Wellington writer, spoken-word poet and playwright Helen Vivienne Fletcher has received a commission to write a play from the TAHI Festival, an annual festival of solo performance in Wellington.
Helen is writing a full-length solo play, with the working title Confessions of a Sleepwalking Insomniac. “It will follow my adventures and misadventures living with a severe sleep disorder and my journey to getting an assistance dog.”
The play will be presented as a work in development at this year’s TAHI Festival, to be held at BATS Theatre from 8 to 17 September.
TAHI Festival director and co-producer Sally Richards says dramaturg Angie Farrow will support Helen in the writing of the play. “We’re excited to see how this commission and the creative team supporting it will take shape,” Sally says.
"Cracking story to tell"
“Helen has a cracking story to tell and her experience as a writer and living with multiple disabilities presents a great match with our kaupapa.”
TAHI Festival’s kaupapa is “Bringing together, celebrating, and sustaining Aotearoa's solo theatre performers, collaborators and their work. It is a place to tell our stories, for voices to be heard, for autonomy. This platform is inclusive but making space for all takes attention and time and relationship-building.”
TAHI Tupu (“tupu” means “to grow”) is a new solo theatre commissioning opportunity, offered for the first time in 2021.
“It felt like we needed to dedicate space for Deaf and disabled artists and provide direct support for a new solo work that championed this kaupapa.”
Experienced, plot-based writer
Helen is an experienced children’s and young adult writer. In 2015, she was named Outstanding New Playwright at the 2015 Wellington Theatre Awards for her first play, How to Catch a Grim Reaper.
“I’ve always thought of writing a solo show but it seemed like there would be a lot of barriers for someone like me,” she says. “This commission is providing me with the support I need to remove or reduce those barriers and create an exciting new work.”
Helen describes herself as a plot-based writer of often tense, high-stake stories. “My writing is often quite gritty – I have a very black sense of humour – and I enjoy exploring dark, twisty stories. I describe my poetry style as ‘funny tragedy’ and I enjoy finding the light side of difficult moments from my own life.”
Helen was Highly Commended in the Arts Access PAK’n'SAVE Artistic Achievement Award category of the Te Putanga Toi Arts Access Awards 2021, for her achievements and contributions as a multi-talented writer, performance poet, teacher and mentor.
Reducing barriers for Deaf and disabled artists
Stace Robertson, Access, Inclusion and Participation Advisor at Arts Access Aotearoa, worked with the TAHI Festival providing support and advice to the TAHI Tupu team.
“It’s fantastic that TAHI is offering this commission. Opportunities like this are important because they help reduce barriers for Deaf and disabled artists and writers wanting to make work,” he says. “I’m pleased to continue supporting TAHI with the accessibility of this process.
“I’m really looking forward to seeing Helen’s work at the TAHI Festival in September. Her work is funny and meaningful, and brings so much nuance to the representation of disability.”
Wellington disabled playwright Henrietta Bollinger is one of six playwrights supported through TAHI Tupu’s polylogue commission. Henrietta joins Mel Dodge, Stevie Greeks, Ren Lunicke, Indigo Paul and Elspeth Tilley.
These six playwrights will be supported by dramaturg Sameena Zehra as they each write a 10-minute solo on the theme of “joy”. Sally Richards and Kerryn Palmer will put the pieces together and co-direct the final polylogue for the festival.