How do you have tough conversations, which cut across intergenerational criticism and disapproval, to bring everyone together so tackling challenging issues facing humanity is an all-ages affair?
If you're Wellington-based performer, writer and founder of Barbarian Productions Jo Randerson, you don't have a conversation; you sing. The multi-award-winning Randerson brings to Auckland in October Sing It to My Face. It's a community show where four choirs of volunteer singers – each one representing a different generation – let the world know how they really feel about one another's demographic by singing about it.
The songs, written by Randerson and put to music by musician Julian Raphael, are based on responses to written surveys where different generations share their thoughts. It means lyrics include statements like, "lazy, crazy procrastinating" and "our generation is good at getting into debt".
"I was hearing what I would call intergenerational prejudice – people saying millennials are always on phones; baby boomers are always grizzling," says Randerson, in Auckland for a month on a University of Auckland/Michael King Writers Centre residency.
"They were just these big generalisations about things but, I think, now, more than ever, it's important for us to work together on the issues that society faces. I thought, 'how can we connect more in an intergenerational way and not blame each other for problems in society?'"
Being a self-confessed Barbarian – it's a stage persona with a nod to her Danish roots – Randerson decided not to do this in a conventional, some might say more straightforward way, but to make it fun and light-hearted and add a community performance aspect to it.
Sing It To My Face debuted at the Wellington Cathedral in 2014 and has since toured to art festivals in Wanaka, Nelson and the Wairarapa. Randerson says surveys are done for each city, new singers are recruited and performances held. She acknowledges the songs themselves are packed full of blunt and blanket statements.
"But we work with generalisations in an attempt to go beyond them. Sometimes people, at the start when they read the libretto, say, 'I don't want to be part of this saying that baby boomers are like this! There's too much generalisation' and say, 'yes, we can get to that point at the end' but these things are said and felt so we have to say them out loud in order to move on'."
Auckland singers are being sought for rehearsals that begin in early September but Randerson also has her mind on other projects. By popular demand, she and husband Thomas LaHood are in the midst of a return season of their comedy Soft N Hard at Q Theatre. It involves much clowning around but there's serious intent underpinning the humour as Randerson and LaHood explore tensions and imbalances between male and female gender roles.
By day, Randerson is making good progress on the writing project that brought her to Auckland in the first place.
"I haven't quite nailed my "elevator pitch" but I want to write about the power of the arts and the humanities and why we need them," she says. "There is a strong bias, I feel, toward science and rationalism and literalism and they are all fantastic ways of thinking but we need to keep our spectrum open. I don't want the humanities to be cut out from our education; I want people to understand how much they have to offer."
It's all part of being a loveable Barbarian, a stage persona that extends to daily life.
"I am a fan of civilization but, I guess, it's like an Emperor's New Clothes kind of thing where there's that little kid who goes, 'hang on – what's happening here' so it's allowing people to express feelings and express them in a loud and dynamic and not necessarily culturally approved way. I just think it's very important that we keep allowing the other voice to be heard."
What: Soft 'N' Hard
Where & When: Loft at Q Theatre, until Saturday August 24
What: Sing It To My Face
Where & when: Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall Thursday, October 17 - Sunday, October 20. To volunteer, www.singtomyface.com