The Finfins are a peaceful mountaintop tribe who make unusual handicrafts out of felt, speak a unique, patchwork language, and honour reindeer and the great, unending tundra. The Finfins have never needed anything from the Big Village below the mountain, and for a long time, they have been left alone. But, there are only three Finfins left now: Fellt, his mother, Alma, and his irritating friend, Utsi.
Leland Scully, an anthropologist, has taken up the study of the Finfins. He wants to preserve them forever, but his temporary home in a nearby cabin adorned with antlers, makes the Finfins wary of him. To them, Scully is the Andertakker: the Keeper of the Dead.
Alma knows if there is any hope for the Finfins, the young men must venture into the Big Village to find women with whom they can repopulate their tribe. Whereas Utsi is excited for the adventure, Fellt is reluctant - he has a secret love already on the mountain, and though he knows it is futile, he cannot bear to part.
A falling out between the men on the night before departure sends them both into the Big Village alone and unprepared, and Scully's study, warped by cabin fever and sickness, becomes one of the Finfins in their unnatural environment.
Will the Finfins survive in this new world? And who, if anyone, will be their saviour?
First written while under residency at La Boite Theatre Company in 2013/2014, Human Remains in an Alpine Environment was then developed with Playwriting Australia in 2014. It was presented as a public reading at La Boite Theatre Company's HWY Festival for works in development in July 2016.
This play has been supported by Playwriting Australia through the National Script Development workshop.
THE FINFIN LANGUAGE
The Finfins speak a made-up language that the audience learns gradually through ritual, gesture and song.
Finfin words are clipped for economy in the harsh icy winds of the tundra. Sentimentality is expressed through the chest-warming purr of special words, and their poetry and songs are peppered with percussive qualities like reindeer hooves drumming through the snow.
Promo video for public reading.
Lyrics & Editing: Maxine Mellor
Tune & Vocals: Helen Howard
Of the world’s 6,000 distinct languages, one disappears every two weeks – an extinction rate exceeding that of birds, mammals or plants.
When we lose a language, we lose centuries of thinking about time, seasons, sea creatures, reindeer, edible flowers, mathematics, landscapes, myths, music, the unknown and the everyday.
K. David Harrison,
Living Tongues Institute for Endangered Languages
THE BIG QUESTIONS
In Human Remains in an Alpine Environment, we experience the birth and death of a civilisation. We learn its unique language, its customs, and belief systems, and we witness its demise. And, through it, we come to question our own. What parts of our own culture or self are worth saving? Do we adapt or assimilate? Do we simply disappear? Or is there a way to do both?
We live in times of massive upheaval and change. We live amidst the battle between the old and the new. More and more we are faced with news of mass extinctions of people, places, and things. On our screens and newsfeeds we see global disasters play out alongside personal tragedies – lives slipping away before they are fully realised or appreciated – and we are forced to confront how we live and leave our mark on the world.
Human Remains in an Alpine Environment is a play for all of us grappling with our difficult past and future potential, and it’s for all people questioning their personal legacy. It’s a play full of rich imagery, a new language to learn, unforgettable characters, and profoundly big questions about humanity, mortality, and ecology that creep up on you while you’re smiling at something else. It’s a play to celebrate and save life in its impermanence.
The Bright Spectacle
& The Spectacularly Dark
The piece explores what happens when the final three Finfins face impending demise in three different ways; when an anthropologist isn’t sure if he wants subjects, friends, or devotees; and how a deer girl makes the ultimate sacrifice for love.
It’s soundtracked with warped disco and deer hoofs and Finfin lullabies. And it finishes with two contrasting images: a traditional Finfin folk song remixed into a fully-choreographed, Eurovision-esque pop-spectacular; and an imperfect Finfin funeral on a howling mountaintop