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Break Out of the Pigeon-Hole

08 Aug 2020
Filmmaker, playwright and actor Paolo Rotondo is done being told how creativity should be classified, so he's championing a new performance hybrid.

Some processes in the arts are backwards.

I don’t believe it is helpful for artists or art-form to have to fit into clearly defined boxes or definitions.  But often we have to ‘pigeon-hole’ ourselves. Artists are so often asked to reduce their processes and creativity into pre-determined categories, genres and classifications for a measurable purpose.

Those measurable purposes are generally related to marketing so that we may create works that can be commodified and marketed as something recognisable to audiences.

The other reason that arts are most often classified is that they must be already defined and measurable to attract funding - this is the bureaucratic form of classification.

I’d like to imagine a process that works the other way around. A process that encourages cross-pollination of ideas, crafts and disciplines, an attitude that promotes the arts that keep challenging the forms. I’d love to see commerce and bureaucracy respond to themes, movements and approaches rather than the other way around.

Paolo Rotondo. Photo: Supplied.

I work across mediums, from theatre, film, writing, producing, acting and directing. As an artist, my creative impulse is always the same. I am, for some strange reason, compelled to tell stories. Choosing the medium for me is like a painter choosing which paintbrush she needs for a desired effect. 

When I first started out in the business, words like 'theatre' were pejorative in the film industry, and actors were certainly not taken seriously as writers or directors. In actual fact, my logic suggests that there are gifts that each medium can give to the other. 

I’m working on a project right now called ‘Theatre Live Online’ that cheekily, and somewhat defiantly, lands between classification. We all know that when you simply point a camera at a theatre performance, it can look pretty pants. That is because it is not designed to be filmed from the outset. Conversely, pre-packaged filmed and edited stories can lack the jeopardy and imaginative possibilities that live theatre can provide. 

Nightsong are well known for providing unique theatre experiences. Photo: Supplied.

So what I’ve done is to provoke three of New Zealand’s most inventive theatre companies to create new works that are intended from the outset to be for both ‘live theatre’ performance and ‘online performance’ at the same time. The live aspect creates jeopardy, excitement and unrepeatability that speaks to live performance even when it is online. There will be no cuts, no post, no safety net. I have asked that the camera be treated as a ‘theatrical device’.

Rehearsals for Goldfish Girl at Christchurch's Little Andromeda Theatre. Photo: Supplied.

I don’t think we are re-inventing theatre or broadcasting, but we are certainly having a go at creating something hybrid and new. If this continues, it could be a lovely new shop window for theatre to other audiences. 

Across all art-forms, the mash-up possibilities offered to us by technology are being taken up and blurring all those boundaries, genres and dusty structures. Don’t get me wrong, I love theatre and film, I have dedicated my life to them, this is different. This is an altogether different bird. 


Paolo Rotondo presents Live Theatre Online begins Sunday 9 August with Two Productions' Goldfish Girl at Little Andromeda Theatre in Christchurch, followed by Nightsong's Call It A Night at Auckland's Herald Theatre on 19 August and A Slightly Isolated Dog's unnamed production at BATS Theatre in Wellington on 27 August.  All performances can be viewed online here.