AAF Hot Pick: Not in our Neighbourhood

Heard the one about the guy who works at a women’s refuge? Jamie McCaskill probably has.

In 2013, the comedian, actor and playwright was working in his dad’s fish and chips shop in Thames when the Hauraki Women’s Refuge approached him with an idea.

They wanted him to use his skills in the arts to advocate against violence that affects New Zealand women.

The refuge created the role of “performance advocate” for him and McCaskill worked there for 12 months — an adjustment for all concerned.

“At first the women there looked at me like, what’s he doing here? And women would ring up and I would answer the phone and there would just be silence,” he says.

“But they got used to me and I was so immersed in the refuge, I was there every day. Some of the shocking things I saw became normalised.”

With a $1500 budget to write, rehearse and stage a work, McCaskill wrote a one-woman play, Not in our Neighbourhood, based on the experiences of four refuge residents. “What to do with the kids, having to survive, having a violent partner and then being alone and dealing with a system that’s not so easy to deal with when you’re vulnerable. I took things from what I had read and what I had seen and tried to honour their stories.”

The play does not depict violence, and comedy comes through the personalities of the women. All five characters are played by McCaskill’s partner, actor Kali Kopae, who also worked at the refuge before the couple returned to Wellington last year.

“I was lucky to be able to observe these women,” says Kopae. “On stage it’s like a dance with the characters. I have to be grounded in physicality and just go!”

McCaskill is “hugely proud” of the play, which makes its Auckland debut at the festival. “It doesn’t attack anybody,” he says. “It not only speaks to women. Men I have spoken to who have seen it have been just as affected by it.”

Not in our Neighbourhood, Q Theatre, March 2-4; Te Oro, Glen Innes, March 5.

Main image: Kali Kopae plays five characters in Not in Our Neighbourhood. Photo by Tim Elkington.