Victor Rodger: A complicated mix

by Natasha Hay / 07 February, 2013
Racism, race relations and now same-sex marriage are Victor Rodger’s triggers, but he can “never not be funny”.
Victor Rodger, photo/David White

It’s tempting to dub Victor Rodger the enfant terrible of New Zealand scriptwriting, though he may be a bit old for an enfant. At 43, he has lost none of the outrageous subversiveness that marked his acclaimed works Sons (1995), Ranterstantrum (2002) and My Name Is Gary Cooper (2007). These were abrasive plays that changed the face of Pasifika theatre, written in response to what he refers to as the “oogah-boogah shtick” of PI representation in film, television and on stage.

Sure, Pacific people have become more than just “blackground”, but “there are still things to get angry about”, he says with some passion.

Racism and race relations are Rodger’s triggers, but humour is a beat away. “I can never not be funny,” he says. He’s a complicated mix of playful blond (he wants to bring our interview forward to get to his Bodyjam class and chuckles at the prospect of doing his high kicks) and dark provocateur. A bit of a gypsy, he uses the portable gig of Shortland Street scripting and writers’ residencies to be Mr Polyglot, but always returns to his Ponsonby tribe or to be near his mum in Christchurch.

Soap operas seem a natural hangout – he’s hardly likely to diss the 12 years he’s written for Shortie; a trained thesp, he also acted on it – but theatre is home. It’s his heart work, about something he wants to say.

Hence Black Faggot, Rodger’s latest offering coming up for the Auckland Fringe and Pride festivals.

“I started this a few years ago after the ‘Enough is Enough’ Destiny Church march,” he explains, “because it was basically fathers and sons marching against the civil union bill. At the very, very least, one of those kids will be gay and feeling wretched about themselves as they grow up, so Black Faggot was a response to that.

“The reason I’m doing it now is that some of the opposition of our [PI] community is getting vocal [about the same-sex marriage bill], and I thought, ‘I am just going to finish it’, and the play goes on just before the bill goes to Parliament.”

My Name Is Gary Cooper (2007)

The Fringe and Pride festivals are a happy union, too. “Ideally, it will be a gay Pacific Island [audience] because of what I’ve done in the play; it’s definitely inspired by [Toa Fraser’s] Bare in terms of loosely interconnected monologues. It’s really for them primarily to see that spectrum of gay Pacific Island life, which doesn’t really get out there. Even with Pacific Island theatre, I think fa’afafine characters often are the new Black Man in terms of theatre, like they are there for the funny laughs.”

Undeniably, coming out as a gay Pacific Island kid is easier today, says Rodger. “There’s a lot more acceptance. Last year, I went to a show by a group called Queens, who come out of Kelston Boys High and are all gay. I was sitting with mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, grandparents watching these kids and I just thought, ‘My gosh, this would never have happened 10, 20 years ago. This is great, all PI kids.’

“So you’ve got that on the one hand, where it’s a lot better, but you still have elements of the community getting their panties in a bunch about the thought of same-sex marriage.”

The spine of Black Faggot is made up of two characters: one, a Christian, doesn’t realise he is gay; another is out-there, unapologetically gay. And despite its provocative title, Rodger stresses it’s a comedy.

“It’s been interesting,” he says. “I could almost racially divide it in terms of the generally white reaction, ‘Oh, that’s very confronting, oh my gosh, this is going to be a searing drama in terms of poor little gay Pacific Islanders’ and then on the brown side, they are all going, ‘Hahaha, can’t wait to see it’.”

Remember, it’s the Fringe. “This is the loosest thing I’ve ever done.” All the stuff he could never write on Shorty. “The language is quite explicit, the situations are quite explicit, it’s filthy, it’s fun, but it’s also got a point to it. I hope.”

When he turned 40, Rodger became aware of “the sands in the timeglass running at a faster pace”. So he started writing faster. Last year, Palmerston North’s Centrepoint produced At the Wake.

“That was me imagining my Samoan father and Scottish grandmother in the same room. I thought they were going to hate it, as it is quite foul-mouthed, in-your-face, but Palmy lapped it up.”

In August, Auckland’s Silo is staging Protection, a co-commission with Christchurch’s Court. For the first time, he focuses on a white family – the overly protective father of a boy who may or may not have been abused in a situation reminiscent of the Christchurch Civic Creche case.

So much of his writing has concerned tortured father-son relationships (“The relationship with my father I’ve turned into a cottage industry”). This time he wanted to attempt a more positive father-son story, but “it actually hasn’t transpired like that.”

At the Wake (2012)

Growing up afakasi – the child of a Samoan and palagi – in “racist” Christchurch was no picnic. His hometown’s not his happy place – only Sons has been performed there – but he gets drawn back.

“You can’t not be moved by what’s happened to your friends and family and to your city. Particularly coming from the east side, which is where my loyalties lie. “The city’s always been very east-west but now it’s more pronounced; that’s the big thing I have taken away from the quakes. It’s a tale of two cities.”

He’s been writing a play about it, Aftershocks. “It starts off with a ‘f--- Gerry Brownlee’ monologue from one of the characters, how he couldn’t fit on a chemical toilet. That kind of vibe.”

Another in progress, Can All Read and Write, is based on an incident two years ago “where some PI students from [Christchurch’s] St Thomas’s won an award, and the palagi guy presenting it said, ‘I assure you they could all read and write ho ho ho …’

“That really struck a chord with me as someone who came from Christchurch that, yes, things have changed, but not completely.”

BLACK FAGGOT, by Victor Rodger, Basement, Auckland, February 16-20, as part of Auckland Fringe and Auckland Pride Festival.
MostReadArticlesCollectionWidget - Most Read - Used in articles
AdvertModule - Advert - M-Rec / Halfpage


Politicians aren’t talking to us this election year, but to Winston Peters
71902 2017-04-28 14:08:09Z Politics

Politicians aren’t talking to us this election yea…

by Jane Clifton

We don't want any David Cunliffe cod-bogan attempts to get down with the peeps, but MPs seem to be going way too far in the other direction this year.

Read more
9th Floor: Jenny Shipley on how 'middle class welfare' is morally bankrupt
71856 2017-04-28 09:53:00Z Politics

9th Floor: Jenny Shipley on how 'middle class welf…

by Guyon Espiner

Dame Jenny Shipley on being the first woman Prime Minister, plus coups and coalitions, welfare reform and Winston Peters.

Read more
Win a double pass to exclusive screening of McLaren
71854 2017-04-28 09:39:24Z Win

Win a double pass to exclusive screening of McLare…

by The Listener

McLaren is the definitive tale of New Zealander Bruce McLaren, who created a motor racing empire from his shed.

Read more
Win a double pass to Doc Edge Festival
71847 2017-04-28 09:30:01Z Win

Win a double pass to Doc Edge Festival

by The Listener

Doc Edge Festival is one of Australasia’s premier international documentary film festivals.

Read more
First look: Poké Poké
Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban
71842 2017-04-28 09:07:08Z Nutrition

Health Minister dismisses chocolate fundraiser ban…

by RNZ

Should schools be selling chocolate to raise funds? The Health Minister says it's ok, but nutrition experts disagree.

Read more
Film review: Denial
71718 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Movies

Film review: Denial

by Peter Calder

The dramatisation of a Holocaust denier’s libel suit is both engrossing and moving.

Read more
Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps
71634 2017-04-28 00:00:00Z Television

Danish dramas versus Kiwi soaps

by Jeremy Rose

A quarter of Denmark's population regularly watch Danish TV dramas, while the highest-rating Kiwi drama attracted an audience of just over 250,000.

Read more