Five Questions with Jo Randerson

2 October 2020

Jo Randerson is a writer, director and performer based in Pōneke. She will be presenting a theatrical lecture Secret Art Powers at literary Festival Verb Wellington. She tells us what to expect from this event, as well as the place of soft powers in parenting.

Tell us a little bit about ‘Secret Art Powers.’ Who do you think would benefit most from this event?

I believe people who work in the arts world will enjoy this, or people who support the arts, or are curious about why we should support the arts, or even if they think arts funding is a waste of time and it should all go straight to sports or community service – they will enjoy this too. Some may be surprised by the radical politics. I think we talk a lot about how great the arts are, but really – why are they so great? I don’t think it’s because they are beautiful, and anyway how do you define ‘beautiful’? This is a subjective, personal decision. For a while there, we had a word ‘excellence’ which was a determiner of arts funding… but excellent at what? Upholding tradition? Challenging status quo? Honouring lived experience? Confusing the issue? All of these can be excellent.

You've described ‘Secret Art Powers’ as a theatrical lecture. What can audiences expect from this medium?

My mum was a teacher and I have long been interested in how the arts can communicate complex information in an accessible way. Audiences should expect a disrupted TED talk – one that uses this well-known format but challenges conventional thinking. Also there should be some good gags, plus my Mum and Dad on stage – and maybe this will be linked since my Mum is so cool she doesn’t want a rehearsal, she just wants to roll it live. And the super-skilled Charley Draper is doing visuals.

Jo Randerson Soft n Hard.jpg

Jo Randerson and Thomas LaHood in Soft 'n' Hard. Image: Owen McCarthy.

What is your secret art power, or do you have many? Can you describe a time that you’ve had to use it in an unexpected place?

I have many secret art powers, which I have developed over the years by watching and learning from incredible people around me – activists, artists, teachers, children, social workers. Theses powers were discerned slowly and never taught directly – you could describe them as ‘soft powers’ (in a world which often prioritises ‘hard powers’). I use these powers all the time – parenting is one good example, where reversing (saying the opposite of what you intend) can be useful with oppositional children. For example – ‘definitely don’t eat that food’ is what I say to my nine year old son when I want him to finish his dinner, and it works. Our world has drifted towards the literal and the arts are not literal, which is one of the reasons why they are so powerful.

Covid-19 has disrupted the production and delivery of the arts in so many ways. Which developments do you think (or hope) are here to stay?

I hope we will keep focussing more on local activity, supporting local art work and artists in the place where they live – being hyper-local. Touring, international connectivity and exchange is important, but I think overseas travel has become too easy and resulted in a disconnected way of living where we don’t always see, support and celebrate what is around us, especially in Aotearoa where we can favour work and thinking from the Northern Hemisphere over our own. Live work has become more precious during this Covid-19 time, and I am enjoying how intimate and special actual (non-digital) connection with people and artworks is feeling – audiences are seeming very grateful and appreciative at being in live time and space with art.

What’s an event you’re looking forward to in the next few months?

I am looking forward to the first noho marae of the year with Te Wānanga o Aotearoa as we haven’t been able to have one this year. Learning is hard on Zoom! But our kaiako have been amazing. Kanohi ki te kanohi!

Secret Art Powers by Jo Randerson at 1:30pm on Saturday 7th November is on sale now.