ED2016 Interviews ED2016 Theatre ED2016 Week0 Edition

Tim Carlsen: Creating Moko

By | Published on Saturday 30 July 2016

One Day Moko

As soon as I heard about ‘One Day Moko’ I was intrigued by the sound of it. It’s a one person interactive multimedia show, with the character of a homeless person centre stage.
It’s been quite a few years in development already in the hands of its talented creator, New Zealand-based performer and Edinburgh first timer Tim Carlsen, so it’s probably reasonable to expect pretty good things.
With that in mind, we orchestrated a quick chat.

CM: ‘One Day Moko’ is a one person show, isn’t it? Can you tell us about the character you play? Do you play any other characters apart from Moko?
TC: Yes, ‘One Day Moko’ is a solo show that follows our protagonist Moko. He is a man who lives on the city streets. He’s a contemporary sage, a storyteller, a thinker, a showman and a self described ‘urban cowboy’. The city is Moko’s turf. Moko plays some of the other characters he observes day-to-day, however it’s always done from his perspective, we never experience a total transformation from one character to the other.

CM: What’s the story of the show? Does it have a clear narrative or is this more of a character study piece?
TC: The story of the show is based on Moko’s day-to-day observations, from his experiences at the drop-in centre, to the office worker who’s glued to their phone. It’s through these stories we’re able to piece together how Moko connects to the world around him and ultimately discover his own story. I would say that the show is more of a ‘character study piece’ that offers an insight into his world. I’ve avoided trying to overtly explain Moko’s background, why he’s ended up on the streets and how he survives. I’ve left this for the audience to piece together through the way he observes and connects to his surroundings.

CM: What are the aims of this show? Is there a political agenda?
TC: We want our audience to open their eyes when they leave the theatre. To realise that being human can often be hard, awkward, joyful, painful, pleasurable, confusing; the problem is I don’t think we often get to tell ourselves that it’s “okay” to go through these multitudes of emotions without feeling like we want to give up. The themes of the show revolve around living boldly, survival, loneliness and our desire to connect.

Homelessness is a world-wide problem, and I believe there is a ‘Moko’ in every city, someone who is often overlooked and ignored by society and those who govern it. When I started making this show, it wasn’t my intention to make a ‘political’ piece of work. Though the fact that the show humanises a man who lives on the streets, when so often the homeless are viewed as the ‘other,’ makes this show relevant to current politics and the apathy that our leaders can have towards this social issue.

CM: What inspired the character and story of Moko?
TC: It all started back in 2008. My mum sent me a newspaper article that she thought I’d be interested in, and it was accompanied by a small note that read, “Hope you’re having a lovely day. Here’s something that made my heart swell”.

It was a story about a homeless man, Moko, who would travel into Auckland in New Zealand everyday by pushbike and spend all day busking on his clarinet. He built a custom made bike carrier for his dog Mana to travel with him for company. He would do this every day, rain, hail or shine. The photo that accompanied the article had him posing with his dog and clarinet – grinning from ear to ear. I was playing the trumpet at the time so the musical side of Moko really resonated with me.

I’ve always been curious about those who live on the fringes of society. The common question asked by so many is, “does someone choose to live this way?” I wanted to really put this question to the test and see how well informed and educated that ‘choice’ really is. Further questions started to unfold, specifically around homelessness “How does this community see the world around them? Do they have a daily routine? And more importantly, how do they survive?”

With a mind full of questions, a newspaper article buried into my brain and some very ‘green’ ideas of homelessness I started to develop ‘One Day Moko’ the following year as part of my final year of actor training at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School in 2009.

CM: I know it’s listed in theatre, but there are also songs and some audience participation. Can you tell us more about what type of performance we can expect?
TC: The entire performance is operated and stage managed by Moko, it’s a solo show in it’s purest form! The show also utilises six portable stereos that create music and various sounds to aid the story telling. The audience is involved throughout the show being the other essential ‘character’. This relationship is built through improvised and scripted ‘games’, from audience members playing other characters that Moko meets, to holding props, to operating lights for him.

CM: What made you decide to make this a one person show, rather than having other characters played by other actors?
TC: As I mentioned, I started to develop the concept of ‘One Day Moko’ during my final year of actor training at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School back in 2009. This was part of a project where students had to create a 20 minute solo performance that would be presented to small public audiences. This project incentive kick-started the work into being a solo show from the beginning.

Making and performing this show solo has, at times, been a lonely experience which I think supports the show’s themes. Towards the end of 2009 I did workshop the show to include three other actors but it seemed to detract from Moko’s isolation.

CM: What kind of research did you do to inform the piece?
TC: I started by volunteering at a drop-in centre in Wellington during 2009. There would always be two volunteers present and each shift would last around three hours. Our work consisted mostly of making cups of tea and coffee and cooking instant noodles.

I was able to meet a range of individuals who mostly lived on the streets of Wellington or simply needed a place to go to have a chat. I did other stints of volunteering at other organisations that catered to the homeless and played several football games with the Wellington homeless football team, who, at the time were training for the Homeless Football World Cup.

As you can gather, my experiences and observations of these communities allowed me to build an insight into the homeless lifestyle. The main thing that I learned from this initial research was the strong sense of routine that existed in this lifestyle. In order to survive we all need to eat, sleep and be able to socialise. I think it’s this routine, no matter how mundane it might seem, that keeps people moving forward in life and ultimately what keeps us alive.

CM: The show is described as a devised piece – how did you go about creating it? Do you work with a director?
TC: The show’s development has been supported by a number of theatre practitioners since its first draft performance in 2009 at drama school. The current director, Leo Gene Peters, was someone I’d met through drama school. We discovered we had similar values around making work and what we like to see on stage. Leo Gene and I spent a lot of time brainstorming and conversing around our own personal experiences of relationships, what it is to be bold, fearful and volatile.

My experiences of volunteering at the drop-in centres filtered into this early phase of the show’s development. I’ve never considered myself a writer, I guess that’s why I’ll always start with working on my feet, creating small sketches based on provocations that Leo Gene and I come up with. We would often work in front of an audience during the making and rehearsing phase of the show to test and develop the way Moko can interact and play with an audience.

CM: As you say, you’ve been working on the piece since 2009. How has it evolved over that time?
TC: Since 2009 the show has essentially been made into two different versions. When I first started making the show I was inspired by an internship I’d done with The Wooster Group, a company that often incorporates video into their work alongside live performance. The first ‘version’ of One Day Moko therefore utilised a TV and DVD player that was contained on a trolley and could be manoeuvred throughout the space. All of the other characters, sounds and city landscapes where captured on video and would show up on the TV screen. Moko would interact with this footage throughout the entire show .

CM: What made you decide to bring the play to Edinburgh?
TC: I’ve always had the Edinburgh Fringe on the ‘must do’ list, either to present work here or simply be a punter. I just didn’t think it’d happen so quickly. Earlier this year I was in Wellington City to pitch ‘One Day Moko’ at the New Zealand Performing Arts Market. It was here I met with Karen Koren, Artistic Director of The Gilded Balloon, who was intrigued by the pitch I’d made. One of the first things she said to me was, “Have you considered Edinburgh? I think this show would go well there”. I nodded away, partly curious with a mix of apprehension that it all seemed to good to be true. After further conversation with Karen over coffee my producer – Louise Gallagher – and I decided we would take the plunge into the Fringe… for the first time in our lives!

CM: What are you looking forward to about coming to the Fringe?
TC: Seeing a lot of shows first and foremost! I’ve never been to the UK before, so I’m looking forward to being a tourist and checking out the sights and sounds of Edinburgh. I know it’s probably a cliche and stereotype but I’m gong to say it, I’m keen to try haggis and sample the local whisky. There, I did it!

CM: What plans do you have next for the play? More festivals or tours?
TC: I would love to see the show continuing on to other festivals around the world. I think ‘Moko’ has a lot of relevance in cities and towns almost everywhere. We’ve had a lot of interest to present the show back home in New Zealand in the not-so-distant future. I’m also interested in using the show as a starting point to create a feature film script that would be based around the character of Moko.

‘One Day Moko’ was performed at Gilded Balloon Teviot at Edinburgh Festival 2016.