The musical theatre show Sing It To My Face came together in 2014, after Wellington’s Barbarian Productions was offered use of the Wellington Cathedral. The production company’s co-founder, Jo Randerson, had been thinking about how different generations make sweeping generalisations about one another.
“What if instead of just grumbling about it, we had it out face-to-face through song in a live event?” She had wondered. And so, Sing It To My Face was born. The intergenerational choral show, which has since toured to Wānaka, the Wairarapa and Nelson, opens in Tāmaki Makaurau this week. I caught up with Jo to talk about the magic of theatre in our screen-obsessed times, and how important it is for people of all age groups to interact.
Jo’s introduction to theatre came at secondary school. “I really, really wanted to be in the school stage show at age 16, that's the first thing I knew,” she says. But it was through growing up in a church congregation that she saw the power of community and people from different ages working together.
“Sometimes there were fights, but it was also a lot of fun. Any community group brings people together this way - at a marae, church, school, or other community space. But often workplaces can have quite a narrow age bracket, and children and older voices are not heard in many of our public dialogues.”
Jo saw this firsthand when they held rehearsals for the show. “The first time the over-60-year-old singers and the under-30-year-old singers were in the room together, one young university student told me he felt very emotional, as he realised he hadn't seen an older person for a long time. The simple act of having different age groups in a room together can be a rare occasion these days, depending on how you live your life.”
“The simple act of having different age groups in a room together can be a rare occasion these days, depending on how you live your life.”
But Sing It To My Face is about more than simply bringing people together. Jo believes by honestly airing their grievances, a sense of empathy can begin to build between the generations.
“The point is that we all need to work together, despite our age differences. That said, it's helpful to realise that we see things differently and understand each other's various viewpoints.”
I ask Jo about the highlights from the first run of the show. She says for her, it was seeing the audience so moved. “We did the show on a shoestring, we were all exhausted and had no idea how it would go. And then the audience was so affected. Just bringing a group of people together over a few weeks in such a meaningful way was very fulfilling.”
Not only is Jo an award-winning theatre director, she’s an acclaimed writer and comedian. Despite theatre being an ancient art form, she feels its intimacy and capacity for human connection makes it even more important in today's digital-obsessed world.
“Right now, the condition of being in a live room with real people, and being part of an experience that is not mediated by a screen, is a rare and powerful event,” Jo says. “All cultures have always created performance, the application of this form is vastly underrated. Theatre brings people together around a central live moment, creating shared face-to-face interactions and genuine dialogue. It helps us to feel human and part of a group.”
“Theatre brings people together around a central live moment, creating shared face-to-face interactions and genuine dialogue. It helps us to feel human and part of a group.”
This is a kaupapa that Barbarian Productions bring to all their projects. Along with her partner, Thomas LaHood, Jo runs the company out of an old bowling club nestled in the hills above the Wellington suburb of Brooklyn. The club is filled with people from all walks of life working on various projects. Jo describes bringing people into the fold as like being at a party. “Some people make a beeline for you, others you make a beeline for, and sometimes you have to go find people outside around the back or up a tree. We just try to follow our instincts, be as open as possible with the time we have and communicate clearly about what we can and can't do.”
Sing It To My Face runs October 17th-20th at Auckland Town Hall - Concert Chamber. Find out more at www.aucklandlive.co.nz/show/sing-it-to-my-face