Forster, Michelanne 1953-
FORSTER, Michelanne 1953-
PERSONAL: Born April 26, 1953, in Santa Monica, CA; immigrated to New Zealand, 1973, naturalized citizen, 1995; married Paul Corwin (separated, 1996); partner of Nigel Dunlap; children: two sons. Education: Auckland University, B.A. (with distinction), 1975, Auckland Secondary Teachers College, Diploma in Teaching, 1976.
CAREER: Writer, teacher, and television/theatrical director. Television script writer, editor, and director for Television New Zealand, 1980-89, and later for TV3, Gibson Group, and Learning Channel. New Zealand Broadcasting School, Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology, instructor in television production, 1998—. Writer-in-residence, University of Canterbury, 1995, and Rangi Ruru Girls School, 2001.
AWARDS, HONORS: Buckland Award for Literature, 1994, for Daughters of Heaven; winner, Takahe Short Story Competition, 1996; Best Dramatic Production Award from Radio New Zealand, 1996, for Larnach, and 1997, for The Rosenberg Sisters; Canterbury Community Trust Award for Arts Excellence, 1999.
A Dream Romance, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1986.
Daughters of Heaven (produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1991), Victoria University Press (Wellington, NZ), 1992.
(Also director) Songs My Mother Taught Me, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1993.
Larnach—Castle of Lies, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1993.
This Other Eden, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1996.
The Rosenberg Sisters (one-act play), Otago University Press (Otago, NZ), 1996.
Daughters of Heaven, Larnach—Castle of Lies, and The Rosenberg Sisters have all been produced as radio plays.
Musical Beasts, produced in Dunedin, NZ, 1981.
Arabella and the Amazing Wardrobe, produced in Dunedin, NZ, 1981.
Rivals and Idols, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1985.
Rodney the Rat and the Sneaky Weasel Gang (based on her children's book; also see below) produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1986.
The Bungling Burglars, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1991.
Mean Jean the Pirate Queen, produced in Christchurch, NZ, 1992.
In the Deep End: A Vanilla Bland Adventure, produced in New Zealand, 1998.
BOOKS FOR CHILDREN
Rodney the Rat and the Sunken Treasure, Hodder and Stoughton (Auckland, NZ), 1983.
The Four-legged Prince, Hodder and Stoughton (Auckland, NZ), 1985.
Rodney the Rat and the Sneaky Weasel Gang, Hodder and Stoughton (Auckland, NZ), 1985.
Rodney Rat and the Space Creatures, Hodder and Stoughton (Auckland, NZ), 1989.
The Castaway Sailor (libretto), with music by Philip Norman, performed in Christchurch, NZ, 1998.
When It's Over: New Zealanders Talk about TheirExperiences of Separation and Divorce, Penguin Books (Auckland, NZ), 1998.
Also author of children's books Bumble Camps Out, 1999, and From the Big Chair, 2002. Author of scripts for television programs, including Play School, Spot On, Once upon a Story, Sesame Street, After School, What Now, Sunday, The Third Wife of Larnach, The Posy Narkers, Bumble, The Big Chair, Bingo and Molly, and Emerald and the Fairyfolk of Gemstone Valley. Contributor to nonfiction books for adults, including A Passion for Travel.
ADAPTATIONS: Larnach—Castle of Lies was adapted into a feature film.
SIDELIGHTS: New Zealand-based writer Michelanne Forster's body of work is varied, encompassing children's books, numerous plays, television scripts, and an adult nonfiction work exploring marital breakups. Perhaps her best-known work is the play
Daughters of Heaven, based on a well-known 1954 New Zealand murder case. Two teenagers, Juliet Hulme and Pauline Parker, close friends and possibly lovers, beat Parker's mother to death with a brick in a Christchurch park.
While the case also inspired director Peter Jackson's 1994 film Heavenly Creatures, the film was not based on Forster's play. "Unlike the film's preoccupation with fantasy, [Daughters of Heaven] . . . situates the girls and the murder itself within the dual frame of the imaginative-spiritual world in which they believed themselves most real and their incarceration in separate prisons," related a contributor to Contemporary Dramatists. To tell the young women's story, Forster uses legal transcripts and other nonfiction materials, but she also invents characters, the key one being an untrustworthy housekeeper who acts as their go-between and comments on them to the audience. She "is included in the play to articulate social values," particularly society's judgment on the girls' relationship and their rejection of traditional female roles, commented Christina Stachurski in Modern Drama. Forster leaves open the question of whether the girls had a sexual relationship, but makes it clear that they did not conform to 1950s norms, Stachurski remarked, adding that the play recognizes "the validity of women's reality(ies) and relationships, sexual or otherwise." The Contemporary Dramatists essayist noted that "the play does not resolve into easy answers: the murder took place and is not excused, but its meaning remains suspended among questions of evil, insanity, and love beyond reason, and among the respective roles of the imaginary world and unimaginative world of 1950s provincial Christchurch with its class and gender rigidities and its social and sexual hypocrisies."
Forster has written several other plays with historical settings. Larnach—Castle of Lies is about William Larnach, a real-life businessman and politician who killed himself in New Zealand's Parliament House in 1898. "The play works imaginatively through the private regions beneath the public face of power and ambition to uncover a more complex and personal basis to Larnach's turmoil, finding family tragedies and rivalries that supplement the official explanation of his death as 'business failure,'" observed the Contemporary Dramatists writer. This Other Eden explores interactions between a British missionary and a New Zealand Maori leader and portrays conflict within as well as between their cultures. The Rosenberg Sisters shows members of a sibling musical group dealing with memories of World War II Germany and their Jewish identity.
Forster's own life inspired her first nonfiction book, When It's Over: New Zealanders Talk about Their Experiences of Separation and Divorce. She related that when her marriage broke up, she wanted to know how others had dealt with this situation. She found no helpful books on the topic, so she wrote one, after interviewing thirteen people, male and female, some straight, some gay. Auckland Star-Times writer Cathrin Schaer noted Forster's success as a playwright dealing with "the complexities of human nature"; in life, Forster "couldn't control the ending," as she told Schaer. Forster believes her book, however, may help people deal with real-life unhappy endings. "I'm a writer, and have always been a great believer in the comfort of the written word," she told Christchurch Press reporter Katherine Hoby. Schaer added that the book's "tone is eminently sensible" and that its subjects conclude that their breakups were painful but "probably for the best." She further commented that Forster had once disdained self-help books, but now thinks better of them "and hopes her work may fit into a similar niche."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Contemporary Dramatists, sixth edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1999.
Auckland Star-Times, July 24, 1998, Cathrin Schaer, "Till Divorce Do Us Part," Features section, p. 2.
Christchurch Press, July 18, 1998, Katherine Hoby, "Heartache When It's Over," Weekend section, p. 2.
Modern Drama, spring, 1997, Christina Stachurski, "Scenes of the Crime: Returning to the Past," p. 111.
Christchurch Polytechnic Institute of Technology Web site,http://www.cpit.ac.nz/ (October 14, 2004), "Michelanne Forster."*