Tell Me More // Te Pō

In our next deep dive into the Auckland Arts Festival programme, we here from Director Ben Crowder about his new work Te Pō. It comes from the same team who created 360 – a theatre of recollections, one of our top plays of 2014. It starts writer Carl Bland, Andrew Grainger and George Henare. The reviews from the Wellington season are epic.

What is Te Pō about?
Te Pō explores grief. It also looks at the relationship between fact and fiction. All this is put together under the guise of a missing person mystery. It traverses some big themes – but is also very funny at times and always engaging. It is full of surprises and the emotional resonance creeps up on you unawares.

Why is it important?
I think it is important as it is a beautiful layered piece of writing. One that is also filled with visual imagery and an elegant score. It is a show where you need to bring your brain – but also be open to how you feel and let your heart experience the work. I think this is challenging and where theatre should sit.

How have you gone about bringing the work to life?
Carl Bland who I have been collaborating with for over ten years wrote the work. We then did a two week development of the work two and half years ago with ATC’s Next Stage programme. The task then fell on getting it staged – I knew it had to be – and this involved various funding agencies including CNZ, Auckland Council and Foundation North – but also the commitment and support from Auckland Arts Festival and also the New Zealand Festival. I have been working on it full time with Carl since about August – bringing the design, the vision and the planning together. Part of our process involves having the set at the beginning of the rehearsal period – as in many ways it is also a character in the show. To that end we devoted a week of rehearsals to working with the set, stage managers and also the animals within the work before we started with the actors. We then had a very hot month in some tin sheds over summer before heading to Wellington where we have been for two weeks getting the premiere up and performing the show. Soon we finish and stage again for Auckland. Watching the show last night I was struck how great it is that Auckland will get to see the show when the actors have had the opportunity to run in the show with an audience beforehand. The audience always inform the show – and the nuances of how it is communicated.

What else are you looking forward to seeing at the AAF?
The only show I have booked for is Marama which I can catch as I fly back on the Sunday it closes and then I am into getting our show up from Monday. Beyond that I have yet to consider much about the final week when we have finished – I am thinking of taking my five year old son to Duck, Death and the Tulip (last festival we went to White which was a huge treat for us both).

What are the three most influential plays (for you) that you’ve seen/read?
As a young man I was struck by seeing Theatre At Large’s work ‘enry 8′ – it was the first time I saw theatre as something that could be dynamic and fresh to a young audience – I was so excited I returned the next night. It’s hard to pick – but since I am writing down in Wellington I was reminded of seeing ‘iets op bach’ down here a few festivals ago – which I hugely enjoyed, in part because it challenged me as to what I thought were givens and rules of theatre. And I remember being deeply moved by ‘Happy As Laundry’ – a show I saw in Melbourne which followed the love and relationship of two clowns and its eventual demise.

What is the best book you’ve read in the past year?
I have so many unread books by my bed as the year has been so busy – in fact I have given my bedside cabinet to the set of Te Po and Bruce Mason’s office and have fashioned something instead from the piles of unread books. First off the block is Tim Winton’s new book, as I often find his work a good way to get back into reading after a hiatus.

What’s your favourite tune of the moment?
Been enjoying some Prince Tui Teka as part of exploring the world of the play.