Article Title:Mates and Lovers hits Dunedin
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:23rd March 2011 - 04:10 pm
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Story ID:10133
Text:Ronald T Nelson The theatre show which tells New Zealand's gay history, Mates and Lovers, has made its first foray outside the main gay centres of Auckland and Wellington, opening its Dunedin season on the Fortune Theatre Mainstage as part of Fringe Dunedin. "It was really fun," says writer/director Ronald T Nelson of opening night. "We had a really tough day technically, but of course our actors came through and nailed it last night ... we're happy as clams." The man whose book inspired the play, Chris Brickell, was in the audience with a group of friends. He has seen the show before in Wellington during its debut season and at an Auckland dress rehearsal, but there have been a number of tweaks since then. "It was a smart audience," says Nelson of the almost 100 people who came out for a Tuesday night opening. "They got all the jokes." Nelson says news of the show is spreading among the local gay population through digital media and of course word of mouth. "Everybody's embracing it," he says, adding that Otago University's queer support network has arranged a special night with a discussion on the play afterwards. He says Dunedin is a tough town as everything that happens in the city seems to happen around the campus, however Mates and Lovers now seems to be "the talk of the town in homo-land". After getting plenty of support from the gay media, the hardworking and passionate director is now getting plenty of love from the 'mainstream' critics with the show, which first took stage in September 2009 in Wellington at BATS, visited Auckland's Basement late last year and returned to Wellington at Downstage this month, before its Dunedin foray. "Last time around the straight reviewers, the mainstream types, were really sympathetic," Nelson says of his 2009 and 2010 shows. "But this time they've just really gone over the top and fallen in love with the show. Which is a little staggering," he says reflecting on the 2011 reviews so far. "I told somebody, I feel like I set out to do theatre on the history of gay New Zealand and now I've become part of the history of gay New Zealand. And that's a little staggering. Chris Brickell said that was going to happen – and I said 'yeah, yeah, yeah, sure'. And now we're on a roll." Nelson wants to take the show to smaller and more conservative areas of New Zealand. He purposely spends time mingling with people from the audience after his shows and hearing about where they come from. "And every queer person in New Zealand, especially in the South Island, their only link to queerness is the Internet of course. So that's how we're being found out. Some of these people are miles and miles from each other. And that's exciting. A lot of them would never have seen this type of theatre before." An aspect Nelson has found particularly fun is the number of straight people turning up to see Mates and Lovers and reviewers saying 'this is a show for all New Zealanders. "It's like whoa, yeah! That's what we're all about. "Sometimes a lesser reviewer comes along and says 'the show relies on camp humour' or something, but that's who we are. That's our little club, you know, fuck off, we're here we're queer and we're making jokes." Nelson believes while Americans talk about themselves too much, other than Maori, New Zealanders are not very good at talking about themselves. "Especially white Kiwis, because they think they're not very interesting ... so I think Mates and Lovers sort of cracks that in a way. It's our otherness as homos." Leary (front) and Taurima After watching the show since September 2009, Nelson has relaxed enough to finally start actually really enjoying it. He says the level of commitment from actors Simon K Leary and Paora Taurima is incredible, as they strip off, sing, dance and play 50-odd characters in 90 minutes. "I don't know that I would get that sense of commitment if they were doing a show about rabbiters in New Zealand ... we carry a lot on our shoulders. We're talking for a generation of our 'peeps'. So without sounding corny or noble, that's there. " He has watched the two actors grow since they joined the show last year, Leary just three months out of drama school and Taurima, who is a dancer before an actor, "but the sense of joy and presence he brings to that stage is just remarkable. And it's a new beginning for him as well. I am sure that he will get offers for acting gigs." Nelson has many dreams and ideas and the tenacity to see them through. "I'd really like to do a day conference in small-town New Zealand with NZAF, men talking about who they are as queers and get them to buy the show – small towns. And get 100 guys from 50 kilometres and 100 kilometres away, that's the idea." Nelson says many people believe he and the actors have pretty good chances in the prestigious Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards which would give Mates and Lovers prestige, help it get a dose of money and ultimately, survive. He is also hopeful overseas funders could get involved, as he would love to take it to international glbt festivals. "The good things going for us in terms of overseas; it's a small show, it's a good show, it's a distinctly Kiwi show and it's a distinctly queer show. None of that has ever happened before, so, I don't know, I'm hopeful, but I'm also dying to move on. I'm dying to write a new show." Mates and Lovers in Dunedin From 22 Mar - 26 Mar at Fortune Theatre Mainstage Click here for tickets Jacqui Stanford - 23rd March 2011    
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