From choir­boy to cre­ative di­rec­tor, Kip Chap­man has al­ways gone for the “wow fac­tor”.

North & South - - In This Issue -

Choir­boy turned­cre­ative di­rec­tor Kip Chap­man goes for the “wow fac­tor” in Welling­ton.

In 1987, the year the World of Wear­ableart be­gan, Kip Chap­man be­came a choir­boy at the Christchurch Cathe­dral. There’s a clear line of con­ti­nu­ity, he says, be­tween his years as an an­gelic cho­ris­ter and his new role as cre­ative di­rec­tor of this year’s show.

“Be­ing in the choir in an Angli­can set­ting… it’s so camp. They dress you up in robes, ev­ery­thing is gold­edged, you’re bow­ing to the cross, singing, there are soloists – it’s like grow­ing up in a Baz Luhrmann film. It’s just so the­atri­cal!”

Chap­man has lived for the theatre ever since. He’s acted on the stage and screen, cre­ated and di­rected a hand­ful of suc­cess­ful shows, but WOW will be his big­gest chal­lenge yet. With 18 months prepa­ra­tion, a team of 320, more than 100 gar­ments and a nightly au­di­ence of 3500, it’s Zealand’s big­gest stage show.

“I spent around six months try­ing to imag­ine worlds that are in­ter­est­ing, cre­ative and large enough, but that are ac­tu­ally pos­si­ble to pull off,” he says. “It’s a lo­gis­ti­cal moun­tain, as well as an imag­i­na­tive chal­lenge.”

That means most of the plan­ning had taken place be­fore Chap­man ac­tu­ally saw the gar­ments. What he’s cre­ated is a fan­tas­ti­cal set­ting in which they can shine, ex­plor­ing the ques­tion: “Have you for­got­ten how wild you once were?”

He’s not a man to do things by halves. At the same time that WOW hits Welling­ton (Septem­ber 21 to Oc­to­ber 8, www.world­ofwear­ableart.com), Chap­man has two other shows on tour: That Bloody Woman, a punk-rock mu­si­cal about suf­fragette Kate Shep­pard, and Hud­son & Halls Live!, a chaotic cook­ing­show com­edy based on the iconic TV duo (and flam­boy­antly gay cou­ple) from the 70s and 80s.

Chap­man cre­ated the piece with hus­band Todd Emer­son, who plays Peter Hud­son, and de­scribes the show as a full sen­sory ex­pe­ri­ence. “It’s that grand­mother-cook­ing smell of car­rots be­ing cooked for prob­a­bly 40 min­utes too long.”

He usu­ally di­rects the show, which pre­miered in 2015, but stepped in to play Hud­son last year while Emer­son was do­ing a TV role. He even wore the same cos­tume ( but dif­fer­ent shoes). It wasn’t as strange as you’d think, he says. “Be­ing in the arts, our lives are re­ally weird, any­way. I re­mem­ber our neigh­bours once think­ing we were hav­ing a mas­sive ar­gu­ment, but we were just run­ning lines for an au­di­tion.”

The show pays trib­ute to Hud­son and Halls’ 30-year love story, which re­mained un­ac­knowl­edged dur­ing their life­times. While not ex­plicit champions of gay rights, they were po­lit­i­cal. “They ab­horred the dom­i­nant New Zealand cul­ture of re­press­ing your feel­ings, of nor­malcy, liv­ing a beige life.”

Live theatre can help us dial up the colour, cel­e­brat­ing pas­sion and emo­tion, he be­lieves. “We’re not here to give you a Wikipedia en­try about Hud­son and Halls, or Kate Shep­pard, or how these [WOW] gar­ments are made. We’re in the feel­ings busi­ness.”

Chap­man’s aim is to cre­ate events that can only be truly ap­pre­ci­ated live. “Hu­mans are so­cial crea­tures and we’re get­ting very iso­lated now with our tech­no­log­i­cal world, so it’s very im­por­tant that we have places where peo­ple can come to­gether and share an ex­pe­ri­ence,” he says.

“To have fun, to be chal­lenged in how we think about our fel­low hu­mans who we share this planet with, to delve into some­body else’s life, to in­crease em­pa­thy with one an­other... that’s vi­tal.” KATE EVANS

“Be­ing in the choir in an Angli­can set­ting… it’s so camp. They dress you up in robes, ev­ery­thing is gold-edged, you’re bow­ing to the cross, singing, there are soloists – it’s like grow­ing up in a Baz Luhrmann film.”

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