Loose Canons: Adam Rohe

Director and performer Adam Rohe, most recently seen on stage in Silo's Theatre's production of Hir, tells us what inspires him and drives him to make what he makes.

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.

Adam Rohe gets to spend all of his time doing whatever he wants. Since quitting his compromise-job earlier this year he has directed three plays and acted in two, and filled the remaining (obviously ample) spare time with photography, poetry, music, set design and construction, and planning a motorcycle trip around the world. He is very passionate about creating spaces for people to play in. He wants all of you to have whatever you want.

He is interested in surreal and absurdist works, and loves creating comic works with a dark underbelly. He really likes putting things where they don’t belong. His debut acting role with Silo Theatre Company was in Taylor Mac’s outrageous black comedy Hir. He has done extensive assistant directing with Te Rehia Theatre Company and is a founding member of Dusty Rooms Productions, which focuses on comedies with significant mental health themes. He directed the Pākehā inception of Ionesco’s The Chairs as part of Te Pou Theatre’s diversity season, and Camilla Walker’s Such Stuff As Dreams as part of Te Pou’s Rangatahi series. He is remounting a revamped production of Such Stuff As Dreams at The Basement Theatre from November 6 to 10.

My Mum

My mother is the most extreme woman I’ve ever met. She is unstoppably creative and incredibly prolific. Her whole house is filled with meditation mobiles and hectic mosaics. She’s really into beading at the moment, and is making dozens of pairs of earrings. She loves flower arranging and cooking. She bakes bread because she likes beating up the dough, and also because it makes her feel motherly. She likes to breed very small mutt puppies. She’s an exceptional painter and stained glass artist. She is also completely mental.

She’s had a book printed that is filled with inspirational quotes from the internet, selfies taken from an extraordinarily low angle, pictures of me and my siblings, families she’s been midwife to and pictures of pets in costumes – all scrambled together in a sort of a vegetable soup aesthetic sans any sensical through-line. Her computer desktop is wall-to-wall tiny icons, and you’ll never find anything.

She has had quite an extensive collection of pigs throughout my entire life.

Her complete lack of interest in what anyone else thinks she should be doing makes me quite emotional every time I think of it. I’ve never met a purer soul. She only wants well for the whole world.

Here is a picture of her tossing her fake tit into the audience during a striptease competition at Auckland’s Drag Wars. She hit some dude in the head.


I spent two and a half years of my childhood, from age eight to 11, in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. My parents were hired by an American aid organisation as physical therapists and branch managers, working directly with poor, disabled Cambodians. The country had been decimated in the 1970s, first by the Vietnam war and then later by the Pol Pot regime from ’75 to ‘79 – a genocide that wiped out around 25 percent of Cambodia’s population. At the time that I lived there, there were still two landmines going off a day.

The country was rubbished. It was like someone had thrown a beehive into all governmental systems – transport, medicine… everything was corrupt and broken. I didn’t have a single Khmer friend that was completely able-bodied. I didn’t meet anyone who didn’t have a horrific story to tell.

And they were the happiest people I have ever known. It was there that I learned how to laugh, and the meaning of “enough.”

Tainui Tukiwaho

I first met Tainui when my partner at the time was rejected from acting school for the fourth year in a row. He hired her immediately, and she has been working with him ever since.

He has an ability to see what people want, and also – with remarkable accuracy – what is holding them back from achieving it. As far as I can tell, everything that he does is an effort to help his friends get past those things that are holding them back.

He was the figurehead/voice box/CEO/rudder/poster boy behind the creation of Te Pou Theatre, Auckland’s Māori home for theatre. The depth of his understanding of tikanga Māori and his unwavering commitment to upholding Māori processes brought together scores of people to lift a theatre from the ground in six weeks. His ambition is unabashedly wild and unreasonable, and is consistently asking more of the world than I have ever seen a single person ask. His vision is both broad and far-reaching, and encompasses a whānau of people that stretches across an entire industry.

I know some about his career, but far more about him as a human and a friend. He makes me feel like being alive is the most hilarious gift. I want to learn to care about people the way he cares about people.


In my first few months out of drama school, I worked too hard. I was in three shows at once, working a full-time job, moving house, nursing a failing relationship and undergoing gender-affirming hormone replacement therapy. I had been told, over and over again, that the only way to make it in the industry was to work really hard and say yes to everything, that I would be paid very little or not at all for years and that everywhere I went and everything I did was an audition.

I burned out, lost ten kilos and had a mental break down. I landed myself in hospital, hearing voices, terrified that if I fell asleep that I would die. For several days, I was very unsure whether I was in fact dead or just very, very confused.

Here are some of the things I learned: 1) My perceptions are fallible. 2) My energy is finite. 3) I don’t need people to understand me. 4) I am going to die.

Figuring out all of that was SUCH a relief. Oh my god, I suddenly realised I didn’t have to prove anything to anybody and also that I shouldn’t waste my time doing anything that wasn’t going to make me happy. My work became much more irreverent, fun and funny, and I started choosing what to work on based on who I wanted to hang out with and whether I thought we would have a good time.

James Thierrée and Raoul

During the 2012 Wellington International Arts Festival, I went to see James Thierrée’s Raoul. It was a one-man physical theatre show that Thierrée had devised, designed and performed.

Thierrée is the grandson of Charlie Chaplin. Like his grandfather, he has a degree of obsessiveness and perfectionism that translates to a mastery of everything he touches. His physical control is extraordinary. He is a beautiful musician, a wild designer and a complete buffoon. Above all, he’s a clown.

His works are bold explorations of the imagination. They often feature large puppets and malleable surrealist landscapes. He plays explicitly with the tech – I remember an exquisite dance duet between Thierrée and the lighting rig, after the character had accidentally bitten down on a power cord and ‘ingested’ the electricity.

I’ve only seen Thierrée’s work once live and once on screen, in the film Monsieur Chocolat, but every time I think about what kind of performer I want to be, I think of him. Because of that performance I have played with dance, acrobatics, juggling, stilt walking, contact juggling, puppetry and clowning. I can’t wait for the day that I run away and join a circus.

Such Stuff As Dreams runs from 6 to 10 November at Basement Theatre. Tickets available here.

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The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

The Pantograph Punch publishes urgent and vital cultural commentary by the most exciting new voices in Aotearoa.

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