Review by Celia Finter
Don’t be discouraged by the lack of information in promotions about this performance. Director, writer, performer, and designer of Output, Coleman Grehan, chose not to disclose a broader synopsis. In doing so I think he missed a vital opportunity to engage a greater audience for what is a, still unpolished but, potentially brilliant and important performance. After watching Output I felt deeply the connection to imposter syndrome, existential dread, fear of being forgotten, fear of being unable to practice art, but also great joy about creating art and performance. Perhaps it is in the subject matter itself that I can find my answer to the question of why Grehan chose not to advertise his themes more succinctly. I encourage him now to go for it. This performance is absolutely worthy of attention.
Grehan’s background in sound design and music enable him to create a powerfully energetic atmosphere during his monologue/spoken word poetry. The approximate 35 minute piece felt longer, but in an absolutely wonderful way. I felt myself moving through every concept Grehan posed in tandem with his energy. He took me on a journey through his thoughts and musings. I was delighted to see the thought process bounding out of him, the way I sometimes feel them bound inside my own head. It was brilliantly engaging to see them set free.
Grehan made me feel a great connection with him through this vulnerable exposure of his thoughts and fears and hopes. He brought to mind the grief I have been feeling about my own Mum, who was a brilliant artist who died too young. I felt sadness that she wasn't there to experience the embrace of doubt and hope about creating art, which was posed in Output. It also made me feel joy that, because she had been an artist, her life and story will live much longer through everything she created in her time here.
Grehan’s message about the plethora of art being created and accessed and the desire to create art too, is one that hit me hard. I have struggled for years, in between jobs and babies and grief and survival, to maintain confidence in my own artistic abilities. I constantly question whether my ideas have relevance. I believe all great living artists should question their art and make thoughtful, contemporary and beautiful art. Otherwise, art becomes stagnant and uninteresting. There are some great memes about negroni sbagliato with prosecco in it, but the artistry of new iterations of that meme degrade quickly and lose power if the meme is solely created for clickbait. You see what I did there? I’m so relevant.
I find much of the content created online is by and for individuals, there appears to be a glut on individualism. Grehan points out that he developed this performance in isolation, but although Output was created and performed entirely by Grehan, he did it within the context of live theater; with an audience of people immediately engaged with him and his journey. It left me thinking, the only way forward for great art is in collaboration. We need to support each other to move forward and make sure that art is nurtured and celebrated.
Set in a small, sparse, white, back room, with a large gilded mirror attached to the back wall and a chandelier above the audience, Output at first felt cold. I was unsure about what I was about to see. Grehan set up technical elements on a laptop on stage and held a corded microphone throughout the performance. He wore a white hoodie, white track pants and white sneakers. I have to admit, these stylistic choices made me think I’d stepped onto the set of a 1980’s gangster film. I wondered if there would be any cocaine sniffing on the white tiled floor. I understand the constraints of theater; what it costs to create the perfect space. I appreciate the attempt by Grehan to create a light space, a sort of blank mind into which springs music and light and thoughts. In the future, which I hope this performance has in abundance, Output might benefit from having a cleaner or clearer white space. Devoid of distracting elements like the mirror, chandelier, and corded microphone. I wanted Grehan to be freer to move, without the mic cord and, with my own background in Costume, would have advised him to wear clothes less reminiscent of street wear; more flexible and flowing like the thoughts that fell from his lips.
The last performance for Output during the festival season will be this Friday, 4th of November at 9:30pm at the Fringe Hub in South Brisbane, 23 Manning Street.