Penelope Hare holds three of the top awards: Student Director; Student Directed Five-Minute; Best Overall Design by Ina Bercinskas

Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival

Macbeth, Act 4, Scene 1 - Columba College

All is quiet in the Weird Sisters’ speakeasy as three flapper witches stir up moonshine and trouble. When mobster Macbeth pays a visit, it’s clear he’s not just after a drink. But by asking too much about the future, he’s in for far more than he bargained for…

When I woke up in the middle of the night two years ago, struck by the thought that Macbeth’s witches would make brilliant flapper girls, it was only for a moment. A good thing, too. Had I known what was to come from that little idea, I might have lost a bit more sleep. Looking back on the year of Shakespeare I’ve had, I’m wide awake - and yet everything that’s happened still feels a bit like a dream. A Chronicle article might not be enough to do this journey justice, but I’m told that brevity is the soul of wit…!

I’ve participated in the Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ (SGCNZ) University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival (what a mouthful!) for the past five years, but this has been my first year directing. It's been an incredible, and at times incredibly challenging, experience. In the early stages, rehearsals were fairly rough-and-ready, so finding actors that were willing to learn alongside me, tolerate my mistakes and occasionally lie down in the pitch dark listening to spooky jazz was a blessing. Our twenty-strong cast quickly became close, which made building onstage relationships easy, but focus sometimes very hard!

When our scene won Best Student Director, Best Overall Design and ultimately Best 5-Minute Scene at the Regional Sheilah Winn in April, we were not only elated, but excited at the chance to perform at the National competition in Wellington. It's safe to say that there was much ado that evening! Once the buzz wore off, however, it was back to business. There was an act to polish and a trip to organise. The logistics of securing funding and getting all of the props and costumes to the capital kept Ms Bercinskas and I very busy. It’s surprisingly hard to arrange a courier for a speakeasy bar these days!

Rehearsals became more and more intense as we ironed out the kinks in our scene before taking it to the national stage, and all of us had our limits tested. I distinctly remember chasing a cast member or two around the Caroline Freeman Theatre in sheer directorial wrath, more than once. Thankfully, one of our Distinguished Alumni, Terry Mactavish, kindly graced the cast with her infectious enthusiasm and considerable knowledge of the theatre, which inspired and motivated us to go further with the text - although I can’t tell you too much because, as she said, “What happens in rehearsal, stays in rehearsal.” Good advice!

After much preparation and excitement, we arrived in Wellington in early June for a whirlwind Shakespearean experience. The first order of business was a day of workshops to hone our skills, led by some of New Zealand’s most talented directors and performers. We were very excited to learn that one of our instructors had once played an orc! The rest of the weekend was then dedicated to the performances at the Michael Fowler Centre. I was incredibly proud of everyone’s work, and we were so excited to receive an award for Outstanding Imagination and Commitment to the Text.

There were certainly some emotional moments throughout our journey as a cast. Moments of laughter, frustration, confusion, and tears. And saying goodbye to performing with each other was certainly bittersweet. I’ll forever treasure the bonds we formed, the incredible experiences we had, and the memories we made together, and am so grateful to SGCNZ and Columba for providing this opportunity for us all.

I was very grateful to be selected from Nationals as one of the fifty students from around New Zealand to attend the SGCNZ National Shakespeare Schools’ Production in October. An intense nine-day event in Wellington, it was jam-packed with workshops, from experts in their fields, and rehearsals, in order to put together a 40-minute Shakespeare piece in the final days. In my case it was Measure for Measure - look it up! The experience was one I’ll never forget. Every day, I discovered new depths to Shakespeare, acting and life in general. Along the way, all of us were pushed to our emotional limits - I’ve never cried so often in rehearsals! But the pride we all felt at seeing our performances come together, into something imperfect but entirely ours, was something I doubt I’ll ever forget.

If you had asked me in January to sum up what I thought 2021 would bring, I’m fairly sure my answer would have included Year 13 sentimentality, exams and a good dose of COVID kerfuffle. Never would I have expected this year to offer me the opportunity to bring a dream concept to life, direct a cast of twenty fellow students who believed in that dream and then share that dream with so many other dreamers around New Zealand. This journey has been pure madness and magic, and the learnings and people I’ve encountered have touched me in a way I never thought possible.

Thank you to everyone (there are too many to name!) that invested their time, resources and passion into helping bring this to life. You may have been behind the scenes, but without you, this would never have left the ground. To anyone reading this who thinks they might like to give directing or Sheilah Winn a go, my best advice is to get to it! Shakespeare’s works are for anyone who wants them, and the beautiful thing about them is the range of human experience they portray. Find a story you’re passionate about, and bring it to life! The only limit is your imagination.

Finally, it wouldn’t be an article about Shakespeare without a quote from the bard himself. I’ll leave you with one of my favourites:

“We are such stuff as dreams are made on; and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

~ The Tempest