A life in Song Scene & Sonnet
Photos 2018/19 by Richard Price
Photos 2018/19 by Richard Price
Shakespeare's sonnets are the most famous and admired love poems in the English language. Dedicated to the mysterious Mr W.H. who "steals men's eyes and women's souls amazeth", they passionately express the timeless powers of love.
Taking a cue from Oscar Wilde, Glenn McKenzie explores the possible identity of this intriguing "Master Mistress of a poet's passion" in his solo chamber work Evensong - an evocative 70 minute romp through English music and theatre's most boisterous and daring days
Painting a playful fictional portrait of the life of Mr W.H. Evensong offers fresh, contemporary interpretations of John Dowland's finest songs and Henry Purcell's most celebrated arias, all set among a selection of Shakespeare's best beloved scenes and sonnets.
Lamenting the tyranny of Time, celebrating the persistence of Love, at Death’s door, Mr W.H. flamboyantly recalls the roles he played as boy and man, the songs that he sang on stage and at court, and the sonnets that Will wrote for him in celebration of their relationship.
Evensong collects a fascinating and entertaining kaleidoscope of brilliant fragments from 17th century portraits of love, loss, and lunacy to consider and celebrate a forgotten life.
McKenzie takes the music of Dowland and Purcell, and creates emotive new versions using TripHop, Punk, Jazz, and EDM grooves, while performing Purcell’s ground-bass masterpieces “Dido’s Lament” and “Evening Prayer” in their exquisite original forms.
To mark Refugee Week 2019, Glenn has curated and composed a chamber cantata 'Lamentation'.
This meditation on loss and grief features three 'Lessons of Darkness' from the ancient book of 'Lamentations' in a celebrated setting by Baroque composer Francois Couperin. The voices of Shakespeare, Bonhoeffer, and Annie Lennox join his to connect us throughout time and across culture with all those who have suffered the devastation of displacement and homelessness.
Two and half thousand years ago, a poet stood weeping in the abandoned ruins of their beloved city, struggling to compose a response to its utter destruction, the displacement of its entire population. Today, in the wake of the Christchurch and Sri Lankan terrorist attacks, and the context of an Australian government determined to exploit suffering as an instrument of state, the ancient book of 'Lamentations' ('Ekah' in Hebrew - "Alas!") cries out a haunting requiem to dispossession, to overwhelming desolation in the face of our inhumanity to each other.
'Lamentation' explores an emotional landscape that reminds us of the timeless universality of the human experience; an experience that transcends all attempts to separate and divide us.
"While our diverse cultures and experiences mark each of us uniquely, in empathy we all can acknowledge our common desire to be happy, and to avoid pain and suffering." Glenn notes, "‘Lamentation' is conceived as a meditation to unite us in compassion and kindness, and thus encourage us to strive together for a just world for all."
‘Trois Leçons de Tenebré’ - Francois Couperin (1710)
- English Text & Recomposition McKenzie (2019)
‘Morning Prayer’ - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1943)
Psalms 6, 10, 52 - Text Myles Coverdale (1535), Music McKenzie (2019)
‘The Waters of Babylon’ Psalm 137
- Maori Chant Karana Nepe; Music Philip Hayes (1786)
‘The Strangers Case’ (The Book Of Sir Thomas Moore)
- William Shakespeare (1603)
‘Requiem for a Private War’ - Annie Lennox (2018)
Glenn McKenzie is a disabled Kiwi actor, musician, and writer based in Sydney who has spent the past 50+ years performing in England, NZ, and Australia.
Graduating from Auckland University with a B.Mus (Composition), he was a Drama/Arts Director for South Pacific Television; performed with Mercury Theatre (Auckland), Downstage, Depot, & Bats Theatres (Wellington); a featured Performance Artist at The Performance Space (Sydney) and on ABC Radio (AUS). He has directed The Victoria University “Summer Shakespeare” (NZ) plus written/directed for “The Lichfield Mystery Cycle” (UK).
An accomplished Counter-Tenor, with a broad repertoire ranging from Bach to Björk, he recently spent 5 years singing as a Lay-Vicar Choral and soloist in the great cathedrals of England.
Evensong - Sydney Gay & Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival 2015
- New Zealand Fringe March 2018
- Melbourne Fringe September 2018
- Newcastle Fringe March 2019
Lamentation - 2019 Refugee Week Sydney
Evensong (2015 - current)
Lamentation (2019 - current)
This Wilde Illusion
Available @ Smashwords.com for free download
"Making It Home"
"The Devil & The Deep Blue Sea"
Sydney Summer Star Trek (2020)
'The Arts Of Noise' (A guide to finding & growing the Voice)
"Melodramatic, yet subtle; achingly poignant, then suddenly hilariously funny… These words could be a description of any number of Shakespeare's works, and here they are but a portion of the myriad adjectives that spring to mind when experiencing the wonderful journey we are taken on by Glenn McKenzie in his multidimensional one-man show, Evensong.
Shakespeare's words are as relevant today as they ever were, and it's both fascinating and affirming to sit and absorb these soundbites and snippets – which range from sonnets, to monologues from the plays (Richard III, Romeo and Juliet…), to beautifully apt songs by Renaissance composer John Dowland and early Baroque composer Henry Purcell – and notice how familiar so many of those phrases have become to us in the modern era.
McKenzie is a consummate performer, both as a musician and an actor, and as he flamboyantly flits from character to character, recalling the roles ‘W.H.' played as a boy and a man, he glides just as seamlessly between his countertenor singing and speaking voices.
There is much pathos and depth, as well as plenty of wit and lightheartedness, in dealing with the ‘tyranny of time' and the ‘love, loss and lunacy' that is experienced over a lifetime, and the physical movement and pacing is excellent throughout. There are well-placed silences, rapid excitements and passionate frenzies, twerkings(!), deft facial expressions and hand-gestures and beautifully poised long notes that hang in the air for just the right amount of time to allow us to digest their emotions.
The music is a smorgasbord of delight, ranging from Purcell's haunting ‘Dido's Lament', to a sassy rap (Ophelia), to electronica, to smooth-chorded synths beneath Dowland tunes, to funky jazz beats, to vampy keyboard, to dramatic cello and industrial textures beneath Purcell's ‘Cold Genius' aria, to pure-voiced Renaissance singing with lute-like accompaniment.
Glenn McKenzie is one of those rare gems who truly gives it his all in performance and is not afraid to lay himself bare in his characterisations."
Reviewed by Pepe Becker - NZ Theatreview
“McKenzie interleaves animated reading, storytelling, scene enactment, and stunning countertenor singing, sometimes accompanied by recorded backing tracks, and at other times accompanied by his own keyboard playing.”
“An enthralling performer, able to achieve wonderful things with his voice and body, without leaning on sets, fancy lighting, or changes of costume. He switches between characters with remarkable ease and impact, persuasively playing different ages, themes, emotions, and even genders, gracefully and artfully. His performance style is uninhibited, strongly characterized, dramatic, but never confronting. His vocal skills are rock solid, and his singing is mesmerizing - easily the highlight of the show.”
Review by Aridhi Anderson - Weekend Notes, Melbourne
Excerpts from a talk given at the Australian Arts Activated Conference, Sydney 2019
I'm an old codger. I have been performing on stage and concert platform since 1965. So it's fair to say I've been around the block a fair few times. And as a friend, perhaps a wee bit unkindly, noted I still haven't found a park!
It seems to my experience that contemporary western culture and arts ground to a halt in the last decades of the 20th century. And it's spent the first two decades of the 21st century circling over and over old ground; recycling age-old white male points of view to a ridiculous and ultimately barren extreme. It's all become a bit like Latin - interesting to those in the know but to the rest of us? A thoroughly dead language.
Its not just content that is stale: Context and delivery seems increasingly inappropriate.
Consider mainstream theatre's beloved Three Act narrative structure. Does your life consist of a trio of exquisitely defined chapters heading towards a triumphant grand finale? Mine doesn't. It seems to lurch through what perhaps might be more accurately described as seasons. Seasons of unknown duration and random order, and often conflicting contents. None of them subject to structure and control. One moment I can be enjoying a balmy summer's eve of clarity and content, the next I can be snowed under by pain and confusion, lashed by the bitter winter winds of despair.
Another sign of mainstream arts decadence is the lengths to which its members will go to protect their privilege. Take our place in current arts programming. Being asked to play or dance a single role in what is essentially a biographical narrative by a person without disability, isn't accessibility, it is assimilation. We are not there to change the way the mainstream looks at the world or their art. We are included so these august traditional bodies can continue to exist in changing times. We are there to broaden their audience. To ensure their funding - to help exploit a current funding practise that focuses on a patriarchal patronage model. A model that seeks to fit us into ossified arts structures and hierarchies, ignoring and discarding those of us that don't or can't fit.
It's all a bit drab, a bit self congratulatory, a bit incestuous. Its all a lot regressive, and worst of all - its all majorly boring!
What is needed is something fresh and expansive; something that is actually true to our lived experience.
We need new revelations of interior life, and fresh explorations of interpersonal and societal interaction. A thorough shake up of contemporary culture's cliched answers to "what why how and when"!
What is needed is Dragons! The inhabitants of the far-flung, forbidden and forbidding, unexplored regions of the cultural map. And not just the firebreathing destructors of western male myth, but the muscular taniwha silently protecting the waters of Aotearoa New Zealand, the airy asian dragons of nature, as portrayed in Miyazaki's 'Spirited Away', or the Rainbow Serpent of indigenous Australian nations.
I believe that in a new and yet uncharted conversation, a new and unexplored landscape of cultural reciprocation something fascinating and vital could be born. In the interplay between artists of alternative ability lies a new and as yet unknown culture. One that is unprocessed and unpossessed by mainstream measure and restriction, and undenied by traditional point of view. In the very distinctiveness of our personalities, shaped by a unique combination of challenges, lies a fascinating frisson of possibility. How it might all play out is unknowable and that is what is so very exciting!
Connecting and working together is an especially charged issue for us - we earn about 53% of what other artists do (and they earn little enough), and as the result of poverty, twice as many of us are spread out into rural communities. And for all the government crowing and self congratulation, as of this year NDIS supports a mere 250,000 people from a disabled population of 4.3 million.
So let's make it a priority to seek opportunities and demand funding to enable us to talk, explore, and practice together. Because while of course we have fresh and vital voices as individuals, who knows what amazing new cultural adventures we can have as a community. Let's take a collective journey into those uncharted dragon lands to find new ways to express all the gloriously infinite ways to be human.
It's 1981 New Zealand: a surprisingly large proportion of the population march nationwide in protest against an Apartheid tour by the South African Rugby Team. The Pakeha - white - are feeling righteously incensed about racism in South Africa. At the protests (which got 'vigourous' - an understatement) Maori stand up and go "Eh, Hang on a minute bro!"
As a result of what that awoke, during the 1980s the 1840 Treaty of Waitangi (made between the indigenous people of Aotearoa and the British colonisers) became a major energy in Kiwi politics and arts.
At the time I belonged to a theatre co-operative - The Depot - formed in 1983, who proudly proclaimed that it was "New Zealand's Only New Zealand Only" theatre company. We only presented work created by kiwis. From early on more than half of our productions were women led - women writers, directors, and performers.
As a collective, we decided that the Treaty needed to be ratified in our structure. So for six months of the year, 50% of our funding and assets, and the venue were handed over for Maori to use as they wished. The white/Pakeha members of the Co-op stepped aside. We made room.
That first step into the unknown resulted in the creation of Taki Rua - now one of NZ's foremost Maori theatre companies, who tour nationally and internationally presenting works that celebrate the indigenous culture of Aotearoa.
In summary: In Australia today we struggle to live and create in an increasing hostile and alienating political environment, fuelled by a poisonousness media. So what is the answer?
Well, at best I can manage two questions...
1: I wonder what would arise if we broke the limitations of isolation and dared to work adventurously together?
2: I wonder how quickly that vital and exciting new culture might grow into being, if mainstream arts organisations made space for us; stood aside and freed their venues and resources for our use, offered up our share of funding?
I have no idea how that new culture might turn out.
But one thing I am sure about - on the way to discovering it,
I want to travel in the company of Dragons.