20 September 2010

Fun for actors and audiences: My First Time

After enthralling audiences as the intriguing, would-be stamp-seller Jackie in Mauritius, Danielle Mason returns to Circa One in My First Time. She tells drama on the waterfront all about the current production, a show with “rock ‘n roll” element.

DOTW: What can you tell us about My First Time?

DM: My First Time is a unique piece of theatre in that it began as an American website [www.myfirsttime.com] set up by two guys who wanted to see if other people’s “first times” were as “bad” as theirs were. The response to the website - not just in America, but universally - was overwhelming, and savvy producer Ken Davenport realised the potential for a theatre show in which the real life stories, conveying the vast spectrum of “first time” experiences, could be woven together to provide an entertaining and provocative journey for an audience. The term “verbatim” theatre is a useful description, in that the words and stories are not made up but are the authentic testimonials of everyday people. Adding to the charm of the show is the fact that the “fourth” wall is broken, meaning the actors directly address the audience. Perhaps the most unique and appealing feature of the show is that the audience are invited to fill in survey cards pertaining to their own “first” experiences;  the comments and statistics of which are incorporated into the show in an anonymous way. It is a fun, refreshing, and totally inclusive piece of theatre that anyone can relate to.

Danielle Mason

DOTW: You play a range of characters with a variety of accents and experiences; what was the most challenging part of the preparation process?

DM: The most challenging part of the preparation process was creating specific and varying back stories for the multitude of different stories that must be portrayed. Each actor has several longer monologues which provide more clues and insight into to the background of the person, but there are also many “montage” type sequences, where we are firing off one-liners in quick succession. Conjuring a strong sense of somebody’s character in as little as three words requires clearly defined accents and mannerisms. The show has a sustained rhythm and pace which demands the actors to be “on the ball”; it is a wonderful work-out for any actor.

DOTW: Which of the stories you tell is your favourite?

DM: It is really difficult to settle on a favourite story, as they are all so different and the fact that they are real words from the mouths of real people is always resonant. One story where I portray a woman in a relationship with her wheelchair-bound tutor is definitely special, and another woman whose first experiences involved using a coke “douche” is always bittersweet.

DOTW: What can you tell us about the rest of the cast?

DM: The cast of My First Time are truly fantastic. Jude Gibson is a veteran of NZ theatre and brings a wealth of experience and a great sense of humour to the piece. Simon Vincent is also a seasoned performer who is currently involved in the multiple roles of acting, directing and producing theatre. Aaron Alexander adds a long history of improvisation to his acting repertoire which lends wonderfully to the piece, and he has recently become a dad for the second time! All are brave actors with a sense of adventure and huge respect for the stories that are being told. As an ensemble we have a great amount of fun that I think translates really well to the audience in this piece.

(left to right) Aaron Alexander, Danielle Mason, Simon Vincent, Jude Gibson

DOTW: You were last at Circa in Mauritius. How was it working on My First Time, in comparison?

DM: These two shows are so completely different in terms of style and the process required, but are equally challenging! Mauritius is a beautiful written quite classical albeit modern piece, whereas My First Time is built on the real, unembellished phrasings of real people; it is the way the stories are put together that the poetry becomes evident. In Mauritius the audience are drawn into and moved by this world that is independent of them, whereas in My First Time, the audience are as much a part of the show as the actors, and the more energy they breathe into the show, the more the show blossoms and transforms. I have absolutely loved having this opportunity to explore theatre and performance through both of these pieces.

DOTW: Audience members have been rather responsive during this show. What is the funniest thing that has happened during the show thus far?

DM: Audience members are indeed rather responsive during this show, which lends a rather “rock n’ roll” element, and a sense that anything can happen, which is part of the excitement shared by the cast and the audience! My First Time is the type of show that goes well with a couple of drinks at the bar beforehand, therefore it also means that people often require the restroom at some stage during the show. This in itself has provided some of the funniest moments, such as when a gentleman got lost on his way to the toilet and ended up backstage where our wonderful stage manager Isaac Heron was busy operating the slides! There are a couple of segments in the show where the theatre almost goes to blackout, and I think the audience senses this as a prime time to make a comfort stop, but it also means that they may receive a little heckling from the cast as they negotiate their way to and from their seats. Luckily there is nothing that can’t be incorporated into this show, and that is part of the fun of it, for the audience and actors alike!

The cast of My First Time.

My First Time runs until October 2 in Circa One. To book your tickets, call the Circa Box Office at 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz. Tell us about your first time for a chance to win a great time! Go to www.myfirsttime.weebly.com for more details.

Photos by Stephen A'Court.

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