The Wind Speaks to Wellington

BATS Theatre, Wellington

28/11/2007 - 01/12/2007

Production Details

Inspired by the disturbingly rapid change in our global environment and the constant flux and change in conditions that every Wellingtonian has learnt to tolerate, Bard Productions present The Wind Speaks to Wellington.

The arrogant humans of the earth have aggravated the elements so much that they couldn’t contain their anger and retaliated on Dec. 2, 2007. Natural disasters, disease and war ravaged the earth. In 2087 the only humans left alive with any form of conscience reside in BATS Theatre.

A devised play about the wind in Wellington is disrupted as the Spirit of the Wind takes the body of the Front of House Manager as a host. He comes to BATS to "relax and watch a play", but when the actors decide that they can’t go on after this interruption, the Wind decides to put on a play of his own…He uses the bodies of the two actors to give the audience a demonstration of what has happened to BATS, Wellington, and the world in the year 2087. But what does the Wind God have invested? Why does he care so much about enlightening the people of Wellington?

Starring Paul Stephanus, Hannah Clarke, Dan Greer and Scott Ransom; and featuring the intricate sound design of Emile de la Rey and expert lighting design from Glenn Ashworth, this play will be premiering at BATS Theatre from 27 November to 1 December 2007 6.30pm. 

Tickets are available from BATS Theatre, bookings

on 04 802 4175 or   

With Paul Stephanus, Hannah Clarke, Dan Greer and Scott Ransom

Overall, not for me

Review by Helen Sims 08th Dec 2007

The Wind Speaks to Wellington was the product of several months’ hard work devising a show based in humour and physical performance with a serious social message. What looks like an abysmal piece of devised physical theatre is disrupted by BATS’ Dan Greer, ostensibly possessed by the Wind God, who strikes the performers (Hannah Clarke and Scott Ransom) dumb and takes over, promising more entertaining fare.

In the “first” interrupted story purports to consist of 124 vignettes about wind (although we never get past Chapter 4). Anna (Clarke) and Scotty (Ransom) appear in clothes that send up physical devised work – tights and flowing capes – then proceed to execute a series of awkward looking moves designed to evoke different aspects of the wind. Clarke’s broken foot and wheelchair is utilised to great comic effect – the cast is commended for at least attempting to incorporate her injury (sustained only several days before the show was due to open) into the play.

The “second” story takes place in the future, in the year 2087, in post-apocalyptic Wellington, populated by mutants and humans who seek shelter from them and attempt to be “blown away” into a better world. The performers, Anna and Scotty, now play Efe and Adafufu, who were raised in a cupboard and have very different reactions when they first encounter the outside world – particularly its extreme wind. Efe’s instructions about how to recognise and kill a mutant are well conceived and leads to a copious amount of humorous sniffing. Her mentor has been Kooshi (director Paul Stephanus), who uses a bizarre accent, landing somewhere between Yoda and the Muppets – perhaps to match Greer’s equally bizarre accent as the Wind God?

While the premise is at first humorous, it starts to lose its way a little before an hour in. There are some fairly large gaps in logic and plausibility – such as the Wind God having the power to move tectonic plates. The moralising was also a bit too overt – it would have been better to leave it in the abstract rather than have the wind god become the didactic voice for the play’s moral message. Likewise, the connection to Adam and Eve is on the wrong side of explicit. Satisfyingly, the play does come “full circle” and return to the present setting of the first story.

I’d dispute some of their claims to originality – dramatisation of the apocalyptic is not particularly new. I’m not a fan of science fiction as a genre, so I’m a tad biased against plays with that slant, but here it was suitable and was within the realm of my imaginative powers. Emile de la Rey’s sound design was excellent and innovative.

Overall, this was not for me, but it is a shame it only got a single night’s performance (the decision was taken to cancel the rest of the season on medical grounds). I’m increasingly realising that the opening night reaction is not always a reliable gauge for any show, as it is usually packed out with supporters (and critics!) This show could really have benefited from more time in front of a more neutral audience. But it didn’t blow me away.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.


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A blown opportunity?

Review by John Smythe 29th Nov 2007

Delayed one night on account of the lead actress breaking bones in her foot, the first thing to say is that Hannah K Clarke’s ability to adapt her performance to – indeed, make the most of – an orthopaedic boot, a wheelchair and crutches, is to be roundly applauded.

But as with many devised works in their first incarnations (from which few progress), The Wind Speaks to Wellington suffers from premature performance syndrome with coherent content coming a poor second, which leaves me very uncontented.

Speaking of puns, the predictable "blow job" gets way too much air time and the compelling desire to be "blown away" turns out to be a very important concept (I think) in an accumulating set of scenarios that finally confuse more than they elucidate.

After Front-of-House manager Dan Greer gives the thumbs up to sound designer and operator Emile de la Rey and lighting operator (of Glen Ashworth’s design) Debby McGuire, Clarke and Scott Ransom open the show with breezy little tableaux … only to be interrupted by Greer who seems to be having a fit, and turns out to be possessed by the Wind God.

Less than interested in what these mere mortals were up to, the WG casts them in his own play – all of which takes far too long to set up (the 80-minute show should lose 20 minutes at least, most of it from the first half). Greer looks great in the role with long hair and beard, but his accent …! Yes, I know the wind comes from all over, although mostly – as the play itself acknowledges – it is born (and borne) over oceans. To my ear his inconsistent lapsing into an American accent – Sopranos-style USA, not even South America with a nod to El Nino or La Nina – is so mindless, so knee-jerk Primary School, so sadly culturally conditioned, I can only despair. Why the hell can’t the Wellington wind sound like a Wellingtonian when he’s at home?

Honestly, if experienced devisers working at BATS aren’t willing to take a stand against the insidious cultural imperialism-of-the-mind that instils the notion in TV-watchers from an early age that all things of consequence (and anything sung, of course) have to have American voices, there’s no hope for any of us. And – oh, the irony – that this calumny should be perpetrated at the very venue that spawned Flight of the Conchords, who have now made the Kiwi accent cool in America (although they do still sing in American accents)!

The Wind God’s servant, Kooshi, is played by director Paul Stephanus in a full-on Walt Disney cartoon American accent and given Stephanus is American – via Dunedin – I’d say that’s fine, except we know from his solo show The Gods in Post-Nuclear New Zealand that he is capable of many voices, so why has he chosen a Daffy Duck one here?)

Hannah Clarke’s Efe and Scott Ransom’s Adafufu are quite appealing clown-like waifs in a post-apocalyptic future blighted with mutants that’s 80 years hence, yet everything – represented by the magazine covers that adorn the stage – is dated 2007. So this is a warning, then; a cautionary tale about a future that we can, perhaps, avoid, except there is no suggestion as to how. All the play does at this level is tells us off.

The science fiction premise for the play brings its own demands for credibility; for a willing suspension of disbelief based on reasonably logical concepts. Given the total collapse of so-called civilised society, then, I find it hard to comprehend how a fresh French tourist lady got herself to Cuba Mall, although she is a well drawn character and the evocation of the iconic Bucket Fountain is a high point of the show.

That all the electricity in Wellington is dependent on the wind turning one turbine is fine. But what are we to make of a Wind God that can move tectonic plates, or even the proposition that climate change per-se can cause earthquakes? (The SEEyD Company has set the standard for thorough research to underpin its devised works, not least with Turbine, this time last year.)

An attempt to build the drama to a scene atop the State Insurance building (involving the afore-mention desire to be ‘blown away’) then engage us with the Wind God’s moral dilemma at the end of the play is commendable. It’s something to do with whether he should spare Adafufu and Efe to reincarnate the human race – which has, after all, been the baddie on the planet ever since Adam and Eve (oh, right … A and E …) – or should he spare the Earth by obliterating them too? But why he should ask, "Do I let them go or die with them?" eludes me.

And a final image, in the WG’s play-within-the-play, of Kooshi wandering off like a storybook boy with his worldly belongings bundled and tied to a stick, is remarkable only in that it manages to render a cliché totally meaningless. (A great tip, picked up at a screenwriting courseI it’s dangerous to listen to your ‘instincts’ because ‘instincts’ invariably suggest clichés.)

There are some good, self-aware gags about devising co-ops that improvise. A couple of twists as we return to the ‘real’ world of performers on stage at BATS elicit a satisfactory ending. Some awareness of dramatic structure has been brought to bear. But overall the show hijacks itself with semi-developed ideas given dramatic form before they’ve been properly thought through. Pick your metaphor: a ceramic vase glazed and fired before it is properly formed, so it leaks when used; a building clad, painted and furnished before the foundations and internal have been engineered let alone built so it skews and warps at the first tremor … (any more?).

Of course BATS prices are low enough to justify asking people to pay to see a work in progress, as long as they realise that’s what it is and are able to communicate their feedback where it counts (feel free to use this site). On the other hand this could be the one shot this idea-with-potential will ever get; in short: a blown opportunity.


EDITOR December 17th, 2007

This Comment stream is now being diverted to a Forum entitled ‘Creating by Writing and/or Devising’. Please post to that rather than here. (Apologies, by the way, to those whose contributions got caught in the Spam Trap before I found and ‘legitimised’ them. We’re working on ways of avoiding that, and think typos – misspellings – may be one thing that pings a posting.)

Murray Lynch December 17th, 2007

I'm harking back to earlier in the thread but I want to put the record straight about the creation of 'The Wedding Party' and 'One Flesh'. The process for 'Wedding' was that Tantrum theatre company, not The Depot who later staged the script, invited Fiona to write a show for the actors in the company and for myself to direct. A series of provocations and improvisations surrounding the events at a wedding were set up by myself and Fiona. This took place over a period of three weeks. Whilst we continued to explore some of the characters that arose out of this, Fiona began to produce scenes based on the work on the rehearsal floor. She would deliver scenes for us to rehearse and we began to piece these together into a play while she continued to write further scenes away from the rehearsals. It was a collaborative process. Some of the resulting play resembles the characters created by actors and scenes improvised but much, perhaps most, of it is Fiona's invention. 'One Flesh' was begun in a similar way in a workshop where both David Geary, who wrote an accompanying play, 'Ruapehu', and Fiona participated in exploring ideas with the actors,led by myself. Both writers then went away and wrote. However, in this case the resulting plays bore little, if any, resemblance to the explorations of the workshop.

Mary December 17th, 2007

No, I didnt want to know about "the basis of devising and creation"; I was interested in what NZ groups actually do - "what actually happens." Concrete examples from recent devised productions is what I was hoping for, from the participants. Given up hope now.

Ms Katurian December 16th, 2007

No, I'm more than aware of it; I've even seen it take place. It just wasn't the point of my discussion. (By the way, for a pseudonym previously asking questions about the basis of devising and creation, that's a remarkably informed statement...)

Mary December 16th, 2007

Ms Katurian is possibly not aware of how often actors' input into 'devised' plays is exploited by ambitious individuals. The Writers Guild, Playmarket and other writers agencies possibly are.

Ms. Katurian December 16th, 2007

I totally agree, Simon, and have been putting that same opinion out there repeatedly (see previous). A couple of related thoughts: 1. John, your discussion of improvisation as a form is rather interesting. People do receive work in different ways, but the implication that we enjoy the improvised form but probably wouldn't if it was written down, is not only something of an odd leap, but I don't see why improvisation should need legitimation by being written down, nor should it form a judgement one way or another if it is not. It's a bit like saying that we enjoy painting but we wouldn't if it was a sculpture: I don't really see your point. Improvisation is a performance form in itself. As a related, and interesting point that somewhat confounds your theory about its reception (and I would argue that there's a slight undercurrent of 'disposability' and logocentrism to your argument), talk to any professional improvisor that has been performing for at least, say, a couple of years - or read Keith Johnstone on the same topic - and you'll find that at least once, often repeatedly, in _every season_, audience members will approach the performers and ask where they can buy the scripts. It happens over, and over, and over (in fact, it's something that impro performers frequently swap stories about). 2. Your leap from discussing creative process to dwelling on copyright and who-owns-what is a disturbing, worrying trend. And, in contrast with the development of, well, most performative traditions internationally, the Writer's Guild motto tells me everything I need to know: because on the whole, in the beginning _wasn't_ the word, but movement and spectacle. Moreover, the righteous connotations of co-opting that quote are more than a little offensive, to tell the truth. Leaving that aside, as Simon suggests, there is a great deal more out there than these apparent 'boundaries' in the creative process, which are themselves remarkably permeable. This principle of 'creation' and 'recreation' is a particularly artificial distinction when you're referring to 'origination' (a contemporary capitalist intervention into creativity if ever I heard one), especially as many of the worshipped figures in the Western tradition (Greek, Elizabethan and Jacobean playwrights, say) worked extensively with material that 'originated' with other people, and the more we enquire into these processes, the more we understand how blurry they might indeed have been. In fact, I'd suggest that their disdain for 'originality' and 'copyright' is one of the greatest strengths for the dense frameworks of allusion they are able to employ. Moreover, as Michael reminds us previously, that old definition of 'wrighting' as shaping, as crafting from material that is _there_, is something that I think people have tended to gloss over in our addiction to the image of the genius lone writer (thanks, Romantic poets...) who receives ideas from the cosmos. Writers, particularly when they bring the products of their research and investigations forward and are the initiators and shapers of a project, should certainly be credited for their work and acknowledged. I don't mean to imply at all that they shouldn't. But as Simon suggests, there's a lot more nuance to the discussion than erecting territories - and if anything, I believe that the jump towards discussing copyright and ownership is often rather revealing of territorial impulse when I'd believed we were discussing process...

Simon Bennett December 14th, 2007

What I'm implying that the devising vs writing debate isn't a black or white, right or wrong thing. The devising process has been integral to the development of a number of acclaimed works. Rather than any process being right or wrong, I would venture to suggest that the elements critical to success of theatre work include craft, dramaturgy, taste, a clear sense of purpose (ie something to say), and the application of an informed objective eye while the work is being forged and polished for presentation. There are many ways of arriving at the right destination.

John Smythe December 14th, 2007

As I understand it, Simon – correct me if I'm wrong, anyone – both Fiona Samuel (The Wedding Party; One Flesh) and Gary Henderson (Skin Tight) did a lot of work on the premise, the concept, the characters and/or the scenarios before they worked with their actors; indeed they must have done in order to assemble an appropriate cast (although in the case of The Wedding Party maybe the ad-hoc ensemble of Depot actors who were available and interested became the starting point for the characters that Fiona developed). In the development process the actors were interpreting / recreating something which had originated with the writers. And provoked by what had occurred in the workshop space, the writers continued to write and rewrite – including, discarding, modifying, renovating, reinventing … – on the clear understanding that whatever evolved through this process, and was distilled into the various drafts of script, remained the copyright property of the playwright. All Playmarket workshops proceed on that basis: the director, dramaturg and actors are paid for their services while the playwright ends up owning the outcome. The International Affiliation of Writers Guilds encapsulates the principle of creation versus recreation with a quote from Genesis: “In the beginning was the Word …”

Thomas LaHood December 14th, 2007

...bringing the whole saga full circle to the initial queries about who owns devised work. But Simon, who cares where it 'fits in'? And Mary, since when were artists required to 'show their working' to get their grades?

Mary December 14th, 2007

Yes Simon. It does seem that ofen 'devised' work tends to overlook the group contribution and credit a dominant individual. Exactly when did group co-written (and group credited) work, which often employs all the creative methods John and others cite above, become formalised into this thing called 'devised'? Is there a book from some academic which marks the moment in history?

Simon Bennett December 14th, 2007

Yes John, but where does work which ends up being written down, but which is derived from an improvisational/development process with actors, fit in? I'm thinking here of two very successful NZ plays: Fiona Samuel's The Wedding Party, and Gary Henderson's Skin Tight.

John Smythe December 13th, 2007

Here’s how I distinguish between play ‘writing’ and ‘devising’ although – as Michael suggests – both may be considered ‘wrighting’. If a sole creator writes their blueprint for a structured performance piece in script form before anyone else gets involved, then they have written a play: a play wrought by a playwright. If two (or more) playwrights collaborate to first communicate their vision the same way – via a written script – that is also a written work. Where a group of co-creators collaborate to develop an idea into a structured piece for performance, building from research, provocations and other stimuli to first give form to the work in performance mode, usually through improvisation, then it is a devised work. And the more it continues to evolve by this process, the more it is a devised work. If a solo performer also develops a work in a similar way, that work too is ‘devised’ rather than ‘written’. Once a written work gets onto its feet, in workshop or rehearsal, it is bound to change through the collaborative input of other creative-cum-recreative practitioners. In this case the playwright revises and, because none of this would have happened unless the writer had written it in the first place, it remains a written work. It is also common for a devised work, once consolidated, to be written in script form. In the first instance this may be necessary so that stage managers, and light/ sound/ AV operators, etc, can mark up their cues. Otherwise it may be written for posterity, so that revivals can be mounted and/or so that other groups can acquire rights to perform the show. So yes, Ms Katurian, it is all ‘creating’ – and ‘recreating’ (a.k.a. ‘play’) and either way it is ‘wrought’ into shape for live performance, so it would be linguistically logical to call all of it ‘playwrighting’ if not necessarily ‘play writing’. I should also add that in the end the criteria for success (or otherwise) in production are the same, regardless of how the work has evolved. Except I do believe we respond differently to – have different expectations of – pre-rehearsed work and live improvisation (i.e. theatre devised before our very eyes). While we may be hugely entertained by material produced instantly in theatre sports-style formats, if those results were scripted, rehearsed and performed again I doubt they would fly. And the reason for that may have everything to do with why there are inherent dangers in what we call devising. Conversely there are inherent dangers in fully producing scripted works without testing them in action first.

Michael Smythe December 13th, 2007

Writing and creating come together in that good old fashioned term 'wrighting'. As far as I know we still spell playwright that way (although US TV did not recently recover from a wrighters' strike). My good old Shorter Oxford (1959) defines a wright as an artificer or handicraftsman, esp. a constructive workman. So - any forming or shaping process is okay as long as it's constructive? (And that's man as in manual, not as in bloke.)

Mary December 13th, 2007

Thanks for that - but as for your questions I really have no idea. I was hoping some NZ 'devisers' would address all this, explain what they do and how they define it all.

Ms. Katurian December 13th, 2007

I think T MEEK's tone speaks more to an agenda, as do their earlier comments, so only time will tell. Perhaps, Mary, there is only CREATING, and what have been referred to as 'writing' and 'devising' and 'improvising' are not only related, they're often employed together, and all, when done well, involve rigour in their process. Perhaps, in fact, none of them are new, they're just given different names over time and the application of them varies. And yes, wait no longer, because there are a _lot_ of publications about 'devising practice', they're detailed, and many internationally leading groups and individuals teach methodology in masterclasses. Whether you want to portray them as some newfangled thing called devising, or reinvented versions of writing probably has a lot more to do with people's allegiances than anything else. I find it a rather meaningless debate. I'd respond with several questions for you, Mary - what is 'good old writing', 'old fashioned writing', and why is it good and 'disciplined' as opposed to this riff-raff devising? Why is writing 'hard graft' and devising 'looser'? Why do they have to be opposed? If I'm doing writing or planning structuring, do you really think I am no longer devising? If I get performers to contribute, am I no longer writing? And why, in all of these cases, does it even matter? I think if you can answer these, you can begin to address your own questions.

Mary December 13th, 2007

While we wait for T's answer, can I offer my own understanding of his/her point. Which is that really there is only "Writing", good or bad. Work that appears to be 'improvised' and spontaneous in performance (like the Conchords) is presumed by some to have been arrived at in some other way than hard graft Writing, so the word 'devised' is used to imply a looser process. The article shows however that the Conchords didn't use some mysterious new loose process - they WROTE their shows in the old fashioned, disciplined way; and B & J are therefore co-writers. What's more in this article J describes their writing process in detail. When is someone going to do the same for 'devising'? Is there in fact such a thing? Or is it just old fashioned writing by another name? What makes devising different from ordinary old writing?

Kore Flavell December 13th, 2007

Id also be interested to getting a response to Tina Meeks question. What exactly was the creative process that came up with this production?

Ms. Katurian December 12th, 2007

Thanks, T MEEK. I will try and locate a copy at some point. In the meantime, based on reading both the quotes that you've supplied, and your own directive to read John's previous comments, all I can see is evidence that employing a range of creative processes (writing, devising, character improvisation, formal scripting, improvising around a script) can be beneficial, that craft and time pay off in creating good material, and that true fun is hard work. I can't see what's especially controversial about any of those conclusions - but you seem fairly triumphant as you flourish this article at us. I'm lost. Could you elaborate on what, precisely, you think you've shown?

T MEEK December 12th, 2007

The interview appears in Pitch Engine, December 2007, "Interview with Jemaine Clement by Benedict Reid". It deals with the process of creation of the current Flight of the Conchords TV series. See also comments by John Smythe above, December 3. By way of comparison, it might be enlightening to hear a description of the creative process behind The Wind Speaks To Wellington which resulted in the review at the top of this thread. Snip snip snippy.

Ms. Katurian December 11th, 2007

I'd also be interested, 'T MEEK'. When you post it, could you clarify what the article is covering? Because based on what you quote, and your fairly self-righteous scolding of the previous posters, it seems rather curious that your own quotes seem to a) refer primarily to the scripts generated for a commissioned TV series, which changes the complexion of the discussion considerably and b) even then show some blurry areas which don't quite give the grounds for your rather snippy tone and, most importantly c) don't seem to discuss the extensive evolution of this material, these characters, their 'world', all prior to the radio and television series, respectively. I'm sure that plenty of the contributors to this very website could talk about this very issue. All of these elements, if anything, would seem to blur matters, shattering this ongoing dichotomy that people lay out, where, apparently, it's writing vs devising. If all you're claiming is that rigor and craft are a good idea, I can't see what the problem is. Nor can I see applying these to good devising, good writing, and the area in which the two often overlap as a particularly threatening concept to anything that's been discussed here. Any clues?

stephen gallagher December 11th, 2007

Hi T Meek, Where did you find the article? It sounds interesting and I'd like to read it.

T MEEK December 10th, 2007

I noticed that one of the posters above confusedly cited "Taika Cohen, Jermaine (sic) Clement and Bret McKenzie" as an example of the wonders wrought by devised theatre. I've just read an interview with Jemaine Clement. He has some useful things to say about creating a show and I'll quote them: "When we do write [our own scripts] we're quite analytical about it. You choose all these lines really carefully and then when you act it's like it doesn't matter and we don't memorize them and we sort of do something which sort of comes out a lot like the script. I guess the acting is an extension of the writing." Asked if the writing gave a structure to the scenes, he replied, "Yeah, we take the writing a lot more seriously than the acting." Asked about episodes of written by Taika Cohen and Duncan Sarkies, he said, "We storylined them. So we give them a storyline and they hand in their first draft and then we give them notes on that. And then we do the last re-write." The director of The Wind That Speaks to Wellington has said he's found the discussion in this thread "fruitful". Perhaps most fruitful of all might be if he were to take aboard the Flight of the Conchords' devising process.

paul stephanus December 7th, 2007

Thanks John. Really though, despite any difference in opinion, I do appreciate having a reviewer in this town that will always be there on the opening night of any performance, not excluding an unorthodox one man-show in a subterranean bar on cuba street. the above discussion has been fruitful. thanks!

John Smythe December 6th, 2007

Indeed, Thomas. Maybe the Ho Ho Ho guy will bring us a change of fortune soon. To clarify: theatreview has no funding source (the miniscule earnings from Google Ads don't even cover the hosting costs) and all the reviewers work on a voluntary basis while aiming to maintain professional standards in the craft of critiquing. Options are being explored to turn this around but as yet we have not found the magic button. I would dearly love theatreview to be able to operate on a fully professional basis ... And where else, dear readers, have we heard that before? Just today we got another "love what you're doing but no" ... Ditto.

Thomas LaHood December 6th, 2007

Paid to review...? He he he hehe

Scott Ransom December 5th, 2007

Hey everyone! Wow, what a lovely debate, it makes me feel proud that so many people have got their knickers in a twist over a show only 90 people saw! I agree with my director/fellow actor Paul Stephanus about the overall feeling of the show. It was a joy to perform, somewhat awkward to push on considering the set backs, but somehow fullfilling to communicate something we've worked on for so long. I guess I have the benefit of being a little more anonymous than others who were involved with the play, but what's the big deal here? When I experience a piece of entertainment that I didn't like, I don't start prepping the 'We Must Destroy This Genre' machine because it's simply too pig-headed and narrow minded of me to think that my opinion is better than any others. The only one with an excuse here is the reviewer, he gets paid (at least, I hope you do buddy) to have an opinion. The rest just seem needlessly angry. As for me, any reaction is a good reaction, I'm glad people have had an emotional response to the text we produced even when they didn't go! (Were we that influential? Perhaps.) -Thanks

John Smythe December 5th, 2007

Nonsense, Phil, I am not at all aligned to the views of Rachel Robbins. My first inclination was to remove her offensive post but censorship is also offensive and – as many I have chatted with recently will attest – I rationalised that at least she motivated others to leap to the defence of devised work. Nor am I “prejudiced against devised work”. Read my reviews of any SEEyD Company, Indian Ink, Robert LePage and Theatre Militia production over the years; of Sniper, Settling, Strange Resting Places … While it seems that ‘premature performance syndrome’ is more likely to occur in devised works, written plays are by no means immune. It’s just that, more often than not, written works have to go through a rigorously competitive process to even be read by producers, let alone offered a development process and/or production. I am also on record as being a big fan of theatre sports-style impro shows, which is an instant form of group devising that can be truly astonishing. But the key there is that the audience knows its impro, so their expectations, perceptions and criteria for appreciation are very different. Rather than repeat myself, for further proof that I am not prejudiced as you suggest, scroll through my contributions to the 201 postings on the Forum entitled Who owns devised work? Finally, the Comments and Forum facilities are there for anyone who wishes to offer a counter view to anything I, or any other critics, say. Feel free.

Phil Quensell December 5th, 2007

The point that Paul Stephanus makes is worth repeating. He recalls the audience for Wind That Speaks to Wellington being entertained by the performance and asks: "What has happened since then?" He answers: "A widely read critic [John] voiced their opinion, and everyone took it as gospel." Now then, here is John's review of another recent devised work: "Lack of dramaturgical skill and wit." "The medium is the superficial massage." "Those who have railed against devised work per se will find support for their case." I do think John is prejudiced against devised work. He may protest and may not recognise it in himself, but the prejudice is there. What I'd like to suggest is that for the next devised piece John steps back and lets someone else review it. Someone like Paul, say. I do think John's position in this debate, which goes back a bit, is compromised. He's a bit too close to the likes of Rachel Robbins.

Mary December 5th, 2007

Very funny but careful Adam, or we'll be spiralling back into an inane debate about scurrilous 'Anons' and distracted from the matter in hand which I hoped would be a clear idea of working processes for devised work. Paul's "We use improvisational skills, we workshop, we get mates in to see what they reckon, we think about how to give our audiences a good night of entertaining and provoking theatre" is very vague. Doesn't anyone have a systematic approach that can be defined step by step?

Mary December 5th, 2007

Very funny but careful Adam, or we'll be spiralling back into an inane debate about scurrilous 'Anons' and distracted from the matter in hand which I hoped would be a clear idea of working processes for devised work. Paul's "We use improvisational skills, we workshop, we get mates in to see what they reckon, we think about how to give our audiences a good night of entertaining and provoking theatre" is very vague. Doesn't anyone have a systematic approach that can be defined step by step?

Adam Skapinski December 5th, 2007

"rationale for much of the shtick betwixt their songs " -John Smythe If you ask me, John Smythe is trying too hard to find a rationale for the shtick betwixt his ass cheeks.

Richard Grevers December 4th, 2007

I've been involved with my fair share of devised work, from Gary Carsel's serial "Dumped in Space" to Burning Airlines' "Red 7" (Note to puzzled Wellingtonistas - we're talking Christchurch 15 years ago). I've seen Toby Gough - a master of devised theatre - come unravelled when faced with a heap of technology and an indoor venue. The phrase "in need of another week or two's work" is very familiar. But I have also seen the good side - Bert van Dijk and Helen Moran's "Towering" hit the ground running and carried on to a Welly season and a South island tour with just a little tweaking and evolution. Maybe it was significant that it was a solo performance. What interests me in this debate is the phrase "Work in Progress". But do any of these works ever actually progress? I would be surprised to hear they do, because the whole environment is agin them: Availability of venues, performers, the funding model. Could the system be tweaked so that a team might work on a project for a couple of months, present it as a "Work in Progress" for a short season (maybe something more like a public workshop), then (possibly after a break) spend another month reworking towards a product which is actually ready to face the world? Results would not be guaranteed - Even with scripted work there are the musicals which have staged 60 previews and close after a single "official" performance.

steve dean December 4th, 2007

I was one of the 90 punters, who perchance, did see The Wind play and although I would largely agree with most of John's review - it was a bloody mess ferinstance - I cant see that the performers have to feel they should apologise for the play. I definitely thought it better time spent than The Kreutzer, which I definitely thought was out of place at BATS. In fact, I thought Dan's performance as the Wind was subtle and nuanced compared with the acting in that piece. All in all it was full of energy, had a lot of ideas (though I am still not sure what they were) and not a few laughs.

Libby C December 4th, 2007

Just as a note, yes there were both a producer and director. Paul Stephanus, who commented above, was the director of this piece, and I was approached to be a first time producer. For myself, this was my initial experience with theatre full stop and has proven a huge learning curve (or as one person has noted, a learning curve that was so steep it came back on itself....). However, I don't believe this is the appropriate space to discuss the process which lead up to the production at this time. In addition to this though, I would like to say that it was my decision to cancel the rest of the season - not based on the review, as every piece of theatre deserves critical assessment, and I welcome John's comments! However, when a cast member has injured themselves, it is unfair for them to be under pressure to perform beyond physical capability and possibly cause permanent damage (can we remember how the foot has the most bones in the body?); unfair for the rest involved to be feeling that they may add to that pressure, or be left on tenterhooks as to whether the performance is happening each night. In addition, it is not fair to rebook audience members more than once! It was these factors that contributed to a decision to cancel the show.

Devise & Destroy Theatre Co December 3rd, 2007

I always love reading when the debates get heated on this site and generally they have something to do with devised theatre. (I realise for some of you our company name is rather ironic) What I would love to know is what the history of "The wind speaks to Wellington" was. Was this really it's initial presentation? Were there any workshops? Also was it a funded co-op production? (Up in Aucks so not fully down with how Bats runs) I just think there is alot of rubbishing of "devised" theatre as being under-par, whereas its not that the process doesn't work but that they are perhaps half-cooked meals being shown. Our first (attempted) production this year was shown only as a work in progress. We co-produced AND performed in it and that made it very difficult as you could imagine. Had we been working towards mounting an actual season it would've bombed worse than WSTW. Paul is right when he says that devised work is the hardest to achieve on stage. To go deeper I would say that it is that it is the hardest to produce and direct. To keep it simple; you have no script. Surely, if you looking toward devising a show, wouldn't you look toward getting a script first, before even looking at getting a show on? I'm just surprised that a shows first incarnation would be a straight out season at bats. Was there a producer or director? Cos at the moment it seems the performers are taking alot of the slack from this review. It's like a shitty challenge on the apprentice; you've gotta have a project manager whose responsible for the final result otherwise the eggs on everyones faces. In saying that I really applaud Bats for its risk-taking. Financially secure = stagnation

John Smythe December 3rd, 2007

Excellent commentary, Paul, provoking these thoughts: What Bret and Jemaine [note the spelling of both names] DEVISED over those early years was their ‘Flight of the Conchords’ characters – their wants, needs, flaws and foibles – and a subtly shifting relationship that evolved in the spaces between their highly original songs. The songs, let’s be clear, were written. Sure, they may have been ‘workshopped’ in various ways and gone through many drafts as part of the creative process but by the time they saw an audience / an audience heard them, they had been written with the mathematical precision all songs need if they are to transcend their technology and … well, sing. Also worth noting is that the rationale for much of the shtick betwixt their songs must have been the need to set up the next song. And the plot and character lines for each episode of their TV show are, to a large extent, created as the themed settings for the pre-cut gems of their songs. Whichever way you look at them, each episode of the Flight of the Conchords has gone thought a comprehensive scripting process before it is rehearsed, shot, edited and post-produced for public consumption. And yes, I know, that’s not what we come away thinking about – which inspires another metaphor: the tightrope walker, whose primary purpose is to walk from one end of the rope to the other without falling off. When the foundations and frameworks that elevate the rope are strong and secure, they can be taken for granted; forgotten by an audience now free to enjoy the antics the ‘walker’ gets up to in the process of pursuing their quest / achieving their goal / completing their journey. On the question of FUNDING the time and resources required to produce a good result from a devising process, this is the equivalent of commissioning a play from a playwright, except much more expensive (if we’re talking about employing a whole group for months, instead of just one writer). Given that no playwright could expect to receive a commission without having proved themselves by working ‘on spec’, the same must surely apply to devising co-ops. And it does. (The SEEyD Company and Indian Ink, for example, have been funded to devise and develop new work, have they not …?) As for the all-important PERFORMANCE dimension, this tends to be the inevitable consequence of a group-devising process, no matter what, whereas production is by no means a given for a newly scripted play. If as many written plays were performed as devised plays are, then a) much outrage would doubtless be expressed about their quality too, and b) the playwrights thus ‘blessed’ would doubtless learn a great deal more much faster about what works and what doesn’t. In conclusion (for the moment), I still believe all performed works need to meet the rigours of the craft we call ‘writing’ one way or another, whether a script, as such, materialises as the first, middle or final step in the process. Whichever model we use, theatre is always a collaborative process, involving invention and interpretation; creation and recreation. Getting maximum value from the creative / re-creative skills and potentials of everyone involved in mounting a production must be a goal worth striving for. And there is more than one way of achieving that, solo playwrighting and group devising being but two.

Paul McLaughlin December 3rd, 2007

What a clear headed question Mary! I too have been following this debate in despair, as people fall over themselves to damn ‘devised’ theatre. I am an actor, and have recently been drawn into devised theatre. I say drawn into, because, personally, I know devised work is the hardest thing to achieve on stage. It is infinitely easier to work with or interpret the works of a writer - so much of the work has been done for you. But sometimes the best way to give an idea to the theatre-going audience is a more direct route; straight from actor(/devisor) to the audience. This is difficult. I am so not a writer, so I find it hard to ‘make’ theatre; but as an actor, I also have some experience in what ‘works’ on stage. So, as devisors, I think we try to make ideas and stories work on stage. We use improvisational skills, we workshop, we get mates in to see what they reckon, we think about how to give our audiences a good night of entertaining and provoking theatre. When this devising process (and it is a process) works, we get good results. These results take time, we need to gain experience. Brett and Jermaine worked on their material for years, and now we see the result. They devised. To all those demanding the cessation of devised work; here’s a good example of what it can achieve, given time, patience, AND FUNDING. Most importantly is the very real fact that some ideas will fail. This is a big part of theatre. Practitioners need to get up there and throw the dice for the people. It will fly or die. That’s fine. If you don’t like devised theatre don’t come. But the only way performing artists can achieve is by performing. The only way to get experienced practitioners is by letting young practitioners get up there and have a go. Stop the fucking whinging about devised theatre. This is how theatre began, people sitting around telling stories.

Mary December 3rd, 2007

Have been following the 'devised' thread with interest but have realised that I don't actually know what a devised play is. How are they put together? What actually happens? Does 'devised' actually refer to one particular accepted creation method or can it mean a range of different ones? Can anyone explain what you actually do? (Maybe it's the method that's the problem when they don't work?)

paul stephanus December 2nd, 2007

Hi. I'm glad you've all found a place to vent your opinions, but why are you using "The Wind Speaks to Wellington" as the benchmark for shitty devised theatre? How many of you posting in comments actually saw the play? As far as I remember the audience was quite entertained throughout the show on our opening (and only) night. So, what changed since then? Well, a widely read critic voiced their opinion, and everyone took it as gospel. If you saw the show, bash all you want, but if you didn't see it-- don't just assume that you have the right to comment on a play that you are connected to only through some review. The show is over. 90 people saw it and 90 people can discuss it. The rest is babel. enjoy your chit-chat. seeya.

Charlotte Larsen December 2nd, 2007

I'm going to make a devised show about this debate...

Rachel Forman December 2nd, 2007

Exactly Hannah!!! How are we as Theatre practitioners meant to grow and develop if we aren't even being given a chance to try? And aren't in a community that is understanding of that process? And If we don't have a space where one can try things for the first time, like using headphones, and be in a venue where people know to expect "EXPERIMENTAL" work? I would say a lot of the Bats audience are young and wanting to see work that is fresh and new, and they understand that is what they might get when going to a show. Take a look at some of the country's most successful artists right now... Taika Cohen, Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, they were all part of devising shows at Bats not too many years ago. I can guarantee if you asked them what the most valuable learning experiences they have had in their careers were, they would site the shows they devised at Bats... think Live Transmissions, Say Your a Man, Mr Licky, Argahhh, Ada, Live Movies on Stage and Untold Tales of Maui. Everyone has to start somewhere and devising work is wonderful way for practitioners to find their voice. I find it ridiculous that people can make such a generalised comment about devised work like "Rachel Robbins" has. So ridiculous i debated weather it was worth wasting my time replying to it. But there you go.

Hannah Clarke December 2nd, 2007

Right. So I broke my foot. I only did the show with medical consultation - it's the reason I have a cast and not just a crape bandage. The reason the season was cancelled was not because of negative feedback but quite simply because it hurt. It was bloody exhausting and I think anyone who saw it on opening night would have seen that I barely made it through to the end. And yes, I spent the next two days laid up. And yes, it sucks that it’s my fault the season had to end. I expect no glory and take full responsibility for my injury, which happened in rehearsal, and was dealt with brilliantly by the entire cast and crew and BATS staff. After three months of work everyone involved deserved at least an opening night. Regarding devised theatre and BATS, hang on a minute... If you can't put it on at BATS where should you? We started with a great idea and got a bit muddled towards crunch time. I stand (well, lean) by the show – when was the last time you saw an attempt at sci-fi physical comedy on stage? And don't you think you're belittling site-specific theatre with your airport comments? And if only experienced devisors are allowed to put on shows, how pre-tell do you suppose one becomes 'experienced'? John, I appreciate your review, I’m pleased we mounted the show and I'm also pleased we started something of a debate. I'm going to go take some more Nurofen now.

Jean Sergent November 30th, 2007

Goodness gracious me. Theatre is so many things, isn't it? From the magnificent to the downright awful; the three-hour epics to the ten minute short; brilliant plays by first time writers to dire old tripe by experienced hands who should know better, it's always a new and different experience. I personally abhorred some plays that others adored, and found merit in otherwise roundly condemned pieces. I didn't see The Wind Speaks to Wellington. I would've gone tonight had it still been on. But never mind. On to the meat of the matter! Without the devising process, many of our best plays wouldn't exist. I would site Sniper (ok, I was in it, but so what?), Theatre Militia's Symposium, and Settling - flawed, but magnificent - as some fine examples of Wellington theatre practitioner's skills at devising quality shows in the last few years. And that's what it all is, isn't it? Shows? Showing off? Let it continue for crying out loud! We love the bad as well as the good for what it contributes to our daily discourse and our inate arsenals of prejudice and propaganda. We all rate our own opinions higher than those of others anyway. I've been in, and seen, some appalling devised shows, but there's a few in the fringe next year I can't wait to see! At any rate, I'm glad to see a valuable issue being debated on theatreview. More discussion! It'll probably lead to more devising

Dan Greer November 30th, 2007

No quotation or speech marks!!!! Strange..... Hope it can be read! [Fixed - It's something about the Apple-Mac/PC interface. Thanks for your well considered comments Dan - JS]

Dan Greer November 30th, 2007

First and foremost, I would like to clarify my voice in posting this comment. While I am a BATS staff member, a character in 'The Wind Speaks to Wellington', and a theatre enthusiast, this post from a personal tone, from a guy that loves theatre, in any form. Amen! I would like to address these issues: John's review, The Anti devised theatre and censoring issues, and Hannah Clarke's unfortunate accident What John Smythe has said in his review about 'The Wind Speaks to Wellington' is absolutely fair. Its his job to give a intelligent critique of the piece and put in its place if need be. John, I don't believe that you should have to apologizing for a 'harsh' review. Instead I applaud you for being honest about a piece that just didn't work! One of the roles of a reviewer is to provide a discourse about and around a show giving constructive criticism if need be. This is, in my opinion, the quality control system the affects what goes on stage, in conjunction with the artistic direction of the venue. Obviously not every show will be up to the standard of Turbine, Settling, 4am and Cuba, Footballistic, Tap That, The Hunting of the Snark (season 1 and 2) 50 minutes with Ivanja Dabrowska, Imaging Reality, Landlies and The Kreutzer- whoa! Was that 10 devised shows in BATS this year that had more than successful box office takes and good reviews??????! (They're all on To the people jumping on anti-devised theatre bandwagon, the people wanting a ban on devised theatre, and those people that start debates about shows that they have never seen, should be reminded that in New Zealand, freedom of expression is part of the cultural climate. While not every show hits the mark every time, I believe we shouldn't start slamming the form of theatre just because one shows may not work. Why wasn't this debate started when Turbine, or any of the other sold-out, critically acclaimed devised shows were running? Paddy, on your comment about making BATS into a financial secure theatre, how about reading the BATS theatre mission statement? Some of the biggest moneymakers at BATS are devised pieces. Go figure! The fact that Hannah did break her foot changed the entire play, and many of the cast/crew were worried about her even attempting to perform the show. We tried our best to make a very physical comedy into what it became due to the circumstances we found ourselves in. Maybe we as a nation and (on a more specific level) theatre community, we could start thinking about the cultural climate and the 'she'll be right mate' attitude that we buy into as Kiwis. I'd rather make sure Hannah's leg gets better than straining it anymore than it already has been just for the sake of our show! This experience great material for a play about the pitfalls of devised theatre, trust me, its got a lot of ludicrous comedy and drama attached! I think at the end of the day (ironically) the Wind God said it best: "You Humans, where you come from, all you do is bitch and moan." Peace!

Patrick Davies November 30th, 2007

The thing is with theatre, i reckon, is that we attempt to create what we see as the best culmination of individual talents towards the transmission of something that we feel our audience should experience. Current climates , (specifically financially and mainstreamly), really play to the common deminator which we outraged thespians reject as old school while founding our own thesis. If each and everytime we are expected to create 'THE FINAL PRODUCT" within the old school paradigm then we become the "AVANT GARDE". please dont let me think there is no stage uponwhich to experiment with form, content, blah blah bladhdhks. If BATS stage is sacrosanct for only "FULLY FORMED AND COMPLETED" works then lets close it because otherwise we require (WITHIN THE INDUSTRY) a Chamberlain to OK what we can present rather than the exploration (valid on our own level or not) or theatre as an integral expression for the community that we are part of.

Patrick Davies November 30th, 2007

Hannah Clarke performing on a broken foot should receive no glory but should be chastised y the industry. The idea that we perform with no self respect to health is an anathema to me. If we continue this "it is so art it must go on" crap then we lead ourselves into detriment. Where were her supporters in ythe cast and crew to stop her further injuring herself. or do we all take the easy road by repeating the addage "i'm sure she would say no if she couldn't" or the best responsibility shedding "she has to make her own call" whereby the crew and cast divolve responsibility. Apart from that i really applaud whatserfaces idea of no more devised work so we can make BATS a place that is finacially secure 'cos isn't that the idea of theatre..

John Smythe November 30th, 2007

The remaining (short) season of The Wind Speaks to Wellington has been cancelled on medical grounds. I understand that instead of resting her fractured foot until Friday, as medically advised, in true trouper style Hannah had re-rehearsed the show to accommodate her injury, and so the show went on. Although adrenaline got her through opening night she was, I’m now told, in agony afterwards. No-one should now expect her to put the healing process at further risk. Dedication to the ‘show must go on’ principle is one thing; reckless disregard for one’s wellbeing another. I can only guess now to what extent the flow and even the content of the show was compromised by an injury more serious than I, at least, was led to believe (given much emailed joking about her taking the ‘break a leg’ code too seriously). But if I have been too harsh in my review, given the circumstances, I apologise. Very best wishes to Hannah for a full recovery.

T February November 30th, 2007

Whatever people say, I truely enjoyed the show. I thought the actors were great and I laughed a lot.

T MEEK November 30th, 2007

Turbine was described in these pages as "confused", failing to get to grip with its subject and needing "rigorous playwrighting" and trimming down. Settling was described as unsure of its story, lacking characters anyone cared about and needing an hour cut from it. But to move on: John, you comment, "Of course BATS prices are low enough to justify asking people to pay to see a work in progress, as long as they realise that's what it is." My understanding of this particular piece is that it is a largely finished work. Of course, as Paul Valery says, no work is really finished, just abandoned (and perhaps this piece should have been abandoned long ago). But the problem is not with development. The problem is with the devising process and the question that has to be asked is not one about the justification for people paying to see a work in progress, but people paying to see a devised work. Could I suggest that BATS stipulates all publicity for such works contain -- in font larger than any other -- the wording, "WARNING: DEVISED WORK. NO WRITER ATTACHED."?

Angela November 30th, 2007

If you don't like devised theatre then just don't go! I've seen some awesome devised stuff and some truly awful scripted pieces ... I strongly object to the blatant censorship suggested here (by RR) but am not gonna turn around and say it shouldn't have been posted in the first place!

Steven Whiting November 30th, 2007

I haven't seen the show, which probably robs me of the right to comment, but as a general provocation I would agree that devised theatre should be subject to slightly tougher quality assessment before it hits the BATS stage. BATS' beauty lies in its accessibility to performers across the spectrum, from budding young actors and directors to long-in-the-tooth professionals - the audiences come because though quality may vary, there's almost always 15-20 bucks worth of passion and entertainment, and sometimes considerably more. Though there are the obvious examples of experienced practitioners making quality devised work, notable other painful examples suggest inexperienced artists should be advised against devising. An audience has certain demands from a night at the theatre, and half-formed ideas, weak dramatic structures, cliched work with little raison d'etre and poor performances do not value for money make. With a scripted work, though the quality of performers and concept may vary, there will usually be enough grit on the bone to keep an audience sated; with devised work, even quality performers and ideas can get lost in a vague malaise of theatrical wish-wash. Encourage devising, encourage practitioners to collaborate and build together by all means, but it need not be from it's womb untimely ripped before a ripped-off feeling audience.

Michael Wray November 30th, 2007

Settling and Turbine are both devised shows that have been nominated, so perhaps we shouldn't write off the entire genre.

Rachel Robbins November 29th, 2007

FOR FUCK'S SAKE! CAN'T SOMEONE DO SOMETHING AND STOP THESE FUCKING DEVISED PLAYS? "... Suffers from premature performance syndrome with coherent content coming a poor second... an accumulating set of scenarios that finally confuse more than they elucidate... takes far too long to set up ... so mindless, so knee-jerk Primary School, so sadly culturally conditioned, I can only despair... all the play does at this level is tells us off... find it hard to comprehend ... eludes me ... manages to render a cliche totally meaningless... hijacks itself with semi-developed ideas given dramatic form before they've been properly thought through..." John, none of us want to go back to the hysterical abuse of previous postings on this matter but honestly if Bats has any integrity it will cancel the remainder of the season and announce the camel's back has been broken and declare that any further devised plays can take place on some appropriate site-specific like the cable car tunnels or on runway No. 1 at the airport or somewhere BUT NOT ON THE STAGE.

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