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May 31, 2010 | by  | in Theatre | [ssba]

“The Lives that we’re Living and it’s just a Bit Self-indulgent.” – The Intricate Art of Actually Caring

The Intricate Art of Actually Caring is the little show that could. Starting as an intimate production in the 2009 Fringe performed in a bedroom it was soon met with universal critical praise and sell-out crowds. A return season as part of Downstage’s annual ‘Pick of the Fringe’ season and wins for Most Original Production, Best New Director (Eleanor Bishop) and Best New Actor (Jack Shadbolt) at the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards secured its success. Having toured the country, it is now returning to Wellington with a strictly limited season at BATS.

To discuss this triumph return, Salient theatre wizard Uther Dean sat down for a chat with Eleanor Bishop [producer/director], Eli Kent [writer/performer – ‘Eli’] and Jack Shadbolt [performer – ‘Jack’].

Uther – So, let’s get the obvious questions out of the way, what is Intricate Art about?

Jack – It’s about two 21 year olds, Jack and Eli, on a road trip to visit New Zealand’s greatest poet James K. Baxter’s grave. It’s something good to do post their friend’s death, it’s an inspiration to kinda carry on. It’s a bit of a road trip story, but the purpose of the road trip isn’t just to go on a road trip. It’s to get to a place where things might become clear.

Uther – You’ve being doing this show on and off for about eighteen months. How has it changed since it, somewhat infamously, premiered in Eli’s bedroom?

Eli – Well, we had this massive gap of about 6 months so coming back was a bit ‘woah’. We could see it with fresh eyes. You could see all the stuff you could make better.

Eleanor – I think it’s chilled out a lot more in a way. It’s returned to some of the stuff that was really good about the bedroom. It’s just really relaxed and I think we lost that a bit doing it in theatres and getting really caught up in the stuff of it. Having to without some of the comforts of the bedroom. We had to figure out ways that it could retain some of its magic.

Jack – It’s hard to adjust to a theatre, because the audiences we played to in the bedroom were so small that we could speak at room level and stuff like that. We get on to a bigger stage and there is a lot more space that we have to deal with. With the third time, when we went to Christchurch, we hit on this OHP idea, where we could kinda minimalise it all back down so there wasn’t any stuff hanging round and you could kinda make an area of the stage that we stick to mainly and the whole time projecting images behind us all manually as well. It gives the actor something else to do.

Eli – It’s kinda busy but it doesn’t really disrupt the performances when you’re actually acting. Like when we were at Downstage and actually at Christchurch as well it was quite kind of they were both kinda messy.

Eleanor – And full on.

Eli – …and both of our performances were all kinda AAAAAAAAAAAARGH. Now, uh, one thing we did with the new was that we tried to chill out and really look at the steps of the friendship and where it starts and where it ends.

Eleanor – Because in Dunedin we got a stage where everyone sorta knew what they were doing so we could actually return to their relationship, to Eli and Jack’s friendship and their connection, particularly Jack’s connection with the audience which is really different now but was a really strong part of the bedroom but is totally different now that it is playing in theatres.

Jack – I hope when people who come who’ve seen previous seasons they’ll enjoy that because we essentially tell them that we’re telling the same story and they’ll be like “oh, okay” but they’re gonna use different methods of telling it – the OHPs and stuff really enhance all that. They beautifully, the pictures on them are done beautifully by Erin [Banks] and Heleyni [Pratley], we don’t just straight up put things on and leave them there. We’re gonna do other stuff using the light. It’s just a cool new way of telling the same story.

Eleanor – There’s this really cool sense that like they’ve set this all up. They’ve got a couple of OHPs and hung some sheets up and…

Jack – …they’ve got some people coming over.

Uther – This show has proven itself to be quite elastic, moving from the bedroom to Downstage to BATS and you talk about stripping it back and you’ve totally transformed the production of it. Is this because this particular script is especially elastic or could you do it with all theatre?

Eli, Eleanor & Jack – …

Uther – I don’t know what that question means.

Eleanor – Yeah.

All – …

Eleanor – I think because, it was always when we started and had a script but lots of elements got writeen in for the bedroom and bits tha we wanted to do got written in and things and that’s just kind of… it hasn’t changed too much but new things come in according to new stage business that comes in. Because Eli wrote it so it really easily evolved like that.

Eli – It’s a funny one as well though because we do still have a room and we start in the room which is sorta confusing. The room feels more like a symbol now. The fact that its no longer performed in the room but the room is still in it is quite ‘oh, why did they choose to set it in a room?’ and we have our reasons for that.

Uther – it’s always been, from even the fringe season, its always been incredibly well recieved, with only one or two exceptions. There was no warm up period, you’ve always been well-revieced. How does that feel?

Eli – We didn’t expect it to be nearly as well received as it was. It sorta feels like in a sense that now we have to keep it good and every time we do another one we’re really afraid that people won’t like it. [Laughter.] Because its changed so much. Like the downstage one, we thought people weren’t going to like it as much as the first one. And with this one, it’s the same fear. That it’ll loose something.

Jack – We’re essentially doing the same thing we did in Dunedin and that was really well recieved. There’s no fear for me at this point.

Eleanor – It’s very liberating taking it to new places, like after Downstage and all that fucking hullabaloo really about ‘where’s the bedroom?’ so soon after the first season and mentally having to shift into a different zone and going to Christchurch and Dunedin and people not having heard of us or anything and just coming along to see the show and then really liking it is just completley liberating and awesome. So, I’m actually slightly nervous about BATS.

Jack – I just hope that a lot of the people who see us at BATS haven’t seen the show before. I’m not really into people seeing us for a third time when other people can’t get tickets and stuff because it’s such a limited season. I hope one day we can do like a month long run somewhere so every man and his dog can come if they want. Y’know?

Uther – Well, touring must come into that and you’re going to tour more…

Jack – Yeah, we’re confirmed for four more seasons after this. We’re going to Auckland in the middle of June, Hamilton at the start of July as part of the Fuel festival. Then later in year around September, October we’re going to the Melbourne Fringe and the come back and finish out the year in Nelson. It’s cool taking it to a wider audience and I just really like taking it to new people and giving them a Wellington kinda story.

Uther – Because it is in many ways, at least to begin with, a very Wellington-centric play, how is that part of it recieved in places that aren’t Wellington?

Jack – Well, there’s always the odd person who knows exactly what you’re talking about in New Zealand. It’ll be interesting going to Melbourne, lots of them probably won’t even know Baxter even though he is an internationally renowned poet. People seem to generally see past the Wellington stuff and see gthe story. You need a location for every story, I guess.

Eli – Auckland willl be a funny one as well. It won’t be a massive change. There’s always a slighty different feeling whyen you do it in different places.

Uther – What has always struck me about Intricate Art is how it sits kind of seperate from the rest of your output as company. Not in any negative terms but where as your previous shows like Rubber Turkey and Bedlam where very much in a heightened, almost absurdist mode where as IA is much realer and smaller. So, I always wonder where it came from, not where the idea came from but where the show overall came from?

Eli – I think, part of it is that a lot of it was done, a lot of the poetry in it was done before we existed as a company. There is a bunch of stuff in it that is from a time before the Playground collective and that is one of the reasons it has a slightly different feel.

Eleanor – To me it was always having an idea of theatre that it’s always different from everyday life – so that absurdist kind of thing – and thinking that was the kind of work I wanted to make and then Eli giving me this script and being like “Holy fuck! This feels so like me.” And feeling a little bit guilty about that. “I can’t put this on stage because it’s just us.” Y’know? These are the lives that we’re living and it’s just a bit self-indulgent. We should make things about important stuff but then thinking that if you make from your heart, that is the most important stuff and that will speak to people. And you shouldn’t feel guilty about that.

Jack – You really want the audience to relate to stuff in it.

Eleanor – Yeah.

Uther – What is it, do you think, that has connected so much with young people?

Jack – I think young people like the dialouge of it, the interaction between the two of us. The banter. The roadtrip thing treally connects with them. The older generation like looking back to what they might have been like. Everyone goes through little bits of their lives where they’re like ‘fuck fuck? what do I want? and what do I need to do to get there? and how do I feel about all this?’ and they really like the Baxter stuff and the poetry and that’s another generation older. We had a couple of old people, in the their 70s, in the front row in Dunedin who smiled the whole way throughout. I like to think they were Baxter fans back in the day.

Eli – I’ve never really know what it is. What I’m interested in is not nessissarily what other people will be interested in. Because I always though it was about God and doing it in Dunedin made me realise that more. That this is essentially something about God and its absense. And how in that absense how people can still contain morals. Our generation can connect with that sort of stuff because a lot of us were raised athesitis but then it’s like… what do you do with that? What do we have in terms of belief? We beleive in science but that doesn’t give us morals.

Jack – You feel guilty for sinning even though you don’t believe in god.

Eli – I think there is something in that which is obviously not a completly new thing but exists a lot more in the show now than the last time it was here.

Jack – It strikes a real cord with young people which is really cool.

Eli – [Laughs].

Jack – What are you laughing about?

Eli – “It strikes a real cord.”

JackYou strike a real cord.

Eleanor – So, it was funny. Now its like “Lets do this there” and make a big splash and I’m like “Oh god.” The best thing we ever did was make this thing because we really like it and we think other
people will really like it in Eli’s room in the Fringe and be really low key about it.

The Intricate Art of Actually Caring is on at BATS theatre from the 1st to 5th
of June with a 4pm Matinee on the 5th. Book by emailing or calling (04) 802 4175.

You should also check out their super sweet website at


About the Author ()

Uther was one of the two arts editors in 2009. He was the horoscopier and theatre writer in 2010. Alongside Elle Hunt, Uther was coeditor in 2011.

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