Ad Infinitum’s Nir Paldi and George Mann: ‘A show is like a baby, each with its own life and personality’
Newlyweds Nir Paldi and George Mann founded theatre company Ad Infinitum more than 10 years ago, but they are facing a new challenge: directing, writing and performing a whole show – about their life – together. Lyn Gardner meets the co-artistic directors
Most theatre companies have a signature style. From Kneehigh to Robert Lepage’s company Ex Machina; from Gecko to Quarantine – each has developed work with a definite creator’s stamp on it, building on the work and stylistic flourishes that went before it.
Ad Infinitum is different. It is a theatre company that refuses to be put in a box. Founded in 2007 by Nir Paldi and George Mann, who met while studying at influential Paris school L’Ecole Internationale de Theatre Jacques Lecoq, Ad Infinitum has produced a string of hit shows, every one completely different from the last. “Each show,” Mann says, “has its own kind of life and personality as if it is a baby.”
The company’s first piece was a one-man storytelling show based on the Odyssey. Translunar Paradise used mask and mime to explore the theme of ageing and loss, and the Ballad of the Burning Star was a flamboyant satirical cabaret about the state of Israel, probing what happens when the victim becomes the oppressor. Light was a dystopian thriller, inspired by the Edward Snowden revelations, using handheld LED torches.
The eclectic nature of the shows can be a challenge for funders, marketing, programmers and even audiences – many of whom like to know what will be delivered. Fans of one show would want more of the same, surely?
“We know we are not making it easy for ourselves, but we are in it for the long game,” says Mann. “And there is something energising and exciting in always doing something a bit different that might be outside our comfort zone and that of the audience. I like it when I am making a show and I don’t know exactly how I am going to do it and have to find a way to master it.”
Paldi adds: “We try never to be boring. It is getting harder to get people to turn off Netflix and leave the house. Giving them something different is one way of doing that, even if it is a marketing challenge.”
The eclectic nature of the work can be traced to how the pair works. Paldi says he and Mann are essentially “two artists sitting under one umbrella. We have the freedom to explore the ideas that really interest each of us individually, taking turns to make new work”.
The latest work marks a change of direction. It is the first time since their debut show that Paldi and Mann have written and directed a show together – with both appearing on stage. No Kids explores an issue the pair – a couple as well as being co-artistic directors – is tussling with in real life: should they or should they not have children? The show premiered in Edinburgh last summer but has been extensively reworked for its tour and London residency at Battersea Arts Centre.
“We had not made a show together as co-creators since Odyssey, which George performed and I directed,” Paldi says. “So, we always knew it would be a challenge and, because we are both very strong-minded, there have been times when it has been difficult on a personal level.”
He cheerfully admits there have been moments “when we have wanted to suffocate each other”. But when we meet, the pair has just returned from honeymoon, which suggests the relationship has survived. Mann says: “It’s been quite invigorating. But it has been an exercise in compromise because often we have completely different ideas about what the show should be.”
Paldi likens making the show to the creation of a child. “With a child it is genes that get mixed. With the show it’s our individual ideas, and the added challenge is that we are both inside the show, so we’ve had to keep changing the process to accommodate that. We have discovered new things about ourselves and about making a show along the way.”
No Kids is not didactic, but both Paldi and Mann hope it will provoke discussion about what it means to have children: the environmental implications, the prejudice that still exists against two male parents, the ethics of bringing a child into the world and the way parents project their own aspirations on to the idea of a child.
“It is very autobiographical,” says Mann, “but it has shifted since Edinburgh into something deeper. It is more about the desires a couple shares and those it doesn’t. About how you negotiate the things that solidify a relationship and those things that might tear it apart. It is underpinned with difficulty and pain.”
Paldi adds: “It is much less nice and much more to the point. Angrier too.” Paldi, who was raised on a settlement in Israel and still feels affected by the experience, believes anger can be a useful driving force for theatre and sees making shows as a way of “processing my anger and addressing injustice”.
Both of them see theatre as a form of activism and taking No Kids to the US later in the year to coincide with the anniversary of the Stonewall riots feels important at a time when, as Mann says, “queer voices need to be amplified because of Trump and what’s happening in US politics and society”.
Five things you need to know about Ad Infinitum
1. Ad Infinitum has toured to more than 25 countries.
2. Its international touring legends are rife. One member of Ad Infinitum lost their passport meaning a co-artistic director had to learn the role on the nine-hour flight and perform the day after landing in Guangzhou, China.
3. Its productions examine socio-political themes, which often provoke strong responses, including a couple proposing to each other after watching Translunar Paradise.
4. Midway through a performance of Ballad of the Burning Star, one audience member tried to grab Nir’s dress – he was playing Drag Queen Star – and stop the show. At the end, an argument broke out between this person and another audience member, the grabber shouted: “This is propaganda” and the other replied: “No. It’s theatre.”
5. No Kids is the first show Ad Infinitum has made in which co-artistic directors, and real-life couple, Nir and George have directed, written and performed together.
Paldi’s 2016 show, Bucket List, has already addressed the effects of the North American Free Trade Agreement on Mexico’s poorest people while bringing cheap consumer goods to the US and the wealthier West. It asked: who really benefits and at what price to the environment and individual lives?
In the UK, activism also means using Ad Infinitum’s platform to give space to other voices. Later in the year it will premiere a new show in its home town of Bristol with the working title Extraordinary Wall of Silence. Collaborating with three D/deaf and two hearing actors, the piece explores the oppression of the D/deaf community and the suppression of its culture. The show at Bristol Old Vic – where they are associate artists – will link the early 20th-century eugenics movement to the Oralists – who were determined to make D/deaf people speak rather than use British Sign Language – to the recent closures of D/deaf clubs, including in Bristol, without proper consultation.
‘There is something energising and exciting in always doing something a bit different that might be outside our comfort zone’
“There is a whole D/deaf community, language, history and culture that has gone undervalued and often unrecognised and unseen,” says Mann. “It is a collaborative project, one in which we as hearing artists have to step back and give other voices room. We thought very hard about doing this, but we are aware that as hearing people we have access to a cultural capital that lots of D/deaf people do not.
“This isn’t our oppression, but we are in the fortunate position that we can use Ad Infinitum’s cultural capital and platform to highlight something that most of mainstream society is completely ignorant about. Something that isn’t just history, but is happening now.”
Profile: Ad Infinitum
Co-artistic directors: George Mann and Nir Paldi
Senior producer: Emily Williams (part-time)
Finance officer: Sarah Kingswell (part-time)
Company administrator: Emma Macnair (part-time)
Audiences: More than 60,000 in the UK, and many more internationally
Number of employees: Two full-time and three part-time core staff
Funding from all sources: £40,000 per year on average
Turnover: £150,624 (2017-18)
Key contact: George Mann, Nir Paldi, Emily Williams; ad-infinitum.org/the-family
No Kids is touring the UK until March 29. Extraordinary Wall of Silence will premiere in Autumn 2019 before embarking on a UK tour throughout 2019 and 2020. For more information go to: ad-infinitum.org