Mixing theatre with storytelling and music, Wheel of Experience returns to Auckland at the end of a 25-date nationwide tour. Renee Liang interviews creators and performers Dave Ward and Peter Daube.
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Wheel of Experience is a theatrical offering of ballads based on the lives and legends of early Aotearoa. Created and performed by industry veterans Dave Ward, Peter Daube and Dave Kahn, the show has just come off a nationwide tour with Arts On Tour. Having started as a streetside performance in Auckland in 2011, it now comes full circle with a full theatrical treatment at Q Theatre, 9 -13 September.
How did Wheel of Experience come about?
Dave Ward: Wheel was originally created as a street performance piece for the Random Acts Festival in 2011. I wanted to devise a show that combined music, theatre and storytelling, and would be housed in an incongruous antique performance tent/shack. The idea was that people would enter our door and emerge portal-like inside a unique experience before returning to their everyday lives. Thematically things took shape once Peter got involved and we started delving into the stories which were the basis of the songs in the show.
How did you choose the sevn stories that you sing about?
Dave Ward: We were looking for a life, legend or events that we thought would make a good song, a strong story and a real journey that people could enter into as an experience. We were aware that we wanted to avoid a dry re-telling of history or a collection of twee folk songs, so we often gravitated to stories that had some darkness, humour or modern political corollaries. We knew we were onto something when we both felt strongly about a story and it started to work away on our imaginations, like reading about Portuguese Don Buck riding his magnificent black stallion out west or the story of the immigrants who arrived at Cornwallis to discover the utopian settlement painted for them didn’t exist.
Why are songs such good vehicles for storytelling?
Peter Daube: People have always put music to stories and all songs carry a story on some level. We are emulating nature when we communicate through song. Just as a bird in a dawn chorus cuts through with its message, so do well married music and lyrics. Songs carry the aspirations of many or the intentions of one. They can become attached to social movements, or individually, people are empowered by having their own response to a song and will place their own meaning on them, associating them with personal events, time and place.
Tell me about the instruments you play. How did you source them?
Dave Ward: Peter, Dave and I all play all kinds of acoustic stringed instruments, and have accumulated quite a few over the years! In the show we play fiddle, mandolin, five string banjos, banjolin, guitars, trombone, cigar box slide guitars and the chinese zhongruan. I am always keeping an eye out for a new friend to add to the family. It is amazing what is lurking in someone’s attic for years and turns up on Trademe or in a second hand store. Each instrument has its own voice and character and we tried out each song with different variations of instruments until they seemed fit to tell that particular story.
Many of the stories are dramatic and high stakes but have been forgotten... they're also very specific to time and place. Have you had surprising responses from audience?
Peter Daube: Re-telling of NZ history has tended to dwell on the undeniably astounding achievements and perhaps be a little humble about less marketable exploits. Stories have been kept alive not only by historians and archivists but through family history, urban myth and legend. Every town we visited we met people who had some association with the stories we tell. It is a point of wonder to me how many people in New Zealand have lived on Don Buck road.
You've just completed a 25-stop tour of NZ - what was the most unique place you visited?
Peter Daube: Three Rakiura oysters will keep you sated for a week. They were shucked at the bar and served up with unforgettable Oban hospitality.
Any road trip stories to tell?
Dave Ward: We nearly didn’t make it! We were in a nasty car accident on a greasy back road on our way from Rotorua to New Plymouth. Miraculously all our instruments, our wooden set and our bodies survived, albeit a little bent and scraped. A new van was acquired, and we only missed the one gig before getting back on stage the following night at the Wanganui Opera House.
How did you find working with Arts On Tour? What parts do they sort out and which parts did you have to do yourself?
Dave Ward: They were great. They took care of booking, publicity, (with content from us) transport, (tour van and petrol expenses) and accommodation.
Basically it was up to us to liaise with the venues directly regarding all technical details. The guaranteed fee that AOTNZ provides per performance takes the risk out of doing such a tour, and they have existing venues and networks that are usually keen to promote the show.
What are you working on next?
Peter Daube: We’ll keep making music and writing songs. It's an imperative. Dave?
Dave Ward: Yes, things are brewing away and a new show that builds on Wheel Of Experience will emerge soon when enough creative elements demand it.