A different choir joins the cast of The Events each night of its season

It made international headlines when an audience member climbed on to a New York theatre stage and tried to plug his cellphone charger into an outlet on the set but Auckland actor Beulah Koale's tale of audience participation takes things further.

Dancing in Victor Rodger's comedy Black Faggot, Koale unexpectedly found himself with a dance partner who'd obviously been partying hard earlier in the evening and clambered on stage to join in. Did Koale panic? No, he continued dancing.

"But then I started to think, 'I need a plan to get him off stage and carry on so I told him there was a better club down the road and he should check it out.' One of his friends took him out of the theatre and they wandered off into the night."

So Koale is unfazed by the idea of performing in The Events where, over 22 nights, he'll be joined by a different choir from the Auckland region each night, none of whom have seen the show, read the script or rehearsed alongside him and fellow actor Tandi Wright.


"It's a new show every night..." and he trails off, pondering the possibilities.

He also portrays 10 people, including a psychiatrist, journalist, girlfriend of the main character and "the boy" whose brutal crime sets off the drama. Best known for roles in the film The Last Saint and on TV's Shortland Street, Koale was last year asked by Silo theatre artistic director Sophie Roberts to read the script for Scottish dramatist David Greig's The Events.

Greig wrote it as a response to Anders Breivik's attacks in Norway, where the far-right gunman killed eight people by exploding a bomb in Oslo then later shot dead 69 participants at a Workers' Youth League summer camp. A further 319 were injured.

Speaking with the Evening Times newspaper Greig said: "These things happen a lot and I find myself reading page after page of newspapers, all saying this is because of Islamic fundamentalism or this was because of male violence or American imperialism or gun control, and I found myself feeling this deep dissatisfaction that I couldn't get to the bottom of it. I wanted to investigate that and when I have that question I usually write a play."

The Events premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013, where it sold out, received a Fringe First and the Carol Tambor Best of Edinburgh Award and was named the Guardian's best show of 2013. Roberts, who directs the Australasian premiere, was drawn to it because it asks "big questions" in a way that couldn't be done anywhere else except in the theatre.

"It's an amazing piece of contemporary drama; it's not domestic, it's not linear and it doesn't follow traditional dramatic structure," says Roberts. "It makes multiple connections to things going on in the world around us " gun control, terrorism, the rise of right-wing politics " which are sometimes easy to dismiss when your only engagement with those issues comes through media.

22 Aug, 2015 9:00am
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"But one of the functions of theatre is to do a job of making us think about and discuss these things. The Events does this by putting a spotlight on community and that's essentially what it's about: we live in a community and, as such, we need to take a measure of responsibility for others within it. It's also about personal grief and one woman's quest for understanding and search for meaning."

The Events is set in a fictional unnamed village shortly after a mass shooting. Claire (Wright) is a priest who conducts a community choir and prides herself on the fact it's inclusive of all-comers. After the shooting, she questions the nature of evil and her once firmly held ideas about forgiveness.

Koale describes the boy's appearance as a small but pivotal scene and says it's not for reasons of economics he plays the other characters. It's to highlight the fact Claire, obsessed with his actions, sees him everywhere.

Choirs are also an integral part of the drama, making a link between the performance and audience and, as authentic communities themselves, strengthening ideas about connection.

"Each choir is seeing the show for the first time and reacting with the audience to what's unfolding," says Roberts. "There's also something about a choir which is like a perfect image of everything that's good in us as humans and the show needs that. It's a cliche to say it but, despite the subject matter, uplifting is probably the best way to describe it."

Finding 22 choirs gave musical director Robin Kelly a few sleepless nights. "You start with a list of 60 choirs and think, 'this will be fine!' and weeks later, you've got a number crossed off and only a few confirmed," says Kelly. "There certainly isn't a shortage of choirs and I find it encouraging and warming that so many people around Auckland have somewhere to go and sing together but " and I mean no disrespect to choirs " I've been really surprised at how busy some of them are. A few simply didn't have the time because they have so many other commitments."

The choirs include North Shore hobbyists to church choirs, the professional Jubilation Gospel Choir, and the NZ Young@Heart Chorus. No school choirs are included because Greig suggests the play's themes mean those involved should ideally be aged 18 or over. Each learns a set repertoire that includes everything from traditional choral hymns to hip-hop.

What: The Events
Where and when: Q Theatre, September 3-26