Article Title:Luncheon: a slice of Hollywood
Author or Credit:Jacqui Stanford
Published on:15th May 2014 - 09:11 am
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Story ID:15085
Text:It’s 1958 and Hollywood is preparing for the biggest night of the year – the Academy Awards. Four days before the glamorous event, the five women competing for best supporting actress attend a luncheon to celebrate their nominations. One of them is Miyoshi Umeki, the first Japanese actress and person of Asian heritage to be nominated for an Oscar. It’s an action packed gathering, filled with laughter, drama and glamour! This is the setting for Aroha Awarau’s play Luncheon, which opens at The Basement Theatre in Auckland next week. He tells us more. Tell me about the inspiration for it – it came from a photo? Yes, indeed. I was inspired as a child, seeing a photo in an encyclopedia of Japanese actress Miyoshi Umeki attending the Oscars in 1958 wearing a kimono. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress for a role in a Marlon Brando movie called Sayonara. It was a decade after the end of World War 2, and I imagined what it would be like for Miyoshi, being in the same room as the four other actresses she was nominated with. . They were Elsa Lanchester, who was famous for playing the Bride of Frankenstein. Carolyn Jones, who was married to Aaron spelling at the time, before he became rich and famous. He's a character in the play. Carolyn ended up becoming famous in the cult TV show The Addams Family, playing Morticia Addams. And young starlets Diane Varsi and Hope Lange Just how much work went into writing Luncheon? It took me about a year to write. Lots of reading, watching all the movies, and studying up on all the actresses. Although the scenario is based on real women, the Luncheon is something I created, so it's a work of fiction. The actresses playing these parts, Jennifer Ward-Lealand, Hannah Banks, Lauren Gibson, Alex Jordan and Tomoko Taouma, (and the sole male cast member Bede Skinner) have taken the words and really made it their own - They have undertaken their own in depth research and have added so much more depth to the characters and the story. As a writer, seeing your work being embraced and transformed by the actors, and the director Katie Wolfe's vision, is an amazing experience. Just how camp is this play?Five Hollywood actresses, in one room, all wanting to win an Academy Award! If that's not camp, I don't know what! The dialogue is sharp, quick witted, and there's lots of subtext. In fact, if the play is successful, I would LOVE to do a season, with all drag queens. That'll be a hoot! But it sounds as though it has some serious underlying messages? Yes indeed. The women discuss topical issues of the day, that are very relevant in this day in age, such as body image, domestic violence and career pressures. But the heart of the piece is Miyoshi. Although she's entered a room full of sharks, she is true to herself, and that pulls her through. And for me, that's the message I wanted to portray, to be true to one's self, no matter how challenging your surroundings are. What do you hope people take from the play? I want to introduce these five very special women to a new generation. At the time Aaron Spelling was the only character that was unknown, but today, he is the only character in the play that people would recognize. . I want people to be fascinated about these women, that they will go away after seeing the play, and google them, and find out more about them. They all lead interesting lives after the 1958 Oscars. And also, I want people to be entertained and have a great night at the theatre. You must be delighted with the cast which has been assembled? OMG! What did I do in a past life to have such amazing women involved. Jennifer Ward-Lealand starring and Katie Wolfe directing...and for my first play! I'm also self-funding and producing this, so there's been so many sacrifices I've had to make to get this labour of love onto the stage. So it's amazing to have this wealth of experience involved to help me realise a dream. How long have you been a playwright? This is my first full length play. I submitted a 10 minute play last year in the Short and Sweet Festival, it was performed both here and in Sydney. I travelled to Australia to see the play. It was an amazing experience to sit in a full theatre in a foreign country and experience an Australian audiences respond positively to your work. It gave me the encouragement to keep writing, and set a benchmark for any future plays. Where to from here, for you? I have lots of ideas that I'm working on, both in theatre and in film. My short film called Home, which I wrote and co-produced with The Pa Boys producer Mina Mathieson, has been shot and finished, and we're in the process of submitting it to various film festivals. In terms of theatre, my next play that I'm writing is about the selection of the first Maori Catholic Bishop. From Hollywood to the Catholic church. I've always found plays set in the church, such as Doubt and Agnes of God, extremely fascinating. I was brought up as a Catholic, and was taught by nuns and priests, so I know that world. I'm looking forward to delving into something completely different. LUNCHEON The Basement Theatre, Auckland May 20th – May 31st 8pm Tickets – From $25 - $20   Jacqui Stanford - 15th May 2014    
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