Article Title:Silo Theatre presents Berlin
Author or Credit:Matt Akersten
Published on:10th November 2006 - 12:00 pm
Story ID:1476
Text:Andrew Laing In true cabaret style, Auckland's Silo Theatre promises a highly intimate experience for both audience and performers in their latest production, ‘Berlin'. Paul Barrett - your MC for the evening, will welcome you to your table, then three cabaret singers will take to the stage to begin a musical journey that encapsulates a highly theatrical time in history. Donned in fishnets, distressed undergarments, highly camp make-up and flamboyant costumes, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Andrew Laing and Lana Nesnas - with the help of a live four-piece jazz ensemble - take you inside the gloriously debauched German cabaret scene of the 1930s. “You'll get a bit of ‘girl on girl', ‘girl on boy', and ‘boy on piano' action,” actor Andrew Laing cheekily reveals to Q: The Silo Theatre is known for asking a lot of its actors - simulated sex on stage and nudity have featured in recent productions. Do you feel like you're being pushed further than you're used to? Andrew Laing: No, not at all. We have all willingly jumped in. At times we're thinking – ‘don't you think we could go further or do more?' But the good thing about the Silo is that we're all on the same page – wanting to give the audience the best theatrical experience we can. Giving people their money's worth. So we're all quite happy to do whatever's necessary – within reason! Part of what I love about being an actor is looking as different as possible for each role. With my character for Berlin, the director wanted me to be like a woman in a man's body. So I'm exploring my femininity. Likewise, the girls in the show are ‘masculinising'. Myself, I'm not particularly feminine, so it's been challenging and confronting for me to abandon myself to it. ‘Camping it up' is a new thing for me. I'm getting my eyebrows done tomorrow! Q: Was 1930's Berlin really debauched and decadent? It's Germany between the wars, and it was the extraordinary time after the horrors and deprivation of World War One. Inflation was going through the roof and there was such poverty. You got paid in caseloads of notes, and had to literally run to the shops before prices would go up. People would do anything for money. For those few with money, it was a time of absolute decadence and sin. Especially in Berlin, where all censorship laws were removed. It meant that absolutely anything could go. For ten American Dollars, you could get WHATEVER you wanted. Alcohol, drugs – cocaine was very in-fashion. Berlin was also the centre for lesbian activity. It was an extraordinary, amazing time. For the homeless and dispossessed it was horrible, but you can juxtapose this with the enormous wealth and richness. Travelers from America and the rest of Europe flocked to this ‘Babylon' of a city. So we're trying to capture the mood of that time. The abandon, the decadence, and the delight in sin. We do have censorship laws today, because there's only so far we're willing to go, but we want to convey the atmosphere of what it might have been like. Q: It's an intimate venue, where the stage and audience are very close together. Will there be any audience participation? I detest audience participation! But because of the nature of the piece, we sometimes physically move out into the audience. It's simply to bring the mood up and make the audience feel a part of the experience. We want them to feel like we're all in this space and time together. But there's no picking on people and getting them up to dance or anything. We'll have a bar working inside the theatre, so that the place will be alive the whole time. It won't feel like you're in a theatre, it'll be like a bar. Q: I got told off once for describing someone as a ‘gay actor' in an article. He told me he wasn't a ‘gay actor'; he was ‘an actor who's gay'. What do you think on this? I absolutely agree. Why do you need to put it as a prefix? Because as soon as you say ‘gay actor', people will think you can only play gay roles. Whereas I am an actor who does a wide variety of roles, and in my private life, I'm gay. As actors, we have to do our utmost to avoid being pigeon-holed. You have to be the canvas on which a character is painted. People are always going to have a pre-conceived idea of who you are if you are known. The key is to make people forget that, and get into the new character. For a long time I'm going to be known as Geoff from Shortland Street. I was in people's living rooms five nights a week for two years. So that's hard to break away from. Q: Your character on Shortland Street was there for two years, came out as gay, and then was killed off a few weeks later. What was going on there? Well, every character has a use-by date. Geoff had come in to break up a [straight] relationship, so when that finished, the writers told me – we can make Geoff evil, or we can make him gay. So I thought it would be a great and interesting thing to do. I think the killing off of Geoff came from somewhere on high. It was a political decision that had nothing to do with the company or the writers. It was unfortunate, and cowardly of them, and I think it did an enormous discredit to the show. They had an opportunity to do something really important, not only for the gay community, but putting New Zealand out there as having an out gay character on the show. But they chickened out – that was their call. It was a great shame – an enormous opportunity lost. It lured me to come out at the time. I thought it was a perfect opportunity to say I was a gay actor playing a gay role. Q: Have you always wanted to be an actor? I grew up in the middle of nowhere – Central Otago. We lived on an orchid, so it wasn't even in town, which was only 600 people there anyway. I loved television and movies, which was my escapism. On Saturday and Sunday afternoons they used to play old black and white movies. Kathryn Hepburn and Cary Grant were my heroes. I knew I wanted to act then, but I didn't discover working on stage until a lot later. I did school plays and joined the local musical society. When I was 18 on a seventh form field trip to the Fortune Theatre, and I saw my first professional production. That was it – that was all I wanted to do. I went to University just so I could become part of the Fortune Theatre. I dropped out of uni pretty quickly, went on the dole, and gave my time freely to learn the craft. Stage managing, prop-building - I would do whatever was necessary to be part of that world. So it's the only thing I've ever wanted to do – and I'm blessed that I've been so lucky. Berlin plays at the Silo Theatre November 10 - December 16 2006 Matt Akersten - 10th November 2006    
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