Loose Canons: Nisha Madhan

Nisha Madhan is the artistic director of The Town Centre and the woman delivering FUCK RANT at Basement Theatre next week. She shares her inspirations.

Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.

Nisha Madhan is the artistic director of The Town Centre. The Town Centre has produced five works: Cowboy Mouth/Love It Up, LIES, This Is My Real Job, TITLED, and What Have You Done To Me? (which toured to Finland in 2014). All of these shows have received consistent critical acclaim, many being nominated for Most Original Production at Fringe Festivals and Auckland and Wellington Theatre Awards. Nisha has toured nationally and internationally with The Town Centre, Future Hotel, and Indian Ink. She is also a producer of independent theatre, having worked for companies like The Dust Palace and Theatre Beating, and a dramaturg with particular approaches to participation, having worked with The Playground Collective, Pressure Point Collective, Ash Jones, Sam Brooks, Julia Croft, Virginia Frankovich and Vibracorp Productions. She is also a performance art tutor at Unitec and curator of the underground performance art event Somewhere Series.

Last year, Nisha created a new work with Julia Croft called Power Ballad, which swept up several Auckland Fringe Festival awards and the Melbourne Arts Festival Discovery Award and was nominated for the prestigious TOTAL Theatre Award in Edinburgh. This year, she was assistant director to Jo Randerson for Barbarian Productions' Grand Opening at The Civic and will be creating Medusa with Julia Croft and Virginia Frankovich. Nisha is currently part of 3 year long residency co-curated by The Basement (NZ), Forest Fringe (UK) and West Kowloon Cultural District (HK) and will be published in the Cambridge University Press book Undisciplining Dance in Nine Movements and Eight Stumbles, her first time as a published author.

Nisha's latest work, Fuck Rant, plays at Basement Theatre from Tuesday the 20th to Saturday the 24th of February at 8:30pm. It's a "banging-pots-cutting-holes-in-the-furniture-setting-fire-to-your neighbor's-garbage type of show". There will be fake blood.

Tim Etchells and Live Art

In 2010 I moved to Brussels and was lucky that my partner at the time had already filled our apartment with inspiring books on performance makers. My main squeeze that summer was a book called Certain Fragments by Tim Etchells, the director of an experimental theatre company called Forced Entertainment from Sheffield, UK. They made their mark by creating work that pissed off everyone in the UK but made everyone in Europe smile. Tim’s writing is my biggest touchstone when I create a performance. He has a way of making things that seem cerebral completely plain, beautiful, obvious and funny. I made my first show What Have You Done To Me? almost entirely out of provocations from Certain Fragments. And whenever I feel lost as maker I go back to it or some other article that Tim has written. If there’s one thing I’d recommend to any budding theatre maker it would be to buy Certain Fragments.

Discovering Tim Etchells encouraged me to make theatre that I could relate to. To embrace ambiguity, slippery meanings, nonlinear thinking, multiplicity, to stop worrying about what’s “truthful” or “natural” (because nothing is truthful or natural in the theatre), being a mess, all in a fun and entertaining way. It felt like I’d been given permission to truly make from the heart and the more I used Tim Etchells and Forced Entertainment as an artistic model, the less fucks I gave about what was “good” or “bad,” “right” or “wrong.” It was my gateway in to discovering Live Art. A way of working across art forms and creating encounters with audiences that are honest about the present moment within which they are caught. An honouring of that fundamental contract between performer and audience which is to say I am here, you are there, and this is the moment we are together. For me, an entirely holistic, feminist and empathic way to make art.

Kate McIntosh and The Audience

On the inside page of the copy of Certain Fragments that was glued to my side in Brussels was the name Kate McIntosh scrawled in black ink. She trained as a dancer in Wellington and then moved to Brussels and promptly went about untraining herself. I am completely obsessed with the work that comes out of Kate’s brain. She’s so swift, clear and direct. She has this great way of building up meaning like a house of cards, smashing it to pieces then building it up again as something entirely new. Her work Loose Promise, Dark Matter, All Ears and more recently In Many Hands (featuring the wonderful Josh Rutter) has inspired me no end. She makes audience participation so easy you forget what it was like to be nervous about it. It seems only natural that the audience should be part of the experience, especially in Kate’s trustworthy hands, why would you have it any other way?!

This style of participation is a key part of my work. It is a gentle and non-dictatorial approach. That sometimes confuses people because audiences are quite used to either being told exactly what do to or being pulled up on stage and being forced to do it. And although it’s often funny, comedy is not the aim. It’s about respecting each individual in the room and creating a collective. This approach is gentle and if you don’t want to do it you don’t have to. Something about that kind of gentle freedom can often end up feeling awkward because we aren’t used to being allowed such agency as audiences to think freely. It requires you to think for yourself. To refuse to act or disagree with the artist or even leave the theatre. I have no trouble with someone leaving. At least they were moved enough to get up and do so. It shows me that they are engaged, provoked and that they are thinking and feeling their way through a performance.

Stephen Bain and Dreams

Behind all of this is the day I met and fell in love with Stephen Bain The first time I met him I remember talking about a dream I had and the first thing he said was, “I think that’s possible. I think I can make that happen.” I was toast from then on. Stephen’s work continues to floor me. He’s one of the most hard working, committed artists in this country that doesn’t get nearly enough recognition. This man will not stop until dreams are fully realised artistically, philosophically and politically. He’s filled streets with wild deer, parks with animals, he put a car in the lower NZI room of the Aotea Centre, he’s made millions of people around the whole world a tiny cup of tea and served it to them out of a tiny house, and last year he made his own theatre and then he made it FLOAT. ON. WATER. I wouldn’t be the artist I am today without the privilege of knowing, loving and leaving Stephen Bain.

Good and Bad Parties

The idea of a party (good or bad) is integral to the way I build a performance experience. Good or bad, a party is a way of being with others. I suppose that this is what led me to start using my home as the site for Somewhere Series, a performance art event curated by myself that inevitably ends up being a party in my kitchen. Theatre is an innately social experience and I think if someone knows how to throw a party, they know how to take care of an audience. I like allowing you to have your own experience and make up your own mind. I don’t like sitting you down, shutting you up and making you listen to me talk like I know better. Get involved or hug the wall, it doesn’t matter so long as the choice is yours. I’m a big flirt and I’ll go a long way just to make sure that we’re in the same room together. I want things to get a little out of hand and risk getting the police involved. I want to wake up with regrets. I want to go to sleep with no regrets. I want the night to take an unexpected turn. I want to meet everyone in the room. I want to suddenly find myself as part of an occult ritual and wonder how the fuck I ended up there. I want you to notice me. When it comes down to it, if the world were to end tomorrow, I’d rather be with you than alone. Because I think you’re sexy. And it’s just not as much fun without you.

Failure and Not Doing What You’re Supposed To Do.

I wouldn’t be who I am without failing to be the perfect daughter, the perfect soap opera star, the perfect wife, the perfect woman, the perfect Indian immigrant, the perfect actor or artist. I have roughly a two year limit on behaving well, and then I will tear the building down with my bare hands.

I try to encourage a gleeful approach to Failure in my work. Failure gets a really rough deal from people. It's ignored at the dinner table,made to stand outside on the street with that cigarette it know it shouldn’t be smoking, and it's accused of making people cry all the time. While Failure slumps in the corner getting resentful over a warm beer, Success swans through the party drinking martinis and telling outrageous lies about the time it lived in Paris.

But Failure makes us stronger, wiser and just like other people. It makes us funnier, wilder and way more fun to hang out with. It makes us stop and listen. It offers an opportunity for something new to happen.

It’s not that I set up performances to fail. I set up performances that are capable of sitting down to a game of poker with Failure and giving it a run for its money.

FUCK RANT is on at The Basement from Tuesday 20 to Saturday 24 February. Get your tickets here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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