Arts Editor Harry Sanderson recently spoke to actor Mararo Wangai about ‘The Advisors’, a new play he is acting in, which opens this month.
Harry Sanderson: Hey Mararo, thanks so much for speaking to me today. Your show is about to open in Perth. Can you just introduce us to the show a little bit, and talk about its concept?
Mararo Wangai: Definitely. So the show is an exploration of advice— what advice means, what the giving of advice means, and how revealing it often is of the advice-giver. It explores the politics of advice, and how it is almost always an interference in someone else’s life when you are pointing out things that can be rectified. It includes some of the most ridiculous and sinister advice that has ever been given. Largely, it is about how advice given is often representative of the world that people are trying to create around themselves. If you are left-wing or right-wing, you surround yourself with people of that kind, and you might find yourself leaning in that direction, when it comes to immigration, or culture, or race, and even religion. It even goes so far as what you read, and the huge bearing that has in informing the advice you give.
I didn’t realise it was such a topical piece.
Well I should clarify that politics isn’t by any means its central motive. But it does definitely come into things. Advice is, I think, an inherently topical thing. For example, the dos and don’ts of how to raise a child, how to be a woman, how to be a gay man, how to be a black person in 2017. All these issues have to be mentioned.
Definitely. So I heard that you were originally just brought in for development for the show?
Yeah. Basically, The Last Great Hunt invited me in to develop it as a fellow creative, to pitch in ideas, and amass as much material as possible as a group, giving us as many vantage points as possible. With something like advice, depending on who is in the room and what their backgrounds are, it limits the scope of what they can offer. An asian woman has received certain advice, a Kenyan man has received certain advice, a gay man has received certain advice, a straight man has received certain advice, a straight white woman has received certain advice. Developing the show was just a matter of throwing all of this onto the table together, unpicking it, and working out what’s most important, most relevant, what we feel we can do the most with. It was all well and good to be controversial, but it still needs to have a purpose, it needs to work dramatically, and to be able to be entertaining. We’re not in the business of just shocking people for shocking’s sake.
So when you say pitching ideas, you were all writing the show together?
Yes, the writing of the show was all collaborative. Gita Bizard is the director of the show, and got the final say in terms of visualisation and narrative. But in terms of writing yes, it was all collaborative.
So was it a bit like a writer’s room set up the whole time?
Somewhat. Mostly we gave each other tasks to explore different areas. Let’s say like ‘what advice would you give to a straight white male’. Everyone would take some time, do two hours of writing, then see what similarities we all had, what we mentioned and what we didn’t. Each time we did these little exercises, we amassed so much. I found myself learning so much about each other’s experiences. It really is like a door into someone else’s life. When you see how others perceive them, you see them in such a different way. It was such a different way of thinking for me, and I think for everyone.
I think that’s really interesting. I think there is an emphasis at most Universities, and certainly at this University, on diversity. Not only in creative circles, but in everything. I think that’s a great thing, but my issue is it sometimes just stops there— it’s used as a word alone. And I think people often forget why we need to actually improve diversity, and its for exactly that reason. It’s not just that diversity is somehow good as a word or concept on its face, but its that it involves different viewpoints perspectives, and by doing so means there is access to so many more interesting ideas and avenues. It sounds like that’s exactly how the writing of this play worked.
Yes man I hear you so much— like, if you only show people enough about another culture or race, enough to make them interested and them tolerate the person, that for me doesn’t fit quite right. You need to got hat further step where you are able to respect someone, because you understand enough about their story, and you understand that person has a right to be who they are, and a right to exist in whichever way they choose. Tolerance is such a politically correct kind of position to have— you have to do so much more.
Definitely. So, back to you being brought on for development. They said they liked you so much they secured extra funding to keep you on as an actor?
Haha, yes. Man, it’s been such a blessing. This is my second opportunity to work with The Last Great Hunt. It’s such an opportunity, since these guys work so hard, they have such a huge creative output. They have 3 openings this month alone.
Yeah, the amount of creativity they put out, the amount of stories that they are able to develop, they are really setting such a high pace for the rest of the theatre collectives around Perth. I can’t express how thankful I am that they offered me this opportunity, as well as the stage that we are going to be on. Its just leading up to a much bigger audience. I think these guys are really going places, man. They don’t sit still.
Sounds pretty amazing. So you got the chance to both write and act in this show; does your background lie more in acting, or more in writing?
I definitely began with writing more than the acting. I mean there was still quite a bit of acting when I was growing up in Africa. Then when I was studying Murdoch University, I had a really great lecturer by the name of David Moody. He really just opened my eyes that writing was an avenue that I could actually take. Because coming here as an African, you feel like there is no place for your stories. You’re trying to find yourself and figure yourself out, and David opened my eyes in a way that made me understand yes, you can express yourself. I started to forger about all these constraints I had within myself about who I was and I was not, what it is that I represented. I think I really started to speak as freely and as astutely as I could through my writing. Man it just really kicked me off, and that lead to some opportunities in 2013. I kept challenging the material I created, and then I got an acting opportunity with a local group called Ankoku Buyo Collective, headed by a guy named Jay Emmanuel, who is now artistic director of St Geroge’s.
Each thing led to another, each thing I did opened another door, it’s just been such a whirlwind, the last five years. But I always have my hand up to do anything. If the work is good, my hand is up. I always want to stretch myself out and learn.
That’s awesome. So about your voice and freedom in writing, are you working on any stuff more personally?
Yeh definitely— I have a few scripts and such with Playwriting Australia. I have done some development things with them before, so now I’m just crossing my fingers that I might be able to stage on of my works. I’m also finishing a short film that I’ve been working on for the last seven months, and finishing more scripts.
I mean that sounds like a whole lot.
Oh yeah, I also joined a local theatre collective, called Blank Space productions, we are going to start putting up our own work sometime soon.
Nice. So when you are acting, do you have any other art that you like to consume to inspire yourself?
There’s this Nigerian artist called Fela Kuti. He’s such an inspirational guy. He started a whole genre called Afrobeats. His music is so politically nuanced, but so full of vitality and passion and so musically engaging. Every time I listen to it it tunes me into my own craft, whether I’m writing or performing. It just takes you to the time that you’re in, but also gives you perspective, and allows that perspective to be a part of what you are creating. His philosophy was to see the big picture, but to tell the small story. It’s hard to convey.. but it is inspiring.
Awesome. Thanks so much for speaking to me, and good luck for the show. I can’t wait to see it.
Interview by Harry Peter Sanderson.
‘The Advisors’ opens this month. Find tickets here.