From Shorty to the stage, it’s Andrea Kelland’s time to shine

The actor-turned-casting director returns to her acting roots with an emotional one-woman show

In 1982, actor Andrea Kelland made waves – and the pages of the Weekly when she returned to the stage six weeks after her son Timothy was born, simply bringing him with her. Now four decades on, she’s back in the limelight at 70 with her one-woman show A Tart on Tour.

The autobiographical theatre production sees Andrea reflect on her life experiences, including overcoming an addiction and family conflict.

“It’s cathartic for me baring my soul on stage and I love the effect it has on audiences,” she shares. “People often come up to me afterwards to say they’ve experienced something similar and say I’m so brave to share it. I’m right there, raw, telling my own story and it brings out the confessional in people. I think if theatre is doing that, it’s working.”

New mum Andrea featured in the Weekly.

Andrea’s artistic ambitions started young, when at 11, she announced she planned to be the first female mime artist.

“I already knew I liked being in front of an audience,” recalls Andrea, who joined the Taumarunui Repertory Society as a teen. “It was brilliant. I loved that opportunity to play someone very different from myself and immerse myself into somebody else’s mindset. It’s the thing I still love.”

At age 21, she joined the Story Theatre Company and spent several years travelling and performing around the country.

It also proved to be an escape from the things in life she was struggling to deal with, including an ectopic pregnancy at 18, after which she was told she would likely never become pregnant again.

“I thought I’d crossed ‘mother’ off my list of things I could be,” says Andrea. But in 1981, aged 28 and living in London, she was shocked and delighted to discover she was 14 weeks pregnant.

“I was absolutely ecstatic. Life in London had lost its glitter, so it was the perfect opportunity to come back to New Zealand.”

As has been customary for Andrea’s colourful and creative life, she was just six weeks into motherhood with newborn son Timothy when opportunity came knocking for her to join the cast of Once a Catholic.

Andrea still carries Tim’s photo around today.

There was plenty of opposition about her plan to bring Timothy along to performances, but Andrea maintains it was an excellent decision.

“Timothy would go to sleep at 7pm in the dressing room, I’d do my make-up and go on stage,” she explains. “He was never alone and it was a perfect childcare situation having him at work with me. These days, even our former prime minister did that.”

This continued throughout Timothy’s childhood, with the young boy sitting in on so many rehearsals, he often knew the lines by heart.

While the stage has always been Andrea’s great love, at 43 the time came to make some radical changes.

“In 1996, I went into rehab and stopped drinking and taking drugs. From that moment on, I put down theatre and started my career as a casting director.

“For 27 years, I worked to get a performance out of others rather than myself and that’s been a marvellous career for me,” enthuses Andrea, who most recently worked as casting director for Shortland Street for 15 years.

She retired in 2020 and smiles at the many memories, such as hiring Ben Mitchell to play the beloved soap’s long-running Dr TK Samuels.

Ben Mitchell

“I got Ben his first job. The studio I worked in was like an oversized cupboard. He strides in and says, ‘Do you mind?’ and did about 14 burpees in a row, stood up and said, ‘Right, you ready?’ It was a love scene. He nailed it, got the job and is still a friend.”

Andrea also remembers fondly the many hours spent nurturing and supporting young actors, including Riverdale’s KJ Apa and award-winning Thomasin McKenzie, as they juggled schoolwork and show commitments.

KJ Apa

“I would pick them up at 6am, take them to the Shortland Street studio and drive them back to school. They’d sometimes get so exhausted, I’d put the car seat down and they’d sleep on the way to where they were going next. It was a joy working with them.”

These days, her son Tim, now 41, is on a tour of his own, working as a carpenter on superyachts in the US, and Andrea couldn’t be prouder.

“He’s always been his own man. From centenarians to small babies, and those his own age of any ethnicity and religion, he just gets out there and makes friends. In the show, I say he’s a credit to himself.”

Thomasin McKenzie

As for her future ambitions, Andrea is thrilled to be flexing her thespian muscles again and plans to take A Tart on Tour around the country later this year. The first stop is Wellington’s Tahi Festival

in September.

For more information visit, tahifestivalnz.com

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