Loose Canons: Jo Randerson
Loose Canons is a series where we invite artists we love to share five things that have informed their work. Meet the rest of our Loose Canons here.
From her origins as a stand-up performer and playwright, Jo Randerson’s artistic output spans from published literature to community-collaborative participatory performances to international fine arts collaborations. She is the founder and Artistic Director of theatre company Barbarian Productions, a New Generation Laureate, a Master of Theatre Arts, a mother of two and a general dynamo in every sense.
Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong was Jo’s first solo show and is still something of a personal manifesto. It’s the comic testimony of a punky, aggressive Barbarian at war with the world she finds herself in, and Randerson draws on her Viking family roots to conjure a misfitted malcontent who both hates and loves her audience, never sure whether to trust them. The production has undergone some small changes to reflect Randerson’s life experience, but the play still delivers the same cathartic punch it did 20 years ago.
I don’t remember when I first discovered punk. I do remember putting Sid Vicious’ cover of “My Way’ on repeat and thrashing around in my bedroom. I love the images of those early Punk days, where the dress code was ‘dress however the f**k you want.’ Punk was also a social movement – a free place to creatively express rage against the unjust political machinations that kept the wealthy at the top and ignored the wellbeing of the rest (isn’t it funny how that keeps happening). Many people probably now think of punk as safety pins, gelled spiky (culturally mis-appropriated) mohawks and mindless, senseless head-banging. But there was always a point to the rage. There is always a point to rage. It can be hard to hear people’s anger, but I think the alternative – silencing opponents – is an extremely weak strategy which eventually leads to more violence. So listen to your enemies, listen hard. This eliminates the need for spying.
My mother is like an octopus who, when cornered, shoots out clouds of ink and then jets away in the dark. She is a fire with unpredictable flares of energy – reliably hot, but I never know from which direction they will strike. Sometimes you can reach quite close into her fire and not be burnt. Other times, even from quite far off, you are scorched.
My mother welcomes almost everyone she meets and strikes up random conversations with strangers. She has had her haplogroup traced to determine whether we have Spanish heritage, because she feels strong emotions when she hears flamenco music. She tells me I exaggerate and imagine things, but I suspect this comes from her genes. I love her fiercely and am from her loins. Every year I live, the importance of whakapapa has increased in my consciousness. This is true in a bloodline sense, as well as a spiritual and intuitive connection to unique individuals over the centuries who have doggedly carved out the shape of their own existence, against the tide.
The Odin Teatret
Stunned by the meticulous organisation and performative control of leading Odin actress Julia Varley, I travelled to Denmark to meet this legendary theatre company (Denmark is my homeland, the Randersons were once Vikings originating from a town called Randers.)
At the Odin, I workshopped with petite European ‘actresses’ (their term) who giggled when I physically improvised because I was clumsy. A smiling Julia exclaimed, “You walk so heavily, Jo! Your knees will surely be worn out by the time you are 40.” My character in Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong was birthed there at the Odin, in this context – proudly rejoicing in her Viking heritage. This character reclaimed the birthright of the unsophisticated, the noisy, the uncouth, the Barbarian.
Now, age 42, my right knee sometimes aches when I climb stairs. Perhaps I should I walk more lightly? Breeze through life with less struggle? Often people tell me to speak softer or be more still. I’m like, fuck you, I’ll walk how I want to walk, and I accept the consequences.
When the number of things on my plate becomes overwhelming, I remind myself that I am an animal. I fill my mind with herds of deer, hippopotami, flamingos. I think of a tired wolf finding a shady spot to rest, or a pig pushing the annoying piglet off its teat (this image started to resonate after I had children).
Brains are good, and theory has its place. But rational and logical thought is only some of the story. I am inspired by the democratic possibilities that technology can provide, but I don’t want to live my life on a computer. I try to be outside as much as possible. Complex technical and scientific solutions must serve a more humane world, and for me the memory of our ‘animal-ness’ helps me recover humanity more easily. We are all animals – who need to sleep, eat, mate – animals who have fought and lost and won, animals whose have watched their parents die. I feel more forgiving when I picture a redneck as an angry turkey who has eaten too much meat.
When working with 18-year-olds recently, I was affected by a comment: “Our only mechanism to shape things is by ‘liking’ something.” Positivity is an excellent trait and I admire the ability to stay friendly in difficult times, but I have noticed recently that those who speak their minds are branded as ‘trouble-makers.’ I personally grew up making anti-nuclear banners – I remember the anti-apartheid protests disrupting major sporting events. This was not graceful. Is protest an old-fashioned tool? What are contemporary ways of disrupting injustice?
Audrey Tang advocates conservative anarchism – gently changing the status quo to something fairer, rather than revolution. For me, the mask of my character in Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong allows a more authentic expression of my sentiment. Gracefulness is also a two-way street – it can come from the complainee as well as the complainer (or 'troublemaker'). I would suggest that our Prime Minister’s approach of labelling powerful groups of people with a point of view, (such as the Auckland anti-TPPA march last year) as ‘rent-a crowd' is extremely disrespectful. So I guess I’m going to keep performing my show.
Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong
is at the Basement Theatre
21 – 24 September