World of WearableArt's new creative director on bringing the 'wow factor'

by Kate Evans / 21 September, 2017

WOW creative director Kip Chapman says the show is a “logistical mountain as well as an imaginative challenge”.

From choirboy to creative director, Kip Chapman has always gone for the “wow factor”.

In 1987, the year the World of WearableArt began, Kip Chapman became a choirboy at the ChristChurch Cathedral. There’s a clear line of continuity, he says, between his years as an angelic chorister and his new role as creative director of this year’s show.

“Being in the choir in an Anglican setting… it’s so camp. They dress you up in robes, everything is gold-edged, you’re bowing to the cross, singing, there are soloists – it’s like growing up in a Baz Luhrmann film. It’s just so theatrical!”

Chapman has lived for the theatre ever since. He’s acted on the stage and screen, created and directed a handful of successful shows, but WOW will be his biggest challenge yet. With 18 months preparation, a team of 320, more than 100 garments and a nightly audience of 3500, it’s Zealand’s biggest stage show. 

“I spent around six months trying to imagine worlds that are interesting, creative and large enough, but that are actually possible to pull off,” he says. “It’s a logistical mountain, as well as an imaginative challenge.”

That means most of the planning had taken place before Chapman actually saw the garments. What he’s created is a fantastical setting in which they can shine, exploring the question: “Have you forgotten how wild you once were?”

He’s not a man to do things by halves. At the same time that WOW hits Wellington (September 21 to October 8,, Chapman has two other shows on tour: That Bloody Woman, a punk-rock musical about suffragette Kate Sheppard, and Hudson & Halls Live!, a chaotic cooking-show comedy based on the iconic TV duo (and flamboyantly gay couple) from the 70s and 80s.

Chapman created the piece with husband Todd Emerson, who plays Peter Hudson, and describes the show as a full sensory experience. “It’s that grandmother-cooking smell of carrots being cooked for probably 40 minutes too long.”

He usually directs the show, which premiered in 2015, but stepped in to play Hudson last year while Emerson was doing a TV role. He even wore the same costume (but different shoes). It wasn’t as strange as you’d think, he says. “Being in the arts, our lives are really weird, anyway. I remember our neighbours once thinking we were having a massive argument, but we were just running lines for an audition.” 

The show pays tribute to Hudson and Halls’ 30-year love story, which remained unacknowledged during their lifetimes. While not explicit champions of gay rights, they were political. “They abhorred the dominant New Zealand culture of repressing your feelings, of normalcy, living a beige life.”

Live theatre can help us dial up the colour, celebrating passion and emotion, he believes. “We’re not here to give you a Wikipedia entry about Hudson and Halls, or Kate Sheppard, or how these [WOW] garments are made. We’re in the feelings business.”

Chapman’s aim is to create events that can only be truly appreciated live. “Humans are social creatures and we’re getting very isolated now with our technological world, so it’s very important that we have places where people can come together and share an experience,” he says.

“To have fun, to be challenged in how we think about our fellow humans who we share this planet with, to delve into somebody else’s life, to increase empathy with one another... that’s vital.” 

This was published in the September 2017 issue of North & South.

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