Shared experience

Director Harrison Kennedy is surrounded by (from left) Conor Hill (19), Christian Tucker (22),...
Director Harrison Kennedy is surrounded by (from left) Conor Hill (19), Christian Tucker (22), Joseph Cooper (21) and Jackson Kennedy (25) at a rehearsal of Dayboy. PHOTOS: LINDA ROBERTSON
For two Dunedin first-time playwrights seeing their plays on the stage at Dunedin’s Fringe Festival this year will be the end of a long journey — hopefully. Rebecca Fox talks to Kelly Hocking and Harrison Kennedy.

Kelly Hocking and Harrison Kennedy grew up half a world away from each other in two different countries, but their experiences have inspired them to write about those times.

Both performances, Thief and Dayboy, were initially scheduled for last year’s Dunedin Fringe Festival, which was cancelled due to the Covid-19 outbreak and the subsequent lockdown, but have been revived for this year’s festival.

Hocking, a well-known performer in Dunedin musical theatre circles, says her piece, Thief, has had a very long build-up after being inspired by the reaction she received from an acting colleague after she admitted to stealing when she was a teenager.

‘‘He reacted so extremely. It was like I’d admitted ... something much worse. I was taken aback at his disgust and felt a wave of guilt for that period overtake me.’’

To help her deal with the disturbing reaction, she wrote an essay — she had always liked the format and analytical approach — about the events.

‘‘I started to wonder why I started stealing in the first place, what was the impetus for that. It didn’t take me long to realise why 15-16-year-old Kelly did those things ... it all poured out.’’

Writing the essay also helped her to realise the link to her step-brother’s story: he was arrested for grand theft.

‘‘I witnessed some of that. It was quite a extreme event. It made me reflect on that relationship through the theft that tied us together.’’

She then turned the essay into a spoken word story for one of Arcade Theatres’ Light to Light series.

Kelly Hocking’s life experience forms the basis of her one-woman play, Thief.
Kelly Hocking’s life experience forms the basis of her one-woman play, Thief.
‘‘I got a really interesting response to that.’’

Encouraged by that response, she applied to the Otepoti Theatre Lab’s writing programme and floated the idea of turning it into a one-woman show.

After a lot of work, which included being mentored by playwright and Robbie Burns Fellow Emily Duncan, Prospect Park offered to help her stage the work.

The performance takes Hocking out of her comfort zone — musical theatre.

‘‘When people find out its nothing to do with musical theatre, they’re quite surprised. When they hear its a one-woman show, they expect it to be a cabaret.’’

Hocking is also aware that performing the piece in front of an audience might be difficult.

‘‘I’ve accepted it’s going to be uncomfortable. The name is different to mine and certain aspects have been changed for narrative reasons — my brothers are twins, so I’ve killed one off and made them into one character.’’

However, she says the story is based on her memories of events, which will possibly be different to those of other family members.

‘‘I’m writing a play about it, so I get to present how I remember things.’’

Putting together the work was an emotional journey, forcing Hocking to revisit her early life growing up in Los Angeles.

‘‘As sometimes happens, events that happen early in life don’t become significant until much later on.’’

Hocking has been interested in theatre since high school and her brother also got involved. They both went on to an exclusive dramatic arts academy in LA for a year before going on their very different paths.

Hocking came to New Zealand in 2004 in her early 20s after she fell ‘‘madly in love’’ with a Kiwi and followed him back for a holiday and then decided to stay.

When that relationship ended, she realised she had integrated into the theatre community and felt like Dunedin was home so became a New Zealand citizen.

‘‘I felt different here in a good way. It gave me the freedom to be more authentic in myself.’’

She now runs Voice Lab, a vocal studio where she helps people with voice work and singing to assist them build their voices, strengthening range and prepare for auditions.

KENNEDY’S work has also come out of personal experience — only for him it was going to an all-boys school.

And just like Hocking, it had a long lead-in time, starting life as an assignment for his third-year university paper.

‘‘I was trying to reconcile my experience at an all-boys school ... it had been quite a while since I was there.’’

That assignment was then developed into a piece for lunchtime theatre at Allen Hall.

‘‘It went quite well. The core of it, the experience of going to a single-sex school is quite universal.’’

Arcade Theatre’s Alex Wilson saw it and offered to produce Dayboy for the Fringe.

With mentoring from Abby Howells, he was able to flesh out the script.

‘‘It was awesome having fresh eyes on the play and someone to offer suggestions. I’d worked with dramaturges before, but the level Abby operates on is very effective.’’

Kennedy says the play touches on masculinity, homophobia and gun violence, as well as general themes from a typical Kiwi childhood.

‘‘Things people look at and think can be scary and intimidating I kind of like, they’re interesting to talk about.’’

Like Hocking, he did not realise the impact of that time in his life until later.

‘‘It was weird, you are in a different world when you are that young, but when you are in it you just find ways of coping.’’

When his brother moved schools, Kennedy followed in what he described as the ‘‘best decision of his life’’.

‘‘It gave me a very different perspective of what school could be.’’

Kennedy, who is co-directing Dayboy, initially became involved in the technical side of theatre, especially lighting.

His understanding of lighting led to the decision to use it in an unusual way in Dayboy — the cast carries handheld lamps on stage.

It reflects the feelings of the boys from the bravado of the locker room to the more reflective, vulnerable sides when by themselves.

Kennedy’s brother, Jackson, who was involved in the lunchtime theatre version, is in the cast.

‘‘It’s cool working with a sibling in a piece very much about siblings and brotherhood.’’

Kennedy, who recently quit his job to concentrate on theatre and writing, said he was enjoying devised theatre.

‘‘It’s my attempt at one final crack at it.’’

Dayboy, Emerson’s Festival Theatre, March 20-23.
Thief, Emerson’s Festival Theatre, March 24-27

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