Sian Torrington on the Topp Twins exhibition

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[00:00:00] This program is brought to you by pride in [00:00:05] So Andy low, the director of Tim menorah has been wanting to do an exhibition on the top ones for a number of years and been talking to [00:00:16] them and their management about the idea of doing that he was involved in the first exhibition in the Waikato. [00:00:26] And so if you felt like now was a really good time to do that, and he asked me to curate it because of my previous project around homosexual or form and activism and community engagement and that way, [00:00:45] yeah. So why the top coins important. [00:00:50] And the top twins are important for 1000 reasons. And I'm sure everyone in New Zealand probably has an answer to that, and, and different answers. And maybe that's part of what makes them important, because they are important to so many people in so many different ways and across really diverse identities and communities. Yeah. And I think they, one of the kind of phrases that kept coming up through the exhibition was they make us laugh, and they make us think, and, and it's fun. So I think those three things, yeah, makes them pretty important. [00:01:31] And you were saying that there was an earlier exhibition on the top ones when did that? [00:01:35] So that was I can't remember the exact date. But in in 2012, that exhibition. [00:01:46] So that was the first exhibition on them. But it was, it was very small was an original museum. And so yeah, so that was a good sort of starting point. So in the archives, I found that object list for that exhibitions. So everything that they had on show to sort of see yes, see, see where the idea started, really to make an exhibition. [00:02:13] Yeah, so the quite surprising to me, because the top ones have been around Well, since at least the early 80s. Know that. But before then, why do you think the first exhibition happened in 2012? [00:02:26] I am not sure if people, I think it's more of a contemporary thing to think about making exhibitions, about about musicians or about [00:02:40] particular people who are not necessarily artists like the Alexander McQueen exhibition, or the David Bowie exhibition or [00:02:50] sort of looking at those, all of the ephemera that's around performative career. So yeah, we're really lucky because their management and around a cup, but it's been their manager for 30 years. And she's really kept everything. So we're extremely lucky to have all effects. Yeah. So, [00:03:15] I mean, we do you start, where did you start with looking at the material, [00:03:19] I started in the archives, so the top twins and their management deposited there. They collection into the Alexander Turnbull library at the National Library a couple of years ago. So that was really great, because it's all been catalogued, it's all been sorted through. So that's where I started. And I spent many, many, many days in the, in the library going through all sorts of things, posters, set lists, flyers, fan mail, documentation around tours. So looking for looking for the stories and the objects that were going to help us to tell those stories. Really. Yeah, so that's, that's where I started kind of getting my own head around around the the sort of back stories Yeah, and also in in Natoma. Watching hundreds of hours of top twins, footage of TV shows and concerts and everything. That's and that's available there, you [00:04:35] come across anything unexpected? [00:04:41] I think the, I didn't really know about how their career started. And I found that just a really fascinating thread about busking on the streets and Auckland, and being just going to Oakland being being broke. Guys, let's we've got the guitars in the car, let's saying and that being the first. [00:05:07] Yeah, sort of public experience of singing on the street and making money and going, Oh, this works. And then doing that every Sunday night for the next couple of years. You know, so I really, really enjoyed that story. Yeah. There's some amazing footage from those early days of being basking in the moment. [00:05:26] We have just started to give up. [00:05:28] Yeah, they're just so this so energetic, I think that really strikes me about that early footage, even if they I could just watch their dancing in those performances. There's such physical performers and sort of back bends. And you know, it's like, 100% commitment at all times. Yeah. Yeah. and fulfill us. That's what I found a very [00:05:56] encouraging experience making this show being part of making the show because they, they just went for it. And when I watch buskers on the street, I think about that, and I sort of thing, you're either doing it or you're not doing as you know, and if you're doing it, you've got to give it give it everything. And that's what that's what they did. And people were just so drawn to that. [00:06:21] Yeah. And like his feelings in some of the topics they were choosing to sing about as well. Yeah. And then kind of activist [00:06:30] role. Absolutely. I mean, they are so direct with the lyrics as well. I mean, my partner, the journalist, and they often say to me with my own writing, and just say what you mean, say exactly what you mean. And, and it's great to hear those kinds of lyrics where they couldn't be any more direct and, and sort of challenging, and also really, really funny. And I think there's something that's it's almost like it's funny, or it's, it's liberating to hear that kind of directness, because it's the sort of thing that we might think, but are you couldn't quite say it like that, you know, but they say it for us. [00:07:12] Yeah. And I mean, New Zealand was so different back in the early 80s. I mean, do you have any sense of how they were? [00:07:20] How they were received, back in those early days? [00:07:24] Yeah, I mean, I think because because they were funny. It's so disarming, and watching, there's a lot of footage in the archives of, of early tours, and seeing how they, they relate to people all over the country. And that's, that's what I think is, is really incredible about them, because they can talk to radical queers, they can talk to farmers, they can talk to housewives, they can talk to the farmers Federation union at a MP show, and people will talk to them. And I, they, they really, they really reminded Linda in particular really reminds me of my first girlfriend, who is probably about the same ages as them now. And, and her thing was, she's, [00:08:20] she's a working class person. And that's something that I get really strongly from them as they are working class farming girls, and that's how they talk to people. And that's what my ex girlfriend was, like, you just you just talked to pitch us to say, you just don't give people any, any space to be homophobic, you just right up there, and you stick your hand out and you say, Hey, how you doing? You know. And, yeah, I think that's what they like to and it's awesome. [00:08:46] So talk me through some of the themes of the exhibition. [00:08:50] So the exhibition starts with the early lives and growing up. So it's just called who are the top twins. So looking at them growing up on the farm, and leaving home and going and doing army training, and early activists, staff. And then it goes into [00:09:14] love for New Zealand, which is all about their TVs, TV shows. So I wanted people to have an opportunity to just sit down and watch the telly. Because that's how a lot of people, you know, came into contact with them in, in our lounges. So I wanted it to feel a bit like a lounge, and you can just sit there and watch the TV and have a laugh. [00:09:40] So that's the first two sections. And there's also a whole lot of material around the TV shows and then going overseas and that kind of thing. And then we go into a section that's been very popular, which is called becoming the characters. So that's, that's all about their characters. So we are really lucky to have some original costumes, some of the very first costumes that they wore for many, many years. And that's really wonderful. And we've got sort of sketches of the costumes and makeup sheets. And so I wanted to try and take people sort of backstage and there's footage of them talking about how they develop the characters and how they perform them. And then there's sets of, of costumes that you can try on, and scripts and encouragement to play. And so that's one of the things that I've been seeing the most of on social media is what we were hoping for, which is people dressing up and taking selfies and having a laugh. And that was one of the parts that people said, Oh, you museum people said, Oh, you're crazy. No, no do there. And I said, Okay, well, we'll, we'll just see a and on opening, opening night, Linda and jewels were there and their parents and their brother and his partner and and so we got to that section and people, people just just went for a city councilor just put on a costume and said to me, come on, come on. And so they were they were can and can and they just picked up a script and did this performance and jaws and Linda were absolutely cracking up and thought it was hilarious. And we're filming them. And I thought this is wow, this is a real sort of, you know, Snake eating its own tail kind of moment where there's, you know, his jaws and Linda. And then there's the costumes, and there's the real costumes behind us. And it's all and it's all just a laugh. And they had they had an audience, you know, these performers and everyone applauded. And so that was kind of my dream come true, really, is that I wanted people to be able to, to play and be expressive in in the gallery in the museum. [00:12:02] Yeah. [00:12:04] There's some of the themes. There's more. [00:12:06] Yeah. And then I guess, with all this humor going on, underneath that there's a whole lot of really heavy, heavy, quite heavy topics, like, you know, LGBT inclusion, Ginger quality. I mean, I've been at the forefront of some really strong activist movements. [00:12:25] Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we could have made a whole show just about that really. [00:12:31] And activism. Section is the way that the, the designer worked at, which was so beautifully done is that that was sort of the the center of the show, and then everything, you can see that that section from every other part of the show. So it's kind of like the, the the heart of what their of what they're doing the drive of what they're doing. And they talk about it like that. They both say, you know, Jules says, I don't think there's a day of my life where I didn't feel political, you know, Linda talking about, you know, it's not like you wake up one day and think, oh, I don't feel like being political today. It's just, you know, you that's who you are, and you care. And so yeah, so that's a really important part of the show. And we focused on the four main protest movements of of that time of the 1980s. So homosexual law reform, anti nuclear protests, Bastion Point endpoint, and the Springboks. Of course, the Springboks. So [00:13:42] those, those four as sort of the main themes, and it was exciting to have a show where you've got such personal well loved people, who also either their lives or my kind of know, right, a social history of that time. And we wanted to one thing I'm really interested in, in terms of social history is how we connect with each other through generations. So Jules and Linda are nearly 60. And when I interviewed them, they it was the day after all of these young people, young women had marched on Parliament against sexual violence, and they, and they talked about that, and they said, you know, it's really important that we, that we know, who fought for our rights in the past, and we celebrate them, and but they said, you know, those, those 13 year olds, you know, marching on parliament, we want to be there cheering them on and saying, You go girl, you know, and I found that really, really moving, you know, it's like, that's what, that's what I hope the show can do for for for people is, go you know, it people have been doing this a long time, and finally, for a long time, and this is how they did it, and you can do it too, and you are doing it, you know, and we talked about how [00:15:08] that kind of protesting is, is coming back. And we're seeing all over the world people on the on the street and with placards and and meeting and the the insecurity of the internet as a forum, you know, and people going back to, to meeting in person. So, yeah, that's, that's one of the things that I hope the show can can give to people is encouragement and seeing that it's been done before and it works. So keep going. Yeah. [00:15:44] So we do you think Jules and Linda's kind of sense of social justice and activism comes [00:15:49] from they say it comes from their upbringing. [00:15:54] And that they were always brought up that [00:15:59] you shouldn't never, you should never hate anyone, and that you should, that you should be kind and the fairness was really, really important. So, I mean, for me that that goes back to that you're working class farming sort of [00:16:17] values and an ethics really about all this, that's just not really on as it you know, it's it's really refreshing to hear them talk about that kind of stuff, because they keep it really simple. So when they talk about the the the Springboks, and they say, you know, we grew up watching rugby, and we used to get up in the middle of the night and watch rugby. And but when that was happening, we had to say to mom and dad, hey, you know, we're against the tour, because it's it's not fair. And people are not people are getting, people are getting hurt. And we we want to stand up for them, you know. So that's that what they identify? [00:17:02] Yeah, I'm really interested in how we get a sense of a person or people from what they leave behind. And so you're on the archive, you're looking at all this material that I've clicked over the years. How does your sense of the top twins from there compared to when you actually meet them? [00:17:22] Yeah, I mean, I think one of the things that was really striking for me about the archives [00:17:31] is how much work has gone into their career. Because you see, you see all of the bookings, you see all of the fan mail, which they've answered you. You see all of the planning, and the, you know, one episode about dogs and how many dogs they went through to find the right kind of dogs, and, you know, all the permissions to use places. I think, for me, that was, you know, and as an artist as well myself as like, Oh, yeah, all the stuff that you don't see, when you just go to a show, and you have a fantastic time, you think, oh, that was great. You know, and then they look like they're having a fantastic time. And they are, but they've also worked really, really, really hard to bring you that experience in such a beautiful, seamless way. And so that's something that came across from the archives. And yeah, I think it is really hard to get a real picture for what what people leave behind, I mean with them, because they have the [00:18:40] because of course they have all the TV shows and the recordings and they very articulate talking about themselves. So they radio interviews, and so it all kind of comes to gather to make a picture. But one thing I really wanted to try and get across in the show, as a queer person is what I don't think comes across when you watch them on TV, and is that the butcher's You know, there's there's strong gruff butchers, they when you meet them, you know, and and it was great because I are Yes, yes, I know, this. I know, this way of being, you know, and it takes a while to Walmart. And they're not sure about you. And, and then I okay, yeah, you're you're all right, you know, and so, I, I wanted to the get that across in the show somehow, as well, because I I love that identity. I love butchers. They're wonderful. And how does that go in? And so there were there are some images in the show that are, you know, they very masculine, there are motorbikes, they've got leather jackets on. To me, it's like, well, that's, that's them just being themselves, you know, being who they are just as people without all the characters without all of that stuff. So it was really important to me that those those images went into the show, and one of the newest songs, Jules has written it, and I think it's just called tomboy. And it's, it's all about that. It's all about being Butch being a tomboy. And so it was, I really wanted to honor that and make sure that came through. [00:20:34] Yeah, I mean, that's really interesting in terms of that kind of identity being invisible one some, some situations. And I'm wondering, do you think was at the top twins themselves constructing the kind of identity that they wanted out on the on public? Or was it like, say TV saying, Are you can't be to watch? [00:20:55] I think it's really interesting, because I think they [00:21:00] like when they can and can, you know, people don't see them as Butch lesbians, they see them as cannon, can they see them as men? And so that's, that's a really interesting sort of conversation around that. But I know that they have been sort of year may made up to sort of feminized a bit or you know, so when we talked, there was sort of discussion around that of, Oh, don't use that photo. I always hated that photo. And it's, it's the photos where someone has tried to put more makeup on them or feminized them in a particular way. [00:21:38] And there was some really interesting conversations around there within the team have have sort of war, should we make them a bit softer? And me subtle, going? No, let's not make them a bit softer. Let's just leave them as as strong stroppy butchers. And that's really, really cool. And, [00:21:55] yeah, we want to, we want to see that and we want to celebrate their, and in the in the museum, which is so wonderful. For the opening, there was an exhibition at the same time, which is called Butch by Rachel Hoskins. And it's a really wonderful photographic project of photographs of of butchers. And so I felt so good about that. I thought, Oh, that's such a wonderful welcome. For them, and acknowledgement. And so we we went through that, that show as well together. And and so that was, that was neat. Yeah. It's good to see our people. [00:22:39] So what is it like when you're curating an exhibition that is highlighting living people? [00:22:47] What is it like in terms of negotiating with those people in terms of how they portrayed one of the stories that are accentuated? [00:22:56] Yeah, I guess I'm kind of trying to figure out [00:23:01] how much control to the twins have? And at what point did they come into the exhibition? [00:23:08] I am, I mean, my first answer to that question is it's terrifying. So at the opening, it was it was really terrifying thinking, what do they thing keto, and yeah, living people, their parents, their, you know, their people coming in and seeing, but Jaws, and Linda made quite a conscious decision to just trust us, and let it let it happen. So they got to see they sort of, they didn't want to see anything until it was all the ideas were all sort of a bit developed. And there was kind of a first draft really, and then we went to Oakland, and met with their management and talk them through everything and left them with all of the plans and said, Look, you know, if anything needs to change, that's fine. [00:23:58] And then we went out [00:24:01] in about March, I think, and met with Joseph and under, and that's when I interviewed them. And they gave us a lot of costumes and sort of, but they they wanted it to be a surprise. So it was it was a surprise, exactly what it looked like. And the museum I thought organized it really beautifully for the opening so that they they went up first with their family. And, and may and and they and and yeah, cut the ribbon and but also went through the show first, and people really respected that people came in behind them. And [00:24:42] so I think for them it was there were a lot of things that they had forgotten about. So there was some really lovely kind of moments of of Oh, look at this jobs. Look at Look, this is so and so. And so that was that was really that was really lovely. And parts were Linda, Linda didn't have a have a glasses with her. So she said, What's this? What's this? And I said, this is the speech that account mother gave when when she ran for mayor. And so I stood there and read her the speech. So it was deeply relieving. To feel like, yeah, it's it's a, it's a good reflection. It's an interesting reflection. And, and that's what I I work very hard to make it as true to, to them and to them methods and to their co Papa and how they run their Korea, the way that the show is and the way that audiences are invited to engage with it. So they're very much you know, do it yourself. You know, how do we make the characters we go shopping? You know, so it was like, Whoa, let people dress up? You know, I tried to take the lead on what to do from what they've done. [00:26:07] Yeah. And so what has the response been? [00:26:11] The response has been really good. I think I mean, I'm, I'm here in Wellington, the shows and pumps north, so I don't get to kind of go and hang out and watch people going through the show. But I, I was there for, of course for the opening. And there were a lot of people there. And there was a lot of a lot of laughter, a lot of spending time. And a lot of responses. So in the activism section, you're able to write on a mini placard, what's important to you, you know, what do we need to change? What do we need to do now? And so those were really filling up with people's ideas. And then I went back, there was the museum's altered or conference. And so I went and just hung out. So it's nice to just watch what people doing. So it was great to see that people were just sitting down and watching TV for a while. And people with their kids and trying things on and year. So I think it's I think it's been really good. [00:27:15] What's your favorite object or story or narrative? [00:27:21] There's a few but I I do really love the camp mother running for all premiere. For me, there's, it's such an inspiring and fascinating and queer story about being being really political, seeing something that doesn't feel okay. And going, I want to do something about that. And doing it in a way which is so funny, and so and so political at the same time. So I love those kind of things where it's like, you don't have to, you don't have to play their game and wear a suit and sort of, you know, to engage with politics, you can actually do it creatively and rebellious Lee and people will follow you because as Linda said, when she was talking about it, you know, I'm a comedian. I'm a performer. So yeah, I know how to do a debate. I know how to win a debate. I know how to carry an audience, you know, anything? Wow. Yeah, absolutely. Those are all of the things that actually politics are about as well. Is that real performance? And yeah, getting people to come with you. So I I love that story. Yeah, yeah. [00:28:41] Will the exhibition tune into anything else? So like a book or someone online presence? What do you think it will go from here? [00:28:48] I mean, that there are plans to tour the exhibition. So that will take different forms and different museums. So I really hope that people go and see it and pumps North because it's like, that's, you know, that's the kind of ultimate way that we designed it. And, and it's got all of the objects and and everything. [00:29:13] But I think, yeah, I mean, [00:29:18] I think that it has a lot of potential to have an online presence as well. And I think that it, it starts a lot of wider conversations as well around social history and activism, and, and, and play and how that can happen. And [00:29:37] it's so yeah, I'm hoping that some things may unfold around that. And I also, the interview that I did with them, I just wanted to put the whole kind of two hours into the show, which obviously you can't do in the show, there's, you know, one minute clips that you can listen to, but there are extended pieces, which hopefully again, I've got what, as, as podcasts so that people can listen to, you know, 10 minutes of you know, Joseph lenders talking about how we're going to save the environment, for example, or so that was a really nice part of the show, because it's, it's now it's it's then reflecting on on the themes of the show and on contemporary life, you know, now in March 2017. So, [00:30:29] yeah. [00:30:32] And just finally, what's what's next for Sean? [00:30:36] What's an expression? [00:30:38] Well, I want to unfold some of the things that [00:30:47] that came up out of, we don't have to be the building. So I want to make a publication about that. And also hoping to run quite a big event. [00:31:01] Which will bring together a lot of the things we've been talking about how do we how do we archive queer stories? How do we share them? How do we talk to each other across across generations year that kind of thing and more making and hopefully more curating shows. I mean, I really loved doing this show. Very, very special. And very, very precious to me personally to Yeah, have been asked to do that was a real honor. [00:31:31] Yeah.

This page features computer generated text of the source audio - it is not a transcript. The Artificial Intelligence Text is provided to help users when searching for keywords or phrases. The text has not been manually checked for accuracy against the original audio and will contain many errors.