interviewed | multi-talented Director Leo Gene Peters

Santa Claus is coming to town, literally. Santa Claus is the Basement Theatre’s ninth annual Christmas show, and it’s coming to Auckland from Thursday 30th November to Wednesday 20th December. The show is directed by Leo Gene Peters, director of the award winning independent theatre company A Slightly Isolated Dog. Over the last few years, A Slightly Isolated Dog has been exploring how to make a theatre experience truly alive, by removing all barriers between the audience and performers, and this will be evident in Santa Claus.

The annual Christmas show will include the usual host of secret celebrity guests. Team this with Leo Gene Peters’ raucous, sexy, signature style, and this is a show not to be missed.

I chat to Leo, who has worked as a professional director, designer, technician, actor, tutor, facilitator and mentor, to find out more about the show, his career and how he likes to celebrate.

Q: From your point of view, what is the Christmas show Santa Claus about?

A: The show is a celebration of our ridiculous lives, especially the way we build up expectations around Christmas (and our lives in general) and how the real events rarely ever live up to our expectations… it’s a party that celebrates the childhood magic and the adult disappointment of Christmas… it’s a chaotic romp through the Christmas fantasy into the Christmas nightmare.

Q: Should the audience be worried if they haven’t been good this year?

A: No… well, I mean judgement is coming, Santa sees all. He knows when you’re sleeping, and he knows when you’re awake and he’s definitely coming… but I wouldn’t worry about it…

Q: Tell us a little more about the cast of the show…

A: They’re a great group of performers, really charming and very sexy and very funny… and very French.

Q: How have you explored removing barriers between the audience and performers for this Christmas show?

A: We tell the story with you, so the audience is always a part of what we do… we like there to be no barriers. Even with that, some people just watch the shows, some people play with us a bit… we do our best to make sure everyone has the best possible time. We want you to do what you want and have a great time out.

Q: Can you tell us more about using transformational venue experiences, integration of popular culture and interactivity? Are you doing this again for Santa Claus?

A: We love to play make-believe, then create something together and all buy into a story and tell it together in an exciting and entertaining way. This is something that is inherently in us as human beings, it’s why all the storytelling forms exist, we need to dream and exercise our imaginations. We like to play the way we did when we were kids, to make magic happen by turning one place or object into another. There are very few places for us to do this together and we believe the theatre is a crucial place for this to happen.

Q: What has been a key highlight (so far) in creating and directing the show?

A: We spend a lot of time making each other laugh at ridiculous offers for the show… but I’m enjoying most all the stories of our family Christmases that we’ve been telling/hearing in the making process. It’s such a lovely process to reflect in this way and see other people’s experiences of Christmas, whether they’re good or bad, whether they like it or hate… we celebrate them all.

Q: What do you want the audience to feel/experience/get from the show?

A: A great night out that is different from any other great night out… we want people to come and feel sexy and laugh and have a party that celebrates our ridiculous lives.

Q: What would be your best piece of advice to give to the audience before they attend the show?

A: Meet up with friends, have a meal and some drinks, chat about your Christmas plans with them, tell stories to each other… and come to the theatre expecting to have a great time. We will do everything in our power to make you look as good as possible and to have a great time.

Q: How will you celebrate once the show has finished?

A: Probably Christmas with close friends (surrogate family). A lot of food and a lot of drinks. Once the show opens we may have a few drinks as well…

Q: How does Santa Claus compare to previous shows you have done with your theatre company?

A: It’s delightful to be partnering with Basement to create it – we love working in Auckland and especially with Basement. They’ve created a great energy and community in the venue. The show itself is similar in a lot of ways, but very much its own beast… it’s been different to plays with such well known mythology and cultural events that so many people have a strong relationship to.

Q: What do you have planned for A Slightly Isolated Dog, after the huge Santa Clause show? Will you have a break or are you straight back into planning for another project?

A: We’re always planning for upcoming projects… but we’ll have a bit of a break for the holidays for sure. We’ve got a project coming up for CubaDupa in Wellington that we’re really excited about, as well as a national tour of Jekyll & Hyde. And there are a number of other projects in development.

Q: You have worked in many areas – directing, designing, acting, tutoring, mentoring and much more. How do you manage your time? Does the workload ever get too stressful? How do you like to unwind?

A: I try to make sure there is enough time to work through all the projects that I’ve got going at once, but sometimes I just work a lot of hours to get everything done… other times it feels like I do very little… The workload can be stressful, I try to keep up good practices in my life… I try to meditate, I run quite a bit and I’ve been doing Wing Tsun Kung Fu for a number of years as well. And I also enjoy drinking, which is useful…

Q: If you had to choose just one of the above professions to do full time for the rest of your life (you couldn’t do anything else), which would it be and why?

A: I’d direct/create new theatre… It’s a place for us to come together and share our loneliness. To celebrate all the ridiculous and beautiful things about life – to build community through reflection and imagination. It’s an amazing thing to be a part of. It’s amazing to be with a thriving audience in that way.

Q: Random question – what is your favourite food if you had to choose one item or dish?

A: Tricky… Cochinita Pibil.

Q: What’s your best piece of advice for the aspiring directors out there?

A: Question the purpose of what you want to make. I think it should be for a bigger reason then wanting people to tell us that we’re good. What are you trying to create in the community? Why should we come together for some event that you want to make? These questions seem crucial, but I don’t think they’re often really examined.

The Basement Christmas Show has evolved from a low-key fundraiser, to one of Auckland’s must-do Christmas offerings. The show sells out every year, so don’t miss it. You can get tickets from $32 to $50 on iTicket.