BATS Theatre, Studio, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

01/11/2016 - 05/11/2016

Production Details

African American actor and storyteller Tony Hopkins’ solo show Three Wise Blackmen pays homage to the three men who played an important role in shaping his life philosophy: his father Ervin Hopkins, a street hustler called Sophisticated Player and Ken Dixson, the friend who introduced him to theatre. 

Originally a workshop performance in the Baggage Co-op 2015 Fringe show See-k Speak, these are stories Hopkins has been shaping over a number of years.

Three Wise Blackmen is a continuation of personal stories that I started developing in our previous show Te Haerenga,”says Hopkins.  “That show dealt with personal identity while this new work looks at how three very different men influenced my wider world. I still see this as a work in progress, very much like my own life.”

Hopkins’ association with BATS pre dates his co-founding of Baggage Co-op. He directed the play Couple of White Chicks Sitting Around Talking byJohn Ford Noonan for the first Fringe Festival at Bats Theatre in 1990. Since then he has directed and performed in a number of successful shows, and also toured nationally and internationally as a storyteller. 

“I come from a family of storytellers, especially my father,” says Hopkins, “and although I came to acting later in life, this show explains how I was already acting on the streets long before I found theatre.” 

BAGGAGE @ BATS, celebrating 20 years.   

BATS Theatre Studio
1-5 Nov, 8pm

Baggage @ Bats is the overarching title of a season of 3 original NZ works celebrating 20 years of creative work from the Baggage Co-op and being staged in The Studio, 3rd floor at BATS Theatre.

The co-op has produced 26 theatre works, many of them at BATS, starting with the play Baggage, written, directed and performed by co-founders Moira Wairama and Tony Hopkins as part of the 1996 Wellington Fringe Festival at BATS.  Several Baggage shows have won Fringe awards including the play Questions which was also adapted for television and won a Qantas Media award.

The Studio is the intimate performance venue situated in an area of BATS once the domain of The Royal Antediluvian Order of Buffaloes who owned the building before it was purchased and renovated by Peter Jackson.

“I always wanted to get up to that top floor and have a look,” says producer Moira Wairama, whose new book The Mothers Child was launched at BATS in January to mark the start of the co-op’s celebrations. “The Studio is the perfect intimate venue for storytelling which is the basis of most Baggage Co-op work, and it’s appropriate the three shows we are presenting reflect this kaupapa.”

Poneke: pre booked storytelling for local schools

As part of Baggage @ BATS, show producer and well know storyteller Moira Wairama will be offering pre booked shows for local schools.  PONEKE, a storytelling of traditional Wellington Maori myths and legends, offers tamariki an opportunity to visit the iconic BATS theatre to hear stories of how the harbour was created and named.

Wairama is also author of the book The Taniwha of Wellington Harbour . “I think it is important for our tamariki to know the myths and legends of where they live and while Ralphs show is a story about Wellington’s settler history, I wanted to offer another option for younger audiences.”

Theatre , Spoken word ,

Attitude with gratitude

Review by Margaret Austin 02nd Nov 2016

Born in Washington DC in the 1940s, African American story teller Tony Hopkins has made Wellington his home for 25 years. In the 1960s his life led him out of the United States to Europe, briefly to London and thence to New Zealand.

He recounts his personal trajectory in a moving performance piece which recalls the parts played in his life by three significant figures: his father, a street companion and a fellow American theatre director. Each is evoked with movement and anecdote, and a simple prop or accessory.

Soft-voiced but audible, Hopkins pays tribute to a father who coupled affection for his oldest son with a realistic detachment. His advice when Hopkins turned 13 was, “First time you land in jail, I’ll get you out; next time you’re on your own.” When Hopkins was thrown out of the Air Force for falling asleep on duty, (and censured by superiors who were half asleep themselves; an irony recalled by Hopkins with wry humour), his father did not waste time with reproaches. His last words to his son – on the phone – were what his son knew but longed to hear: “I love you.”

Hopkins’ next character, met in San Francisco, was an unlikely mentor: a street companion who went by the epithet Sophisticated Player. Seven years older – and street wiser – this man’s philosophy was best captured by the following observation: “Everybody wants to have their cake and eat it too. So what you do is get a big cake and eat it real slow.” His friendship with Sophisticated Player taught Hopkins further lessons in the survival techniques essential to young black men in sixties America.

Now having made it out of the States and finding himself in seventies Amsterdam, Hopkins’ interest in theatre sprang from a suggestion that he audition as an extra for an opera. He ran into a fellow American also auditioning. This man was a theatre director and lecturer. Employing his well-learned lessons in using the moment to best advantage, Hopkins copied his new friend and wrote ‘actor’ on the audition form. Thus began his career as a performer.

Hopkins’ recounting of his life is characterised by a rare frankness and modesty. His self-revelation is fresh and moving. His performance is stirring – what the audience gets is attitude with gratitude. 

With his partner Moira Wairama, Hopkins runs monthly story telling sessions on Sunday at the Fringe Festival Bar from 4.00 til 6.00pm. All welcome. 


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