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Drama adds colour and empathy to Mackenzie’s life

Mackenzie Diver Phelan. Photo: Marolyn Diver.
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Drama helps young people retain the “colour” of life, says a vibrant young actor who can personally attest to drama’s benefits.

“I feel like the older we get, the more grey our surroundings become. With drama, we try and hold on to as much colour as possible,” Mackenzie Diver Phelan (pictured above) says.

She considers that drama and other arts also develop children’s empathy, understanding of others, creativity and world view.

Mackenzie says that acting and role-playing help youngsters understand that others have thoughts and feelings which may be different to theirs.

Realising that others think or feel differently to them, facilitates children developing empathy and tolerance for others, she says.

Mackenzie says having done drama most of her life has really helped her.

In the role … Mackenzie Diver Phelan (left) and Ben Duff during interACT’s performance of The Box at the Fortune Theatre Studio, Dunedin. Photo: Yvonne Caulfield.

Battling concussion

Three years ago, she was concussed and only then told she appeared to have Asperger’s tendencies. This can result in awkwardness in social interaction, being literal in speech and being less likely to understand a joke.

Through acting, Mackenzie had grown up learning the appropriate responses to people. These were not innate to her, however drama enabled her to learn and then remember responses.

It was only when she was concussed and her memory took time to return, that the possibility of Asperger’s tendencies was raised.

I think drama really helped me as a young person to understand my emotions better – being able to understand your emotions is one of the steps to understanding that other people have emotions.”

An example of understanding your own emotions would be if someone is sad because a friend has left. Rather than trying to make themselves happy, they should try to discover why they are sad, she explains.

“Instead of putting a band aid on a gash, you are figuring out you have a gash.”

While role-playing in Dungeons and Dragons at the University of Otago in recent years, Mackenzie has noted that students with drama backgrounds are creative.

Young people who do drama remain creative, holding on to the “colour”, even as with maturity, their surroundings became “more grey”, she says.

Born with a passion

Mackenzie’s passion for children and the arts began about 21 years ago.

Her parents, Cindy Diver and Martin Phelan, are both actors, producers and directors. Together they founded the Dunedin actors’ agency, Theatreworks Ltd, in 1992.

Theatreworks started its interACT drama classes in 1996, utilising local professional actors and directors as tutors. Cindy is the interACT director.

Applying what they’ve learned: actors in interACT’s end of year show, The Box, last December. Photo: Yvonne Caulfield.

A mid-year performance of Mall by interACT’s Young Adults Class, at the Fortune Theatre Studio last year. Photo: interACT.

During a rushed 10-minutes in between drama classes, I ask Mackenzie when she started doing drama.

Technically I was on stage before I was born,” she says.

Her professional actor mum Cindy was on stage while pregnant with Mackenzie. InterACT started the year Mackenzie was born, and she’s been coming to these classes since birth.

Active participation in these drama classes began when she was four-years-old. This is also the age when, one day, Mackenzie was sitting in on a Fortune Theatre play rehearsal. At that time, her dad was stage manager there.

Young Mackenzie thought of herself as a theatre director and scribbled notes with tips for the actors. At the end of the rehearsal she gave the actors these notes, one of which pointed out that it was important the audience see their faces.

Her mum says everyone was very amused, however the director concerned, perhaps not so much!

Mackenzie became an Assistant Tutor at interACT four years ago. She is studying Anthropology at the University of Otago and taking drama as an “interest paper”.

Once the 10-minute break between interACT drama classes is finished, Mackenzie is off, ready to assist more young people to become actors.

And perhaps, to play a part in them focusing on the world’s many colours, even as they grow older.

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