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October 2, 2017 | by  | in Theatre |
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Interview with Satisfied Customers

Satisfied Customers is a new play from Ben Wilson, directed by Keegan Bragg, opening at BATS Theatre on Thursday, October 3. The play follows a group of high school friends who are then given the opportunity for fame and success in the music business — but will the dysfunctional group keep their friendships and their band together in time for it? I sat down with Ben, Keegan, and lead actor Adeline Shaddick, to talk about their process.

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Why do you think students will be interested in seeing the show?

Adeline Shaddick: Students will love it just because it’s about a high school band, and also the idea of school friends falling apart but staying together, loving each other but also hating each other. Any students, not just high school, will love it. There’s also good friend banter throughout it. Band banter.

Keegan Bragg: The thing that bothers me the most about shows like this is that they’re not ruckus enough. They don’t play to that young thing where you want to have dumb fun enough, they’re a little too restrained, and I think that’s our goal anyway with this show, to really assault the senses with how this band plays with each other.

A: Shit yeah, it really stirs the pot.

 

Talk us through your character, Adeline. Who is she?

A: Amelia / Amy, I don’t think she likes “Amelia” at all. She’s in this band with her friends from high school. I like to say she’s a bit of a noob, to be honest that’s my connection with her, in we’re not very clear with what we want and then when we are, we freak out.

Ben Wilson: That certainly sounds like Amy; I don’t know about you.

A: Yeah, cool. She’s in this band, she’s been in this band for a couple years, they’re about 20/21. It’s her dad who comes up with this idea to make them famous, and she gets hooked onto it. Her dad is an advertising man who’s into his products and creating things, life insurance is his thing, and he’s quite intense. Her mum’s not in the picture. Kenneth is played by Matt Staijen-Leach. Me and Matt have a couple of scenes together so it’s really cool to work with him again.

 

All of you have gone through university. Ben, you did a Master of Arts in Creative Writing with IIML, Keegan has a Bachelor of Arts in Theatre, and Adeline has a Bachelor of Commerce in Marketing and Theatre. How did VUW and IIML help you in this process?

B: IIML has helped me so much, especially Ken Duncum being so supportive; he’s done so much for me.

A: I’ve learnt just as much in both my areas; I have more love for theatre but marketing is more practical, giving me knowledge as to how to have my own business. I did a 300-level arts marketing paper where I was like, “whoa, this would be so much fun to do marketing for theatre!” The lecturer was so passionate. I like boring logistical stuff like making Excel budget lists, writing rehearsal requirements, lists, and marketing at university has helped me with the producing role too.

 

Keegan, you and Adeline did THEA 304 last year and you’re assistant directing this year’s Long Cloud show Black Knight Dreaming. Do you think these experiences have helped you in your first show as a director?

K: Definitely. I think the good thing about doing shows outside of university as well as doing the [theatre] papers in university is that you get a lot of experience about different ways of working, and so even though it’s your first show and you’re learning a lot and you’re testing out things that don’t necessarily work all the time, you’ve got this real wealth of knowledge and reasoning behind why things work and don’t work, so you don’t feel like a blind person stumbling around in a room, you can see the reasons why things work or don’t work, so it’s immensely helpful.

 

What was the first show you guys worked on?

B: Call Me Bukowski (CMB). I saw Keegan in The Adding Machine [Long Cloud, directed by Stella Reid] and thought he was really amazing, and I just wanted him to be my friend. Liam became our friend at the same time. CMB was the first show where we met and worked on something together.

 

So you worked on CMB, and then Fred Is Cold [directed by Neenah Dekkers-Reihana], and then Super Clean which Liam directed. Did you have a similar process with Satisfied Customers as you had with Super Clean, devising first and then writing a script?

K: We had a first draft, and then with that draft we had a devising process where we explored the characters and stuff like that, hot-seating and other exercises to get out the meat of the characters. This was after we’d cast.

B: Yeah, so [the cast] helped change the second draft really. So we saw them work, and then we wrote accordingly. We saw what they were really good at and made it fit that a bit more.

K: And we could see that from a writer’s eye and a director’s eye.

B: Yeah, and we just sat up all night together and reworked it, after we did two days’ worth of stuff with the actors.

K: And that’s when you feel like it’s a great collaborative thing, when you work on it and then bring other people in and it improves it exponentially.

 

And that’s the real value of working with a living playwright, isn’t it?

A: It’s been so good having Ben in the room. The majority of the rehearsals he’s been there, if not all, and we [the actors] are just able to communicate with him if we have any questions. Even just with a line, we’re like “can we just make this line this way?” and he’s like “yeah,” or “nah, we’ve got this for a reason,” and then we say “oh, that makes more sense as well.” And we’re able to talk about our characters journeys and stuff, it’s been really really helpful.

K: And what I think is awesome is that the director and the writer can help the actors out in very different ways. So Ben is the authority on the script, the thing we’re actually doing, because he wrote the thing, and so for Adeline’s character, the hero’s journey is the template. He has a very thorough understanding of that, and my job is to translate it in a way that’s easy to play as an actor, and not all this theory. But I mean, that’s the joy of collaboration. To go back to our influences, that’s what you learn at VUW, that’s what you learn at Long Cloud, that’s what you learn everywhere is that collaboration is a good thing. And I think we’ve got that.

 

So Ben, Keegan, and Liam Kelly — you guys are a trio company?

B: Yeah, so we started the company with Fred Is Cold but that wasn’t a company show because we wanted Neenah [Dekkers-Reihana] to direct, very much, so we thought making it a company show would be a bit redundant. So our first company show was Super Clean [which was in Fringe (My FAV) 2017, which Liam directed].

 

What’s your company called?

B: Rumpus Room.

 

How was it working on a project without Liam, without your third company member?

B: Liam was there for the start, as it was a baby,. It’s amazing because we like different things in a lot of ways, we all have different tastes, so when we all sit down with just an idea, we’re able to put all these little bits of taste into one thing, and that’s what’s great about it being me, Keegan, and Liam when there is no script, we can just do this.

K: Because there is sort of a Goldilocks Zone between having different tastes and having the same taste. Having the same taste means you have the same coherent vision and work towards something, and then the different tastes means you don’t have a narrow vision, or a vision that’s never challenged or improved by the other people in the group and I think we have that. And that goes to the versatility as well. Ben can write a show, and act in a show, and Liam can do the same thing, and Liam and Ben can both play different instruments, and I can act and direct, and that’s what’s great about the company.

B: So Liam was involved in the beginning but he has his Masters [of Fine Arts] and he really wanted to put his time into that because it means a lot to him, so we just made a plan where we would all work together at the start, and then he would do his Masters, and we’d talk to him every now and again about the script as new drafts came and he would give us his feedback and it’s been great.

A: He came in for workshops early on, to explore bits and pieces.

K: Again, what’s good about that is the versatility. SO you have a show like Super Clean which is very Fringe, it’s all about audience interaction, and then you’ve got a show like this which is really more like Ben’s baby as a more traditional play, and then Liam’s Masters project is a 12-hour durational play where you write a song every hour. So that’s the idea of the company — basically, diversity.

 

Did it feel a bit odd though, not having your third company member in the room with you?

B: I’ve never felt like I’ve never had him really, because he was always open to us.

K: I mean, that’s kind of the beast of collaboration. We know Liam incredibly well, and we know Addie and Matt [actor] well, and then we had people we cast who we don’t know well at all, so that’s just part of the beast, navigating the different layers of knowing each other.

 

I think that’s a real testament to your company that is doesn’t have to be the three of you all the time, because, as nice as that is, sometimes in theatre that’s just not logistically possible.

K: And the theatre companies we look up to work on a similar basis. That’s just the nature of the beast of theatre in Wellington.

 

In terms of the future of the company, are you going to do another Fringe show? Are you going to add more permanent members to the company?

B: I think we want people we regularly work with, for sure. And in terms of wanting to do Fringe, yes, we would like to, but it’s just always spirit of the moment. It’s based on people’s availability because Liam’s still studying, and we’re working, and all that sort of stuff, so it’s just figuring all that out. It’s really hard to plan long term.

K: What’s kind of gorgeous about it, even though there’s all these availabilities and people you want to bring in or not bring in, if you have a good show idea and you can get people involved in that show idea and you can realise it then that’s what we go towards. It’s not about who’s available in this month. When the show is good then it usually gets people over the line and gets people to over-commit and stress themselves the hell out.

B: I think we would only ever plan to a show if we had an idea. We’re not going to think “Oh, Fringe is coming up, we should think of something for that.” We’re not especially interested in that.

K: Every show is different, every show is unique, and I hope that we have the right team and the right process behind Satisfied Customers because it’s a really good idea, I think.

 

So jobs are a real thing and, as students, we have to support ourselves — theatre always tends to suck up a lot of our time. So do you guys have jobs or aim for jobs that are flexible enough for you to do theatre?

K: The way I think about it, you just have to make time. You have to go as hard as you can, especially with something like theatre. The opportunity is just not going to present itself for you. 

A: No, you have to drive yourself. But it is always so hard, and you just have to find time. And if that means finding a job that’s casual and you work rarely, then that’s what you’ve got to do, if you want to do it.

K: And that’s why I’m really happy with the cast we have because not everyone has that mindset. I think we’ve got a bunch of good eggs in our carton, everyone has that mindset of “whatever it takes” — we’ve just got to find time to do it properly.

 

Favourite colour?

B: Purple. I really like the colour purple.

K: Red and black — Crusaders colours.

A: Orange! Like a mandarin orange.

K: Oh, fucking of course mandarin orange! [Laughs]

A: I love mandarins! Oh wait… [she then pulls out a mandarin peel from her pocket].

 

Favourite food from the Hunter Lounge?

A: Curly fries!

B: Oh yeah, the curly fries are great.

K: Pilsner.

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