Nestled between a thriving garden and a bridge straight from Terabithia, Conrad Coom’s Paekākāriki home is a place where a giant gnome and his free-range friend are not unexpected.
In March Conrad brings Garden Friends, an interactive street theatre performance, to Cuba Dupa. His seven-foot-high costume, representing a giant chicken jockeyed by a garden gnome, is designed by World of Wearable Arts award winner Annemiek Weterings.
As they were building the fowl, Conrad considered whether it was “more of a rooster or a hen. She seems to like hanging out with the hens!” He soon realised that Rachel’s exact gender was not for gnomes to know, which is something he loves about the character. He finds this is a great opportunity to introduce the non-binary concept when festival-goers wonder who would name a rooster Rachel.
“I think everyone’s trying to fit in and trying to learn as they go forward about who we are and how we identify ourselves. She’s representing someone who’s trying to identify herself out there in the public arena.” This is close to Conrad’s heart. He moved to the capital in the 90s, leaving behind what he calls the small-minded heckling of his home town, “and I found my freedom. I could rebel and no one here gave a damn.” He discovered his passion for street performance soon after.
Sustainability is fundamental to Conrad: “It’s always in the back of my mind.” His costumes are made to last, and mostly from recycled materials. For Hugging Tree he wears a hand-crafted tree costume and offers hugs to passersby. The play on “tree-huggers” highlights the importance of being kind to our environment. When the real estate agents selling his house wanted only the land, Conrad avoided adding to the landfill by giving away the house, floorboard by floorboard. The leftovers are now being used for a tiny home.
Find Conrad and Rachel clucking around at Cuba Dupa, 27–28 March.