No exit stage left for Janis

By Christine McKay -
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Janis Bull (centre) plays Elizabeth, who leads a retirement village revolt against the council during a recent production of The Old People Are Revolting. Photo / Supplied
Janis Bull (centre) plays Elizabeth, who leads a retirement village revolt against the council during a recent production of The Old People Are Revolting. Photo / Supplied

Dannevirke's Janis Bull first starred in the theatre when she was 3. Now the 80-year-old has taken part in her first local production, The Old People Are Revolting.

Cast as Elizabeth, an elderly resident with dementia, Janis found the role to be a long way from the caterpillar she played as a child.

"I had a solo part in a production in Wellington when I was 3. I was a green caterpillar who came out from under a bush and I loved it," she said.

More stage appearances followed when Janis joined an Eastbourne theatre group, also appearing with a nurses' theatre group in a competition in Rotorua.

"We went to the finals and won and I was hooked," she said.

Asked if she would be interested in playing someone with Alzheimer's in the Dannevirke Theatre Company's production of The Old People Are Revolting, Janis agreed to give it a go.

"I really loved being in the show because I think director Gary Mitchelmore had selected a cast well-suited to their roles. Mind you, I did think I was past all that stuff. However Gary was a very, very good director; patient, kind and he didn't push."

Struggling with dyslexia, Janis had to be creative when it came to learning her lines.

"Things can get a bit jumbled so to help learn my lines [I] recorded them on my cellphone and constantly played them while I was busy at my weaving loom."

Janis said she enjoyed the experience though at times felt extremely tired: "But once I got to the theatre I'd revive and I'd be on a high. I celebrated my 80th birthday at a matinee performance and my sister brought along a cake, my son, John, came from Taradale and a friend from Picton.

"You know, if you take the zero away, then I'm only 8, with a lot of living to do yet."

Although now on her own, with her little dog Gilly for company, having battled breast cancer and a serious heart condition, Janis has never been happier.

"So long as you're happy, healthy and have friends, nothing else matters."

And will Old People Are Revolting be her stage swansong?

"I won't say no because you're closing the door," she said. "I don't know what's going to happen in my life ... that's what makes life exciting. I love it here in Dannevirke, where the people are kind and supportive."

Janis is an accomplished painter who spins, weaves and carves stone and wood.

Although she doesn't know where her love of theatre came from, it also seems it runs in the blood of her son, John, who had arole in the Tararua Theatre Company's production of Fiddler on the Roof in Dannevirke in 2011 as the butcher.

"I didn't know he could sing like that," she said. "My daughter, Anne Johal, is very creative too and runs the Talking Cat Art Studio in Hastings."

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