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Portrait of Stephen Templer and Kelvin Aris from PLAYING FOR WELLINGTON at Tanera Park, Aro Valley, Wellington. Monday 25 August 2014. Stephen and Kelvin  have been invited to participate in Playable City 2014 - An International Conference in Bristol, UK of street play, games and public space activation. Photo by Mark Tantrum | www.marktantrum.comIt is,” says Kelvin Aris, “a ser­i­ous busi­ness, being funny.” Which is to say, the more ser­i­ously you frame some­thing, the more oppor­tun­it­ies there are to be silly.

Kelvin and co-con­spir­at­or Steph­en Tem­pler are on a mis­sion to make Wel­ling­ton more play­ful. Just one of their many pro­jects is a pro­posed back­yard crick­et tour­na­ment, designed to run in par­al­lel with the Crick­et World Cup held here in March next year. It would draw on all of cricket’s arcane rituals — the rules, the intense dis­cus­sion of pitch and cli­mate, the com­ment­at­ors. “In a ridicu­lous way,” Kelvin says, “we want to have as much atten­tion focused on that as the World Cup. This has the poten­tial for so much humour… We want to really inject humour and fun into these things. But we’d frame it in a ser­i­ous way. It height­ens the silliness.”

Steph­en, an artist, and Kelvin, a com­munity centre co-ordin­at­or, have a track record of organ­ised tom­fool­ery that includes the Aro Open, a table ten­nis com­pet­i­tion of semi-iron­ic intens­ity. Then there’s the Box of Curi­ous Delights, a peep show on wheels that prom­ises erot­ic delight but in fact con­sists of a hideous old pup­pet gyr­at­ing her hips — “a won­der­ful little vaudeville joke,” Steph­en says.

They also run the Flash­dance com­pet­i­tion every year at the New­town Fest­iv­al. It’s nev­er easy, get­ting people up and dan­cing like idi­ots in front of a crowd, but they always man­age it. So what’s the secret? “I don’t know,” Steph­en says, thought­fully. “Just gentle coax­ing. Gentle, force­ful coaxing.”

To make Wel­ling­ton more vibrant, more fun, Steph­en and Kelvin have to get us to loosen up. “We want to bring people out of their com­fort zones and enjoy them­selves and be a bit flam­boy­ant,” Kelvin says. “The sil­li­er they are, the bet­ter.” They are also in love with folk­lore and tra­di­tion, its abil­ity to add rich­ness and lay­er­ing to our lives, to build a sense of shared com­munity. As part of the crick­et tour­na­ment, they want to intro­duce Wick­et Man, “the pagan god of back­yard crick­et”, a kind of myth­ic­al fig­ure made from crick­et pads and based sub­stan­tially on Lance Cairns. One can see how this could work, draw­ing on nos­tal­gia for the 1980s and a shared (if largely male) sport­ing memory.

But can one cre­ate tra­di­tions so delib­er­ately? “It doesn’t take a long time for a tra­di­tion to get star­ted,” Steph­en says. “We want people to take own­er­ship of it… and oth­er fig­ures will come. When they are ready. But there has to be a little bit of a seed there as well, to cap­ture people’s ima­gin­a­tion.” Cre­at­ing these myth­ic­al fig­ures is also an ima­gin­at­ive act, “a way of delving a bit deep­er into that magic­al realm… kids know it, but adults tend to for­get it. We don’t tell tales enough.”

Kelvin and Steph­en, who live togeth­er in the Aro Valley’s Epuni Street, plan to set up the Aro Fun Lab as an exper­i­ment­al centre for their play­able city mis­sion. They have all man­ner of plans, includ­ing an Epuni Street raft­ing race. It sounds rather won­der­ful. But a ques­tion lurks behind all these fine ideas: is this just a form of organ­ised fun?

That’s the knife edge,” Steph­en says. “Organ­ised fun is the lamest thing in the world — ‘Come on every­one, let’s have fun togeth­er with ZMFM.’ No one’s going to go to that. And if they do turn up, no one’s going to have fun.” What sets the dynam­ic duo apart, he says, is that they haven’t got things organ­ised prop­erly. “We’re all about shab­bi­ness. And it always bloody works out. I’ve stopped wor­ry­ing about things not work­ing out and us look­ing foolish.”

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