Anders Falstie-Jensen is one third of the junta running The Rebel Alliance, an independent theatre company about to present a revival of their first production, The Orderly, in Auckland and then Upper Hutt. The play is written and performed by Michael Downey and directed by Falstie-Jensen. RENEE LIANG caught up with Anders recently to talk about the dark art of directing, writing and reviving plays.

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R: So how are the rehearsals going?

A: Good. Really good. We’ve done some really good work over the last week. It’s all really solid. We got the real sword today, which was good, and the costume.

R: Sword?

A: Yes, well the play’s about a hospital orderly who is also a Viking reenacter on the weekend so there’s a real sword, and a helmet…

R: Riiight.

A: The script has really come together over the last two weeks so we’ve basically just been doing a lot of detailing, like ‘what’s the best word here “You know” or “but”’. It’s been good to get into that amount of detail. Or we might just be incredibly anal.

R: Sounds luxurious actually…

A: Guess it is. Because we’re both happy with the script by now, so we can afford the time to do that. Still there are technical issues: Mike is a terrible bedmaker. Terrible!

R: Does he need intensive training? I could offer a certain house…

A: It won’t help. He's talked to a nurse, downloaded stuff from the net… you name it. It’s the hospital corners that make it all tricky. But we’ve written our way out of it. Peter has just become a really bad bedmaker. Guess it’s the advantage of having the writer in the room.

R: So, could you take me through the process of developing The Orderly?

A: Well, The Orderly started back in 2005 as a solo show Mike had been developing as part of his MA in Drama. Back then it was called The Battle of Maldon, which is the title of the poem that runs through the play. Mike asked me if I wanted to direct it and I said sure. Back then it was much shorter and completely different. Mike didn’t play multiple characters, there was no sword and the play was around 30 minutes.

So I directed it back then and it went really well and I thought that that would be it. But then Mike took it to STAMP and asked if it could be part of the programme. They said yes so he asked me if I wanted to help him rework it and direct it. So we began quite an intensive rework. I was really interested in getting Mike to play other characters in the play so we improvised a lot, trying to find characters.

We found some really cool ones but struggled with fitting them into the script. Fortunately our set designer, Rachael Walker, came up with some neat ideas for the design that made it possible for the characters we so desperately wanted to bring on stage, to enter in a natural way. So the design helped immensely in the writing of the play.

Since then we’ve pretty much been trying to figure out what works and what doesn’t – and most importantly trying to figure out what the play is about. And I think we have, now. But it’s taken us two years.

R: Tell me a bit about how you and Mike work together. You’re still friends after all this time…

A: In rehearsals Mike and I are very open with each other. I can say “I think that’s a really bad idea” and he can say “that’s appalling direction” and we’re both cool with that. So if we disagree we have to find some way to make things work for the both of us. And for the story of course. Because that’s ultimately what we want to do, tell a kick-ass story.

A lot of the story development has come out of doing the seasons we’ve done. Two in Auckland and one in Wellington and the adaptation for radio. There’s always a lot of feedback after a season. Both from audiences and from reviewers and we try to take them on board, if we agree with them.

So to sum up, The Orderly that we're doing next week is the ultimate director’s/writer’s cut of the play. It’s The Orderly redux.

R: So, worth going to see... even if someone has seen it before? Does it take in new themes, has it been deepened as well as with the extra characters?

A: It’d be like being back in 1977 and saying “That film Star Wars... it looks okay... but I’d rather stay home and continue to learn playing the oboe.”

R: I knew we wouldn’t be able to get through this without a Star Wars reference...

A: I think people that have seen it before would enjoy seeing it again. When we did it in 2006 it was more of a portrait. Now it’s a story with a great lead character who is very unique. As for themes… yes, it has deepened there – simply because we know what the story is about but also because having the opportunity to keep on developing the play has allowed us to develop the characters.

R: Can you talk a bit more about Peter, the lead character who is based on a real-life person, and his connection to Mike?

A: Yes, Mike used to work as an orderly at North Shore hospital and that’s where he met Peter. They worked together and there was something about Peter that just... well... intrigued Mike. For example, he once told Mike that he collected all these weapons “swords, axes you name it. So if you need to get rid of anyone you don’t like... I’m your man.”

That bit is now in the play. But at the time Mike just didn’t know what to think.

I guess what really appeals about Peter is that he’s a warrior. He was really sick with cystic fibrosis, his voice was fucked but he still donned the armour on the weekends and did what he loved the most. Being a Viking warrior. So he had a lot of passion for what he did.

R: Is that the really compelling part about the piece? Is that what’s driven its journey from character study to narrative?

A: Basically he was fighting a losing battle against his body but kept fighting to the bitter end.

R: Did Peter know that Mike was writing a play about him?

A: No. Peter died in 2003. The first beginnings of The Orderly came out in a writing workshop in 2004 I think. Guess Mike always had him in the back of his head.

R: We are like that as writers aren’t we… always trying to listen to the voices in the back of our heads – they are useful voices, and sometimes real people get in there too.

Tell me a bit about your own writing practice.

A: Arh... ummm. Well I quite like to just sit down and start writing without any ideas. Just the blank page. And then see what happens, find a solid concept or image or idea or central scene, then build outwards from there.

R: What have you written?

A: Well in English, I’ve written one and a half plays. I wrote the second part of A Night of French Mayhem and then I wrote The Bomb. I am also working on something about the apocalypse.

R: You don’t act in your plays, I’ve noticed. You’re more often the director, while Mike, who also writes, prefers to act rather than direct.

A: Heh, I’d love to be an actor... I’m just not very good at it! And I do like to direct. It’s like being a kid again and getting to choose what we are all going to play.

I always thought that there was some kind of secret directing skill that you needed to have. That you needed to know all these theories of drama and shit like that. But basically it’s just about common sense, well for me anyway. And to be good at working with other people. I mean, you know when you’re bored or when something you’re looking at isn’t working. And then it’s just about figuring out a way to make it work.

R: Tell me a bit about The Rebel Alliance. It was started by you, Mike (Downey) and Catherine (Nola). Who’s Catherine?

A: Catherine is my partner. She’s like a sexy supercomputer. She’s incredibly logical and is really good at cutting straight to the heart of things. She came in and saw a run of The Orderly last week and said, “This works, that works and that works. I don’t understand that that and that. Why don’t you do like this.” She’s pretty amazing.

R: So what gave you the idea of starting a new theatre company back in 2006?

A: Well, it was because we wanted to present The Orderly. Basically we had ideas and plays we really wanted to do and the only way to do that was if we did it ourselves, hence the company.

R: How do you go about the business of starting a new theatre company? It’s not the kind of thing that seems simple…

A: There is a lot of practical stuff you do, like find a name, register it, get an IRD number, stuff like that. But it was a lot easier to set up than I thought it would be.

R: So you three are the core, and then you have a group of actors and set designers, lighting guys etc who you often work with…

A: Yes.

R: So what’s next after The Orderly?

A: A play called Grace by a local playwright, Sophie Dingemans. It has all the usual ingredients of good drama, faked death, love, fidelity, politics and lots of tea.

R: Thanks Anders! Looking forward to seeing both plays!