Profile: Carina Hales

Published on 16 February 2016

Carina Hales, artistic director of children’s theatre company Players Theatre, shares her journey from actress to “one-stop mom-and-pop shop”.

BY JO TAN

“If you work for other people, you depend on them to decide whether you’re suitable for a show, and to make creative decisions. I wanted to generate my own work and have creative control over the process, and I love working with children — so setting up Players Theatre was the obvious, but scary choice,” says Carina Hales, actress-turned-founder of the 13 year-old children’s theatre company, with a laugh.

Now, Hales has control over every step of the show-creation journey, though not necessarily by choice. “I do marketing and sales, tweak scripts, design lights and sound, costumes and sets, perform in shows and until recently, ran rehearsals in my house. Running your own company, it’s important to have your finger in everything to keep costs down,” says Hales. “But I was also blessed that from the start, I had the support of my mum who would stay up with me till 3am making props and costumes, and then my late dad started coming in to help with front-of-house. Now, my husband is part of the company, and sometimes, my older son helps operate lights and sound. He and my four year-old Cosmo also give us feedback on scenes. We’re a one-stop mom-and-pop shop!”

Blood and marriage aren’t the only ways into Players Theatre, but if you’re in, be prepared to go beyond the call of duty. “What we do wouldn’t be possible without a core group of people who believe in the work, and are committed to making magic happen,” shares Hales. Indeed, during Players Theatre’s performance of George’s Marvellous Medicine, one designer happily wore a 2-metre tall homemade chicken suit onstage to strike awe into children’s hearts, in between crewing backstage.

But commitment or not, there are sacrifices. “At the end of the day, people at other theatre companies go home to their houses. Our house is our workshop. Before we rented additional workspace, you should have seen our yard: 9-metre square metal frames hung on flybars, pneumatic nail-gunning and sawing taking place throughout the day. The giant chicken mascot suit was built in our living room and lived on our sofa so people couldn’t sit on it. And sometimes when I’m doing paperwork, I have to tell myself, ‘Carina, you’ve been on the computer from 9am-3am, that’s enough.’ ”

In spite of all this, Hales is proud of the company’s achievements. “At first, I was mainly an actress. But necessity is the mother of invention and if something needs to get done, you figure out how to do it. If I don’t know how to attach set pieces the way carpenters do, how can I do a theatre hack, do things the commando way? Now we’ve been doing these things for 13 years and they’ve become legit. And when the audiences have such a good time, or tell us that this is some of the best children’s theatre they’ve seen, here or abroad, it’s all worth it.”

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