Meet My Community – Playwright Victor Rodger

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Black Faggot is potentially the most accurate depiction of young gay men in this country I have seen – how much of this was based on real experiences?

That’s nice of you to say…It was a mixture of real inspiration and creation.  Sione, the hustler character, was based on a guy I met and in real life that egg is a lawyer!  Christian, who tries to pray the gay away, he was vaguely based on me, since I was raised as a born again Christian and totally felt bad about wanting to be stranded on a desert island with Tom Selleck…Miranda Malo, the celebrated fa’afafine artist is definitely based on a celebrated fa’afafine artist who exits…Semu, the boldly out and proud Black Faggot was initially inspired by how my best mate at Toi Whakaari: NZ Drama School used to love regaling me with tales of his (straight) sexual exploits but would kind of dry retch if I returned the favour lol…oh and Rob, the one who freaks out when his boyfriend cums on the duvet – let’s just say that was totally based on a real life story LOL…

In Black Faggot there is a lot of fear around coming out to one’s family – how was that for you?

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Well, I came out at 25 when I fell in love for the first time.  I was so in love I wanted to share that news with my mother especially.  But I’d resisted coming out before because I knew she would think she was responsible for me being gay because she was a single parent – and I wanted to avoid that.  But before I fell in love, it was totally something I tried to hide from my family and, indeed, most of my friends.

Black Faggot has recently returned from the Edinburgh Fringe, how has it been received overseas?

The highlight for me at the Edinburgh Fringe was meeting an American group, which included a few Afro-Americans, and even though they had to wrap their heads around us, as Pacific Islanders, black identifying, they totally got the play and loved it (in the same way that I got their play, Blood at the Root and love theirs).  Overall, audiences in Australia and now Edinburgh have embraced the play like they have here.  No, they might not get all the specific references, like Pak n Save or Family Bar but they still ‘get’ it and are moved to tears, to laughter…

Are there LGBTIQ themes in At The Wake too?

Well, one of the characters is gay in the play…and that causes a bit of friction with one of the other characters…but it’s not really a focus of the piece.

At The Wake stemmed from imagining your Scottish grandmother and Samoan father in a room with you – did this ever occur?

No.  Never.  And now that my grandmother has passed, it never will.  Which was sort of how I came to use that as my starting point.  What if – what if we were all in the same room?  And how would that ever have happened, especially since my grandmother was, to put it mildly, not a fan of my father’s.  I realised the one and only way we would probably have gotten together (barring me being on my death bed, possibly) was my mother’s death…

How has the work developed since its original showing at Palmerston North’s Centrepoint?

The script hasn’t changed that much from the draft that was performed in Palmie. I have to admit that the moment I find funniest in the play (which involves a sausage roll) wasn’t even in the script – it was totally the work of the director, Roy Ward.

Being afakasi sounds like it is an important element of the show – was this hard for you growing up?

It only became hard when I started to identify with the Samoan side of myself.  I was raised by my palagi mother and my palagi grandparents.  Until the last year of high school I simply identified as a Kiwi who happened to have a Samoan father. Growing up, I had very little contact with my Samoan father or, indeed, the Samoan world.  But once I dipped my toe into that world – oy vey, as they say…

‘Man-muse’ Robbie Magasiva stars alongside Taofia Pelesasa – what draws you back to working with these actors?

Robbie and I, especially, have had a great working relationship.  This is the fourth play of mine he has done.  We’ve come a long way since I saw him running round in a lavalava in a play down in Wellington in ’98 and I thought to myself “He’d be great in my play, SONS.”  Since then he’s done SONS (where he played a sleazy afakasi), RANTERSTANTRUM (where he played a Samoan mistaken for a rapist at a dinner party) and MY NAME IS GARY COOPER (where he really got to show off just about everything he’s capable of as an afakasi determined to destroy his father’s family).  Robbie is an actor I can write for: I know if I write something for him, he’ll deliver.  I don’t want to blow smoke up his muli but as a writer, he’s someone I’m excited to write for, and he always brings it.  I respect him.  Even though he’s an egg.  And please make sure you print that.

What is the most exciting thing about writing for Shortland Street?

I’ve only done a couple of scripts for them this year…but I’ll tell you what has been my proudest moment writing for Shortland Street.  Getting Nicole (Sally Martin) to say ‘bolo’ in a scene with Pua Magasiva.  Ask the most handsome Samoan man you know what that means if you’re in the dark.

Summer might finally be here – what’s your top picks for the hot season?

If I can make it work, I wanna get back to Anaura Bay on the East Coast.  Hands down my favourite spot in Aotearoa.  There’s nothing there, but it’s the one place in the world where I’ve stood on the beach and just felt everything just kind of drop off me in a beautiful kind of ‘aaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh’  way.  So getting there – that’d definitely be my top pick for the hot season.

Victor’s new black comedy At The Wake starring Robbie Magasiva and Taofia Pelesasa will play at Auckland’s Herald Theatre from Tuesday 25 November to Saturday 6 December. Tickets through Ticketmaster.

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