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Artist Spotlight: Stephen Bain

Stephen Bain is a Aotearoa performance maker. He has directed and designed many original plays and performances since the early 1990s. Recently he has been creating public-space performances including audio interventions, theatrical shows and interactive installations, presented in Western European countries and throughout New Zealand. He lives in Tāmaki Makaurau: Auckland where he is working on community projects and public space performances, he holds a PhD from the University of Tasmania based on his research into public space as a site for tactical fiction to unsettle the political dynamics of space.

Thanks so much for joining us for this mini-interview, with or without disguise, Stephen! Can you tell us about your background, the place you come from, the people you come from, and anything else you'd like to share?


Kia ora, thanks for inviting me to be part of PA24, it’s a pleasure to see how the event grows and shifts over time. This is my second time participating (last year I presented The Floating Theatre with my company of collaborators). I’ve also participated as an audience several times over the years.


I grew up in the Wairarapa, then headed to Pōneke as a young adult to be involved in the theatre scene and eventually found my place in the experimental arts scene working with musicians, dancers, and performance makers. Tāmaki Makaurau is now home and my web of collaborators and influencers criss-cross the planet. 


Tell us about The Drifting Room, your piece for PA 2024.


The Drifting Room is part of a series where we turn to look at the city around us as a kind of magical performance going on all the time, whether or not we’re watching. The small box we carry between us is a way of framing the theatre of everyday life, recognising a tradition of ‘drifting’ that artists have been employing for decades: moving through the city without a destination in mind, inviting new interpretations to familiar places. Every drift is different, depending on who is coming along for the ride and what’s happening in the world around us.

How do you see, imagine or dream this work interacting with Te Whanganui-a-Tara, the waterfront, the harbour and the sky?


As a teenager I listened to a lot of music on my headphones wandering around looking at things. Eventually I realised I could take off the headset and listen to things in the street too, without losing that inner curiosity. When we let go of the destination, the journey becomes endlessly fascinating.


How about the people... Who is your piece for?


When people are curious they see new potential in themselves and their surroundings, when we lose curiosity we think everything around us is boring. Imagine a world where optimism is abundant, we can imagine better ways of living, and just maybe we can start implementing them.

"Are you the reader, or the writer, or both?" 


In a recent PA wānanga you shared that in the Drifting Room participants both initiate the narratives of the work and become those narratives.  Can you speak more about this?


It Is. Is It? It It It It It It.

Are you the reader, or the writer, or both?


In your works you draw on your skill sets as performer, puppeteer, writer, arts organizer, academic, musician, and so many other things. Your work in PA2022, The Floating Theatre, combined storytelling, live theatre, cabaret, puppetry -- including shadow puppetry, live music, and spectacle on a theatre that 'floated' on the water of Whairepo Lagoon. Can you talk about the toolkit, or put differently, methodologies, that you use to create your works?


I like to cook. I usually don’t follow a recipe, I start by looking at what’s in the fridge and imagine them having a party in my mouth. My friends introduce me to tastes, sounds, colours, words, thoughts, ways of moving, I try them out for myself then present them back to them in a way that they might find useful. When we eat together we bring wine to the table. We pass around the salt. We chop it all up and eat everything even when there is too much spice. Afterwards we sit around and talk about things that we’ve been doing or thinking. 


Stephen Bain's The Drifting Room.

What is performance art? In three words! 


One. Two. Three.


If your piece in PA2024 could get your audience thinking about or feeling one thing, what would it be?


Situations consist of a place and an action, what you make of it is up to you. 

"One. Two. Three."


In 2024 the Performance Arcade is being guided by the phrase Mātiro Whakamaua, which was gifted to us by Charles Koroneho. How does The Drifting Room connect with Mātiro Whakamua? 


The theme of the festival holds a frame up to the many perspectives presented by individual artists. Wandering through the arcade today I bring my own frame of reference too, opening my senses to the weird vibrations, smoky atmospheres, groupings of people, that invite some sort of response, it’s a two-way experience. A performance is the opening line of a dialogue, if there’s no response it’s a monologue. The Drifting Room is a starting point for different frames of reference, we make little offers, we listen to what comes back, we make more offers, what comes back may surprise us. 

If your piece in PA2024 could make one change to our current horizon line, temporal, spatial, spiritual, what would it be? 

I like to go to cafes on my own and listen to the conversation of the people next to me. When I read in the news that there is a terrible war raging, I can’t help but look at people in my own neighbourhood differently.

When I walk into the bank with cash in my hands the teller looks at me strangely and asks me “why did you come here?”

 "For one of my first ever jobs, I had to become a dog."

A friend tells me that when he goes to work, he feels like he is somebody else.

People who want to give you something are often looking for something in return.

Everything you inherit will eventually be given to someone else.

One person’s holiday is another person’s time and a half.

For one of my first ever jobs, I had to become a dog.

If you are worried that people don’t know what you are doing, sit down. They will see that you are sitting down and feel more at ease.

All the houses I have lived in are mixed up in my mind. Sometimes I wonder which ones really existed and which were from my dreams.

My friend took me to a hilltop to see the view, when we got there I said “woooooow”, they seemed happy with that.


Stephen Bain's The Drifting Room is on from February 22 - 25, at various times. Tours leave The Performance Arcade site on the hour. For bookings, see:


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