Monthly Archives: March 2010

Mark Twain And Me In Maoriland – Mark Twain And Me In Maoriland – New Zealand International Arts Festival


Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland by Taki Rua Productions uses a comment made by Twain when he visited New Zealand as a springboard to explore historical events in Whanganui. It was described by Lynne Freeman during the Art Talk as “ambitious, multilayered, hits you like a punch in the guts.”

At the Art Talk were James Ashcroft (Taki Rua), David Geary (Writer), Maaka Pohatu (Actor) and Ngapaki Emery (Actor).

David said that he had written 10 drafts of play and the one audiences were going to see was number 11. It started when he was writing a novel. He Googled “Mark Twain” plus “Whanganui”. One of the search results described Mark Twain’s reaction to one of the statues in Moutoa Gardens. David had an impulse that there was more to it than was reported. He researched for two years then came to the creative process for the show with a lot of information. ‘A problem for John Bolton (originally one of the cast, he replaced the original director when she had to pull out) was to try and get it into a state for a theatrical version.’ David emphasised that this version had been workshopped with the cast and that he considers that they are also the writers. (Noone is entirely sure what happens to the script after this – maybe collective ownership?) They were creating scenes based on ideas that he wanted to do. He has ‘twenty words on the page… someone’s got to pick that up and make it. Provocations – give them an hour, they come back with ideas.’
James said they were very nervous about reaction overall as it includes some racy content. ‘At the schools performance, the audience was engaged. They had a lot of questions about some of the information in the play.’ For example, the reference to arsenic in flour – ‘that comes from history’. The students had no idea about the event. “History yet to be uncovered. We are finding stories that need uncovering.”
David read a lot of histories of Whanganui before travelling to Putiki Marae to listen to people share stories. He felt it was a ‘battle then a battle to tell the story of the battle’ because of the complexity as there were ‘lots of different accounts’. He felt that because ‘it is a story about real people’, he ‘had to talk to people rather than just read books’. ‘Tikanga doesn’t come naturally to me. I’m a bit of a Hone come lately.’ Usually he feels that as a writer ‘I have permission to write anything, but feel obligation in this one to involve people in the discussion.’
The actors uncovered some of their own family history during the course of the play. Maaka plays Ra, a maori soldier working on behalf of the government. His great-great-great grandfather did the same thing. Nga plays a wahine toa for the Hauhau. Her mother is part of the Pai marie religion. She drew on her experience of the ceremonies to help her develop her character.
The play has a reasonable amount of reo in it which was not part of the mandate for the work. Taki Rua have a Te Reo season and it was a great surprise to James to discover there’s so much. ‘What’s the game and theatricality in translating? There’s beauty and sadness in what’s lost in translation.’ The reo speaking actors refused to tell the non-reo speaking actors what was being said. Nga felt that it brings out ‘what is it to try and connect and try and understand.’

I have heard wildly differing opinions on this play. I enjoyed it. It seemed to me to be like a sketch comedy – where different characters (same actors) come out, play a scene then disappear only to emerge as someone else. I think it needs work on strenghtening the structure and narrative threads but I liked the energy and conceit of the way the scenes were staged. I believe it’s a joint production between the Wellington and Auckland Festivals so I’ll be looking out for it next year – maybe version 26?

Random link to interesting article about missionary letters because missionaries feature in the play

The Blobs

Technically the 4 Plinths Sculpture project, the local paper calls them 'blobs'.?? A set of four geometric shapes outside Te Papa.?? Their strange angles echo the architecture around them.??
The 4 blobs lined up outside Te Papa.
A closer look.
At dusk they look like alien technology, biding their time…

Super successful #nzfest

I had a super #nzfest due to a combination of beautiful weather, cheap tickets, [some] free booze and amazing hospitality. (Special thanks to my sister and her boyfriend who put up with me.  I tried to be invisible…when I said “Thanks for having me” my sister said plaintively “You could have been around more.” #success…ithink)  The whole whanau was down in the middle weekend which was lots of fun.  I got to hang out with some very cool talented people who were interesting.  They kept mistaking me for my sister which was quite hilarious (maybe not for them. They’d come up to me with a big smile then have to recover when I’d say “I don’t think I am who you think I am…”)

Final round-up. Tweets in italics

The 4 Plinths Sculpture Project
Apollo 13 : Mission Control  (Twice.) BEST. SHOW. EVER. + Art Talk
The Arrival (Blog post The Arrival)
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea 1920s styles updated for 2010. hilariously morbidly clever. go see it!
Breath of Wind  (Mentioned in post Taking a chance on music)
The Forty-part Motet: Janet Cardiff
Happy as Larry Crisp dance moves; wicked soundtrack + Art Talk (+ blog post Happy as bro, it’s Monday)
Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet (Mentioned in blog post NZ International Festival of the Arts)
The Letter Writer Powerful, emotional story of migration and communication.
Mark Twain and Me in Maoriland  dark, strange fantasy-dreamlike, thought provoking show +Art Talk
Mary Stuart
Music in the Eye (Mentioned in blog post NZ International Festival of the Arts)
Peaks of Cloud : Keith Lewis and Michael Houstoun (Mentioned in blog post Taking a chance on music)
Revolt of the Mannequins (Mentioned in blog post NZ International Festival of the Arts)
Ruby Tuesday pretty good. take a chance on it. costs less than two glasses of wine. (at Bats Theatre; not part of the festival)
Tell Me More: Séraphine Pick (I never did find the gallery with her latest stuff.  Huh.)
Trans-form: the abstract art of Milan Mrkusich (Mentioned in post Taking a chance on music)
Ship Songs omfg. I enjoyed Ship Songs so much. bloody brilliant.
Vessels: Daniel Brown I liked artwork “vessels” at museum city&sea. tip:go after 5pm to avoid sound bleed thru from other exhibits.
Visual Music: David Downes: (Mentioned in post Taking a chance on music)
+ Art Talk: Don McGlashan and Art Talk: Sounds of Silence director Alvis Hermanis

I managed to catch part of the Circus Festival at Waitangi Park (didn’t quite make it to a show.) Oh, and Neil Gaiman…AND the Pompeii Exhibition. (Attached myself to a school group. They didn’t seem to mind and Te Papa gel was awfully interesting. *teehee*)

Now that I’ve had a few days to recover I’ll be posting my thoughts on some of the shows and the Festival itself.

The Arrival


Red Leap Theatre’s production of “The Arrival” is a wonder filled production with clever sets and energetic performances. There isn’t much of a script so the story is told through facial expressions and body language. All of the cast play more than one character. The migrant (character in the hat) is the one constant through the play. The other characters tell him their story – represented by the images on the passports that they show him.

I love the set in this show. Designed by John Verryt the main design morphs into a number of different locations. It opens and closes like a concertina while spinning around the stage. There are other smaller sets and props as well. One of the most effective of these is the hot air balloon sequence. It manipulates perspective – starting off as a replica balloon at full size then becoming a small balloon flying past tiny cities finished as the replica balloon at a normal sized city. There are many things to marvel at in this production.

Circus, Theatre and Dance combined – Deadly

Tonight I’m going to “Deadly” which ‘explores the balance of power that exists in every relationship.’ It sounds like a cool physical theatre thing and is part of the Wellington Circus Festival. Billed as “an award winning portrayal of a relationship of a man, a woman and the 7 Deadly Sins” I figured I should do a quick recap of the 7 deadlies before I went.

It turns out there’s more than one traditional list of seven things you should not do. There’s also a number of websites and quizzes which can tell you which sin will send you to hell…interesting but completely useless for this exercise. Quite remarkable really. I thought there would be a nice short list that I could have a quick look at. Hopefully I’ll be able to tell what the sins this team have used during the show.

I like circus and acrobatics and physical theatre. The things that some people can do with their bodies just amazes me. I’d love to be able to do the same but alas, I am hopelessly unskilled in that area. I read somewhere that part of what they do is technique rather than strength. Check out that photo where they are horizontal on the poles though – you don’t get to look like that from ‘technique’ only!

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Happy as bro, it’s Monday

Today I braved the queue for the chance to get a $20 ticket from the Festival caravan. I was there from 10.55am ish (tickets om sale from 12.30pm.  If you’re planning to do the same – take your jacket. The sun is behind the buildings all morning and it’s freezing.)  I missed out on my first choice but managed to get a ticket to something that I was planning to see on Tuesday – Happy as Larry.

Apparently it’s based on the enneagram of nine personality types. They’re doing an Art Talk tomorrow so I’ll be able to find out more about that aspect of it.  The dancers were very talented and had some excellent choreography to play with.  They were crisp in their movements.  I liked the use of the moving wall to slip between scenes.  It was also used as a chalkboard (including the most ingenious direction to turn off cellphones) a climbing wall, a dance partner, a diving board and an instruction sheet.  Although there were several pieces that showed how humans like to one-up each other the overall feeling I got was one of positivity and happiness.

I think the people I know enjoyed it too – there were a few reenactments going on in the foyer afterwards.

Sniper update: Last seen on his cell phone in a store window.

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Taking a chance on music #NZfest

Sunday's festivalling was a bit of a mixed bag.?? I thought I'd take a punt on some of the musical things.?? (It's not that I don't like music but a couple of years pushing buttons in a radio station means that I blank a lot of it out.)?? After buying my $20 ticket to Peaks of Cloud at the festival caravan I called into the gallery to have a look at the abstract art of Milan Mrkusich.?? I especially like the large blue one (which might be called 'darkness' or it might be called 'blue.).?? It reminded me of a galaxy far, far away.?? Very contemplative.?? #win

The first of my three muscial things was a short talk by David Downes on two of his short films.?? Since he was billed in the Music sesion of the Festival he concentrated on describing the sound/music side of the films.?? One of them was made up of everyday noises set to images.?? This influenced his second film 'Generation' which had a piano track at its core.?? I found it interesting to hear that he applied for the Creative NZ grant (who he thanked several times) because he'd been writing a lot of music for dance and was tired of not being able to control the dancers.?? He ended up playing the piano himself instead of hiring someone to do it for him.?? I'd like to hear him talk about the animation in the film too and whether the images came first or the music.?? He said that it was based on a poem he wrote a long time ago (the words are included in the film.) #win

A quick coffee stop then back to the Town Hall to watch "Breath of wind."?? After the very interesting Karlheinz Stockhausen's Helicopter String Quartet I was expecting interesting things from the 'sound and video work featuring 17 hot air balloons and the Levin Brass Band'.?? Shouldn't have got my hopes up.?? I think I stayed there as long as I did mostly from disbelief that it was anything other than filming a bunch of band members warming up while being drowned out by the roar of the balloon gas. Transfixed by the audacity.?? #wtfArt

My final show was a recital by Keith Lewis (tenor) and pianist Michael Houstoun (pianist).?? They covered 300 years of music.?? I have to be honest and say that it wasn't my bag.?? They were very talented and I did like some of the individual pieces.?? Favourites – the measured timing of the first piece "So when the glittering Queen of night" (Henry Purcell – realization by Benjamin Britten (don't know what that means);?? As it is plenty W.H. Auden (part of On this Island by Benjamin Britten (don't know what that means either.)?? They also performed the world premiere of 'Peaks of Cloud: a song cycle for tenor and piano; with poems by Janet Frame; composer Jenny McLeod.?? The women behind me loved it.?? The man sitting next to her didn't. (Hilariously he said that he guessed he had to move with the times and that he was from Timaru (a town with special significance for NZ Twitter users.))?? I didn't really like the dissonance but it might improve on a second listen (I very rarely like something on the first go. Usually it takes 3 or 4 .)?? My favourite from that set was the poem called "Lament for Lakes" which is in a made up language.?? (I'd like to hear what NZ rock bands could make of some of Frame's poems.) #meh

So interesting but not entirely successful.

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NZ International Festival of the Arts


I’m at the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts for a few days.  Yay!  (I’ve wanted to get here for ages and everything has just fallen into place this year.)  I’ll have photos up in a couple of weeks (don’t want to leech all the wifi in this house…like last time *OOPS*).

There are lots of free events on during the festival.  Today was the start of “Revolt of the Mannequins“.  It’s several stories that develop through scenes in shop windows using mannequins as models.  There are ten stories scattered around the CBD.  (Pick up a map from the festival caravan or download the PDF.  I’m intrigued by the mannequin who has been shot by the sniper on the Kirks roof.)  It’s as much a treasure hunt as anything else.  The tableaus blend into general shop fronts.  Tip – look for a bunch of people on the pavement.

At lunch time I was in the City Gallery for ‘Watch This Space’ a site-specific dance improvisation by the Footnote dancers.  (Some of the people there were obviously unaware that something was happening.  I overheard them asking each other if they should call the gallery staff.)  There are several galleries – the creative director was amused by people running like ‘lemmings’ from space to space.  I stayed up in the galleries displaying Séraphine Pick’s work not realising that there were more dancers downstairs.  After a 20 minute display of athleticism and grace the dancers gathered downstairs to perform a short excerpt from MTYLand.  They are possibly going to have a repeat performance next week after their secondary school workshops.  (These will be in the gallery as well. I really like the trend towards performances/rehersals that aren’t confined to traditional performance spaces.  It seems to me that it helps break the idea that ‘culture’ is only for a small selction of society.)

After that I nipped over to the Wellington Town Hall to have a look at “Music in the eye” an exhibition of graphic scores by NZ composers.  Basically the composers were interpreting music as art.  At least I think that’s what it was…I like the ones that were reminiscient of crop circle diagrams. 

My final free thing for the day was a film.  “Stockhausen’s Helicopter String Quartet” was about the process involved in staging Karlheinz Stockhausen’s piece of music for a string quartet and four helicopters.  Completely mad but also very compelling.  I can’t figure out why it’s billed as ‘controversial’ unless it is the idea of using helicopters in music.  Is is music?  Is it art? Is it a spectacle?  I reckon it’s all three. (My favourite scene – when the four helicopters are hovering and moving in a line down the runway and the soundtrack is only ambient countryside with the sound of wind and buzzing flies.)

I’ve also been to a couple of the Art Talks which I’m finding fascinating.  Another show tonight then hopefully off to the Pacific Blue Festival Club for drinks.  So far so good!

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Apollo 13 : Mission Control

This is a show where the audience are part of the cast.  It’s based on the story of the Apollo 13 Mission.  The Hackman creative team have worked hard to balance the story with interactivity. 

Here’s how it works.

There is a core cast who determine the direction of the story from the floor.  They play the lead team in Mission Control as well as two of the three astronauts.  There are two ticket options.  The slightly more expensive option is for Console seating where you get to play the part of a controller.  You could be a surgeon, communicator, Navy representative, booster controller or a number of other roles.  There are tasks to complete and notes to write.  You choose how much you want to do.  The cheaper option is to be part of the Press Gallery and just watch the action.  One lucky audience member also gets to be the guest astronaut for the night.

Go see this show.  Trust me.

Apollo 13: Mission Control at NZ International Arts Festival
On until 9 March 2010, tickets $43 (Console seating sold out.)

Apollo 13: Mission Control at Sydney Opera House, The Studio
20-28 March 2010

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Backstage story – The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde


Another interesting Backstage with the Auckland Theatre Company.  (I sat next to a teacher who is on sabbatical for the year. He’s intern-ing with them for this production, furthering his skills in design and technical implementation.  Watch out next year kids! It’s going to be awesome.)

The night was MC’d by Colin McColl, ATC’s Artistic Director and director of this iteration of “The Importance of Being Earnest“.  He last directed it 20 years ago and is relishing the opportunity to look for new things in the play.  He describes it as “delicious and treacherous”.  Oscar was commenting on aristocrats and theatre and literature and behaviour and society. The play is essentially about aristocrats behaving badly…so they’ve taken inspiration from celebs rolling out of nightclubs, being busted by the police etc. The characters ‘live expensive lives in a bubble where the real world is kept away by money and priviledge. It’s high artifice.’  The cast are ‘discovering subversive things under the text.’   Colin described it as a “voyage of discovery”.  He said the actors were being very generous and that “some of them have extraordinary takes on the characters.”

It’s based in a society in the midst of change.  John Parker, Set Designer, explored options for the set design…most of which won’t be on the stage.  On the night he said that they’d “taken off in a different direction” that day. I think they pack in (to the theatre) on the weekend so I hope he manages to pin something down!  Some of the phrases he was using to describe the process were: facades and pretense; photographers studio; shift; when people and roles merge; opulent trappings; gangster.  He’s being influenced by Colin who stated that he was “very anti sets at the moment.”  (He wants audiences to be aware of the mundane nature of the theatre space.)

Costume designer, Elizabeth Whiting, reiterated that the process was very organic.  She said that everyone starts from a common base for the play so that there is a logical progression to the ideas that are tossed around.  She finds a series of images that say something about the character to her. Costumes say a ‘lot of different things about the characters the actors have built’.  Gwendolyn’s costume has a Lady Gaga influence which I can’t wait to see. Elizabeth  is also using the green carnation in the costumes.

Someone asked how the cast/crew are keeping the play relevant given that they’ve created (or will create) their own world.  The immediate answer was “There are still snobs.” (Everyone laughed.)  ‘There are different levels even in classless society. You’re judged on your shoes, your home. They tend to stick together with old friends, they network in an area, don’t stray too far.’  (Which was acknowledged as true of most of us.)  Colin talked about the idea of double identity, double lives and how the characters appear one way to one group of people and another way to another group of people. He felt his role was to ‘define but not limit the possibilities of interpretation’. The play satirises things about our lifestyles as well. Cameron Rhodes (who was in the production 20 years ago) agreed.  ‘There’s a public and a private persona. Hypocrisy is being exposed in this play’  Laurel Devenie said that the characters were ‘constructing their own truth; choosing the next piece of reality to put on.’

Colin has deliberately chosen not to esplore the gay subtext in this production. Oscar included jokes for his friends which are interesting to know but they can’t be played for a comtemporary audience as the code words and references don’t exist in our society.  (Colin then did an amusing little sketch and mimed jumping out at the audience playing a Footnote* “this is funny because…this is funny because…”)  He said that all the characters were eccentrics – it’s a play full of complete nutters. (The cast however are a ‘joy to work with, fun to find rebelliousness.’)

The biggest challenge for the actors is the language. The sentences are quite long and need to be spoken with effortless energy.  It’s a modern style of performance using old language which Colin described as “tricksy”.  Ash Jones  (who I think is playing Algernon) said that ‘Shakespeare gives you the energy because of the poetry but Oscar is quite different.’  Elizabeth Hawthorne (Lady Bracknell) said that ‘the language is unto itself. The play is written from a particular outsiders viewpoint’ and that she had to ‘make that mine.’

Lisa Chappell (Hon. Gwendolen Fairfax) and Adam Gardiner (John (“Jack”) Worthing) acted out the engagement scene for us.  Adam had a nice line in heavy-lidded, slightly sleazy self confidence which is what I was thinking about as Parker and Whiting were describing the world these character live in. (I’m wondering if they’ll play out the sense of entitlement that I was thinking about as well.)  Lisa talked about how difficult it was to explore opposites. The characters are ‘trivial about important things. important about trivial things.’ It ‘goes against every fibre of her being, not to connect’.  She feels her character is quite cool.  (I think her performance in the tiny snippet was wonderfully self-absorbed; a wide-eyed “well of course you love me!”)

Final sum up – I think that people who are familiar with the script are going to be surprised by this performance. 

The importance of being Earnest by Oscar Wilde
Maidment Theatre 11 March – 03 April
Tickets $52-$57

*Footnote *hahaha* with trivial information…
Another question from the audience – New plays are often workshopped, was this play workshopped originally?  Colin said that no, it wasn’t but the Theatre Manager suggested that the original four act play was cut to three. Oscar cut the act out. There is apparently another act but that act not out of copyright so it isn’t performed much. He says that it ‘doesnt really matter’ as the play is ‘much snappier without it.’

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