the opening night of the mega-hit musical Disney Blockbuster holidays fodder, High School Musical. I haven’t caught up with the teeny-cult movie (or 2 or III) but I gather the phenolepnonenpn was born out of Disney Channel. Meaning there was an audience first for this live show, and that this audience (obviously squillions) has helped shape it into being. Very possibly all the better for that. It IS an absolutely sanitized ‘boy meets girl’ drama in the tradition of ‘Romeo fucks Juliet’. But the work as the whole does no obvious harm, unlike a lot of shows to emerge from such highly concocted circumstances. In fact, it has quite an honorable, if unrealistic, message. Male Sports Jock and Female Maths Nerd fall in love while hankering to be in the ‘high-school-musical’ as well. Guess what, in the end, they get to have their cake and eat it too. Why spoil the delusion? This show is for late primary schoolers – a bit soon for reality of real life to kick them down. Though the idea that you can have ‘everything you want and  more’ is symptomatic of the times we live in – well until the latest crash – lol. Set in the US of A, it’s not as tough a journey as the kid has to take in Billy Elliot, but there you go. That’s the cultural difference. The Hollywood machine is still suggesting having what you want is ‘dead easy’, so long as you are white and middle class. Whereas in post-Churchill’s Britain you still have to fight a lot harder – and make a lot of sacrifices in other areas – folks and loved ones also have to give up stuff.

    All Hail The Gym Jock

    All Hail The Gym Jock

    That Coca Cola and Mac computers get a free plug is the downside of a Corporate musical. That Karl Marx gets quoted, in fact misquoted, suggests there are still avid anti-communists still running Walt’s empire. It is such a gratuitous swipe. It brings nothing to the drama – and should be cut. Clearly paranoia lives on well past its use-by date and clearly, to some, tendencies towards leftist thinking must be nipped in the bud at the earliest opportunity. Every generation has had its ‘Romeo and Juliet’ show, going all the way back to the days of Shakespeare even. Was it better in days of yore? Back in the 1590s, both R and J died for their efforts.


    If Only It Could Be: W W Story was my first encounter with the R&J myth

    Sad but true. In my day, in West Side Story, Maria lives, but Tony dies! In my pal Brett’s day (ten years younger), Olivia and John have a ball in Grease, but its quite deliciously ‘naughty’ partying! In each version, as the decades unfold, the myth is presented to a younger age group – and further sanitized. I wonder if the next version of ‘First Love across the Racial/Class (room) Divide’ will be set in a kindergarten? The one after that in a pair of wombs? Or incest in the one womb? Perhaps ‘One Egg Two Fathers’: the Prenatal All-Singing Abortion!

    Without doubt Grease is artistically superior to High School Musical; and West Side Story is superior to Grease. But West Side Story ends badly, and to be honest I don’t think I’ve ever got over that. At the time, still in my chrysalis phase, I didn’t know who to identify with – Tony or Maria. Maria or Tony? I still haven’t made up my mind. Beyond romance HSM does flirrt with sexualization to an audience verging on puberty. Pretty harmless compared to what else is out there. But watch out Kevin Rudd, kiddy porn is everywhere you choose to look for it!

    Bill Henson's Award-winning Portraitof the Prime Minister

    Mine is THIS Big! Photo by Bill Henson

    What must be said about this Sydney production of HSM is that’s been extremely well rehearsed – it’s very spick. The energy is great, and the content – in truth – effectively harmless. It encourages joining your school drama club! after all. That’s surely a good thing. Where you meet hot members of the opposite sex! Possibly even same sex. By the end, at least, the gay character gets good press. Can’t argue against that. My tip: got no kids? Take your cat or dog. It was great fun to emerge from opening night, Bindii was in the audience after all!! And stumble into my colleague Stephen Dunne, sometime critic for the SMH. So far Stephen is childless, possibly petless! Smoke pouring out his ears. “Anodised, sanitised – purged of all”…etc. It was not Stephen glass of Dubonnet. He is absolutely right, have I gone soft? Should I join the ‘I Hate Australia’ group on Facebook? But softness is not always a bad thing, a discovery I have made in my later years.

    Gorgeous George (John Nasser) and Sweetpea McGee (Liesel Badorrek) delight the littlies with their lovely inventive play-making: Photo by Matthew Sherwood

    Softness is sometimes a weakness in a work of art, and in criticism. But sometimes it is also a strength. The artistic highlight of the week was a show for real littlies at the Studio, SOH. Monkeyshines was the name of the show – an old carny word for ‘monkey-business’ or close to that. This was a very sweet, fully imagined, lovingly crafted show that the audience  – 6 to10 year olds approx – totally adored. Creator Liesel Badorrek has been making shows for kids and touring them to places like Singapore and the Mid-East for about twelve years. Same old story, this is her first Sydney break. So congrats to SOH Kids Programing for picking up this one. Sweet Pea McGee (Badorrek) works these days with life partner (father of child), actor John Nasser, aka Georgeous George. They form a delightful duo – greatly enjoying each others company on stage which creates for a lovely atmosphere for the audience

    They work out of a beautiful carny caravan, decorated by Gypsy Taylor and Luke Ede. The show is comprised of a series of homages to old-style carny entertainments – trapeze, Siamese twins, and a hovering baddie (Vashti Hughes as Hedda Hair); supported by musicians, Leonie Cohen and Ross Johnston. All the skits play with tradition, but best of all each segment allows the kids to imagine into the work. They get so involved it is quite a challenge to contain them at times. Hedda Hair had some hair-raising  moments the performance I attended. What I liked about this show was not only its broad humour and lightness of touch, and also the obvious effort that has gone into it. This is no slap-dash gig, nor is it patronizing in its message. It’s just like a really good kids’ book come to life. Monkeyshines sets kids imaginations on fire, in an environment of free-wheeling joy, and that is rare indeed. My inner little kid had a ball. In a pretty good week, Monkeyshines was my favourite show. I guess there’s a lot to be said for realising to the max what you set out to do, without resorting to ‘commercial temptations’ in the process.

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  • 02 Sep 2008 /  Articles

    “What else should our lives be but a series of beginnings, of painful settings out into the unknown, pushing off from the edges of consciousness into the mystery of what we have not yet become.” David Malouf


    Your Complimentary Cocktail!

    Party Up!

    Thanks for accepting the invite to meet up on the first page of my new venture. Ideally you are a mini-throng of some of my favourite people oscillating in cyberspace together, free radicals, enjoying the complimentary avatar drink and a savoury plate promised by Miss Docker. Yet to arrive - apparently she’s stuck somewhere up on the Old Northern Road…

    I guess I want to tell you what has led me to make this move into cyberspace, a world of alternate realities as diverse in content as a Mexico City rubbish tip piled high - truckfuls of postmodern junk – over Aztec ruins. Not that I would dare to ‘privilege’ the past by suggesting earlier civilizations were better (though some probably were, and this current one may well be the last for a while- lol).

    Since I can’t get a job these days working for the Egyptians carving ibises into stone, or misspelling Shakespeare’s plays as one of the inebriated team working on the ‘composition’ of his Folio Edition; nor it seems is there a place for many of us any more in established print media…well I better kick-start my own dance party! Get my own printing press whirring. A New Beginning as it were – to cite one of my favourite creatives, the Danish painter Kristian von Hornsleth.


    'A New Beginning': Painting by Kristian von Hornsleth

    Get A Real Job

    I have enjoyed my days in the sun: for example, an excellent run at the National Times in its heyday. Being the drama critic for that most influential publication of the 1980s was heady stuff. Passionate I might have been, but way young. That was a ride.

    I also had a good run  in the 1990s as drama critic at the Sydney Morning Herald. Until I fell foul with various city burghers. Bob Carr once told me he heard I was fired because I dumped on Les Miserables big time. Bob added brightly he couldn’t think of a ’better reason’ for being fired from the SMH’s critic’s desk. I think there was a bit more to it. Maybe I’ll upload some of the letters from the NOT‘orchestrated’ campaign. The one from James Strong is paticularly hilarious.

    I have had other writing and editing jobs, including stints on the Arts Pages at Vogue, guest editing a few editions of Australian Style and writing freelance for newspapers and magazines across the country. I’ve done some teaching at uni. I’ve also cut grass, poured beers, and served in a carvery wearing a big white hat. In my only stint as a waiter – at Joe Allen in London - my first and last customer was John Cleese! The Manuel in me took over in a hilarious cacophony of dropped cutlery and I never even got to serve a second customer.

    Stories From Theatre People

    I have a wonderful job these days as an interviewer for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History Program. These are ‘in-depth’ voice interviews with ‘eminent Australians’ or on a ‘social history’ theme. Since 1993, I have worked on a project called ‘Australia’s Response to AIDS’, which has been drawn on for research purposes now quite a few times. This now extensive collection of interviews was used in research for a powerful doco – Rampant: How a City Stopped a Plague – which screened on ABC TV late last year.

    More recently I was approached by the National Library to take up a new subject area and, with Bill Stephens, we are undertaking an extensive series of interviews with Australia’s leading theatre arts professionals. Among those completed so far are conversations with Arthur Dignam, Nico Lathouris, Brian Thomson, Jane Harders, Rob Brookman, Sue Ingleton, Dennis Watkins, Jackie Kott, Richard Murphett, Joseph Skrzynski, Jennifer Claire, Melissa Jaffer, Monica Maughan, Bob Hornery, John Krummel, Rose Jackson, Ken Horler, John Bell, Betty Lucas and Ron Haddrick.

    What About Writing?

    There is still that little bit of me that likes to write, however, and since the collapse of The Bulletin, not long back, I haven’t found anywhere suitable. What I think might be a good story seems to be at odds with current editorial tastes.

    You would think being the only ‘non-member’ to be invited to the Scarlett Alliance (sex-worker’s union) annual general meeting – held this year in Kalgoorlie! – would have attracted interest. I pitched the story to every outlet I could think, noting that Australia’s oldest surviving Madame happens to live in Perth; and that WA only recently legalised prostitution. No bites.


    Front Entrance - Perth Brothel: Photo by Julie Bates

    Since returning to the city of Sydney, two ago, after half a decade out of town on some acres with horses and dogs, and a somewhat wayward ‘other half’, I have been doing some writing on theatre for www.australianstage.com.au

    If you are not yet aware of this site I recommend it. I was given some great writing chances, including a review of Ngapartji Ngapartji, by Big hArt, which played at Belvoir last Sydney Festival. I count it among the most fascinating theatre events I have ever encountered.


    Ngapartji at Belvoir: Photo by Big hArt

    Ngapartji Mob

    I have since made friends with the Big hArt mob ho created the show and am currently preparing for a trip out to a small town called Ernabella, four hundred kilometres south-west of Alice Springs. It’s the 60th anniversary of Ernabella’s Arts Centre. The Ngapartji mob is there for two weeks to re-rehearse the show in advance of performances to be held over the celebratory dates of 23/24 September.

    No one in the print media has been interested in this story either. This seemed a squandering of a great opportunity, and a bit of a let down to the Big hArt team who have opened up their creative process to my perusal. Hence the final impulse to set up my blogsite now. I am travelling with photographer Brett Monaghan who is returning from Milan where he has been shooting mostly fashion for the past eight years. We work well together; it should be a fun trip. And I hope to file reports on this site daily, or as close to daily as technology and other challenges allow. I hope to see you around these parts again.

    Meanwhile, get yourself another drink! Unfortunately, the catering has been dismembered. Miss Docker has had a messy encounter with a pack of dogs and will be missing the party, as usual.

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