Next month Auckland will come alive with a miscellany of theatre, dance, music and visual art events. Four participants talk about their different roles in the Auckland Arts Festival.
Writer and director of I Heart Alice Heart I - March 7 to March 10, Q Theatre
"I Heart Alice Heart I is about two older women who are in their early to mid-60s, who I spotted kissing in a supermarket and I followed them around and nabbed one of them by the tails and said ‘listen, I'm a theatre-maker and I'd love if I could interview you, or you and your partner and just make a piece of theatre about it'. And then what you see is their story on stage and they tell the piece themselves.
"It's trying to present something that is absolutely genuinely beautiful, honest and full of integrity and humanity. At the time I had seen an awful lot of documentary theatre, or verbatim theatre, and some of it I absolutely adored and some of it I didn't, but the medium of performance really intrigued me because I heard people saying that they were having the most honest experience that they've had in the theatre, that everything was so full of integrity. This really stuck with me because I feel any actor should bring all the integrity of the character onto that stage. I wanted to make a show full of integrity and honesty but still be a show.
"It'll be the exact same show that it's been everywhere. We've toured quite a lot with this show and I think what people really enjoy about this piece is its absolute humanity which means it transfers well. It is in one way very Irish but in another way it seems to be very universal and that's thankfully what people have been drawn to.
"Anything can inspire me, whether it's an idea that you have or somebody that you meet with a story or a particular point of view or even a phrase that somebody uses that kind of starts you thinking in a certain direction.
"I hope that people come along and enjoy it, I hope that they laugh and they cry with us and that they see themselves, or somebody that they love reflected in the piece. The piece is a real celebration and that's what I'm hoping the audience will get from it. I feel like the two characters and the audience are so interwoven in this that you can actually feel the audience leaning into the piece and leaning into the characters and it kind of feels like we're all going on this journey together."
Fly Me Up to Where You Are - March 6 to March 24, Aotea Square
"Fly Me Up to Where You Are references a work I made in India, while on a Asia New Zealand Foundation residency late last year. I was in Bangalore working with marginalised children with HIV or sexual abuse histories. The project was to create a space of imagination and use creativity as a point of healing and expression. From these ideas, I thought it would be really interesting to facilitate a project like this in New Zealand, identifying both the similarities and differences between the hopes and dreams of our youth.
"Loosely based around the idea of Tibetan prayer flags, Fly Me Up To Where You Are draws on the Buddhist tradition that releases the prayers into the ether. They fly up to the highest points over the monasteries and mountain ranges with the messages being blown out into the world and up to the gods. This idea is the activation point - a sense of elevation and sense of achieving and lifting ourselves up, not necessarily to the gods but, I guess, to a higher point of our consciousness and conversation.
There is an education package that goes into the classrooms beforehand; there's a lesson around what hopes and dreams are and what community is; what empowerment means and what it means to have a voice in our community. There is also a lesson around Tibet, the Himalayas and the traditional role of prayer flags. After these discussions the children's ideas are translated into visual imagery that looks at iconography and symbology around their concepts, then their designs are painted onto the flags.
"The outcomes have surprised me. I find our kids in New Zealand to be far more realistic about the possibilities of their futures. The level of adult concerns, stresses and fears that our kids are dealing with are astounding. The consciousness of things such as rent and bills being constantly mentioned really exposes the reality of adult concerns and real world stresses as a part of their childhood, and I do believe this is impacting on their level of imagination and sense of wild possibility.
"It's important to me that people understand the artwork in Aotea Square as the end result of a long and involved process. For me the actual ‘work of art' happens in the classroom - it's the contact time with the kids, it's talking through their ideas and seeing the cognitive shift where they grasp the potential of their dreams becoming realities. It's politically and socially motivated, I mean, yes, it's an art work but its threads, concepts, outcomes and, most importantly, the process have produced analytics that are fascinating and that tell us a lot, about what we are saying to our youth as a society. The most important message I have gleaned is the importance of ‘everything being possible'. This concept needs to be nurtured for as long as possible, and we as a society need to teach our children the notion is true, if you choose to believe in it."
Watch Fly Me Up to Where You Are: Te Waharoa (March 2 to 24 at Artstation) to see the filmic storytelling of the work's process.
Director, Hui - March 16 to March 23, Q Theatre
"This is about a family who broke apart over a difficult family tragedy and they've been brought back together by another family tragedy so they are trying to do what's right and come together.
"It's not an easy piece, it's full of tragedy and tension but very real universal themes and there is a lot of hope in there. It's told with great heart and humour and there's darkness and sadness. I just think it's something that a lot of people will relate to - a family trying not to be dysfunctional.
"Mitch Tawhi Thomas, the writer, and I are really old friends. I directed one of his early plays called Have Car Will Travel and it did really well and the team that did that particular production are all on this show. Mitch and I have a really clear understanding of each other and, in turn, each other's work. His content and the vibrancy and boldness of his writing is something that I really relate to and enjoy.
"I think it's a wonderfully resonant piece about family and about brothers and men, and grief, loss and hope, as well as the fact that it's from a Maori perspective. I think that it's a Maori perspective, I don't think there is such a thing as the Maori perspective. I'm all about celebrating the diversity we have as a people, so to me it's a very truthful piece.
"As a director you have to think about all sorts of elements which make up the whole. In the rehearsal room you're just loving what the cast are bringing and it's so exciting but then when you have an audience watching what they're doing, that responsibility is felt quite acutely so your senses are so, so heightened, you can't help but notice if the audience are enjoying it or not and whether the actors are having a good show or not.
"As I get older I'm becoming increasingly more grateful to the support we have in the arts because it is such a personal thing - people really don't have to like it or go. There's a lot of good television and films around so I'm always very grateful to the audiences who come to see theatre. Theatre is an art form that's really worth supporting."
The Factory - March 6 to March 11, Q Theatre
"The Factory is about the early years of Polynesian culture within New Zealand and the friction between the two ethnicities. I play the son of the factory owner.
"It's not the kind of show where you're going to sit there and be lectured to. It's extremely funny, it's all in good taste and I think all audiences will enjoy it.
"Music has always been used by artists to tell a story, to tell people for hundreds of years to come how life was. When people think of New Zealand musicals, sometimes they sort of think ‘second-class' you know, not quite polished but this is really polished.
"I wasn't part of The Factory when it played in 2011 but I'd heard great things about it. I'm an outsider coming in to this and I think it's is amazing. I'm sure the [producers] expect great things but I think even they'll be surprised. The show has undergone quite a few changes since it first played and it's represented really well in the music.
"The music is absolutely amazing, far more incredible than I'd thought possible, really. If you liked Grease you'll love this I think. But also it's got other things to it too, it's very very funny.
"I'm quite surprised at how fast I'm picking up the new songs in the show but I think because I'm an emerging artist with New Zealand Opera at the moment, I've undergone quite a bit of training and it's really paying off. It's helping me learn things a lot quicker and being able to sight-read now is really helping the creative process.
"Joining this cast has been great. I was a bit nervous on the first day because I thought everyone else knew each other but it's been really good. Everyone works really really hard with us and already I'm feeling really confident, I can't wait to see the response on opening night.
"I don't have any pre-performance rituals, I'm not really superstitious or anything. I obviously like to clear my throat! I'm very worried if I get out there because you can't do it on stage because you'd look like a dork so that's the worst fear, that there's something underneath your vocal cords.
"After the first performance, when the curtains fall it's like (deep exhale). It takes a lot of energy out of you, even standing in front of the lights takes a lot out. So everyone should feel physically tired if you're giving it your all. How you feel afterwards also depends on the response from the audience.
"Sometimes you don't get quite the response you want, sometimes you get more and you're overwhelmed you're like ‘wow I wish there was a third act'."
The Auckland Arts Festival runs from March 6 to 24. Visit aaf.co.nz for more information.
- Sunday Star Times