When award-winning writer, director and performer Jo Randerson studied theatre in Denmark a couple of decades back, she felt like an outsider with a totally different take on how to work.
"I was even told I walked too loudly on the stage..."
So Randerson started thinking about what it means to feel different - to be an outsider - and a character she names only as barbarian emerged. Claiming to be the last of her line, she burst upon the scene in Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong and made everyone who saw the 55 minute one-woman show sit up and listen by bringing to the theatre - supposedly that most mannered of settings - a character not normally seen on stage.
A punky and volatile warrior, barbarian was loud, possibly uncivilised and most certainly anti-social, angry and wanted to have her say about the injustices of the world. Randerson took the show back to Denmark and Norway and toured New Zealand and Australia. Then the barbarian disappeared for a spell.
"I had children and I was busy, so I didn't have the time or the energy to perform. I could direct people, but I couldn't perform it because, well, it's a very energetic piece."
She might add she was also working overseas, studying toward a Masters in Theatre Arts (directing), writing plays and collaborating with others on various shows. But in 2014, she felt barbarian start to stir, so performed Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong at the Raucous Caucus Festival at Wellington's BATS Theatre to coincide with that year's election.
Writing on theatreview.org, critic Fiona McNamara declared: 'The Barbarian's energy reminds us how easy it is to become too comfortable in our privilege and give up the fight.' Which is the point of bringing her back, says Randerson. While she doesn't talk specifically about politics or political parties, she's a powerful voice and a champion of the little people.
"When she was first on stage, it was like she this really angry warrior type figure, but now people seem to looking to her as more a voice of dissent. It's like what do you do when you're not the biggest player on the field? You have to find other ways of making an impact."
Describing it as a "wake-up call for those who have fallen asleep and a call to arms for those who have given up the fight", Randerson acknowledges personal experiences and changes have altered her relationship with the character, but she hasn't amended the text.
While that adds a different dimension to the show, she goes back to the origins of her early questions: What does it feel like to be different? Who gets to decide who's an outsider and not? Where is power derived from?
"I go back to the Greek philosophers who asked questions about where power derives from and I wonder, 'maybe power imbalance is just an unfortunate dynamic of human societies because, when we're given the choice, most of us make decisions to have more even when it's at the expense of other things and people; yet as a society, with supposedly more knowledge and wisdom to look back and reflect on things, can't we see how things could be done differently?'"
Naturally, she's an advocate for alternative views and voices on stage so, as well as bringing Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong to Auckland, Randerson's been working with fellow theatre-maker Hayley Sproull on her one-woman show, Vanilla Miraka.
It is Sproull's "unflinching investigation into her own deeply disengaged bicultural heritage" and blurs the lines between self-exploration and poking fun to ask the question, 'where do I fit within my own culture?' Randerson has mentored and directs the show, which includes stand-up comedy, song and sketch.
What: Vanilla Miraka
Where & when: Basement Theatre; September 20 - 24
What: Banging Cymbal, Clanging Gong
Where & when: Basement Theatre, September 21 - 24