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February 21, 2011 | by  | in Features |
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This Rugged Beauty – The Binge Culture Collective

Salient’s Haimona Gray interviews the Binge Culture Collective’s Rachel Baker and Ralph Upton about their latest production This Rugged Beauty. It’s a play about Kiwiana, childhood, nostalgia, longing, and how these things are tied up with our national myths of golden days and golden weather. On another level, it’s a huge, doomed ad for New Zealand.

What is This Rugged Beauty?

Ralph: It’s about taking what you expect from a New Zealand play, turning that on its head and pulling it apart. So we’ve been looking at what are the rules of a New Zealand play, and what is the way the New Zealand identity is sold to us, especially through dramas such as Shortland Street. Eli [Kent, performer] has been really useful in this way because he knows the rules so we can break them.

The research done during the writing process was about looking at how our national identity is given to us, sold to us, you can be really really proud one moment [of being a New Zealander] but really embarrassed at the same, and we’re interesting in that feeling of it being positive and making you cringe too. An example of this would be the hoo-haa surrounding the [Rugby] World Cup, and the way that it’s all so very over-the-top, you have mountains and music and this kind of great pride injection which you’re supposed to be given. We’re trying to take some of the feeling of that and putting it into the show.

Rachel: It’s also about how hyperbolicly and orgasmicly New Zealand is depicted. If you had only seen the ads you imagine this place as this picturesque, environmentally friendly land where no one lives except people in grass skirts.

Why do you think we create this hyperbolic narrative about our own country?

Rachel: Because we’ve got small nation syndrome.

Ralph: And I think also to differentiate ourselves, this idea of New Zealand as a product to be sold. Remember all of the internal uproar about if we didn’t get The Hobbit, we wouldn’t have an economy? We have to sell New Zealand as a place.

Do you think there is a distinctive New Zealand culture? Or do we create one?

Ralph: I don’t think it’s one or the other; they feed into each other. You may want your holiday to be more like the Idyllic holiday that you think you had when you were a child, but it might have just been a Tiptop advertisement or a movie you watched. So much of this country’s advertising is nostalgia, especially those Tiptop ads, and so we’re really interested in where those commercial experiences and the real experiences meet and what it’s like to have those experiences taken from you and repackaged.

Rachel: You can’t take away someone’s childhood memories, and that’s where people are able to find some authenticity. Everyone’s summers are different, and just because they’re a part of that may end up on an ad for ice cream, it doesn’t take that away.
In some of the first rehersals we did, we played around with telling stories from our childhoods, and what we found was that they would become, in their own way, quite epic. Then we watched a lot of Shortland Street, because it’s its own mini epic, set in New Zealand.

How do you think your age [all being in your 20s] affects your view of New Zealand?

Ralph: The way that we (as young people) experience our country’s past is as glimpses of history, it’s like that Te Papa exhibition Golden Days—you see an impression of our history, but you have no real connection to it other than a gut feeling. The Museum section of This Rugged Beauty is playing with this feeling of distance from those events, and thinking about what kind of events resonate with us now, beyond the 50s New Zealand nostalgia of men being men, short back and sides, and of these things that we never experienced.

Rachel: And even though we are young, we have grown up with this 50s nostalgia. Our parents are the Baby Boomers, and in their own way, they have infiltrated us with this idea that the past was actually like this.

How is this different to your other works?

Rachel: I’m much less uncomfortable about my parents seeing this show.

Ralph: Except when the two characters start fucking on
the stage.

Rachel: This play still signifies a shift from what we’ve done previously, while maintaining the vitality of our other works. Come and see it!

This Rugged Beauty will be on from 25 February to 5 March at 77 Fairlie Terrace (opposite Te Puni) at 7.30PM. Tickets are $10 for Vic students or $18 for non students. Book bingeculture@gmail.com.

WIN TICKETS!

Email your favourite Kiwi hero and why in to editor@salient.org.nz with BINGE in the subject line and you’ll be in to win a double pass to the opening night of This Rugged Beauty.

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