I have huge admiration for people who are prepared to step out of their comfort zone and onto the stage for the enjoyment and entertainment of the rest of us. There's something uniquely special about live performances, whether they be musical, dramatic or dance.
I've been fortunate over the years to have seen a handful of big name entertainers perform live. They're experiences you remember for life.
But I've also had thoroughly enjoyable (and significantly cheaper) outings much closer to home. I'm constantly amazed by the depth of talent in Southland and that's really been coming to the fore of late with the number of homegrown shows on offer.
Fiordland College recently impressed with a hilarious pantomime production of Jack and the Beantalk, followed soon after by the tiny Fiordland Dance School's splendid production of The Jungle Book and this weekend the Fiordland Players present Cheshire Cats.
Last weekend it was the turn of Waiau Area School which teamed up with the Waiau Community Theatre group for a comedy double act — The Wonderful Smells by the students and Big Bad by the adults.
In December last year the newly formed Winton Theatre Friends performed a sellout theatre restaurant season titled That's Life, which left audiences asking when the next will be. This week the next generation has been steping up with Central Southland College's production of Grease.
In March it was the Balfour Theatre Company's time to shine with a very slick jukebox musical comedy All Shook Up, featuring the music of the late, great Elvis Presley music with a story line based on the plot of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night.
On a slightly more professional level, the Invercargill Musical Theatre Company opens its season of Sister Act at Invercargill's Civic Theatre this Friday, the same night as the Invercargill Cabaret Club's one-night-only tribute to the Gods of Rock at Stadium Southland.
Fostering up and coming talent, the Invercargill Repertory Society's youth drama group recently staged two shows — We're Going on a Bear Hunt and Boisterous Birds, Wriggly Worms and the Invisible Sugar Plum Juice Recipe.
Te Anau Scouts leaders Noel and Sue Walker have also been going above and beyond in their quest to encourage young people to be the best they can be. For years now they've commuted to Dunedin for weeks on end through winter to produce the eagerly anticipated Gang Show a staggering 18 times. Their passion and enthusiasm clearly rubs off because every year a handful of Fiordland families also make that far-from-insignificant time and travel commitment to enable their children to join the cast.
And let's not forget the Southland Competitions Society's annual festival next month where the region's youngsters will perform and compete in a variety of artistic disciplines including instrumental, vocal, speech and drama, ballet, modern dance, hip-hop, tap dancing, Irish dancing, and Highland dancing.
There are probably many others that I've forgotten to mention but the point is, we really do not have any cause to complain that there's nothing to do in Southland, or that we miss out on the opportunities of the big centres.
Case in point: The Southland Festival of the Arts dished up a mouth-watering array of talent for a whole month from April 20, which included taking high-quality performances to places like Otautau, Steward Island, Riverton, Lumsden and Te Anau. The tragedy was that many of these outstanding acts went unseen by so many who simply didn't bother to leave their lounge rooms for a night. The superbly written and brilliantly acted homegrown play Anzac Eve was a prime example.
Why is it that when a a pop star like Ed Sheeran announces a tour to New Zealand we'll fall over ourselves to secure tickets, regardless of the many costs associated with getting there? Today, I've already heard his songs on the radio at least four times (actually, make that five, it's playing again now) and it's not even lunchtime! I can buy a DVD of one of his live concerts and watch on a high-definition screen with surround sound. The irony is that most of those fortunate enough to get those coveted tickets will be seated so far away that they'll likely watch most of the show on the large TV screens either side of the stage anyway!
Yes, there's nothing like the atmosphere of being there in the stadium, but there's also something special about being in a small, local hall (sometimes so close that you can hear the occasional prompt from the wings); about experiencing that surge of pride for the family members and friends treading the boards; about willingly forgiving the odd bung note...
Staging amateur shows is not for the fainthearted. They're expensive, exhausting, and time consuming. Those who take the stage potentially open themselves up for as much ridicule as admiration; those behind the scenes take unseen financial risks and spend countless hours designing and making sets and costumes, and catering.
Please take the time to attend at least one local production this year. Buy a programme when it's offered and don't hold back on your encouragement of those on stage.
Finally, if you liked what you saw, get off your backside. So what if you're the only one on your feet?
To a performer there is no greater accolade than to receive a standing ovation.