Many New Zealanders think Hamilton is a cultural (and actual) wasteland, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Since moving here, I’ve infiltrated the local theatre scene and, believe it or not, found it to be thriving. Here to talk about it is prolific writer, actor and director Ross MacLeod.
Ross is currently working on an original comedy sketch show called Like, Shakespeare?, a hilarious pop culture car crash between classical theatre and the Information Age. If you’d like to see how the Macbeths fair in marriage counselling, how Iago does in daytime television, or what the Merry Wives of Tinder get up to, get yourself down to Hamilton’s Meteor Theatre from August 3rd – 5th, 2017!
So, Ross, how long have you lived in Hamilton?
Twenty years. I moved here for university in 1998.
And what’s it like to live in?
I like it. Obviously, no place is perfect, but for me it has the right balance of not-too-big and not-too-small. The only thing I miss is the beach in summer.
How long have you been… well… theatrical?
I think I had my first lead role, the Pied Piper, in Standard 3, (or Year 5 in the current system.) I think I did quite a bit of performing and creating before then. I was in various school shows over the years, and since moving to Hamilton I’ve been pretty steadily involved.
How has the theatre scene in Hamilton changed since then, or in the last decade or so?
I think different art forms go through ebbs and flows. I arrived here not long after the Elektra theatre company had stopped operating and the Hamilton Community Arts Council had passed The Meteor over to the City Council. But drama on campus was pretty active, with Upstage, the uni drama group, producing quite a bit. That tailed off in the early 2000s, with a few independent groups working and even Hamilton Operatic having trouble, having to pass Clarence Street Theatre back to the council too. But then the pendulum started swinging back. More theatre groups started popping up and now both The Meteor and Clarence Street are back in community hands with a vibrant theatre scene. And then there are other things that have continued and evolved over time, like the Summer Shakespeare, which has been going on longer than I’ve been here.
What do you think of the New Zealand attitude to theatre in general?
In some ways, I see Hamilton as a microcosm of the country. We’re the New Zealand of New Zealand. We produce a lot of good writers and performers, but only ever consider them as successes once they make it elsewhere. We’re a net exporter of talent.
And while we actually innovate and create challenging art, it takes time before it’s “safe” for the general population to absorb it as part of the NZ identity. Most famous NZ plays are pretty iconoclastic works. But in a lot of ways we’re quite conservative as an art consuming culture. Our tastes, in general, are for safe and comfortable things.
Roger Hall is probably New Zealand’s most successful playwright and he’s perfected the niche of his work growing older with the baby boomer generation. But new works have a much tougher time. And while we seem to love musicals, getting an audience for an original one is a real uphill battle.
I think the biggest change it’s no longer taken as a given that we’re a monolithic culture. As we become more accepting of the variety in what it means to be a New Zealander, I think the attitudes to theatre will start to change, sections at a time.
That’s a really cool answer… So, will you tell us more about what you’re working on at the moment?
I’m currently working on an original comedy sketch show called Like, Shakespeare?. It’s about putting classical characters into modern settings and finding the comedy in both. It’s been great to get some of the people I work with writing for the first time in an encouraging setting. After that I have an improvised horror play in the Hamilton Fringe Festival in October, and am hopefully getting an original musical of mine on stage in 2018.
Thanks, Ross! So Like, Shakespeare? starts at 7.30pm on the 3rd, 4th and 5th of August (2017,) with a matinee performance at 2pm on the 5th, at the Meteor Theatre. If you’re anywhere near Hamilton, come and check it out because – guess what? – I’m in it! I wrote a whole bit where the Capulets and the Montagues are CHAVs on a Jeremy Kyle-like show… it’s going to be awesome. See you there!
Oh, and check out our promotional video to see what I look like as the girl from The Ring…