Monday, July 27, 2009

Fostering Creative Freedom

Director, producer, actor and musician Penni Bousfield is the programme leader for UCOL's Certificate in Performing Arts. [Palmerston North, New Zealand] That's Penni on the left of the photo at her recent birthday celebrations - age unknown of course!!]. She invited MICHELLE DUFF of the Manawatu Standard into her workspace.

"This is our drama studio, you can see we have the dance bars on the walls and nice wooden floor, and there's a mirror that runs along the end wall. It's where we have most of our acting and voice classes. This is an old industrial building, for UCOL it was the automotive workshop, so it can get a bit cold in the winter and hot in the summer. But it has a nice feel to it.
I've been here for two-and-a-half years. I came up here from Wellington where I'd been working as a freelance director and producer. During that time I'd been up here as a visiting artist at Massey, I did Summer Shakespeare one year. I've always had an interest in performing, singing and I was lucky enough to go to a primary school where that was valued.
Music was the main thing for me, I was a professional musician for most of my 20s. A bunch of us started doing stand-up comedy and did a national tour; it regenerated my interest in theatre. I went home and did a drama degree. It's a bit of a backwards career trajectory I did a tour then went to drama school, it's meant to be the other way around.
My official title is programme leader. I take acting and voice production, and I direct the end-of-semester show, which is the musical theatre component. It's a six-month course. At one extreme people are just doing the course to get confidence, and others want to get into drama school and see this as good preparation.
The students say I get really, really excited when somebody gets it. It's great seeing someone taking a big step forward or a group coming up with something brilliant, that I never would have thought of. I try to do things that encourage people's creativity, if you're just working on stagecraft you're not going to know how to do your own street theatre, or comedy, or experimental stuff.
I've had students here who spent the first few weeks looking at me and saying "you are the mad lady and you're making us do crazy stuff", but at the end of the course it's pretty clear they have developed. If anyone walked in here during a class they would think they'd walked into a Victorian mental institution people are slithering around on the floor making a variety of noises, absolute bedlam is the only way to describe it.
You are your own instrument - that old cliche - so we are working on that, and the work can go into quite personal areas at times. It is a case of you are your own raw material, you are your own tools. I always say when they say "this is hard" I never told you it would be easy."

Reprinted with permission from Michael Cummings Editor Manawatu Standard

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