Jolt Dance in Christchurch has teamed up with Belmont Productions to create the short film “The Call Me Sam” to offer a different perspective on disability, focusing on the individual rather than the diagnosis.  

The short film looks at the life of Sam Stevens, a Jolt dancer with Down syndrome. 

The film grew out of a performance created by Jolt Youth in 2017 called “I am Sam which was created in response to new pre-natal testing for Down Syndrome. In countries like Iceland, this testing has resulted in 100% abortion rates for babies with Down Syndrome. 

“It is wonderful people can have choice, but the problem is the culture which is still really negative about disability,” says Lyn Cotton, the Jolt artistic director. 

“Through Sam’s life we were trying to ask those really big questions like ‘what does it mean to human?” 

The original show “I am Sam used dance, theatre and film, to portray who Sam is _from his birth and early life to the present day. Within that story we see Sam as an individual, not just as a person with Down syndrome. 

The film They Call Me Sam uses dance scenes and rehearsals from that original production, as well as behind the scenes footage and interviews with Sam’s parents, other parents and performers. 

“These dancers come through a society that has very low expectations, so we have to fight that,” says Cotton, who had hoped to first show the film in London this May. 

Jolt Dance had been invited as special guests to the 40th anniversary of Amici Dance, one of the longest running inclusive dance companies, but due to the Covid 19 virus, these celebrations have been delayed. Jolt had fundraised and crowd sourced over $10,000 to take their dancers to England and Cotton says those funds will be held until a new date for the Amici event is announced. 

In New Zealand, the film will be distributed to medical people like radiographers, midwives, nurses and doctors, to educators and trainee teachers to raise expectations, to schools and to the disability sector as a celebration of strength and being different. 

The experiences of our parents and other people within New Zealand to a Down Syndrome diagnosis continues to be negative,” says Cotton. “It focuseon all the problems that may occur. It is a culture of fear instead of expectation. It is also a culture that sees the disability as the most important factor in determining who a person is.  

“We want this film to offer another side to the story. Sam’s life is one of purpose and love,” says Cotton. 

Sam’s father Tom features heavily in the film, but unfortunately passed away recently before he could see the end product.  

In the film he points out that most of us are stressed and can only see the problems ahead of us. “But not to one of these kids. Perhaps we should be more like them,” said Tom. 

By Coen Lammers  

Actors with Down syndrome are becoming a hot commodity with three young female actors starring in two movies and a play in recent months. 

Actors with Down syndrome are becoming a more regular feature on television and in movies, including Coronation Street, Shortland Street, and of course the current box office success Peanut Butter Falcon. 

In New Zealand, Libby Hunsdale from Whanganui has been filming the movie Poppy at the Kapiti Coast, Lily Harper filled the lead role in the theatre production Up Down Girl, while Amber Ranson features in the short film Peninisula which was planned to be featured at film festivals overseas. 

Like the Hollywood blockbuster Peanut Butter Falcon, the New Zealand productions mostly centre around life with Down syndrome and the hurdles other people are putting up to stop people with Down syndrome to chase their own dreams. 

Libby Hunsdale on the set of Poppy with Sebastian Hunter.

Libby Hunsdale was picked for the title role of Poppy after extensive casting by writer and director Linda Niccol. 

Niccol said that the 18-year-old was “a real find”.  “She embodies the spirit of Poppy. She is a true performer.” 

Finding the right actress for the role was challenging because the actor had to be able to drive a car.  

Poppy is a New Zealand film about a young woman with Down syndrome who wants to become a motor mechanicstarting with the apprenticeship that was promised her by her late father.  But Dave, her super-protective brother, who has reluctantly taken over the family garage is far from encouraging.  

It is not until she teams up with a former school friend who needs his car fixed in time enter the local burnout competition that her plans progress. 

On the film set, Libby is supported by Sydney-based New Zealander Ari Boyland and another newcomer, Sebastian Hunter.  

Producer Robin Laing said that it had been a steep learning curve for Libby who hapreviously acted in school productions. “But she has taken on the challenge with great courage and enthusiasm. 

In an interview with the New Zealand Herald, Libby said that she could relate to Poppy because she is ambitious and wants a career. “And I do too.” 

 Poppy doesn’t care about what people think of her and the fact she has Down syndrome. I really relate to Poppy. We could be sisters.” 

The film was shot on the Kapiti Coast and is expected to be released in October/November.  

The production received funding from the Film Commission’s 125 Fund, in commemoration of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, from TVNZ which will screen the film on prime-time television, as well as several other philanthropic supporters. 

Amber Randon on the set of Peninsula.

Another actress to soon feature at movie theatres in New Zealand is Amber Randon from Rakaia, south of Christchurch, who filled the lead role in the short film Peninsula. 

The short-film was written by Fiona McKenzie and filmed in Banks Peninsula last year, and was set to feature at overseas film festivals this year before it will be released in New Zealand in spring. 

McKenzie had worked with Amber in acting classes and said she had written the story with Amber in mind. 

“​Amber’s a strong performer and a strong character. I knew she was a strong enough person to enter a film set without blanching,” McKenzie told Stuff. 

“Also, when people see Amber in this film they’ll think it’s a film about Down syndrome, which it’s not. I am so over these things having to be about disability just because people involved are disabled. Can’t we move on?” 

Amber’s boisterous persona and sense of humour lit up the movie set and she said the film was “a piece of cake”. 

“In one scene my character had to be dancing, so the crew put on Thunderstruck by AC/DC – one of my favourites. I busted the moves out and then off camera the whole crew was dancing with me.” 

Lily Harper in full flight.

Another actor to steal the heart of her colleagues and the audience was Palmerston North’s Lily Harper who received rave reviews for her lead role in the stage play Up Down Girl. 

The play was originally written as Up Down Boy by UK-director Sue Shields, but adapted for New Zealand by Nathan Mudge who had worked with Lily on other projects. 

The play focuses on the main character Mattie and her interactions with her mother who is played by Trudy Pearson, as they are trying to prepare for Mattie to go to college. 

The reviewer for Stuff said that Pearson carried most of the dialogue but that Lily ”stole the spotlight”. 

Lily is a born performer and has already presented for Attitude TV and also features in the World Down Syndrome Day video message.  

Up Down Girl however was her first stage play, but drawing on her own experiences as a person with Down syndrome, Lily nailed the performance and according to the reviewer there was not a dry eye in the house. 

 

My parents and I went on the plane from Christchurch to Auckland to go to see Adam Lambert and Queen. We stayed in an apartment and I had a room all to myself with a TV in it as well. Before we went to the concert we went into the restaurant for dinner and I had a burger for my meal.

Rochelle at the Queen Concert

After that we walked to the Spark Arena to see the concert and it was amazing with all the special effects and I sang and danced all night. Adam Lambert was very good at the concert. He sang the Queen songs brilliant and Queen were really good as well. I had the best experience at the concert because it was fun and I really enjoyed it and I knew all the songs.

From
Rochelle Waters

By Kymberlee Fernandes of Stuff

Charlize stands with her painting

She might only be 13, but one of her artworks has already earned almost $3000.

Charlize Wilson  was named the winner of the  2018 IHC Art Awards People’s Choice Award from the 400 art entries across the country.

The South Auckland Middle School student says art helps her “be herself”.

“I like doing art because it’s so much fun,” she says.

Her painting is called Looking Out from the Inside.

“The art is just a person looking outside. She is happy, she likes the view a lot,” Charlize explains.

Her award includes $1,000 in prize money, but then collected a further $1,650 after the piece was auctioned.

When Charlize found out she won, she says she  felt like “a superstar”.

Her parents say she’s been singing and dancing ever since she could walk and first started drawing and painting at eight.

She’s been surrounded by that kind of environment – music, performing arts, her dad Petia Wilson says.

“It was probably natural for her to just pick up a brush and paint. I’m really impressed and happy for her.”

The IHC Art Awards have run since 2004 and is open to all New Zealanders with an intellectual disability, age 13 or over.

Thirty of the top artworks were selected by judges Jae Kang, Tim Walker and Sarah Wilkins where the winner of the  People’s Choice category was then selected by way of online public voting.

Charlize will join her dad in his upcoming art exhibition where she will contribute some abstract art pieces. Her next work will be about a girl looking at her phone.

Her mum, Caroline, says Charlize has always been good with colours and the canvas is an opportunity for her to showcase her world.

“Because of the fact that she has Down Syndrome, she sees things quite differently,” she says.

“It’s exciting because it gives us an insight into her world, and maybe explains the colours, the strokes and the angles.”

There are plans to eventually build a collection that revolves around the theme of a girl looking through.

“It gives a different angle of the world.”

Copyright: Stuff

Becky stands with her art work

IHC Art Awards Gala Event at Shed 6 in Wellington. Photo by Mark Coote/markcoote.com

An intricately detailed drawing by Dunedin artist Becky Donovan (centre) has won the 2018 IHC Art Awards and $5000.

Becky’s piece, Cat, after Barry Cleavin, is a tribute to Christchurch-based printmaker Barry Cleavin. She used graphite to copy a Barry Cleavin image, and then experimented with erasing what she’d done. Her intricately detailed stalking cat has its skeleton visible in some places.

This is not the first time that Becky’s work has been featured as a finalist in the IHC Art Awards. Her drawing, Fashion Models, came second in 2016.

Becky works at the IDEA Services Art Space studio in Dunedin. Art Space hosts between 30 and 35 artists with an intellectual disability. Over recent years, a number of Art Space artists have been successful in the national IHC Art Awards – reaching the finals and winning top prizes.

Second prize of $2000 went to Amanda Brennan and third prize of $1000 was won by Colleen Bauer. For the third year in a row the top three prizes went to an all-female line-up of artists.

There were 428 entries in this year’s Awards. At the gala event Art Awards Ambassador Dame Denise L’Estrange-Corbet noted this resulted in a broad range of mediums. “As well as the sheer volume of artwork, I am particularly impressed by the wide variety of media and themes, showcasing the versatility and scope from the people here in this room.”

The top three prize-winners were picked out of 30 finalists nationwide and announced at Shed 6 in Wellington on Thursday 26 July. The finalists’ work was auctioned at the event, with all proceeds from the sales going solely to the artists.

The Down syndrome community in New Zealand includes huge numbers of Shortland Street fans and they were excited to see Jacob Dombroski become the first actor with Down syndrome to feature in one of the country’s iconic shows.

Jacob in reception at Shortland Street hospital

The Wellingtonian actor already has an impressive track record and performed his successful one-man dance, music and theatre show Big J Stylez at the Wellington Fringe Festival and Auckland’s Herald Theatre.

That is where he was spotted by Shortland Street producer Maxine Fleming who casted him for a three show guest appearance.

The 26-year-old played the character Winston who is the younger brother of Lincoln and Prince Kimiora.

Jacob acting a scene on Shortland Street

The talented actor and dancer told the Herald on Sunday that his character was “nice, chatty and always open hearted”.

He told the paper that he was lifetime fan of Shortland Street and that landing the role was a dream come true.

“I’m so happy about this opportunity and being able to challenge myself,” he told the Herald on Sunday.

The Big J Stylez show was a breakthrough moment for Jacob and shows his the struggles he faced growing up.

The show was created with Wellington theatre company Everybody Cool Lives Here, where Jacob gets the full support of the artistic brainstrust of Rose Kirkup and Nic Lane.

Shortland Street producer Fleming said that they were always looking for new voices and she had heard about Jacob’s outstanding performance in Big J Stylez.

“So we flew him up to discuss creating a guest role for him on the show as Lincoln and Prince Kimiora’s brother,” she told the Herald.

Jacob and a fellow Shortland Street actor

 

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