Loose Canons: Yvette Parsons
Loose Canons is a series where we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Yvette Parsons is an Auckland-based actor and playwright, whose solo show Silent Night was voted New Zealand Herald's Best of 2010. Yvette's other works include horror-comedy Dolly Mixture and the satire Janeece Gunton: Herstory (Best of Theatre - Lumiere Reader), both of which were co-written with Thomas Sainsbury.
Silent Night was inspired by a night spent being babysat by an elderly friend of her mother's when Yvette was about eight years old. A night spent helping to prepare for Xmas guests who never arrived.
The characters I most like to write are outsiders or crones. Irene McMunn of Silent Night is an outsider, deemed irrelevant by society. I was born in a rest home. I grew up surrounded by old ladies and I think that explains my particular desire to emulate the various characters I encountered. As a child in the sixties, when I was in public - places like Smith and Caughey’s - I used to act like an old lady or even like someone who had suffered a stroke. It got so bad that my Father refused point blank to take me to town because of my antics. I honestly think I was partially traumatised by so intimately witnessing the suffering of the elderly in rest homes so I needed to express this to the world.
Anyway, my Mother told me she was a witch when I was a small child. I would have been barely four years old then. She told me a lot of stories that weren't true. One night, she told me she didn't have time to tell me a bedtime story because she had to get to a witches meeting, and if I watched out my window I would see her fly across the moon on her broomstick. When I was sixteen my Mother told me I could join the witches coven too. I was so excited, I took on the mantle and I think I was branded with that idea ever since. I've always liked scaring people a little, ever since I was a child. At school, I was always pulling faces and staring weirdly at people. Girls would run away, terrified, screaming, "Get away from me!" I think I didn't fit in, and feeling the tedious pressure imposed on girls to be pretty, this was my way of protesting.
I like witches because they are outside the law. They live on the edges, doing their own thing, and don't care a fig about what other people think; they don't care to be liked, don't conform to how society expects them to look or behave, and they can cope masterfully well with being totally rejected for that. I love that witches absolutely aren't afraid of looking at the dark aspects of life - that's a good thing and we could all do more of that instead of squirming and running in the opposite direction. Witches don't run from themselves, or deny the darkness, because they're willing to see the whole. I've grown up always feeling like there is magic in the world, which is probably the power to create things in your mind, make it happen, and in doing so truly affect people. All artists are witches or magicians because their depictions of the world have the power to overtly or covertly strike at your heart and maybe even change who you are.
Barbara Cartland. What a spectacular mask - terrifying and compelling. I found inspiration to create the character Beverley Beavington in Dolly Mixture partially from this image. I relish the world of the vain and faded debutante. A grotesque artifice of pink sprinkles over something one wishes others not to see never fails to draw me in. Powder-spattered and plastered with a thick layer of suspicion and fear of oneself. It reveals a desire to transcend reality, to return to glory, to escape death and to be something one is not.
This face is like the face of the death of everything. It's a lie. And of course lies are always told in the hope that they will be believed, trusting that the victim will be won over. Then there's the part where the lie is obvious but an apology is never forthcoming. Because the liar always has to be right. So twisted. I do love to ponder the little sequence performed in the darkest recesses of a brain, where the liar believes that what they cook up will simply go unnoticed. And then the lengths, the utter lengths that can be gone to - lasting years or even a lifetime - pretending that the lie was never in fact told at all! The failure to sell the outrageous lie is the nut I like to crack.
My father was a sailor. He went to sea at the age of fifteen and in the 1940s he joined the merchant navy. He couldn't swim. He wanted to stay at school. There was no clear logic as to why he was forced to go to sea. His family explained that since he was a Pisces he should be in his element. Life at sea was a terrifying and steep learning curve. He had to scrub the deck on his knees under a scorching sun. He had to climb the mast with his bare hands in a storm. At the mouth of a river, he once saw sharks fighting crocodiles and another time he saw the ocean filled with whales as far as the eye could see.
I grew up hearing lots of stories about the sea and his life onboard the ship, all while staring at a tattoo of a ship he had on his shoulder from his sailor days. By the time he came ashore, he was a captain - a Master Mariner. Much to my dismay he had the tattoo removed because of the perceived stigma attached. So I had it put back - on my own arm, with a heart on the flag. For me, ships represent the rollicking old voyage across the seas of life; sometimes stormy, sometimes calm, with beautiful dawns, fiery sunsets and depths full of wondrous and terrifying creatures.
I was a punk in the late 1970s. I left school when I turned sixteen in 1977 and immersed myself completely in the Auckland punk scene. It was a small group of about a hundred people initially, and we had this one club in Auckland called Zwines in a historic old stone building in Durham Lane where we all used to hang out and bands like The Suburban Reptiles and The Scavengers would play. New Zealand was very parochial in those days. There weren't very many places to go or things to do, so the music scene was thriving with people making the kind of music they wanted to hear. It took forever to get music magazines and records imported from the UK and US so we made our own. I sang backing vocals for a while in a band called The Aliens (years later I played keyboards for Dead Can Dance, which is on The Scavengers family tree, on a tour of Europe in 1984/85). It was a great chance to shock people and we took full rein of that. We would literally stop traffic, walking up Queen Street in broad daylight in a bra made out of records and Beatle boots and everything ripped to shreds. So bad. So thrilling. Ponsonby Road was one long strip of op shops and junk shops in those days - where you could get a 50s ball gown for $5 and then go back to your flat in St Mary's Bay and customise it.
Punk in NZ didn't stem directly out of the political and economic climate like it did in England, but there was a sense of alienation growing up in New Zealand in the conservative 60's and 70's and that certainly resonated with what was being expressed in the music. I know I was rebelling against what I was discovering was a cruel, sterile world that I didn't understand and didn't really want to fit into.
I've retained a punk streak in me that is vocal, that doesn't comply with a code of silence around any kind of arsehole behaviour, and is undaunted by the prospect of discerningly offending people. I want to make art about my view of the world and it just happens that what always emerges out of me are marginalised characters; not at all to be received as Johnny Rotten's 'cheap holiday in other peoples' misery', but always a comment on human psychology.
Little Fluffy Clouds - The Orb
My favourite choon.
Silent Night is on in the Loft at Q Theatre
Nov 22 – 26
Tickets available here