Couple of interviews I’ve recently done for The Basement, the most exciting and varied theatre in Auckland.Nomi Cohen on her show Hungover (Basement Theatre, 5-9 April 2016)
How would you describe the show in one sentence?
A musical comedy about taking responsibility for our drunken actions.
There’s been quite a few comic musicals recently at the Basement (Twisted, Hiraeth, Jesus Christ Part II), any thoughts on why music and comedy are such a great combination?
I think it’s less to do with music and comedy, and more to do with musical theatre full stop. Last year saw the highest ticket sales in Broadway history which in this age of fast turnaround TV and movies proves that musical theatre is still as strong as it was in the golden age of the MGM classic, and continues to grow. Comedy is a really good way of introducing people to musical theatre in a very digestible way.
How important has first hand research been to developing the show?
First hand research hasn’t been done intentionally per se, but we did discuss the big night that the characters have had and were planning on taking it for a test drive. Unfortunately, we ran out of time, but it might be something we do in the future just for fun. The show has definitely developed from our own experiences. Sometimes a story makes it into the script and sometimes we accidentally spin a yarn for 10 minutes, but the whole process has involved a lot of input from everyone. I think that everyone will be able to relate to what these characters are going through not only with the aftermath of the night before, but with the complexities of their relationships. I think we have all been there.
What has been the most difficult part of the production?
How to market the show in terms of genre. Interestingly, it appears we have opened a dialogue about what exactly a ‘musical’ is. If we were to look at musical theatre as a genre, you could say that we fall into the ‘jukebox musical’ category which is a musical that uses existing songs to create a new story, for example, ‘Mama Mia’ or ‘Rock of Ages’. However, your general theatre-going public doesn’t know of the sub genres and can tend to be put off by the term ‘musical theatre’.
So what about ‘cabaret’?
From the beginning of the process, we shied away from calling it a ‘cabaret’ as we feel that that term also carries a stigma. For most people, sequins, feathers and Liza Minelli are the first thing that comes to mind when you mention that you are doing a cabaret and that cannot be further away from what we are and what cabaret can be.
The main point that we are trying to demonstrate is that music can be a storytelling device and holds a valid place as an artform outside of a big scale musical or a sultry jazz solo.
Finally, what is your favourite hangover inducing beverage?
I can’t go past a good Pinot Gris. Or five…
Alice Canton on her show WHITE / OTHER (Basement Theatre, 12-21 April 2016)
How would you describe the show in one sentence?
A contemplative surreal show that softens a relentlessly inquisitive and analytic discourse around identity.
Were there any particular moments that inspired WHITE / OTHER?
As a young female who identifies as a cultural minority in a White, patriarchic hegemony, you could say my whole life has inspired a show about Otherness.
There has definitely been a series of events in the last 18 months that have accelerated the desire to make this show: Labour pointing the finger at Chinese-sounding last names in Auckland’s housing crisis; the conscious encouragement for New Zealanders to be more inclusive and celebrate “diversity”- and the subsequent resistance; a bunch of color-blind casting decisions that have blown open the debate of the place of yellow-face in a performing arts; and the NZ Herald continuing to propagate yellow peril across their broad social and economic commentary.
New Zealand has always been an immigrant society, how do you think the second generation experience has changed?
I don’t think it has changed that much for some migrant cultures at all. Yes, there is a consistent narrative that tracks the migrant experience of feeling like an alien or a foreigner, which is somewhat of a universal understanding. Yes, there still exists concerns about intergenerational mis-understanding, assimilation, and identity. But sadly, for many visibly “different” cultural communities (different, in this case, to White-passing), this feeling continues for generations and generations, despite being second, third, or fourth generation.
Systems in New Zealand tend to favour some migrants groups over others. For example, statistics show there is a disproportionately high unemployment rate for qualified and tertiary educated Asian migrants, and yet European migrants with overseas qualifications have a higher employment rate here than New Zealand born Asians with local qualifications. Go figure.
You use dance, projection, poetry, and other forms of communication in WHITE / OTHER, how do you decide on the appropriate medium for the message?
I was recently sent an excerpt from Scott McLean’s “Understanding Comics”. It loosely identifies four ‘tribes’ for artists to affiliate with, based on their artistic values. I currently align with The Iconoclast- honesty, vitality, authenticity and unpretentiousness, putting life first. Purpose and ideas are very important to me, as is artistic/dramaturgical investigation. The conventions of dance, poetry, and imagery have a function and also a deeper metaphoric resonants. Because I want to provide space for contemplation and the surreal, it just fits. There must be a relationship between the two- we operate in a post-modern art making context where we don’t need to set on the medium first.
Orangutan was hugely acclaimed, how difficult has it been to follow?
I lie awake at night plotting my failure. No! But the pressure is all internal. To be better. To have learnt something. To have developed. To be consistent. None of these things are helpful. So I just let myself dance with the doubt maybe once a week and put it away for the rest of the time.