Exploring possibilities

New Zealand actor and playwright Arthur Meek as Richard Meros.  Photo by Goldthrope Creative.
New Zealand actor and playwright Arthur Meek as Richard Meros. Photo by Goldthrope Creative.

New Zealand Young Writers Festival guest Arthur Meek is aiming for the very top, writes Tom McKinlay.

It's an uncomfortable premise, yet sheathed in a layer of wilful naivete audiences have warmed to the humour.

Both here and in New York.

The comedy with the unlikely title of On The Conditions & Possibilities Of Hillary Clinton Taking Me As Her Young Lover, as performed by New Zealand playwright and actor Arthur Meek, recently made ''The Approval Matrix'' of New York magazine during an extended season in the city at La Mama Experimental Theatre.

It appeared in the lowbrow yet brilliant quarter of the matrix, sitting a few column centimetres from celebrated satirist Jon Stewart.

It was a cultural high point, Meek says, on the phone from Wellington, between coughing fits, where he's been for a month or so, back from conquering America.

Next up is a visit to Dunedin, where he will perform the play as part of next month's inaugural New Zealand Young Writers Festival.

If the title of his play rings a bell it is probably because Meek took New Zealand before Manhattan, amusing audiences down under with On The Conditions & Possibilities Of Helen Clark Taking Me As Her Young Lover back in 2008, shortly before she was knocked from the prime ministerial perch.

Since then he has been making every post a winner, picking up a Michael King summer residency and the Bruce Mason Playwriting Award in 2011, a New York residency in 2012 and having two plays performed in New York the following year at the United Solo Festival.

Then with the former first lady declaring herself ready to lead the free world, it was time to unleash Richard Meros, BA, the would-be young lover, on a bigger stage.

In the one-man play, Meek, as Meros, employs a PowerPoint presentation to prove, ''step by barkingly-logical step, that Hillary Clinton not only wants a young lover, but needs one to initiate a golden age of American culture and society. Furthermore, the only possible candidate for this coveted position is, by rational necessity, him.''

It's important to point out here that, writer though he is, Meek, together with Geoff Pinfield, adapted the play from a book by the pseudonymous scribe Richard Meros, who has also authored, among other titles, Richard Meros salutes the Southern Man.

It is then, the sort of humour that might not have translated from one cultural setting to another. But it did.

''Ah, look the Flight of the Conchords is massive over there; they love New Zealanders,'' Meek offers by way of explanation.

''It is basically Richard Meros, an overeducated underachieving dude making a heap of presumptions about the US and the people who are watching it, and they love it.''

As is typical of the shape-shifting Meek, the production defies neat boxing.

''It is basically somewhere between stand-up comedy and theatre, the best of both those things,'' he says.

Northern Ireland-born Meek got his start in the world of drama in Dunedin, while studying at the University of Otago, finding success in the Mothra film competition with titles such as Being John Campbell.

Returning to Wellington he completed a bachelor of performing arts at Toi Whakaari, the New Zealand Drama School.

He is now as comfortable on stage as off, in front of the camera or behind, reading someone else's lines or putting his words in other people's mouths.

''I struggle to say what I am now but I just kind of keep tracking and sometimes I wind up on stage, like I'm going to in Dunedin, performing, and sometimes I wind up sitting in a room by myself typing away; it could be in a group with other people. I am just kind of surfing it at the moment and taking it to some interesting places.''

• Writing, he concedes, is probably a strong suit though. The second of his two appearances at the festival is taking a ''re-wrighting'' workshop.

''I don't think that writing is just sitting by yourself in a room. There is a lot of that. But actually, I say I put words in people's mouths; I think that's what a lot of writers do, unless you are a novelist or something, and my skill, I guess, is helping people shape those words to come out of people's mouths ... So that's one of the things I am going to be doing in the workshop ... having a chat to people about exploring some cool new ways of challenging what writing is, in order to unlock those great ideas and make them sing.

''It is all writing and my workshop is spelt with a `ght' and that is because it is like being a shipwright or something; it is a real craft that requires a bunch of tools. That's why I am hoping that people - they might be songwriters, they might be poets, they might be theatre writers - I hope they all come along to this workshop because it has got stuff in it for them.

''There are no boundaries anymore - whether it is theatre, film, stand-up, it has all just collapsed and it is an exciting time to be writing for that.''

Exciting also as a result of the opportunities opened up for young talent by new media, Meek says.

He is quick to dismiss the suggestion that all those voices, furiously posting and uploading, might make it difficult for anyone to be heard.

''No, that's not a problem. I think these kind of festivals are great. That's exactly what it is: it is a beautiful room where everybody gets to speak and be heard by people who are interested in the same things they are. There's absolutely no down-side to it.

''Everybody has always had to have something unique, I guess, to be heard on certain level. We spend as human beings ... about 60 or 70% of our day engaged in discovering stories in all the different media.

"Whether you are watching the news, whether you are watching TV stuff, whether you are gossiping with friends, we love story and there's basically an insatiable appetite for it.

"So the greater mechanisation and the greater ease of things is just going to give people more time to engage with them and enjoy story.''

After Dunedin, it is back to the US to tour Hillary Clinton.

So what chance does Richard Meros stand?

Helen Clark was unmoved, and subsequently lost the 2008 election, the very thing Meros hoped their liaison would head off.

Hillary presents as a higher mountain to climb, but Meek says that's the genius of it: her power provides the perfect platform for Meros' ambitions to make the world a better place.

''It is a much better focus for his affections really, and that's why it has been so successful, I think.''

As Meros declares in a clip on the Arthur Meek website: ''Everyday champions need a concubine and I would like to be that concubine.''


The festival

• The inaugural New Zealand Young Writers Festival runs from June 4-7, produced by the Dunedin Fringe Arts Trust.

• The festival brings together writers and editors with backgrounds in television, journalism, magazines, theatre, radio and blogs.

• All events over the four days are free and include workshops, performances, panel discussions and a spelling bee competition.

• The festival has been supported by Unesco and Phantom Billstickers.

• Festival website youngwritersfest.nz.

• Arthur Meek (above) performs On The Conditions & Possibilities Of Hillary Clinton Taking Me As Her Young Lover at Fortune Theatre, Friday, June 5, at 7.30pm.

• The workshop ''Re-Wrighting with Arthur Meek'' is at the Otago Pioneer Women's Hall, noon-2pm Friday, June 5. Registration required.


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