GOODBYE MY FELENI: Village People

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Yes: it takes a village.

I’m sure you’re sick to death of the faces of the production.  I’m pretty sure you’ll soon be sick to the back teeth about the principals behind the production.

This post is about those who helped make it happen:

  • Ruby our Lighting Designer-slash-Operator-slash-Stage Manager Extraordinaire – Ruby has a calmness that I envy, a presence that I’m pretty sure averted moments of hands-around-other-people’s-throats and huffy walk-outs;
  • the Basement team who sold tickets, poured drinks and always had a sympathetic word or smile for a sweaty, thirsty, writer – Sophie, Charlie (no, the other one), John, and Alex – with particular thanks to Pete whose striking mop of hair and an abundance of nothing-is-impossible attitude got us sorted into the theatre space;
  • our lovely ushers who helped out during our season – Abigail, Beulah, Christina, and Maaka;
  • and our PR team – Kristina of Little Miss Publicity, and Qiane of Qreative Native – what can I say but AWESOME EXPOSURE!

To youse all:  Fa’afetai tele lava.

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GOODBYE MY FELENI: Interlude

Okay, so The Goddess and I snuck down to the capital for some time-in with cafes and restaurants and a wee bit of shopping, and Goodbye My Feleni was awarded the 2013 Adam Award for Best New Pasifika Play.

Which meant that I missed a day-long rehearsal which I should have been apprehensive about missing. But you know what? At the preceding rehearsal, the directors and actors generously granted my wishes of workshopping all remaining scenes and providing some audio for a teaser which I knocked together below. And I’ve finally come to understand the method to the directors’ ah, method.

Which is a typically long-winded way of saying that whilst I was tucking into a ribeye steak (rare) and/or churros for breakfast, I spared nary a thought for pre-production because it’s in good hands. Seriously.

So yeah. The awards. I shared space with fellow winners Paul Buckley, Renae Maihi, Philip Braithwaite and Hannah McKie. Big ups to Playmarket for the event – effervescent director Murray Lynch, the sartorially elegant Salesi Le’ota, and ever imperturbable Stuart Hoar. And a wonderful chat was had with Circa manager Linda Wilson who let slip that Circa Theatre – just like the Basement Theatre – has a risk-share model for incoming productions; something to bring up with Producer Jenni when the season is over.

Our final week of rehearsals commenced tonight. In my absence, lines have been cut, props have been introduced that are not in the script, and concepts have been introduced to me that I have difficulty visualising – but you know what? They all seem to work.

As always, the level of achievement I get in this collaboration is not what I expected.

It’s exceeded.

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Le Tonu

Polynesian Laboratory: Max Palamo, Fasitua Amosa, Beulah Koale, and Shadon Meredith. (Absent: Amelia Reid-Meredith.)
Polynesian Laboratory: Max Palamo, Fasitua Amosa, Beulah Koale, and Shadon Meredith. (Absent: Amelia Reid-Meredith.)

Further to my earlier burblings, it’s only fair to give my thoughts on the latest iteration of P Lab’s latest work*. Le Tonu (The Decision) spends a day – the birthday of the family patriarch – with three generations of a Samoan family, each with its expectations of life both in New Zealand and in the 21st century.

The actor’s are more polished in their roles – to be expected in a second go-round – and just as near pitch-perfect as last time. The direction is tighter and nigh invisible – the pacing, movement and tone enough to move me to tears again. And the story – very relevant to any adult with parents well into their retirement years – is as sharply told and succinctly performed as before.  It doesn’t overstay its welcome – its hour-long running time is over before you notice it – and grips from beginning to end.

So was I as enamoured of this run as last year? No. This is due in large part to my familiarity with the plot – a lot of the material has carried over from its maiden season, with some beats deepened, and others dropped (and obviously not missed) – and with familiarity a few flaws and Hitchcockian fridge-moments can be discerned.  It’s thanks to the collective’s active ingredients of talent, experience and skills that an entertaining and moving evening of theatre is pretty much guaranteed.

Do I recommend this to friends, family and random strangers?  If they missed last year’s run, then absolutely.  If, like me, friends/family/strangers have seen the previous season and loved it, then I’d suggest that it’s optional – they certainly won’t be disappointed if they revisit the old man’s birthday party.

Disclosure:  the co-directors, Shadon Meredith & Amelia Reid-Meredith, are directing the 2013 premiere season of Goodbye My Feleni, while P Lab principal Fasitua Amosa was in To’ona’i.

*  Don’t worry: reviews of local/ethnic theatre will be rare things here.

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Hypothesis One – Afterword

It took a meeting with Ole Maiava to crystallise my “[still processing my] almost visceral cultural reaction” to last year’s Hypothesis One. It took the phrase “what came before” in terms of Pasifika theatre to make me realise why the piece stood out so much.

Sure, it was a Pasifika story – and not a new one, truth be told – and yes, it spoke to me in a cultural/ethnic and personal way. It had wonderful acting. Excellent direction. Technical stuff that was invisible which meant the whole was seamless.

What I had witnessed was professional theatre.

All too often, the Pasifika theatre I’ve watched has been self-conscious and either presented as just entertainment or entertainment-with-a-message. For me and my very limited theatre-going/research budget, there is:

  • entertainment – the easy laughs, the bear-with-us-we’re-only-humble-performers, and the rush to production;
  • and then there is engagement: that there is a point to the whole of the performance, that care is taken to respect both the material and audience, and that craft and skill will elevate the theatre experience to something nearing an out-of-body experience.

I knew there was a good reason why I hazarded “a pointer to the future of Pasifika theatre” in my original post: Hypothesis One engaged me on more levels than I expected. I don’t think I’ve walked away from Pasifika theatre like this since… my first ever holy-shit-wow introduction to it two decades ago as an audience member.

And lookee here: they’re back with Le Tonu.

Disclaimer: this post is all my doing, with no nudges, winks, or complimentary tickets from the P Lab.

Disclosure: Shadon Meredith & Amelia Reid-Meredith, co-directors of Hypothesis One are directing the 2013 premiere season of Goodbye My Feleni, while P Lab principal Fasitua Amosa was in To’ona’i.

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GOODBYE MY FELENI: Order of Battle

The "Goodbye My Feleni" cast (left to right): Taofia Pelesasa, Samson Chan-Boon,Leki Jackson Bourke, Andy Sani
The “Goodbye My Feleni” cast (left to right): Taofia Pelesasa, Samson Chan-Boon, Leki Jackson Bourke, Andy Sani

We don’t have stocktakes or inspection days at Fortress Mamea where the menagerie present themselves front and centre with clean nails and shiny coats.

We do have a standing order of battle: our Forward Operating Base (FOB) Pi*, The Dog, The Goldfish, and The Chickens. I like to keep The Amphibian, The Kaimanawa Pony (Goddess permitting) and The Kitten** in reserve.

The Goodbye My Feleni production also has its order of battle:

Rehearsals commence next week.  I’ve gone cold turkey on Left 4 Dead II in order to finish the last draft of the script.  And our faithful and loyal avatar, Chocolate Stigmata, has gotten itself a twitter account.

At Goodbye My Feleni HQ this phase of operation is not called ‘getting one’s ducks in a row’ – Jenni insists that we  call it getting ready to stomp on your shit.

* Pi – Samoan for honeybee (pronounced ‘pee’), rather than the Greek letter and irrational number.
** Yes, an update on the expanded menagerie will follow, complete with pictures for your desktop, laptop and phone wallpapers.

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Hypothesis One

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P Lab‘s maiden production, Hypothesis One: a compound reaction from New Zealand Samoans, is a devised piece that is not the kind of theatre I generally have in mind for an evening out. The main reason for my knee-jerk aversion is “devised” (a natural enough prejudice for a closet control freak writer like myself).

Earlier this evening, The Boy and I went because we had connections (see disclosure below). With only three actors – Fasitua Amosa, Max Palamo and Beulah Koale – a large and varied extended Samoan family is sketched in around a dementing 91 year old grandfather (Palamo), his dutiful adult son (Amosa), and his doting grandson (Koale). That a mere three actors achieved this seamlessly – along with a good few flashbacks – is a tribute to their craft and devising, as well as to their directors. Co-directed by Shadon Meredith and Amelia Reid-Meredith, the play moves, the story develops, and – best of all for me – is beautifully understated.

Sure, the piece is a bit rough in places, and a bit thin – but it is as a theatre experience that it succeeds almost perfectly: I was transported; I was there. And not only that, I’m still processing my almost visceral cultural reaction to the piece – as a Samoan male audience member, I was just floored by it.

Hypothesis One is a pointer to the future of Pasifika theatre: New Zild theatre that’s also Pasifika theatre, and vice versa.

I want me some more.

Disclosure: I’ve had the pleasure of working with Fasitua Amosa and Shadon Meredith, and hope to again – and soon.

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