Loose Canons: Leo Gene Peters
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.
Leo Gene Peters is the award-winning director of A Slightly Isolated Dog, whose works have included Jekyll & Hyde, Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants, Settling, Txt If You Get Lost and Perfectly Wasted (the last two with Long Cloud Youth Theatre).
Leo also directed One Day Moko at Q Theatre for Portable Union, wrote and directed several seasons of An Awfully Big Adventure for Capital E, and directed Awhi Tapu (2011) and Strange Resting Places (2006-2010) for Taki Rua Productions.
This one feels a little obligatory. His company Ex Machina was a huge part of my master’s thesis. His work (especially Seven Streams and Far Side of the Moon) is risky and personal. It’s also transformational. It’s often like a dream – a strange composition where he uses design and various theatrical languages to create these beautiful non-realistic moments that express the enormity of the feeling rather than rationally telling the story.
I met him in 2006 in Wellington. A bunch of my friends and I had dinner with him after a festival thing he did. It was great – but I was so nervous that I got really drunk. At the end of the night I kind of gushed at him about how important his work was to me. He was gracious but it was awkward. It’s good to meet your idols. He told me that I had to ‘kill the father’ - that I had to stop trying to please my teachers and idols (him included), and to stop caring what think and fully follow my own intuition.
So much of his work I love. It’s so relaxed & magical & epic & ordinary & funny & spiritual & contemporary at the same time. It’s also been great in later years to see a couple of shows of his that I really didn’t like, and to feel like I’m guiding my own vision now rather than trying to emulate his.
I’m not typically a short story fan. Generally I like more time to sit in a world, or with people, but I really enjoy Kelly Link's work. It’s often fantasy, mixed with deeply aching and very real, everyday, ordinary feelings. There’s a very urban quality, even when she’s playing with a fairy-tale world. Her blending of those things feels sophisticated and alive.
I emailed her site once and sort of half-heartedly asked about collaborating on a stage version of Magic For Beginners. Her agent very promptly and business-like emailed me back to ask about audience numbers and context and working out a royalty for adapting the work. I sheepishly backed out, making some excuse. I wasn’t interested in just getting the rights – all of her work is a great source for inspiration without ever discernibly being a part of any show I’ve made. I had a vague fantasy that she’d email me and be like, ‘that sounds really cool, we should hang-out and make something…’ And then we’d become great friends and make a completely new thing together. But I wasn’t bold enough to persist. Her work, however, continues to be a great inspiration.
Murakami is my favourite author. I especially love The Wind-up Bird Chronicle and Wild Sheep Chase. Those two works changed my life and work more profoundly than anything else (with the exception of a couple of teachers and a couple of break-ups).
They are both so urban & cool & contemporary & strangely magical but almost mundane in their extreme domesticity (insert 5 page scene about cooking dinner here). They’re very risky & personal & fragile & awkward & a bit exposing. But they're both very funny and very entertaining. They’re strange mystery stories, where this ordinary kind of guy gets sent on some weird mission (like find a special sheep with a star on its back). And there are sort of spiritual or supernatural things that happen along the way that are acknowledged as strange but also treated as completely normal (like one character can talk to cats or it rains fish or something). He captures how surreal and weird life can feel. And then how that surreal feeling can also be completely normal.
These books really capture his everyday feelings of loneliness, anxiety, fear of wasting his life and lack of purpose.
I think the purpose of art is that we can sit together with our loneliness and our uncertainty and our fears. We can celebrate and laugh at how fucked up we all are and how we’re all pretending that we’re ‘normal’ even though there’s no such thing as ‘normal’.
These two works do that for me.
James Schofield, my grandfather
He died in 2000. I recently visited his grave in Belton, Texas, about a month ago. It had been about three years since I’d been there.
A few weeks before that, I visited his son (my uncle) and his family. I hadn’t seen them in about seven years. It was a really lovely time catching up with everyone and meeting all my gorgeous little cousins. As I got up to leave, my uncle (who’s a very tall man that towers over me) looked at me . We smiled at each other for a while and finally he said to me, “You’re the spitting-image of your grandfather.”
I was moved and sort of gobsmacked. I had a weird out-of-body moment and saw him looking at his father while he looked at me.
My grandfather was very loving and stubborn and a bit grumpy. He was a southern man – very charming and very playful, with a slight drawl. Everyone loved him.
I miss him very much.
At his grave that day I felt myself fit into the world in a way I haven’t felt in a long time. The sensation was like feeling time flow from him through me and back to him… I don’t really know how to describe it. As I stood there with my arm around my mum, I felt a tremendous joy and struggle and ease and a weird notion that everything moves as it should. We stood and cried a bit, and then we left. Now I’m back in New Zealand and I have no idea what it all means, but that feels alright.
14e arrondissement (Paris, je t’aime)
This is such a beautiful short film (this piece specifically). I grew up with many people that I recognise in this woman (myself included) and Margo Martindale is such a generous and easy actor to watch. She’s gorgeous in this, especially.
She’s such a quaint character. Very genuine and with huge feelings but not practiced at expressing them. The form of the report for her French class is genius. We can laugh at her but we do it generously and with a kind of sympathy and empathy. She’s very ‘middle-America’ (a part of my culture that often makes me cringe). She idolises the style and fashion of Paris while she wanders around in her fanny pack with the occasional food stain on her clothes.
She’s learned French to go to Paris to look for something, maybe romance or some experience. And she’s jet-lagged and probably kind of disappointed but keeps moving and visiting all these places and then has this amazing experience.
I feel like we often overlook people like this. We’re trained to be so ‘youth’ and ‘fashion’ and ‘fit’ obsessed that we miss actually seeing most people.
I feel like I spend a stupid amount of my life trying to be cool and look like I know what I’m doing. I am disproportionately concerned with ‘style’ and ‘relevance’ and how I’m failing at those things… I feel like I’m constantly missing this immense beauty that’s right there all the time. But my own anxiety and loss and sense of fading youth and feeling that I’m failing at life crowds my thoughts and completely blocks out what actually exists.
Watch the film when you need or have some space to sit with it. It’s pretty stunning.
Don Juan is at Q Theatre
Oct 27 - Nov 12
Tickets from Q Theatre
Don Juan with a twist will be at various bar locations in Wellington
Nov 16 - Dec 4
Tickets available here