If you've ever been interested in the Finn family history, Tim Finn's new work White Cloud will no doubt pique your curiosity. Though the multi-media piece, which combines new songs, spoken word, poems, photos, and film, is neither history lesson nor family memoir, it's inspired by the idea of old family photos, and the notion of gathering together to share the stories they tell.
It grew out of a new friendship between Finn and playwright Ken Duncum, who decided they wanted to work together, but didn't have any particular project in mind.
"Ken said to me, 'Why don't we start with what we have in common - growing up Pakeha in the North Island of New Zealand'. And so we decided to embark upon that, and we started trading family photos," Finn explains.
The strange thing was that once he started scanning and uploading these precious black and white memories, they seemed to appear new to him again, to tell him new stories.
"You might think you know these photos pretty well, but the interesting thing is that if you scan them and then start looking at them on a computer screen, they reveal something new, and they really started speaking to me. There's one in particular of Mum on her honeymoon - Dad must've taken the photo, and she's standing in front of a car, and you can just see the ghosting of Mt Taranaki behind her, and there she is, a 26-year-old Irish woman, and I suddenly saw her as very separate to me, as a different person, but somehow she also seemed closer to me than ever. You think you know your mum, you think you know your family, but you sometimes get a shock of realisation when you see them as separate from you, and so that drew me in really."
Finn's mother passed away 15 years ago. He'd started writing a song for her at one point, and it was this seed of a song which helped get the music going.
"There were just a few lines I had: 'Hear the sound of the big parade, it's a sound I heard them playing in my sleep before the wind blew it all away'. And then I was walking along thinking of clouds and cloud shadows, because our family are quite newly arrived in New Zealand - Ken's family goes back about six generations, but we're only first generation, so we sit quite lightly on the land, and I was thinking about cloud shadows, and that image came to me. So it all started to come together."
He laughs at how odd it seems that he has become some sort of family historian, because it's not something he'd shown any particular aptitude for earlier in life.
"I was never the family historian in fact I was the opposite I suppose, I never kept anything, and I regret now that I don't have more of the old Split Enz T-shirts and things like that, just more stuff to share with the kids, so it seemed like I was perhaps an unlikely person to do this. But you can see evidence of it in my work too I suppose, certain songs where I reference growing up in New Zealand, and Neil similarly has that in his work. But it was great to have Ken to bounce off, and to examine his family history as well."
The show combines Finn and Duncum's talents in an immersive piece, with no fourth wall - Tim tells stories, sings songs, shares poetry, goes down tangents and sidesteps into explanations, engaging with the audience in an intimate way, while footage shot by his father Richard, along with work by choreographer and film maker Sue Healey, all shot on 8mm film, is projected on to a screen.
There's a loose narrative or dramatic structure, but it's primarily an exploration of identity, of connection with the land, with our various forefathers, and with each other, with fragments from family journals, letters and memoirs adding to the story.
"Connecting with the land and the landscape was a big part of it. I mean if I think about the number of times I've driven down to see Dad in Cambridge - he's still going strong - Neil and I do that journey when we're both in New Zealand, we both go down once a week or so. And that journey, the Waikato River and Mt Taupiri, Mt Pirongia, those kind of things that you see in the landscape, they also started to speak to me in a way that they hadn't before, because I was connecting them up I suppose."
"We're not trying to say to people 'this is what it means to be a Pakeha' or anything like that, we're just saying, 'We've got these photos and these home movies and these thoughts and feelings, and you've probably got them too, we're all the same in that sense', and so it's about finding the connections I suppose, and finding the things we all have in common."
Indeed Finn has found when performing the show previously at places like the Sydney Writers Festival and Galway International Arts Festival, that it stirs up people's own memories. People relate stories of their own mother or father, or talk about similar home videos, and generally feel encouraged to dig out some old photos, or at least reflect upon their own family history and identity.
"That's what we hope really, that there will be this gathering of stories. It's great to connect backwards. We all do it at different ages and stages in our lives. New Zealand is a young country, and like young people, you're always looking ahead, and thinking about what's next, and all of a sudden at some point you do take a little glimpse back, and that can be very rewarding. It's been a really pleasurable thing for me anyway."
Who: Tim Finn
What: New show White Cloud
Where and when: as part of the Auckland International Cabaret Season, at the Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber on Wednesday September 2, and Sunday September 6.
Who else is coming to the cabaret
Lady Sings the Blues: Ladi6, Julia Deans, Hollie Smith, Annie Crummer and Camille O'Sullivan sing the songs of Billie Holliday.
(Great Hall, Auckland Town Hall, Sept 2)
Exposing Edith: Australian performer Michaela Burger sings the songs of Edith Piaf.
• Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, Sept 5-6
An Evening with the Incredible Mr Capsis: Australian singer Paul Capsis reinterprets the songs of Judy Garland, Janis Joplin, Amy Winehouse, Nina Simone and more.
• Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, Sept 3-4
Yana Alana Between the Cracks: Australian "cabaret provocateur" Yana Alana delivers a "bent night of blues, burlesque and blame". Warning: contains body-painted performer - because she's blue.
• Concert Chamber, Auckland Town Hall, Sept 4-5
The Daisy Theatre: From Canadian artist Ronnie Burkett, a puppet show for grown-ups featuring 40 marionette characters performing variety acts, monologues and musical numbers.
• Herald Theatre, Sept 2-6