Pippa Neels has an appetite for drama - and comedy, tragedy and musicals.

The 19-year-old enjoys theatre so much she delayed a trip to France to participate in this year's Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre, presented by the Auckland Theatre Company.

Neels, a second-year university student, is one of 50 emerging theatre-makers involved with the festival which started in Wellington 16 years ago but arrived in Auckland just last year.

She epitomises the spirit of Young and Hungry, which offers 15- to 25-year-old theatre enthusiasts the chance to be actors, directors, stage managers, designers, publicists and backstage crew while being mentored by experienced professionals.

"How many opportunities do you get like this? When one comes along, I think you just have to take it because you can't stand back and wait for things to come to you," says Neels. "I guess I've started thinking more along the lines of 'what can I do now?' rather than worrying about where I will be and what I can do in 20 years' time.

"I had been thinking of going on an exchange to France but I auditioned for and got into Young and Hungry and all of a sudden my world expanded."

Young and Hungry usually features three new works but ATC's creative development manager Lynne Cardy decided to delve into the back catalogue and present two works not seen in Auckland as well as a new piece.

Written by promising playwright Eli Kent, 22, Thinning was commissioned for this year's Young and Hungry.

It is a coming-of-age story about six friends treading water between leaving school and stepping out into the world.

"We are told that time in your life is a kind of threshold and that the decisions and choices you make will affect the rest of your life but it's not the beginning or the end that people make it out to be," says Kent, who wrote the award-winning The Intricate Art of Actually Caring.

"It's a turn in the road and you are allowed to make a couple of mistakes, go down a few dead-ends and turn around.

"I guess this play is a way of giving my past self a bit of a hug."

Neels plays Lily who, in marked contrast to herself, cannot wait to flee New Zealand and see the world.

Thinning is directed by actor Laurel Devenie who makes her professional directorial debut. At 27, Devenie says she still feels young and hungry particularly as she begins directing. She likes to find ways of involving the actors in the production process so they feel they have a personal stake that goes beyond appearing in the play.

Most recently, she worked with Margaret Mary Hollins on The House of Bernarda Alba. Devenie co-directed, taking responsibility for a 20-strong chorus.

"I've been overeating a lot lately but I feel I'm definitely still as young and hungry as I was in my early 20s because I'm still committed to following something I really want to do. I love the name 'young and hungry' because it embodies the energy of the whole project."

First performed in Wellington at Young and Hungry 2005, Exchange was written and is directed by Lauren Jackson, who travelled to Germany on a student exchange in the 1990s. The play, which won Jackson a Chapman Tripp award for Most Outstanding New Playwright, is based on her experiences.

"But it's not autobiographical because I didn't get up to nearly half as much mischief as my characters do.

"I used a mix of my own experiences and gossip that I heard on the student exchange grapevine. I took the most exciting stories and put them all together. I was much more boring."

Exchange takes a trip back to the 1990s, when cellphones were as big as bricks, MTV ruled and grunge fashion was all the rage, to explore how the Big OE expands horizons.

Jackson, who began her career playing the lead in the New Zealand film Alex, says there are advantages to directing her own work - she doesn't have to seek the writer's permission to make changes to the script.

But she acknowledges a writer can become attached to their own work so she seeks frank input from the production crew as well as the nine actors appearing in Exchange.

Now 33, Jackson says the expression "young and hungry" reminds her of her 5-month-old daughter.

"But it also sums up that time in your life when you are on the brink of discovering who you are and what your passions are and you are casting about looking for any opportunity to pursue that."

Fitz Bunny
And now for something completely different: a pink bunny with a Napoleonic complex and an ego the size of Norway who has a nuclear weapon and wants to be mayor of the Auckland Super City.

It is Fitz Bunny, a musical adapted by Grant Buist, 36, from his cult 2007 cartoon-strip Brunswick when he was trying to impress his then girlfriend.

"I had a girlfriend who could sing and act but there wasn't much work around at the time so I decided to write something for her.

"I thought it was quite romantic but she objected to having to audition."

The relationship ended but Fitz Bunny, with its political satire, fringe humour and music, earned rave reviews. Buist, who likens the production to The Rocky Horror Picture Show meets Cabaret, says he's adapted his script for Auckland audiences with plenty of references to the Super City mayoral race and a swag of new songs.

Simon Coleman, a director and set designer, says it's a licence to be silly and have fun with an outrageous but clever script. At 42, he describes himself as "old and full but young at heart".

"Young and hungry - that's what you have to be to make a life full of stuff that you want around you doing things you want to be involved in."

What: Young and Hungry Festival of New Theatre
Where and when: Basement Theatre, July 9-24