Interview: Amy Mansfield, I Didn't Invite You Here To Lecture Me

By Andra Jenkin

One of our writers sat down with Amy Mansfield, writer of I Didn’t Invite You Hear To Lecture Me, ahead of the Basement shows. Most students throw out their study notes, but not Amy. She has kept hold of them for the past 20 years--vertibiam quotes from her lectures that are too good to ever get rid of. The play was shown throughout the Auckland Fringe Week 2018, and even in some personal living rooms, the vibe is very independent and witty. 

I’m really looking forward to this play. Going through Auckland University in the 90s and 2000s.
It was a good time really. I never thought in advance that I’d be revisiting all these notes that I wrote down 20 years down the track. 

What were you studying?
I did a B.A. in English and German, and an LLB and I also did a Master’s in English. So most of the content is languages and law. But then I also sang in choirs so there’s a little bit of music in there as well from one of the characters. 

Can you remember who your English teachers were, your tutors and lecturers? 
Yeah, I remember them all. I started off in the 90s and did 5 years and had a break and went back in the 2000s. So the more recent ones are obviously a little more clear in my mind. And some of the lecturers, who are really just starting points; we’ve really taken licence with the characters rather than trying to emulate them exactly in the play. There’s all sorts really, eight different lecturers, eight different characters, who are all different lecturers. They were inspired by real people, but obviously being in a theatrical context, we’ve taken some licence. 

Would anyone be able to recognise anyone do you think, or is it clearly changed. 
When we did the show in the Auckland Fringe, certainly people had their theories about who was who. Partly to do with subject matter and the kinds of things that those people might say rather than how they were portrayed. It’s a woman who’s playing all eight characters and the characters include both men and women. She gets to really get stuck in from a dramatic point of view. 

Mika’s doing a lot isn’t she?
She is yeah. Do you know Mika?

Not personally, no. She’s an ex-litigator as well?

I imagine that brings a different dynamic to the play. 
Yeah, there’s not really a fourth wall. Because it’s set in a lecture theatre, the audience gets to be the students. So they are addressed directly throughout. Mika’s background in litigation, but she also has a background in stand-up comedy, so it’s quite a nice mix really. She really rocks it. 

That’s amazing. There’s some audience interaction too. 
It’s nothing that should scare anybody. I know for some people the very thought of it is scary, but it’s really quite low key and fun and I think it helps people to feel more like they are students rather than audience members. 

You do this in other people’s homes too. There’s an option to have this performed if you have more than twelve people at your own home. Have you done any of those yet and if so, how did that work out?
Yeah. It’s really fun. We did it in the Auckland Fringe and we are actually doing two preview performances this week at people’s houses. It actually works really well and I think there should be a lot more of that kind of thing. People just opening up their houses for the arts because it’s a really good way of keeping costs down and it’s a really good way of getting people to come to the theatre who wouldn’t necessarily go. Because you outsource the marketing to the hosts as it were. We had a great time, we did seven living rooms earlier in the year and one bookshop, and we definitely will do more of that in the future. But it’s also really nice to be at the Basement theatre this time because again, there will just be different people who will see it who wouldn’t necessarily have felt comfortable going to a house for something like this. 

What kind of genre can people expect? Is it dramatic, comedic? What’s kind of the overriding feel to it?
I don’t really ever feel particularly comfortable trying to label something in a genre, but I think for the purposes of telling people to have a sense of it, its verbatim comedy. I really want people to think I’m a fan of the verbatim aspect which, pretty much the entire play came from quotes that I wrote down word for word when I was at university. They’ve all been stitched together into the script, in a way that I think is funny.

That’s really interesting that you were talking about the themes chosen. What kind of fascinates you about those themes and how did it come from verbatim quotes?
Yeah, that’s something that when I started the process of looking through the old notes, I didn’t really know what I was going to find or what I was going to come out of them. I just started looking and was waiting for the themes to announce themselves or become clear. But I also have things that are enduring for me, or lingering ideas that I picked up that I haven’t been able to stop thinking about for the last 20 years. So those things end up being the themes and they are around language and grammar and power. But also the usual stuff, like love and death and life and sex, everyday sort of stuff. 

What do you want people to come to the play with? What kind of attitude should they step into the space with?
An openness. Which is what most people who go to the theatre, particularly Basement theatre generally come with. And that’s enough really. An openness and an interest in questions. 

An intellectual curiosity?
Yeah, it’s very wordy. Obviously the whole thing’s made up of quotes so it’ll be a bit of a wild ride. But I think that people will enjoy the ride.

Is it more important to you to educate or entertain?
I’m inclined towards the entertainment in that it’s pitched as a comedy but it’s not really an either or for me. I think all entertainment should ask us to ask questions of ourselves. Whether you do that through comedy or some other genre I don’t think it really matters. 

First year there used to be 300 people to a lecture. It was quite a dynamic interplay between the lecturer and the students. 
Yeah, and some lectures more than others. That’s something that we play on in this work. Generally the lecturers who were more engaged and dynamic they got a good response from the students. 

I remember Sebastian Black being particularly theatrical. 
Yeah, he was great. It’s not really a cameo, but he was part of the inspiration for one of the characters who’s actually changed quite a lot since then. I remember him jumping on the desks and doing all sorts of cool things. 

How’s the funding. Is that more of a struggle or less of a struggle than it used to be?
This is really for me, this is my first foray into actually writing, well I wrote a one to one play last year that Mike also performed, so that was completely different. It was about endurance parenting. It was part of the fringe as well, at Basement which was one member at a time, they had to come in and parent a toddler played by Mika (laughs)

And it was like an endurance test. One of those exercise bleep tests, where you keep getting more and more instructions and they keep getting more and more frequent and intense. None of these things make a whole lot of money and part of my interest in doing things low fi is that they shouldn’t cost too much but they always cost, just massive in terms of time. Which is a challenge for people, especially if they’ve got full time other jobs of course.  

I can hear from parenting Mika that they’re different kinds of interactions than you’d expect from a straight out play. Are you interested in creating a different space than you’d normally see in a play? Or has is just worked out that way because of budget. 
I think that I’m not that interested in a straight out play. I think that I’m much more interested in things that have that closeness and they’re not pretending to be real. It’s hard to say exactly. 

The director is Nick Dunbar. 

Can you tell me anything about working with him?
The first time we did it in the Fringe we didn’t have  a director, but we did just spend a little bit of time working with Nick, and this time we thought it would be great to bring him on to bring it to another level. Which had been really great, he’s very experienced being an actor himself. I think he’s really enjoyed the role of directing, plus just having another set of eyes and hands to run around, which is what you end up doing a lot of. 

This could have been written as a play with lots of different lecturers, you didn’t need to have it as a solo show, what influenced that decision?
That’s a good question. Mika’s just so capable and also it’s quicker and easier to work with one person than with eight (laughs). 

Mika and I have known each other a long time. It’s more fun and interesting to see…I don’t think it would have worked to have it being scripted because if you come along on Tuesday you’ll see that it jumps in and out of different characters in a split second so it would have had to have been a completely different play if we were going to do it with multiple actors. 

What do you want audiences to take away with them having watched it? 
Well I hope they leave with a smile on their face, that’s always a good thing and that it stimulates conversation and kind of questioning. I’m definitely interested in people doing things with the things that they learn in there. Inside theatres, whether they’re lecture theatres or theatre theatres or home theatres. The sky’s the limit really. 

Is this the kind of play were people could take notes, could they rock on up with paper and pen and treat it like a lecture?
Totally. Totally, I encourage note taking. Absolutely. I’m still like a mad note taker. I feel better when I have a pen in my hands. I think people should feel free to, even if they want to bring in an old Dictaphone and record. 

That’s awesome. Is there anything else that you want to let people know before they come and see it?
No, you’ve got the details of the theatre and the dates and everything.

Head down to the Basement Theatre this Saturday to catch the play. The doors open at 6.30pm and is set to be an amazing night. All previous nights have sold out so if you don’t want to miss out, make sure to source your ticket asap!