Actor and singer Chris Green says he has more questions than answers when it comes to issues of culture and cancellation.
Green is bringing Mervyn Thompson's play Coaltown Blues to New Plymouth's 4th Wall Theatre in August this year, and says he has put a lot of thought into the decision to go ahead with the play given the controversy around Thompson.
"Mervyn Thompson is one of New Zealand's most significant playwrights, but his name is linked mainly with controversy. His work gets lost under that but I believe Coaltown Blues is an important piece of New Zealand work which should be performed and seen."
Green says it's not just his own opinion that Thompson's work is an important piece of New Zealand drama writing, he notes Thompson is listed as a prescribed playwright for an NZQA Level 3 drama assessment, with Coaltown Blues and another of Thompson's works, Children of the Poor, both listed.
In talking with 4th Wall Theatre co-founder and owner Raewyn Greig about bringing the play to Taranaki, Green says they decided to include a school's preview of the play, given it's inclusion in the lost of recommended works for year 13 drama students.
Green, who is a trained teacher himself, says a teaching colleague emailed him this month saying they would not be bringing their students to a performance of the play. Their email referenced the recent documentary on Thompson (TVNZ's Six Angry Women by film-maker Megan Jones) saying it had brought to light details on Thompson's character that made them reach that decision.
Green says he appreciates the documentary has reignited discussion around Thompson's character and actions, but he felt that information was already well known.
"For me it was not giving any new information, but obviously for some people it was."
He says he understands people feeling strongly about Thompson, saying people from both sides of the discussion are passionate about their stance.
"For me, I am not on one side of the other, when it comes to what was covered in the documentary. The facts are certainly polarising. Regardless of the legality or proof around those specific events and specific allegations, I think it is obvious to all, Thompson was not a nice character when it came to how he conducted his relationships or behaved, under any light, and even in the 70s when this was happening."
In performing the one-man musical play Coaltown Blues, Green isn't glorifying Thompson, he says.
"I think it is important to separate the man from the work, and that work is quite simply glorious in parts, but I am not glorifying the man, just celebrating the work. I am putting on the play, not excusing the writer."
That doesn't mean he isn't open to discussion on it, he says.
"At the moment, this is what I think. But I am open to hearing arguments around that, and if someone can persuade me otherwise, that we can't separate the work from the man, then I might change my viewpoint."
While Green is comfortable in his decision to continue with the planned performance of Coaltown Blues, discussions around representation in theatre have led him to make changes to other plays he is working on.
"I had been looking at doing the play I Am My Own Wife, about the life of transgender woman, Charlotte von Mahlsdorf. Originally I thought abut playing the role myself, but after some reflection I have made the decision that if I go ahead with the play, I should produce and direct the play, but cast a transgender actor in the role itself."
He is still exploring continuing with the play, he says.
"There are lots of hurdles to work through before I can commit."
While he doesn't feel actors should only play roles which exactly match their life experiences, in this case he feels the correct choice is the one he has made.
"I find myself wondering where the line needs to be drawn, and how we determine that. But while I am still deciding what I think overall, it was the right thing to do to make the casting decision I made."
Inequities in casting need to be addressed he says, but questions also need to be found to the many questions around culture, representation and cancellation.
"Is it reasonable as an actor to interpret roles we have not experienced ourselves - can we not play a cancer survivor or a gay person unless we ourselves are one of those things? How can we engage in discussion around this, to help us find answers without being attacked for exploring it."