As part of a new series called People of King’s, we’re interviewing staff members about some of their pursuits both inside and outside of the College. This week, we talked to Head Librarian and Director of this year’s Senior Drama Production, John Cummins.
You’ve directed productions at King’s before. Tell us a little bit about your directing experience and this year’s production.
The first show I ever directed was three years ago here at King's. It was The Wind in the Willows. I enjoy directing, even though I am a relatively new player to the game.
This year we have selected The Laramie Project. English teacher Nikki Bentley mentioned it to me a couple of years ago. I read the script whilst on a bus trip in Peru last year and was balling my eyes out by the end of it.
The Laramie Project is based on the interviews of some of the people of Laramie, recounting their experiences of what happened in their town before, during and after the beating to death of Matthew Shepard. The play examines the town's response to the killing, Matthew’s homosexuality and the media circus that the incident created.
Matthew wasn’t born in Laramie; but rather was native to a larger city in the same state. His killers Aaron and Russell were from Laramie. The question asking is “If it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when that village creates two killers?”
This play will be a challenge for the cast, not only in terms of content but also the fact that they will be playing more than one role. The original cast is 8 actors, with more than 60 different characters to play. We have increased the size of our cast to 20. Whilst doing some research on the play I discovered there was a school that had done the show with a cast of 100 students. There is a lot of flexibility to present the play in different ways.
Tell us about your theatrical endeavours. We gather you are not just a director but an actor also?
My first theatrical experience was during high school. I did an acting diploma with the Hagley Theatre Company in 1990 and I got to work with Mervyn Thompson, staging his Great New Zealand Truth Show. Mervyn was an amazing person to work with, disciplined and he demanded a lot from his cast. I was the Stage Manager for the show.
Most of my acting has been amateur or semi-professional. I have done a few big shows including Evita, Westside Story, Beauty and the Beast, Singing in the Rain and Ragtime. I was a member of Riccarton Players, Christchurch Showbiz and Auckland Music Theatre.
What would be your dream play to direct or star in?
My favourite play, hands down, is August Osage County. I would love to be in the cast.
Tell us about your job as Head Librarian?
I come from a public librarian background, specialising in children and young adult services.
Being a librarian is the greatest job in the world. I like helping people. Librarianship is about community and how to make your community a better place. I enjoy working with students, helping them to go further with their enquiry and curiosity. This element (curiosity) needs to be pushed and developed with a lot of our students. An investigation for most of our students is 5 minutes on Google and they have done "research". We have to teach the students how to search deeper and that involves reading, prior knowledge, detective work, primary sources, and authority of the source.
How do you marry the two worlds of being a director and a librarian?
Directing is storytelling. Instead of a book and the author's words, I have a script and players. Using dialogue, action, lighting and sound to form the pictures of the story. To convey the emotion of what is happening on the stage to the audience.
How are you going to tell the tale? What ideas and pictures do you want to make? How do you get the best ideas from your cast and how are they telling their character's tale? How do you meld that to form your show? Play selection, like book selection, is important. First of all I need to be in love with the story, does it move me? Can I see the performance in my mind's eye?
What’s your best anecdote from your time as a Librarian?
I once chased a lady down the mall for stealing a book from Bishopdale Library. I also met a librarian who was an anarchist who ran the pop-up library in Zuccotti Park, the Occupy Wall Street protest.
Tell us some of your favourite books or recommendations. What are your Top 5 picks?
2666 by Roberto Bolano
A prayer for Owen Meaney by John Irving,
Norwegian Wood by Murakami Haruki,
The shadow of the wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Luminaries by Eleanor Catton.
One writer to watch for is Wellingtonian Ashleigh Young, she won the Windham-Campbell Literature Prize ($250,000) for Can you tolerate this? (Nonfiction).