Go Big or Go Home

After wowing Basement audiences with Twenty Eight Millimmetres earlier in the year, the two Sams (Brooks and Snedden) are back together again and teaming up with The Actors’ Program class of 2018. We chatted to Sam Brooks all about Jacinda:

What inspired you to write Jacinda?

I think there were two things.

Firstly, I noticed that there was a kind of dearth of theatre that was responding to the current moment in New Zealand - there's a lot of vital theatre work that is responding to social and political movements worldwide, and even in this own country, but because of the time it takes to develop, programme and actually make theatre, I think it's really hard to make work that responds to what's happening right now. So I wanted to make something that was a response to the election, what I felt society was going through at that time, so there's some kind of record of that, even if its from my own very subjective viewpoint. Last year I was super lucky to work at The Spinoff and was present, if not involved, in a lot of its election coverage, and it was such an exciting time that I think is easy to forget. So this is my recording of that.

But that's just the content. The other big inspiration was actually the challenge of writing this show. It's so rare, for financial reasons, that you get the opportunity to work with a sixteen person cast with a confirmed production. So I wanted to write something that went big, went epic, and went messy. I wanted something that used the sixteen people I have to paint on the biggest canvas I could. So stylistically, I suppose, I was inspired to go big or go home. I'd like to think I've done both - I've gone big while coming home to The Basement.

You and Sam Snedden just worked together on Burn Her, what’s it like working with Sam again?

I love working with Sam - it's the third time we've worked together this year and we've done three extremely different shows together - Twenty Eight Millimetres experimented with form and content a lot, Burn Her was a highly workshopped and finished piece of naturalist theatre, and this new one is a chance for both of us to break free and have fun a little. The great thing about working with him is that we've developed a shorthand - we can give each other pretty straight-up notes and not be offended by them. I go into a process expecting to rewrite the script, and he goes into the process expecting that of me - because we know we both want it to be as good as it possibly can be. We have the blessed combo of having high standards and the necessary rigour required to meet those standards.

Also, he's a stress ball of a man and I think I'm good at talking him down off stress ledges at this point.

What’s it like working with the 2018 The Actors’ Program students?

It's been both great and the most challenging experience of my life. I've written specifically for people before, but I've never written for sixteen strangers before - with an expectation that the piece showcases them all and is on in well under a year. From first concept to opening night, Jacinda's taken me eight months. If nothing else, the fact that I've written a good piece of theatre that showcases sixteen actors and speaks to the moment in which it was made is something I'm tremendously proud of, and is an achievement in itself, to not at all humble brag.

A big part of that has been getting to know the actors, seeing them in action and getting a vibe for who they are as people. They're a tremendous cohort of students, and I feel particularly lucky to have written for this group of actors - they're incredibly game, hard-working and they've taken a lot of curveballs I've thrown at them. I'm really proud to have given all sixteen of them a showcase that they can feel proud of, feel some ownership of, and whatever happens to the script next, know that it carries a little bit of them with it as well.

What do you hope audiences take away from experiencing the play?

The sell of the play is as a political drama, but it's really a social drama - and even though it sounds incredibly cheesy, I basically want people to come out of the play looking at each other and wanting to take care of each other. Politics, as important and vital as they are, get in the way of that basic human need. It's about a little hope, a little kindness, with an emphasis on the latter.

Jacinda is on at Basement Theatre 14 - 24 Nov. Book tickets or find out more here.