Why live music and drama should be an essential part of any Kiwi’s upbringing
Graeme Tuckett is a contributor for Stuff to Watch.
OPINION: I went to the theater last week. It’s something I don’t do enough.
Time is running out and tickets are not cheap. But an invitation to the Wellington opening night of Girl From The North Country was a treat.
The show was an absolute blast. I went there expecting, I don’t know, a darker Mamma Mia! I guess, with the Bob Dylan songs holding a plot together. But Girl From The North Country is surprisingly written, working as a stand-alone drama of hard-working people doing things with great wit and humor, set in a ramshackle 1930s Minnesota boarding house.
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Writer Conor McPherson is famous across multiple mediums. But it downright thrilled me to learn that his first screenplay was the deeply bent 1997 crime comedy I Went Down, starring Brendan Gleeson in a blackmail story gone wrong, which totally lives up to the double meaning of the title. .
But Girl From The North Country was more than a good yarn. There’s old magic about people on stage, close enough to see the sweat. I like knowing that if something goes wrong, there’s no one to call “Cut!” – the actors will have to work with it. And if something happens very, very well, then we’ll be there to see it.
I was moved and moved to tears by the movies. But anyone who has seen, say, Jacob Rajan perform Krishnan’s Dairy knows that an actor with a few masks can take you into spaces that very few feature films approach. And for a millionth budget of Avatar or Marvel.
Circa Theater in Wellington turns 45 this year – we’re joined in the studio by writer and actor Gavin Rutherford, director Susan Wilson and Circa co-founder Carolyn Henwood to look back – and to look forward to the role of the place in the cultural life of the capital.
And when you pair the story and characters of Conor McPherson with the genius of Bob Dylan’s songs – here reframed in ways Dylan never imagined – the effect is electrifying.
Young Robert Zimmerman was inspired by songs he heard on the radio when he was growing up in Duluth, Minnesota in the 1950s. Later, during his first year away from home, Zimmerman will start going by “Bob Dylan”, because he was so impressed with the poems of Dylan Thomas.
Bob Dylan went on to inspire revolutions, politicians and scientists – and to win perhaps the least controversial Nobel Prize of all time. It was songs and poetry that started her journey.
Stepping out on a freezing July night in Wellington surrounded by a happy, thriving crowd, it was great to hear two teenagers talking excitedly about a project they wanted to write. And to remember how a song or a great line can change your life.
For some of us, no matter how hard we tried, all those hours of being told what to read was wasted time. But the first time we heard big lyrics, punching out the rumble of an electric guitar or over a sampled beat, that’s when we realized writing mattered – when we wanted to hear those same words over and over again – and then scribble them on a wall. And yet, we still act today as if music and songwriting aren’t as respectable as, you know, “literature.”
Well, too bad for that. Saturday night reminded me that one of the most powerful tools we have is a song. And if we care about inspiring kids to really love language, then live music and live theater aren’t just ‘nice to have’ in our education system. If we are not going to leave behind some of our best, they are essential.