Last month, Auckland Theatre Company‘s Literary Manager, Philippa Campbell, invited the Goodbye My Feleni crew to join ATC’s 2013 Making Scenes programme. We accepted, of course. What this means is we get a two-day workshop with a public reading on Thursday 25 July 2013, 6:30pm at ATC, Mount Eden War Memorial Hall, Lower Ground Floor, 487 Dominion Road, Mount Eden.
Shadon & Amelia will be directing, Jenni is producing, and yours truly will be on hand to eat the actors’ morning and afternoon teas. Speaking of which (cue shameless name-dropping), assisting us with this stage of Goodbye My Feleni‘s development are:
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.
You think you’ve got plenty of time, you actually do have plenty of time, and then the production crosses the rubicon and you realise that opening night is less than three weeks away – that’s less than the total number of digits on your body, which means that it’s not far away at all.
Yes: panic and hysteria are never far away from this writer.
Yes: this writer has full confidence in the team his producer has thrown together – haven’t you been reading his rehearsal reports? He thinks they’re just awesome.
So you’re wondering what the hell my problem is. I’ve attended most of the rehearsals so far, catching the odd word like provocation and motivation here and there,and the directors and actors haven’t been referring all that much to the script. Y’know, the 95-pages I slaved over, foregoing countless hours of Call of Duty and Left 4 Dead, a belated catch up with The Sopranos and Deadwood.
I think the real reason for my anxiety is that I’m experiencing in real-time and -life the once vicarious thrill and frisson of being in the middle of something bigger, something of which I can only discern a small part – not unlike the jollies I get with each rewatching of The Wire or laboriously rereading of my Alan Moore collection.
Further to my earlierburblings, 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.
Watching a director and actors in rehearsal is not unlike watching a kitten at play with an unfortunate cricket: at first it can be baffling but then you realise why the feline is doing it (better hunting through play) while the process is alternatingly cute and cruel.
Watching director Amelia Reid-Meredith work with actors Taofia Pelesasa, Samson Chan-Boon, Leki Jackson Bourke and Andy Sani using exercises, provocations and other actorly-technical-stuff was mostly baffling for this writer.
And yet… seeing the actors begin to get under the skin of not only their characters but the story and its milieu was exciting to observe. This wasn’t just some let’s pretend kind of thing going on – it was about understanding the how and why, and how that knowledge just seeps through to the performance in such a way that within an instant on walking stage, it’s not just an actor reciting lines and hitting marks – it’s a person in the middle of their story and the audience is right there with them.
As one of the characters keeps saying in the script: Phwoah.
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.
The plan for the first rehearsal was for Jack the Military Consultant to put the actors – Samson Chan-Boon, Leki Jackson Bourke and Andy Sani – through their paces on how to move and drill like enlisted men while co-director Shadon Meredith observed, and I recorded the rehearsal for posterity. Sickness delayed Jack’s attendance so we had three boys ready to rehearse but nothing to do. Anyone with experience with actors (or children) knows that idleness inevitably leads to mischief. A new plan was needed.
Yes, the annual independence day schools’ march past in Samoa. I hereby acknowledge the brothers at Chanel College and the teachers at Samoa College for basic drill instructions that I have somehow retained a quarter-century later. These were dusted off and reapplied to the boys. Then – thank you, fond memories of Stripes and a rifle drill manual – some basic rifle drills were practised. And then – thank you, Youtube – a couple of bayonet drills were practised.
And you know what? Sure the details may be a bit sketchy but keep in mind it’s only the first rehearsal – and what quickly became apparent on the floor was that there’s something about three guys moving, marching and drilling in sync that immediately conveys soldiering, camaraderie and discipline. Exactly what the play needs.