Fierce, fabulous and famous
A full circle that starts another circle, is how entertainer Rutene Spooner describes his return to Gisborne to perform his solo show, Super Hugh-Man.
“I have a 10-month-old and I'm bringing him home. It's like the boy became a man and the next circle — who knows? Something special.”
When Spooner brings his autobiographical, cabaret-style show to Gisborne to be part of the Tairawhiti Arts Festival, his performance will include mention of familiar landmarks and local personalities who influenced him because it is here he found his calling as an entertainer.
Dreaming of being fierce, fabulous and famous, Rutene Spooner grew up in Gisborne where real boys join the haka team, and girls do the poi, says a review in The Scotsman of Spooner's Edinburgh Festival appearance.
“And then a woman, in proudly the worst English accent ever perpetrated by a Kiwi, tells him to apply to a musical theatre school in Christchurch.”
After a brush with The Mikado's Tit Willow, Spooner nearly scarpers — but then he finds his direction in his role model: Hugh Jackman, Wolverine from the X-Men series, and Les Miserables, the musical.
Spooner realises stage-school offers a different way of being, one he struggles to inhabit, says an Edinburgh Festival story.
“Jackman becomes a totem, a man who proudly does musical theatre. Spooner is confident enough to re-enact his earlier, bad performances before revealing his impressive vocal ability in a triumphant finale.”
As a child, Rutene liked Jackman the Hollywood star then later found he was also a talented showman.
“Hugh Jackman was the only person I knew who made me think ‘you can be the fierce, strong man but then you can put on sequins and prance around the stage,” says Spooner.
There is no fourth wall — the imaginary wall that separates the stage from the audience — in Super Hugh-Man.
“We go through the experience together,” says Spooner.
“I bring to life teachers like Walter Tamepo and Julie Radice.”
It was as a Lytton High School student that Spooner encountered Radice, the school's then-drama teacher, and found his vocation.
“She was pivotal in the direction I chose but with no idea of what I was getting into. But it was in kapa haka I found my voice. I really didn't know what else to do but one thing I knew was I was good at performing.”
Along with his former kapa haka teacher and his drama tutor, other locals feature in the show.
“I'm looking forward to seeing the homies' reaction,” he says.
“It'll be lovely to be on stage and talking about places and people who are very close.”
Before he stepped into his vocation, Spooner had considered finding work in tourism or the media but he knew singing was his strength and auditioned for places in a few shows.
“I loved the idea of storytelling with singing and music and that's where I felt at ease.
“My foundation as a performer was in kapa haka. Then I went to musical theatre. They look and sound different but they actually weave together very well.”
Super Hugh-Man, featuring Rutene Spooner, directed by Jennifer Ward-Lealand, the Festival Club, Marina Restaurant, October 2-3.
Rutene Spooner's Sequinned Songbook, the Festival Club, Marina Restaurant, October 7-8.