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Sell out show for Masterton lad

The cast of Boys, Wake Up! written and directed by Jackson Burling. Clockwise from left: Isaac Andreas, Renata Mahuika, Caleb Pedro, Jackson Burling. PHOTO/SUPPLIED

Erin Kavanagh-Hall
[email protected]

A young Wairarapa thespian is making waves in the Wellington performing arts scene – writing, directing, and starring in his own sold-out show at BATS Theatre.

Jackson Burling, who grew up in Masterton and is studying in Wellington, is the creative mastermind behind Boys, Wake Up! – a darkly comic exploration of “lad culture in Aotearoa”.

Boys, Wake Up!, inspired by Burling’s teenage exposure to binge drinking culture, takes place on the Remutaka Hill: after a drunken night out, four young friends emerge from the wreckage of their car, and have to figure out how to pass the time while waiting for rescue.

The play, co-directed by Burling and Bella Petrie, and produced by Brick Haus Productions, was part of the line-up for the 2022 Wellington Fringe Festival – which was cancelled due to covid-19.

However, thanks to an enthusiastic audience response to Boys, Wake Up! – including a full house ahead of its first Fringe performance – BATS offered Burling’s crew a rescheduled season of the show, opening next week.

Burling said Boys, Wake Up! started out as an assignment for one of his classes at performing arts school Te Auaha.

He and his classmates had to come up with a concept for a stage production and were given two minutes to pitch their ideas to an executive from BATS – who was intrigued by Burling’s concept for Boys, Wake Up!

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Encouraged by the reception, he decided to develop the script further – and, within a few weeks, he’d written his first draft.

“I decided to write what I knew and write the kind of show I wanted to see – a story people can relate to, but with really high stakes,” Burling said.

“I was sitting on an idea I knew had potential, so I thought I’d be silly not to go with it.

“In this industry, you have to put yourself out there and aim for the moon. It feels great to have this exciting opportunity, and to have had such a positive response.”

Burling, who was Wairarapa College’s Head Boy in 2019, took drama classes at secondary school as it fitted with his persona as “the funny guy”.

However, it wasn’t long before he fell in love with theatre: appearing in several school productions and being chosen for the Shakespeare Globe Centre NZ Young Shakespeare Company.

In his final year at WaiCol, Burling wrote and directed his own show for the school production, called “Bus Stop” – the story of a young man discovering his identity amid school and family pressures.

In Boys, Wake Up!, Burling continues to explore the theme of identity, as his characters battle to assert their individuality in a culture dominated by toxic masculinity and groupthink.

In the play, friends Jamie, Ezra, Cameron and Bradley crash their car “in the wops” – and initially keep themselves amused with games such as 21 Questions and Truth or Dare.

As they sober up and reality sets in, the lads are forced to confront some home truths, face their mortality – and talk about their emotions.

“They’re in the bush in the middle of nowhere, it’s freezing, there’s no cell service, and no sign of help,” Burling, who plays the role of “wild man” Jamie, said.

“It poses the question: what do you do when you’re waiting to die? Do you sing songs, do you play games, or do you actually have a conversation?

“Guys are very much socialised not to talk about what’s on their mind – but, in this situation, the boys are forced to talk.”

Though the play delves into some serious topics, Burling said there are plenty of comedic moments.

“I didn’t want it to be like an anti-drunk driving ad.

“There’s a lot of ridiculous humour in there as well. It’s all about the weird places the human mind goes when you’re fighting for survival.”

  • Boys, Wake Up! runs at BATS Theatre from April 5 -8. For more information, go to eventfinda.co.nz.

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