The job of a writer is to design the architecture of a live performance. Gary Henderson
A versatile New Zealand playwright
By Roger Childs
The recent Friends of the Library Literary festival had as its theme: The play’s the thing. The opening session was a fascinating multi-media presentation by Gary Henderson.
One of his plays – Homeland – was performed by Kapiti Players recently, and two of the cast set the evening rolling with a vigorous exchange from the drama.
Homeland centres on the situation of Ken who can no longer look after his farm and the family having to work out what to do for the best.
Gary then outlined how his career as a playwright has unfolded with regular clips from his plays and the views of people who have performed in them.
Skin Tight / Te Tenir Contre Moi
This was Gary’s first play and has been a great success. It has been performed all round the world – in South Africa, Australia, Montreal, the USA, London and France.
It first featured at Bats in Wellington. The advertising caused a bit of a stir as it featured naked lovers embracing. Some shop owners wouldn’t put it up. Others wanted a copy for the window and one for themselves!
The script has been published and also translated into French.
Mo and Jess Kill Susie
Gary wanted to do something completely different with his second play. He succeeded! It was inspired by a book about female terrorists in Europe – Shoot the Women First by Eileen McDonald.
Mo and Jess are Maori women who capture a white policewoman and interrogate her in a hide out on the Wellington waterfront …. It is a tense, gruelling play and after New Zealand performances and a short season in Edmonton no one would touch it for ten years.
Then it featured in the 2013 Toronto Fringe Festival and the main characters were First Nation women. The breakthrough in New Zealand came when it was translated into Te Reo and performed in Rotorua.
There was some concern about the leads being negative Maori stereotypes, but as the white actor playing the cop remarked it was basically about what people will do when pushed to the limit.
This was inspired by Gary’s background in the Devauchelle area on Banks Peninsula.
Sounds and pictures eg flax and weather boards, used in the play are from the area.
Sounds recorded also inadvertently included the noise of Harley Davidsons that happened to be passing!
Five characters play two different people each: as children and adults.
As well as this cast, there is also a key person who is never seen: an eavesdropping party-line telephone operator.
My Bed, My Universe
Ever Gary the great innovator, feels that this one didn’t quite work.
It was developed for the Massive Company in Auckland to perform, and music was to be a strong feature. A talented trio was involved and percussion was to be key element. In the end the percussion was dropped.
Various stories were mixed up, but both the cast and playwright continue to wonder what it was all about!