Angus Cameron’s Very Raw and Earnest cavemxn

by | Nov 11, 2022

Winner of the 2015 Midsumma Queer Playwrighting Award and shortlisted for the Red Stitch INK new writing program in the same year,  Angus Cameron’s award-winning play, cavemxn, is about to beat its way to Chapel Off Chapel.

A play written in stages, and over some years, it is not only the story of friends (well, sort of…)  Mike, Tim, Chris, and Oscar but, to a certain extent, Cameron himself.

“I wrote the first scene in 2015. Then another. And another. I think the three scenes sat there for a while until I submitted them to Red Stitch in about 2016. The play was shortlisted for their INK program but wasn’t selected. So, it went back in the draw for another few years.

In 2019, Gasworks was running a Queer Playwriting Award and while it only required a 15-minute excerpt, I think I went on to finish Act One. The excerpt won the competition; which was that the play would be presented as a full-length reading in 2020, so I finished the play in the lead up to that. The reading went well, and the world fell apart – my world fell apart.

Still… another couple years later it’s about to be staged.

I am very scared of this play because it is, in my opinion, very raw and earnest. While sometimes we writers hide behind comedy, satire, metaphor and so on, this one is ripped from the heart and it exposes me more so than the slings and arrows of criticism and critique: I’m looking forward to hearing about all of my shortcomings as a writer and a person being published somewhere.

Moreover, its long gestation means that it was almost written by another person: another person who knows me too well and is about to tell my secrets to the world. I hope that those involved take care of it and that those who see it are kind.”

The piece is about  longing, meaning, sex, intimacy, queerness, finding yourself, and the lines between friendship and lover, lover and confidant, confidant and confessor. And what happens when you betray that. It’s about hurt. Hurting people. Hurting yourself. Ultimately, Cameron hopes people are entertained. “I hope they’re not bored. I hope they see themselves or a glimpse into the lives of people they might know. I hope I do the communities to which I belong justice. And I hope I am forgiven for not capturing the intensity of the sublime, of what it means to be alive.

What I would like to say with the piece is that I exist, that we exist.”

With music anchored in Donna Summer and sounds of “queer party culture” as the building blocks of the world, cavemxn will feature a mix of original and popular music by composer Danni Esposito.

Cameron explains the provocation for the music is actually “sweaty queers and techno beats”. This line, taken from the event itself, is a love letter to a party called Barba and to those that are drawn to spaces like that.

“I am in awe of those who create and cultivate party spaces, heterotopias, a safe and dangerous place to dance, to play, to explore — all of the activities I was denied as a closeted queer man growing up in country Victoria. Donna Summer ties the text, me, and many others back to disco and house roots. I hope it pays homage to those who paved the way for us to continue to the party today. The music assists in my ambition that the production is like a night out, as you dip in and out of revelry and consciousness, letting the stories of everyone dance around you, brushing up against you like bodies, as time becomes unmoored: sometimes you are confronted, sometimes you laugh, sometimes you’re overwhelmed with emotion, and sometimes you drift into your own mind and sift through your life and problems.

Was this song chosen just for me, you wonder?”

Even over its lengthy duration in process, Cameron says that in some respects, the writing of the work has been very easy but there is a dark and very hurtful trade off.

“I might think about a scene for a few months and then sit down and write it, with very few edits. The challenges are, and I’ll try not to be too bombastic, that trying to be an artist in the country is fucking awful. In my experience and sorry if I sound ungrateful, very few people are there to help or take an interest, even cursory. Only the wealthy can survive. Everyone else is ground to dust or quits. And who can blame them?

Playwrights, in my experience, are required to go away and only return when they have written a masterpiece, or they suddenly fit into whatever image a theatre company is hoping to project at any given time. And, once they’re spent, they’re cast out once again.

It baffles me that we are expected to generate play after play to production level quality without ongoing support – honestly, even an email, phone call or coffee would help. Instead – again, my experience – there is the vacuum of silence, in which one can only help but consider that the problem is me, and my writing – and maybe it is.

This country is cruel, and this nests in how overall comfortable it is – people look upon artists as a sad oddity, they could have a real paying job if they wanted, so why are they complaining? How can you be ungrateful when there’s a ‘living wage’. One might look at me and my situation and ask why I’m grumbling at all, I’m probably one of the lucky ones, but the truth is I’m very angry – this country has some spectacular playwrights who are innovative and nurturing of their craft, they protect the art against the cruelty of silence, and they’re expected to shoulder the burden of life without even being celebrated, let alone given a living wage. It’s a travesty. I honestly don’t know how I overcome this rage on a daily basis.”

The play is directed by award winning Bronwen Coleman and produced by the hugely successful team of  Patrick Livesey and Wil King in association with Anthropocene Play Company. Cameron discusses his association with the three creatives below.

“I met Pat at VCA, they were an actor while I was doing my Masters. They were first in another play of mine, as a kind of glorified stagehand (a shining example of never feeling like you’re too big for a role or project). They were then in the original reading of cavemxn, and then during the pandemic they and their partner Wil asked me to write them a play. They both wanted to do something together and found a dearth of plays for two ‘men’. I was originally reluctant, given the content of what they wanted; however, through talks we found a way into the subject matter through which we were all comfortable. They introduced me to Bronwen Coleman, who directed the piece. It was such a pleasant surprise that the play turned into a bit of a hit. I’ll always be grateful for the opportunity to write something during lockdown and to hit the ground running in 2021. We thought it would be best to follow up that magic with another work, and we settled on cavemxn.

Bronwen has such careful attention to dramatic detail and brings out beautiful performances using my writing, I couldn’t even begin to hope for more. Where I can, I feel, sometimes be cold in my writing, she finds emotional pathways through the text that bring it to life in the most exciting way possible. She has helped me trust my writing in ways that very few people have. It is such a gift to have a director who doesn’t expect the writer to do all the work and make ‘it’ obvious in the text in a manner that, in my opinion, oftentimes kills the drama of a scene.”

An intriguing title making a potent statement, Cameron explains that the title references another play, “…and in the early days, I wouldn’t decide between cavemen or caveman — the line is singular, but the cast is multiple, which to use?”

This was solved when Livesey and King suggested that both men and man carry. ” I don’t want to put words in their mouths so I’m paraphrasing, a toxicity they wanted to move away from,” says Cameron.

“The brutality of the title was important, and I felt as though there was no other name for it, so I thought we could adopt the ’x’. This solved my dilemma of wondering if it was to be man or men, alleviated the concerns of those who were important to me, and also, I hope, opens the play up, at least a little. I love that the cast comprises of trans, and non-binary people, and I hope that this helps illustrate that although the text seems very specific in some respects, there are qualities to it that many people can connect with – I hope people come to see this as a possibility for many, many more works.”

The team behind the cavemxn season are a diverse group of queer, female, trans, neurodivergent and POC creatives, bringing together a vast array of perspectives on queerness – as both an identity and a sexuality. The season is also a celebration and acknowledgment of the 40th Anniversary of the Decriminalisation of Homosexuality in Victoria – making 2022 the perfect time to spotlight queer stories in our state.

“It might not be obvious, but almost every scene in cavemxn touches on politics, in some fashion,” says Cameron. “Often it is something that is happening elsewhere, the scene itself is devoid of ‘politics’ itself, in a real sense. As in the play so too in life, it is still something that affects us whether we care or not, whether we listen or not, it’s there.

I try to be aware as much of possible of those who have come before me, those who have made it easier for me, those we have lost along the way. I spend a lot of time trying to live up to the promise of the future for which others fought.

Is this play the best I can do? I don’t know. But I’m trying. I often identify as queer and the reason for doing so is to align myself with the already marginalised. There is strength and solidarity in numbers and if I can use my singularity to assist in community then I will. In this play, I want plurality of narratives, I want stereotype and subversion, I want to show that we need to continue to fight our way to the centre of the mosh pit.”

cavemxn is a story of queer people who are complex celebrations and interrogations of modern-day queerness. The highly specific world on offer in the work is one where anyone, straight or gay, could see themselves and relate to. The work openly tackles internalised homophobia and the impact of that on individuals, and the community.

Characteristically humble, Cameron says, “I am desperately afraid of people not liking me so I’ve done everything I can to make it as entertaining as possible.”

November 28 – December 4

https://chapeloffchapel.com.au/show/cavemxn/

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