Article Title:Tama Waipara's journey to the stage
Author or Credit:Kitten Power
Published on:26th April 2010 - 06:25 pm
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Story ID:8730
Text:Musician Tama Waipara landed his dream debut role, when he made it through auditions and was chosen to play HIV-positive professor Tom Collins in the Auckland production of Rent. Tama Waipara It's been a full circle journey for the Opotiki-raised vocalist, who watched the musical on Broadway 12 years ago as he began an adventure in New York studying at the prestigious Manhattan School of Music, where he landed a place after flying halfway across the world to audition. His journey in the Big Apple was an unusual one. He was initially completing his Masters studying the clarinet, but fell back on singing after a bizarre accident where a metal fuse box fell on his head and left him temporarily unable to play the instrument. Waipara spent time in intensive care and was diagnosed with post-traumatic migraines, where every time he played the clarinet he would black out. He was told by doctors not to play the instrument for nine months, so he concentrated on singing. His honey-like voice quickly wowed those who heard him and he formed a band, then was picked up on a solo deal by an indie record label. He has returned home and forged a career as an in-demand musician in New Zealand. When he was told about Rent coming to Auckland by a woman who is now his co-star; Annie Crummer, he was immediately excited about the chance to audition for Tom Collins, as he had loved the musical and the character for a long time and has great memories of watching it on Broadway in 1998. "It marked the beginning of my adventure in New York. I just felt a really strong connection with the musical. Loved the music, loved the story." Heading into auditions, Waipara's passion was there, but without having a theatre background, he predicted it would be a tough process. He was right. The first day of auditions was 'movement', which was a challenge for someone who has never been a dancer or had any movement training. "That was a bit horrifying, but I was just so committed to whatever was necessary to play the roles of Collins that I just put my whole heart into it. And they called me back." Waipara doesn't think he could have played anyone else, saying Tom Collins was the only reason he wanted to audition for a musical at all. "I guess the way I see him is he's a bit messy - he's a bit of a messy person, but with the biggest heart. And he falls in love and it's sort of his chance for redemption I think for whatever fall from grace he's had. He's just got lots of interesting layers to him - he's this philosopher and professor and teaches at NYU and is a big pot head - he's an anarchist as well. So he's kind of complex and interesting." The acting newbie concedes it's hard to snap out of the heartbreaking and intense role, as he has to go emotionally close enough to be convincing, but not so far that he can't sing. "You start to go into that level of grief, that emotion and certainly that's something I'm new to as well - knowing how to navigate that kind of murky waters of conjuring up these emotions and then being able to leave them at the stage door when you go home." Cameron Clayton plays his boyfriend Angel in the show and Waipara says he is phenomenal: "This guy does cartwheels off the table in platform shoes." Waipara says the entire cast and crew have offered him amazing support and are like family, particularly Crummer, who he says is a generous and encouraging performer who he is constantly learning from. He says Richard Neame has also been a wonderful director for someone who didn't know stage left from stage right. "I had massive fears about whether or not I would be up to it, I guess. But the one thing I'm not afraid of is working hard. So I just work really to hard to bring it to life and do the best job I can." Waipara is finding the themes and messages in Rent are perhaps more relevant than ever. "It's alarming how much we should know and yet, the statistics of HIV go up everyday, they change their demographic - it's an epidemic amongst young people. It's kinda frightening to be this far along with knowledge of a disease like than and still be in the dark as ever. The importance of a musical like Rent is it brings it out into the open, people can see it talked about it a very frank and maybe brutal way, but also in a fun and entertaining way, if that can be said about HIV." Waipara says the issue of drug dependency is also as valid as ever, especially with the P epidemic in New Zealand. "This is the thing about Rent - there's really a storyline for everybody in there. It's about people who are flawed and complex but simple. They all want to be loved. They've all made mistakes. They've all ended up surrounded by people who understand and encourage them to find the better person that they are. Overall it's a story of hope really." "You can map your story onto any of the characters really. Irrespective of sexuality or gender, there's a story of instant attraction and open acceptance of that. There's another one fraught with jealousy and mistrust. And there's another one filled with fear and shame and overcoming that. So they're just universal concepts of messy humans trying to get it right." Waipara plans to continue in theatre - he has already signed up to be part of an Albert Belz play Raising The Titanics, in which he will play a member of a 1960s Maori showband. He jokes his theatre career will be a matter of "sinking or swimming - but hopefully swimming". Rent is playing at The Civic in Auckland. Kitten Power - 26th April 2010    
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