This Time it's Personal

Alex Ellis and partner, Phil Ormsby, of Flaxworks Theatre, are getting personal, mining their own family histories, for their latest show – Conversations with Dead Relatives.

Directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand, the show is as much about spinning a good family yarn, as it is about exploring what our family history means, and how much of an influence that heritage can have on who we ourselves become.

Alex spoke to our blogger Jonty Crane about the show.

How did the show originate?

Phil and I were telling stories one night, you know those stories that you heard a million times as a kid about Great Aunty such and such or Uncle whatshisname and we were saying what great stories they were and wouldn't it be fun to put them all together as a show. So we hopped on a plane to Melbourne where we performed a collection of them we had thrown together, as part of La Mama Theatre's Explorations season. Explorations is this amazing season where you can put on a show at any stage in its development and it was just perfect as a jumping off point for us to (a) see if anyone other than ourselves would be interested in stories about our family and (b) because it was far enough away from home and our families in case it was a total disaster and they never wanted to speak to us again for disgracing the family name. Luckily it turns out people other than us are interested. So we came home, workshopped the show and here we are!

How did you gather / develop the stories told?

It has been quite interesting deciding which ancestor and which story will make the cut. There is a little bit of familial guilt when you leave someone out. I'm lucky because I grew up hearing a lot of family stories and my Dad is the go-to for any information about what happened, when and to whom, but Phil has had to do quite a bit of research. Although, it's interesting how quickly things come to light once you start looking for information.

How much are these stories specific to New Zealand?

They are all New Zealand stories even if some of our ancestors start elsewhere, they are still part of us and our lives in New Zealand.

How did you get involved working with Jennifer Ward-Lealand?

Jennifer is such a supportive person and after our last show she had said she would be interested in working with us at some point. We asked if she would be available to take part in our workshop last year and then luckily for us she agreed to stay on and direct. She has some amazing family stories too, so it has been great swapping tales each day at 'morning talk'.

What reaction are you hoping the show gets?

We would love people to share their own family stories with us after the show, and that the experience encourages people to celebrate their family history.

It's such a special part of who we are as human beings, to have that connection to our past and we want people to embrace those stories, the good and the bad, in their own family.

We want people to tell more stories. And to dig a little deeper and follow those connections, you never know what you will discover!

Conversations with Dead Relatives is on at Basement from 3 - 7 April. Book tickets or find out more here.