Director Jane Yonge took out the award for Best Director at the 2017 Wellington Theatre Awards after a massive year directing shows such as The Basement Tapes and WEiRdO which have since made their way up to us in Tāmaki.

In WEiRdO, a pair of Pākehā and Māori co-workers unravel layers of racial tension and unspoken unease in an office environment.

Jane spoke to our blogger Jonty Crane about the show.

What sparked the idea for the show?

The show was Waylon and William’s original idea. Waylon pitched it to me during a workshop we were both involved in early last year. William and Waylon created the first version of WEiRdO at the Putahi Festival in 2016 and they were keen to develop the work.

I was interested in Waylon’s questions surrounding cultural identity, especially the idea of being “plastic” Māori (looking Māori but feeling Pākehā). I’m of Chinese descent and I also struggle with looking Chinese but being disconnected to any kind of Chinese cultural heritage. I wish my mother had known how to speak the language. Waylon and I were both brought up believing that white is normal, white is good, white is beautiful, in order to be successful you need to conform to a white world.

Tell us about the writing process, how much was scripted versus developed through improvisation? How much real life experience is captured in the show?

The show as it stands today is quite different from what the guys put up at Putahi. We used Waylon’s personal experience in the public service as a starting point. The story told on stage is not his story, but there are “real” moments in there.

We talked a lot at first. Then started circling around recurring ideas. We starting devising around those ideas. We also talked about taste, tone, and structure. We discussed the kind of journey that we wanted the audience to go on, what we hoped they would experience. We made about fifteen different versions of the show but this is where we landed. After we had put together a rough structure we started redevising each of the sections and scripting bits and pieces. Then we refined the script and away we go!

Work is a major part of our lives, yet rarely appears at the theatre, any thoughts on why?

I’m not sure? I guess how do you build pressure and stakes around the subject of “work”?

I can only speak from personal experience: I started working for the public service in 2016 and was/am quite interested in the sticky, icky, and awkward cultural situations I find myself in. The public service tries really hard to be culturally correct, respectful, and appropriate but sometimes suddenly everyone feels unsure about what they are doing. We don’t want to get it wrong. I think that it’s good that we don’t want to get it wrong. But then suddenly we’re all very uneasy.

In WEiRdO we use work as a vehicle to explore issues of cultural uncertainty, of a culture of unease.

What reaction are you hoping the show gets?

I hope that people experience the show and go: yes that happens, that happens all of the time. Is it really like that? Is it funny, or sad, or both? What do I do in those situations? Do I know a Waylon or a Richard (the character William plays)? Am I a Waylon or a Richard? Am I both?

I hope that people feel first, and then think and interrogate their identities second. And I hope that they can find moments to laugh, because at the end of the day I think we can only move forward if we can find joy in laughing at ourselves.

WEiRdO is on at Basement from 17-21 April. Book in.