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Chris Green: "a very brave thing to do"

Chris Green
One of the original Wellington seasons of Coaltown Blues
Under with Chris Green
Call it risk or bravery, Chris Green doesn't regret his decision to leave his job as an economics teacher for full time acting at 56.

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Chris Green has been touring the country for the last four years with Mervyn Thompson’s Coaltown Blues. He left his job as an economics teacher in 2012 at the age of 56 to work fulltime as a theatre practitioner and continues to this day. Chris Green reflects on those four years as he transitions into a new role, an unnamed narrator in Red Scare Theatre Company’s Under.

“Now that I think about it, it wasn’t a very wise thing to do” – Under

Leaving a secure teaching job to take on the life of a touring actor certainly appeared an unwise choice to many around Chris in 2012. While no one directly criticized him, it was often phrased as being “a very brave thing to do”.

For Chris himself the risk was just as much an economic decision (economics being his area of specialty as a teacher) as an artistic one. Having never undertaken a solo piece before, let alone one which dealt with harsh realities of New Zealand history, he feared he didn’t have the ability to convincingly hold and entertain an audience with Coaltown Blues.

Twenty-four seasons and eighty performances later, he finds it is interesting to reflect on the wisdom of the move and that the self-doubt never quite leaves. However, based off conversations Chris has had with acclaimed local artists, he’s grown increasingly aware of how pervasive anxiety and imposter syndrome can be amongst creatives.

Combining this with the economic difficulties, the venture may have seemed precarious, but Chris prefers to think of it as ambitious and developed strategies to make it work for him.  

“I thought about how half of painting is not painting
The white space …
and how half of writing is not writing” – Under

Like most touring shows, simplicity and paring back elements has been central to keeping Chris’ life as a full time actor afloat. This not only applies to his shows (the sets of both Coaltown Blues and Under can fit in his boot) but also in lifestyle.

Chris has whittled down his living costs to a few key possessions that he takes with him everywhere: a seascape painting (painted by Shelley McCarthy, set designer of Coaltown), a pounamu, a few carefully selected framed family photos, a coffee plunger and a green leather La-Z-Boy, all of which fit in his ute.

While initially Chris tried more traditional funding models for his tours, these weren’t always successful and meant he had a few short stints back in the classroom. In the last few years, he’s instituted a strategy that’s entirely financed through performing.

It has four key components: being solo, housesitting, street performance and stringent marketing budgets.

All four components have consequences but also many perks; he’s spent most of the year looking after beautiful homes! While some abodes have been more on the filthy side and once he had to arrange euthanizing someone’s loved, ancient dog, the strategy has worked and housesitting opportunities seem to open up at optimum times. While it has meant missing out on other theatre opportunities due to scheduling the sittings well in advance, it provides a clear structure for the tour.

Chris senses that some colleagues, and some potential audience members, cannot reconcile street performance with professionalism. “I live with it,” Chris says, “I absolutely love busking! I can generally cover all my living costs, after tax, by busking twice a week.” An incredibly talented operatic singer and well versed in musical theatre, Chris’ busking often serves as warm up for his shows, many of which feature his singing, and busking fits well with his teaching background too. “There’s virtually no outlay – absolutely honest, pure ’market’ responses; an economist’s dream.”

The benefits aren’t always monetary either. He’s loved the chance to spend time all across the country and exploring new places. His work often speaks to New Zealand experience and history, and seeing a range of audiences respond to the work is always fascinating.

“I was given a great welcome and support by the staff of The Waikato Coal Museum in Huntly”, Chris says, “and had a great response from the crowd in the RSA, despite a 21st birthday going on joyfully and loudly next door. It was fascinating to realise afterwards, chatting to the many who stayed to talk, that the town still feels the scars of the divisions of the Great Waterfront Strike which features significantly in Coaltown Blues.”

Chris can be next seen in Under, a show written by Cassandra Tse, Artistic Director of Red Scare Theatre Company and directed by James Cain (Richard II). Chris commissioned the play, keen for a change of pace after many years of Coaltown.

“It explores the world of memory in a way which is so relevant, so important, a remarkable gift to a performer.” Chris plays an unnamed narrator who, with the help of the audience, tells the story of his wife May, who has disappeared.

The entire Red Scare experience has been a joy for Chris. Part of this comes from not being responsible for production management and marketing, a welcome respite from the rest of his year. The major part though has been working with such a young and talented team. Chris describes it as refreshing for an “old dude” and has been welcomed warmly into this incredible group of creative friends.

Green has a few other Wellington-based projects in the pipeline as well as a concert of narrative songs Sweet Dreams, and Other Stories in Song to follow up in centres where he has performed Coaltown Blues. These also allow him the chance to work with other performers on stage, something he is looking forward to after four years of being solo.

Whether he ends up doing another tour of New Zealand or not, he’s learned a lot about being on the road and carving out a strategy that works for him, he’ll always have his unique blend of charisma, singing voice and a set that can fit in his ute.

An extract from Under:

Walking on water is easier than it seems.
There’s a knack to it –
one foot in front of the other,
eyes on the line between the sea and the sky to maintain balance.
The surface is slippery,
soft like skin but slick as dishsoap,
so bare feet are best for a good grip –
you’ll notice Jesus always had bare feet –
arms out,
feet flat,
straight shoulders,
even weight,
and then you don’t think about it. This is the most difficult thing.

Once you have learned the basics, you can progress to advanced water-walking.
Looking around you – green hills, left and right,
behind you, a pebbled cove,
underneath your feet: grey fish,
drifting bergs of seaweed,
shadows –
in the distance, a long horizon of nothing.

You can run, if you’re confident,
you can splash, dip your toes below the surface.
You can’t stop.
If you stop you’ll begin to sink.
So you don’t stop.

I learned all of this in a dream. In the morning, I discovered that I had lost my wife.

Under is on from the 2-11 November at Tuatara’s The Third Eye, 30 Arthur Street, Te Aro at 7:30pm.

Tickets are now available at: http://www.redscare.co.nz/underbookings.html
Contact details: James Cain at redscaremarketing@gmail.com 

Written by

Red Scare Marketing

17 Oct 2017