Friday 27 May 2016 4:42pm
Otago alumna Aislinn Furlong practices duelling while rehearsing a Shakespeare play. Photo: Supplied
As preparations for next week’s SGCNZ University of Otago Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Festival final get underway in Wellington two Otago alumni reflect on how the competition sparked more than just a greater appreciation of the bard’s work.
The annual Festival involves more than half the secondary schools in Aotearoa New Zealand. During regional events, pupils perform five minute and 15 minute excerpts from Shakespeare’s plays then winning schools from each region are selected to participate in the National Festival.
Opera singer Kawiti Waetford, a former Kamo High School head boy, enjoyed taking part in 2008 and 2009.
Mr Waetford had success at regional and national levels, and was one of 46 students selected to attend the SGCNZ National Shakespeare Schools Production (NSSP), a week of workshops and rehearsals in Wellington, culminating in public performances of a selection scenes from Shakespeare’s plays.
The following year he travelled to the UK with the SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company where he performed at Shakespeare’s Globe in London – the modern reconstruction of the famous theatre where the bard’s works were first performed – and visited Stratford-upon-Avon, where the Elizabethan playwright was born and died.
“I really enjoyed performing on the Globe stage and having my mum and family there to watch. Doing the haka for the director and staff of the company at the conclusion of our performance was also a highlight.”
Mr Waetford says Shakespeare remains relevant and interesting for secondary school pupils because the work relates to “universal truths”.
“It’s about stories and the archetypal characters found throughout his plays will always be relevant while humans still live, breathe and walk the earth.”
His favourite Shakespeare scene – the death scene from Othello – explores the ultimate universal of human existence, but also has great personal significance.
“It’s what bought my wife Jesse and I together.”
Mr Waetford studied a Bachelor of Music at Otago while his wife studied a Bachelor of Arts in Anthropology.
In 2010, Mr Waetford received a $10,000 Māori and Pacific Island entrance scholarship that assisted with studying classical voice at Otago with renowned mezzo and teacher Isabel Cunningham.
Last year he graduated with a Master of Arts in Advanced Vocal Studies from the Wales International Academy of Voice, University of Wales Trinity Saint David.
Otago alumna Aislinn Furlong took part in the Festival over several years, in multiple entries, both as a director and actor. She was selected for the NSSP in 2010, and the SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company in 2011.
“One of the best things about my experience with SGCNZ was that I was able to inspire and encourage students with no acting experience to delve in and truly enjoy Shakespeare in performance.
“Some of my happiest memories are of rehearsals for our entries and watching the world of the play come to life.”
Ms Furlong loves all Shakespeare’s works but is especially fond of the play Cymbeline.
“I played Imogen at NSSP before being selected for the Young Shakespeare Company – it is a ‘lucky’ role for me!”
More recently, she has studied at the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Arts, the American Conservatory Theater and the British American Drama Academy.
She has also completed her first short film In Black Ink, which was inspired by Shakespeare’s sonnets. The film will screen as part of the SGCNZ Shake Alive Celebrations 2016 in Wellington.
Ms Furlong graduated from Otago with a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in French and minoring in Theatre Studies, after receiving an inaugural University of Otago Performance Scholarship for acting.
She is currently based in Dunedin and is working on her first feature film.
This year’s national final, held in Wellington from 3–5 June, will also celebrate the festival’s 25th anniversary. Secondary pupils selected from throughout New Zealand will perform 49 Shakespeare scenes. Performances will be held at the Michael Fowler Centre on Friday and Saturday and at the St James on Sunday, which will be performed by members of SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company 2016.
• The Shakespeare Globe Centre New Zealand was founded in 1991; the first Shakespeare Festival was held in 1992.
• 95,000 high school students have participated
• more than half the secondary schools in New Zealand are now involved
• home schooled students joined the festival in 2014
• 829 secondary school students have been selected to attend the SGCNZ NSSP (SGCNZ National Shakespeare Schools Production)
• 374 New Zealand secondary school students have performed at Shakespeare's Globe, London as members of the SGCNZ YSC (SGCNZ Young Shakespeare Company)
• The University of Otago has been an event sponsor since 2007.