Belinda Horne and her newly established local Theatre Company – PopinJay and Nuncle – will be bringing the joy of Shakespeare to Port Macquarie’s Town Green in a free performance this January. We caught up with the local about her vision for the festival.
You grew up in the Port Macquarie region. Tell us about life growing up here …
Bonny Hills was the best place I could have hoped for as a kid growing up. Like most kids, I needed to have plenty of freedom to be me and run amok.
Growing up, I was always putting on shows for the whole street. One particular show, my brother played the sun with see-through yellow stockings. On opening day, the ‘costume department’ had neglected to give him undies, so in hindsight, l probably should have charged more for that show. (Ha ha!)
I have always had a pretty restless spirit and a strong sense of curiosity. I was content in my little world until l came across literary giants such as Moliere, Shakespeare, Miller, Beckett, and Checkhov. I started stealing away at lunchtime in school to read them in the library. I felt a great affinity with them. They opened up this huge world for me, and I couldn’t wait to get out and see it for myself.
Where did the love and passion for theatre begin?
If you ask anyone who loves theatre the same question, I’m sure they will tell you it’s in their blood. I’m certain it’s in mine.
From a young age, it was my grandma who fostered in me a love of language, poetry and classical literature and brought them to life for me. One defining moment was when I had begged my family to take me to see Beckett’s Waiting for Godot when l was 13. That play changed me forever. Beckett isn’t for the faint hearted, but when l saw that play l felt like l had come across an old friend and that I belonged there in that theatre. Every time l step into an empty theatre, l get that same palpable feeling.
Most art these days is lamed down and appeals to the laziest audience. A staggering amount of film, music, theatre and photography these days seem to be more displays of technology than artistry; that’s why the classics are so important. I am so grateful to have been brought up knowing the difference between good and bad art, otherwise l would be frothing over junk like Twilight and Fifty Shades of Grey right now and not using them for more useful things like firewood.
You trained at NIDA. Where did you go from there?
I was so keen to get ‘out there’ in the big world. I had already auditioned for drama school, as an actor and playwright, before completing my HSC, and moved down to Sydney to start straight after school finished. My time in Sydney was spent living and breathing theatre.
The most important thing l learned from NIDA was how important it was to find and make opportunities for yourself as an artist and not to wait for others to give it to you. But I consider the time l spent outside the safety of drama school and actually ‘in’ the industry to be the real education. When it comes down to it, the only teacher you need is the audience. You put yourself in front of an audience and you’ll know quick smart what’s working and what’s not.
So I was keen to get out of the protection of institutions and mix what l had with the real world. I found it hard being trained in certain schools; l was always finding that I didn’t quite fit in and was a headstrong student. I hated anything defining me. I’m quite proud of the fact that I was never the perfect student.
Working on London’s West End, you would have gained some valuable experiences and learnt a lot about the industry. What, specifically?
It was a complete paradigm shift for me in terms of how l defined myself as a writer and actor.
I worked mostly with various playwrights from inception to final performance. I remember being backstage at Duke of York’s theatre where Michael Gambon was playing to sold out shows, and there was a scribbled note hanging in the wings that read: ‘Boldness, Boldness and more Boldness’. That idea of daring and being larger than life stuck with me.
While in Sydney, l sort of got around with my head half held high because being a ‘female playwright’ was not the most ‘sensible’ career. Working in England meant l met many successful theatre practitioners who never felt the need to apologise for their art. They saw their art as a life affirming gesture and a push against complacency and mediocrity. They had a great fight in them. Needless to say, l came back with renewed sense of pride and resolve in what l do.
You are back in Port Macquarie now and have plans for a big Shakespeare festival. What is your vision?
Yeah, it’s not the most seamless transition from London’s’ West End to Town Green Port Macquarie, but to be honest, there is something more exciting and challenging about the prospect of outdoor theatre in a place where it has never happened before.
My theatre company: ‘Popinjay and Nuncle’ seeks to enrich the community by staging free and accessible outdoor productions, bringing people of all walks of life together and involving local artists.
A good friend of mine in the industry told me to ‘bite off more than you can chew and chew like hell.’ So I guess I’m following that closely, as my vision is nothing short of ambitious.
The weekend will be a huge theatrical spectacle, complete with musicians, novelty stores, roving performers, street theatre, face-painting, fairy floss (no event is complete without it) and the main event being Shakespeare’s much loved comedy, Much Ado About Nothing.
You will launch the festival in 2013 with Much Ado About Nothing. Tell us about the performance – will it be performed in the traditional sense?
There is a reason why Shakespeare is the most performed playwright. He is truly mind-blowing. His genius rests largely in his infinite scope and universality. Shakespeare therefore belongs to everyone; he is everyman’s author and even though his works are over 400 years old, l would say he is the most relevant writer today. Much Ado is arguably Shakespeare’s most naturalistic play. We are setting the play in modern day Australia. The choice to set it outdoors was an easy one. Theatre is at its best when it is unconfined, thrilling and dangerous.
You have some local and national celeb power coming to the show to help open it, we hear?
Lisa Gormley, who plays Bianca from Home and Away, is introducing the show. Lisa is a NIDA graduate who shares with me a love of Shakespeare. We would also like the newly appointed Mayor to get behind the arts and open the show to the public.
How can locals get involved and support the free event?
Locals can get involved in the production itself, if you are a performer, musician, singer, own a stall, etc, we would love to have you. For those who are unsure about Shakespeare or have always found him boring, you are our greatest audience. Come along with your picnic rug and nibbles. There is nothing safe or precious about Shakespeare. Remember, if a performance of his were boring and reverent, Shakespeare himself would have been the last person to watch it. It may be a chance to reacquaint yourself with the world’s greatest playwright. Give him a chance to surprise you.
This story was found on issue 84 of Greater Port Macquarie Focus