Caro Meets Theatre Interview

Eli Kent: All Your Wants And Needs Fulfilled Forever

By | Published on Thursday 25 February 2016


Acclaimed New Zealand theatre makers The Playground Collective head to London’s Vault Festival next week with their award winning piece, ‘All Your Wants And Needs Fulfilled Forever’. It’s a funny but emotionally charged piece that does some significant damage to the fourth wall during its portrayal of a young man dealing with bereavement.
To find out more about the show, and the creative force behind it, I put some questions to writer and performer Eli Kent.

CM: Tell us about ‘All Your Wants and Needs Fulfilled Forever’ – what is the basic premise?
EK: A pop culture junky called Simon Simon is failing to deal with the recent death of his father when he receives a mysterious box that sends him on a potentially dangerous vision quest. Meanwhile a light bulb with a Stephen Hawking-esque robot voice and its team of scientists work to manipulate Simon’s story to a satisfying conclusion.

CM: It’s described as a comedy, but does it have serious points to make?
EK: Yes, at its heart it’s a very human story about grief. It’s also about self-centeredness VS empathy. About how hard it can be to step outside of oneself and truly engage with reality.

CM: What inspired this play, and what made you go for the play-within-a-play concept?
EK: Well, we wanted to investigate story, and how story influences our sense of self-worth. For example, the fact that the majority of stories told in the world are about white male protagonists either getting, or failing to get what they want. This means that white men in general have an exaggerated sense of themselves as protagonists in their own stories.

When you’re looking at these sort of narrative norms that inform our lives you inevitably end up in the realm of the meta. You need to look at the frame that holds the painting.

CM: You appear in the show, don’t you, as well as having written it? Was that always your intention? Did you write the role with yourself in mind?
EK: No, actually. Generally, I think it’s best for the writer in a devised process to stand outside the show, so as to be unbiased. And also just because writing as you devise is a very big job in and of itself.

The reason the role is called Simon Simon, is because it was originally written for a friend whose name is Simon Leary and who was in the first production of the show. Unfortunately he couldn’t come with us to new York, so I stepped in. And now it’s too much fun and I wouldn’t want to give the role to anyone else!

Due to me being the writer though, there were elements of myself in there already, such as details concerning the death of my father. So it’s still a very personal role for me, despite having been played by somebody else originally.

CM: Do playwriting and acting go hand-in-hand for you? Or do you prefer one over the other?
EK: I’ve definitely fallen more towards writing as time has moved on. I never trained as an actor and I know so many amazing actors that I’m never my first choice. But I love acting. Especially in front of a crowd. And to me, writing and acting are very closely related. It all comes back to play. When you’re a little kid using your imagination to create worlds and characters, you’re both the story teller and the performer. That’s the genesis of creativity.

CM: Why does Simon Simon have pet rats? As opposed to, say, cats? Or hamsters?
EK: I’m not sure if it’s a New Zealand thing, but I’ve never known anyone to have a pet hamster. That’s something I see a lot in American film and TV that is never reflected in my life. I’ve known a lot of rat owners though. To me a rat owner is a very specific type of person. It says a lot about Simon that he owns rats, I think.

Also rats, or lab rats specifically, have a very significant thematic role to play in the story. But no spoilers.

CM: Did you always see yourself having this kind of a career? Were you always headed towards theatre? How did it all begin?
EK: I’ve always been a storyteller. And I was lucky enough to have that nurtured in me when I was little, so I’ve always been overly confident in that aspect of myself.

I’m also not any good at anything else. If this doesn’t work out for me I’m so f’d.

CM: Where do you see your career going from here? What else do you want to accomplish?
EK: I’m moving into screen work. There are a few big projects in the early stages of development, but I also have a film company called Second Captain that I created with my friend Leon Wadham. We’re just finishing up on our second short film which we co-wrote and directed together.

That’s really where I hope the future leads me.

CM: Have you spent time in London before? Other than performing, what will you get up to while you are here?
EK: I’ve been to London twice before but this time I’m the least prepared I’ve ever been. I’m kind of going to have to take each day as it comes. I’m travelling with a big group of people so I’ll probably just be a massive sheep and let them make all the decisions for me.

‘All Your Wants And Needs Fulfilled Forever’ is on at Vault Festival from 2-6 Mar, see this page here for info and to book tickets.