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Kimpossible dream?

Posted April 10th, 2012 by debritz

Is a fresh and funny Australian sitcom too much to ask for? Apparently so.

News that we're about to be subjected (if we so choose) to both a Kath and Kim movie and a new TV series is proof positive that there are either no original ideas in comedy now, or that nobody in televisionland is willing to take a punt on a new idea.

I was never a big fan of Kath and Kim. I always saw it as the latte set's cruel and too-broadly-stereotypical-to-be-funny satire on the working classes. To me it was just as authentic as millionaire shock jock Alan Jones is when he talks about "Struggle Street".

But I also realise that many people, including those out of whom the mickey was being taken, lapped it up. And I admit I am a fan of other work by the creators of Kath and Kim, Jane Turner and Gina Riley, and many of its cast, particularly Glenn Robbins and Magda Szubanski. (I think Riley's best work was in The Games, which had the benefit of John Clarke's brilliance behind it.)

If we must flog this dead horse, can we have something else, too? Why aren't the networks -- especially the cashed-up Seven Network -- investing in the future of television comedy? As I've said before, creating content is the only viable future for the free-to-air networks.

We've come a long was as a society since Hey Dad..! and yet, Kath and Kim aside, there hasn't been a hit commercial television comedy since it ceased production in 1994. It's time for us to move on; to invest in the writing that can bring us a genuinely funny sitcom that riffs off contemporary Australian themes.

Perhaps the Queensland Theatre Company will consider reviving its Australian Sitcom Festival, where in 2001 (wow, that was a long time ago) an ensemble of talented actors gave new scripts a try-out in a stage setting.

New Queensland Premier Campbell Newman doesn't seem to be a fan of the "high" arts (he scrapped the annual Premier's Literary Awards), but maybe this is something he could get behind. Anything that would encourage good writing, and provide potential employment for actors and film crew, is surely worth considering.

Sharing the fame

Posted March 9th, 2012 by debritz

It began as a simple question posed on Twitter and Facebook:

Brisbane: Tonight we unveil another statue to a footballer. Have we honoured any great scientists, artists or peacemakers in bronze lately?

Now, I'd like to follow it up. First, by saying that I have no objection at all the rugby league lovers honouring Darren Lockyer for his achievements in the game. Or, for that matter, our publicity-hungry politicians trying to get in on the act. I just wish they'd cheerlead for some other great achievers more often.

What I am saying, though, is that there are plenty of other Queenslanders, living and dead, who deserve public recogniition for their achievements in their fields, and not all of them are getting it.

I know there are many in the fields of science and politics, and the military, but I'm going to restrict this argument to the arts, which is my major field of interest.

A few years ago, I supported a move to get a theatre named after Alan Edwards, the founding artistic director of the Queensland Theatre Company. So far, he has received no public recognition, even though, arguably, without his influence the international careers of hundreds of actors and other professionals, including Geoffrey Rush, Bille Brown and Carol Burns, may not have taken off.

I'm going to present a list now, and this is mainly from the top of my head and a quick internet search, so I'm sure to have missed some very important names. I reserve the right to amend it. I also acknowledge that some of them have already received statues or other recognition, but many of them have not.

I also not that there's an emphasis on people who are or have been widely known outside of Australia, and that I've omitted some younger people, such as authors Nick Earls and John Birmingham, writer-actors Adam Zwar and Jason Gann, and comedian Josh Thomas, who are (in my opinion) likely to go on to greater success.

Actors Geoffrey Rush, Ray Barrett, Diane Cilento, Barry Otto, Bille Brown, Carol Burns and Barry Creyton all have of have had international profiles. Other notables include Sigrid Thornton and Leonard Teale,.

Writers include Thea Astley, David Malouf, Judith Wright, Oodgeroo Noonuccal.

In popular music, there are The Saints, The Go-Betweens, Powderfinger and Savage Garden, and in opera we have Donald Shanks and Lisa Gasteen.

There are many famous Queensland dancers including Garth Welch and Leanne Benjamin.

When Davy met Marcia

Posted March 1st, 2012 by debritz

Perhaps this isn't the finest moment in the career of Davy Jones, the British actor and lead singer of The Monkees, who has died at just 66, but it was the one that imediately came to my mind:

(I'm not sure as a responsible parent I'd be letting an older man take my teenage daughter to the prom, though.)

Regent's state of origin

Posted December 15th, 2011 by debritz

The Showcase cinema at the Brisbane Regent was denied heritage listing because it was deemed to lack "original" features.

However, during the demolition of the cinema to make way for an office tower, it's been revealed that much of the fabric WAS original.

The Brisbane Times has the story here.

Laugh with the ladies

Posted December 6th, 2011 by debritz

It's a case of two down, one to go for Ladies' Comedy Night at the Sit Down Comedy Cub at the Paddington Tavern.

Mel Buttle joined MC Katrina Davidson on stage last Sunday, and on December 11 it'll be Fiona McGary's turn to headline. Rumour has it that B105's Stav Davidson (nepotism alert: he is related to Kat by marriage) will be making a guest appearance as the token male in the show.

Even if Stav, who is busy raising fund for the station's Children's Hospital Appeal this week, is a no-show, it's no reason not to go. Last week's crowd, including some familiar voices from Brisbane radio, had a hoot.

Details are here.

Sue Donnelly to head QTC

Posted November 28th, 2011 by debritz

The Queensland Theatre Company has announced the appointment of Sue Donnelly to the position of executive director.

Ms Donnelly, currently executive director of the Australian Major Performing Arts Group (AMPAG), will relocate from Sydney to take the reins at the QTC from February 20.

“Ms Donnelly brings to QTC strength in strategic planning and policy, leadership and entrepreneurial skills, hands-on management expertise, an exemplary track record in advocacy, high level producing experience, and a widespread arts network, nationally and internationally,” QTC chairman Professor Richard Fotheringham said today in a media statement.

“Her appointment to QTC consolidates the company’s position at the forefront of Australia’s performing arts – after the appointment of Wesley Enoch as artistic director in June last year and the unveiling of Season 2012 to much acclaim,” he said.

Prof Fotheringham said the international search for the position was prompted earlier this year when the incumbent, Libby Anstis, announced her resignation after eight years in the position.

“Under Libby’s stewardship, QTC’s national touring reputation was assured. We now have purpose-built new workshop facilities, and have significantly increased the number of young people and students attending.”

Ms Donnelly said: “Queensland holds a covetable position on the Australian arts landscape. There is an amazing amount of creativity, energy and talent.”

“I am delighted to be part of the highly regarded Queensland Theatre Company and look forward to creating extraordinary and stimulating theatre with the team at QTC and artistic director Wesley Enoch.”

Canine's got talent?

Posted October 20th, 2011 by debritz

Can your dog walk on stage, jump on a chaise lounge and be sung to? Melinda Schneider is holding auditions for a canine cast member for her show, Doris - So Much More than the Girl Next Door, which will play at Brisbane's Twelfth Night Theatre next month.

If your dog's got the chops to appear alongside somebody playing Doris Day, take it along an open audition on Tuesday, November 15, at 10:30am in the foyer of the theatre at 4 Cintra Rd, Bowen Hills.

A man for all seasons

Posted October 10th, 2011 by debritz

Queensland Theatre Company artistic director Wesley Enoch launched his first season with a bang yesterday - literally, by firing off a starting pistol. Enoch put his stamp on the occasion - a subscribers' launch at the QPAC Playhouse - from the outset, with a video ostensibly showing him running late for the event (although eagle-eyed attendees would have spotted in the foyer beforehand) before a grand entrance on stage.

First among the on-stage guests at the launch was Christen O'Leary, who has returned to live in Brisbane after carving out a successful stage career in Melbourne. O'Leary sang beautifully and spoke about her one-woman show, Bombshells, written by Joanna Murray Smith.

The season also includes the Belvoir Street revival of Summer of the Seventeenth Doll; Shakepeare's Romeo and Juliet, directed by Jennifer Flowers; an adaption of Dario Fo's Elizabeth, Almost By Chance a Woman, starring Carol Burns; Alana Valentine's Head Full of Love, starring Colette Mann and Roxanne McDonald; Matthew Ryan's Kelly, which focuses both on bushranger Ned and his brother Dan, who allegedly escaped to Queensland in the aftermath of the last stand at Glenrowan; and David Williamson's Managing Carmen, about a cross-dressing footballer.

QTC subscribers will get preferential booking opportunities for Stephen page's Blood Land and the Brisbane season of the stage version of British comedy Yes, Prime Minister. Details are here.

Farewell, Googie Withers

Posted July 16th, 2011 by debritz

Stage and screen actress Googie Withers has died at the age of 94. I fondly remember seeing Googie and her late husband John McCallum peforming as angels looking back on their distinguished and glamorous careers at QPAC in Brisbane a decade or more ago. I can't remember the name of the show, though. Can anybody help?

The devil you know

Posted June 4th, 2011 by debritz

The fourth and final episode of the Eddie McGuire-hosted sport quiz Between the Lines has gone to air on Australian television. It's the third show starring the former "golden boy" and onetime CEO of Channel 9 to get the chop this year. The others were Million Dollar Drop and This Is Your Life, which may return as a series of specials later in the year. (The Courier-Mail's Geoff Shearer has the details, here.)

While McGuire's Hot Seat continues to perform well in the 5.30pm slot, executives and shareholders at Nine must be questioning their star's long-presumed status as one of the network's solid-gold drawcards. While the exact details are secret, McGuire is reported to be on a very lucrative long-term contract, and he presumably gets paid handsomely whether he's on the air or not. Right now, the question is: should the man who also hosts a relatively-low-rating breakfast show on Melbourne's Triple M radio station and runs AFL club Collingwood be permanently benched by the TV network?

It could, of course, be argued that the "vehicles" (i.e. the shows) were flawed and it wasn't McGuire's fault that they all failed to live up to expectations. It could also be said they they weren't given a proper chance to find their audience (we all know stories of classic TV shows that took a couple of series to hit their groove). But, then again, it could also be argued that Hot Seat is a winning formula and it would be a success no matter who was hosing it.

From a business perspective -- and that's the way Nine management has to look at things, not least beause it is considering a float -- McGuire would seem to be a liability who doesn't deliver sufficient "bang for the buck". But he's not the only one in the broadcasting industry.

It's very common for TV and radio stations to pay way over the odds (and well beyond market rate) to hang on to certain talent -- if only to keep them away from other neworks. Earlier this year, after rumours he was in talks with Channel 9, the Seven Network reportedly upped the annual salary of The Morning Show's Larry Emdur to "well in excess of $800,000 a year". The Sunday Herald Sun quoted a Seven source as saying the deal "set a dangerous precedent".

It's about here, I suppose, that I should make some sort of comment about what heart surgeons, nurses, teachers, police and fire officers etc. are earning for the very important work they do, but we can take that as read. The fact is that TV stations are commercial enterprises, and it's entirely a matter for the owners of those businesses to decide how much they want to spend and how much they want to earn from their investment.

My real concern is that because they always take the "safe" option of using the same talent on air and off -- how many opportunities are there for first-time writers and producers, for example? -- television is becoming blander and viewers are deprived the opportunity to see something genuinely new and exciting.

Thank goodness, then, for the theatre and the internet -- and for all-too-rare initiatives such as Andrew Denton's $30,000 "disfellowship" for an emerging screenwriter. The TV execs would do well to note that the new ideas -- the ones that will make them money in the future -- are not all coming through the traditional channels.

Cirque goes full circle

Posted August 25th, 2010 by debritz

Cirque du Soleil is returning to Australian next year, with a fresh production of Saltimbanco, the show that introduced Australians to the Cirque experience 12 years ago. Rather than under the big top, it'll be in theatre mode at entertainment centres. Dates include Perth in April, Melbourne in May and Brisbane and Sydney in July. Tickets on sale October 18. Details here.

Wicked delay

Posted June 20th, 2010 by debritz

It's great news for Brisbane theatregoers that Wicked! will finally open at the Lyric Theatre in January next year. But that will be two-and-a-half years after its Australian premiere in Melbourne -- in which time, according to its producers, it has played 866 shows seen by more than a million people. In other words, the lion's share of the return from the show in terms of arts tourism dollars has gone into the Victorian coffers and, to a lesser extent, to NSW. Of course, if Brisbane had another large venue -- say a renovated Regent Theatre -- such big shows could be debuting in Queensland, rather than coming in at the end of their run after the diehard fans have already spent up big on package tours to see them.

Farewell, but not goodbye

Posted May 30th, 2010 by debritz

Birch Carroll and Coyle's lease on the Brisbane Regent is coming to end, culminating with a farewell on June 6. The details are on the poster below. Attend the event, but please remember that the fight to Save the Regent goes on.

More power to the Powerhouse

Posted May 8th, 2010 by debritz

There's an interesting article here at about the tenth anniversary of the Brisbane Powerhouse. There's no doubt that the Powerhouse is a great asset to Brisbane, and it's deservedly cherished by many arts lovers. But it is limited in its ability to cater to the broader population of the city for several reasons, including the fact that its main auditorium can hold only about 500 people. Brisbane has many small venues, and exciting things are happening not just at the Powerhouse, but at the Metro Arts, the Judith Wright Centre, the Brisbane Arts Theatre and elsewhere - but, let's be honest, a lot of what happens in these place is for niche audiences with already well-honed theatrical tastes. For the performing arts to truly flourish, Brisbane now needs another large venue that can handle an open-ended run of a big commercial production. The more people who have the chance to see professional live theatre at a high standard, the more theatregoers we will have - and the more people who might just take a chance on seeing at a show in a smaller venue. First-time theatregoers are unlikely to wander in to see an independent production the Powerhouse or the Judy; but they might just go see the Australian premiere of a big musical at, say, a restored Regent Theatre and eventually develop a taste for less mainstream fare. This is one "trickle-down effect" that might actually work.

Earl Okin's on his way, at last

Posted May 6th, 2010 by debritz

In the late-1990s, I saw Earl Okin at an arts festival in Hong Kong. About three years ago, he was lined up to perform in Brisbane as part of an Australian tour to coincide with the release of his album, and I was scheduled to interview him for the Sunday Mail. However, the tour and the interview were cancelled. Now I'm pleased to discover that Okin will perform at the Brisbane Cabaret Festival from June 16-26. He'll be at the Judith Wright Centre on opening night, and if he's anywhere near as good as he was a decade ago, he'll be well worth seeing. The festival bill also includes performances by Ross Wilson and John Waters, Denise Scott and Bob Downe. Details here.

Star's memories of the Regent

Posted April 16th, 2010 by debritz

The man who starred as popular Brisbane children's entertainer Danny O'Dibble is backing the campaign to Save the Regent theatre. Actor-singer Darryl Boyd, who played O'Dibble on stage and on the former Channel 0 (now 10) in the 1970s, now lives on the Sunshine Coast. But he came to Brisbane for a nostalgic visit to the Regent, remembering the night of the farewell concert for the venue before the original large auditorium was split into four cinemas in the early 1980s. Darryl says he was the last act on an all-star bill at the concert and he sang Send in the Clowns as the curtain came down. "The only problem was that they'd started serving champagne in the foyer, so there weren't too many people left to hear me," he recalled with a smile. Darryl supports the notion that the Showcase theatre should all be preserved as it is or restored into a much-needed second large multipurpose theatre venue. "I always said that the Regent should be Brisbane's Opera House," he told me.

Geoffrey Rush to head QTC?

Posted April 9th, 2010 by debritz

The Brisbane Times reports that there's support for Geoffrey Rush to replace the retiring Michael Gow at the helm of the Queensland Theatre Company. Of course, it's a brilliant idea. But would Rush forgo his Hollywood career and gigs on Broadway and the southern stage to run a Brisbane-based company? Maybe he could do it if, like Cate Blanchett at the Sydney Theatre Company, he enlisted a co-artistic director to be there when he couldn't be. In Blanchett's case, it's her husband, playwright Andrew Upton.
PS. As reported by Brisbane Times, critic Sue Gough's shortlist includes QTC assistant director Jon Halpin and husband-wife team Helen Howard and Michael Futcher. I'd throw Jean-Marc Russ into the mix, too. Mind you, I don't know who has applied for the job.
PPS: Rush is, of course, a great supporter of the Save the Regent campaign.

Meanwhile, at the theatre

Posted March 25th, 2010 by debritz

I saw Wild World, the Cat Stevens tribute at the Twelfth Night Theatre in Brisbane, and can recommend it thoroughly. While not impersonating Stevens (now, of course, known as Yusaf Islam), British singer-guitarist Paul Dillon performs the great songwriter's catalouge and links the music with some interesting facts and anecdotes. It closes on Saturday. And his backup band is brilliant. Meanwhile, on the local theatre front, April 10 will be opening night at the Arts Theatre of The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco, the sequel to He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, written by Simon Bedak and based on the book by Brisbane's own John Birmingham. The show will be directed by Natalie Bochenski, who works as a journalist at 4BC and successfully moonlights in the worlds of theatre and improvisational comedy. Here's a teaser video for the show:

Regent makes headlines

Posted March 13th, 2010 by debritz

Don't bother waiting for Godot; he's not coming. The Regent Theatre is back in the news today, with the Courier-Mail's Tonya Turner revealing that an acclaimed production of Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot starring Sir Ian McKellen won't be coming to Brisbane due to the lack of a suitable venue. The story quotes me saying that the Regent could be restored into a theatre much more cost-effectively than building a new venue from scratch. Godot is one of many productions that haven't found their way to Brisbane because of scheduling conflicts at QPAC. Godot producer Liza McLean says: "Commercially, everybody would love for there to be another venue in Brisbane". Lyndon Terracini, the former Brisbane Festival boss who now runs Opera Australia, agrees. With the city growing at the rate it is, we absolutely need another new venue as soon as possible or risk becoming seen as a cultural backwater. Restoring the original Regent auditorium as part of the current office-tower project for the site would be an efficient way to give our city a versatile theatre/concert/cinema space while protecting Brisbane's last remaining Hollywood-style picture palace for future generations. Anna Bligh, it's not too late to make this happen.

Who will replace Michael Gow?

Posted February 24th, 2010 by debritz

According to a tweet from the Queensland Theatre Company, its artistic director, Michael Gow, will not renew his contract and will leave in August after programming the 2011 season. While Gow has led the company to some great artistic heights, his departure creates an opportunity for the QTC to renew itself. I think he's been wise to step aside while he's on top, although some will undoubtedly say that he stayed a little too long. No doubt there'll be a lineup of the usual suspects when the job is advertised, but true theatre lovers will hope the QTC board mounts a thorough search and brings in an AD who can lead the company to great success on the local, state, national - and international - stage.

Phantom of the theatre

Posted January 10th, 2010 by debritz

Is Brisbane's Arts Theatre haunted? The Sunday Mail has a fun video here featuring the theatre's president Alex Lanham, who says he can feel the presence of the company's founder, Jean Trundle, back stage. Meanwhile, in the world of the living, the Arts Theatre's latest production, a revival of John Birmingham's He Died with a Felafel in his Hand, is doing a roaring trade. Last night's performance was a sell-out, but tickets are available for performances for performances on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Details here. Later this year, the Arts will host the premiere of Birmingham's The Tasmanian Babes Fiasco.

A Dae to remember

Posted January 3rd, 2010 by debritz

January 14 will see the Australian premiere of Bran Nue Dae, the movie. The Brisbane opening of the stage musical on which it is based remains one of my favourite nights in the theatre, and if the film - starring Rocky McKenzie, Jessica Mauboy, Ernie Dingo and Geoffrey Rush -- goes any way towards recapturing that magic, it will be brilliant. Here's the trailer.

Starting big at La Boite

Posted November 24th, 2009 by debritz

Hamlet will be the 2010 season-opener and new artistic director David Berthold's directorial debut for Brisbane La Boite company. Toby Shmitz will play the distracted Dane. The season will also include Eugene Ionesco's absurdist drama The Chairs starring Jennifer Flowers and Eugene Gilfedder, and Neil Armfield directing Gwen in Purgatory. Details here.

Musical moments

Posted November 18th, 2009 by debritz

Tex Perkins' star turn as Johnny Cash in The Man in Black has, according to the show's publicist, had Brisbane audiences "crying out for more". The producers, Folsom Prison Productions, have extended the season at the Twelfth Night Theatre until December 13. In a not-so-similar vein, Eurovision parody Eurobeat, starring Rhonda Burchmore and Glynn Nicholas with guest appearances from Glenn Shorrock and Wilbur Wilde, opens at the Lyric Theatre, QPAC, on November 25.

Comedy for a good cause

Posted November 18th, 2009 by debritz

Wil Anderson, Claire Hooper, Frank Woodley, Greg Sullivan, Tom Gleeson, Stav Davidson, Lindsay Webb, Terry Hansen, Fred Lang, Katrina Davidson and Mark McConville are among the top-notch comics who will perform in the Doin' It For Dave gig at the Sit Down Comedy Club, at Brisbane's Paddington Tavern on Sunday, November 22 at 4pm and 7pm. The money raised will help popular comic Dave Grant in his fight against pancreatic cancer. Book tickets, at $45 each, on 3369 4466.

BAT: out to launch

Posted November 15th, 2009 by debritz

As I post this, the Brisbane Arts Theatre is about to launch its 2010 season. Rather than me tell you what's in store, here's a video explaining it all:

Leave Britney alone!

Posted November 11th, 2009 by debritz

Britney Spears is under fire for lip-synching when she should be singing. Give the girl a break, I say. Haven't we all been guilty at one time or another of pretending to work?

Busting Out all over Tassie

Posted November 10th, 2009 by debritz

The producers are calling it "the show the Thetare Royal didn't want you to see". After being rejected by Hobart's most historic theatre, Simon Bryce and Andrew Guild have found a new venue for their show, Busting Out, and a planned Tasmanian tour will go ahead next year. It will run at the Derwent Entertainment Centre, in "lyric mode", on June 11, along with dates in Launceston, Burnie and Devonport. Bryce said in a media statement: “I’ve taken it as a personal challenge to get this production to Tasmania. Why should a show that’s been seen by over 230,000 people in over 50 other theatres around Australia and New Zealand, miss out on coming to Tasmania?” You can read more about the saga and the show, starring Emma Powell and Bev Killick, here and here.

Show off your BITS

Posted November 2nd, 2009 by debritz

With memories of the Brisbane Festival still fresh, the Queensland capital is to get another, albeit more modest, performing arts event. The BITS Festival is described as "an open-access, one-day event for independent theatre makers to showcase their work". The organisers say it's a preview for a larger event in 2010 that aims to give performing artists an opportunity to present their work to an audience and to their peers. If you're an artist who wants to be involved, or a potential audience member, the details are

A tale of two critics

Posted November 2nd, 2009 by debritz

Two quotes from different writers:

This production is QTC's triumph of the decade, so see it and be prepared to be taken out of your comfortable world and sit shivering on the edge of your seat - that is, when your heart starts beating again.

Powerful moments of fragile vulnerability are drowned out by yawning dullness. Provocative subtext is lost by basic presentations of the script. Moments of high drama seem contrived and uncomfortable ... And so the audience is left with awkward embarrassment.

QTC image of The CrucibleBoth are reviews of the same theatre production -- Queensland Theatre Company's revival of Arthur Miller's The Crucible, directed by Michael Gow and now playing at the QPAC Playhouse in Brisbane. The first quote is from the A Little Gossip arts newsletter and written by Alison Cotes, who I have known for a long time and has been reviewing theatre in Brisbane for more than 30 years. The second quote was published under the headline "How the Queensland Theatre Company crucified Miller's Crucible" and was published on the Brisbane Times website. It's written by Katherine Feeney, who I don't know but I believe has been writing for the BT website since its inception a couple of years ago, and pens a sex and relationships column called CityKat. While I have read arts interviews and listings under her name, I can't recall reading a review by her before. Readers who rely on published reviews to shape their ticket-buying choices would be confused by such a stark contrast in critical assessment, the likes of which I have not seen in years. Of course, I'm not claiming that one is right and one is wrong. I haven't seen the play but, from what I can gather online, the audience reaction on opening night was very positive. Another critic well known to me, Katherine Lyall Watson, says at that the play is "not without its flaws, but the joys of the production far outweigh them". And Eric Scott, a vastly experience journalist whose opinion I also value, says at his website: "This is the most powerful production from the Queensland Theatre Company I think I’ve seen. Director Michael Gow’s casting was perfect in this 20 character play, which used 19 actors, and he moulded them brilliantly into a gripping, suspenseful piece of theatre drama. It was the finest piece of direction I’ve seen from the company’s Artistic Director." At the end of the day, if you're thinking of shelling out the money for a show, I guess you have to trust the people you know and/or whose assessments have generally aligned with your own. After all, nothing can replace seeing it for yourself.

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