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Driven to Distraction





Storylines for 'Driven to Distraction'

The five stories described below were originally written by acclaimed film director Sarah Watt (Look Both Ways, My Year Without Sex) and she invited me to collaborate with her by composing some music. We originally set out to produce the work as a contemporary silent film that would be edited to the allready-composed music, but in later discussions we decided to add a live performance element to it and work towards a major arts festival outcome, rather than a cinematic outcome.

Sadly, Sarah passed away in 2011, but I have permission from her family to continue developing the project.

Sarah had a wonderful knack of capturing the essence of 'Aussie' characters in her work. She was an exceptional storyteller, using few words to convey rich detail to the reader. Through her stories, animation, film and photographic work she explored the intense internal experiences of people as they seemingly go about their everyday lives. She engaged with her audiences in a deeply personal way by drawing on the inner emotions that we all experience in our lives, and presenting them through her characters with wry humour. With these characteristics of her work in mind, I move forward to interpret her stories through this production, in a way that I hope remains true to her original intent.

The stories will unfold through the mediums of physical theatre, film  and music. When the production is complete a live theatre  audience will experience the unfolding of each story in the form of a silent film that literally ‘comes to life’ in a unique and engaging way. The performance characters (both actors and musicians)  transition seamlessly between silent film and live performance, soundtracked by continuous music performed live. The narrative is delivered through the mime and movement skills of performers rather than relying on dialogue or text.


Each story paints a picture of quirky Australian characters and depicts a ‘snapshot’ event within regional or city life. The stories are linked together conceptually by the theme of ‘driving forces’ – love, betrayal, passion, creativity, competitiveness – and how these forces create a ‘distraction’ that influences the outcome. 

I've written and recorded most of the music for all of the stories. Alot of it is still in demo form, but as I record near -final versions  I will add audio files to this page.

1) My Chook My Life

A middleaged woman (Mirabel) catches her best chicken in her country yard pre-dawn and brings her into the house and sits her on the kitchen table. She grooms the bird, washing and waxing and combing until the bird shines. She then packs the clucking bird carefully into a travelling cage and puts her in the old car. She looks around the falling down old farm and then drives up to the city and to the showgrounds, where the noise and colours of the annual agricultural show's sideshows almost drown out the event's real agenda; the competitive animal.

Mirabel is assigned her cage and settles in her bird. She ducks out very quickly to get something to eat, immediately rushing back to the bird's side. She sits with the bird in a fold -up chair, watching the competition arrive.

There is much coaxing of birds and covert prejudging of the competition. The official judges come. The process takes hours. At the end the middle-aged woman's bird sits ribbonless; it's neighbours a flurry of red and deep blue ribbons.

Mirabel sits slumped in her chair, head in her hands, until finally and slowly she rises, reaches into the cage and gets out her bird and tucks it under her arm.She wanders past the other exhibits, through the dairy hall, past the cows, and down through sideshow alley. She passes all the new high tech rides full of screaming teenagers oblivious, until she is hailed by a spruiker, touting for the ferris wheel, an old-fashioned and less popular ride. On impulse Mirabel buys a ticket and,when riding high with her chook, looks down on the city and the fantasy world below her, and smiles for the first time since leaving home.



Stylistic ideas for My Chook, My Life...(film, theatre props, era)

Music demos for My Chook, My Life.

The chook chase - Jen Anderson

 Scene 1 - 'Chook Chase' is written for the opening scene of 'My Chook, My Life'. Its a short comedic scene where on film (projected onto the back wall of the theatre) we might see Mirabel attempting to catch the chook that she wants to take to the show, using a fishing net. - the chook keeps eluding her. On the theatre stage we might see a choreographed sequence of Mirabel the performer mimicking the chook chasing scene, only her 'chook' is a rod puppet.

Show Groom - Jen Anderson

Scene 2 - 'Show Groom'. A whimsical scene where on stage Mirabel shares an intimate moment with her beloved chook. She lovingly grooms the bird, (papier mache? a puppet?) washing and waxing and combing until she shines. The film in the background depicts the kitchen interior.Through the grubby kitchen window we may witness surreal moments, as performance characters cartwheel across the desolate exterior farm landscape, at times peering in through the window, and appearing to watch the grooming process taking place on stage with smirking derision.

Pensive moment - Jen Anderson
Drive to the Big Smoke/Thrill of the Show/Competition Arrive - Jen Anderson

Scene 3 -'Pensive Moment' . As Mirabel prepares to drive to the city with her chook,  we get a sense of where she lives - her loneliness and desolation - as she closes her front door and contemplates her surroundings before placing her carefully groomed chook into the car.

Scenes 4-6 - 'Drive to the Big Smoke/ The Thrill of the Show/  'The Competition Arrives'. Mirabel drives to the showgrounds, and as she enters the showground she is thrillled by all the colour and excitement around her. But she becomes overwhelmed and nervous as the competition and the judges arrive.

No show prize/sideshow alley/ferris wheel - Jen Anderson

Written for  the end of 'My Chook, My Life' as Mirabel learns that her chook didn't win a prize. she leaves the exhibition hall and moves out into the busy sideshow alley, before taking her chook for a ride on the ferris wheel

2) The Rehearsal

The first rehearsal of a dance and music theatre piece is taking place in an old warehouse. The composer and choreographer are clashing as each feels the other has interpreted their work incorrectly. The composer feels the dance should be inspired by the music. The choreographer thinks the dance is the primary art and the music is there to enhance and support his vision, he wishes to conduct and choreograph as well.

They rehearse, one gaining a point here, the other there, sometimes their conflict threatening the whole performance, being saved only by the musicians and dancers finding a path through the deadlock. Ultimately the combination creates a beautiful and vibrant drama.

The Rehearsal - Jen Anderson

A heavily pregnant woman arrives at a big match with her football playing husband. The game commences and she proves herself a diehard fan. She starts to have contractions before quarter time, but tries to ignore them as her husband takes a fantastic high mark in front of goal, her involuntary groan hidden under the crowd’s roar. After the siren goes and the players are out on the field getting their coaching instructions she groans again.This time people quickly gather round her. The fuss is noticed by her husband on the field and he sees her being taken away.

He speaks with his coach, pointing. The coach shakes his head and the talk quickly descends into an argument which the player loses. He continues to play, angrily, and maybe because of that, brilliantly.


His wife reaches hospital in full labour and screams aloud at the pain. She gives birth to a baby girl as her husband risks his body in a huge mid-air tackle and gets the ball, but falls down unconscious. As his wife laughs with joy at the sight of her newborn's face her husband is toted off on a stretcher to lie comatosed in the dressing room. First aid and team aids gather around him. He revives and is told he is a dad. He gets up punch drunk and pushing away restraining arms, goes back out to the field.

3) Footy Fever

4) Tram Romance

A tram driver follows his route, but carefully looks at the other trams as they approach from the other direction. He peers at them until he can see the number, then sits back, waiting for the next. One approaches and he reads the number and instead of sitting back he reaches down and picks up a small spray of wildflowers he has at his feet and leans out into the path of the oncoming tram. There is a woman driving it and she applies the brakes as the man is in her path.The man also applies his brakes and much to the interest of all the passengers, the two trams come to a halt in the middle of a busy road in between two stops. The man offers his flowers to the woman. she looks surprised but flattered and takes them. Blushing. The conductor on her tram opens the door and sighs theatrically when he sees the flowers. The woman embarrassedly puts her tram in motion. She drives it back to the depot as this is her last run.


She has a cup of tea and collects her pay then stays on as all trams are being called in for a stop work meeting. Caught up in the excitement of the mood, she squashes herself into a seat in the far corner of the long tea room. She listens to the stirring speeches, looks at the workers around her getting excited, believing in the cause. She laughs as the people around her mock dissenters on the other side of the room, believing with her companions that they are mistaken.


When a vote is called for she leaps up with the people around her, high on a chair, arm stiff and upright. She looks around. It's going to be a close vote. Amongst the people with arms clenched firmly to their sides is the giver of her flowers. Her arm falters as she sees him, but he senses her and turns to her and sees her arm raised. His arm twitches at his side, but stays down as hers stays up. They stare at each other as they recognize the abyss that now separates them.

5) Cross Country Mayhem

An eight year old boy is being driven to a country little athletics meet by his mother, a pushy woman who thinks that with the right amount of encouragement her son has no reason not to be an olympic champion. The mother feeds him sustanence snacks and strategies as they drive. The boy stares out the window, not hearing her, watching the suburbs become small farms become big farms become indeterminate bush farms.

On arriving at the meet the mother bustles about, pushing the child here and there, instructing him on warmups and psyching his other little competitors out. The boy slips away from his mother as she is organizing his cards and numbers. He goes to chat with a group of kids in little athletics gear. He sits on the bar of the railing to the small field grandstand. One of the kids whispers a naughty joke and it is passed on, them all laughing uproariously. He digs the eight year old boy in the ribs, overcome with mirth so that he falls off the railing, still laughing with his arm bent in an unnatural position until the pain hits.

The mother berates him and gets him into the car to go into the hospital. He misses his race, he is far more interested in the process of the plastering and his immediate rise to the legend status afforded broken limbs in the schoolyard.

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