recently, my high school drama teacher denise walsh died. the last time i saw her was in the gardens new world supermarket several years ago, while i was in dunedin visiting my mother. we had a short chat - it was pre-xmas and everyone was busy - then a few months later she sent to me, via mum, a black and white photo taken during a drama class or perhaps it was a school musical rehearsal. we're on the stage of the logan park high school auditorium doing what looks like some kind of mirroring game, and i'm right at the front. from my haircut and clothes i think it was 1979, my third form year.
more than 30 years later, i don't remember the particular moment of that photo, but i have a wealth of memories from years of drama classes and productions with the indomitable ms walsh. she was one of those teachers who gave everything to her students and our work - frequently at school after classes, into the evenings and over the weekend with rehearsals for the annual school musical and one-act play festival - and often involved in the pastoral side of her students as well. she convinced us to do weird theatre exercises that were often challenging for self-conscious teens, to wear sometimes fairly outrageous costumes in the musicals, and to give the productions more than 100% as she herself modelled daily. those who were half-hearted were not tolerated - many times she exploded during a dress rehearsal with "NO-ONE IS INDISPENSIBLE!" she instilled in her students a sense of commitment and determination, as well as a love of theatre.
denise was also there for other extra-mural activities, such as the fundraising fasts and trampoline-athon events where we spent entire weekends in the auditorium or gymnasium, supervised by a few parents and dedicated teachers; and sometimes she had the task of hauling miscreant students (such as myself on one occasion) out of class to be taken to the principal for judgement. she had no children of her own, but her life was full of young people and she and her husband peter opened her home to exchange students. and she engaged in all kinds of other community activities ... i have to wonder when she slept!
i'd finished high school before denise began writing her own plays, and taking groups of students overseas for one-act play festivals. she always encouraged our own creativity - my sister and i won the junior playwriting cup at the otago one act play festival in 1981 for a play we wrote together, i directed, and philippa was one of the actors; ms walsh was hugely supportive in this endeavour. so it's no surprise that she became a writer herself, and that her energy and activities spilled out from dunedin to the rest of the world.
i'm sorry that i didn't see ms walsh again, and that she didn't get to enjoy a long retirement. but i'm so glad that i knew her, and i thank her for her influence on the person that i've become and the choices i've made in my life and career. she really made a difference to a great many people, and she really lived a full life - even if it should have been longer, she did more in her life than several average people put together.
i currently have a 2-week residency at the university of creative arts, farnham campus, thanks to the invitation of yuwei lin; and i am discovering that the picturesque village of farnham is quite a happening place. my evenings have been packed with cultural events from tai chi to scottish country dancing and the operatic society, and tonight we've got the opening of gustav metzger's exhibition "facing extinction". in between it all i have managed to deliver a lecture and a workshop, and next week i'll work with a small group of students more intensively to develop some of their ideas for cyberformances.