From the Cutting Room Floor: Fallout

Theatre

20.05.2015

From the Cutting Room Floor: Fallout

Six years ago, Bronwyn Elsmore wrote Where Were You, a 60-page play about the sinking of the Rainbow Warrior. It wasn’t performed at the time, but late last year she met with Jennifer Ward-Lealand. “When I read it,” Jennifer remembers, “I saw enough in it to make me think this could be a great show.” Jennifer came on board as a director, and Last Tapes Theatre Company, Robin Kelly and Cherie Moore, came on as producers. But there were changes to be made: they wanted to rewrite the script, and so a few months ago they started workshopping the original version.

Rewriting is painful business, but it’s a hell of a lot harder when you’re rewriting as a team. Even when you think you’re on the same page, there’ll be individual variations – miniscule or otherwise – which means you’re approaching with different voices. This week, we spoke to the cast and crew of Fallout about that process of rewriting: the challenges, the conflicts, and how the story’s evolved.

Bronwyn Elsmore

It was a much longer play to begin with.

The fact it was set up to be played with an interval caused a few problems with the structure - where do you bring in the bombing, for example. 

Jennifer Ward-Lealand

 Yeah, what's the arc –

Bronwyn

We had to shape it for that, and the idea of having it without the interval was much more attractive, so we went through and cut this, cut that, cut the other. It's a much more cohesive thing now.

Rosabel

Does it still feel like the same play?

Jennifer

The heart of it is the same, absolutely it is. It's all Bronwyn's words. It's different to what I read, but what I was attracted to in it, I'm seeing now.

Robin Kelly

I was wondering what Bronwyn thought. Is it the same play?

Bronwyn

Oh, it is. It's the same play. A slightly different shape and a different order of things, but yes, it's the same play.

I've looked at the script a thousand times, and I still get bits I can't cope with, you know?

Rosabel

For you, what does the heart of it feel like?

Bronwyn

Actually, heart's probably quite a good term for it. I think it has what I consider heart. In fact, I've been to several of the rehearsals, I've looked at the script a thousand times, and I still get bits I can't cope with, you know? It still brings tears to my eyes, so heart is quite a good word for it.

Cherie Moore

 One thing the Greenpeace women said to us today, which I thought ran true for me, was that when the anniversary comes up, the media focuses on 'the bombing' and 'the event' but for them, they felt that the play is more about how they felt, and how New Zealand felt, and what New Zealanders did to get justice. It was a team effort –

Jennifer

Whether you were particularly pro-Greenpeace or anti-nuclear testing, the injustice of it galvanised New Zealand.

Bronwyn

– and that was my intention with the writing to begin with. I thought: which way will I approach this? And the only story I wanted to tell was what New Zealanders thought. What they did. I didn't want to get into the politics. So when you asked if it was still that play, yes it is. It's still that play.

Cherie

And we have to commend Bronwyn in lots of ways, because when you've worked on a play for so long, and then we say, “Yes, but we also want these things”, and “We don't want that” –  the fact she's taken it on board – 

Jennifer

– We have asked a lot of her, yeah –

Cherie

That's been a lot to ask. And she's risen to the challenge.

Jennifer

Absolutely.

Rosabel

How have you found that process?

Bronwyn

Mixed. Mainly very good. It's made me rethink things. It's just sometimes I think “Another version... geee” and my head is swimming.

Cherie

Yeah, how many times can we rewrite this -

Bronwyn

We switched that here, and we switched this back, and because we switched this here, this has gotta change – it's been quite an effort sometimes, to see it afresh in a different way.

Jennifer

But even when we've taken things out, we've put that bit of information into something else. So we've never lost any of the pertinent stuff in it, have we?

Bronwyn

No, of course.

Rosabel

That format of it being almost like verbatim theatre is interesting because you're talking about a historical event. You had people from Greenpeace come in today and talk about their experience and you're letting that feed into the performance, but I'm wondering whether the writing itself is based on interviews or whether that's fictional.

Bronwyn

I had talked to people casually. People who remember. And I worked through the facts. The books. The written records. But I fictionalised the characters, so they're not supposed to be a photograph of the real people. They represent people who did these things.

Rosabel

There's the potential to forget that. As an audience member you do get swept away because it feels like a real story, being told to you, but then you have to remember it’s been fictionalised. I think that creates a difficult tension.

Bronwyn

It was mainly breadth. If you take specific people, you've got to have a lot of them, and I suppose someone might say: why wasn't I in it?

Jennifer

The events are all there. They're all real. They're not fictionalised. So if somebody saw people at the outboard boating club on Tamaki drive - saw those guys - we say that. The forester. That all happened, those people. That happened.

Fasitua Amosa

A few people that I've spoken to about the play - without any sort of prompting, they've almost said - identically - what's already being said in the show. I was hanging out with P-Money and he was like, "Oh yeah, I remember that, yeah - pretty sure that made a whole lot of new activists, aye."

Jennifer

Really!

Fasitua

Yeah, and he was like, “Yeah, you know, after that, we'd gotten behind it."

Jennifer

That's actually Fasi's line!

Fasitua

It's really captured the sentiment of people who – when they start remembering it – they think: I felt like that too.

Cherie

It's been neat, too, to see the actors find their feet with each character. They’ll decide to throw in a word, or change a word, to make it more who that person is for them.

Like Fasi and Toby [Leach] want to start one of the sections with a "Yeah, nah", which isn't written, but they're like "Yeah, nah, there I am." and that feels right, to access that, which is great. Making it their own.

Bronwyn

It's probably not right chronologically. We didn't decide how far back exactly we were setting this. That is quite modern, the yeah nahs.

Jennifer

You know one thing I’d never done - Gary [Henderson] had a good technique where you just read one character's lines. Do you remember that? I found that so useful, because it made you go, "Okay, where's she starting, where's she ending, and what's she got to lose?" That's what I'm always interested in, as a director: what have you got to lose?

And there was that formula he did, do you remember? What was it again? A wants B –

Cherie

–  A wants X, But B wants Y

Jennifer

And only one can win.

Robin

And X and Y are mutually exclusive.

Jennifer

 Which was fascinating.

Cherie

And lots of people had lots of different ideas about what that was, which raised the central conflict of the whole play.

Robin

Gary also said – and I wonder whether Bronwyn you feel this maxim has been adhered to  – he said, "Yes, but if that's not the story the writer wants to tell, that's not the story we're working on." And that's been an interesting challenge.

Cherie

Yeah, 'cos with Robin and I coming on board, the interesting thing for Jennifer and Bronwyn is that we're under 30. So we weren't even born. We don't have any context for the Rainbow Warrior bombing. So we were probably asking for different things because we have to assume the audience knows nothing.

Bronwyn

And it's a challenge to answer all of those expectations.

Jennifer

We have a lot of college kids coming to this show, so it's been useful having a group of people involved who have no context for it. They're a voice that's necessary. Because I was 22, 23, and Bronwyn obviously you remember it incredibly well. So it's in my lifetime's experience, and I have to remember that what I remember is not necessarily what anybody else knows about it.

Robin

The risk we run  – being young and kind of naïve  – is irreverence toward something that impacted a generation of New Zealanders that I literally have no context for. So when I say, "Don't care about that section of the story"  –

Cherie

– and we're only judging it as a piece of theatre  –

Robin

– Does that - is that –

Jennifer

– I like that. I like to be challenged about something.

Fasitua

It forces you to think about what exactly was the thing that stuck. If a new generation thinks, "I don't understand why that's such a big deal," then you can say, "Well, it was this, this and that,"

Jennifer

My pursuit in this whole thing is to get to the heart of it. To make people feel something. I don't want you to go away and think, "Oh, that was interesting," I'd like you to go away maybe a little big angry. Or maybe a bit proud of our country.  Or feel like you want to join Greenpeace. Or whatever! But you feel something.

Rosabel

And do you feel you had that kind of outcome in mind when you were driving the reshaping of the script?

Jennifer

I think we did.

Robin

Bronwyn?

Bronwyn

Well, mine would have been a bit different because my purpose was, in many ways, to create a tribute to the people who lived through this time: what it did and how the event and their response to it shaped the country. So I wanted to be true to that. But then it's got to come together dramatically, and I think it has.

Jennifer

And you'll only feel like you're playing tribute to them if you care about them.

Bronwyn

Oh yes.

Jennifer

So, it's a different approach but to the same ends of deepening their story in some way.

Bronwyn

And I'm very aware that a lot of the people going in there are people who've lived through this and want to see it well presented. I would not like them to come out thinking, well for the sake of some kind of dramatic convention, they didn't tell the story. I mean, the facts have got to be there, but it's needs that emotional side. And I think it has it.

Robin

That's interesting you say that Bronwyn. Looking at the run we saw this afternoon, my feeling of how it's changed from six weeks ago when we had the read-through was that some of the facts have been refined and simplified, and the heart has been brought out. So were we going for the same thing there?

Cherie

You're saying it's been a process for us to all get to a place where everybody's happy.

Robin

Well, no. You were saying just then Bronwyn that you were worried that for some dramatic convention, we wouldn't do justice to the heart for the people who are invested in this story.

Bronwyn

I'm not saying so much that I was worried that would happen, but that it was my aim. This is what I wanted from it. And as I say, I think that's what we've got.

Jennifer

It's no mean feat, you know, shepherding a new piece.

Bronwyn

No, and I've gotta give tribute to you, Jennifer, because there are so many directors who are just too scared to take on a new play. All they'll do is do one they've seen someone else do first, or seen a production of first, and it’s quite a brave thing.

Jennifer

I wouldn't have taken it on if I didn't think there was a heart in there that I was attracted to.

Bronwyn

Oh you're obviously the right person. No doubt about that.

Rosabel

I wonder if you could all speak a little to what the play is to you, and what you hope people walk away from it with.

Jennifer

I've been having goosebumpy moments all through this rehearsal period. And I know why. It's because it matters to me. And it matters that we do a good job, and it matters that we go where we need to, emotionally, so the show for me is a chance to let this story live for a new generation, and let it live in a memorable way.

Bronwyn

Hear, hear.

Cherie

Yeah, for me it's about people. Theatre is such a wonderful vehicle for us to see ourselves, and for this to be a play that belongs in New Zealand, at home - it's about that. What those people on the Rainbow Warrior were doing for other people, and how the people were affected when the Rainbow Warrior was bombed, and how people came together. And I think there are lots of young New Zealanders who don't know, really, this piece of New Zealand history, and it's important.

Fasitua

Yeah for this story to be refreshed for a new generation and especially for a new generation whose parents lived through it, because it's not even been that long ago. I want their parents to remember what that time was, and reflect on whether we've come forward in a good way, or not in a good way, and I think it's important for young New Zealanders to engage in this story. I want New Zealanders who remembered this time to walk away feeling proud and to reconnect, and for new New Zealanders to go, "Wow, was that a thing!"

Cherie

I think even those people who were around at the time will learn something new.

Bronwyn

I think one aspect that interests me is the kids coming along. Not only are they going to find out what happened, but they're going to learn that this is something their parents did, their grandparents did. Each generation tends to think that life has started with them, and people think 'That's just my grandmother' or 'That's just my mother' but these are people who acted to do these things and I hope that will get through.

Robin

For me, I go through seeing what it's not. I've been quite enlightened by people like Susi Newborn who came and brought the boat, and some of the people who on the scene at that time, and there's some sentiment there around not forgetting how the French wronged us, and I'm not interested in that, at all. I think we've moved on and that's not particularly productive. While I'm really moved by the national galvanising that happened, I’m also not interested in the parochial 'yay we did it' theme.

The thing that really gets me is why the Warrior was there, and why it was bombed. Because I’ve realised since doing this that I'd never known really why it was bombed. I knew that it was some sort of thing that they were getting in the way, but the fact they were getting out to Moruroa to have a floatilla there - to sit and stop more tests happening, and now reading about the actual fallout and the history of the nuclear tests in that region and what it's done - it's just devastating.

And the fact that the Rainbow Warrior III  - when this play will be on - will hopefully be sitting out there in the middle of the Great Barrier Reef stopping coal mining happening, you know? That this generation of activism that was born on that day - I'd love it if there was a shadow of it in our production. If that was something that we could do and -

Cherie

– inspire others to continue  –

Robin

–  To just care. About anything.


Fallout: The Sinking of the Rainbow Warrior plays at The Basement Theatre
20 - 30 May 
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