The Artistic Director's View: Gecko in Asia

As part of our May 2018 tour of Asia, the social media account Hao Xi (Good Play) had a few questions for Amit (Artistic Director) and Rich Rusk (Associate Director). They talk about life on the road, updating Chinese classics, and the audience’s crucial role in Gecko shows…

When screening actors and actresses for a show, is dancing ability what you value the most?

Of course, their ability and talent as a performer is vital, but I also value their qualities as a human being. The journey and process of making a Gecko show is far broader and more in-depth than simply performing – it’s a living, breathing process, and so therefore the requirement of that person to be able to make offerings, to reflect, to dig deep into the stories of their life or their own subconscious, to interplay with how I see the world and how the audience might see the world, is really the most important thing. I would also say it’s very important that they are decent, kind, generous, fun human beings!

We know you receive many invitations from various arts and theatrical festivals across the globe. During these long-haul international tours, do you sometimes feel a sense of drifting?

I think, first of all, Gecko’s touring doesn’t tend to be huge periods of time away. In the UK, we just toured for eight weeks, and that’s the longest tour I can remember, but I went home on most weekends. I think I try to avoid being away from home for too long, to offset the potential for that sense of ‘drifting’ you describe. The shows are also very emotionally grounding for me. They allow me to connect with who I am, connect with my meaning and purpose in life, and so, for that reason, I don’t think drifting is the way that I personally experience touring.

Do you have any works that were inspired by your engagement in a foreign culture during your tours abroad?

I spent a number of years touring in South East Asia, where I talked with disenfranchised groups and children who live on the streets, as well as local artists, painters, sculptors, theatre-makers and dancers. I hadn’t formed Gecko quite yet, but those early experiences of touring in Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Laos informed the early part of the journey and still informs me today.

At the heart of it is the idea that we’re all expressive, and everything we’re doing in life is an expression somehow of our emotional needs. We constantly express these needs physically, whether they’re subtle and small or broad and bold. I think it brought into focus how the physical expressiveness of a child on the streets of Cambodia, or the physical expressiveness of an adult artist, or somebody in any other environment, is doing the same thing, and it’s there to be read and to be understood. I think that inspired some very formative ideas of what Gecko is.

Last year, I went to watch your show The Dreamer – a production developed in collaboration with the Shanghai Dramatic Arts Centre – inspired by two masterpieces, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Peony Pavilion.  There is a part in it where you use a dividing screen to account the story of The Peony Pavilion. Some of the audience find it quite interesting, while others think it only reflects your interpretation of China that’s full of classic imagery and ideas, however it is a lot different from the China that we are living in, what do you think?

Answered by Rich Rusk, the director of The Dreamer:

In my eyes, China is incredibly modern and fast-paced. It’s high tech and exciting. Staging the Peony Pavilion moments in the show was a huge challenge, I wanted it to have a classical feel but highlight the more universally relatable, and therefore modern themes in the story. I had the same approach to the Shakespeare elements.

The story may be about the old world, but themes of choice, loneliness, love, forced marriage, parental expectations and being ‘left over’ are very true and present today. The aesthetic of the screen may seem classic, but the story that the shadows tell is very much one of an independent, strong woman living in a world run by powerful men. In our story, it’s this ‘classical’ Chinese figure who inspires our modern day protagonist to stand on her own two feet.

You once mentioned in an interview that Gecko’s productions normally do not have a very obvious storyline, but nor is it completely without order. The audience should look at it by putting themselves in it and by combining their own experience. Will there be audiences who cannot ‘find themselves’ when watching your shows, or are unable to be impressed?

The shows have a pretty simple and clear journey if you wish to see it in that way, but it’s down to you personally how deeply you involve yourself with the experience.

I think nearly everyone can involve themselves on a certain level. It could be that you’re impressed by the visual imagery, the creativity onstage and the endeavour of the performers (which is always very high). Perhaps you simply follow the storyline. On the other hand, you might begin to see yourself very clearly, and you embark on the show as a metaphorical dream-like experience in which everything is ricocheted off the experiences of your own life.

When you make something that is experiential and metaphorical, you have to give way to the potential for a range of different experiences to happen, but I try to make it in the most generous way, to try to hand people an invitation into a deep experience.

But if people have a more simple one, I think they tend to enjoy that as well!

Gecko performed Institute in Shanghai and Nanjing (China), and The Wedding at the MODAFE Festival in Seoul (South Korea).