STILL LIFE WITH CHICKENS: a reading

Three chickens at Fortress Mamea (West Auckland), 2011.

Auckland Theatre Company are hosting a reading of Still Life With Chickens next week.

Directed by Andrew Foster, featuring Goretti Chadwick, Julia Croft, and Fasitua Amosa, with a workshop chicken puppet by Katie Parker, and under the watchful dramaturgical eye of Philippa Campbell Jo Smith, it’ll be 45 minutes of laughs, clucking and gardening.

If you’re in the neighbourhood next Thursday, check it out:

  • Thursday 4 May 2017 at 4:30pm
  • Auckland Theatre Company Studios
    487 Dominion Road
    Mount Eden
    Auckland

Manuia.

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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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Hypothesis One

Click me for more details

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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Openings

The play I’ve been doodling with is slowly coalescing. So far I have notes aplenty about character, background, theme, motivation – you know, all that stuff that gives me warm fuzzles – almost everything. Except a story.

Pshaw! I hear you say. Mere details! I agree, like, totally.

So here I am, a few months on, and all I have is the first scene:

The stage is in DARKNESS. A hint of CITY SOUNDS – cars passing, honking in the distance. A BLAST OF TECHNO MUSIC as –

BOUNCER

(unseen)

I gave you fair warning so – get – OUT!

TWO BODIES crash onto the stage as the TECHNO MUSIC is muted with the SLAM of a FIRE-DOOR CLOSING. BEAT.

DAVE

(unseen)

Ow. Ow. I think he broke my elbow. Ow.

BEN

(unseen)

Good. I hope it hurts.

LIGHTS ON so we see DAVE and BEN lying on the stage, their heads to the audience.

BEN FEPULEA’I is a thickset New Zealand-born Samoan in his twenties, his trendy clothes always a little tight to emphasise his musculature.

DAVE TAN is a slim New Zealand Chinese also in his twenties, conservatively dressed but with little flourishes of ‘personality’.

BEN

(sits up)

This is all your fault.

DAVE

My -?!

(is about to sit up but -)

Ow! Ow. Ow.

BEN

My beer -.

(scrambles to his feet)

My beer!

DAVE

Ben, don’t make a scene –

Ben pounds on the nightclub door.

BEN

I PAID TEN BUCKS FOR THAT BEER!

No response from the nightclub.

BEN

BASTARDS!

He goes to his friend who’s still on the ground.

BEN

This is all your fault!

DAVE

We were just talking!

BEN

The next time we’re talking about the differences between cultures, use me as your prop rather than some random guy, okay?

Dave takes the outstretched hand and is soon beside Ben, brushing himself off.

DAVE

Some people have no sense of humour –

BEN

You dropped to your knees and unzipped some guy’s pants!

DAVE

I was making a cultural point. Anyway, you would’ve made a bad example.

(off Ben)

You’re my best friend.

LIGHTS OUT for a scene change.

This got an airing a month or so ago, largely because a). a gathering of writers needed something to sink their teeth into, and b). I’d left my prep a little last minute.

After the group reading, an uppity actor asked, Of all the different ways you could’ve introduced these two friends, why this way?

I confessed that although I’d written a whole lot around my idea for the play I hadn’t given much thought to the logistics of theatre. Then I had a what-if? moment: what if it started with the actors lying on the stage before the audience? I suppose I worked backwards from that, making up dialogue and movement would answer the burning question of how come they’re lying on the stage, as well as establish their friendship and dynamic.

It’s rough. And clunky. Even though it read okay out loud. And it’s a start.

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Blatant Name Dropping

Earlier in the week I attended Playmarket‘s 2008 Pasifika Playwrights Development Forum. Fellow BREAK survivor and newly appointed Playmarket development coordinator, Jenni Heka, was responsible for my attendance: she’s scary.

In my experience, Pasifika* gatherings have been the last place to have a good time. I’ve felt out of place at them, like I’ve gatecrashed someone’s birthday party. Most have been a combination of boring gabfest, bitch sessions, and/or a mob hysteria where one had to choose sides or get the hell out.

Not so this week. It wasn’t once boring. Instead of “woe is me” rants, we had fire and passion – where outsiders might’ve seen some rabble-rousing radicalism, I saw empowerment by example and vision. And everyone – everyone – was so freaking nice. There was an atmosphere of collegiality, of a common goal of telling Pasifika stories. A feeling of community.

I hadn’t expected to be so inspired: seeing my competition fellow Pasifika creatives making things happen; swapping numbers and email addresses; making contact. Future posts will explore the culture scene thingie (obviously, I’m still sorting it out in my head) but for now I’ll just name drop:

  • Insiders Guide to Happiness lead, Fasitua Amosa (Samoan);
  • Royal Court Theatre head, Ola Animashawun, who provided his dramaturgy services to the forum;
  • Love Handles and Miss South Pacific writer Arnette Arapai (Niue);
  • Actors Equity representative, Teresa Brown;
  • director, screenwriter, fellow guild member, and all-round gentleman, Tony Forster;
  • award-winning playwright and actor Dianna Fuemana (Niue/Samoan);
  • And What Remains writer, Miria George (Rarotongan/Cook Islands);
  • writer, director, producer, comedian and Killa Kokonut, Vela Manusaute (Samoan), who is many things because he simply gets it on;
  • established playwright and currently New Zealand Film Commission development executive, Hone Kouka (Maori);
  • New Zealand acting icon Nathaniel Lees (Samoan);
  • Fulbright scholar and playwright, Victor Rodger (Samoan/Scottish);
  • Phoenix Seve, whose work-in-development In the Name of the Father was given a public reading by professional actors and I was simultaneously electrified and brought to tears – and it’s still in development;
  • BREAK survivor and actor, the irrepressible Bronwyn Turei (Maori);
  • and writer and filmmaker, Louise Tu’u (Samoan), who also showcased some scenes from her work-in development, Providence, which is my must-see for 2008.

So many names that I recognised, whose work I’d seen and adored. And I got to meet them! For real! It was so cool!

I must get out more.

* Note for international readers: in New Zealand, Pasifika means of Pacific Island origin, ie., not Maori. Here in New Zild, the Maori and Pacific Island population are already such a part of the Kiwi culture that to call them ethnic minorities, though statistically correct, would be like describing African Americans as an ethnic minority. We all be Kiwis here.

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