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Powerful theatre soldiers on

Greytown actress Victoria Stevens in rehearsals for Ugly Lies The Bone at BATS. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

The old adage “the show must go on” has never been more apt for Greytown theatre veteran Lynn Bushell.

When it was announced in January that New Zealand would move to the Red setting of the Covid Protection Framework, Bushell was in the thick of rehearsals for the 2022 6 Degrees Festival, staged at BATS Theatre in Wellington.

Bushell’s entry in the festival, organised by Victoria University’s Film and Theatre School, was the New Zealand premiere of the dramatic play Ugly Lies The Bone – for which

Bushell, as director, recruited a troupe of Wairarapa actors and production crew.

With gatherings capped at 100 people, the move to Red has seen events cancelled throughout the country, including theatre productions.

However, thanks to contingency planning from BATS and Bushell’s creative team, Ugly Lies The Bone was still able to take to the stage – and was met with rave reviews and some teary eyes.

The play, which ran for four performances in early February, went ahead with socially distanced audiences, with the performance space filled to 66 per cent capacity.

All available tickets for each performance sold out.

The Ugly Lies The Bone production team also modified the choreography and staging to ensure audience safety, and made preparations for performing to a masked crowd.

The programme image for the play, taken by Wairarapa photographer Lucia Zanmonti. PHOTO/FILE

Bushell, who directed Ugly Lies The Bone as the final project for her master’s degree in Fine Arts (Creative Practice), was full of praise for her cast, technicians, and design team for their adaptability and cool heads.

“If (the pandemic) has taught the theatre community anything, it’s that we need to be agile, to plan ahead, and to think outside the box,” she said.

“We knew it was possible covid would rear its ugly head again – so it was important to make backup plans.

“Yes, we were disappointed we couldn’t sell out the theatre at its full capacity – but we had to work within different parameters to keep people safe.

“The team still put on a show, and they coped with everything brilliantly.”

The BATS production of Ugly Lies The Bone included nine Wairarapa creatives – two actors, two stage crew, choreographer, wardrobe manager, makeup artist, photographer, and 17-year-old audio-visual technician – as well as several industry professionals.

The play, by American writer Lindsey Ferrentino, is the story of Jess, an army veteran who returns home from Afghanistan with post-traumatic stress disorder and severe burns.

The story explores Jess’ adjustment to post-war life, the impact of trauma on her loved ones, and her eventual recovery by way of virtual reality exposure therapy.

Jess’ therapy was captured on stage through several different mediums: dance sequences, sound effects, an original musical score and audio-visual backdrops by Kuranui College student Connor Hislop.

Bushell said she and the team were “delighted” with the feedback they received, especially from Wairarapa people who travelled to Wellington to see the play.

“I think it definitely packed a punch. I was talking to one man after the show who confessed he ‘had a bit of dust in (his) eyes’, and he was wiping away tears by the end.

“It clearly struck an emotional chord. Our aim was to tell a human story – and we achieved that.”

Ugly Lies the Bone also received a positive review from a theatre critic for the Theatreview website, which praised Bushell’s direction and the actors’ layered performances.

Bushell said she was proud of her cast for not letting the added health and safety protocols affect their performance chops – though performing for an audience with part of their face obscured was a new experience.

To help the actors acclimatise, Bushell and the production crew wore masks during rehearsals.

“The audience feedback does help drive the performances – and it’s hard to gauge someone’s reaction when you can’t see their expression.

“It was an interesting experience for the actors. But it got to the point where they didn’t notice – they were too absorbed in their characters.”

With safety in mind, the crew also adapted their choreography (they had originally planned a dance sequence among the audience), and made sure the set was, in the intimate BATS setting, appropriately distanced from the front rows.

Bushell said covid and the threat of cancellations has forced theatres to examine their budgets – but this has provided opportunities to be creative with limited funds.

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