Gary Henderson’s work has been produced around New Zealand, and in South Africa, Australia, Great Britain, the United States and Canada. His most well-travelled play is "Skin Tight" which won a coveted Fringe First Award at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1998 during a sell-out season at the Traverse Theatre.
Hoy Polloy is staging his “An Unseasonable Fall Of Snow” next month which was commissioned by the New Zealand International Festival of the Arts in 1998. A brief synopsis of the play goes like this: ‘A bewildered young man is questioned by a ruthless interrogator, who circles like a predator, forcing him closer and closer to an awful admission. A compelling investigation of truth, consequences, and the ultimate value of human life.’ The playwright is equally as enigmatic when it comes to discussing his work and feels it too hard to say too much about his play without giving away things he doesn’t want people to know before they see it. “The idea for the play originated from a situation someone I knew may have found himself in, which got me thinking,” he says. “Saying any more would just give too much away.”
AUFofS is, at its essence, a puzzle but what are some of the challenges Henderson faced when bringing this work from mind to paper.” Trying to second-guess an audience which didn't yet exist,” he says. “How long could I tease them along and keep them guessing without annoying them. The play has a mystery at it's heart, and I knew the more I built it up, the bigger the payoff would have to be.”
Every playwright seems to have themes that entice them or drive them to write – the stuff of their subconscious, perhaps, that gains meaningful life through skilled processing – and Henderson is no different finding ‘people pushed into extreme situations’ his palette of reference. ” Someone else told me I wrote about people in liminal spaces … places where there is a sense of things being on hold, places of pause and transition. I quite liked that – and when I think about it, it's probably true. I like to write simply about things and ideas that interest me; I try not to analyse it too much otherwise the playfulness and joy can dry up.”
But themes are secondary to the impulse or desire or passion to write – as most artists will confess, the overwhelming need to ‘do’ is hard to suppress. What inspires one does not necessarily inspire the other but Henderson’s suggestion is that ideas beget ideas. “I get ideas when I'm trying to think up ideas. After a while, becoming constantly open to ideas and looking at the day to day world as a source of ideas becomes a habit. This is not unique to me, or to writers, or artists. I think that's true for anyone whose job (or life) involves any kind of creative thinking – and that covers a huge, diverse range of people. Creativity isn't the exclusive property of so-called ‘creative types.’”
The ultimate need, when all is said and done, is the attempt to connect to humanity – to make things human and relatable must be a prime factor for any playwright, otherwise the work cannot transcend to beyond words on the page. Henderson is from NZ and perhaps that gives him a different sensibility when it comes to regional or global identifiers that link one to one’s country, but does that have any impact on the messages he finds meaningful or the way that those are told. “No, I never think about that when I'm writing. I think that, paradoxically, the more specific something is, the more universal it is. If you try to be all things to all men, you might just end up saying nothing to anybody. I hope that somewhere in the heart of this play I'm talking about something intensely human that most people in most places can relate to.”
Every playwright (or artist) desires to make his mark on the audience – desires to have their voice heard and their message absorbed – have a need for that universal human connection. Henderson understands that, as a playwright, he cannot control the end game with the audience – what the audience will actually bring to the work – but can hope that that human connection is strong enough to bring a moment of solidarity and understanding. “I will never know their backgrounds, aspirations, experiences, lives, losses … or any of that,” he says. “Therefore I can never know what they'll take away with them. I suppose I should put "exactly" in front of that, because I suppose I know in a general sense what someone might get out of this play. I hope they will contemplate personal responsibility and the value of their lives. But I don't mind if they don't. Really, all I can hope for is that someone walks out of the play thinking, for whatever reason, that it was time and money well spent.”
An unseasonable Fall Of Snow plays at Hoy Polloy May 2 – may 19