Loose Canons: Anya Tate-Manning
Loose Canons is a series in which we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
Anya Tate-Manning is a performer, director and writer from Wellington, New Zealand. Anya trained at Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School and Otago University. A founding member of the cult hit show Puppet Fiction, which returns to Edinburgh Fringe for the third year in a row in 2017, Anya is an experienced festival performer. Anya also founded the political satire show Public Service Announcements in 2010 with partner and comedian James Nokise. The show has become a Wellington institution, selling out during the Comedy Festival every year.
Other recent work includes The Devil’s Half Acre (Trick of the Light Theatre, NZ Festival), An Hour with Ackbar (NZ International Comedy Festival), and Fiery Tongues (Edinburgh Fringe, Glastonbury Festival, and NZ Fringe (Winner Best Ensemble 2017)). Anya will be touring NZ with Silo Theatre's show Hudson and Halls Live! this year (Winner Best Supporting Actress, Wellington Theatre Awards 2016). Anya graduated with an MA in scriptwriting this year, for which she received the David Carson-Parker Award for Best Script. Her latest show, My Best Dead Friend, is a comedy about death, revolution, unfulfilled love, and a possum, and will premiere at Q Theatre as part of its Matchbox season next Wednesday the 12th of July.
Finland / Suomi
My mother’s generation in Finland have a deep love of Argentine tango, which is surprising for such a silent and serious nation. My Finnish family are not silent or serious, however; like the tango, there is an earnest wildness in Finnish people, a deep passionate romance and anarchy (if you ever go drinking with a Finn you’ll see it after the seventh beer and it’s slightly terrifying). Finnish tango is pretty old fashioned now but I love the opposition if it; it’s deeply restrained, the dancing is not flashy, it's tightly held with small dance steps, but the lyrics and feeling of the music is deeply passionate and heartbreaking.
I’m very proud of my Finnish heritage and lucky to have cousins that work at the Ryhmäteatteri in Helsinki, which means I get to watch a lot of theatre when I’m there. In Finland they take theatre very seriously, and while it’s devastating to see how much resources they have, it’s also heartening. Inside their work there’s always an analysis of cultural identity, and a belief that this is most important discussion for theatre; it’s where our divisions and unities lie, and in a young nation especially (Finland is 100 years old this year – Hyvä Suomi!), identity is something that is always changing. This affected the way I watch and make theatre in NZ, how we talk about identity and when/why we don’t talk about it. Finland is a bilingual country, so when my family moved here they learnt Maori, assuming NZ was also bilingual. My sister is teaching High School Te Reo Maori this year, I’m so proud of her. Suomi gave women the vote before NZ, and yes, it’s very cold and dark during ‘the dead time’ and everyone goes pretty crazy, but they also invented saunas and have over 100,000 lakes, which is the greatest combination of any two things ever.
I first saw Jo perform her show Banging Cymbal Clanging Gong at Allen Hall in 2000, as a second year theatre student. It blew my tiny mind and changed all my thinking about what theatre and performance can be. I’d never seen a performer like her: she was angry and unapologetic, and she smoked and drank and played the piano and read poetry. The question inside the show, “Why have you stopped fighting?” has haunted me for the last 18 years. The next time I saw her perform was a Guantanamo Bay sketch she used to do with her brother, which pretty much stunned the Opera House audience into silence.
Jo is a continual source of inspiration. She works tirelessly creating work and building community, is a sucker for a good gag, has a great sense of humour, rage and integrity. When we did White Elephant I was in awe of her rigor and craft; she fully investigates a piece of work and still creates room for silliness and invention. She never talks about herself; she’s always listening to others, asking those questions. She’s also a mother who never stopped working when she had kids, which I think is hugely inspiring.
I had both the Muppets’ records on vinyl when I was little and knew them by heart. I think they began an obsession with comedy which has led me many places. There’s a lot in the Muppets; the characters, the ridiculous voices, the punchy scripting, the terrible stand-up comedy of Fozzie the Bear, the spectacular zingers of Statler and Waldolf, Miss Piggy constantly assaulting Kermit, Sam the American Eagle and his puritanical sermons. Then there’s the physical gags, Swedish chef was my favourite, and my mother loved him as well (Finns love making fun of the way Swedes talk). Making people laugh became a serious goal. I remember the polite smiles of my parents’ friends as I recited a Billy Connolly set, with full commitment to accent, for the third time that night. Last year I made two solo shows, and realized how difficult and terrifying it is trying to make people laugh, and how incredible it is when it works, if only for a moment.
I love the violence. When Tim Roth chopped off the pinky finger in Four Rooms, I was in.
Ears getting sliced off, snappy dialogue, the soundtracks, the self-aware coolness of it all - Tarantino is just a massive super-nerd-fanboy himself, ripping off other artists. There are no new ideas, we’re all fanboys and geeks. For all of his dubious depictions of women and anyone who’s not a white man – and also some of the white men – his obsession with Uma's feet, his romanticizing of gun violence... I still love his work. We’ve been doing Puppet Fiction since 2012 and inside the show, taking place onstage, is an ongoing discussion between the puppets about Tarantino and his work. We’ve been in dialogue with him for so long, a dialogue that includes the audience (who love his work as much as we do), that I actually feel like I know him, as a mentor, inspiration and misogynist Uncle. Puppet Fiction has taken us to festivals in Perth, Adelaide, Edinburgh, and throughout NZ. Without Tarantino I wouldn’t have done late night cabarets, Australian breakfast television, shows in museums, airports, or dungeons.
I am very lucky to have a lot of inspiring and talented mates. My oldest friends are a source of grounding, advice and most of all laughter. They keep me politically alive, stop me from getting too big for my boots and reconnect me a collective history. They have allowed me to make a show about them, and are very supportive of my work. We might not see each other for a while and we all work in different fields, but they know me the best and are a kind net that I have around me all the time and can fall into when I need to. They’re so much smarter than me, they have great taste in music, and will usually tell me the truth, unless I really need them to lie. They all have kids now and it's a joy to spend time with them and their families. Their kids are all amazing little weirdos, and hanging out with them switches off the neurosis that accumulate from being a self-obsessed artist. It’s like turning off a fuzzy TV and finally having peace.
My Best Dead Friend plays from July 12 to July 22 at Q Theatre Loft, Auckland. Tickets available here.