Si­mon Ben­nett

Si­mon Ben­nett, 53, on the year he quit our soap

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Ide­cided to say good­bye to Short­land Street in 2016, af­ter 20 years’ in­volve­ment in var­i­ous ca­pac­i­ties. I threw my­self on the mercy of a free­lance di­rect­ing ex­is­tence. It was a sig­nif­i­cant life change as I had worked al­most ex­clu­sively for South Pa­cific Pic­tures since 1995. But my first love since I was 18 was di­rect­ing drama — first theatre, then tele­vi­sion and big screen.

I was find­ing my­self more and more in ex­ec­u­tive roles, which meant I must have been rea­son­ably ca­pa­ble, but it wasn’t what I was most pas­sion­ate about.

My wife, He­len, who’s a script su­per­vi­sor, wanted to get back into the work­force about the same time, so we de­cided, as I had been pretty much the main earner when our kids were young and grow­ing up, that I would take on more of the child­care and house­hold re­spon­si­bil­i­ties.

We down­sized from a house in Free­mans Bay to a town­house in Beau­mont Quar­ter, which put us fi­nan­cially in a po­si­tion ttake on the risk of be­ing two free­lancers in a cre­ative in­dus­try.

It was a risk be­cause there are only a cer­tain num­ber of screen projects go­ing on ev­ery year and only one or two di­rec­tors at­tached to them.

But things did bear fruit that year. I got work on two projects. One was Dirty Laun­dry, which sadly dis­ap­peared with­out a trace from a rat­ings per­spec­tive but was one of those projects that had a tremen­dous amount of cre­ative in­tegrity, com­mit­ment and fun. Ev­ery­one was hugely dis­ap­pointed when it didn’t work.

The sec­ond big project was Power Rangers, where I be­came di­rec­tor. It’s an Amer­i­can kids’ show aimed at 6-year-olds that has a huge pres­ence around the world. It’s very well re­sourced com­pared to New Zealand projects and be­cause it’s Amer­i­can money, you’re work­ing with the best peo­ple. It’s tech­ni­cally chal­leng­ing and you have to solve prob­lems like how to make peo­ple ex­plode and dis­ap­pear into the pits of Doom. It never gets bor­ing. It opened my eyes to dif­fer­ent ways of do­ing things.

I also wanted to get back into theatre work but I never thought for a mo­ment that my re­turn to theatre would be a Short­land Street mu­si­cal. When I left, I wanted to turn my back on Short­land Street and move in new di­rec­tions. Short­land Street is a re­lent­less ma­chine you have to feed for five episodes of sto­ries ev­ery week. You have to work quickly and a lot of de­ci­sions you make may not be the best but you just have to go with them. So I wanted to work in a medium where there was a bit more time.

I was still at Short­land Street in 2016 when

I was in­tro­duced to Guy Lang­ford, who had the idea for a mu­si­cal. I couldn’t imag­ine how it could work. He mounted 15 min­utes with a full cast and band for rep­re­sen­ta­tives from SPP and TVNZ and it was fan­tas­tic. It proved a show could be witty and funny and cel­e­bra­tory and a par­ody, while not dis­hon­our­ing the source.

Guy called on me first as a men­tor but over the year we evolved into a work­ing re­la­tion­ship as co-writ­ers. He’s writ­ten the words and mu­sic and we co-wrote the book. So this will be my first stage writ­ing credit as well as my re­turn to theatre as a di­rec­tor.

As told to Paul Lit­tle.

SHORT­LAND STREET THE MU­SI­CAL OPENS ON NOVEM­BER 14 AT THE ASB WA­TER­FRONT THEATRE.

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