Theatre Talks: Ryan Knighton

I'll Be Fine was one of the final performances to be held at BATS Out of SITE on Dixon Street, before BATS itself returned to its original location on Kent Terrace and Out of SITE went into indefinite hibernation (*cough* bring back the Big K *cough*). The show was billed as, "A road-trip filled with drunken self-reflections, stoned encounters with law enforcement and lemon chicken". Most would admit to having experienced at least two of the three of these (I'm personally more of a sweet and sour man myself), and a good old fashioned road trip is a key part of any Kiwi adolescence.
Directing the piece, in his first time calling the shots for a show at BATS, was an old friend and familiar face around the Wellington theatre community, Ryan Knighton. A busy man, running through dress and tech rehearsals, whilst completing the final assignments of his three-year degree and preparing for the upcoming NZ Improv Festival, it’s not a surprise when I found myself ten minutes into our interview, sat in front of my empty coffee cup and his still empty chair.
But Ryan Knighton is a lad worth waiting for. Another ten minutes later, I learnt he'd been getting some last minute tips and pointers to help fine tune I'll Be Fine on the eve before opening night. He apologised vehemently and takes a moment to gather himself before we sit down to shoot some shit and spin some yarns about the show, how it feels to be finally wrapping up study at Victoria University, and what Ryan has in store for us in the future, now that he has all this free time (NB: He still has no free time).
I'll Be Fine
MB: So you’ve just finished your degree, is that right?
RK: Well yep, when I submit my final essay tonight, I will have finished my degree.
MB: So your last essay’s actually due tonight [it’s already half five]?
RK: Ahh, it was due at five but I’ll just polish it off now.
MB: And, so, it’s a theatre related degree?
RK: Yea a BA in theatre, with a minor in creative writing.
MB: Nice. So let’s have a talk about the show, I’ll Be Fine - what attracted you to the piece itself?
RK: So, I did a play in Young and Hungry called Second Afterlife, which I assistant directed, I think it’s just finished up its Auckland season as well. The girlfriend of the writer [of I’ll Be Fine] was in the play, so he came to see it. One of the actors from Second Afterlife was already attached to the play as well, and he was like, “Uh, yep, you’re good, you vibe with me, please do this, have a read of the play”.
[Writer Ben Wilson] approached me and kind of said, can you do this thing, and I said, “Aww I’ll have a look at the script," and umm, I had a look at the script and, it needed a bit of a polish, so we had a chat; we had a sit down and a polish and then we ended up having a really cool thing so we were like, “Fuck yeah, let’s do it”.
Ryan 1
[Ryan Knighton]
MB: So, can you just give us a little bit of an idea of what to expect from the play?
RK: It’s like a kiwi road-trip coming-of-age story. The transitions are kind of broken, and the whole thing is basically that experience of when you’re a teenager, and you don’t reaaally know where you’re going. We’re trying to go with that in the play.
MB: What’s it like working with the writer, Ben, directing him in his own work (he’s one half of the two-man cast)?
RK: It’s really useful because I can just be like, “Okay, you see how that thing doesn’t work, here’s my offer of how to fix it,” he’s like, “Yeah, yeah, yeah.” It allows the ability to fix stuff in the moment, really easily. I mean it’s a total dialogue. At the end of the day I yield to the writer and that’s fine. It means I have to make my case really strong for my offers, which challenges me as a director, which is always nice.
MB: I know one of your previous shows, Foxes Mate for Life, was a bit of a quiet success story at NZ Fringe Festival earlier this year. Have you got any plans for the upcoming 2015 festival?
RK: Maybe bringing Foxes back. We’re doing Mothy, which is kind of like a launch off from Foxes, like a step up, a bigger brighter thing, for Fringe next year. And it’s still in that place about trying to tell the perfect story. So it’s a whole lot of like weird stories, one’s about a moth, one’s about maps, ones about, like, [a story in which] every time you flirt with someone you grow a pimple, and that’s where pimples come from. It’s basically just trying to tell a story that relates to everyone.
The thing I like about Foxes, and the thing I wanna push for Mothy, is I want people to see my work and go [clicks his fingers], “Fuck yeah, that’s the thing, that’s the thing that I feel, it’s not quite the same, but I totally get that feeling.” I’m really interested in chasing that thing.
We’re trying to, like, push that in terms of I’ll Be Fine too, by making it less about the story of events, and more about the friendship and the chemistry. The feedback we’ve been getting is, like, “Their chemistry is great, really get the friendship vibes from it.”
MB: And you’re going to be involved in the upcoming NZ Improv Festival too?
RK: Uhh yeah, we’re doing a Harold - as a part of Playshop, it’s another fun thing I do in my free time, some improv. Teaches you some good tools and tricks for directing. It is a really hard improv format, you take an object ask for and generate material to do scenes with. But it is also like a freestyle jam where you vibe off everybody and it’s just great.
I’ll Be Fine ran from Tue 21st – Sat 25th October in Wellington.
Harold is on as part of the NZ Improv Festival from 28thOctober-1st November in Wellington and you can get tickets here.


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