For actress and comedian Cheryl Amos Whanganui has been a soul town and healing place, the place she goes "when it all falls apart".
She was in town for two performances of her one-woman show The Eventual Genius, part of the Winter Wonderfest, on August 16 and 18. The show is based on her own life, "a light-hearted romp through addiction, mental illness and abuse".
She's touring it around New Zealand, has a suitcase and is not sure she'll go next.
Amos arrived in Whanganui aged 16, after running away from her family in New Plymouth. She joined "a nice bogan underbelly scene". She and her companions were sometimes on the dole and on the PEP schemes for the unemployable, "plus, because it was the 1970s, there was always work," she said.
While recovering from drug addiction Amos took her three children to Hazel Menehira's Rainbow Theatre, a children's theatre that operated on a shoestring from 1979-89. She was on a benefit and got the job of cleaning and watering plants.
But theatre seized her and with the help of Menehira she trained as a speech and drama teacher, tutored at the theatre and directed plays.
"That woman changed my life," she said.
Wanting to learn more, she took her children to Palmerston North and trained in theatre at UCOL. She became a professional actor at Centrepoint Theatre, starting with three shows back to back.
"You would be rehearsing one show during the day and performing another show at night."
From there she moved to Wellington, married actor James Cockle and worked at Circa and Bats theatres. She returned to Whanganui with two children when that marriage ended, and wrote the play The Fundraisers.
Her next move was to Dunedin and the Fortune Theatre, where she taught acting to people with intellectual disabilities. She absolutely adored that.
"They were so pure, with no filter. They were working at another level."
While in Dunedin Amos took part in a Shakespeare marathon, reading all Shakespeare's plays.
"I did about 13 of them. It changed my brain. We ended up in pjs and onesies at 3am in the morning. It was an amazing experience," she said.
She has also dabbled in stand-up comedy performance, in Christchurch and Auckland, and now wants to develop that.
"I love it because I'm in control of my own work. It's very planned. It's honed and honed. It comes from a very dark place and you try and find something funny to come out of it," she said.
"I think that's our job, as comedians, to shine the light on things and be the fool."