A new play at the Basement Theatre is sure to raise eyebrows with its edgy subject matter but the creative team behind it hope it starts an important national conversation.

Like Sex, the winning script from last year's Playmarket b425 award, follows seven teenagers of different social classes, genders, races and sexualities in a series of episodic scenes. However, it's more than just a half dozen sex scenes, according to director Chye-Ling Huang, who says it explores sexual education in New Zealand.

"The play deals with a myriad of different themes pertaining to what it is to be learning about sex when you are a teenager," Huang says. "By using sex as this leverage point, [you] get to investigate all the different influences that have led these characters to this point of sexual exploration.

"There are a lot of things that are super distasteful about the way that we approach sex in New Zealand and the overlying misogynistic patriarchal values system that New Zealanders uphold, knowingly or unknowingly."


Huang hopes Like Sex starts conversations about changing that. The play, written by rising young playwright Nathan Joe, looks at a variety of issues from damaging taboos around sex to social hierarchies, right down to how sex education doesn't explore the pleasures of sex.

It's the latest effort from Exposed Theatre, a company with the goal of fostering young creative talent around New Zealand and highlighting some of the around 100 new drama school graduates produced every year.

"It's called exposed theatre, I think, because it's exposing and tackling the gaps that we see in the theatre industry," Huang, 27, says. "One of the major gaps that hasn't been dealt with is the increasing number of graduates leaving actors' schools.

"There's nowhere out there that is a step between a 9 to 5 learning institution, and coming out into the industry to join this pool of actors who have no idea how to kick start their careers. Having been in that place as a graduate, it's terrifying."

Young people aren't the only group having trouble getting into the industry. Huang, who is half-Chinese, is the co-founder and one of the creative directors behind Pretty Asian Theatre, a company she set up with comedian James Roque to tackle the lack of opportunities for Asian actors.

She and Roque set up the company after attending drama school together and realising how limited their opportunities would be.

"We basically made the choice to work with each other and be proactive and give ourselves work. Our reality was, by the standards of the industry looking out, no one was going to give us the work."

The company has put on several plays during the last four years, and organises a monthly live reading of Asian plays, Fresh off the Page.


While media organisations overseas such as the BBC have initiatives to spotlight young talent and people of colour, New Zealand has yet to follow. Huang would like theatre companies here to realise the benefits of telling young and minority stories on their own, but doesn't think it will happen without financial incentives.

"Definitely you'd hope they'd come to these realisations on their own and organically be more inclusive," she says. "They're not going to take risks - what they see as risks - without some kind of incentive or pressure. That's sad, it is sad, but that's the state of the industry. A shift needs to happen in a lot of ways and one of the major ways is putting people of colour in positions of power as advisers and programmers."

What: Like Sex
Where & when: Basement Theatre until June 3