Best of 2017 – Basement Theatre Interviews

Two years ago the Basement Theatre asked whether I might be interested in writing for their blog. It’s been a pleasure and privilege to interview creators about their shows. Here are some highlights of the 31 published last year.

Eliza Sanders on Castles

How would you describe the show in a sentence?

Nonsense revealing truth. Dance, song, absurdist text and colourful costumes – a woman lets you into her subconscious as she experiences an amusing, bemusing journey.

What inspired the show?

So many things! – David Bowie songs, ridiculous situations I’ve found myself in, hilarious things I overhear people saying, the movie Chicken Run, chickens in general, word play, absurd poetry, Robin Williams, looking at a lake upside-down so the water becomes the sky, Kate Bush, love affairs, broken hearts, broken china, traveling.

Natalie Maria Clark and Georgie Silk on All The Feelings

What inspired the show?

A call for help at a stupid hour of the night, followed by a gentle nudge to write some words. This show is a palimpsest of stories collected from our lives. Our friends and your friends – friends you stay up all night with, talking shit together whilst hanging upside down on the couch. The subtext that lies underneath those seemingly superficial conversations – the complexities of platonic relationships that we hide or suppress. Friends that you see every day. Friends you drift apart from. Friends you call at midnight to cry into a your cold dinner with. Friends you drive to the beach with at 2am. Friends who disappoint you. Friends who you’re a disappointment for. Friends who are only your friends because you collide with them frequently. Friends who are needy. Friends who call or text two, six, ten times a day. Feelings. All the feelings. Fucking feelings.

What are the central questions, themes, or conflicts that lie at the heart of the work for you?

Why is it so bloody hard to talk to the people we’re closest to? Shouldn’t they love us no matter what? When do we cross the line? How much can you take? Why do we always feel so goddamm sad? What’s the best way get to sleep – counting sheep? Drinking six cups of tea? Pulling the covers up over your head? Why is it raining outside? We miss the rain… we miss how it makes us feel. Why do we run away from painful stuff? It’s never really going to get any better or worse. Why do we run away from things that make us upset, instead of just saying, “I am really upset!”? Why are human beings so silly and intricate and beautifully pitiful?

Uther Dean on Everything is Surrounded by Water and A Public Airing of Grievances

Give us some background on these shows

The thing that interested me the most was how to take these comic anecdotes about how much I love yogurt, the summer I worked at a Christian summer camp and how I’m the worst superhero in the world and connect them into a whole narrative that will satisfy the audience.

How much real life experience is captured in them?

They’re all 100% true and real in my eyes. It just really depends on the angle you look at the words true and real from. Did everything I saw happen? Well, no. But since when has something actually happening mattered when it comes to how true or real things feel? Like, while I was writing these answers, I had a nap, and had a horrifying stress nightmare about how I was doing this doublebill at my primary school and the only person who’d shown up was me aged five, that was, emotionally, the realest thing that’s happened to me all week. Which is to say that while most of both stories did actually happen, the stuff in them that didn’t still comes from a place of truth. It’s what David Sedaris calls “True enough for you.”

Where do you draw your inspiration from?

With ‘Grievances’ I knew the pile needed to be shaped like stand-up comedy and sound like it was about how much time we spend breaking other people’s hearts but I didn’t know what the pile was made of until I started rubbing stuff together. Now it’s a pile of ‘The Walking Dead’ video game by Telltale, the song ‘Frisky’ by Tinie Tempah, my relationship with my body, Steven Moffat’s ‘Doctor Who,’ a good tweet I once did, every time anyone has ever kissed me and a bunch of other stuff.

What reaction are you hoping the shows get?

Both of these stories are ultimately about empathy and how to be good people (which is the hardest thing any of us will ever do). When I tell an audience a story or a joke, we are in communion, connected stronger than we ever would be in the real world, in a state of heightened empathy. The Basement is already one of the most psychically layered and complex complexes in the country so when we flood it with empathy, understanding and laughter for one week, it will not be able to contain it and waves of understanding will flood the city and, if we’re lucky, the whole world.

Please come to my shows, the world depends on it.

Arlo and Ash on Non Flower Elements

What inspired the show?

We both felt a sense of sadness around self and decided to look right into that sucker. Also, Ash went to Splore and liked watching bands.

How would you like the show to make the audience feel?

That they are just perfect and for all those million times when they have felt inconsequential. That they are not strange oddities. That they are wonderful and obviously human. That the sadness is just normal.

Robyn Paterson on South Afreakins

Has developing the show changed your views on your family and the identity of home?

I think it’s really homed in the idea that for some people, the older you get, home isn’t found in places anymore but it’s found more within the people that you surround yourself with. My family and I still feel very much like we’re South African, even having been here for 24 years, but I think “home” is now felt when we’re with each other and our extended family as opposed to a place.

Leo Gene Peters on Don Juan

Without giving too much away what can you tell us about the show?

You know those friends who always get you into trouble when you go out together? It’s as if these guys are throwing a party. It’s chaos.

Any favourite moments from developing / rehearsing the show?

I can remember the one Friday afternoon in the first week of rehearsals when we were first creating the show in 2016. It was about 4pm and we were all delirious from the long week. We were literally in hysterics for about 5 minutes: actually rolling on the floor with laughter. I don’t remember any of the jokes or offers that were made (and we definitely didn’t use any of them in the show). From any rational perspective, it was an inefficient few hours of making and could easily be considered a waste of time. We were all being very vulgar and completely profane.

But reflecting on that moment I think it was very important for the work. The chaos, the profanity, the joy, the absolute hysterics we were in are hugely important to the culture of our company that we continue to build every time we rehearse or perform. Working like this means we are able to unlock that feeling for the audience. It’s a very intimate thing to laugh together and play together…we tend to reserve it for our close friends (and maybe our family if we’re lucky)… but if strangers on the street came up and started interacting with us like that we’d think they were crazy, being antagonistic or hostile … or at least wonder what they wanted from us. To be able to safely and freely celebrate in this way is invaluable for community.

Julia Croft on If There’s Not Dancing at the Revolution, I’m Not Coming

This is it’s third run at the Basement Theatre, why do you think it has been so successful?

That is so hard to say from within it – but I hope it’s because we still are lacking angry women on our stages and people are still hungry to see female centred work. Because it has humour and joy mixed with it’s anger. And because it has confetti cannons and champagne. Who doesn’t love confetti cannons!

Julia Croft on Power Ballad

How did the concept for the show come about?

Through a strange and serendipitous series of events as is often the way with conceptualising shows. Mostly reading Revolt She Said, Revolt Again by Alice Birch, (which coincidentally ended up playing at Basement at the same time as Power Ballad) and the misogynic train wreck that was the 2016 US election and the implicit gendered narratives that were played out in the politics and media of that time, as well as a lifetime of feeling the ways in which language was used against me as a woman and the ways I felt (and still feel) that language can be an impossible bind for women. That and a long held love for impossibly uncool 80s music and Karaoke. I like to think it’s my super power.

Alice Canton on Petrouchka Re-imagined

What are the central questions, themes, or conflicts that lie at the heart of the work for you?

The story is bizarre and haunting, and in a contemporary context both poignant and problematic. It reveals the frailty of the human spirit, and embodied states of loneliness, desire, and destruction. There are three main lines of inquiry: the ballet (plot; characters; iconography etc); the socio-historic context of the ballet (influences; symbolism; Nijinsky/Nureyev etc); and finally the RNZB 1993 version (and my own relationship to the work). See, there’s heaps: shouldn’t have opened that can of worms.

Bron Batten on Onstage Dating

What’s the worst date you’ve ever been on?

I met a very handsome Portugese man whose opening line was about how he had irritable bowel syndrome but I met a man in London who was quite possibly on cocaine the entire time. He was a self-proclaimed ‘reiki master’ who chain smoked cigarettes but didn’t drink alcohol because it polluted the body’s energy channels. It got to the point where I was stabbing myself in the leg with my own fingernails every time he opened his mouth, just so I could distract myself from what he was saying and focus on the pain instead- which was infinitely more pleasant. Eventually I thought someone was going to jump out with a video camera and say it was all a joke and that he was an actor trained especially in repelling women. Except that it wasn’t. It was my life.

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