Recently Port Macquarie was treated to free performances of Shakespeare’s Much ado about nothing thanks to the newest theatre company on the block – Popinjay and Nuncle.
With eager crowds even turning up to rained out performances the show was an obvious hit, the classic example of romantic comedy that is Much ado was presented with contemporary twists, the use of popular music and sometimes outrageous costumes helped connect with the youthful crowd. What really made Much ado stand out was the crowd interaction, with some of the best acting taking place off the stage and amongst the audience, which were delivered with such zealous sincerity that all onlookers were captivated from start to finish.
After the last of these performances had wrapped up, I took the time to chat with the founder of Popinjay and Nuncle, Belinda Horne, about what the future holds for the company…
After these performances, I need to take up drinking again (laughs) to keep the creativity coming.
I think I need to have something ‘Shakespeare’ every year, it was so fun, and I’ll definitely be having more free theatre.
So why is it so important for you to present your theatre company productions for free?
My focus is having art that is successful, and outside of established commercial theatre groups.
Living in Sydney for 10 years I got to see well-loved theatre companies who were great in their own right prosper and do well, but to enjoy their shows you had to pay f***** up amounts of money – and that attracts only a specific crowd of people, those who can afford it, whereas Popinjay and Nuncle is about attracting all members of the community.
Shakespeare shouldn’t be limited to the rich, the wealthy, the whole community should be able to enjoy and benefit from the work of great playwrights.
Was it hard to fund this event without the financial stability a theatre company would usually find through making profit?
Yes, all my money went into this production (laughs). We did receive a grant from the Hastings Council though, for which I am so grateful, it really helped us work out the logistics of putting on a play and showed us that the community was ready to support our theatre.
Eventually this will be my career, it will be a profitable enterprise, but the heart of Popinjay and Nuncle will always be in hosting free theatre and events accessible to all members of the community.
Why did you choose Much ado about nothing as your company’s Shakespeare first play?
Much Ado About Nothing was the most naturalistic play to introduce to Port Macquarie as a first time Shakespeare performance, the language isn’t as dense as other historical plays, and it meant that the first exposure people from the area have to Shakespeare wasn’t an overwhelming or baffling one.
The play is easy to enjoy and harnesses universal themes of romance, comedy and battle of the sexes, all of which are central to modern entertainment.
… Meaning people will hopefully come back for more!
The character you play in Much ado, Beatrice, is a feisty woman adamant on not giving in to societal pressures. Do you feel that as a person you share these characteristics?
I feel quite partial to feminist characters, and most of the women in Shakespeare’s stories go against the grain of the cultural expectations of his time which is hugely inspiring for any artist such as myself. I felt that playing Beatrice, a rebellious and challenging character, totally fitted my personality. She really wants her own life, never wants to be forced into decisions, especially in matters of the heart: “Would it not grieve a woman to be overmastered with a piece of valiant dust?”
Is this need to “go against the flow” a description you see your theatre company in alignment with?
Art and theatre should challenge an audience and not bend to the whim of popular culture, of what is deemed ‘cool’ or convenient – just like Beatrice herself who refuses to accept anyone’s opinions at first glance – so yes. Our company needs to be daring, never safe, and shouldn’t pander to anyone.
In the world of cinema, DVDs, and worldwide entertainment available at the click of a mouse – why do you think theatre has remained popular with all ages?
Theatre is at least 10 000 years old, so as the oldest art form is draws on the universal human need to feel included. Theatre is one of the rare forms of entertainment that isn’t individualistic, to be enjoyed many people have to be involved – this is what makes it different to watching a DVD by yourself, which can be fun, but people will always be drawn to the socialisation involved with watching a play because it encourages the primitive impulse to share a story, to share experiences, with other people. Basically it comes down to: if we don’t share our stories, we aren’t connected, and we all desire to feel connected.
Recently one of the most famous French plays (adapted from novel form), Les Miserable, was produced into a cinema box-office hit starring international celebrities Hugh Jackman, Russel Crowe and Anne Hathaway (to name a few). What do you think of this Hollywood-isation of classic plays? In what way does this cater to the modern audience?
Taking something that has done well straight from Broadway is a risk free enterprise that film has latched onto. And this bringing of classics to the big screen is centred around an audiences need to feel instant gratification, which in terms of theatrical entertainment is not necessarily a positive thing.
It is frustrating to see the movie industry, so desperate to churn out material, resort to resting on the achievements of famous theatre pieces in order to retain financial success. What this “Hollywood-isation” means is we are encouraged to think we can override our need for human interaction, we are told we can find that in a movie, on TV, on our iPods – but we can’t.
Theatre will always offer interaction and connectedness in a challenging way, it may not be as palatable as audiences are used to but it will always be worthwhile.
As someone who has worked successfully in theatre groups in the UK and Sydney what keeps you motivated to work in a town not really known for its artistic scene?
I love the opportunity my home area gives me to build up other aspiring actors. The joy I get from introducing these people to theatre in a fun and encouraging way makes the project so much more rewarding than “making-it” in big-city theatre scenes.
Do you find your work to be more influenced by modern or classical artists?
The term “classic” insinuates something great for a reason; the classic plays and stories are what we first think of when talking about influential art.
I can’t find an affinity with modern plays and I don’t really know why, I know I am attracted to classic or at least older works because they tested the precedent of their time – their foresight and visions for their works were so much more daring compared to the machine-manufactured stories writers pump out today.
I hear you plan to run drama workshops, tell me about that
Yes, at the new Port Macquarie Youth Hub I’ll be doing drama lessons on Tuesday nights, but I hate the phrase “drama” (laughs).
I think of them more as storytelling workshops, where you’re not just told how to act, but rather I share my knowledge of how to tell a story on the stage… dropping any of the dramatics (laughs) and though teaching mime, voice movement creating theatre.
What was the biggest obstacle in gaining the support of movers and shakers?
Conservatism… people’s perception of what “art” and “theatre” should be, and where it belongs, can often lead to misunderstanding. However it’s an obstacle we pushed through, as you can see (laughs).
What was the most rewarding thing about hosting the Much ado performances?
Seeing my cast progress and relish this learning experience, I’m like a proud mum (laughs) and I loved watching them develop a sense of ownership over their characters, and to see how the audience responded to the characters and the play in turn makes it all worthwhile.
Lastly, what message do you want to send to the public about Popinjay and Nuncle?
I want our theatre company to have vigour and integrity, and not get to a point where we are happy with our reputation and become ‘safe’ – we will be making and performing works that will both involve and challenge our community through sincere, passionate, storytelling. And we’ll be enjoying ourselves the whole time (laughs)