I have been involved in local theatre for the last sixteen years. This may not sound particularly impressive, but when you consider that I am only 28 years old, 16 years is almost two-thirds of my life! Theatre has become more than just a hobby, it’s one of the great passions of my life, alongside books, cats and the visual arts. It seems incredibly appropriate that while I write this, I am waiting in an online queue to buy tickets to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child on a stage in London next year. Such is my obsession with both theatre and Harry Potter.
My involvement with theatre is entirely my brother’s fault. When I was younger, around 7 or 8, Martin was involved in a production of The Turn of the Screw at Maitland Repertory Theatre. I think this was the first non-musical production I had seen. My mother is a fan of musicals and I had been raised on a steady diet of Singin’ in the Rain, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat, Godspell, Jesus Christ Superstar and The Rocky Horror Picture Show. She had taken us to see Cats and Joseph (the live sheep on stage was my favourite part) but this was something else entirely and while I’m sure I could barely understand what was happening, I remember loving it.
Soon after, my brother began attending classes at Young People’s Theatre (YPT) in Hamilton and I, in my infinite small child wisdom, decided I would like to join. Until this point I was determined I was going to be a ballerina, despite having neither the talent nor the physical attributes. I can’t remember exactly what prompted this change – I think it was just seeing how much fun my brother and other YPT kids had during classes and the productions the theatre staged. Ballet classes were never that fun.
I began YPT classes when I was 12 and since then, YPT has become a permanent fixture in my life. It became a second home – a sanctuary of sorts, from the parts of reality that were too difficult. I was always a pretty shy kid and did not make friends too easily until I got to YPT. There is an ongoing joke amongst theatre kids that you end up involved in theatre when you don’t fit in anywhere else. While it sounds horrible, the truth is that it makes community theatre groups, like YPT, some of the most welcoming and supportive places in the world because at some point everyone who does theatre has been ‘that weird kid.’
It is this inclusiveness and sense of equality that has made my time with YPT truly special. While participating in classes and doing shows, it never really mattered that, truth be told, I’m not actually great at acting. Every child involved in YPT gets an opportunity to be on stage and to shine no matter how appalling they might be. Kids who were not interested in being on stage were encouraged to be part of productions in other ways, whether it be backstage moving sets, setting up the lights or helping with costumes. There was always a place for you if you wanted to help. I have since branched into other local theatre companies but this is something I cherish. Everyone counts and everyone is worthy.
It has been seven years since I last performed on a stage. My involvement with shows has moved completely behind the scenes into direction and design. This switch began while I was studying drama for the HSC at St Mary’s Campus, All Saints College, Maitland. Directing makes more sense to me than acting ever did. There are no lines to learn and no remembering when to move where. It is putting pieces together, like a jigsaw puzzle, or working out the composition of a painting. Two women at YPT, Wendy Leis and Barbara Delaney, themselves institutions in local theatre, provided me with numerous opportunities to learn how to direct with them and constant encouragement and support when I began working on my own. I owe both these ladies so much – they taught me everything I know about storytelling, staging and working with actors.
I am often asked, ‘Why theatre?’ Why do I do it and why do I give so much time to something voluntary? It’s a hard one to answer without just resorting to the obvious, ‘Because I love it.’ And I do love it beyond words. There is nothing more magical than watching something you have worked on for four months come to life or seeing how much the audience enjoys what you have created on a stage in front of them. But it is more than that. It is the act of creation itself; taking words on a page and turning them into a living, breathing, moving entity that has the ability to make people think and feel. No other experience is comparable with watching live theatre. It speaks to us and allows us to tell stories in a unique way. Through theatre I am able to express and explore different and, at times, difficult, ideas in a way that we rarely get an opportunity to do off-stage. I am able to question things that I don’t understand, and show others the things that I believe in. And it is an absolute privilege to give my time to do these things.
Most importantly though, it is the people who keep me coming back. I have made friends with some truly wonderful and glorious people whom I would never have met if not for theatre, including my partner. It is these people who make local theatre something truly special.
It makes me forever glad to see the number of opportunities that are now open to young people, through places like YPT and the emergence of ASPIRE in local Catholic schools, that allows them to thrive and find a place where being ‘the weird kid’ is the norm.