Mall a stage for youth troupe

By Alexandra Newlove

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A troupe of young actors have made Whangarei's Strand Arcade their home over the last two months, exploring the place where dreams go to die. Photo / John Stone
A troupe of young actors have made Whangarei's Strand Arcade their home over the last two months, exploring the place where dreams go to die. Photo / John Stone

How would you like to help a group of renegade teenagers stage an after-hours break-in at Whangarei's Strand Arcade?

According to co-director Ash Holwell, Northland Youth Theatre's latest piece Mall Dreams is a funeral for the discarded aspirations of the young, cheekily set in a part of the CBD haunted by the ghost of better days.

Mr Holwell said the show came from talking to the young theatre-makers about the ways in which their worth was measured in a goal-oriented world.

The cast, who devised the piece from scratch, then started thinking about the dreams they had sacrificed to chase other successes.

"Their lives are assessed constantly - whether it's academically, in sport, clothing, how cool you are or how many (Facebook) likes you get," Mr Holwell said.

"Society has so many rewards for achieving dreams ... but it doesn't have a very good process around giving up on a dream to make space for a new, more 'useful' dream."

Giving up on a flagging goal for something better is a theme reflected in the arcade setting.

While the heyday of the traditional shopping mall has been and gone, the piece shows how such spaces can be used for non-retail ventures, whether it be different types of business or creative pursuits.

"It's presenting these different options," Mr Howell said.

"We've found you don't necessarily need to build a new theatre when we already have so many of these disused spaces."

The on-the-move piece, a signature of Northland Youth Theatre, sees audience members assemble at a pop-up gallery on Rathbone St before traipsing across Cameron St mall and "breaking into" The Strand, where the action continues, including on the long-disused upper level.

"The only things up there are bird poo and bird poison," Mr Holwell said.

"The Strand seemed like a perfect place to have life and young people hanging out there ... [and] it's a caricature of what's happening in the rest of town," said Mr Holwell, whose co-directors are Thomas Gowing and Johanna Cosgrove.

The gaudy consumerist mall setting clashes with a mystically lit dream world inhabited by the actors, who stage a funeral for old dreams while ushering in new ones.

Mall Dreams shows at 7pm on July 28, 29 and 30 and August 4, 5 and 6 (Thursday to Saturday both weeks) at 14 Rathbone St.

- Tickets are $16 for adults and $8 for kids at the door or through NYT (nyt.org.nz) or (09) 438 4453.

- Northern Advocate

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