Duncan Armstrong claims Best Performance Award at Auckland Fringe Festival

Duncan Armstrong is back home after taking Auckland Fringe Festival by storm.

Duncan performing

The success was a while in the making but Duncan managed to take his performing arts career to the next level by a collaboration with Nic and Rose from Everybody Cool Lives Here.

Last September, director Isobel MacKinnon and Duncan started devising what became ‘Force Field’.

Using Duncan’s personal experience and ideas borrowed from Shakespeare’s The Tempest, the pair took two weeks to create a story line for a 25 minute show and a character named Chris.

“Chris imagines someone there and then they find romance,” says Duncan. “To Chris, Fiona is a real character…she’s out there somewhere”.

In November the team expanded by recruiting a few designers and by mid-January the team was working full-time on the show.

“It’s fun and a lot of work, sometimes I get tired  from  it,” tells Duncan.

“Sometimes we have to take a break and then come back to it. Then you are refreshed and recharged.”

Duncan in character

Before heading up to Auckland, the team tested the work with a few invited guests, including Duncan’s mum, Max. Character parallels with real life included wanting to move out of home, a story line that may not best delivered to an unexpected mum on the opening night.

The Basement Theatre season ran for five nights and the team managed to stay with friends, giving Duncan a taste of living with flatmates.

After a week of catching up with sleep, the Auckland Fringe Awards were announced and Force Field took home four awards, including Best Director, Best Production Design, and Best Performance (Theatre) for Duncan.

Everybody Cool Lives Here followed the awards up by attending the annual Performing Arts Market where Duncan pitched his solo alongside Jacob Dombroski.

Fingers crossed it means a step forward to touring the works to regional theatres and festivals. A Wellington return season is definitely on the cards for Force Field, and Duncan is currently looking at what it might take to get the work to Edinburgh Fringe.

Duncan and his fellow actors


One evening in in March, I received an email from a dear friend, Ruby Wills, who is the Southern Coordinator of Upp Club Dunedin. She had sent me an invitation from The Med Students Association to speak at their Otago University Medical Students Conference.

My role was to speak on behalf of people with Down syndrome so it was a challenge to make a PowerPoint presentation and a speech to go with it, because I had to speak for at least 15 minutes.

First of all, I had to write a speech talking about my achievements and my experience with doctors, so it meant to choose the right photographs and to start building ap a Power Point presentation.

It took me a month to get organised. I was watching some videos on YouTube on how to talk clear and loud and make myself understood, practicing my speech in front of a mirror so I can be more comfortable so I can be ready to speak in front of the audience, putting my slides in order so the photos fitted with my speech.

And many more details, so when the big day comes I will be well prepared.

Speaking at the conference

The big day comes and I was on my way to meet Ruby at the Otago Museum, because the night before we decided to meet there.
All of the Med students were already there and I got myself introduced from that day until today. I have made dear friends who I will cherish forever.

On Saturday May 25, my friend Ruby started to speak first because she wanted to tell the Med students how she got involved in the role of becoming the Co-coordinator of Upp Club and the wonderful opportunities that this club has to offer. Then she introduced me so I could have my turn to speak.

I spoke with such enthusiasm that I made them to applaud me at the end.

The gala dinner

That night Ruby and I got invited to go to their Gala dinner at the Savoy and we had such a FANTASTIC evening. We had a delicious buffet and we danced until we dropped. There was a professional photographer who took many photographs of us. In other words, I had a wonderful experience.

An evening of fun

The topic of my speech was about a doctor’s influence in people with Down syndrome lives.
I said that one in every eight hundred people is born with Down syndrome; and doctors have to remember some key points if they one day see a baby with Down syndrome and they could have heart conditions, thyroid dysfunctions, vision, hearing, respiratory infections and intestinal problems.

Doctors also have to understand that people with Down syndrome are not sick, that it is not a disease and we do not suffer from it.

Fun on the dance floor

Parents who are receiving the Chat 21 journal and have a baby with Down syndrome please remember to take care of your baby’s health so they can develop better.
Also believe in our ability because we do extraordinary things, we can be part of society, we can be part of groups like STRIVE or Upp Club.
We can learn and we have different skills, we have big dreams and want to make them come true.

We can achieve many things in life if we have the opportunities and you, doctors and parents, can help us to make that big difference.
Think about the great effect you have on the lives of people with Down syndrome

Like Michael Jackson’s song says:

Heal the world, make it a better place, for you me and the entire human race.  

Carlos dancing


I have got some wonderful news I would to share with everyone in the disabled community.

The good news is that I now have a paid job at the Parent to Parent and Greater Canterbury which is an organisation to help to raise awareness to empowering families, caregivers, parents, children and whanau in the community.

It was first set up in 1983 by a group of parents who wanted to help families who have ‘been there’ and have been going through experiences of their child diagnosed with similar disabilities and health impairments. So it is connecting parents to another parent and talking about the challenges that they experienced in their life. The research shows that Parent to Parent get to help children with any disability and it covers intellectual and physical disabilities. They almost are reaching the four thousand mark of conditions.

My job description is that I am being taken on as an Administrator and I will be helping with marketing, administration, clerical duties, publicity, attending AGMs and focus group meetings. At the moment I will be working on Fridays and it may be that I might be doing two days a week.

I will be fully involved with the disability sector so that I can be a good leader and advocate.

By Andrew Oswin

Andrew Oswin

By Tim Dinsdale

Hi – my name is Tim and I live in Wellington, but for the last two years I have lived in London with Mum and Dad. We went on our OE which was great fun.

I loved living in London even though it is big and very busy with lots and lots of people. We lived right in the middle of London in Bloomsbury which is not far from the British Museum and the British Library which we visited on a number of occasions. I particularly liked the Roman and Egyptian sections of the Museum and the beautifully coloured medieval manuscripts at the Library.

I do Seido Karate and horse riding here in Wellington so when we were away in London I joined the Fulham Seido Karate Club which was hard work but great fun. To get to karate we had to travel on the tube at 6 p.m. when people were leaving work to go home and I always asked Dad if the tube would be like sardines, with everybody packed together as I didn’t really like it when it was like sardines. Mostly it was but very often people stood up to give me their seat which was kind of them.

On the way back from karate it was later in the evening with less people and I always got a seat then. I liked saying hello to people or smiling at the person opposite which you don’t really do in London. I met lots of nice people that way. One night I sat next to a man who was reading music and we got talking. He turned out to be an opera singer who was practicing for an opera to be performed in front of the Queen for her Jubilee Celebrations. My Dad told him that I didn’t know you don’t really talk to people on the tube and the man laughed and said there should be more people like me as it had made his day and made the journey home much more fun. I was also able to join Special Olympics Equestrian at St Albans which is just out of London and we travelled there for my group lessons on Friday nights which I also enjoyed as I love riding.

My sister Samantha lives in London and I loved spending time with her most weekends when she had her days off work. We went to some great concerts like Michael Jackson (not the real person but someone who sang like him) and Les Miserables both of which I loved. And with Mum and Dad we all went to the Tower of London where we saw the dungeons and the Beefeaters, visited The Monument where the Great Fire of London started in 1666 and saw Buckingham Palace where the Queen lives.

Mum, Dad and I did lots of travelling while we were away. We drove all around England, Scotland, Wales and Southern Ireland, visiting old castles and little villages. My relations came from England and Scotland a long time ago and we visited lots of villages and towns where they used to live. I particularly liked walking through the graveyards looking at the grave stones trying to find our ancestors and we did find the names of quite a few. I also love anything to do with King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table so we drove to many places where he had been, including Tintagel on the coast of Cornwall where he was supposed to have been born, Glastonbury Abbey in Somerset where he and Queen Guinevere are buried and even to Winchester in Hampshire where the Round Table is up on the wall of Winchester Abbey – all the trips were really enjoyable and I have learnt a lot more about King Arthur.

We also had some great trips to Europe and beyond. We went to Austria (in the snow), Morocco (very hot, and I was really worried about all the very poor people in the streets so decided that I would like to be the King of Morocco and make sure everyone was fed and had somewhere to live). I enjoyed Spain (lovely old buildings and delicious food). One day when we were having lunch in an outdoor café in Granada, Southern Spain, a young man with Down Syndrome saw us and came over to say hello (“hola” in Spanish) and to give me a hug. I can’t speak Spanish and he couldn’t speak English but we had a conversation and lots of smiles then he said goodbye “adios”, waving as he went. I thought that was really nice of him to stop and say hello. We also visited Barbados (where my grandfather and great-grandfather lived many years ago) and Corfu (very warm and sunny with lovely moussaka which I ate many times at a little café just near where we were staying.

The family who owned it was really nice and gave me a big helping of Auntie’s moussaka each time we visited). Probably my favourite trips were to Dubrovnik in Croatia which is very beautiful, Normandy in France where I saw the Bayeux Tapestry which is 1,000 years old and to Arromanches which is the site of the D-Day Landings of the troops during World War 2. And before that, we went on a wonderful cruise on a ship through to St Petersburg in Russia visiting Stockholm in Sweden, Tallinn in Estonia and other cities. I love the places we visited but I also loved the cruise as there was a wonderful big library on board and when we weren’t out visiting places I sat in the Library and read books. Then at night after dinner there were quizzes and musicals and cooking demonstrations – all of which I thoroughly enjoyed.

Now we are back home I often talk about our time away. I met lots of lovely people and learnt a great deal of interesting things about the different countries we visited. Luckily Mum has made me photobooks which I look at often and remember all the fabulous things we did during our big OE.

Seven years after first seeing each other on the bus and being too shy to speak, James Dobinson and Jill Jefferies walked down the aisle as the first couple to be married at Christchurch’s Transitional ‘cardboard cathedral’ in November last year.

“We didn’t communicate at all at first,” says Dobinson from their home in Lyttelton: “We just sort of looked at each other.”

The couple’s relationship blossomed when they ended up flatting together with another friend, and it’s just been a matter of time since then before they got married.

Jill’s mother Margaret Jefferies says the pair always wanted to get married, and once their financial support situation was sorted out—it was all go.

“You always wanted to get married though didn’t you, it was sort of me that stopped you at first,” she says to Jill.
James and Jill took to the streets to crowd fund the wedding, playing piano at the Lyttelton Farmer’s Market on Saturdays while Jill danced—it’s a habit James has continued for ‘some pocket money’ and the fun of it.

The Lyttelton Time Bank—a community initiative where locals give up their time and expertise across a range of topics and industries in return for the services of other members—played a huge part in the planning and execution of the wedding. Everything from the cake, ring cushion to Jill’s hair and make-up, the 50s Bentley and driver was organised through the community.

“We’re all members of the Time Bank, so we ask each other for help… We shared skills and it’s measured in time, so you pay in time credits.”

Margaret says there was none of the drama usually associated with the stress of organising a wedding.
“The wedding was really easy because they both want a really nice wedding, but they weren’t Bridezillas. It was busy but it actually flowed pretty well the whole time,” she says.