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Treading the boards with class

Kuranui’s Head of Performing Arts Juanita McLellan and drama students Ashley Taylor and Florence Cater, who have been selected to attend the National Shakespeare Schools Programme week. PHOTO/CATHERINE ROSSITER-STEAD

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Four Wairarapa students are off to the National Shakespeare Schools Programme week at Otago University next month.

Two students from Kuranui College in Greytown, Ashley Taylor and Florence Cater, and Grace Hancox from Wairarapa College were named as finalists going on to the week-long workshop on Tuesday after results from the Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand National Shakespeare Festival.

Charlie Butler [female], of Rathkeale College, had already been named the direct entry to the National Shakespeare in Schools Programme for her interpretation of Macbeth.

The students will also be eligible to apply for the two-week programme at the Globe Theatre in London.

Kuranui’s Head of Performing Arts Juanita McLellan said it was “completely mind-blowing” having two students selected in the same year, a first for the college since they initially got involved with the programme almost 20 years ago.

“I have spent the last week not knowing what to think or say, because it’s incredible to have two students going. It’s the first time this has happened.”

Over the week, the students will work with three different professional directors and will put on three 45-minute performances of Shakespeare in eight days, she said.

“It’s pretty full-on and an incredible experience.”

The college’s 15-minute entry from King John also took out three awards for Most Extraordinary Performance, Speaking the Speech, and an award for outstanding acting for Cater which has landed her an acting contract with KAM Talent, New Zealand’s oldest talent agency.

“The piece is 15 minutes long and it’s all verse,” said Cater, who played Constance, the mother of Arthur and the rightful King of England.

“I had about a page and a half of just me talking. The rhythms are so exact, and we’d spend hours just poring over a section, looking at the commas and working out where the stresses are and how do we make it make sense.

“Normally you could chop a line out and adapt things, but there’s these strict rhythms throughout the whole play, so you can’t do that.”

It was an especially impressive achievement as students were tasked with submitting a video performance due to disruptions caused by covid-19.

“We started rehearsing ‘King John’ at the beginning of the year,” Cater said. “We thought we were on track and then covid happened, which was a bit of a setback, but once we came back to school, we were right on to it.”

For the second year running, Kuranui College also presented the largest cast of the competition, originally about 50, but reduced to 40 because of restrictions.

This also presented a few challenges given the switch to a virtual presentation, she said.

“Keeping everyone in frame was a challenge with the cinematography, because on a big stage you can move pretty freely. We had to squeeze in the whole cast, which changed the whole direction on the morning of the filming.”

Taylor, who played Queen Eleanor the mother of King John and is still relatively new to acting, said it was a shock to be selected.

“I got the call while I was walking home. I was just astounded that I even got selected, because it was kind of a given that Florence would get in because she’s been doing this her whole life.”

SGCNZ chief executive Dawn Sanders congratulated Kuranui for tackling such an uncommonly performed play.

“King John contains some very relevant and current issues, from acknowledging the futility of war and striving for peace instead, to the power struggles of which we are all too aware with elections pending, both here and internationally.”

Of Wairarapa College’s performance of Julius Caesar, the judges said it was “well-constructed” by student director Thorin Williams.

“Calpurnia was very positive, portraying a strong connection with Caesar. Their farewell hug was sensitively played and very touching.”

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