A New Zealand theatre-maker is returning to her Auckland home after 18 years away to stage her musical version of Pride and Prejudice – but Karen Burnett Hamer's own story has similarities to another famous musical.
As a mother of 10 children, four of whom are actively involved in her Tin Roof Productions theatre company, the family could be said to resemble the Von Trapps made famous in The Sound of Music.
But Burnett Hamer, 50, says her children, aged from 9 to 24, have always been given the freedom to explore their own interests which means only four of them – so far – have joined her in show business.
Her oldest daughter, Jessamine, wrote the lyrics and helped arrange the music for Pride and Prejudice, the Musical while three of her children perform. In Auckland, they'll be joined by their cousin and Burnett Hamer's nephew, Carlin Diprose.
The show, now celebrating its 10th anniversary, sticks largely to Jane Austen's revered novel. It features an American cast with supporting Auckland actors and, as well as performances at Glen Eden's Playhouse Theatre, the cast will travel to the Spring Hill Corrections Facility in the Waikato.
Burnett Hamer said working in prisons has become a cornerstone of Tin Roof Productions because she believes in the power of theatre to transform lives. It has certainly changed her life – and that of her family.
Raised in East Auckland's Howick, Burnett Hamer left in the 1990s when, in her early twenties, she married her American husband, Frank. A trained teacher, she and her husband wanted lots of children so the next few years were spent mothering and home-schooling their growing brood. The couple had a set of twins and adopted three children from Ethiopia.
The former Macleans College student had always done drama classes and singing, performing in school and community plays as well as with choirs. In 2006, Burnett Hamer experienced depression and realised she needed to carve out some time for herself. She started writing musicals after the children went to bed or between ferrying them to extracurricular activities.
"I would look at my time and think, 'right, I've just dropped one child off and there's 20 minutes before I have to collect the others' and pop into a coffee shop and use the time to do some writing," she said. "I used pinches of time to write."
Tin Roof Productions formed in 2008. The show debuted in Colorado Springs in 2009 and in its 10 years has travelled round North America and to the International Jane Austen Festival in Bath, England. The company likes to work with people from the towns and cities that it's visiting and members are billeted with local families while on tour.
"This is one of the deeply enjoyable and richly satisfying aspects of our tours," said Burnett Hamer. "As an all-volunteer community theatre company, it also helps with expenses but the true value is in a deep connection to local people and culture."
A growing interest in theatre in prisons saw Burnett Hamer working at Colorado State Prison; one of her pupils was, on release, offered a full time job in professional theatre while Burnett Hamer's work earned her a scholarship to study for a Masters Degree in Applied Criminology at the University of Cambridge.
She graduated this year and admits commuting between the USA and England, as well as parenting a large family, had its challenges.
"I would say, though, that we're the kind of family where everyone pitches in together and everyone has to help out," she said. "It's a very integrated lifestyle where everyone has to work together and communicate."
• Pride and Prejudice, the Musical" is at the Playhouse Theatre, Glen Eden from Wednesday, July 10 – Sunday, July 14. www.iticket.co.nz