Come Fly with Me


I’m currently flying upwards over Cook Strait on my way to Allen Hall’s 100th anniversary reunion.  Allen Hall nurtured me and many other Theatre Studies students during the heady years of study at Otago University.  So many talented theatre practitioners, educations, directors, writers and general creative bods for me to catch up with… it’s been a long 20 year absence.

The turbulence hits – Oh Windy Wellington!  Looking at the cockpit door I’m thinking about the pilots upfront who are dealing with the shaking, dipping and banging.  Are they worrying about the turbulence? Are they thinking about the passengers, and with rising anxiety wanting to quickly smooth out the ride?  Or maybe they’re going through the processes without an emotional reaction; perhaps it’s a normal part of their job.  I wonder how they cope – especially when I think about how I’m coping (a little white knuckled!).

Experience.  For me, I want the pilots to be experienced.  It’s what must give them the skills and confidence to know how to react when all is not smooth sailing.   

Everyone has heard of flight simulators.  It makes sense! Flight simulators give the pilots the opportunity to experience taking off, flying and landing.  To experience unexpected, rare, or pressured flying situations.  They let the pilots try out different processes, different protocols, and gives them a chance to do some decision making in a pressure situation.  And best of all – to do all this learning, trying, practicing and experiencing without the risk of a real life crash and burn.

This flight simulator business got me thinking back to this morning when I was at the Royal NZ Police College in Porirua with a group of my wonderful Wellington actors.  We were working with the Police Negotiation Team (PNT) trainees; we were being their “flight simulators”.  The Police Negotiators work in very high pressure life and death situations.  They – just like the pilots – need their opportunity to practice, try different techniques, crash and burn, try again and find their strengths and skills.  Their simulated environment isn’t a million dollar high tech simulator.  It’s Dianne – playing a distressed young woman with a Borderline Personality disorder who is ready to jump from the building.  It’s Joe – playing a burglar whose crime went pear-shaped and who has now found himself cornered in a property with a hostage.  It’s Lyndee Jane playing an unbalanced mum who has breached her protection order and has taken her children, and a weapon, into her old family home. 

Real life can get curly, and human interaction is complex, diverse and sometimes unexpected.  Human behaviour and emotions can’t be popped into a machine or programme to spit out the response in a technological simulator.  It’s so vital that our highly skilled professionals who are working with human beings get the opportunity to try, fail, succeed and learn with human beings.  Creating “as close as to real” situations using Outstanding Performance actors gives people the chance to learn about themselves, their skills and their strengths, all without the risk of practicing in a real situation with real life outcomes.

We’re now travelling smoothly high above the east coast with the peaks of the Southern Alps visable from my window.  I’m looking forward to landing safely (thanks pilots!) and joining the talented folks in Dunedin.  Happy Anniversary Allen Hall!            


Janine Knowles



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