Thank F*** it’s Friday with Nisha Madan

Nisha Madan explodes the line between performer and spectator.

Nisha Madan explodes the line between performer and spectator.

This week, ANNABEL WILSON sits down for a soda with Nisha Madan – in Wellington for a week to deliver her sold-out show Titled at Bats theatre. Accompanying Julia Croft’s If there’s not dancing at the revolution, I’m not coming, Titled is part of a cutting-edge twinset of feminist performance art presented by Auckland’s The Town Centre. Madan’s solo piece was developed as a deconstructionist examination of the implicit pact between actor and audience; self and the universe. It’s an immersive, expressionistic work, in which attendees actively participate in “a ritualistic and fundamental exchange between You, Me and the Army of Administrators that run the world” says Madhan. Titled is intense, thought-provoking and paradigm shifting. It’s fairly physical too, which is why Madan carries bruise cream and takes magnesium tablets. Read ON for further insights about Titled, hot messes and what makes Madhan tick.

How was Titled’s opening night?

Really nerve wracking. I thought I was going to throw up about two hours before we started. But I didn’t throw up on anyone and I think it went ok.

You’re interested in investigating the boundary between audience and performer. In which ways do you challenge that line?

In lots of different ways. Audiences can expect to be quite active. It’s not necessarily a sit down and watch kind of show. But in saying that, it is totally possible to sit down and just watch. You don’t have to do anything you really don’t want to do.

Have you been inspired by other artists who use similar conventions to you?

I’m hugely influenced by artist called Kate McIntosh. She’s from New Zealand but she works in Brussels and has done so for about twenty years now. She was back here recently with the show called All Ears and that uses a particular kind of participation that I love. Locally, she works with Jo Randerson who I find inspiring as well.

Jo is quite prolific in Wellington’s theatre world. I loved Banging Symbol,  Clanging Gong at this year’s Fringe Festival.

I love Jo’s projects that she does with the public. She sort of works the public into being the performer and that’s breaking down the boundary. It’s no longer I am the performer and you’re the audience – we’re all complicit in this event together and we’re all making it together. I tried to rehearse my show yesterday morning with no audience and it was the most frustrating difficult thing to do. I couldn’t do it. It’s a big thing in the show, in that I really need you, to be there. If you’re not there, then I can’t function. And I think that way about life, about the people closest to me. I need them so much to function – I couldn’t do it on my own.

That’s what they say: life is meant to be shared.

Yeah, I’m not really good at that behind the fourth wall acting. I can’t ignore the fact that there’s a massive amount of people in front of me, watching me. There’s more of them than there are of me. They could start a riot if they wanted to! I’m not very good at pretending that they’re not there. If you’re there, I just can’t ignore you. So I tend to acknowledge people a lot.

It seems more honest and authentic that way.

Yeah, or I tend to think of it as kind of like a party. It’s a social situation. I’ve just designed a really elaborate party for you to come to. A very strange, uncanny, surreal party. All of us together.

Because the show has an active audience, does it vary from night to night?

It does vary, but it has a really solid structure in place so it has certain points that it hits, but what happens between those points has the potential to change or flip on its head. That’s the risk I’m inviting, I guess. Often those moments are the most alive ones, because it means that everyone is at risk somehow – the whole thing could fall apart. Something different really is about to happen.

Where did the idea for Titled come from?

It came from an interview that I read with one of my theatre idols, Tim Etchells. The interviewer asked the question, if there was a contract between audience and performer what would it be or what would that look like. And then I just decided to take that really literally.

What shows have been exciting you lately?

What I have been doing recently is turning my house into a theatre for a series called the Somewhere Series. I have been inviting people to do a show, and it happens once a month. The last one I did was really great. My friend Josh Rutter did a piece where he used a smoke machine to think.

What’s the most important lesson life has taught you?

Maybe the most important lesson is yet to come. Life is a mess, I don’t understand it. It’s confusing. It makes no sense to me. That’s why I make the kind of work I do. I don’t like work that is too neat or is tied up in a bow. Life’s such a chaotic mess. A hot mess!

Speaking of hot messes, how would you define creativity?

I would define it as a medium to small sized wild animal…. Maybe a panther with wings on a gold leash.

Favourite album?

It changes from time to time. Lately I’ve been listening to Sun Ra – Nuclear War. It’s a good album and Prince – Purple Rain.

Who would play you in the movie of your life?

I think I would cast myself because I am quite a control freak. I’m quite particular about how I come across to people so I’d be afraid that someone would get it wrong. And there’s not many roles for Indian women in their thirties at the moment so I’d be quite pissed off if somebody else got that role.

What do you like best about collaboration?

This is going to be really earnest, but what I like best about artistic collaboration is you’re making a play, but what you’re really doing is making a contract, a pact to take care of each other. You might have a difficult time, but you’ll always end up closer than you were before. It’s a really special thing to do.

What’s ON for Autumn? What’s next?

I’m making a show with Indian Ink theatre, wearing funny teeth. Clowning around. My joke teeth will be on. The Indian Ink show is quite different to Titled. It’ll be on in Wellington in May for three weeks. I’m expecting some great company.

What’s off?

O M G so much… John Key.


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