Leo Gene Peters: A need for change

Santa Claus, brought to you by A Slightly Isolated Dog
We chat to theatre maker Leo Gene Peters about making joyfully absurd theatre that reflects the joyfully absurd nature of life.

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Theatre maker, Leo Gene Peters believes that theatre needs to change to become more relevant to and inclusive of modern day audiences. His theatre company, A Slightly Isolated Dog, creates theatre that is joyful which aims to capture the imagination of the audience so they can pause for a moment and realise the absurdity of the world in which we live.

“In theatre we can come together and play together and share our loneliness and laugh at how ridiculous it is. We can honour how hard it is, and how beautiful it is, that we all live.”

Leo Gene is critical of the current theatre format which he believes in most cases is just not relevant to modern experiences or expectations. This, he says, is contributing to decreasing audience numbers. “We’re making shows that are the same as they were 100 years ago. We don’t understand that form is dead now.”

Gone are the days when an audience can be held without any form of direct engagement. Where an invisible wall sits between the performers bathed in light and the audience cloaked in darkness. What makes theatre unique today is the fact that it is one of the few places left in society where people come together in a shared experience that can only ever be human-to-human. Theatre remains one of the few formats that offers a truly live experience.

“Live theatre lives in the interaction of people,” explains Leo Gene. For that to become real, theatre must acknowledge the audience in an honest way. “It has to directly bring us into an experience that we can’t have on our sofa or at the cinema. We want people involved and lost but still be physically aware of themselves as a human being.”

A Slightly Isolated Dog theatre company achieves this through creating work that dwells in the absurd and the joyful. Through his work, Leo Gene aims to provoke his audience into really feeling the meaning in the ordinary while at the same time being able to laugh at the absurd nature of our everyday lives.

“We are ridiculous beings. We get so stupidly wound up about such small things. We strive for all this crap but even the people that have all that crap are miserable. We never listen to ourselves. It’s an endless cosmic joke if you look at it. But we cannot diminish the human experience down to a joke. It is funny and sad at the same time which is what makes it beautiful.”

By provoking an audience to consider the nature of our lives in the grand scheme of things, Leo Gene’s work draws people into the living present and invokes a kind of curiosity that allows us to be sensitive to what he defines as “the absolutely incomprehensible and completely non-understandable energy that lies behind everything.”

Tackling this year’s annual Basement Theatre Christmas Show, Leo Gene is bringing a raucous approach to Christmas delighting in the absurd and promising a playfully subversive and joyful experience. The description for his show Santa Claus says it all...

In the little town of Auckland, naughtiness has taken over and Santa’s ready to take the law into his own hands. Which list are you on? Did you buy caged eggs? Park in a disabled parking spot? Vote for a party that got less than five percent in the general election? Then you better watch out. Because Santa Claus is coming to The Basement, and it’s either good tidings, or a total Christmassacre.

In true A Slightly Isolated Dog style, the audience members are an essential ingredient in the performance, but Leo Gene is aware of the introverted amongst us and assures that involvement is optional. “We give you opportunities to play and we want you to look great and if you don’t want to play then we don’t want you to because we want you to have a joyous time and celebrate how ubiquitous our lives are and laugh at it all.”

Leo Gene has been creating theatre for 15 years and has been directing his own company since 2006. Adaptability has been key to Leo Gene carving out a living in theatre. He prefers to think of his work as a vocation rather than a career because, he says, that thinking about it as a career is too overwhelming. He moves fluidly from contract to contract living between cities and taking opportunities as they come and go.

While he himself is managing to maintain theatre as a full time gig, he is critical of the limiting culture of shame that exists in the New Zealand arts scene around having a day job to support your creative endeavours. “There’s a weird stigma around it. In the States everyone has a dayjob. That’s just the thing. People use their skills in a commercial way. People wait, bartend, admin whatever. But here there is this kind of weird stigma.” He calls on artists, and young artists especially to not listen to, or worry about it. Having a dayjob doesn’t equate to artistic failure, for many, it is just the reality of working in the arts.

As a charitable organisation, the Christmas Show is Basement Theatre’s only fundraiser, with all profits from the show going into development programmes for artists.

SANTA CLAUS plays
Dates:   Thursday November 30 – Wednesday December 20
Times:   7:00pm, Tuesday – Saturday, Monday 11 & 18 December
Late Shows: 9:00pm Saturday 9 & 16; Thursday 14 December
Venue:   The Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland CBD
Tickets:  $32 - $35
SANTA UPGRADE (Guaranteed best seats in the house, a free drink and a donation towards the theatre): $50.00
ELF UPGRADE (A sweet treat at interval and a donation to the theatre): $45.00
REINDEER UPGRADE (Giving extra love to our theatre this festive season): $40.00
Bookings: www.iticket.co.nz // 0508 iTICKET (484 253)

Written by

Hannah Mackintosh

30 Nov 2017

Hannah is a Wellington-based writer, community organiser and lover of stories.

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