"Now we're chewing chewing gum," drama coach Jan Fisher tells her class, and they all chew with great gusto.

"Don't swallow it," Ms Fisher cautions them. "Blow it out."

And they make gum bubble faces.

Next, they have to think of "a lovely word" and pass it round. Someone comes up with "ghost" which gets scarily, eerily and even shyly passed around the circle from Postman Pat, the super hero, the lady in a wide-brimmed hat, the fur-clad girl with a toy dog, the sinister chap in the black mask.

Casey Hawkins-Attwood prepares for his role in Paper Valley. Photo / John Stone
Casey Hawkins-Attwood prepares for his role in Paper Valley. Photo / John Stone

The word "ghost" only just makes it all around before it collapses under a shower of giggles.

These activities are among giant strides being taken in a collaboration between a seasoned performance collective and a group of people more used to creating paper products than theatre productions.

Whangarei dramatic art group Company of Giants has paired up with The Papermill, which trains intellectually challenged and disabled people in the art of papermaking.

For much of this year they have been holding workshops, developing the script and had weekly rehearsals for the production, Paper Valley, in which the papermakers have acting, front of house and backstage roles - including making many of the props.

As well as expert coaching and support from Jan Fisher, Ash Holwell and other Company of Giants crew, the cast had tutelage from well-known actor and director Stuart Devenie who drove up from Auckland on a weekly basis until other commitments took him away.

The workshops covered all aspects of performance and utilised movement, confidence building, games and expression. Early in the piece, they helped directors and coaches assess each performer's skills and character possibilities.

The story is based on a street of shops, but mum's the word on what the shopkeepers and their customers get up to.

"The show has been designed around the papermakers and written to suit their individual skills," said Kitty Mulder, from The Papermill.

The production is also linked to The Papermill's recent exhibition of their paper-based arts, Our Amazing Spaces, an exploration of what a living space means to each of the papermakers.

- Paper Valley will be performed at 116 Bank St, the Company of Giants' base, on November 11, at 5.30pm.