Built in 1912, Devonport’s Victoria Theatre was famously (and blessedly) saved from developer demolition by a team of team of theatre, art, history and community enthusiasts, in the early 2000s. These days known as The Vic, it’s a brilliant place to see movies, live theatre and intimate music gigs – making it an ideal venue for what will be happening there over the weekend of May 10/11 this year, when Fledge will come to town.
Artist and impresario Tony Piggott is staging a two-day ‘de-constructed film thing’ – an artistic event, an embryonic festival, a happening – based around a two-hourly repeated live pre-production of a script he has written/is writing. Midday-to-midnight each day, audiences will be welcomed to witness the live development of his screen play, rather worryingly titled ‘Giving Up’, and given the chance to join in the fun, one way or another. A bunch of Christchurch musos will provide the musical backing.
It’s tricky to explain in print because it’s conceptual – even the artist himself struggles to pinpoint the exact nature of the audience experience.
“Audiences can come and see a one and a half hour show, that will be staged every two hours. It will inevitably differ and may well tighten, but will also be fun and entertaining for us, as well as the audience.
“It’s not a play, it is a de-constructed film. It is an art experience, art in the full sense of the word because it is in a theatrical sense and a musical sense. But it’s not a musical. The music is a soundtrack and the players will perform and the music will ride under and be highlighted, as it is in film.
“It’s working with the elements that will become the film, so if you come along and see it you will see this film in progress – but it is a finished piece in itself, being an unfinished de-construction of the elements that go together. I can guarantee two things: you will be entertained and you will be inspired.”
NZ Music Month can always do with something new and inspirational and with The Vic’s three theatre areas all likely to be used, it could well prove a highlight of the month. Everything else apart, it will provide Auckland audiences with a first chance to rub shoulders with the curiously Christchurch phenomenon known as Fledge, the loose collective of like-minded musical/artistic performers headed up by Piggott, former Zed- and Atlas-member Ben Campbell, and NZ’s own Icelandic pop star, Hera Hjartardottir. Fledge musicians will provide the live music backing.
If the ‘Giving Up’ performances are hard to explain, the now four-year old Fledge is every bit as amorphous. Explaining it takes Piggott back to 2006, when he left NZ and his extremely successful Auckland corporate events company, Mad Ant Productions. Having roved around the world for a period, when living in Shanghai four years ago he found himself “incredibly dislocated and needing to reconnect with NZ, realising, as he says, he wanted to live and die here.
“On a visit back I caught up with Ben [Campbell] who is an old friend. I was wanting to merge music and art and we talked about that. I became the focus, I suppose, for him to then bring a group of people together, and we looked for interesting environments.”
Fledge originated as a four-way collaboration, which lasted about two years before Fledge (by name) was really conceived and established. Over the last four years those involved have focused on 8- or 10-day sessions of intensive creative freedom every two months, get-togethers with a come-if-you-can and bring-your-creativity theme. Many of the sessions have been at Campbell’s place in Sumner, his garage converted into a live room with stage, PA and seats, the pathways lined with art and sculpture.
“A Fledge session generally involves me putting ideas up on the wall in sketch form and others picking up on those, Piggott explains. “It’s on the premise that art and music go together really well. Ideas have been generated out of that, and over 200 hours of music has been recorded. It’s all traceable as to whose ideas they are from the sessions. Moses Robbins is one of the key members of the Fledge and undoubtedly one of NZ’s finest lyricists and we’ve captured some magic songs that have been written in those jam sessions. The music is very filmic which inspired me to use some of those songs [in ‘Giving Up’].
“It’s a really good environment and some beautiful things happen. Our attitude has been to make hay while the sun shines. We had the space and created those environments and captured all that stuff. But we didn’t try to finish it or get it right at the time.
“A really exciting thing from my perspective, is that you may not have heard of it yet but you will continue to hear of Fledge for 50 years ’cos there’s 50 years worth of content there which, over time, will start to come out. Credit for that goes to Ben Campbell who is really driven. There is more live music happening in Christchurch than there is in Auckland, it’s everywhere, and they are really looking to find ways to fill those vacant spaces with stuff.”
These days Tony Piggott seems always to have a sketch book in his hands or tucked under his arm. He is honing his sketching and drawing skills as part of his film-making journey. Today he also has some paper facemasks, previously used at a Fledge sessions, inside one of which he had written.
“The objective we set ourselves is to exhibit the process of creation, not just the end result, in and environment that encourages participation. That’s what Fledge is about, creating an environment where creation can happen in collaboration, where ideas are shared and no idea is silly.”
So how does Fledge survive financially? Staging any scale of event costs money and there’s the inevitable admin, presently handled by Hera.
“It doesn’t”, Piggott laughs quietly. “Look, I guess I have done it up until now for my own development because it is really hard to convince others to contribute to our having a good time! That’s why a lot of people have brought their energy, resources. Of course it takes money and I have invested quite a lot into it, but I see that as an investment in myself actually, and that’s the thing about Fledge, you bring what you can.
“Hera is working for basically nothing, though we have recently got a Creative NZ grant and there was an Artbeat grant earlier to help pay for her administration work.
“We have [deliberately] kept it small to date. Our intention is to expand it but it’s hard to think about expansion when you are in survival mode, as we have been to this point. Now is the right time to start developing some of those things. I would like to repeat this next year. I see the opportunity for it to be a festival – 48 hours of music and art combining. This year is about creating a platform that can be further developed. As Ben and I discussed at the start, this [Fledge] is not something we do until it achieves success, we will be involved in it until we die.”