BATS Theatre – video recorded in the Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Global

09/04/2020 - 13/04/2020

Production Details

Butcher Holler Here We Come is a critically-acclaimed and award-winning original performance that descends into the interior landscape of the male psyche-in-crisis.  

‘Toxic Masculinity’ is examined at its very source: five working class coal miners provide an archetypical cross-section of manhood which, when turned in on itself, negotiates a poetic and horrifying reckoning upon their own history. The result is a hallucinatory framework where secrets, lies, carnal desires, and traumatic lineages are unearthed and reversed. Other connotations of this toxicity are given dramatic voice through the politics of environmentalism, class, sexual orientation, and faith – all in a rapid-pace meditation on survival and the nature of reality itself.

Told in near-to-total darkness, with the use of headlamps to illuminate the actors while they weave in and around the audience, the play invites a visceral, terrifying, and emotionally-wrought forging of manhood as it actively interrogates itself, against the backdrop forces of an un-anthropomorphic world.

Proclaimed as “a jarring and fine introduction” to the festival by the New York Times, Butcher Holler Here We Come is a new American play that fuses the philosophy of Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty with a poetic dialogue akin to Breece D’J Pancake’s short stories to provoke a deeply and socially-relevant conversation about gender, nature, economy, spirituality, and the phenomenology of storytelling.

BATS Theatre – video recorded in the Dome (before Lockdown)
with supplementary footage shot and edited in the USA for bridging
Available to download from 9 April at 6:30pm – and during Easter weekendFull Price $20
Concession Price $15
DON’T CLICK ‘BUY TICKET’ on the BATS website
Link coming soon   

A little background: At the beginning of March, when it was still very uncertain how COVID would impact American society and the economy, we embarked upon our first international tour of BUTCHER HOLLER HERE WE COME. Our plan was to perform 5 shows in Sydney, Australia, and then make it over to New Zealand where we would join up with the Wellington and Dunedin Fringe festivals.

The entire trip turned out to be a lesson in adaptability. At every turn, more and more of our shows were cancelled, until finally we were compelled to get creative. Like many of our friends and colleagues, we’ve decided to rise to the occasion, to take inspiration from the ancient Chinese wisdom that danger and crisis are often closely related to opportunity, and to find a way to continue to make art, despite extreme circumstances.

Half of this film was shot at BATS theatre in Wellington. The other half was filmed by each of us individually, while under quarantine. Over the last week, we have worked day and night to coordinate our filming, splicing, and post-production, often over terrible WiFi connections and with limited resources. Our goal was ambitious: to try to the best of our ability to make this not just a worthwhile project, but as close an emulation of our original stage production as possible. It almost didn’t happen, but we got it done. And we’re proud to be able to share this with you.

We’ve been touring this award-winning mudpuppy of a play for nearly 7 years, having produced it in more than 18 different cities across the United States. BUTCHER HOLLER tells the story of five coal miners, trapped in a collapsed mine in West Virginia, 1972. It is a vertiginous descent into the male psyche-in-crisis, an immersive theatrical experience, lit only by head lamps, and a hallucinatory narrative where secrets, lies, carnal desires, and traumatic lineages come boiling to the surface of the subliminal mind.

Theatre ,

1 hr 15 mins

A stylistic, expressionistic experience

Review by Erin Harrington & John Smythe 10th Apr 2020

For nearly seven years Butcher Holler Here We Come played live in more than 18 cities across the United States then, in March this year, when America was still very uncertain how Coronavirus would impact its society and economy, the company embarked upon their first international tour.

Originally scheduled to play at Wellington’s BATS Theatre at the end of the NZ Fringe, from 19-28 March, after a short season in Sydney Australia and before going to the Dunedin Fringe, the production got caught in the slow but increasingly serious drift of COVID 19 containment policies. Just in time they made a digital recording of it at BATS then each actor individually self-recorded additional material while under quarantine. Co-ordinating, editing and post-producing it has been a challenge and now it’s available online throughout the Easter weekend.

It has also been a challenge for viewers without high-speed fibre to watch it without the frustration of intermittent and sometimes sustained buffering. Erin persisted to the best of her ability and sent her notes (i.e. most of what follows) to John who watched it without problems in order to validate her perceptions. “Strangely, the problems I had buffering meant that I spent more time up close and personal with the characters and the imagery that I would have otherwise,” Erin reports. “I’m sure that anyone who is able to access this using fibre will get a lot out of it – especially if they listen with headphones.”

Although Casey Wimpee’s play is set in a collapsed mine in West Virginia, in 1972, it is not a docudrama about that tragic event. It uses the trapped-in-the-dark circumstances of five coal miners to explore male behaviour in this pressured present by evoking their social and familial histories, digging up secrets and unresolved issues, and bringing it to a powerful climax.

Leah Bonvissuto directs the consistently good cast: Cole Wimpee (Jet), Brendan Flood (Muskie), Isaac Byrne (Hiccup), Adam Laten Willson (Leander) and Michael Mason (K-Bus). The men’s feeling of brotherhood, amplified by the dangerous nature of their work and their small-town bonds, has come adrift and they have to fight as much with each other as they do for their lives. 

The slow-burn psychological thriller they treat us to covers a lot of ground: the economic exploitation of workers, the relationship between people and the earth and environment, and overlapping layers of myth and history. A Gothic underground chamber piece, it plays with the rhythms of midnight ghost stories and urban legends.

The show’s design privileges cascading dialogue and the thumping, whooshing sounds of the depths of the mine to deliver a stylistic, expressionistic experience. The action ducks around in time, from the present catastrophe to its inception, and elsewhere into memory. Well structured, it pulls us in and out of the action, as if we are nodding in and out of sleep.

Much of the action appeals on dual levels. For example there is a game where the challenge is to count down from twenty, making each name rhyme with the title of a country song. Even as we seek the answers ourselves, we empathise with those who face dire consequences if they get one wrong.

Recording theatre is a treacherous business, as film and theatre use different languages to achieve similar effects. It’s almost impossible to convert the audience’s experience of theatre to film by recording it ‘straight’. This tends to be exacerbated by the fact that stage tech (such as lighting and sound) tends not to translate well to film. But this show’s stygian setting and self-imposed technological limitations (i.e. the use of headlamps as the only source of lighting) really work for it.

The company has made some excellent choices, augmenting the show’s mounting dread by filming each scene (for the most part) in a long single take, using handheld cameras that move and loops throughout the space. This emphasises the characters’ subjective experience and the result is wonderfully disorienting and claustrophobic. Frequent use of extreme close ups on harshly partially-lit faces, and shifting perspectives, mean we’re also able to experience the narrative and the characters’ increasingly paranoid internal states in a way that a traditional theatre audience couldn’t.

The black of the screen potentially has a different sense of depth, too, than the black of a theatre. This, and the sonic ambience, are broken up a little by the necessary isolation inserts from the performers in isolation, but that’s not worth nit-picking. The company have done a great job with what they had. It’s a successful experiment.

That much of it is presented in a dark, empty theatre offers so many layers of metaphor! As for the title, there sure is a lot of hollering down there in the mine. There is a huge deer knife that coke gets snorted from. And Butcher Hollow turns out to be the location of the idyllic little farm house Jet dreams of settling down in – a universal fantasy.

Tune in here.


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