Up with the play

TOM CARDY .
Last updated 11:50 18/07/2014
Young and Hungry
STEPHEN A'COURT
SECOND THOUGHTS: Kieren Kleinshcmidt as Simon and Hebenton as the computer-mad Dan in Ralph McCubbin Howell's Second Afterlife.

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Wellington's Young and Hungry festival of new theatre performed and produced by people aged 15 to 25 is now in its 20th year. The festival has helped nurture some of the biggest names today in New Zealand entertainment including What We Do in the Shadows star and director Taika Waititi and Flight of the Conchords' Bret McKenzie, who performs with Orchestra Wellington next week.

Another Young and Hungry alumnus, Wellington actress Michelle Ang, is in the United States filming Triple Nine as part of a cast that includes Kate Winslet, Woody Harrelson and Chiwetel Ejiofor.

For Kerryn Palmer, the director of the Young and Hungry comedy Second Afterlife, opening tonight, the festival reaching its 20th anniversary is of special significance. One of Palmer's first acting jobs was in the first Young and Hungry season at Bats Theatre in 1994, where she performed in Danny Mulheron's The War of Art.

"I was 23. I had just finished my theatre degree and a teaching diploma. I think I was teaching and performing at night," Palmer says. Later in 1994 Palmer directed the play Off My Tongue at Bats Theatre. A year later Mulheron also approached her to perform in the television skit comedy series Skitz. Both, she says, she owes to the risk she took with Young and Hungry. "I was always a better director than I was an actor, but I always enjoyed acting."

Palmer, who later joined the Young and Hungry board, says the festival's vision of what it wanted to achieve was clear from the first year when it staged four plays.

"I remember going in and them saying, 'This is a chance for you to work in a professional theatre and find out how a professional theatre works. You are working with professionals in a professional environment'. For me at the time it was a perfect step up from university. You come out of university - and it still happens - and go, 'Great - I've got a theatre degree. Now what do I do with that?'

"That's the beauty of Young and Hungry. It's certainly a way of meeting people in the profession and getting a taste of how it all goes."

Young and Hungry teams up the 15 to 25-year-olds with seasoned playwrights and directors to stage a new play. Participants not only learn about acting, but can hone their interests in all aspects of staging a play. Palmer is mentoring two assistant directors this year for Second Afterlife, written by young Wellington playwright Ralph McCubbin Howell. McCubbin Howell has made a name for himself in the past seven years as a playwright, director and performer.

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His Trick of the Light theatre company, founded with Hannah Smith, has seen their play The Road That Wasn't There premiere at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago and tour New Zealand. It is being performed at Circa Two this week. His ambitious Broken River - part of Bats Theatre's STAB season last year - was staged in the ground floor of a commercial building. Another this year, The Bookbinder, was performed in a Wellington bookshop and will be staged in the Sydney and Melbourne fringe festivals this year.

Some playwrights prefer to be hands-off when their play is being staged but Palmer was pleased that McCubbin Howell wanted to fine-tune it with her and the cast. Because McCubbin Howell also directs, the two can communicate their ideas more easily, Palmer says.

"He's great. He's come to rehearsals a couple of times and just watched it. He has been really supportive and he's got great ideas and he's generous."

SECOND AFTERLIFE features Dan, who has moved from one internet obsession to the next, including social media with Facebook and Bebo, internet gaming with World of Warcraft and New Zealand dating websites. But Dan discovers that he can't simply delete his internet history, including his early and, in hindsight, embarrassing profiles.

"I was wanting to write something about the internet and about how much of our lives we put up there and how it is changing the way we interact with one another," McCubbin Howell says.

It was also a response to writing Broken River. "[That] was this big epic, quite political play and I wanted to write something that was very different to that. This was a chance to write something that was really fun and silly and playful, while still tackling some issues I think are quite important."

McCubbin Howell was also inspired by Dante's Inferno and "what if deleted profiles had ghosts".

"He wakes up and finds himself, having stumbled from the path, in a dark wood which turns out to be the underworld of the internet. He encounters all the history and all the content on his pages he's forgotten about or deleted. Through the course of the play he has do battle with the ghosts of the profiles he's used then deleted."

McCubbin Howell says despite the subject matter of his play and the questions it raises, he is as much reliant on the internet as most other New Zealanders. "[But] I'm still a bit of a luddite. I've never had an iPhone. I'm rocking a very old Nokia. It's just got colour - but that's the limit of its technological powers."

- Young and Hungry, Bats Theatre, tonight until August 2 features Our Parents' Children (6.30pm); Second Afterlife (8pm) and Uncle Minotaur, 9.30pm. The Road That Wasn't There is at Circa Two until tomorrow, 11am and 7pm

- The Dominion Post

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