Silo Theatre: Exploding the boundaries

By Luke Oram

The Silo Theatre company has spent ten years carving out a niche as one of Auckland's most dynamic artistic collectives. Luke Oram looks behind the curtain at the boutique crew's success.

 The Brothers Size . Photo / Patrick Reynolds
The Brothers Size . Photo / Patrick Reynolds

He was scanning strange faces at last year's Hackman Theatre Awards when Shane Bosher realised something had changed. Nothing was awry, mind you. If anything, the situation was horribly right.

"I looked around and went, 'I don't know who all these people are' - that's actually kind of wonderful."

As creative director of Silo Theatre, it is Shane Bosher's job to know local thespians by name. All of them. And for the longest time, it was an easy scan of the room; serious actors in Auckland were but a handful, and their scene modest.

When Bosher took his position at Silo, he was captaining the helm of an awkward ship - the company was facing financial challenges, the acting community was ad hoc, and the audiences largely absent.

Silo Theatre immediately rallied the troops, gathering actors and practitioners to develop "strategies for Auckland's continued artistic growth"; in an industry where the talent so often eats itself, Silo began building a family.

Bosher attributes a lot of Silo's growth to the success of fostered, repeated relationships. "[Royal National Theatre director] Richard Eyre was once asked what his company policy was and he said, 'My company policy is the people that I work with' - I've always upheld that.

"Silo has a real ensemble ethos to the way that we create work and I think that audiences can feel that when they experience a piece of work: that it is a work of collective creation."

With a burgeoning artistic community granting stability to Auckland's theatre scene, Silo began to grow into its own skin. It started out as the rebellious, grungy teen, becoming renowned for its aggressive programming: the known purveyor of sex, drugs and shock value.

There were plays in which characters eat dead infants to stay alive: Clockwork Orange in an abandoned factory even. By 2008, Silo had grown into its own version of the hip teen, presenting what Bosher calls the "epidemic of the white sofa play" - the urban, chatty monologues of the inner-city creatives labouring the point of their tragically hip lives over mojitos. You know the drill.

Nowadays, Bosher reckons Silo's landed on the perfect cocktail of the classic and the caustic, lending 21st-century makeovers to the traditional works of Samuel Beckett and Tennessee Williams in one turn, pushing at the frame of social boundaries the next.

"As we've grown older, so has the programme - and by older I don't mean dustier and more commercial or mainstream. I think the ideas of the work we present have seasoned according to the relationship we had with our audience."

Silo's dangerously fond of risks, much like Bosher, whose eloquent, mile-a-minute conversations suggest the best kind of artistic ADHD.

The company's programming refuses to get comfortable - last year's season was as boutique as it was intellectual; Beckett's dark Happy Days was a broadside to audiences still reeling from the recession and wanting a cheap laugh - on the other hand, the weaving melodrama When the Rain Stops Falling was lauded as one of the company's greatest achievements yet.

This year's season, Exploded Narratives is, as the adage goes, all about the story - with the Silo spin. Did I Believe It? sees the team working with 42 Below to disseminate the story of vodka on location, with audiences ushered into Britomart's 1885 to gather around the bar while the actors spin the yarn.

The Brothers Size, a play which Bosher is decidedly excited about, transplants Nigerian Yoruba mythology into the swamplands of Louisiana where the gods become earthy African-American brothers in the bayou, trading sibling rivalry under the Southern sun.

Then there's the gritty social commentary I Love You Bro, a one-man play based on a tragic true-life internet tryst gone fatally awry.

And the classics aren't left out - the brilliantly torn-apart relationship drama The Only Child and Molière's classic upper-class satire Tartuffe, are given the Silo once-over. Slapped, as Bosher says, with Kiwi revisionist treatment.

Silo veteran Jarod Rawiri, who will play elder brother Ogun in the upcoming The Brothers Size says the company's appeal lies in its ability to push the envelope from both sides of the stage - challenging not only the audience, but also the actors.

"Silo's very clever with its shows - Shane really gives the opportunity for actors to sink their teeth into some meaty roles."

He would know; in 2007 he was cast as a morbidly obsessed suicidal in The Cut alongside Robyn Malcolm and the late Frank Whitten, a role that he says took months to recover from.

"They're always trying to change things up," says Rawiri, "even with Brothers Size - I mean, it's a play about three Black Americans, played by three Polynesian Maori boys."

Rawiri says when he started out in the acting game in 2006, he was one of only a handful of Maori actors: "just a few of us, tagging in and out".

Now he too is greeted by strange faces when he goes to read-throughs - a testament to Auckland's growing theatre scene and a step further towards Silo's dream of the city as a thriving cultural capital.

A thought that gives no end of satisfaction to some of Auckland's most passionate makers of theatre.

The Brothers Size
Herald Theatre, THE EDGE
26 May - 18 June
Book online

*This article originally appeared in THE EDGE publication LIVE.

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