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Hot Desk Extract: Aoi in Retrograde

As part of the Wheeler Centre’s Hot Desk Fellowship programme, Maki Morita worked on Aoi in Retrograde, a contemporary and queer adaptation of the noh drama Aoi no ue.

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The play follows Aoi — a young history teacher who turns to an astrology app in a desperate attempt to find a sense of meaning and spirituality in their lives. The App, however, has other plans for Aoi, and a vengeful ghost wreaking havoc in their life isn’t helping either. Stylistically, the play is very much influenced by the poetic, fantastical and meditative qualities of noh. As a writer of the Japanese diaspora, it is also a means of reclaiming ties to cultural heritage.



Scene One


The stage is bare apart from a white curtain hanging in the centre.


AOI slowly walks in and kneels in front of the curtain.


A STRANGER places a lamp on stage, then swiftly exits. AOI doesn’t notice their presence.



What’s gonna happen today? Will it just be the same old? Or will there be a glimmer of something shiny and new? Will they all start snoring while I’m talking about the Battle of the Somme? Will that kid Jack chuck another shoe at my face? Or will his friend what-his-name make another borderline racist comment? Will I have another mini panic attack during recess and Google something like ‘Left ear throbbing why’? Will Sandra go on and on and on about her ‘girls’ again, while I’m eating another soggy sandwich for lunch, again, in the corner of the teacher’s room?


I’m sick of soggy sandwiches.


We hear THE APP speak in the form of a robot-like voiceover and projected text on the curtain.   



Sorry, we couldn’t find anything for your search.


We noticed a lot of questions marks in your search.


Try asking one question at a time.


AOI slows down and enunciates every word.



What is going to happen today?


A long pause while THE APP thinks.



You have been walking towards a wall and you feel rigid, like that wall, but not quite. Something feels different. Today is a day to follow your intuition, dear Gemini. Do you feel something shifting?


The curtain starts billowing. This effect could be created by a fan.


Tectonic plates are real. They are scientific just like your muscles. Be careful over the next fortnight, as Mercury is in retrograde. An emotional quake might occur at any given moment, causing turbulence in your romantic life.


This is your daily prediction. Are you paying attention?


The lamp flickers off and on.


Something is lodged inside you – but it’s amorphous, difficult to capture – it might just slip through your fingers if you tried. A pearly thing. A deathly thing. A ghostly thing, perhaps.






Yes. As your sign enters an Aquarius moon on the 17th, be wary of past skeletons… they might come knocking on your door.



Well, sounds kinda entertaining at least.


And what about Genji… will this ‘romantic turbulence’ affect us?



Love can be selfish. Turbulence may only be felt within your bones.


This month, don’t be afraid to shine your love outwards.





AOI starts making a sandwich.


ROKUJO enters, but AOI cannot see them.


ROKUJO performs a slow, meditative dance to rhythmic music.



(singsong) Bread butter lettuce tomato ham

Bam bam bam bam bam bam


A pause.


And a pickle, or two! Because apparently today is new…


Two STRANGERS enter with a drum and flute. They sit on a side of the stage and start playing music.


After today I won’t eat soggy sandwiches


After today I won’t eat soggy sandwiches!


After today I w-won’t eat s-soggy s-sandwichesssss


            AOI breaks down into sobs.


But this only lasts for a few seconds – they quickly flick away their tears, switch gears and start packing their bag.



Fuck! Where are my keys?



The keys to your heart are inside you, but you must uncover the psychological tools / to earn them



/Alright alright I get it!


AOI ‘closes’ THE APP, making it disappear.


They run around like a madwoman, looking for their keys.


ROKUJO’s dancing gets faster and faster. So does the music.


            ROKUJO snatches AOI’s sandwich. They eat it ravenously then continue dancing.


            AOI finds their keys, but now they can’t find their sandwich.



What! It was right there I swear…


Ughghhh! I’m already late


They bump into ROKUJO and shiver, feeling like they momentarily submerged themselves in icy cold water. 



Well today does feel different somehow


            They shake off the icky feeling and dash out.   


Maki Morita’s play Trash Pop Butterflies, Dance Dance Paradise is playing at Theatre Works until 1 April 2023.

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The Wheeler Centre acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the traditional owners of the land on which we work. We pay our respects to the people of the Kulin Nation and all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Elders, past and present.