New Zealand can be a confused place. We’re proud because of our background of hard working men, we’re proud because we were the first country to give women the vote, we’re proud because we stood up to America over the nukes. But we’re not really that country any more. We still sell ourselves as 100% Pure (questionable) and we still pride ourselves for being a fairly great place to bring up your kids (slipping) but in many ways we’ve changed a lot.
When did that start to happen? When did the voice of the people stop counting to those in power? Have we always just shrugged our shoulders and said ‘I don’t know’ or ‘I don’t care’ when faced with issues that impact on our day to day lives?
The ‘I don’t know and don’t care’ thing flummoxes me. Is it that you are lucky enough to have the luxury to legitimately not be bothered by the world around you? Or are you just stupid?
It also pulls the validity of living in a country where everyone has the right to an opinion into serious question – what’s the point if you don’t care to have one?
Which in an around about way brings me to Wild Bees. Set in the midst of one of the big union renegotiations of the early 1990s, Wild Bees is the story of one of the great turning points in our history. The point where the unions fell apart, for better or for worse (this play would say for worse).
It’s an astounding beast to watch, even more so when you acknowledge that writer, Phil Ormsby based it upon his own experiences. I found myself flitting between laughter and deep concern.
How could company directors be so very callous?
In Phil’s own words,
‘I remember talking with people at the time, saying this should be a movie, people won’t believe it.’
And yet, I personally knew nothing about it. I’m too young for one, but as I’ve said before, in New Zealand we learn everyone’s history but our own.
So I asked Phil and producer/actress Alex Ellis to fill me in a bit:
In the press release it says that it’s a period that is little talked about. You’re right. Can you give us a summary for dummies about what was happening in New Zealand politics at this time?
Purely subjective; New Zealanders elected a Labour government in 1984. This new labour government was captured by the same school of economic reformists of the Thatcher and Reagan administrations in England and USA and embarked on a series of reforms in NZ which culminated in the selling off of billions of dollars of New Zealand assets the stripping back or closing of hundreds of Government agencies and abandonment of import tariffs and the introduction of GST. By the 1990’s the country had rejected the Labour party but the newly elected National government continued the reforms and took them even further. They introduced the Employment Contracts Act which removed union influence from workplaces overnight. The total number of changes, social and political (mmp was introduced) that took place over the period 1984-94 almost without any public mandate or consultation at all is mind-boggling.
What got the ball rolling on making Wild Bees happening now? When did Phil decide on the election week date? Have any events during the election campaign made it even more/less important a time to be showing it?
Phil has been writing Wild Bees for a while now. It would come out of the drawer every six months or so, get a once over and then go back in the drawer again. It came out earlier this year and we thought we’re going to have to bite the bullet sometime so why don’t we just do it. It’s Election year, let’s do it just before the Election. It’s the perfect time to remind people that a lot of the things that are happening now happened thirty years ago as well. The current Government are selling New Zealand assets again.
The public cynicism that we see around politicians as demonstrated by the whole dirty politics debate was seeded during the eighties when the people we elected demonstrated a patronising contempt for the public and have got away with it ever since.
Why was Wild Bees a story worth telling?
PHIL: The promises and theories that drove the restructurings of the 1980’s and 90’s seem to me to have never really delivered. Yet the arguments for the changes continue. Now it seems we are all supposed to be driven by economic considerations; which so often sound more like theology than science. It’s good to remember we are people not numbers on a balance sheet.
ALEX: It’s based on a true story and it’s a piece of New Zealand History that we should all know more about. It’s funny and dramatic, has great characters and it’s a great story.
It seem like we’re now going through another ‘I can’t believe this is actually happening’ moment in New Zealand politics. How is Wild Bees relevant for New Zealanders in 2014?
It’s good to know about New Zealand History and I think a lot of New Zealanders under the age of thirty have no idea what happened with Rogernomics and the sell offs of SOE’s etc in the late 1980’s – 1990’s and what New Zealand was like before this happened. It’s relevent now because it’s good to remind ourselves that we don’t have to put up with the status quo and what is being spoon feed to us. We don’t have to give up on Politics or voting for a better country and conditions for New Zealanders and we need to fight for what we believe in.
Have there been any moments of enlightenment amongst the cast?
ALEX: I came back from living in Australia about 10 years ago. When I lived there I remember thinking it was amazing where I worked. I got paid double time for working on a Sunday and if I worked over the hours I was rostered on for I got paid extra for staying late. Doing this play and talking about it with people who lived and worked through the period made me realise we used to have that in New Zealand. We used to have weekends where you either didn’t work, or if you did you got paid extra for doing it because the working week in New Zealand was 9 – 5pm Monday to Friday. Now we are expected to be available 24/7. I can’t imagine that now.
PHIL: It was a shock to me that people in their thirties now have no memory of the kind of country that I grew up in. For a lot of us that lived through it, it was a divisive and tumultuous time and it’s so strange to me that for a lot of people now, it’s as if it never happened.
Wild Bees is fascinating. The story is strong, the cast full of fire. For 2 and a half hours (with an interval) I was rivetted, I couldn’t believe it and by the end of it, really moved.
I can see Wild Bees becoming a great story of New Zealand, part of the school curriculum even. In the mean time, it’s on at The Basement. Go on, have a look and let me know what you think?
For tickets and more details click here. It closes this Saturday.