Sightings is an exciting play; it’s not every day that an all-female cast takes to the stage to disrupt theatre conventions with powerful, personal narratives. I spoke to Kura Forrester, one of the co-directors, the day after the play opened at Q Theatre. We spoke about Massive Company’s kaupapa, the process of creating Sightings, and working with an all-female cast. Sightings plays at the Glen Eden Playhouse on September 7 & 8 as part of New Zealand Theatre Month and Going West Festival.
It’s night two of Sightings tonight, isn’t it? How exciting!
Sure is, we just had our first matinee to some high school kids. We’re stoked that young people and adults alike are responding to it.
Tell me about Massive Company and what you guys do.
Young people have been the heart of Massive since it was started 25 years ago by Samantha Scott. We run free theatre workshops for kids in the school holidays and the Massive Nui ensemble is targeted at for 15-25 year olds. Massive loves to encourage the joy and playfulness of young people.
When Sam started the company, she found that a lot of the young people turned into adults who didn’t want to leave the company. That started the professional side of the company, which is where I joined in 2008.
How did you get involved?
After my first play with Massive, I didn’t want to leave. I trained as a tutor and a stage manager. Now, with Sightings, I’m debuting as a co-director. There are a lot of pathways through the company and the work is so varied. Throughout my time with Massive, our kaupapa has been pretty clear. We always do new work, we always have an element of du jour (modernity) and complicité (collaboration) in our work as well as a teaching aspect.
Is there a regular process for how you create new works?
Every work is different. Sightings is a great example because we wanted to try and do a play scripted for our young people. Often the process involves devising, but this play was different.
How did the idea for Sightings come about?
It’s been the most collaborative and complex way of making a show, but it’s been satisfying at the same time. Sam, the writers, and I came up with some provocations to explore and make the team curious about the world. Some were quotes like ‘How do you measure a life?’ and ‘How do you go forward but keep looking backwards?’
In the process, we found this image of a woman standing on a ladder and looking out across this vast, empty land. We showed the actors that image and the quotes and asked: “What does this spark for you?” They had about a month to explore those provocations, and then the whole team spent a weekend together sharing our stories in whatever way we wanted – it could be a mood board or a piece of music.
From that weekend, the writers went away and wrote. Some of the stories that ended up in Sightings are based on what the cast shared, but others are completely made-up. It’s been cool to have the actors work from texts where bits are recognisable and personal but other parts are completely new.
What was it like working with an all-female cast as opposed to a mixed cast? How did it shift the dynamic and the audience response?
What I’ve really loved is these five young women having an opportunity to play to the full size of who they are in the world. I’ve loved that they can show all of their energy, their strength, and their courage. They’ve grown so much as performers.
Just because it’s an all-female cast doesn’t mean we’re men-haters or damning men at all, I think men are enjoying the show just as much as women. A male student from Tangaroa College came up to Sam and I after the show and asked “What would you like men to take from the show?” and I thought, just the fact that you’re asking that question is awesome.
How would you describe Sightings yourself?
There’s a lot going on. Sightings is rich in plot and character. It’s non-linear and asks the audience to think deeply. The show never gives the audience answers.
How has it been packing all of that into one hour?
The best type of challenging. A lot of rigour and hard work and trying again and again. We stayed open to the process and trusted in our team. The show’s opening doesn’t stop that growth and development; it’s a living beast.
Usually, I’m working on shows as an actor so it’s buzzy being a part of the other side of the process [as a director]. I sat in the audience last night twiddling my thumbs thinking ‘This is what it’s like to be a director’. There’s nothing I can do once the show starts.
How has the audience connected to the personal narratives?
People say it’s “deep” which I think is a good thing. Audiences have loved the moments where they can connect the dots and enjoy our nonlinear story. But there’s also great dancing and songs and laughs. I love the moments where I know the crack up bits are coming up and I’m like ‘you guys are in for a treat’.
There’s a lot of emotion involved but all the women are really in control of what they’re doing. They love to play these characters and hold the responsibility of these stories. People have said it’s brought up a lot of emotion in them.
There is no response that we expected. We never think ‘this is what it has to be’. Sightings is about opening up the conversations around what things could be. Whatever emotion people take from it, I’m happy.Support Villainesse