Calendar Girls, Te Puke Repertory Theatre


Your correspondent moved out of her comfort zone late in August. Over the other side of the Bay, she settled in the front row of the Litt Park Theatre, Te Puke, for a performance of a play that, despite its light, though more than skin-deep, touch, prompted some mature reflections on the profound value of having a local, energetic, amateur dramatic society in the community.

For one thing, everyone in “Calendar Girls” played only one part. The TPC accepts, in these straitened days when good actors have to turn their hands and heads to just about anything, that disbelief must be suspended when the butler in one scene becomes the duke in the next. In this well-cast, carefully selected ensemble, everyone was just one character, from the lovable husband who died early in the action through to the Frenchman whose appearance at the end of the play prompted Chris’s clear but subtle moral crisis. No words were uttered at this critical point. All we saw was the look on her face as the pavement of her good intentions seemed to lead in only one direction.

As well as the simple luxury of allowing everyone to be only themselves within the play, the styling and detail of the set allowed us to both relax in the familiar environs of nearly every village hall in the western world, as well as transforming the very deep, relatively narrow stage of the Litt Park Theatre into the wide-open landscape of the Yorkshire Dales. Not that anyone pretended to be in Yorkshire – director Michelle Cliff not only took on the challenge of a whole new technology for her set design but also opted for the brave decision to let everyone (including, as it turns out, the Frenchman) speak in their own accents.

Life does not copy art, despite our wishes that this should be so. The slick, clever, discreet choreography of the comic climax of the play – the photo shoot sequence – neatly overrode messy reality. All sight lines were covered – and only because (your correspondent is informed) during rehearsals a cohort of ladies was deployed within the auditorium to advise on any nipple-slips.

In short, the play was a display of courage, local knowledge, and the delicate intimacy that characterises relationships in small towns. There was nothing arms-length about this production. In a fantastic intersection of illusion and reality, the play’s narrative and the realities of life for the performers kept crossing over, piercing the conventions that encourage us to imagine that these are other people in another place, while allowing those same conventions to invest the audience at Litt Park with real-time knowledge of people who are, usually, all of them good acquaintances with each other.

It turns out that the bravery went further than the theatre. Te Puke Repertory’s Facebook page displays some enticing views of volunteers at the Hospice Shop, entering into the spirit of a thing that persuaded other Te Puke-ites to be the same but different, willing to go along for the ride while keeping an eye on the Big Idea. Which is, of course, to stimulate and maintain the dramatic life of Te Puke itself.

Such life has been carrying on for eighty or so years, since Mr Litt, the then-headmaster of Te Puke High School, saw the green field and a post-war prefab classroom as a sport and culture facility for his college and, incidentally, the town. In due course the park’s service sheds were absorbed into the theatre space, the tiny auditorium was painted in a variety of daring ways (it’s currently a sober black box), and “a bit was put on at the back”. And for all of that time the Te Puke Repertory Society has been gamely taking on the business of presenting fantasies and realities to those outside the magic circle of whatever the current production happens to be.

Your correspondent, impressed as she was by the validating to-and-fro gaze that enlivened the latest production, cannot close this paean to the value of local small-town theatre without mentioning a production she did not see. The Te Puke High School (the TPHS acronym is important) has a class dedicated to furthering the learning of young people who don’t fit into an ordinary classroom. During the rehearsal period for Calendar Girls, these young people, led by Michelle Cliff with the active support of Megan Cowan, devised and performed The Perfect Hero Story, a work that combined performance, photography, artworks and public celebration of powers and abilities not usually shown forth among this group.

Skin-flick calendars are, of course, a bit of a gimmick. And perfect-hero-powers usually come with some downsides. But if you’re blessed with a vibrant local theatre and an energetic social network that supports serious, amusing, connected-up play, you can perhaps cope better with ordinary life.

6-ko-mauao-te-maungaThe Te Puna Correspondent  Your TPC is a rurally living, lifetime Tauranga resident. She has an eclectic cultural background She is a continuing participant, supporter and observer of all forms of the creative arts and commuity activities. Much travelled both nationally and internationally, the ARTbop contributions of Your TPC can be acerbic, witty and insightful. Their publication is looked forward to by an increasing readership folloiwng. Her alter ego Beth Bowden can be seen as a lead conversationalist on The ARTbopSHOW.  Take a look at the archive of articles by the TPC including her recent contribution about the Te Puna School Art Auction (associated image from the collection of work included in that article).

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