TALKING TO : : CIARAN MCMEEKEN

A few years ago now we sat down with Ciaran McMeeken, and young songwriter making his way in a market saturated with computers and beeps and boops, committed to his craft, McMeeken has now come out the other end of a debut self-titled album released just today. We decided it was a good time to sit down with the man and talk about all things music, travel, life,  and more music.

Hey Ciaran, it’s been a couple of years since we last spoke, I remember you had just released a couple of singles then, how have the past couple of years been for you?

The last few years have been incredible. Lot’s of collaborating and co-writing with a vast array of different artists and songwriters. A lot of experimentation and creating with the band in the rehearsal studio too, all of which has been really fun and inspiring. Also, getting out on the road with Avalanche City and Ronan Keating last year was a real highlight!

 

And you’ve been travelling a little bit, I see that some of this album was written in Europe, what kinds of influences have you taken from your travels?

Last year I spent 5 weeks writing with 17 different artists and groups in London, Amsterdam and Switzerland to name a few. This was such an incredible trip for many reasons but the main one being the actual quantity of back-to-back sessions really forced me to get creative with the lyrics and music. Particularly lyrics. I often found myself writing about random things happenings that had occurred earlier that day or about someone that I met in the tube. Travelling in itself is so inspiring, always meeting new people and seeing beautiful sights. There is also a lot of time for reflection and pondering so travelling it’s a writers best friend.

 

Do you have one memory that stands out above the others from your trip?

I was working with a group called ‘Soul Searchin’ in Amsterdam which comprised of 7 dudes. I remember, we were working on a really dark, moody song when we took a coffee break and went out and sat in the sun. We were all getting along so well and having a laugh and I said, what the heck are we doing? We are having such a fun, happy time together yet we are writing this really morbid song. (It was called ‘Prisoner’ – you can imagine the content) So we went back into the studio with the intention of writing an upbeat, classic song. We came up with a tempo and stood round in a circle, like cavemen banging our chests with our fists to keep the beat and each singing melodies. It was bloody funny. We came up with a cool melody, which tuned into a bass line, which then formed the foundation of what became ‘Wi-Fi’. They were the most enthusiastic, passionate and engaged group of people I have ever written with! We had such a blast writing that song.

 

And you wrote The Feeling, your current single, with MoZella, what was it like working with her?

For those who don’t know MoZella, she is an amazing American songwriter who has done lots of writing with the likes of One Direction & Miley Cyrus, to name a few. This was a really great experience and the funny thing is that we were never even meant to write a song together. We were only meant to have a 20 minute ‘mentoring’ session together, where I told her about my career and asked her for advice etc. I though bugger that, I have 20 minutes alone with one of the worlds best songwriters, I’m going to write a bloody song with her! So we did, I stormed into the room with my guitar and we pretty much wrote ‘That Feeling’ with her then and there on the spot!

 

The album comes out today, if you could describe this album in just a few sentences how would you describe the vibe?

It’s very classic and old school in the sense that there are real musicians, playing real instruments. From the get go, we went in with an old school approach and we wanted to make something that felt timeless and classic, but still stand up in the modern music landscape. It’s very diverse; there are some really fun, uplifting songs. Some soft acoustic tracks and some groovy, moody songs.

 

I know were not meant to have favourites but were only human, do you have a favourite track on the album?

They are all my wee babies but if I had to choose, I’d pick the final song ‘Spanish Steps’. For me it is a song about the search for oneness or a sense of belonging. It’s a beautiful nostalgic song and stirs a lot of emotion in me. My producer Greg Haver, is from Wales originally and he said this song reminds him of the Welsh word ‘Hireath’, which has no English translation. It means to have a longing or yearning for your homeland. I really love that.

 

 

And the tour is this week too! Is there anything you’re most looking forward to?

I grew up in Arrowtown near Queenstown and went to school in Dunedin, so it feels really special to be playing the album release shows in my hometowns. Especially Dunedin tonight where my journey in music all kicked off! It feels really appropriate!! Also, the band and I have been working towards this tour for a long time so we are all just itching to get on stage and rock out!

 

Where are you at creatively after recording this album, and what do you think the future holds for Ciaran McMeeken?

Creatively.. No idea. Who the heck knows what kind of music I’ll write next?? That really excites me! In terms of what the future holds, I can’t be totally sure, but I know it will be bold! I have some big dreams!

 

Finally, if there was one person who you would love to see in the crowd at your show, anyone in the world, who would it be?

My Grandad. He passed away a few years back before I even got into music. It’d be damn special to have a toast of whiskey with him and my dad and see him out in the crowd!

Thats pretty special man, we’re looking forward to your Auckland show coming up soon!

Thanks for the chats! See you soon.

 

Ciaran McMeeken’s self titled album is on all good streaming platforms now, and he is touring NZ with shows in Dunedin (tonight), Queenstown (05/08), Wellington (06/08), and Auckland (10/08), tickets on Ticketmaster now.

TALKS : : BEN BERMAN (DIR.) “THE AMAZING JOHNATHAN DOCUMENTARY”

“Laugh-out-loud funny in a way that’s unexpected for a documentary about a deceitful, dying meth-addict magician on his final fumbling tour.”

Fionnuala Halligan, Screendaily

It’s the least obscure of scenes. A warm Australian afternoon and a room full of faded 501’s and pilled pastel polo shirts; ‘Hey Hey It’s Saturday’ had been running for some 20-years and the Amazing Johnathan; headband holding back spilling (although thinning) locks; is introduced to a table of obscure magic props and a spattering of applause drowned out by an enthusiastic pipe band. “Aren’t they terrific” Johnathan announces, though his face tells otherwise. Core to the comedy of The Amazing Johnathan; inspirer of many and follower of few; is that he is one step ahead, says what he means but hardly means what he says. While his on-stage personality brought him to his comedic peaks, it was saddening to many; including the likes of Weird Al Yankovic and Eric Andre; when The Amazing Johnathan announced he had a heart condition that left him with only a single year to live. Enter, Ben Berman.

Making his start in Los Angeles working alongside Eric Wareheim of ‘The Tim and Eric Show‘; and having worked with some of the best of the likes of Zach Galifianakis, Berman spent his early career working with LA comics and fine-tuning his art in short films. His prominence in the directors chair coming with short films like ‘I’m a Mitzvah‘ which earned Sundance Selection, and ‘How to Lose Weight in 4 Easy Steps‘. We had the pleasure of sitting down with the man who made his feature length debut with the premiere of ‘The Amazing Johnathan Documentary‘ at Sundance this year. While he will tell you that there’s tonnes different, but it’s all just the same when going from making short film to a documentary – this doesn’t account for the complexities of shooting a documentary about a master of deception with a clock put on his mortality.

“In the movie I’m like an investigative journalist right, it would almost be wrong for me and for my audience not to ask certain questions that I think need to be asked – so its kind of part of the job to ask those questions, and I’m okay with that.”

WG: So to kick things off, can you tell us about the difference in your process and your mindset when shifting from short films to filming feature length documentaries?

BB: Well, there’s tonnes! but its all the same.. a feature length something; either scripted (which I haven’t done yet, it’s certainly on the agenda) or otherwise; I think it’s just about making it larger and thinking of slightly different things for keeping people engaged for that long, and taking them on a slightly longer journey. If you’re great at making a good short film, you’re probably going to be good at making a great feature; you’re just going to have to do more of it. But going from scripted to documentary; in my experience; was extremely helpful, you have to find out [with a documentary] how you are going to tell that story; you can’t just shoot a bunch of footage and just present that footage to an audience and expect them to appreciate it and be engaged, so there are some similarities between what I’ve done with scripted projects and what I did with this doc.

WG: Well you couldn’t come farther from anything scripted with this documentary, right, it seemed there were changes at every turn, was that the same in the production process for this film?

BB: Yea! Totally I mean what you see is what you get. I set out; and at the beginning it was all very low stakes; to make a documentary with my time off from work about Johnathan, who I had heard about, who was taking drugs and was ill; I thought “Oh this will make an interesting fifteen minute doc” about an older magician confronting mortality and all of that stuff. So I started gathering footage and filming footage for that; and then a whole lot of other things presented themselves and I was like “Oh damn I wanna follow that through!” So what I set out to make; even though I wasn’t that conscious of a big “Here’s what I wanna do” plan; definitely shifted away from anything than I could ever originally imagine.

WG: Yeah so what we saw was a surreal honesty, I was sitting there wondering what it might be like confronting a guy like Johnathan about his illness and the realities of how people perceive his illness?

BB: I mean yeah I was definitely nervous and the scene you’re talking about was a big moment for the movie and I knew that, not only did I need the answers and I kind of needed to do it for answers sake, but I needed to do it for the movie! So there was like this double pressure of how is this guy going to react, this guy, my friend Johnathan who I have been around for years now, how is he going to react to me bringing this up, but also how is this going to play into the movie? Was it going to get me closer to the ending, whatever ending I needed? So yeah there was a bunch of pressure, especially to have to question someone like that.

JB: I guess people will have to watch to find out about that scene…

BB: Yeah for sure, but in the movie I’m like an investigative journalist right, it would almost be wrong for me and for my audience not to ask certain questions that I think need to be asked – so its kind of part of the job to ask those questions, and I’m okay with that.

He pauses for a second when he checks if he is okay with that, Ben being one of the most comfortable conversationalists I’ve met, just had to check if this was all good with his own psyche. “The Amazing Johnathan Documentary” does follow the Amazing johnathan, supported by contributors like Criss Angel, Weird Al Yankovic, Eric Andre, and even Berman’s own father, and everything that comes along with the charisma of a comedic magician at a medical low. But as you settle into the movie you understand tthat this becomes a little bit greater than that by the second, and all of a sudden it is longer just about “The Amazing Johnathan” or mortality or human nature or death. Slowly, grey area takes over. Berman, while admitting he took charge of the documentary narrative a little bit saying “it’s not like I’m like bragging about that because that was never the intention”, helped us to understand that you can’t let the prescription for a project get in the way of a good story.

BB: Yeah think, yeah I’m okay with upsetting some people to get answers – I think that’s what it has to be and I am okay with that.

He was all good with it.

Johnathan of ‘The Amazing Johnathan Documentary

‘”A big theme of the movie is me trying to figure out what’s truth and what’s illusion. Whats real and what’s not right? and even after the movie like I still don’t know in every scenario what was real and what wasn’t”

WG: So you consider this man a friend now after these few years? What is he like, he comes across a bit of a dick… are you guys still mates?

BB: Yeah yeah he’s um… he’s like a lot of people but just magnified. He’s like me in a way, like I can be a dick to someone and be a little selfish, but then I can turn around and be very kind and generous and provide someone with a lot and offer them a lot and be very nice to them. I think Johnathan is like that but just a little more heightened, when he’s a dick he can really be a dick and when he’s selfish he can really be selfish, and when he’s nice he can really be incredibly generous.

WG: Sounds a lot like this movie…

BB: Yeah I think him and I very early on fell into a pretty good relationship on the surface. He’s really funny, and says weird and funny things, I mean I was in my early thirties while making the movie, and Johnathan had just turned 60 or 61 or something like that, so we had this pretty big age gap, but we relate to each other as equals or as kids – like he’s basically a kid! He doesn’t think through things all that much like an adult does too. But overall we were really friendly while making the movie and even when I knew he was kind of, sliding me, or putting the other crew over me, to maintain access you need to not just blow it up. Like I couldn’t have been like “Dude, Fuck you!” and then expect him to want to film the next day. It’s definitely a balancing act that a filmmaker has to work with.

WG: Yeah I mean he seemed like a bit of a kid when he would just say what he thought, and would look around just to kind of see the reactions of people in the room as if he were learning how to socialise for the first time and this must create some great stories – was there anything about him that didn’t quite make it to the film that sort of related to his quirkiness?

BB: Um, probably! When I’m asked what we either filmed or edited that we couldn’t fit in it’s actually less about Johnathan and more about my journey. We had a lot of weird fun with my journey like there was this one scene [that didn’t make the film] where I went to a cardiologist – not Johnathans’ heart doctor because I wasn’t given access to that person, but a cardiologist in LA, and I interviewed that cardiologist just to ascertain from him what the realities of Johnathans’ illness would be, and the likelihood of survival after so many years. But the funny thing we found in that scene is that we went with the objective of finding out about Johnathan and the effects meth can have on ones heart, but we ended up talking to the cardiologist more about his thoughts on the current nature of documentary film and just filmmaking and docs in general, and I just told him about my problems as opposed to Johnathans health – which kind of showed my fixation on being the best doc filmmaker. It was a really funny scene that got cut.

The meandering nature of the story in this documentary; while structured in its technique; is what ties you in and binds you like the doc equivalent of a page turner. Throughout the making of the movie; and partly explaining why the original title for the film was “The Untitled Amazing Johnathan Documentary”; Berman would ask Johnathan, “What do you think we should title this movie?” every few months throughout filming, to see an on camera documentation of tracking his journey and if his thoughts had changed.

WG: It seemed like Johnathan was quite; not fixated on having an amazing documentary made about him; but he had this grandiose opinion of his own doc and what that would look like, and kind of developed this strange attitude towards the idea of his own documentary?

BB: Yeah I think Johnathan… I don’t he actually needed or wanted really great documentary. I think; if we are all being very honest; his drive was to just have or just be able to tell people that someone, or many people, are making a documentary. it was just about bragging rights basically, the more people he brought on the more he would be able to tell people “Look! How special must I be because I’ve got all these people making a film on me” it was just kind of a bragging right – he didn’t really think about the quality even it was just this thing for him.

WG: Question off the record… did you actually smoke meth with Johnathan?

BB: Haha! Well that can be on the record too because I’m not going to actually tell you! I mean there is a good answer I give, like the Q&A answer to that, because I always get that question, is that a big theme of the movie is me trying to figure out what’s truth and what’s illusion. What’s real and what’s not right? And, even after the movie like I still don’t know in every scenario what was real and what wasn’t – so to answer your question, we still don’t know.

A cheeky smile split across Berman’s face as he knew I had both not gotten the answer I wanted, but had what I was after all the same. As his self-deprecating humour kicked in “the dumbfounded face comes naturally to me” – an often seen picture of confusion in this documentary – Berman looked reflective on the experience. Much is to be said about confronting illusion, mortality, and becoming the best doc maker, all in one, and “The Amazing Johnathan” doesn’t come short of its own expectations, as there was no way to compare the finished product; the Sundance Documentary entrant; to those ‘expectations’ set before it. For a director just hitting the ground running, we only wish the very best for what is next.

J

Get along to see this awesome documentary, it’s something a little different this film festival, if you need to pick something out of your usual box, make it this one, you won’t regret it.

Screening times for Auckland here

 

 

Title image: Ben Berman pushes The Amazing Johnathan – credit Rolling Stone

TALKS : : MALCOLM TURNER ANIMATION NOW

Introductions to animation have traditionally occurred through a square box television set, a couple of antennae and a crappy connection to an animation channel be it screening Tom and Jerry, Roadrunner, Pokemon or more recently (and likely through a better connection) Spongebob or Rockos Modern Life. These introductions are shifting as animation becomes more accessible, and also more advanced. The NZIFF each year contains a mini festivsl called “Animation NOW!” a 6-part festival that shows a cross section of global animation culture. It’s not all feature length Disney dramas and singing animals. Malcolm Turner, programmer of the “Animation NOW!” festival, opened our eyes to the world of animation.

If i said to you and I said the words Jazz, or Opera, or Ballet – whether you like those forms or not you would have a working knowledge of what they are all about. The popular understanding of animation is really limited to the animation that shows up in cinemas and that’s not what animation is about in the truest form

Malcolm Turner

WG: We were wondering what role you think animation plays in a film festival, and how important it is to a festival as a whole?

MT: Yeah so I’ve been programming the Animation for NZIFF for 25 years now and for me its a unique part of screen culture. The NZIFF seeks to celebrate film culture overall and predominantly it does that through live action – but short form animation is a form of visual poetry. It doesn’t spend so much time getting stuck into a traditional narrative that feature films have to contend with; it can get on with being pure visual art; and that’s what a lot of the animation here does. Animation doesn’t need to follow a straight narrative structure it is about the creative ideas of the animator, representing a stream of conscious thought, that are often made with radically different budgets to a live action feature. As often as not they are the work of a single creative mind or consciousness and they are a very different form of cinema so for the NZIFF it needs to cover all of its bases and that’s where Animation Now comes in and why I’m on board.

WG: Do you feel like short form animation has a more raw aspect to it creatively?

MT: I think it varies. The kind of animation that shows at Animation NOW! and film festivals is probably one of the most unknown of all art forms. If i said to you and I said the words Jazz, or Opera, or Ballet – whether you like those forms or not you would have a working knowledge of what they are all about. The popular understanding of animation is really limited to the animation that shows up in cinemas and that’s not what animation is about in the truest form. The big cinema animation still follows a traditional three act structure and although that is what everybody think of animation being, that’s just a cul de sac of what animation is really about.

WG: Does that mean there is a huge segment of animation out there that we don’t normally see?

MT: Yeah I mean last year alone there were around 70-80 animated films released commercially, but I can get that in submissions in a single day. I think I had about 4,000 shorts submitted for the programme this year and virtually none of them are for kids, unlike commercial animated cinema. Animation is best for connecting the purest of dream like thoughts if you like. Other than poetry there is probably not a more imaginative nor expressive art form, one that is less confined to rules and expectations as an art form.

These are artists, and their default mode is to create their vision with whatever tools feel best in their hands.

Malcolm Turner

WG: I suppose anyones introduction to animation is usually through Disney, or Pixar, Anime or the road runner or Tom and Jerry?

MT: My introduction to animation was actually road runner cartoons on TV! The Disney and Pixar stuff is pretty fantastic, they’ve had their ups and downs but they’re pretty fantastic productions, but virtually the rest of it is almost unwatchable. In the world I work in the vast majority of animation is hand made and not digitally made! Sure most are drawn onto a tablet and then digitally animated but these are still hand drawn and hand made in a sense. The big digitl features only make up around 20% of animation globally. Pure 3D animation is an important part of the field don’t get me wrong but the vast majority out there is hand made. These are artists, and their default mode is to create their vision with whatever tools feel best in their hands.

WG: When I was researching I ended up down a deep youtube hole of different animators using different softwares, seems there is a huge community out there, how connected is that community?

MT: The international animation community tends to connect around festivals. What we’re doing wth Animation NOW! is; it’s definitely not an Ottawa; but its an attempt to get a peg in the ground and make sure the a range of films are shown, and are a pretty decent cross section of that community.

WG: There are a couple of NZ shorts screening here at Animation NOW; Trumpet Trompette and Winters Blight; what stood out to you about these shorts and is there anything about NZ animation that stands out?

MT: Yeah they’re really different films – with Trumpet Trompette I was really attracted to the elegant style that was being created and the discipline of the filmmaker and is a film which to me is exactly the right length for the material and rhythm he was trying to get across. Winters Blight is a very different film, it’s stop motion animation made by a tiny team in Invercargill, and they had this as a labour of love and is quite a long film. I was really attracted to the consistency of the stop motion animation and how they sustained the aura that comes off the main character in that and sustain the emotional journey that the film is built around, the standard of the stop motion is very very high, they didn’t take shortcuts like people are often tempted to take. It was the exact type of film I thought the NZIFF should support.

WG: Is there anything that someone getting into animation for the first time with this festival should look out for?

MT: In this festival we have a select programme which isn’t in competition this year, and that’s Rosto’s Tetralogy. Rosto was one of the great innovators in animation. He has been incredibly innovative in blending styles of animation and has created his own distinct style. He unfortunately passed away our or five months ago, and we are screening the last film he made before he became too ill to keep creating. Rosto’s films are pure in the way that all of types of art in his life have fed into each other, and a lot of his creativity comes from his very distinct dreams, which he has brought to life through Tetralogy and has built kind of a three dimensional model of his dream world and we lost a huge huge voice in animation when we lost Rosto. The four films in this programme, all painted a part of the typography of his animated dream world, so if you want to go see the work of a particular master of animation Rosto Tetralogy is it.

If you haven’t any plans this weekend make sure you head along to Animation NOW! and fill your boots.

SEEN : : SANTA CLAUS

If there’s one thing Auckland’s Basement Theatre is good at, it’s subversive drama. If there’s a second, it just might be Christmas.

Opening last week, Santa Claus is the Basement’s 2017 Christmas show. Not only is it a bloody good time, the annual show is the Basement’s only fundraiser, with profits going towards their artistic development programme.

Presented this year by A Slightly Isolated Dog (Don Juan, Jekyll & Hyde) and featuring a special guest each night, Santa Claus follows the sexy pseudo-French group through multiple Christmases and explores the concept of naughty versus nice. Having seen A Slightly Isolated Dog’s previous two Auckland shows, it’s clear they have a signature style. Think audience interaction, surprise engagements, copious sound effects and well-crafted fight scenes.

As much as I’m obsessed with A Slightly Isolated Dog, when I saw they were sticking with this style for the Christmas show, I was a little concerned that I was in for a repetitive night. However, the festive and amplified audience interaction, combined with the original plot of Santa Claus, quickly squashed any worries. Unlike their previous shows, Santa Claus isn’t based on any well-known text, allowing more room for gags from the cast. While this means it’s not a show for the more brooding among us, if you’re just looking for some light-hearted laughs you’ll be totally satiated.

My friend was pretty nervous about the audience interaction that was sure to come, and I had to reassure her by saying that A Slightly Isolated Dog had previously tip-toed the line of too much quite expertly. Turns out I didn’t know what we were in for. Santa Claus took this element to a completely new level, with audience members not only being pulled up on stage, but there was even a cast/viewer make-out session. Luckily, the audience on the night I attended was completely into this – and it was the middle-aged dude in front of us who turned a mistletoe peck into something a whole lot more with actor Andrew Paterson.

The guest star of Santa Claus should also not be forgotten. Rose Matafeo graced the stage the night we attended, delivering plenty of one liners all the while in a state of apparent confusion. I quite like the way Santa Claus incorporates its guests – almost as viewers themselves. Matafeo seemed as surprised as we were at the strange plot of the show, allowing for genuine reactions. I imagine this would be important on the other nights, as not all the guest stars are comedians or actors themselves – think Maungakiekie MP Chlöe Swarbrick – so I imagine a more chilled role is beneficial to all involved.

Santa Claus boasts a fantastic cast, with Hayley Sproull, Jack Buchanan and Andrew Paterson all pulling their own weight. However, Susie Berry deserves a special shout-out. She perfectly delivered the moody Mrs Claus and was the backbone of the show, linking gags and driving the loose plot.

December is a crazy busy time but Santa Claus is a crazy fun show. Not only a great way to support one of Auckland’s best theatre spots, a ticket to Santa Claus is a guaranteed good time. Definitely worth seeing somewhere between manic present shopping and summer BBQs.

Santa Claus shows at Basement Theatre until 20th December. Tickets are available here.

 

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SEEN : : BILLY T JAMS

Rebekah Philson
Rebekah likes piña coladas and getting caught in the rain. When not getting confused for her sister, she spends majority of her days glamping under the Basement Theatre bleachers. While balancing yo-yo dieting and being sufficiently dramatic, Rebekah will pretend to have enough spare time to fill you in on the latest with Auckland’s theatre scene.

SEEN : : BILLY T JAMS

 

New Zealand comedy is pretty damn unique. Generally a particular mix of self-depreciating and awkward, it stands quite separate from the American-brand humour we tend to see in international media. Given that, it was a bold choice from me to bring along two American dudes to the 2018 Billy T Jams show, held at Q Theatre. Would they like the jokes? Would they even get the jokes? It was a risk. Luckily for me, the nominees for this year’s Billy T Award were up to the challenge.

A taster ahead of the 2018 NZ International Comedy Festival, Billy T Jams sees the year’s nominees come together for a short but sweet comedy showcase. This year was hosted by former award recipient Rhys Mathewson, who offered reliable entertainment even when it wasn’t clear if he was being laughed with or at (there was a weird joke about George Clooney pooping in there that was adored by my American pals but fell pretty flat with the locals).

First up was Melanie Bracewell, who started the show strong and actually proved to be my favourite. The perfect combination of awkwardness and impeccable timing, Bracewell hooked me from the start with her not-so-casual shakas.

Following Bracewell was Alice Snedden. Undoubtedly funny, Snedden’s opening period gag didn’t quite land with the audience, and she attempted to remedy this by literally restarting her segment. Snedden was at her best when delivering her political family-based jokes, but never seemed to fully recover from her difficult start.

Former Billy T nominees Laura Daniel and Joseph Moore came next, as music-duo Two Hearts. These two offered a welcome boost of energy, delivering one-liners and gags through pop ballads and raps. I normally don’t rate this sort of flashy humour, but Two Hearts had me rethinking this opinion.

The second half of the show saw three more comedians step up, and while still entertaining, didn’t grab me as much as the first. Donna Brookbanks came first and relied pretty strongly on physical comedy.

Following her was James Malcolm, who straightaway warned the audience to not be intimidated by his masculinity. Malcolm was another personal favourite, as he somehow managed to work through his sexual content so casually and confidently that I think even my grandma would be pretty chill about it.

Last up was Angela Dravid, 2017’s Billy T Award winner. Dravid has a uniquely deadpan humour that is quite disconcerting. I found her rehearsed set didn’t get me as much as the ones before, however her impromptu response to a white male heckler was outstanding.

All of the Billy T Award nominees have their own shows on offer before Last Laughs on May 20th, which will see one winner announced. My picks would have to be Melanie Bracewell or James Malcolm, but my American pals were way more into Two Hearts. I’d urge everyone to get amongst this year’s festival, but if you can only make it to one show then Last Laughs is undoubtedly your best bang for buck.

The 2018 New Zealand International Comedy Festival runs all over NZ from April 26th until May 20th. Check out all the available shows here.

 

SEEN : : LA BELLE ÉPOQUE NZIFF 2019

It looks upon your gaze with friendly eyes, a warmth leading your way into the 51st annual NZIFF. La Belle Époque, stylised as films rose tinted wire frames and horn rims, fell out of the Cannes selection into our hands and graced the mighty civic theatre, it’s glossy starry ceiling mirroring the memoriam put before us in Nicolas Bedos’ most recent outing.

“The multiple narratives; whilst often falling thin; offer the chance to approach nostalgia each a with different lens.”

Set in the modern day, La Belle follows Viktor (Daniel Auteuil), an apparently struggling sketch artist, comic and father, as he negotiates his way through a diverging marriage, his sons Oedipus complex, and declining career health. Maintaining his lowly characteristic wit, Viktor ends up on the raw end of modern romantic drama.

In this turn, he takes impetus from his sons generous offer of a “sequence” sponsored by his good friends company Time Travelers who offer the opportunity to revisit any period and be any character, playing host to nazi re-enactors and Hemingway fetishists alike – the elite few who can afford the service can recreate any moment in history in meticulous theatrical detail.

Viktor chose to return to when he first met his wife, May 1974, and through his drawings, this was re-enacted perfectly.

As with all westworld-esque narratives, where confusion and confrontation of memory really drive the plot forwards, La Belle Époque treads a really fine line that will cause you to question the integrity of the plot, and it’s natural to pick holes at the effect of this compendium of timelines. But Bedos uses this storytelling mechanism to balance multiple storyline’s, whilst mostly host to Viktor and his nostalgia, you’re witness to the struggles of Marianne (Fanny Ardant), Antoine’s (Guillame Canet) short temper and his love for Margot (Doria Tiller), and the conflict that this presents as she portrays the young wife Viktor is longing to meet again. The multiple narratives, whilst often falling thin, offer the chance to approach nostalgia each with a different lens. Whether you’re approaching a first date, a 50th birthday, or an anniversary ending in zero, La Belle can be a more important film than first impressions suggest.

It is this method through which; seeing nostalgia in either tyranny, bliss, or terror; we can fully understand the meaning behind La Belle Epoque. Whilst Viktor tries to recapture his fondest of memories, we also trip over the errs in judgement from Antoine and Margot as they tie in with Viktor’s “simulation”, and Viktor eventually confuses his nostalgia for the real thing. If it weren’t for Marianne’s regret and eventual return, we might’ve seen a Viktor torn from his own memory and wholly lost in the fictional world his nostalgia has framed for him.

Commercially, this film has pulled off a satisfying and thought provoking attempt at unravelling the riddle of memory; La Belle Epoque hits home on one point and does it well. Tempering the nature of memory, longing, or love, in the intangible place called nostalgia, we often find less time for our own love, which is where La Belle Epoque comes to a fulfilling finish.

SEEN : : AUNTY

 

AUNTY has transformed the Basement Theatre into the classic family BBQ, and everyone’s invited. The boisterous host is everybody’s favourite Aunty, and the audience are her family. Barbeques like this are almost always outrageous affairs, and Johanna Cosgrove’s award winning solo performance channels this outrageousness into an hour of genuine entertainment.

Instead of following a plot, the show consists almost entirely of a conversation between AUNTY and her family, and as such, the audience are often expected to speak when spoken to. Shows like this can often go wrong in one of two ways. If the scripted nature of the conversation is too apparent, it doesn’t feel like the actor is engaging with the audience, but simply talking to themselves. On the other hand, if the conversation doesn’t flow, it becomes a series of isolated jokes and resembles stand-up comedy more than theater. AUNTY manages to avoid both pitfalls. The direction of AUNTY’s conversation feels natural, and Cosgrove takes the time to play off of any reactions or comments made by the audience. Some of the funniest moments of the play were created by Cosgrove having to respond to an audience member unexpectedly chipping in.

Such contributions from the audience are encouraged, and it is unlikely that any audience member will escape without some form of participation in the show. Plates of food are passed around, and at one point half the audience got on stage to dance to one of AUNTY’s favourite songs.

If you’re looking for drama, tension, or a show where you can just sit back and watch, then AUNTY likely isn’t for you, but if you’re keen to engage with an energetic and hilarious character, then you should absolutely accept AUNTY’s invitation.

AUNTY is playing at the Basement Theatre until the 16th of September. Tickets are available for purchase here.

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SEEN : : OTHER [CHINESE]

 

SEEN : : OTHER [CHINESE]

The product of a series of workshops over the last few months, Alice Canton’s Other [Chinese] opened last week at Auckland’s Q Theatre.

Evolving from her solo work White (Other), Canton’s latest show is promoted as a live documentary. Featuring a large cast all of Chinese background; Other [Chinese] is an important look at what it is to be Asian in New Zealand.

Other [Chinese]’s presentation is simple yet striking. Before entering the loft of Q Theatre, audience members are advised to remove their shoes. A simple red stage takes up half the theatre, with one-level seating taking up the rest. The stage is slightly elevated, though maybe not quite enough to stop me from craning my neck throughout the show. Despite facilitating quite a big audience, Other [Chinese] manages to be rather intimate through the personal stories, answers and confessions that are presented over the course of the show.

Throughout the show videos are displayed on screens behind the stage, which are surprisingly emotive. The show opens with a montage, showcasing and twisting Chinese figures and words in the media. As footage from YouTube is displayed (I recognise an embarrassing amount), fun makeup videos turn slightly sinister when apologies for slanted and hooded eyes are made. These screens are later used to show interviews that range from empowering – a girl who is an 8th Chinese talks about her connection to her ancestors, to confronting – a couple of elderly Chinese individuals insist on the need for assimilation.

Other [Chinese] is made up of both performance pieces and quick fire questions. While the moments of performance are powerful and enjoyable – performance artist and poet Vanessa Crofskey is a standout – it’s the opposing questions Canton asks the cast that seem to reveal the most. In these moments Canton is literally conducting her workshop on stage. She asks the cast a range of questions – from “sweet or savoury” to “should the minimum wage be raised”? The cast members move to either the left or right of the stage, or even in the middle, depending on their stance. It’s easy to judge the people who stand on the side of the stage you disagree with, and I caught myself doing so on multiple occasions. However, Canton then asks them why they feel that way, and their answers, sometimes routed in their Chinese experiences, have me reassessing my own thinking.

Despite its serious topic, Other [Chinese] is rather humorous. Particularly entertaining performers worth noting are Paul Teo, an older member of the cast who offered multiple anecdotes, and Aiwa Pooamorn, a Thai mother whose articulation is bold and explicit.

My favourite part of Other [Chinese] was actually discovered after the show, while chatting to Canton. As I waited to say hello, I listened to a Chinese mother and daughter say how much the show meant to them and ask if they could get involved. It turns out this is a response Canton has received a few times, and one she welcomes. While Other [Chinese] consists of a core ensemble, other Chinese participants are welcome to join in for a night or two and take part in the opening dance and onstage questions. I feel like this solidifies the community vibe of Other [Chinese] and really highlights its importance.

As a (very) white person this show meant an unanticipated amount to me. I would urge New Zealanders of any ethnicity to see it.

Other [Chinese] shows at Q Theatre until this Saturday. Tickets are available here.

SEEN : : VELVET

 

More of a party than a performance, globally acclaimed Velvet is currently showing at Auckland’s Q Theatre. Promoted as a “divine discotheque circus”, Velvet is part of the Auckland Live International Cabaret Season.

Directed by Craig Ilott, Velvet has received pretty stellar reviews since its conception in 2015. An international show with an award-winning cast, Velvet’s promotion sets some rather high expectations. The show starts strong, and audience members would be forgiven for thinking they were in a nightclub rather than a theatre. All flashing lights and smoke machines, Velvet instantly sets the scene.

Preshow entertainment comes in the form of Joe Accaria, who grooves and DJs above the main performers throughout the entire show. The performance proper starts with Mirko Köckenberger, handstand acrobat. An absolute joy to watch, Köckenberger delivers his unique performance with both amazing skill and genuine enthusiasm.

Velvet at first seems to follow a set formula – one acrobatic performance, then one singing performance. A wacky hula hoop sequence by Craig Reed is followed by a soulful ballad from diva Marcia Hines. Hines is backed by two supporting vocalists/dancers – Kaylah Attard and Rechelle Mansour – who prove to be a major highlight as they manage to constantly hold my attention with perfectly timed moves and vigour.

About halfway through the show, Velvet steers away from acrobatics and seems to focus exclusively on singing. This seems odd, especially since there are at least two acrobatic entertainers who barely feature on the stage. I found this rather confusing, especially because the circus element of the show had been heavily promoted. Based on trailers from international performances of the show, I’m relatively confident this Auckland edition is missing some of the aerial acts that I imagine lift Velvet to the next level.

Velvet is without a doubt an incredibly fun show. Audience members are encouraged to dance and sing throughout, and I definitely saw some people who literally didn’t sit down. So despite its missing moments, Velvet is a good time. At $65 to $85 a ticket it definitely serves as a great night out for the more bourgie among us.

Velvet shows at Q Theatre until this Sunday. Tickets are available here.

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SEEN : : SOFT TISSUE

 

SEEN : : AMAZING GRACE NZIFF 2019

As you look soul square in the eyes; let it fulfil you and embrace you all at once; a chance to witness one of the most glorious voices to grace this earth

In 1972, Aretha Franklin; recently crowned the queen of soul and off the back of a number of top hit albums; returned to her roots and decided to record a gospel album with Reverend James Cleveland and the Southern California Community Choir at the New Temple Missionary Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Whilst never emotionally leaving the church, artistically this took her back to her childhood roots, travelling with her father Reverend Clarence Franklin, singing gospel. It was no surprise when the album immediately became the greatest selling gospel album of all time.

This film follows the two day recording of the album, through the eyes of Sydney Pollack. Unfortunately, due to technological restrictions the film was never released. Now brought back into the world, you owe it to yourself to get along at see for yourself the true unadulterated power of Aretha Franklin. As Justin Chang of the LA Times wrote; “Aretha Franklin didn’t transcend the gospel or gospel music; as first her album and now this marvelous documentary remind us, she did more than most to fulfill its potential for truth and beauty, devotion and art.

Become privy to one of the most incredible performances of gospel we might ever be audience to. Aretha fills the room with an elegance that requires no speech nor introduction, no tome nor timbre. This is a unique movie going experience that can only be met with admiration. As you look soul square in the eyes; let it fulfil you and embrace you all at once; a chance to witness one of the most glorious voices to grace this earth. A tragic loss in 2018, Franklin will forever live on as the queen of soul – and this honest and open performance is a chance to; with soft tones and a full heart; appreciate one of the greatest to ever utter a chord.