Renee Liang chats to writer/actor Tim Carlsen and director Sophie Roberts about their new play, One Day Moko, devised after Tim spent some time as a volunteer working with the homeless.
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As a writer, I’m intrigued and a little threatened by devised theatre. (What use is a playwright if plays can be made without a script?!) Yes, I’m playing devil’s advocate – I’ve since learnt that writing is actually integral to the process of devising, it’s just that often the writing happens after the story or scene has been found by the actors’ bodies. Following the “if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” philosophy, I recently took part in a couple of devising workshops, which were great fun (if a little painful for those who had to watch me ‘act’).
I met Tim Carlsen and Sophie Roberts at John Bolton’s excellent one-weekend course, run by The Actors Laboratory. By then Tim’s play One Day Moko, which Sophie directs, was well advanced. Tim is a recent Toi Whakaari graduate and met Sophie (also a recent graduate) as she was tutoring the graduate Solo shows. One Day Moko gives the one man show a surprising twist as Tim, embodying a homeless man (and his dog), interacts with other characters via a TV set, which he takes with him on his travels.
Tim’s at pains to point out that One Day Moko is not about being homeless, but rather an exploration of the habits and routines that affect us all (to greater or lesser degrees). The play was born out of observations Tim made when working as a volunteer with homeless organizations in Wellington and Auckland. He makes the point that contrary to what many people think, the poor and unemployed don’t just sit around – some in fact are very busy, as part of the ‘work’ of being unemployed involves going to a lot of 'meetings' - from socializing with friends to getting to the City Mission dinners on time.
But even if it’s not really about being homeless, Tim’s piece is one of a number of works (the recent Fringe hit Homeless Economics among the others) which explore the issues around a group in society that, until now, most people have either ignored or found quite scary. I’m learning more about this, as I’ve volunteered to spend a night out in the open in midwinter as part of the “Big Sleepout”. Will spending the night lying on a piece of cardboard at AUT campus bring me closer to an understanding of homelessness? Probably not, but listening to stories from the real people themselves (part of the night’s program) probably will.
Either way, I’m doing this because it will raise money for Lifewise, a group which works to help the homeless by working with them to change the ‘roots’ of the problem – ie, education, social supports and health. They also offer practical help - not just shelter or food but also help tackling drug addictions, mental health issues and societal attitudes. So I’m going to end my intro with a shameless pitch – please help me help Lifewise by sponsoring me here.
Great. Thanks! Now, back to the play….
Why do you choose theatre as a medium?
Tim: It gives me a public forum to express imagination, questions and curiosities that I have in life... encompassed in a form that has endless possibility for both audience and artist.
Sophie: It’s not a passive artform, it demands that you engage, it’s a place where everything is amplified, its happening in the moment, it wakes you up, it’s magic.
How do you choose what to base a play on? Are there particular stories or themes that you go back to, again and again?
Tim: I listen out to what I'm attracted to in life, give it some attention and follow this by asking "Why?" The themes that I’m drawn to are to do with domestic and addictive habits, daily routines and lifestyles in humans... and sometimes dogs.
Sophie: I just kind of follow what interests me, what pisses me off, what amuses me, what I want to know more about. I do tend to be drawn to quite dark worlds that have a heightened or distorted sense of reality.
Tim, why have you chosen to do a play based on a character who is homeless?
Tim: This piece is in no way trying to give an ‘accurate representation' of homelessness - I don't believe I'd be doing this issue justice if I said it was (whereas some of the cast from 'Homeless Economics' would know this lifestyle first-hand). I've never been homeless and so can only use my research and observation to get a mere insight into this community, one in which highlights some of the bigger questions that I have in life. To what extent do we choose our daily routines and habits? What are some of the forces that drive us to recognize or ignore these things about ourselves? The social issue of homelessness certainly has its place in 'One Day Moko' - but this work is further developed other 'worlds' have entered the piece that also tie into the questions I mentioned above - from ‘Spaghetti Westerns’ to ‘Karaoke Clubs’ - an accurate representation of homelessness? By clashing such content together something new is revealed for the audience that allows/will instigate reflection and conversation regardless of our background and social standing.
Actor, director, writer.... is there much distance between these roles?
Tim: In devised work I think the distance is not so great …depending on the demands of the work these roles can be fluid... all dependent on the individual.
Sophie: I see them as very different. Who I am in the rehearsal room as an actor isn't the same as when I'm in the room as a director, they are totally different jobs that require different skills. But I feel like they exist well alongside each other, both roles challenge and satisfy different parts of who I am as a practitioner.
How much has travel influenced the way you work and what you choose to work on?
Tim: A lot. Catching a train to being stuck in traffic- every moment of travel feeds into the work I make. What I choose to work on depends on where I travel to and what sort of sights, sounds and smells I meet along the way.
Sophie: Anything that pushes you out of what has become comfy or familiar the way travel does is healthy, I think. I find it gives me a fresh perspective and I’m more sensitive to what's going on a round me, so I notice things I wouldn't normally pay attention to.
Do you prefer devised or script based work, and why?
Tim: Depends on what the scripts is, versus what the devised work is.
Sophie: I don't have a preference, I like the element of problem solving and sense of ownership that comes with making work, and I love the gift that really great writing gives you.
How does the collaboration between the two of you work?
Sophie: The shape of the collaboration really depends on the project. With Moko, it’s very much Tim's piece so my job isn't to impose my own point of view but to help him articulate his own vision for the work.
Tim: This is a piece that started with my own ideas and curiosities, which then turned into the development of a show – I guess that’s my stake in our collaboration in simple terms. Sophie offers support to articulate the direction of this work – provoking both content and form that bring me closer to the essence what this shows about.
Has your relationship changed since you started working together?
Tim: Of course! - I don't think we'd get anywhere if it didn't.
Sophie: I guess the more you work with someone, the more of a shorthand you develop, which allows you to work quite fast. We speak the same language and have similar taste and values around work, which helps.
Have the stories and themes in Moko changed during its evolution from a solo piece to full-blown play?
Sophie: Yes, and it’s still changing as we are still making it!
Tim: The show is still a 'solo piece' and is always evolving - I'm not sure at what point it would be considered a 'full-blown' play... this only the beginning.
What's next for you?
Sophie: I’m about to head to Wellington to direct the Solos at Toi Whakaari, then I’m directing Tim again in piece for the SILO theatre called I Love You Bro, then I’m performing in The End of The Golden Weather for The Auckland Theatre Company.
Tim: Acting in a piece (also directed by Sophie) for Silo Theatre, I Love You Bro. Then I’m performing in End of The Golden Weather for ATC and then Tartuffe – also with Silo.
One Day Moko
28 June – 2 July 2011, 7.30pm, Basement Theatre, Auckland
Tickets from iTicket Express