A Finn slice of history
He and playwright Ken Duncum have been delving through their family histories, letters, journals and photographs trying to answer the cloudy question of identity and what it is to be a New Zealander.
The result of their work premieres at Bats Theatre on September 12. White Cloud: Songs and Stories showcases new songs written by Finn and stories and observations from Duncum examining their own perspectives on the country and culture that bred them.
“When I was young growing up in Te Awamutu I couldn’t wait to get away, see the world and never look back,” Finn says. “Now I’m looking back at where I came from and discovering how it informs us and how the past affects the present.”
Finn says while he could trace his father’s family tree back to the 1600s, he knows next to nothing about his mother’s family.
“Mum was born in Ireland and we grew up feeling very Irish, but with no real connections with anyone back there. Dad was born here of English parents, so our roots in this country are still not deep.”
Duncum’s family on the other hand have been in New Zealand for five or six generations.
“This allowed us to explore the emotions of both the newly arrived and the longer settled.”
Finn says a turning point for him was when he loaded his old and familiar family snapshots into the computer.
“Enlarged and pixilated on the screen they took on an entirely new life. One in particular of Mum on her honeymoon, with Mt Taranaki in the background, had me haunted. The songs flowed.”
Finn met Duncum two years ago while the writer was in France on the Katherine Mansfield residency.
“We starting sending emails to each other, and hitting off against one another. We didn’t start with a plot, but it just evolved, gradually and unpredictably, Ken sending through a piece of verse, me sending back a song, finding the spoken word sections fitting exactly onto song structures. There was plenty of luck and good timing.”
Asked for a lyric that sums up White Cloud Finn quotes: “Salvage something that we need to remember, From the wreck of history, Family images of fading splendour, Where they lead I’m following.”
In White Cloud Finn’s songs are sung by Brett Adams, Ben King, Chris O’Connor, Lisa Crawley and Kingsley Melhuish, performing with actors Stephen Lovatt and Dena Kennedy.
For the play’s director Simon Bennett White Cloud’s premiere at Bats will be like coming home. Bennett was one of the founding members of Bats and is still on the theatre’s board.
“I wanted to direct plays so in 1989 we took over the lease for Bats Theatre,” Bennett says. “I haven’t worked at Bats since 1992 so I’m looking forward to returning to where it all started for me.”
White Cloud: Songs and Stories, Bats Theatre, September 12-22.