Actor, writer, director and teacher Glen Pickering is staging a “Mocumentative play” called Kairoa Glory: A Top Town Story. RENEE LIANG talks to Glen about making plays from real-life childhood memories.

*   *   *

RENEE: How did you get the idea for Kairoa Glory?

GLEN: I had always had really strong memories of Top Town. It was probably one of the most exciting shows I can remember. I think every New Zealand kid made their own obstacle course in the back yard. Well I remember that Top Town came to my small rural town of Wairoa in the Hawkes Bay in the late 80s and it was just incredible. Then I started thinking about rural New Zealand and decline it went through during the 90s through to today. Top Town really symbolised many of the great things about our country back then. So the idea really came from childhood.

R: Childhood traumas? Or good memories?

G: Great memories! I was constantly out playing sport, fishing, doing all sorts of fun things. Small towns are great because you have to get outside and do things. My poor Mum only had boys so there was lots of dirty washing thanks to it all.

R: How many boys were there? And where did you fit in the family?

G: There are only two of us, I’m the eldest and Michael is two years younger than me (and about a foot taller), but we lived right next door to the college field, so that’s where lots of the activity happened... rugby, soccer, cricket. So afterwards everyone would just pile over to our place. Mum would always end up feeding twice as many people as she needed to.

R: Sounds like a typical Kiwi childhood... so is this the feel you recreate in the play?

G: Typical, well yeah I guess it sort of was. And yes, it’s what we try to capture, looking back fondly on a time in our history where New Zealand still had its innocence and charm.

R: Aww... but you’re calling the play a mockumentary. So does it have sharp edges?

G: Absolutely, any sort of satire or comedy comes with a deeper level behind it. There is strong undercurrent of how New Zealand has changed. One of biggest things is the death of rural towns. From my own experience they are almost becoming the forgotten gems of New Zealand. That is what is happening in our fictional town of Kairoa. Businesses are closing, and people are moving out and they are looking for something to revive them... and this town thinks that Top Town is the way to regain that former glory.

R: You have a strong cast, including Mr. Top Town himself, Mark Leishman. How did you bring the cast together for the show?

G: My cast are briliant. I emailed people the idea of the show. Everyone loved it and thought it was so funny. We started off, the devising process with about 15 people. Eventually after a couple of months, we were down to the core cast we have now. And Mark was by sheer coincidence... actually there was a series of coincidences that brought the show together. We started devising, then TVNZ announced Top Town was coming back. Then I talked to my Mum and found out that Wairoa were going through some dramas because they were actually the winners of Top Town in 1990, however it was being claimed that Greymouth were the 1990 winners. So Wairoa were actually going through a similar thing to our fictional town. Then I was doing a job with Mark. I knew he had been the host so I just asked if he would be interested in being in a show about Top Town... and like the others, once he heard the idea he loved it.

R: Wow! So the premise of the play was actually happening in real life at the same time you were writing?

G: Yeah, and honest to goodness I had no idea that it was happening. You think the universe was telling me something?

R: I think you should be in a different career to acting. Economic forecasting?

G: Maybe that can be my day job!

R: Yes. It might pay more! So... tell me about your other ‘sidelines’... you seem to have your fingers in many pies.

Glen: Well I have a varied job life. I’m the Artistic Director of the National Youth Theatre Company (NYTC), which performs shows at the Aotea, I also direct shows for a couple of private high schools, I do presentational work with corporates and have just started this theatre company Toi Trade. And I fit in some acting still here and there. It seems busy but it’s great because I get to choose my hours for most things and I schedule everything so I decide if I want/need a day off. It’s something that I learnt early after drama school, was that you need to become a practitioner not just an actor, or just a director, if you want to have sustainable career. I look at someone like Michael Hurst and think “that man can and does everything”, hence why he is so successful and respected.

R: What does being a “practitioner” mean?

G: For me a theatre practitioner, is someone that has the ability to work across the spectrum of theatre work, from Acting, to writing, to designing, directing etc.

R: That’s a big job... stressful, long hours, unrewarded, unthanked.... or not?!

G: Big job, stressful, long hours. Yes, but it’s incredibly rewarding. The reward for me is that I get to wake up every day and work within the industry. I really am quite awful at making coffee so that is pretty lucky.

R: Where do you aim to be in five years time?

G: I want to get Toi Trade to a point where we can schedule a full season of works, which will include doing at least one devised show a year. I would quite like to head overseas and do some study, particularly in directing. I also want to have quit smoking and played more tennis.

R: All admirable goals! Any last words?

G: At the end of the day this job is all just a big game. The game changes with each story, but the game has to be always constant. Getting to play everyday is such a joy and a privilege.