Working on my Night Moves is the latest show from award-winning theatremaker Julia Croft and marks a philosophical change for her.
Julia Croft is one of Auckland’s most essential theatremakers at the moment. The work she makes is consistently engaging with the zeitgeist in performative, accessible ways. The difference, according to the artist herself, with Working on my Night Moves is that this is a show ‘about building something up, rather than breaking something down.’
A few days ahead of the opening of her newest show, which has been developed by both Battersea Arts Centre and The Basement Theatre, I talked to Croft about the genesis of the show and what precipitated the shift in thematic focus.
“Essentially what I was doing for a few years was to unpick the male gaze inside my own brain, inside my own subconscious, my own desires, and while that’s still of interest to me, I feel that what I’m interested in right now is exploring what a female or what a non-binary gaze might look like, because I think it’s also sitting in the shit of the patriarchy all the time, in life and in work, isn’t sustainable, emotionally.”
This is heady talk, and it’s Croft’s engagement with her material in such an unashamed but also reflective way that makes her special as a theatremaker. Over the past five years, I’ve seen all the work she’s been involved with as a core maker. I say ‘core maker’ because she works in collaboration with other makers to generate and create work.
There was If There’s Not Dancing at The Revolution, I’m Not Coming, with Virginia Frankovich. That one was a deconstruction of mainstream pop culture and the violence it perpetuates against women.
There was Boys, a collaboration with Eleanor Bishop, and part of ATC’s youth theatre programme. Both a deconstruction of Foreskin’s Lament and a response to the Chiefs assault scandal from a few years ago, it tore apart the toxic masculinity lying at the heart of our country and looked at how to fix it for the future.
There was Power Ballad, a collaboration with Nisha Madhan, who returns for Working on my Night Moves. Described as the angrier, weirder B-side to If There’s Not Dancing, it interrogated the patriarchal use of language and the way language could be used as a systemic weapon of oppression.
There was Body Double, a commission by Wellington’s BATs Theatre that also played as part of Silo’s Auckland Arta Festival programme last year. Collaborating with Eleanor Bishop and Karin McCracken, it discussed sex, sexuality and power dynamics of those who control it.
The Plastic Orgasm, a collaboration with Virginia Frankovich and a group of women, played at Eden Terrace gallery Lot23 and was an explosive, messy attack on the power of pornography in a modern world.
Most recently, Medusa played at Circa and Q Theatre, and was a collaboration between Croft, Madhan and Frankovich. This one, I have trouble describing, but I was incredibly moved by its deconstruction of traditional forms of storytelling, and how these stories keep us down as both artists and audiences.
Working on My Night Moves, produced by Zanetti Productions who has done the bulk of Croft’s work, has her longest list of collaborators yet. There’s co-creator and director Nisha Madhan, producer Lydia Zanetti, dramaturg Kate Prior, sound designers Te Aihe Butler and Jason Wright, movement advisor Sarah Foster-Sproull, lighting designer Calvin Hudson and production manager Ruby Reihana-Wilson. In an unusual, but welcome move, they’re all given named billing on the poster.
If you haven’t seen any of these shows (and honestly why haven’t you?) the thing that might surprise you is how accessible they are, despite the heady and charged themes they’re all tackling. For Croft, the accessibility appears to come naturally.
If there’s a song that makes her feel good in a moment, it’s probably something More FM would play, and if she’s going to reference a film, it probably won’t be Jim Jarmusch but Titanic, which played a big part in If There’s No Dancing. It’s these touchstones that give the work an access point for audiences, it’s flipping what we already know on its head and encouraging us to think about it deeper.
While much of her work has dealt with deconstructing and attacking patriarchal structures, Working on my Night Moves is a forward-thinking work. It’s not a response – it’s a light far flung into a potential future.
“This work came out of what feminist futurisms could look like, and I was reading things like the 13 tenets of future feminism, and a bunch of thinkers who have really developed what a feminist future could look like.
“In that way, it’s me and Nisha trying to build our own feminist futurism – our new world and what a new world could look like, and how power in the new world could be conceived of in different ways. The way that we’re doing that is taking the traditional world of theatre and building new worlds out of what’s already in the space. We’re implicating more than just my body and how my body performs, but how audience bodies perform and how objects in the theatre perform.”
It’s a decidedly more hopeful take than her previous work, even though Power Ballad ended with a triumphant sing-a-long to Annie Lennox’s ‘No More I Love Yous’, and it makes the work stand separate from the work she’s previously been involved in. The most defining characteristic of that work, other than its rejection of naturalism and conventional narrative structures, has been uplifting the voices of women and tearing down of structures that silence those voices.
“I think post-#MeToo, these conversations are happening in other forms. Not that they shouldn’t be present in art, they’re so present in our social lives and in the media, but I think that conversation is starting to be more effectual in places that aren’t theatres.
“I’m more interested in theatres being for something else, for nurturing the cracks and looking for ways to just open them a little bit more each time. It’s not just putting more women into an already existing system, it’s about trying to come up with a whole new system and part of that is practical and part of that is imaginative.”
As an artist who keeps pushing herself, and continues to engage with new, necessary conversations, there’s no question that Croft is a vital part of the New Zealand theatre scene. But it’s the quality of that work – consistently high, consistently world-class – that makes her an essential part of the theatre and arts ecosystem in this country.
Working on my Night Moves runs from March 6 – March 23 at The Basement Theatre. You can buy tickets here.