In 1990 a company called Inside Out put on a production called The Holy Sinner. Anyone who went and sat on uncomfortable benches, in a draughty warehouse down on Auckland's Waterfront, has never forgotten it.
At least, I never have. It was brilliant and challenging and, possibly, life-changing. It certainly ruined theatre for me forever after. It was that good. It was that exciting. It really did turn your head inside out.
Inside Out went on to do other things including the incredible This Is It millennium celebration at Auckland's Domain. It rained and rained and nobody, least of all Mike Mizrahi, minded. He thought and still thinks it made it even better. He is, when not kvetching - which is just another form of performance art to him - a glass always full kind of guy.
He is one half of Inside Out, the other half being his wife, the seldom seen Marie Adams. I wondered whether she actually existed.
"She is a bit of an ephemeral creature. You'd be hard pressed to find a photograph of her in any press interview. She calls herself a celestial being."
I must have looked horrified at this because he said: "She's joking!" I thought there couldn't possibly be room for two flamboyant characters in one relationship. But there is.
"She totally upstages me in any social gathering. When we were in London, people would come up to me and say: 'Oh my God! What's it like working with Marie? She's a genius!' And I'd go: 'Hang on a minute'!"
So, phew, he said, it was a relief to come to New Zealand. "When I got here, I was Mike Mizrahi! I'm all exotic! I'm Mike Miz, the showbiz whizz! I've got a fancy name! People like me!" He may be given, just ever so slightly, to hyperbole - after all, that is what he does for a job.
But they both seemed, in a puff of magician's stage smoke, or like celestial beings perhaps, to disappear from public view. I'd have guessed that they were living in New York or Paris or London and popping back here for the odd job. They did even bigger gigs now but they did them for big corporations.
They did a travelling show for Louis Vuitton which included the making of an enormous LV suitcase. (He wouldn't tell me what the budget was but it was "probably" about the $10 million I guessed at.) They created an enormous fern on a beach in Santa Monica. They did launches for telecommunication and electricity businesses and Rugby World Cups.
They made, of all things, a giant rugby ball for Tourism NZ, which travelled around the world. I saw it in Paris, and was appalled. I didn't know then that Mizrahi was behind the bloody thing and would have sent him a stern email if I had.
So when I was asked if I'd like to talk to him in advance of his appearance at a thing called the Semi-Permanent "happening" this weekend, I thought: Good. I want to have a word with him about a giant rugby ball. First things first. He'll be giving a talk at 4.30pm today at the Aotea Centre for Semi-Permanent, which is a sort of conference of creativity. I think I can guarantee his talk will be a happening - even if he delivers it without any of Inside Out's bells and whistles. He comes with his own bells and whistles.
He's one of the funniest, hammiest people I've ever met and he can talk absolute arty drivel and make it sound funny and hammy but also meaningful. You'd think he'd have been a good actor, but he was awful. He has a terrible fondness for over-acting. "Too much face."
His business card says Creative Director but what he really is, he said, is: "A kind of creative force. We make shit happen."
All of his life, along with his married life, is about being a creative force.
He is not a New Zealander and he is not much like a New Zealander, really, despite having lived here for decades. He and Marie do still live here, in Ponsonby. He loves New Zealand because of its "vibrant energy". And he "feels safe being a Jew here". His mother is Greek and Turkish and his father Turkish and they are Sephardic Jews. His grandmother spoke a very old form of Spanish, and French; his first language was French. On holidays he'd go to stay with his grandmother on a little island off the coast of Istanbul where he got around on a donkey. He still loves donkeys and has been working on Marie for years to let him have one, but no luck yet. She got him a concrete one. "But it's not the same."
He went to boarding school in England, where he was tormented for being Jewish. "One boy ... said to me: 'You can't be Jewish, you haven't got horns'." He must have been miserable. "I loved it! I was away from my very intense Jewish family, which was nice." Also, he learned "to survive there and how to develop a quick wit, so that I could defend myself. If anyone tried to come on to me, I would find his weak spot. I would look deep into his soul! I was a bitch!"
He is not religious but he is Jewish, in his sense of humour, and his kvetching, and his neuroses. He has a neurosis about everything. "What do they think of me? How am I coming across? Do I look good in this shirt? Shall I wear this jumper? Is it too hot? Shall I have a cup of tea now? Do some work and then have a cup of tea." You'd think he'd drive himself (and Marie) mad but he enjoys every aspect of being Mike Miz and good for him. I enjoyed every aspect of him, too.
He and Marie met in London, where they were both training to be actors and living in squats. They got married when he was just 22 because she is a New Zealander and would have had to come home after her student visa ran out otherwise. She is from Irish Catholic stock and his parents weren't happy: He was supposed to marry a nice Jewish girl. But they came round, he says, because nobody could not come round to Marie - she is so wonderful. She sounds pretty tough too (the donkey) and hasn't let him near the budgets since the millennium incident in which he somehow made a mistake on the spreadsheet which meant they didn't make a dime. His father was a plastics genius and invented the plastic casings for the TV sets of the 1960s and made hula hoops and was a millionaire before he was 30, then seems to have lost most of it. He doesn't really know because he never asked but is like his father - "tenacious" - and perhaps in other ways, so you can see why his wife might keep him away from the finances.
He says they are "technically" married. I assume he makes the distinction because being married is such a conventional thing to be.
They are excitedly, creatively unconventional - even while making their living wooing big corporations and persuading them to hand over not just large sums of money, but creative control to a pair of nutters. I can see how he's so good it. He could sell a suitcase to Louis Vuitton, and did. He pitched, in French, in his one suit, a Crane Brothers suit: "Describing this epic thing we were going to do for them. And I had them eating out of the palm of my hand!"
He is not, of course, even remotely a nutter, but he does dream up nutty schemes. The really crazy bit is that he (and Marie) pull them off. He has never failed at anything, he said. He says things like that. The Inside Out website warns: If anyone could do it, it's probably not right for us. That's not very New Zealand, is it? I said. It's not modest. "Oh!" he said, pretending to be abashed. "I don't know! I'm feeling nervous now." Oh he is not. Too much face. He really is a terrible actor. I thought he must have been crushed when he realised he was a terrible actor, because that would have amounted to failure. How silly I am. "I thought I was great!" Of course he did. "I love everything I've ever done!"
He said: "We're kind of visionaries!" Now really, New Zealanders don't go about calling themselves visionaries. "Well, they should! Don't hide your light under a bushel, I say! I'm too old to give a shit. [He's 53.] Time is short. That's one thing I know."
In any case: "It's the truth. Look, if somebody rang tomorrow and said: 'We're doing a black tie dinner at the Regent' or whatever the hell it's called. 'Would you be interested in doing it?' My first reaction would be: 'Thank you very much, but it's not what we do. Anyone can do that. If you want to do something whereby your audience is going to have an epiphany or if they're going to see your product slightly differently, then absolutely. But you should want to go that extra mile.' [Otherwise] it's not interesting for me."
Of course he loves everything he's ever done. But that giant rugby ball. It was by the Eiffel Tower! It was an outrage! (And over-acting is contagious!) Still, really? "It was stunning!" I refused to go inside it. "Interesting. Interesting," he said. I'm pretty sure he was playing a Jewish shrink. "So you never went in it? It's a terrible shame to hear that. I know! It sounded like a cliche. And the truth of the matter is that you're right. That is a cliche, no question.
When I first got here, I thought, 'Oh my God! The arts, the arts, the arts. Everybody's sports mad in this f***ing country.' Look at the paper. It's 90 per cent sport and a tiny little bit on the arts, if you're lucky. So when they suggested a stunt, a giant rugby ball, putting it around the world, I went, 'Hmm.' I have never met anyone who went inside and went, 'Ooh. Boring.'
"When I first got here, I thought: 'Oh my God! The arts, the arts, the arts. Everybody's sports mad in this f***ing country.' Look at the paper. It's 90 per cent sport and a tiny little bit on the arts, if you're lucky. So when they suggested a stunt, a giant rugby ball, putting it around the world, I went: 'Hmm.' But in truth we have to get over ourselves because the All Blacks are one of our biggest brands. And you've got to have a hook when you're a tiny little country at the end of the world ... And I have never met anyone who went inside and went: 'Ooh. Boring'."
That was telling me and in the telling, he had almost convinced me. Perhaps he was more of a New Zealander than I'd thought. Does he like rugby? "No." When I stopped laughing, he said: "When we launched the Warriors, I didn't even know what rugby league was!"
He didn't need to know because visionaries don't and for once I'm not being even the tiniest bit sarcastic.
The really good news is that he and Marie are working on a new, grand, theatrical production, which is about two years away. So, hooray! I might go back and see him again then because despite - or perhaps because of - his complete lack of modesty, he is such wonderful, magical fun.