6 Dec 2015

What goes on in the Burbs

From Standing Room Only, 2:25 pm on 6 December 2015

Two actors in the web series Burbs sit on a bench in the Wellington suburb of Newtown.

Wellington suburbs Seatoun, Newtown, Strathmore, Owhiro Bay and Brooklyn are the scene of some bizarre events in the new web series Burbs. Photo: Supplied

A middle-aged woman finds herself at an S&M party; a mermaid sits waiting for her date while spraying herself with a bottle of seawater; and two young men meet at a bus stop, but not as either of them would have ever dreamed.

These are stories about life in the suburbs of Wellington, as told in the new web series Burbs.

Seatoun, Newtown, Strathmore, Owhiro Bay and Brooklyn become the focal point for familiar characters who face an unexpected turn of events.

LISTEN to Sonia Sly's interview with the creators of Burbs:

Lead writer Laura Robinson says the idea for the series came about through her experience of living in a Newtown flat and wanting to find out more about Wellington suburbs people are less likely to visit.  

Born in Owhiro Bay, Robinson takes inspiration from her childhood for that episode. A scene plays out on the beach - the perfect setting for an unlikely date between two people from completely different worlds - a man and a mermaid.

“As a kid I always thought that there were mermaids in Owhiro Bay. I talked with Ana [the lead actress] about how hard it is to be a mermaid in Wellington. It’s kind of like living in the slums, because you’re living in this environment that’s polluted. It’s tough out there, and you’re constantly fighting for your life.”

The script is about miscommunication and desire, but also curiosity about who you’re attracted to, she says.

One of the most powerful episodes is Strathmore. Here, two young men reconnect for the first time, but not as either of them expected - in drag.

The relationship begins as one of confrontation, but what plays out is a poignant story about connection, identity and belonging.

Robinson says she wanted to do something that was devoid of violence: “It’s about revealing who you really are [and] the birth of a really powerful friendship. It’s hard for people to be themselves, especially when you’re in a situation where you can’t, and it’s a secret.”   

The way we reinvent ourselves when we step outside of our suburb and what happens when going back to the place we’ve spent our formative years also comes into play, says creative producer and art director Rosie Remmerswaal.

“For all of us that doesn’t involve dressing up in a wig and putting on lots of makeup, but I think there’s always something about returning back to the suburbs,” she says.   

So why a web series and not a short film?

The immediacy of the medium was appealing, with no lock-down period or having to go through a process where they would have to wait for the project to be picked up by festivals or cinemas.

“It’s a way of putting your work out there,” says Robinson. “I like the fact that these are episodes that are 5-8-minutes long [and] it’s amazing how much you can fit into that time. It’s a cool challenge, condensing it all down and making it like a nice shot of espresso or something.”

WATCH the first episode of Burbs: