First directing role a big stretch for Nina

CHALLENGE YOURSELF:  Nina Donkin, 14, is directing a musical that will be performed at the Globe Theatre in May.
CHALLENGE YOURSELF: Nina Donkin, 14, is directing a musical that will be performed at the Globe Theatre in May.

Fourteen-year-old Nina Donkin believes teenagers should have hard things to do, just to prove they can.

So she's doing something difficult – directing a musical with a cast of 37 that will be performed at Palmerston North's Globe Theatre in late May.

"And it's so much fun," she said. "It's a stretch, but it's fun. I'm learning that you can do just about anything that you put your mind to doing."

The musical is Psalty, and the story features a singing songbook that tries to stretch time for children who are running out of it, to finish a project. Instead, they go back in time, and find themselves in various historical and Biblical scenes – such as in Solomon's Temple, and with David and Goliath.

"We've sung along to the songs in this musical for years," said Nina, of her family. "And we said months ago, that we should make this musical."

She and her mother, singing teacher Debbie Donkin, sent away for the script, and held auditions. Some people came from Nina's home-school network, some from city churches, and some from previous productions she's been involved with.

"Psalty is an adult part, and he's being played by John Aldersley. We were in Joshua; A Song of Redemption together, so he knew my work."

Twenty of the cast are children, aged from seven to 14.

"What's interesting about directing is that you have to see it all in your mind, then make it happen. It's multi-track thinking. I've had to learn so much, especially with lighting and sound." She's also learned to use the expertise and experience held by the cast. She's working out choreography, with her senior dancers. Mrs Donkin is musical director. Nina's grandmother, an expert seamstress, is advising on costumes. The production's been given a big box of costumes by the Gateway Church.

Nina's previous theatrical experience has been singing and acting. As well as her part in Joshua, she's also been in another church production, In the Shadow of Messiah. She's sung in concerts all her life, and was the 2009 Reach for the Stars intermediate solo winner. And last year she won a special Trinity College award for the best grade for singing in Manawatu-Whanganui, for grades six to eight. She was sitting grade six at the time.

"And I was a teaspoon in Beauty and the Beast [in 2008]. There weren't actually meant to be parts for children in that one, but six of us were so keen that [director and choreographer] Dean McKerras sorted out parts for three teaspoons and three sugar cubes," she said.

Nina's lately been reading Do Hard Things: A Teenage Rebellion Against Low Expectations, written by American homeschoolers Alex and Brett Harris.

"I think some people think being a teenager is an excuse to muck round, but it's bad for people to have nothing expected of them. I think expectations work. Mum tells me that she expects me to do certain things, and I do."

Doing things leads to the confidence that competence gives people. Buttoning that competence up to passion for something, and to belief that it can be done, and expectations are exceeded all round, she says. "It doesn't matter what other people appear to think. If you believe in yourself, and if you feel really strongly about something, do something about it." Something she feels really strongly about is having theatre productions of excellent quality that anyone can go and see without being shocked or offended.

"Family Friendly Productions. That's the company I'd like to set up."

Nina has been home-schooled since year 6, with a break to go to secondary school in year 9. She decided she preferred home-schooling, however, because of its freedom to follow her interests.

Mrs Donkin, who teaches Nina and her younger brother Stan, says she expects them both to attain a university-entry level qualification, to have a sport or sports they enjoy, and cultural activities. Nina sings – her voice is a developing soprano coloratura. She practises the Brazilian non-contact martial art capoeira, which was one of the development points for break dancing. She used to roller skate competitively, but an injury stopped that.

"So now I'm a soccer hooligan instead," she said, laughing.

Bright Young Things will now appear in Tuesday editions of the Manawatu Standard.

Manawatu Standard