Loose Canons: Michelle Aitken

Ahead of her Basement Theatre debut Future's Eve, Australian interdisciplinary performer Michelle Aitken digs into her inspirations.

Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.

Michelle Aitken is an interdisciplinary maker and performer based in Perth. She attained a dance degree from the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts in 2016, and since graduating has been working and collaborating across dance and theatre. Michelle is a frequent collaborator with Renegade Productions, including on the award-nominated show Unveiling: Gay Sex for Endtimes. She makes her own work under the banner of Hey! Precious, taking a particular interest in female experience and feminist thought. Future’s Eve is Michelle’s first solo show and the recipient of the Melbourne Fringe Tour Ready Award at Perth Fringe World Festival. Her small body of work to date is subversive, smart and fun.

Patti Smith

Patti is a boss-ass lady. I’ve loved her music since high school. Horses is probably my favourite ever album and last year I bought a spur-of-the-moment ticket off Gumtree and saw it live in Melbourne. I knew all the words and I cried the whole time.

On one level she is my teen idol for having really good hair, looking great in menswear and playing loud music. Now I look back on this time in my life quite fondly, and I’m inspired still by Patti’s romanticism, her rage, her openness and the poetry of her songs and novels…

I also occasionally use her as encouragement to stick out my broke-artist phase (I’m hoping it’s a phase. Maybe not.) Even though Perth in 2018 is nowhere near as cool as the streets of New York in the 1960s.

Also – so many of my favourite shows by boss-ass lady theatre makers have had an iconic Patti song moment. Coincidence? I think not.

Mike Birbiglia’s My Girlfriend’s Boyfriend

If you’re after an example of finely crafted storytelling look no further than this comedy special. In it, Mike Birbiglia weaves a story about love and trust and growing up and all sorts of things. The narrative twists and turns and digresses but always ties up its loose ends in the most satisfying ways. I always think about it when I’m thinking about structuring a work. The way that things are introduced in a throwaway kind of way and then come back later…it’s genius.

And Mike is funny! There’s something about his self-deprecating, self-aware, gentle kinda humour that I wish I could capture in my work.

In the world of theatre, I often say that I only like funny shows. I’m realising more and more that I don’t mean everything has to be comedy. It’s more something about the endless play of live performance – the attention, the timing, the layering of images into compositions and moments that just hit you in the heart or the guts or the face – if there’s no joy in performing a show, I don’t know if I could do it.

The internet

If I’m going to make a show I need an almost steady stream of YouTube clips, VICE articles, memes, and dumb Google image searches to help me.

To start with, I like to kick things off with a lot of research. Future’s Eve began after I read some Facebook click-bait article about sex robots – then I read academic articles and watched YouTube clips of sexy robots in almost equal measure. It’s all about balance.

On memes, there’s just something so precious about Vine humour. A good Vine is often just one idea that’s a combination of incongruous things (think a lawn mower taking flight to the ascending tones of Mariah Carey) or something that becomes special, rhythmic, hypnotic when it’s taken as a fragment and then repeated (WHAT ARE THOOOOOSE). In summary: Vines are very important to me, and post-dramatic as heck.

Douglas Hofstadter

I love a good contemporary philosopher, and I love love love Hofstadter for his really fascinating fusion of hard maths, music, logic, linguistics and theories of mind. Parts of his book I am a Strange Loop have served as reference points for various projects I’ve worked on, and I find his synthesis of disciplines of study somehow very connected to how I think about being a creative person – he makes me want to know more about Everything so I can put it all together in new ways.

Hofstaedter also has a YouTube lecture that I adore called ‘The nature of categories and concepts.’ It’s about cognition and how the brain organises itself – something I can’t get enough of – and I actually think of it as a sort of performance lecture. I love the delight he takes in paying attention to his own thinking. I try to practise that to help me grab really interesting ideas and images before my rational brain somehow overrules them.

Joe Lui

Joe is my friend. He is also a great artist and makes me want to keep being an artist. I met Joe when I was very unhappy and halfway through a contemporary dance degree. It’s embarrassing how much I was immediately obsessed with making him like me. After I finished my degree I got a chance to work with Joe on a project, and then another, and at the moment we collaborate all the time.

Joe is a director/writer/dramaturg/lighting designer/sound designer and is also one of the most generous and supportive people. He has this vast spectrum of interests from Christopher Hitchens to memes to American football, and his work is rich and intelligent and political and I think it’s real great.

Joe is maybe the first person I met in theatre who made me think, yep, there are people like me in the world, and it’s really special to have that person be my mentor and friend.

Future's Eve runs from 28 August to 1 September at the Basement Theatre. Tickets available here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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