Amelie, Locking and (Un)meaningfulness

Posted on June 16, 2016 by Basement

Auckland Fringe 2013 favourite La Vie Dans Une Marionette is back as part of our Matariki season! Jonty natters with co-creators and performers Justin Haiu, Tama Jarman and Jarod Rawiri of the infamous White Face Crew.

What inspired the show?

Tama: Many years ago Justin and I were working together on The Arrival with Red Leap Theatre, and I saw the French movie Amelie so I learnt to play some of the songs on the piano. Our rehearsal space had a piano, so I’d play them and Justin would lurk on over and dance to the songs I was playing as if the piano were moving different parts of his body, like a puppet – and that birthed the idea which we created for Short + Sweet in 2010, where a pianist came on stage and found a puppet and started playing the piano and bringing the puppet to life. It was really well received and we won a Short + Sweet Award.

After that I went to clown school in Paris. I was keen to develop the work further, but couldn’t find a ‘heart’ in the idea. Then my best friend died. So I decided I wanted to make the work about friendship, and focussed on the friendship between the puppet and the pianist. And that’s how the show was ‘birthed’.

How did you first get involved with mime?

Jarod: Having been to Toi Whakaari and taught by Tom McCrory, I was exposed to all these different theatre art forms that have origins in Europe. Mime, Buffon, Commedia dell Arte, mask, clown and found it interesting. Then having worked for Red Leap Theatre Company with Justin and Tama, we discovered a common interest and decided to make work together.

Justin: I did some work with Mary-Jane O’Reilly down on Nuffield St in 2008 – she had seen a locking piece I made for Tempo Dance Festival when she was the Artistic Director. She grabbed that character and put a white face on it and wanted the same type of feel for the gig she was doing.

Tama: Original lockers from hip hop have a mime look to it – white gloves, striped shirts, beret. So Justin ended up being this locking character, dressed in white gloves, white face, striped shirt, beret.

With La Vie Dans Une Marionette, because the music from Amelie is a French film we thought why not make the characters French mimes. Jarod saw what we were doing (the original version was a duet before Jarod joined the team). Jarod thought it had lots of potential so he put white faces on everyone – and that’s how we came up with the name White Face Crew.

Has the show changed since you performed it last at the Basement to rave reviews in 2013?

Tama: The structure is still the same, but as it’s so long since we performed it we’ve all changed as performers and as people, and our rhythms have changed. So we’ve reworked it to fit the new timings that we have. And there are some new gags too. Our performance experience, our emotional maturity.

Justin: And we’ve tried to crisp things up.

Jarod: With all the work we do because we have created it from scratch, we end up looking at it differently every time we come back to it. Older and wiser maybe. It’s in our nature as clowns to want to make it funnier, but it’s also in our nature as artists and storytellers to make sure we get a message across. We always have some important theme or message in our shows.

We’re also working with composer Tama Waipara this time, to create some original piano music for some of the scenes, to complement the music by French composer Yann Tiersen.

Tell us about the process of rehearsing and creating the work

Jarod: Our process begins with play and movement and music. Someone may have an idea so we talk a bit, usually months or years before, then we’ll find some music and create some choreography around it. I tend to look at what the story is that we are telling. Tama tends to figure out how unmeaningful and off beat our important idea is and him and Justin will come up with some choreography and then we go from there.

Tama: White Face Crew start with games. Every day we start with games.

Justin: And as there’s only two of us they are usually competitive games.

Tama: And if there are three of us, super competitive games! It’s just more fun. Play is a key part of White Face Crew, its’ about taking and receiving ideas, and not letting your pre-conceived ideas blanket the fun, but be willing to go wherever the game is taking you. When it comes to devising stuff, we make an offer and then try to build on that offer free-styling taking the ideas we like and keep layering on top of it. We have a simple movement structure – how the piano moves the puppet, the note is pulling the puppet string and that was our starting point for devising material. Then the story was layered into that process too.

Where to from here for the show and you?

Jarod: The show has been locked away in the cupboard for a few years, but we just couldn’t let it rot and disappear, hence why it’s back again. We hope to give it a good long run in front of audiences here in NZ and who knows… maybe overseas.

Tama: Right now we just want to get the show performed for the second time ever! I thought it might have gone to bed, but Justin always believed. We hope people will like it, because we do!

La Vie Dans Une Marionette plays this week only; 21 – 25 June at 8pm.

Presented as part of the Basement Theatre Matariki Season