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