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Hooked on theatre

Belinda Campbell loves theatre. She loves acting, writing, lighting, but she didn't have much of a choice.

Her parents, Teresa and Jim Campbell, have been enthusiastic theatre supporters, building sets and running acting programmes for years at Musical Theatre Gisborne.

“I grew up going to the theatre and fell in love with all parts of it. Whenever I could get on the stage I would — I was pretty much in a show every year.

“I operated lights, I assistant stage-managed, I would work front of house, I prided myself in my programme selling ability. Something about the theatre just had me hooked.”

And now, after being in the industry professionally for over a decade, she is completing her master's at Victoria University and is directing Paper Jam, which will be performed in Wellington later this month.

The play is the culmination of a Master of Fine Arts (Creative Practice) degree with her colleagues Anna Barker and Rebekah de Roo.

In Paper Jam, Sal is trying to please her boss. She is hoping for a promotion, but Sal is burnt out. The fax machine screams, undelivered mail piles up, and as the world begins to close in, her thought-to-be-long-gone imaginary friend launches back into her life.

Campbell first studied musical theatre in Christchurch at the National Academy of Singing and Dramatic Art before moving to Melbourne, where she lived for some nine years and created a theatre company, Wit Incorporated, which is still going strong.

Now back in New Zealand she is focusing on directing.

“I love everything to do with theatre, whether it's working backstage or acting, but I wanted to learn about something I don't know too well — directing,” Campbell said.

This is not to say she is inexperienced. Her resume is a novella dotting about from directing, writing plays, acting for television, publishing poetry and teaching drama. Directing is merely the next act in her show.

The play Paper Jam is a devised piece.

Instead of writing a play from scratch, actors come into the studio and improvise scenes, and the material for the show is built organically and slowly, like a grain of sand turning into a pearl.

Campbell says this method of script creation “is quite a different kettle of fish from when you pick up an existing piece of work”.

“With devising you start with an idea and you have got nothing else and you are going to the rehearsal room with this idea. You have to use your actors to find what the show is and find the script, which is quite exciting but a bit stressful as well.”

The genesis of the play came from the simple idea of an imaginary friend. Barker and de Roo brought the idea to Campbell and asked her to direct.

“We just started improvising around that idea, and then around a loose idea of a story for an imaginary friend coming back to an adult's life.”

As the actors tried out scenes, the script began to materialise.

Campbell said it was the three creators who drove the project at the start, but once the actors came in the piece became everyone's play.

“It has been a collaborative effort.”

The company worked closely with Arts Access Aotearoa to remove and reduce as many barriers as possible that otherwise prevent people from coming to the show. Solutions include wheelchair ramps and audio assistance.

Even those with hearing impairments can come along — one show (January 27) will include a New Zealand Sign Language interpreter.

“We believe theatre is for everyone and we want to do as much as we can to make it accessible,” Campbell said.

Finishing up her studies and back in the theatre game, Campbell is here to stay.

“I have been wanting to come back for a while, but when you build something that you are really proud of, it becomes hard to step away.

“I have really missed New Zealand — I love it here.”

Paper Jam is showing at BATS Theatre in Wellington from January 25 to 29. Tickets start from $15 and can be booked online at bats.co.nz

PAPER JAM: When life starts to get too much for Sal, her thought-to-be-long-gone imaginary friend launches back into her life. Picture supplied
BORN FOR THEATRE: Paper Jam director Belinda Campbell has been involved with the theatre since she was old enough to get on the stage. Picture supplied