Theatre-maker Kate McGill has a theory about the popularity of reality TV.

McGill reckons it owes part of its success to our desire to see ourselves and hear our stories on screen even though many of those end up veering toward the unreal. While she hasn't made reality TV, McGill is in a unique position to reflect on real-life stories.

Much of her career has involved making verbatim theatre, where plays are created from the exact words - sometimes down to the "ums" and "ahs" - of real people interviewed about specific events or topics.

Now she's staging her latest one-woman show, Weave - Yarns with New Zealanders, which features the words of 20 people, men and women of all ages and occupations, from Invercargill to Northland. McGill describes Weave as an entertaining but thought-provoking way to consider what being a New Zealander is all about.


"The idea is to unpack the myths about who we are and whether there's any such thing as the 'New Zealand character" - who are we as individuals and collectively? I think New Zealanders want to see themselves reflected back to them."

McGill cold-called strangers, spoke with a handful of friends and used organisations to contact suitable interviewees. She spoke with around 30 people with each meeting lasting between 30 minutes and three and a half hours.

The diverse range of interviewees included, among others, a stoic South Island farmer, a politician (she won't say which one), a sex worker, a Filipino immigrant, teachers, nurses and a builder. She was surprised and flattered by how willing they were to talk, saying interviews usually started with questions like "tell me about the first house you lived in" or "tell me a little bit about where you were born".

"And people would just talk; they were incredibly generous," says McGill. "I've learned everyone has a story to tell. Some were funny; others were incredibly sad and personal. One woman talked about her experience of becoming a mother at the same time she was losing her own mother to a terminal illness."

The frequency with which racism was raised in conversation surprised McGill.

"I didn't expect to hear so many comments about racism or experiences of feeling like the 'other'. I thought people might have wanted to talk more about where they were from or their upbringing, but this issue is clearly on people's minds."

McGill, who's appeared on TV shows and films like The Brokenwood Mysteries, Girl Vs Boy and Gaylene Preston's Home By Christmas, travelled to New York in 2010 to work with the Tectonic Theater Project.

Specialists in verbatim theatre, Tectonic's most famous play is The Laramie Project about the 1998 murder of gay student Matthew Shepard in what was eventually categorised as a hate crime. It's become a modern classic, performed all around the world, and was followed by The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later.

McGill has directed both in New Zealand. She's also performed her own original verbatim plays Job, about New Zealanders' jobs, and Munted based on real experiences of the Christchurch Earthquakes. Munted toured here and in the US.

"I think it's a wonderful way of story-telling; people listen in a different way when they know they're hearing the words of real people."

What: Weave - Yarns with New Zealanders
Where & when: Basement Theatre, April 4 - 15