I know that octagenarians, nonagenarians and centenarians had observed and appreciated my work. My grandmother came to see all of my grad shows. If you have ever exhibited in an art institution of any sort around Australia, you can be sure a bus from a retirement village somewhere near Collaroy has pulled up outside and the white hair set has passed judgment on your wares.
One cannot predict what the response might be to a man scaling a mountain naked, blind and covered in feathers. I know that every time my grandmother came to see one of my shows she would ask when I was going to start painting again. Such thoughts returned when Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre asked me if I wanted to produce a show for Seniors Week. When I asked if there were any special needs or conditions that I would need to keep in mind for the production they said, “You can do pretty much do whatever you want but you need to keep your penis in your pants”.
That may seem like an innocuous request, but as the great English actor Oliver Reed will tell you, when you’ve built a career on pulling out your todger and dancing on the first available table it is easy to doubt your abilities to do much else. How on earth does one produce a show with no dick? It’s certainly not straightforward. I thought back to my grandfather, who before he died used to produce stage shows for his retirement village. They were clean but with plenty of innuendo. No one ever went full frontal but there was a lot of nodding and winking. This was, after all, the Carry On generation, where setting up a camp site was just a ruse to erect your tent pole and slide it into Mother Nature.
I had an epiphany: sure I wasn’t going to be able to mash my groin into a mild-mannered 80-something year old sitting in the front row. But that didn’t mean he didn’t want dick. All things considered, he wanted it as much as the next guy; it’s just he wanted it coded. I set about finding solid dick substitutes. It started slow but before long I found dick in many places like wood piles, fishing rods and air bed pumps. The idea then just exploded like an overripe Manzoni can left out in the sun. Dick was everywhere: in socks, shoes and trousers. In clouds, grass and trees. I even found it in Bambi. To write the show, I simply stacked each joke one after the other. I polished it all up and readied myself for the big day.
Stepping on stage in front of a sea of white hair left me with no doubt. The show had been expertly crafted. If the work had been written like a musical score, it would have appeared something like this;
DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK DICK
A simple but very effective structure; Sid James would have been proud. I opened with a joke about wood. It didn’t fail. The sea of white giggled. I had them in the palm of my hand. Then I took them with me on a journey of wonder and excitement. I lured them in and then I held them close. They gasped, they shuddered and they sighed. By the end of it, they were ready to go at it all over again.
Mark Shorter is Runway’s Guest Blogger for Issue#27 OUTSIDE.