Making theatre that sparkles

Co-creators Dr Lori Leigh (School of English, Film, Theatre, Media Studies, and Art History) and George Fowler (aka Hugo Grrrl) assure their audience they will leave their "disgustingly cute" kids’ drag show The Glitter Garden with warm fuzzies.

four people in colourful outfits dressed like farmer and flowers
The Glitter Garden is the first drag musical theatre show for children, and the script for the show won Best Play for the Young in the 3–8-year-old category at the Playmarket Awards earlier in the month. “It’s great to have this validation for the script, without the spectacle of the production,” says Dr Leigh.

Dr Leigh is a trustee of Wellington Summer Shakespeare, as well as a senior lecturer in the Theatre programme at the University. “Like Shakespeare, we wrote for the actors we wanted to collaborate with. I’ve always been attracted to theatre and performance that involves gender questions and performance. Those are the things I draw from Shakespeare, as well as the real connection he made between artists and audience.”

As a theatre practitioner, Dr Leigh’s research is practice-based, taking discoveries she makes in the rehearsal room and performance to develop her craft and that of her students.

She teaches third-year scriptwriting at the University. “Every year I am just amazed at what the students produce, and running it as a workshop gives them a certain agency, knowing they’re the ones driving the process. I get students who aren’t just writers, but are interested in directing, or scenography, or performance.”

The two theatre-makers first collaborated on George’s award-winning solo show Princess Boy Wonder, which was performed as part of the Fringe Festival as the country went into lockdown, forcing a change for the final night to a livestreamed performance. This is set to be performed live at BATS once again in November.

George laughs as he considers the shift from how he has done work previously. “One minute you’re performing drag for drunk adults at dive bars, the next minute you have a daytime show at Circa One, performing for kids and their parents. I started to think I was preaching to the choir a bit with my late-night performances, and thought there was a demographic that could use the message.”

The Glitter Garden was conceived by George during a dream while he was sick with a fever, which featured performers as flowers. He was meant to be pitching a new solo show, but walked in to Dr Leigh’s office with a solid concept for a kids’ musical theatre performance. “If I had seen this as a kid, it would have changed my life.”

“I want to tell the audience that the world needs the weirdest, most glittery version of you. I care more about this than I have for anything else I’ve done.”

Dr Leigh adds, “In a year like this, it is important to bring people together. There is something beautiful about theatre, it brings people together and a live space where you’re sharing energy. In this you get play and imagination, and it teaches you about kindness and empathy and being brave. Why would you not want to experience that?”

The Glitter Garden opened on Wednesday 30 September and runs until Saturday 10 October at Circa Theatre in Wellington. It was developed in partnership with Auckland Live, with assistance from Playmarket, and it is sponsored by Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington, as well as Creative New Zealand and Circa Theatre.