HGHS’ drama students recognised at National Shakespeare Festival

Hamilton Girls’ High’s Student Directed scene from Much Ado About Nothing has won the award for the ‘Most Authentic Elizabethan Production” at the National Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival in Wellington over Queen’s Birthday weekend.

The award recognizes the traditional approach to staging and costuming of the girls’ chosen scene. Costumes were sourced from the Drama and Dance Department’s extensive theatre wardrobe, and curated and fitted for each actor. The actresses had only minutes to position their set pieces onstage for their performance at the Michael Fowler Centre. Retrofitted pull up banners with printed pictures of trellis and plant pots expertly designed by HGHS graphic designer Shawnee Hooper, presented the required garden backdrop. The overall effect was a stand out amongst the eclectic range of costume and staging displayed by other entries.

“It was a real eye opener to see how everyone else presented their pieces,” explains Niwa Leefe, who played Ursula, “there was an 80s cafe set, tyres, scooters, tutus, bare chested guys. The interpretations differed hugely. I loved a battle scene in which they performed a Haka. The creativity was impressive and I came away really inspired about how you can take a story and make it your own”

Such inspiration is the drive behind HGHS’ support of the Sheilah Winn Festival. As well as presenting amongst 57 other performances, the three HGHS representatives attended stage craft workshops. One such workshop focused on intimacy.

“You know how there is the issue of ‘consent’ around any kind of intimacy? Well it’s a whole thing in acting too. Our presenter’s title was ‘Intimacy Director’ and it’s her job to make sure that the actors involved in any kind of touching are comfortable and fully informed of what is required and expected.” says Chloe Dangawen, who plays Beatrice,” It mirrors real life of course, but it really got me thinking about how all those scenes on stage and in movies are totally choreographed with no room for improvisation. You have to be very sure that the people you are acting with are comfortable with you throwing an arm around them or touching their face, well before you do it.”

The girls used the time as audience members before their own performance to assess how they might improve their own piece. This resulted in more make up and better projection. The brief technical check the day before their performance also showed them that working under full stage lights would prevent them from seeing anything of the audience and this allowed them a sense of privacy that quelled any pre-performance nerves.

“Performing in front of all those people could have been quite scary but we were just in our own bubble, confident in our piece and were able to give it everything we had for each other,” Chloe remembers, “Although you couldn’t see them, you could hear the audience react and it was those reactions that really made me understand the role of my character who spends most of her time on stage moving around in the background not saying anything. My facial expressions and physical reactions illustrated the words that Hero and Ursula were saying and helped to make sense of the whole scene. It made me realise how important every person on stage actually is to the audiences’ understanding of what is going on.”

The award was a pleasant surprise to the girls and they are very proud to have been able to bring it back to HGHS and hopefully inspire others to give it a go in the future. “Sheilah Winn is a huge opportunity and I am very grateful for it” says Gigi Lyndon. “I’d encourage any future groups to totally go for it. However outrageous your idea for a scene may feel in the beginning, if you can make it work it will be well rewarded in the competitions and just being able to go and meet so many lovely people all interested in the same thing as you is amazing. I learnt a lot”

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