Q&A :: Pip Smith

September 3rd 2012

Pip Smith – photo by Lucy Parakhina

What happened to Penguin Plays Rough? The prolonged hush that has befallen Sydney’s finest storytelling night may mean that you yourself have a story pent-up – a literary brand of blue balls, if you will. So if you you’d like to scratch your narrative itch in front of a lecture theatre full of raconteurs, you can get your fix at This Is Not A Lecture Theatre at MCA. You’ll be there amongst lectures exploded into stories, or stories squished into lectures, as told by Westside Publication’s chief editor Michael Mohammed Ahmad, poet and sound designer Scott Sandwich, illustrator Gemma O’Brien, Lifted Brow editor Sam Cooney and zinester Vanessa Berry.

Pip Smith, the First Organisational Lady of Penguin Plays Rough, spoke to Ashleigh Berdebes about the hiatus and the glorious rebirth of the night.


PPR’s been hibernating since what seems like May – what’s been going on?

I’ve been flitting around the place for the last few months. First Melbourne where I bought lots of penguin paraphernalia at Phillip Island, then Prague which is significantly devoid of penguins. But now I’m home and getting ready for this year’s National Young Writers’ Festival, then I’m going to sleep for about a week and then I’m going to do some of my own writing and get back to hosting PPR on a regular basis. I promise* there will never be such a long break ever again.

*Promises likely to be broken when distracted by shiny things overseas.

Has PPR outgrown its sweet old venue at St Peters?

Our Development Application was rejected by Marrickville Council – a certain neighbour who has since moved away strongly objected to it – and we couldn’t afford the time and money to submit another one, so we are moving out of St Peters when the lease is up. The whole experience dealing with Marrickville council is like being inside a Kafka story, and I’m glad to have climbed my way out of it.

Does this mean no more red velvet chair?

The red velvet chair will stay with us until it crumbles into dust. Venues, however, are another matter altogether. I have just found a new home for myself. Now I need to find a new home for PPR that isn’t a pub or a place where you can’t put your feet on the seats.

Is PPR going to become a mainstay at the MCA?

I don’t think so, though that said, if the MCA handed us the key and said, “It’s yours!” I wouldn’t turn it down.

How’d you guys come up with the story-as-lecture idea?

I thought it would be weird if we just carried on in the MCA’s shiny new lecture theatre as if it was a loungeroom – so asking the writers to shape their stories to the space seemed like the right thing to do.

What are the students going to learn?

They’re going to learn about typography, terrible video games, how Lebanese Australians are portrayed in the stories we’re told, how to get romance advice from audio philosophy, and an inside-out guided tour through Sydney. In short: a holistic education, full of miscellanea.

Being lectures, will there be PowerPoints, and significantly awkward interactions with lecture theatre technology? Considering my repeated and failed attempts at using technology, most probably, yes. I believe Vanessa Berry is even bringing an old school slide projector.

Can the goers get amongst the lecturing action? Most definitely! In fact, they will be bullied into it.

Will there be drinks after class where we can bitch and moan about the lecturers? There will be drinks after the lecture in the pub over the road, but apparently it is impossible to bitch and moan there. You open your mouth to say something denigrating and you lose the ability to speak. This is a FACT.


What: Penguin Plays Rough This Is Not A Lecture Theatre

Who: Michael Mohammed AhmadScott Sandwich, Gemma O’Brien, Sam Cooney, Vanessa Berry and you.

When: Thursday 6th September 7:30 – 9:00pm

Where: Museum of Contemporary Art, Veolia Lecture Theatre


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