News & Events

World-class director for Summer Shakespeare

Wednesday February 5 2020

“Random kismet” has led to London-based director Mel Cook leading this year’s Manawatū Summer Shakespeare production, Twelfth Night. She is Palmerston North’s latest Visiting Artist in Residence.

Photo shows woman standing on a balcony.

A graduate of RADA’s Acting BA and Birkbeck University of London’s MFA in Theatre Directing, Mel has devised and directed site-specific, interactive and digital events in the United Kingdom and United States, as well as classic, cabaret, physical and improvised theatre.

The Palmerston North residency came as an extension of travel plans. A Google search showed up Palmerston North’s Visiting Artist in Residence programme. “It was really just a kismet thing, with me going, well, I’m going to be there, and you need someone about the time I’m going to be there – so, do you fancy it?

“It was kind of that Joseph Campbellian thing of doors opening when you are on the right path at that moment.”

With a passion for live autonomous events, Mel says there’s something about theatre that’s a bit like a good music gig. “It’s kind of the most human of art forms, in that it's about real people, in real-time, in a real space, breathing the same air and having an experience together. I’m very much interested in creating theatre that has that sense of shared experience and shared space.

“Doing something like this – out in the park, out in the community – is perfect. Everyone is part of it. You don’t have some weird fourth wall where everyone is sitting in the dark and pretending they’re not being watched.”

The Palmerston North Visiting Artists Scheme, supported by Massey University, Palmerston North City Council and the Square Edge Arts Centre, contracts three artists across different disciplines each year. In the third residency of the year, a theatre artist works with the region’s community to create a production for Manawatū Summer Shakespeare. This scheme has created outstanding productions for almost two decades. Its momentum has built audiences – drawing in people who would normally never attend the theatre.

Playwright and community arts initiator Dr Angie Farrow says Manawatū Summer Shakespeare gives the community’s emerging and established artists “a unique opportunity to upskill and be part of a creative community that proves to be uplifting, deeply involving and an example of a collective effort that is unique in this region”.

Working with an army of actors, designers and musicians, Mel will direct a Twelfth Night production that is “a rollicking party with identity bass”.

“Twelfth Night is a fun romp, and is also extremely timely, given the growing awareness of the identity spectrum. Set in a privileged modern world, these are people in the yachting set. People with household staff. People who still flaunt familial titles. And people who have space and freedom to question and remake their identities. Young, well-heeled influencers; older, party letch uncles; and the support staff who actually work,” Mel says.

As the resident artist, Square Edge Arts Centre is hosting Mel in its ‘Artpartment’. She also has an office at Massey University. During her residency Mel is also involved with Massey’s summer school contact courses, various community workshops, and the Shakespeare in Schools programme, where she’ll inspire local high-school students, as well as offer community workshops.

This story was originally published in the summer 2019 issue of PalmyProud. Read the latest issue.