The boundaries between community theatre and professional theatre are blurring, and our cities are all the richer for it.
Renee Liang talks to actor and director Chantelle Brader about her new production, The Red Balloon, performed by the fledgling Hawkins Youth Theatre.
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There’s never been a better time to make plays. Not only is our arts scene bursting at the seams with new theatre made by young, energetic professionals, but community theatre is thriving too – often led by some of those same individuals. The boundary between the two is blurring, and I think the landscape is all the richer for it. For the past six months (interspersed with having a baby – more about that in a future post), I’ve been working as part of a mix of trained and untrained actors on a devised work, Culture Clash. As always the value of being involved in a piece like this – everyone giving their time and energy for free, collaborating on ideas and resources – are the people you meet.
Chantelle Brader is one of these people. Not only is she young, energetic and talented, she is also generous, using the rest of her spare time to work with young people in the outlying Auckland suburb of Papakura. I asked Chantelle about her take on community theatre.
Why did you choose theatre as a career?
My mum is a children's entertainer and singer, so growing up I adored performing next to her, spending most weekends acting in her show - until I hit 12 realising it was slightly un-cool to be Ruff Ruff the dog with your singing Mermaid Mum at the local mall!!
I continued performing in shows as a teenager - it was Young and Hungry that really gave me a taste and love for quirky New Zealand theatre. Drama school broadened my vision, and led me to internships with professional community theatre companies in the States. I've always loved the power of theatre - it's raw and immediate, human to human. It can be a deeply moving experience.
What has it been like getting re-established in Auckland after a long time away?
Not easy, as things move on and the industry changes. As an actor or director you can become a bit of an 'unknown', but being overseas for 4 years has given me experiences that will continually enrich my work. Coming back has taught me the necessity to make work and collaborate!
How is working in community theatre different to professional theatre?
In some ways I try not to distinguish too much between them. I treat the actors at Hawkins Youth Theatre as our next generation of professional actors - 'young actors in training', obviously we have limited hours together compared to professional theatre companies. Community theatre has at its heart a focus on building the capacity of a local population. It's about creating spaces where a community can explore theatre confidently, learn from the process, with a sense of individual and collective empowerment.
Why was Hawkins Youth Theatre formed and what plans do you have for it?
Hawkins Youth Theatre was formed in February 2012, out of a need identified by the community for a space where the youth and children of Papakura and surrounding districts could develop their powers of expression, build confidence and group solidarity through drama. We plan to continue performing and running workshops for all youth and children between the ages of 8-18 in the region, as well as working towards a devised piece next year. We are strengthening our outreach programme to all areas of the community.
Why did you choose The Red Balloon as your first production?
I was hunting for a young person's show that hadn't been 'over-done', and would be suitable for a large ensemble cast with a broad age range. I came across The Red Balloon and it was a magical read. It ticked all the right boxes, and was something I felt both adults and children could connect to. I loved the idea of using puppets, and the story is so sweet and moving! I think it's actually the first production of The Red Balloon in New Zealand too!
The Red Balloon was written in the 1950s and is set in Paris. Have you made any changes to time or setting for this modern Kiwi production?
We've kept it set in 1956 Paris as per the script as it's such an interesting world to explore. We've added a touch of 'low-fi' stop-motion animation in the background, which is gorgeous and child-like.
How have the young people responded to the story?
They have loved it! The characters are all quite 'larger-than life' and almost slap-stick, so the cast has been fantastic at making physical offers. Collaborating with the wonderful Katy Maudlin as co-director, fresh from her devised show with Northland Youth Theatre, has really developed their devising language towards the story. The workshops lead by talented performer and theatre-maker Julia Croft has created a new appreciation and skill in them towards object animation and puppetry manipulation. They are quite a reflective bunch, with some wonderful thoughts on what The Red Balloon symbolizes to them and its story of hope in the face of dispair.
What are some of the challenges and joys of working with a young cast?
It can be challenging as a director learning how to command a space with such an energetic and diverse age group! The creative and imaginative capacity this group has is astounding, I love seeing them devise and make fantastic, often hilarious, offers! Learning how they work as a group, how they listen and learn from each other has been really rewarding. And of course, the joy they bring to performance is priceless.
What are you working on next?
I'm working on a show with a wonderfully talented group of actors, based on my mum's life as a pop-star in 1964 Wellington all the way to her children's entertaining days and beyond. Who knows, maybe the dog suit will make another appearance...