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A few years ago, I happened to park outside Malvern Town Hall when I noticed a sign: Doll Fair.

Recalling the doll fairs my daughter and I attended years ago, searching for tiny items for the dolls’ house we furnished together, I paid the $5 fee to enter.

There were the familiar tables full dolls of all shapes and sizes, dressed in exquisite detail.

But there was something missing: people.

“What happened to kill the doll market?” I asked one seller, as I watched the few visitors stroll past, mostly without buying.

“Minimalism,” she said, firmly. “I’m into bears now.”

But judging by the lack of custom at the bear stall, even bears were struggling.

It’s true, I thought later. It was hard to imagine these dolls and bears finding a home in the sparse and neutral homes that are still featured on lifestyle shows and in real estate ads today.

The popularity of minimalism is understandable. It stems from our global guilt at the destruction of the planet and our desperate desire for some sort of control in the face of uncontrolled consumption. It stems from the need to counter the complexity of modern life through the creation of soothing simplicity in the retreat we call home.

But neutral pallets also neutralise people. Where are the books? Where is the music? Where is the art and the craft – homemade or otherwise? Where is the miscellaneous stuff that tells people who you are?

In the process of “de-cluttering”, we are ignoring what makes us human – the need for connection, engagement and identity through beauty, creativity and culture.

Perhaps the intention is that we may still have beautiful things – just not too many?

But intentionally or otherwise, self-proclaimed minimalists like Americans Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus (theminimalists.com) lead by example, and the online tours of their homes reveal bare walls and an institutional starkness that is a reminder of how totalitarian regimes stripped people of their identities.

In his defence, Fields Millburn writes: “No, I’m not opposed to paintings on my walls, but I also don’t feel obligated to hang a frame on drywall to feel complete. I am complete, as are you, even in an empty room. “

Such shaming language ignores the complexity of our humanity. We don’t choose art or ornamentation because we are personally inadequate without it, but because it brings joy, stimulation and meaning to our lives. Our “stuff” not only completes us, it reflects us.

A café or restaurant that simply offered a table and chair and menu, with no décor or ambience, would be deemed lacking character. Why should it be different for our homes?

Beauty and culture also encourage emotional investment in our environment. Chicago Potter Theaster Gates, who has helped revive neighbourhoods through reclaiming abandoned buildings for community use, says beauty is the inspiration and motivation for community and engagement.

“In my city, Chicago, I have seen firsthand what happens when a focus on, say, housing, fails to account for our human thirst for beauty, for the sublime, the emotionally enriching, the spiritual, “ Gates says in an article titled Why Beauty Matters on Ted.com.

Possessions are also reminders of the people who made them and used them, and our shared history.

This is no more evident than in the popular Antiques Road Show, where the value of an item is always increased if there is a story attached.

In May 2016, the Roadshow visited Lyme in the UK, where a lithograph of Sarah Bernhardt that was once owned by Elton John was featured. The picture was purchased in 1988, when the singer auctioned many of the items from his married life before coming out.

As the valuer explained, “He saw it as a way of saying goodbye to the man he pretended to be: this front, this theatre.” In short, it represented a change of identity.

But our stuff doesn’t always have to be commercially valuable to be of value.

As Stephanie Land said in an article in The Straits Times on July 24 2016 titled Why the poor cannot afford to be minimalists, “My stuff was not just stuff, but a reminder that I had a foundation of support, of people who had loved me growing up: a painting I had done as a child that my mum had carefully framed and hung in our house, a set of antique Raggedy Ann and Andy dolls my ferret once chewed an eye out of when I was 15, artwork my mum had collected over the decade we lived in Alaska.”

The evangelistic language of minimalism claims that “freedom” can only be obtained from ridding ourselves of things.

But there is freedom in choosing individuality over conformity, and in recognising the difference between materialism and being stripped bare.

What do you think? Comments welcome.





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Last week I went to the supermarket. On the way home, I received a text. “How was the supermarket? Rate your experience.”

I was puzzled. How did they know?

I dismissed it, and shopped on – to the baker, an antique shop, a Manchester shop, and a party shop.

Further texts followed. “How were the baker, the antique shop, the Manchester shop, and the party shop? Rate your experience.”

Then I realised. I’d used Google Maps to find the addresses of all these shops and now I was being recruited for feedback and promotion.

The same thing happened after two lots of furniture delivery and a visit from a telephone technician, and when we hired a car. “Please rate us!” they begged.

I ignored these too, but I soon received a reminder. “How did we do? Reminder to rate your recent install appointment.”

As my friend Karen said, shopping these days is like going on a school excursion – you have to come home and write an essay on it.

As the silly season is now in full swing, the number of business interactions increases – as do the requests for reviews – in a cycle of endless obligation. You are not a shopper, but a “member” –  of their marketing team.

Even the most private of activities requires a public reaction. “Please rate your experience,” a screen at the airport loo asked as I left.

And the  most humble of purchases. “Do you have a profile with us,” the shop assistant asked when I purchased some hand cream.  I paused, and  leaned in. “It is not my job to market your business,” I said, and held out my hand for the change.

But there are some times when a review is helpful. Like after a recent manicure for a family wedding.

It was busy, but I was soon ushered over to two girls sitting at a narrow table, their tools of trade  spread neatly on a grubby white towel in front of them.

I sat down, glad to rest after a busy day. Wordlessly, one of the girls picked up a cuticle nail pusher in one hand and my right hand in the other and began jamming the nail pusher into the nail bed.

“Yowzie!” I yelled, and instinctively pulled my hand away. “Could you be a bit more gentle?”

She and her colleague exchanged glances and murmured a few words as she swapped the nail jabber for a large nail file, full of the residue of other people’s DNA, and flicked it hard against the side of my nail in violent upward motions, like chalk across a blackboard.

I leaned in again. “Could you act like you give a fuck?” I said. They exchanged confused glances. “Like you care, “ I explained.

I felt bad, I really did. I reminded myself that they were probably both on some dodgy visa sending money back to their home countries to support a dozen siblings and cousins and their aged parents.

But as they each grabbed one hand and continued on fast forward, stabbing and dabbing at my nails in turn, I began to think about what I would say when I received the text asking, “How was the grubby nail spa sweat shop? Rate your experience.”

But in the end, I didn’t say anything, then or later. I just paid and left.  Maybe they were students and this was the only work they could get? Perhaps they were horribly exploited, and then treated badly by entitled old women like me? Perhaps they had a good reason not to give a fuck?

When I got home, there was a reminder to rate the delivery guy. Feeling contrite and remorseful, I decided to be a nice person and write the delivery guys a review. A glowing review. .

“They were heroes,” I wrote, my thumbs flying. “It was a 35-degree day and the sofa wouldn’t fit in the lift, so they carried it up two flights of stairs. And then it wouldn’t fit in the door, so they carried it down again and took it back.”

Soon after, I received another text. “Thanks for the great review, but we don’t deliver sofas. We deliver beds.”

Wrong heroes. That was the other delivery company.

And there in lies the truth about reviews. Not only are they annoying, they are rarely accurate, as proved by the Journal of Consumer Research in April 2106.

Research titled Navigating by the Stars, by Bart de Langhe, Philip M Fernbach and Donald R. Lichtenstein, concluded that there was a “substantial disconnect between the objective quality of information that online user ratings actually convey and the extent to which consumers trust them as indicators of objective quality”.

In other words, a one-star review for the ubiquitous and aggravating system of reviews.

So here’s some advice to the persistent review seekers. Leave us alone.

If something happens that impresses us as consumers, we’ll let you know the old-fashioned way – by coming back.


9 Reasons Why You Shouldn’t Trust Online Reviews



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In the wake of the Harvey Weinstein allegations, it was strange to find myself sitting in Singapore’s MasterCard Theatre last Friday night, watching nine uniformly beautiful girls, uniformly dressed in nothing but black busbies, collars and G-strings, moving with military precision as the tiny fringe of blonde tassels that covered their pubic areas swayed to reveal uniformly neat black landing strips.

Strange and disturbing.

A parade of denuded nudes with their doll-like faces and tiny pert breasts, thrusting their bottoms out and lip-synching to Oops, I Did It Again, Toxic and You Turn Me On for the titillation of its champagne-drinking audience.

Harvey Weinstein would have loved it.

The tickets had been a gift. Naively, we thought it would be a “dark cabaret”, like Amanda Palmer’s Dresden Dolls – bold, funny and perhaps even empowering, like the 2010 movie Burlesque starring Cher and Christina Aguilera.

But from the first moment, as the Crazy Horse girls performed God Save Our Bareskin, a parody of the British Changing of the Guard, it was clear that this parade of Barbie dolls was about as empowered as The Stepford Wives

“This is what happens when girls don’t get an education,” I whispered to my husband.

Sadly, this isn’t true. According to a 2011 article in The Telegraph about the 60th anniversary of the Crazy Horse cabaret, the girls are mostly classically trained dancers, who willingly undergo the transformation from individual to avatar.





The cabaret, which founder Alain Bernardin labelled the “temple of chic”, originally began as an American-style saloon, named after the Native American warrior chief Crazy Horse.

According to The Telegraph, it closed in 1953, but Bernardin had an epiphany soon after when he saw Midnight Frolics, a film about the Los Angeles burlesque scene. His club re-opened a few months later featuring a Haitian dancer who stripped down to a G-string.

It was a huge success. “I understood the body of a woman would make my fortune,’ Bernardin said later.

Bernandin set an exacting physical standard for the dancers, who had to be between five foot five and five foot eight, with no more than 11 inches between the nipples and nine inches between navel and pubis.

Wigs and custom-made stilettos ensured they were all the same height, and they were given new names. (On the night we attended, credits included names like Bamby (sic) and Candy.)

Bernadin also tightly controlled their activities and sacked them if they failed the weekly weigh-ins.

The Telegraph quotes his daughter, Sophie: “Somehow they belong to you if you protect them. My father said it’s like joining a religion. You are a nun; it’s like a convent. You do what you are told.”

Sadly, what passed as “the temple of chic” in the ’50s now appears as beauty and symmetry without personality or humanity.

After the third number, the out-dated routines seemed as uniform and bland as the girls – who were about as sexy as bunch of naked Barbies in a toy box.

Between sets, one girl, wearing stickers in the shape of lips stuck to her nipples and a red swan’s down mini-crinoline to show her bare bottom and G-string, simpered across the stage lip-synching to Doobie Doobie Doo, throwing out kisses and lip-shaped stickers and mouthing “I love you” to selected audience members, who mostly laughed or squirmed.

And while the show is not intended to be crude, in one number the girls wore fake horsetails – not the pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey type, but the type where the tail is bound at the base, like a racehorse, to make it thrust out from the body like a giant dildo.

The ennui from the audience was obvious in the tepid applause, which only warmed up when the one man in the outfit appeared: Mr Fantastic, an ordinary-looking bloke who injected some humour by parodying his lack of physical attributes and then surprising us with his contortions. It was a huge relief, and thus earned a disproportionate response.

Unlike the girls, Mr Fantastic appeared as an individual, with quirks and failings. In his second act, he dropped his bowler hat twice, but as a man he was allowed to fail and be imperfect and even won a round of applause for it.

These denuded nudes with their doll-like faces, stripped of clothes and identity sent a strange and disturbing message: we are here for your titillation alone. We are nobody, we are nothing; we don’t even have real names. We are not real people.

As long as women are still objectified like this for entertainment, it is easy to see how they may be objectified in real life.

As the past few weeks of Weinstein revelations have shown, such objectification inevitably leads to abuse, particularly when accompanied by power.

This makes shows like Crazy Horse even more sad and alarming, not because of what they show, but because the girls are dehumanised.

And when people are dehumanised it is easier to treat them inhumanely.



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Thanks so much to Sydney theatre blogger Kevin Jackson of Kevin Jackson’s Theatre Blog, for including the Sydney production of my play e-baby in his list of “Best New Australian Writing” seen in Sydney in 2016, (produced by The Ensemble Theatre and directed by Nadia Tass).

I am very chuffed and l honoured to be included with six other wonderful writers, including Patricia Cornelius (Savages – Eternity Theatre) and Leah Purcell (The Drover’s Wife – Belvoir).

e-baby went on to be produced by The Tasmanian Theatre Company in March 2017, to critical acclaim, directed by Anne Cordiner and Julie Waddington for Tasmanian’s Ten Days on the Island International Arts Festival.

For production inquiries, please email jane.cafarella@gmail.com

You can see Kevin’s list here:



Below, Gabrielle Scawthorn, as Nellie, and Danielle Carter as Catherine, in the Sydney production of e-baby at The Ensemble Theatre, directed by Nadia Tass, with set design by Tobhiyah Stone Feller.


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‘d-baby’ a semi-finalist in Garry Marshall New Works Festival

I’m thrilled to report that my new play d-baby has just made the semi-final list for the Gary Marshall Theatre’s New Works Festival in Burbank California.

d-baby is a high-concept play with themes that will resonate strongly with modern audiences, especially young people.

Its themes are:

  • identity and belonging
  • nature versus nurture
  • shame
  • secrets
  • religious and moral conflict

It is a coming-of-age story with a difference. It is about a teenager who has been created for one family but is genetically related to another.

It’s about a teenager for whom searching for her true identity means risking the love and support of the only family she has known.

A new stolen generation

It’s about a new stolen generation of adults for whom answering the basic human question: “Who am I?” is becoming increasingly complex and difficult.

The story and characters are fictional but they are based on real events that happen every day in the world of donor conception.

The events in d-baby can’t happen here in Australia, as commercial gamete trading is banned here. That’s why it’s set in the US.

But it shines a spotlight on what could happen should Australia go down that path, and reflects some of the emotional landscape that donor-conceived adults are negotiating here, and some of the moral challenges facing parents of donor-conceived children here, such as when and how to tell.

Above all, it’s about great characters striving for self-knowledge and connection in an increasingly disconnected world.

The play has taken 12 months to write, and has the support of acclaimed director Nadia Tass, who directed the highly successful Sydney production of e-baby for the Ensemble Theatre.

It was written to answer the questions raised during the Q & A for my play e-baby in Melbourne on International Women’s Day 2015, “But what about the child?”

This was a deliberate omission in e-baby, which is about the relationship between an intended parent and the surrogate she hires in the US.

But I always thought it was a question worth exploring,

d-baby  is not a sequel to e-baby. It’s a different story with different characters – and you don’t have to see one to understand the other. But it’s the same setting, and I like to imagine that Nellie, the surrogate mother from e-baby lives down the road from June and Dee from d-baby in Boston, unaware that they are both sharing the same complex journey of making families in the 21st Century.

“I read a lot of scripts, but this one is musical.”

Laura Schuster, actor an teacher, Singapore

The play had its first reading in Singapore in February, hosted by actor and teacher Laura Schuster and with the parts of Dee and Zac being read by students from the Singapore American School, and the parts of June and Tess being read by Laura, Susie Penrice Tyrie,  and Angela Ryan.

Here are some comments from the reading:

“I read a lot of scripts, but this one is musical.”

“I relate! The whole lawyer part, that’s like what my mom says to me.”

“When the guys were reading Zac, especially Ethan, it sounds like stuff he would say.”

“…this is the first time I’ve read a character whose my exact age, so I’ve never really related to a character that closely, I guess. It was just so interesting.”

“I love the line that there’s some relief to know that he’s not going to be fat and bald.”

“There’s so many lines in this that we can remember. already, They’re gems.”

The play has also attracted the interest and support of groups supporting donor-conceived people both in Australia and the United States.

The play is a four-hander with some voice overs, set in Boston, Massachusetts. Its setting is multi-locational.

It would suit an intimate theatre and a company that prefers plays that can both challenge and entertain.

 For more information or production inquiries, please email me at jane.cafarella@gmail.com


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No doubt you saw the story in The Sun in the UK a few days ago about the Californian couple who live on fresh air?

A ‘BREATHARIAN’ mum-and-dad of two have barely eaten for nine years as they live off ‘the universe’s energy’.

The Sun reported that “Husband and wife Akahi Ricardo and Camila Castello believe that humans can be sustained solely by the energy of the universe”.

But not quite.

The article went on to say that the couple and their children, aged five and two, “have barely eaten more than a piece of fruit or some vegie broth three times a week since 2008”.

So the energy of the universe – and a bit of fruit and soup.


Breatharians, Camila Castello and Akahi Ricardo and their children, pictured above, who claim to have barely eaten for nine years. (The Sun, UK)

They feel so much better and can stop wasting money on food and spend it on travel instead, the report said.

Yeah, yeah, yeah. And millions of people in the rest of the world die of hunger-related causes each year simply because they don’t know how to access the energy of the universe – or don’t have access to fruit and soup three times a week.

No doubt you dismissed this story as the obvious bullshit that it was – just part of the epidemic of fake news – obvious because not one of the couple’s claims were challenged by the reporter.

The only questions came from readers’ comments.

One reader justly chastised the article for the harm it would do teenagers already suffering from eating disorders such as anorexia.

Another quipped that we should take this type of “news” with a pinch of salt.

But there is one aspect of this story that deserves our attention and it is not the ludicrous and harmful content – but the journalism, or lack of it.

As a former journalist of 35 years and journalism trainer for more than 10 years, I am appalled that such stories even make it to newspapers like The Sun.

There is a story here, but it is not this one.

The real story is how the media can justify the promotion of such dangerous ignorance.

Real journalism means challenging questionable claims – whether they come from the President of the United States or people claiming to live on fresh air.

It means getting not just getting two sides of the story, but all sides of the story.

It means not just writing clearly, but thinking clearly.

It means turning information into knowledge.

When I was teaching journalism, some of the key questions my cadets were asked to consider when writing stories were  “What does it mean for my readers?” And “Is there another side?”

The tragic other side to this story is the millions in the developing world who die of hunger-related causes every year, many of them children (see below), while the rest of the world gorges itself on recreational food.

The sad truth is that this story is just another example of the growing trend to reject science and embrace ignorance in the quest for special status in a world where being noticed has become just as necessary as food and water.

I’m disappointed that despite the great improvements in the education of journalists since I was a cadet, and the many journalists today risking their lives and careers to discover and write the truth,  such fakery still passes for news.

Disappointed, but not surprised.

I remember a similar situation when I was teaching journalism to local newspaper cadets and a “ghost hunter” came to town. Our unquestioning young reporters gleefully gave this charlatan front-page coverage on the grounds that it was “a good story”, a bit of fun and entertainment for readers.

It might have been entertainment but it wasn’t news and the charlatan ghost-hunter was making a fortune from the scam – a scam that the newspaper risked its own credibility to promote.

Real news would have been a story questioning what service this guy was actually providing and how many people he had ripped off in the process – and why the better educated we are, the more gullible we seem to become.

But those stories require time, investigation and resources.

In these days of click bait, stories like this, that attract ridicule, outrage, confusion and incredulity, are the ones that are retweeted and shared as people try to make sense of them or send them to their friends as jokes.

But it is no joke when real damage is done – not only in the tragic deaths that have occurred since the promotion of Breatharianism – one in Australia and one in Switzerland –  but the damage to the credibility of journalism and journalists, and to the real plight of people who suffer hunger-related diseases and death, not because there is a worldwide shortage of food but because of the gross shortage of understanding, empathy and political goodwill.

For the facts on world hunger:





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Stagescripts Ltd is an independent publisher and rights-holder for the works of mostly contemporary writers and composers of musical theatre and drama, serving adventurous producers – Company statement.

I am delighted to announce that the independent United Kingdom publisher Stagescripts has published e-baby and now handles licensing for the UK, US and Europe. (Australian licensing rights are handled by me.)

Here is the link:





e-baby Tassie set pic

Katie Roberts (left) as Nellie, and Jane Longhurst (right) as Catherine in the recent Tasmanian Theatre Company production of e-baby, directed by Anne Cordiner and Julie Waddington. Set by Matilda Woodroofe.

Stagescripts Ltd is small family-run business based in West Sussex and headed by managing director David Waters.

David first came across the play at the rehearsed reading at the So and So Arts Club in London in July 2015, directed by Pamela Shermann and featuring Kat Rogers as Catherine and Becky Hands-Wicks as Nellie.  First steps to add it to the Stagescripts catalogue were taken soon after.

Stagescripts signed its first titles into a catalogue in 1998 and four years later as ‘Plays and Musicals’, began to expand a new catalogue.  The name Stagescripts Ltd was registered in 2007.

Chris Grady, professional theatre consultant and the former Head of International Licencing at Cameron Mackintosh Ltd was an early advisor and is now a Board member.

Caroline Underwood joined the Board in 2012. Before joining Alan Brodie Representation Caroline worked for many years in the licensing department at Warner Chappell, and is currently the Chair of Mercury Musical Development.

Stagescripts will also be publishing and licensing my one-act play Supersnout.

I am very grateful to David and his team for their support and excited be part of the Stagescripts catalogue.

Check out the full Stagescripts catalogue here:



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