“If our audience leaves the theatre and the first thing they say is ‘where are the car keys’ then we haven’t done our job.” [by James Wenley]
Shane Bosher admits he would make a dreadful lawyer “and even worse mechanic”. Good thing then he is the Artistic Director of Auckland’s Silo Theatre Company, a position he has held since 2002, and seems rather quite good at it – turning the company into a theatre force to be reckoned with, and overseeing a number of memorable productions both at the former Silo Theatre space (now known as the Basement) and their new home in The Herald Theatre since 2008.
This year, Shane and the company are embarking on a series of genre busting plays under the season tagline ‘exploded narratives’. These include reimaginings of classicists Ibsen and Moliere, as well as brand new work and a sort of ‘hip hop’ play. The year will see Silo performing at the Herald Theatre and the new Q Theatre, but first up, Silo have teamed up with 42 Below Vodka and are performing, unusually, in a bar.
That play is Did I believe it?, directed by Oliver Driver and written with Jodie Molloy, who Shane says is “responsible for pulling all the dramaturgical strands together and being a bit of a joke doctor, which she’s done on things like the Jacqui Brown diaries and basically anything that Jeremy Wells has ever made”. It stars Toni Potter, Adam Gardiner, Brett O’Gorman and Dean O’Gorman
Oliver Driver had the initial inspiration a number of years ago when he was running Auckland Theatre Company’s 2nd Unit Development program. Together with Frith Walker, now Silo Theatre’s Executive Producer, they would go into clubs and wonder why they never saw these types of people at the theatre. Oliver devised a play with emerging actors about one night in the city, and gave tickets away to people in clubs, who ended up coming to the theatre over the course of the season. The process was repeated the following year and would become the basis of Silo Theatre’s Ensemble Project.
It was a night at the bar last year that Shane and Oliver began to solidify the idea for Did I believe it? Shane continues the story:
For a long time Oliver has been seeking to find new ways to shift the parameters of the audience experience, and we have talked for some time last year about him creating a new work, and we were kind of out in a bar… and actually… out on a night on the town really! And we kind of went… couldn’t we actually deliver something within the environment of bar? So rather than creating something and making all of those people come to us, we actually take it to them. Serendipitously 42 Below at the same time were looking to create something experiential for their adorers, so I suppose that’s where the genesis came from. At the end of last year we went through a development phase with a company of four actors and writer Jodie Molloy and Oliver, and they began to play around with various frameworks and various ideas and out of that Did I believe it? sprung to life.
Partnering with 42 Below seems like such a smart beneficial arrangement in that you get to make theatre, and they get amazing brand promotion…
Ironically the brands are very similar in that they both started in a similar way, and they are both kind of known for their irreverence and pushing the boundaries, so it seems like a really great fit for us, not just in the terms of a relationship, but through this platform, we stroke each other’s back in a way. Which is cool, and unexpected too. Relationships of this ilk don’t come along very often, so we are thrilled to be able to create something within this genre.
Did I believe it? is also inspired by ITV’s late 70s science/edutainment program Experiment, whose format proved so popular that it was copied by similar programs and delivered throughout the colonies by their various state broadcasters. “The thing that was so funny about those programmes” says Shane, “was that they were so extraordinarily dry and banal, that they were kind of funny."
Did I believe it? has the premise that each week the four presenters present an episode dedicated to everything you will ever need to know about a particular topic.
Every week they choose a feature investigation, and so there have been episodes in the past (which of course nobody has seen) called Snoring, Wind… which they have explored using the journalistic questions of who, what, where, why and how, and really drilled down into everything that you could possibly want to know about snoring. So in this instance it’s the who, what, where, why, how of Vodka. So you get this wonderfully fictitious history of Vodka, some of which is true, some of which is entirely made up, and some of which is a blend of both. Yes, we do touch on 42 Below, we also touch on a whole lot of other brands and countries, and a whole lot of wonderful little factoids about Vodka, as we would for snoring or paper or whatever subject of the week investigation.
For the Did I believe it? Vodka episode, it is meant to be the very first live transmission in front of a live studio audience. “They are going to be doing it in a readymade scientific laboratory, which is in this case a bar. The audience themselves are effectively the studio audience.”
Having this sort of audience participation, and delivering a different experience to audiences is one of the key concerns of Silo Theatre this year.
For a long time Silo Theatre has really kind of worked to eliminate the barriers between the audience and the work. I hate sitting passively in a theatre, because I think the work and the play exists in the intangible space between the performers and the text and the audience. If it’s a passive experience for the audience we may as well be watching the Tele. With various pieces of work, The Threepenny Opera being one example, Thom Pain being another, we are working to eradicate those barriers, either with the choice of the work and the position it puts the audience in, or with the way we stage the work environmentally. So with this piece of work, because we are staging it in an unusual environment for a piece of theatre, the audience immediately become complicit in the experience, because they are not going to be seated, it’s a standing room only format.
What do you think today’s audiences are looking for in the theatre? You touched on how difficult it is to get the people who are not the traditional theatre audience.
I think audiences are looking for something new. The world around is evolving at such a fast rate… people are looking for singular and unexpected experiences. We are so time poor now that people want to invest in something they haven’t seen before. And that may be the story that is told, but it may also be the way that it is told. Over the course of this year with the program of work we have selected, we have been very specific about changing the kind of conversation we have with our audience around the work. Each piece of work that we have selected is unlike anything we have done before. It’s a progression of what we have done before, but I don’t think our core audience, being the people that come to our work a lot, I don’t think they’ll sit there and go ‘Oh, its just like The Scene’ or ‘Its just like Bare’, because in a way we are trying to be genre busting in the work that we have selected, that it is pushing the culture forward in a way.
Silo Theatre’s program for 2011 promises a series of interesting and unexpected work from the company who last year presented Beckett’s Happy Days, Thom Pain, Assassins, When the Rain stops Falling and That Face. The program will be out any day, but I can reveal a taste of what theatre goers will get to see this year.
Silo’s first theatre based play of the year is The Brothers Size (May 27 – June 18), by African American Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney. Shane directs, with cast Pua Magasiva, Jarod Rawiriri and Te Kohe Tuahaka. Shane enthuses - “It’s a piece of beautiful, athletic performance poetry which talks about the complex bonds of brotherhood. It’s a beautiful play, wonderfully energetic. Like if you could have a Hip Hop play, kind of like that.”
Then it’s I Love you Bro (July 29-August 20) which Silo has been developing with some emerging artists, and will be directed by Sophie Roberts. Based on a true story, “It’s about a 14-year-old kid who’s domestic situation is pretty bleak, so he locks himself in his room and recreates himself, and in so doing conspires to have himself killed… it’s a psychological thriller, it’s not as bleak as it sounds. Certainly when we read it we were knocked for six by what it says about what’s happening to conversation and communication in our lives today as a result of technology”
“The next two pieces of work are revisionist treatments of classic texts” says Shane. First up is The Only Child (August 26-September 17), which is based on Henrik Ibsen’s “rarely performed” later play Little Eyolf. It was originally written by Simon Stone for Sydney’s Belvoir Street Theatre. “Claire Chitham is coming back from Melbourne to appear in it”
And the final play? “At the end of the year we are testing the four walls of the brand spanking new Q Theatre with a new treatment of Moliere’s Tartuffe (November 4-27), which we are reimagining in the manicured back lawns of Remuera.”
The Exploded Narratives season is a surprising and engaging mix, but a season that has been very carefully thought out and put together.
What attracts you when you choose a play to direct or program for the Silo? What do you look for?
I think when I read work or when I’m looking to create a body of work… we create a body of work as whole. We don’t just grab 5 or 6 plays and go ‘oh yeah these are really good plays, we’ll just put them on’. We are interested in the conversation you have from one work to the next. This year I was interested in playing around with the idea of storytelling. I think I’m fundamentally interested in the ‘take out’ of a piece of work that an audience will have. If our audience leaves the theatre and the first thing they say is ‘where are the car keys’ then we haven’t done our job.
One of the most interesting experiences that I’ve had in a theatre was years and years ago probably about 93 or 94. I saw Cate Blanchett and Geoffrey Rush, who were completely unknown at the time, in a production of David Mamet’s Oleanna. Nobody knew anything about the play. To go to the theatre at the Sydney Theatre Company you had to walk all the way down to end of the finger wharf to get into the theatre space… it was the most remarkable journey out of a theatre that I think I’ve experienced, in that all of these couples had come along to this play and knew nothing about it, and they left arguing into the night as they walked all the way along this finger wharf, and I had the opportunity to listen to those arguments. I was really struck by that audience take out. I think if our works provokes people to have a conversation at the end of it, and an argument about it, I think we’ve done our job in a way. Sometimes we will look at a piece of work that is flawed, and end up delivering it because of the quality of the provocation that emerges about it.
I imagine there is that difficult line between taking punts on riskier work and doing things that you know are probably going to be commercially successful. Your last season I thought was artistically brilliant, but I understood it wasn’t as financially rewarding. How do you manage this?
Every year you create… I call it portfolio programming. You take a punt on a piece of work or you’ll program a piece of edgy work, but alongside it you program something with a broader appeal. A great example of that is years ago when we were in the Basement space we wanted to do a very flawed, but strangely wonderful play The Cut by Mark Ravenhill. We knew that it was incredibly dark and probably 1000 people would see it. To make it work, we had to… well, not had to, I actually really wanted to direct the play…. We programmed Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing alongside it, and that production effectively resourced the company so it was able to present The Cut. Every year we try to create a program with that thinking in mind. This year is a great example of that – we look at Tartuffe as… not bums on seats… but we know it has a broader appeal than say I love you Bro which is about capturing the attention of a very specific market.
At the same time as Silo Theatre continue to reinvent themselves, there has been an explosion of independent and new practitioners putting on work at the Basement since Silo vacated.
We’ve just had the Fringe and Festival. What’s your take on what’s happening at the moment in the Auckland Theatre Scene?
I think that’s the wonderful thing that has happened with the creation of The Basement space that that environment has been able to house a whole lot of practitioners who haven’t been able to find the space for a platform with which to begin their careers. And I think alongside programs that The Edge run such as STAMP we’ve seen a lot of work that five years ago that we wouldn’t have seen. The thing that I was struck by with the festival though is that the work, for the most part, the work itself didn’t really feel that Fringe. It was well made work, and really well performed for the most part, but a lot of it really wasn’t pushing the envelope in terms of its subject matter or form it was exploring. That’s one of the things that I’d like to be able to see, just as an audience member, in years to come, that we really kind of begin to celebrate that genre of fringe that we haven’t for some time.
Shane began with the Fringe and small productions, and now finds himself as one of New Zealand’s most experienced and respected directors, and not a mechanic or a lawyer. And he’s not ready to give it up just yet…
I’ve had various kinds of, moments where I’ve kind of gone ‘I could just jump off and sell my soul to advertising’, but at the end of the day that’s not creatively satisfying to me. This is where I am, and this is who I am, and this where I am to stay at this point in time.
Keep an eye on Silo Theatre’s website for updates on their 2011 Season.
TICKET GIVEAWAY!!! I have a double pass to give away for the opening night of DID I BELIEVE IT?, Saturday 9th April, 7:30pm performing in the unconventional theatre space of the 1885 bar, 26 Galway Street, Britomart.
To enter, either email me firstname.lastname@example.org, tweet me @JamesWenley or post in the blog comments below and tell me what unconventional or unusual location you’d like to see some theatre performed in! Best answer wins.