Hawke’s Bay Youth Theatre (HaBYT) as part of the Hawke’s Bay Arts Festival present April’s Fool from 9-13 November at Keirunga Theatre. This is a powerful work of verbatim theatre, written by Australian playwright David Burton. Speaking to directors Peter Cottrell and Champa J. Maciel, as well as some of the young people involved, here is why this piece of theatre is one not to be missed.
Why was this play chosen?
Even though set in Australia, it resonated with the team as the students we work with are venturing off to music festivals. Recent events in New Zealand at local music festivals reflected a wide range of issues with drug and alcohol abuse and we felt it was a good time to bring this story into the light. We want to start a conversation between parents and young people about these issues.
What's the play about?
April's Fool is a true story about Kristjan Terauds - almost 19 - who died from complications after taking drugs at a music festival. Interviews were conducted with Kristjans family and friends and his father David, kept a journal in the days after the incident while Kristjan lay in a hospital room on life support surrounded by family and friends.
We are representing David as having an overview of the situation as a retrospective telling of the story - symbolised by the directors’ decision to place David above the action as if he has a birds eye view - sometimes present, sometimes not.
How is this more than just theatre?
The team decided early on that they needed to wrap some services around this experience. They’ve been helped along the way by paramedic Warren Elliott who spoke to the students about what happens to the body when put into this situation and tutored those who played the role of ambulance officers. Another crucial element of this process was the weekend away to rehearse, bond and explore in depth the characters and themes of the play. Waimarama Marae and the local hall were the perfect sites for this important work.
April’s Fool is a verbatim piece of theatre. The words spoken by the characters in the context of the play were lifted word-for-word from interviews with family, friends and medical professionals after the events of the play had transpired. There is a certain realism in the text because of this, a demand for the audience’s attention, and it means that when presenting the work, a great deal of care must be taken to honour the words and stories of these, very real, living people. The issues we are confronted with in the play are very current and unfortunately a crude reality within our own community. It’s a scary thought, how vulnerable our young people are in such an unpredictable world. For this reason, we bring April’s Fool to Aotearoa for the first time as a sounding board, an open discussion with parents, siblings, grandparents and young people about a seething drug culture that is all too often swept into timorous silence. We hope to bring this topic out of the shadows and into the light, so that we may create sensitive dialogue and work together as a community to protect our rangatahi.
Symbolism of the set:
In April in Toowoomba, Qld, where the play is set - the colours of the change of season, the autumn leaves, are an iconic feature of the area. We’ve taken the falling leaves that you see throughout the play to symbolize change. Autumn brings a certain melancholy - a need to prepare for the end. It signifies death and rebirth. The symbolism of the bare branches chalked on the wall by Habyt student Tamaki Shu - represent a connection to the past and family, a return to earth through the roots and bare branches that reach out and upward towards the unknown, individuals such as on a family tree, and a suggestion of the life support system of a hospital ICU or the branches of the lungs - the bronchioles.
The intimacy of the Keirunga Theatre allows the audience to become entangled in the surrounding and outpouring of love for the family of Kristjan, who we never get to meet - but who is symbolized by the hospital bed.
To honour the kaupapa of the piece, the student reflections have not been altered, these are their words of their experiences being involved in creating this piece of theatre.
Zac: April’s Fool explores how one small decision can influence a multitude of people. It teaches us that our actions matter and affect others. Being an actor in this moving show, I hope to bring to life the universal message that what we do matters to those around us. Because everything we do has the power to change others. I hope that this show moves you as it has moved us, the performers.
Renee: The whole theme of drugs, music festivals and all that kind of stuff is super relevant to our age group. It’s so important because people really don’t understand the consequences of their actions, and this play makes you really think about it. I think that what I’ve learnt is so valuable as an actor. The physical theatre in this piece has really gotten to use our bodies in ways that we didn’t know we could, and really got us to tap into the tool that is our body. I will absolutely invite my friends and family We’ve put so much work into this piece and I think it’s a great message to be sharing. Yes, it’s really made me consider the fact that your actions can really affect everyone. It’s made me reconsider some of my views on drugs and why people actually do what they do.
Lief: This is a topic close to home as I am close to the age of Kris. I know of people who take drugs to stimulate their life experience or whatever reason they have. This makes it a very personal and relevant topic, more and more we are losing the connection to real raw life experience. With stimulation from things such as mobile devices, gaming consoles, energy drinks, drugs etc. We start having an inability to enjoy life without external form of stimulation. Taking excessive drugs or taking drugs at all takes away from life's raw enjoyment.
I will use my tool kit that HaBYT has given me in all walks of life that are yet to come. I have been given the opportunity to work with an incredible group of actors and directors and out of this I have gained so much. I intend to do theatre and other forms of acting at many more stages in my life. Toi Whaakari has always been an aspiration of mine and these tools will come in handy when the time comes.
I hope my friends can support the work I have put into this. I intend to tell them of the work I have put into this piece and how worthwhile it will be if they came.
It has given me an insight to the inter connectedness of everyone to you and that so many people are effect by you. Things have a knock-on effect and it's like a ripple in a river which is only broken by the bank of the river. Your choices will affect your life minor or major. Yes, it has and will influence my choices even if I don't acknowledge it.
Tamaki:This is a very real topic. The situation and place that Kristjan was in is eerily similar to the situation of many of the friends around me. It sheds a light on the topic, and the various opinions of the characters/people involved. This play and its message will probably stick with me for the rest of my life.
Acting verbatim was new and freshly challenging knowing that these characters I was acting were actual people, and the words of the lines were the true words of these real people. I had to remain truthful, and much time and effort was put into solidifying these characters, trying to imagine them as they really were.
Kaitlyn: Truthfulness is the most important thing that has resonated with me in April's Fool. Not only have I had to draw on real, truthful memories and events from my life in order to step into Helena's (the mother of Kristian) shoes, but I have also found truth just in terms of context. I'm off to Rhythm and Vines this year, and honestly, it's really scary stuff. It's real.
Archie: This year in HABYT and exploring April’s Fool has been a real learning curve for me, with the play being verbatim, meaning this is about real people's lives, and you must stay true to what they are trying to say. The play reminds me how precious life is. You don’t quite realise how many people you affect and how many people may miss you if you were no longer there. I have invited my friends to come along and so have my parents as there are some excellent messages that are relevant to everyone, not just teenagers. I know that in the future, if I am ever faced with a choice that may negatively impact me, I will think back to this play.
April’s Fool will be performed at Keriunga Theatre from 9-13 Nov. Tickets are available via www.hbaf.co.nz