“It 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.”
You must be logged in to post a comment Login