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Pandemic In Newtown

8 October 2008

Pandemic In Newtown

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Julia Croft Year 3 Acting student at Toi Whakaaari: NZ Drama School, embodies the fear and paranoia of small town Unity (1918). Photograher Philip Merry


The 1918 Spanish flu pandemic swept the world at the end of World War One, killing millions of people. The tiny isolated community of Unity in Saskatchewan, Canada did not escape. Kevin Kerr’s play, Unity (1918) tells the story of this small town, caught up in a global tragedy.

Conrad Newport (King and Country, Niu Sila) directs at Toi Whakaari for the first time, working with nine third year actors in this graduation season production.

“I found the play in the Nola Millar Library at Toi Whakaari after a long search. It’s perfect grad material” says Mr Newport, “because it offers all nine actors a “meaty” role and presents an exciting opportunity for the supporting technical and design students”.

The production is supported by lighting and stage management students and fourth year Design student Rose Kirkup. “It was a huge and exciting challenge to portray a stylised version of an entire town and a ‘big-sky’ horizon inside our theatre building in Newtown”, says Ms Kirkup.

When the town of Unity is quarantined, we see what happens as fear takes hold of the community and the citizens begin to turn on one another. The name of the town takes on an ironic twist as the flu takes more lives, and people become isolated by panic and paranoia.
Despite the themes of tragedy and death Mr Newport says there is also searing black humour brought out by the carefully crafted small town characters.

Coincidentally, D’Arcy Smith, newly recruited voice tutor from Toronto, Canada arrived at the School in September, just as the rehearsal period for Unity (1918.) began. He spent his first few days coaching students in the subtleties of the Canadian accent, and perfecting their delivery.
“I was delighted to offer my experience and expertise in this specific voice coaching project which had immediate relevance to the students” says Mr Smith.

Noting the value of presenting an epic story such as this in the Graduation Season, Toi Whakaari Director Annie Ruth says “The scale of this play provides a perfect challenge for our students, and this will serve them well as they graduate and move into the industry to make work together in the future.”

UNITY ( 1918 )
Te Whaea Theatre, Te Whaea National Dance and Drama Centre, 11 Hutchison Road, Newtown
Thursday October 23 – 31
7 pm TICKETS: $15/$10
Bookings 04 381 9253 (automated line)


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