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For such a small city, Wellington is full of some wonderfully creative people. This week I interviewed comedian Eamonn Marra, and Hannah Banks and Cassandra Tse, two of Wellington’s best young theatre-makers.
Tell me about what each inspired you to start producing theatre and comedy?
Cassandra: As a writer, I really enjoy the collaborative nature of theatre; I find it an incredibly rewarding mode of storytelling because it’s built up by a community of people. It’s exciting to work in theatre because you get to deliver your story to a physical, present audience – you get to experience other people experiencing your work, which is quite wonderful.
Hannah: I don’t know if I ever would have started My Accomplice if I hadn’t been working so closely with Paul and Uther. When the three of us were coming up with a title for our directing season, ‘My Accomplice’ was one of the options. Uther said, “Well we should start a theatre company and call it My Accomplice then.” So we did. And now it’s five years and 13 shows later. At least I think it’s 13… maybe it’s more.
Eamonn: I was writing a lot of poetry in 2011/2012 and I started focussing on humour in poetry, I entered quite a few poetry slams, and the funny poems got the most attention. One of these slams was organised by the Humorous Arts Trust, and I decided, since my funny poems were getting good responses, I should try comedy.
Cassandra, is there much of a musical-theatre scene in Wellington outside of the St James and the Opera House?
Musical theatre in Wellington is in a bit of state of change at the moment – you’ve got the old guard, Wellington Musical Theatre, who tend to produce big-budget shows from overseas. Then you have us, and a couple of other young companies like Fresh Dada, who are writing really interesting original shows but with a tiny budget and smaller casts. I’ve gotten involved with Wellington Footlights, which is a new company hoping to fill in the gap between the huge St James–y offerings and the eight-person-cast shows we write for at Red Scare.
Hannah, can you tell me something about the creation process within My Accomplice?
All of our processes are united by what kind of show we want to make. What is the idea? From there, we decide whether it needs to be devised, scripted, or a combination of both. We try to do things that are a bit scary. Work that scares us reveals the most about ourselves in the best possible way. We also always know what the next show is going to be; this allows us to keep growing and challenging ourselves as a company and as individuals.
Eamonn, how easy do you find it to create something people can laugh at from a subject such as anxiety?
It comes quite naturally to me. Looking at the funny side of anxiety helps me get through the problems it causes, and because I am doing this quite often just to get through every day, I have quite a huge catalogue of material to work from.
What do you each of you have planned for Fringe next year?
C: I’m just about to start writing a non-musical play which I hope will be ready for Fringe as well; as of four hours ago, it’s going to be about a woman obsessed with categorising folklore and the Aarne–Thompson index, so we’ll see where that goes.
H: Well, we will be coming straight off the back of our STAB show Watch, which is reopening BATS Theatre at their Kent Tce home. But we do still have a couple of things planned. They’re a slightly different direction for us.
E: I have a concept line-up show in the planning stages about getting various interesting people to talk about obsessions they have. It was inspired by Jonathan Franzen’s collection of essays, Farther Away, which was two-thirds essays about birds and birdwatching.
Any advice for people wanting to get involved in theatre or comedy in Wellington?
C: Audition for as much as possible, volunteer to help out with front-of-house or stage-handing… If you’re really keen, just email the production company and we’ll probably find some kind of job for you to do.
H: See as much theatre as you can. Talk to people in shows, ask questions, put yourself out there and intern on big productions. If an idea comes to you, share it. You may think your ideas are stupid or boring, but everyone thinks that. Every story is interesting. It’s just about how well they are told.
E: Talk about what you love and are passionate about rather than what you think is going to get the best response.