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SKILLED CHARMERS’ SLAPDASH SHOW

Print Version

NZ Fringe Festival 2013
WE BUILT THIS CITY…
Adam Page and James Nokise

at Hashigo Zake, 25 Taranaki St, Wellington
From 18 Feb 2013 to 23 Feb 2013

Reviewed by James McKinnon, 19 Feb 2013


We Built This City… does not fit neatly into any recognized category of live performance: it's not a play, it's not a concert, it's not a comedy show. It is essentially a sing-along with a flimsy plot.

Page and Nokise, it turns out, wrote most of the best (or worst)-loved songs of the 1980s, and their mission is to prove it to us by appearing in their period attire (which fits as well as it ever did, even though I'd guess the artists would have been tween prodigies at the time) and explaining the ‘real' backstory behind all our (least) favourite songs, which they encourage us to help them with. To this end, they supply the lyrics. 

On one level, We Built This City… is everything live performance should strive for. It connects with its audience on a visceral level, and the crowd packed into the side room of Hashigo Zake engaged deeply and joyfully with the performance. Everyone in the room was singing, clapping, adding backing vocals, and generally delighted, and the noise drew in many other patrons, who weren't expecting more out of the evening than a fancy Danish IPA.

The performers are charming, and skilled enough that their graceful responses to occasional musical or lyrical errors add another dimension of enjoyment. The show instantly invokes a sense of community and common purpose that theatre artists would do well to study.

On the other hand, We Built This City… is a pretty slap-dash, sloppy, first draft of a production, and one wonders what the show might have been – or might be, if the performers decide to do a version 2.0. There is no discernible story arc or development in the show, and no clear logic to the song selections or the order in which they appear.

For example, the infamous ‘Roxanne' drinking game is a superb choice, but it occurs at the wrong end of the evening: if you want to get everyone involved in a sing-along, shouldn't you start off by getting everyone drunk? Also, a running joke about how many pop songs are suspiciously similar, ironically, is suspiciously similar to several other musical comedy acts (see Axis of Awesome's ‘Four Chord Song', for example), and it actually works against the joy of the sing-along, because the audience wants to sing the song as they know it.

Perhaps most alarming of all, though, is that although this is (for legal reasons among others) a free/koha performance, the performers don't know how to pass the hat! A show like this needs to hold the audience captive long enough to get them to pay the performers – the promise of another song to be performed once the donation hat/box/shoe/whatever has gone around the room, for example, with the standard patter about how they worked really hard and how much value we put on a fun night out, etc.

The audience wanted more, and would have responded to this. But the performers simply left a box by the door, leaving the spectators free to skip out without contributing.

Guys: you got to get paid! Spectators: since the performers are evidently afraid to guilt you in to paying them, allow me. Consider how much you expect to get paid for an hour of work, adjust to reflect the fact that you're allowed to drink on the job, and make that your donation.  
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Comments

James Nokise posted 20 Feb 2013, 01:51 AM
 

I have no problem with this review, except on the issue of Koha - which, I feel I must point out, is different to "hatting" a show after a busking performance.  I can not and will not complain about a reviewers passion to increase my payload, but Koha is about "gifting" and to push it in the same way as a buskers hat would be, I think in both Adam's and my view, offensive to both traditions. I post this as a note to all Fringe performers. Adam and myself have chosen to have We Built This City be a Koha show. In doing so we let the show stand, and people may "gift" what they will. If you list your show as Koha, then I strongly believe you must follow that tradition or call it something else. A buskers hat, while similar, is pronouncedly different. Others may have another view, but I believe this to be so. 

I am more than happy to debate song order, song selection, and song relevance for this show (to the point we have started doing encores of random songs) - but on the point of Koha, I would hate for people doing Busking shows, and people wanting to do Koha shows  - to read this review and misinterpret what we have done. 

To be honest and frank, we didn't expect anyone to reivew this, so we appreciate you taking the time. If anyone reading this wants a fun time of drinking and singing - 9pm, Hazhigo Zake.

Cheers,

James

James McKinnon posted 25 Feb 2013, 01:52 PM
 

My thanks for pointing out and clarifying the important distinction between "koha" and "pass the hat," which I completely and incorrectly overlooked. As a relative outsider, I don't have an equivalent concept for "koha" in my (relatively parsimonious!) cultural background, and I not only failed to acknowledge the limitations of my perspective, but also insensitively glossed over the meaning of "koha" in the process. I do hope the extra income you may receive from my haranguing is an appropriate consolation (and, dare I hope, a good example of "utu" -- which I am given to understand is supposed to mean something more like "restoration of balance" than the usual Pakeha translation of "revenge").