Since March, artist collective FAFSWAG have graced the stages of Auckland’s Basement Theatre as the Company in Residence.
Known more for their work in the visual art space, with performative work sitting on the periphery, from an outsiders perspective, the shift into the performance space seems like a natural progression.
Now, coming to the end of their residency, there is one final show to wrap up the season – Neon Bootleg – the unauthorised biography of Mistress Moe Laga.
Moe’s description of the show hits hard, this is not your average Friday night at the theatre. “Neon Bootleg is a ceremonial water-cleansing that revisits a period of 90’s nostalgia usually off limits to my untrustworthy memories and wild imagination. Or so I thought… The truth lives somewhere between the jagged edges and neon lights, the bedsheets, and the holy water.”
She laughs as she tells me “Originally I had this whole idea and Cat (Director, Cat Ruka) was like, ‘this isn’t a Janet Jackson concert, we can’t have you in silhouette lighting coming down from the ceiling, this is not that kind of show’”.
She confesses, “Originally I wanted a swimming pool and I wanted to do this crazy baptism themed show…”
In the end, what has come out of an eight-month process is a very stripped back piece, relying on the strength of performance as art.
“I feel like the show is a personal journey and I get to know myself more as an artist and shut the door on things that are holding me back from becoming the best artist that I could be.”
Neon Bootleg has allowed her to revisit and work through things from her past, this time with performance as the driving force.
Recently graduating from the Faculty of Creative Arts at MIT, where she specialised in performing arts, it has been a full year for Moe, who has been in each of the FAFSWAG residency shows.
“Lots of people, unless they follow the shows, they don’t get to see that she’s had close to six years of stage experience and just constantly in other people’s productions,” says Tanu Gago, who is also part of the Collective.
He says what’s important about Neon Bootleg is that Moe gets to tell her own story for once. She charms in laughing, “it’s all about me for 45 minutes”.
Having seen Moe perform a number of times, including in Femslick, the first show held at the Basement as part of the residency, I know that while she is humble, her performances command attention.
Neon Bootleg is just one of a number of shows the collective, who are based in South Auckland, have held in the central city.
South Auckland as a region doesn’t feel as connected to a stage or a platform that affords people that type of scope or vision they want for their practices Tanu tells me.
“That’s not for a lack of diversity and artists from the region because we’re part of a really vibrant Pacific arts community in South Auckland, but in terms of expanding your audience and being able to reach people outside of your immediate reality, those opportunities are rarely afforded to people in that bubble.”
This is the second residency FAFSWAG have held in the central city, the first being at Artspace on Krd earlier this year.
Being able to access those communities and those audiences, but on their own terms is important to the collective.
“People don’t talk about this in our industry, but there are two very separate industries,” says Tanu.
“One is this Pacific network that we talk about with our peers and artists, where there’s this very vibrant community and it’s always the same faces we see at exhibition openings or at opening nights for a show.
“The closer you come to the city, those faces start to change and that’s where it becomes very interesting for us because we get to see a new audience, new people engage with our stories and our work and I think it’s really important if you want to grow, that you’re not always telling the same stories to the same people.”
I ask about the importance of having control over the documentation and representation of work made by the collective. Both Moe and Tanu take a long pause before speaking.
As with their artistic practices, nothing is rushed, they are always aware of how they may be represented.
“It’s really important to have an image or a representation of yourself that you feel comfortable with being presented to the world because we come from a history of documentation that has always been looked through an anthropological lens.”
Tanu says, “When we talk about gender or diversity in a Pacific context it’s always looked at through these stereotypical, or staple ideas of what a third gendered person is and it overshadows a lot of the other diversity in the group which is our fa’afa – our men and women who identify in a space in-between, or someone who isn’t Samoan, who doesn’t identify with those definitions or terms.”
Tanu says that being at the Basement Theatre has really afforded the collective the opportunity to occupy the city creatively, in a way that also connects them to it geographically.
Gabrielle Vincent, who is the Basement’s Programming and Artist Development Manager, says the process of taking on FAFSWAG as the Company in Residence was very much an organic one.
“I remember talking about our frustrations, about feeling really isolated in Southside,” says Tanu.
That conversation sparked an idea in Gabrielle that they picked up and ran with – it has been a very collaborative process since.
Both Tanu and Moe say that the Basement team have been really supportive and the access to resources, as well as the opportunity to learn new skills, has been invaluable.
Tanu says the Collective is growing, with everyone bringing a long list of skills to the table, taking away the barriers and limitations to what they can do.
“Occupying the performance space has been a huge catalyst for figuring it out. Otherwise, we’d still be holding exhibitions and trying to squeeze in performance like we were doing.”
Gabrielle says the Company in Residence programme is new for the theatre and FAFSWAG have been really open to new ideas.
“Together we are experimenting,” she says.
“Moe’s been involved in every single show and finishing with her show is really beautiful”.
FAFSWAG, without fail, always deliver and Neon Bootleg is a show you don’t want to miss – buy your tickets now to avoid missing out.
Neon Bootleg runs from 21 – 25 November at The Basement Theatre, Auckland. Head to the Basement website for ticket information.