Stage of life for taking pride in dramatic direction

Lisa Warrington has retired from her job teaching theatre studies at the University of Otago,...
Lisa Warrington has retired from her job teaching theatre studies at the University of Otago, after more than 37 years. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Teaching theatre for more than 37 years has been "a joy", a retiring associate professor at the University of Otago says.

Director Lisa Warrington - who gave Allen Hall its famous red door - officially left her position at the university on June 30 to concentrate on freelance work.

Ms Warrington (66) arrived at the university to teach in 1981, having previously taught at the University of Tasmania.

One of the first things she did when she arrived at Otago was to give the university's theatre its distinctive door.

"I thought it was important that the theatre had some degree of visible vibrancy about it," she said.

Initially she only intended to stay for three years, but she stayed after falling in love with the city.

When Ms Warrington started she was the sole lecturer in drama, and she only had about 30 students.

"That grew over time," she said.

"I assume that drama was to some degree popular with students."

Theatre lecturers were "a rare breed" in the early 1980s and there were only three others in the country - two at Victoria University of Wellington and one based at the University of Auckland.

Among the famous students Ms Warrington recalled teaching over the years were stand-up comedians Jeremy Elwood and Te Radar, who were "very funny", even as students.

Theatre at the Allen Hall hit a peak in the 1980s and 1990s, with three different shows sometimes being held in a single day.

One of her highlights was the theatre's 100th anniversary in 2014, when past students came back for a reunion. Ms Warrington wrote a book on the history of Allen Hall for the occasion, 100 Years, 100+ Voices.

During its history the hall had welcomed famous guests, including Sir Laurence Olivier in the 1940s.

Ms Warrington's passion was directing, and she had directed more than 35 productions with the Fortune Theatre in Dunedin over the years, as well as acting in a number of plays, and she was "very, very sad" to hear of the Fortune's closure.

However she also worked with other companies- notably including WoW! Productions, which she co-founded - and one of the highlights of her career was directing The Cherry Orchard with a cast of students from Toi Whakaari: New Zealand Drama School - including some, such as Cliff Curtis, and Michael Galvin, who became nationally well-known actors.

She worked very hard throughout her career to promote New Zealand theatre - including setting up Theatre Aotearoa, a database of all New Zealand stage productions.

Ms Warrington said at some stage she would take a holiday but at the moment she still had a lot on her plate, including directing a play which was in rehearsal at Queenstown.

"I'm very passionate about theatre and I hope I brought my passion to my job, and I mean to keep that passion alive as long as possible."



Blimey..was Vivien Leigh at Allen Hall?

Ms Warrington speaks English better than anyone else in the country.