The many faces of James Packman

'I always have a show on. I can’t rest — unless the cricket’s on'.

'I always have a show on. I can’t rest — unless the cricket’s on'.

SHOWTIME: From the tragic role of Willy Loman in a production of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman to playing a transvestite in Kiwi comedy The Learner’s Stand to glittering fundraisers, James Packman is a man who packs a lot of theatre into his life. Pictures supplied from all over the place
Kings of the Gym director James Packman is convinced his cast is in full command of the play’s biting humour.



He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere in Gisborne’s community theatre scene but just who is James Packman? Mark Peters investigates . . .

The story of a difficult actor whose reputation led to him adopting a new identity as a woman to land a job inspired James Packman to take to the stage.

That was 35 years ago. James has been involved with theatre ever since. The epiphany occurred when the then 11-year-old James went with his parents to the movies to see Tootsie. He says he fell in love with the character played by Dustin Hoffman.

“That’s why I like doing drag characters. I like to make people uncomfortable. If you can get people to laugh or feel uncomfortable, you’ve got a reaction.”

Hoffman is also James’s favourite actor. The Hollywood actor’s role as blustering, tragic Willy Loman in the movie version of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman was another inspiration for James. Cast as Loman in a Unity Theatre production of the play, James had landed his dream role. Hoffman’s influence was clear in his performance but James made the character, a hugely challenging role (plus 80 pages of dialogue), his own.

But he’s a man of mystery, a reserved sort of chap, hardly the type you’d expect to see on a stage with a packed auditorium staring back. You expect actors to be larger than life but James is not the outgoing sort — until he hits the boards.

“I like spending time with myself, and time with my girlfriend. I don’t like going out and doing things unless I’m doing a show. I don’t go to parties generally,” he says.
“When I’m doing a show I throw myself into it and forget my ‘character’. You’re playing a role. You want people to believe the character you’re playing.”

His first performance came while he was a student at Gisborne Intermediate. He and Martin Gibson (a Gisborne Herald reporter in later years) played country singers Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. James was Dolly. The duo performed Islands in the Stream except they changed the title to Pikelets and Cream.

Every few months, each class was required to perform an item. The Gibson/Packman duo “got quite political”.
“We did a song about David Lange to the tune of Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. I think we were trying to be McPhail and Gadsby. After that, I did a show every year at high school.”

James did apply for a place at drama school but his heart wasn’t truly into it. He likes it better here.
“Here I can work and do theatre in my spare time. It’s more than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.”

In August, he played a terminally ill, cerebral, gay character in Unity Theatre’s production of The Shadow Box. In the same month he staged the hugely popular ‘80s Night then in September co-produced with Walter “the Wiz” Walsh the local talent showcase Stars in Their Eyes. They donated $4000 raised from the show to St John Ambulance. While Stars was in production James held auditions for his next show, Kings of the Gym, a Kiwi comedy by Dave Armstrong. He has also joined a gym, not to get inside the play but to get fit for auditions for Musical Theatre Gisborne’s production of Mamma Mia.

“I always have a show on. I can’t rest — unless the cricket’s on,” he says.

“I’m pleased my partner understands. She calls herself the theatre widow.”

James’s first brush with performance was possibly earlier than the Tootsie experience. He was born in Gisborne but the family lived at the time in Tokomaru Bay. Prince Tui Teka was their neighbour.

The family eventually moved to Gisborne. Then came the day they took young James to the movies and inadvertently sparked a love of theatre and boundary pushing. (“Dad was a bit dubious when I played Julian Clary in a Stars in Your Eyes show.”) But it was James’s aunt, the late Dianne Packman, who encouraged him to pursue his interest in acting.

“I’m grateful she gave me that advice and supported me right through until her passing,” says James.

Along with regular appearances in shows at school he was involved with oratory and one year was awarded a cup for speech-making. He left school in 1989 and got into community theatre the following year.

His first community theatre production was a number of walk-on parts in rock-musical-comedy-horror show, Little Shop of Horrors. In the same year he took on the complex role of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
“I’d love to do that role again,” says James.

He has also performed in a stage production of the rom-com musical, Grease. His dream roles are the “sweet transvestite from Transylvania”, Frank-N-furter in the musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a part in the drama Torch Song Trilogy in a drama, to direct Rock of Ages, and act in, or direct, a stage version of the English sitcom Are You Being Served?

There’s the day job, though, of course. When he left school, he studied media at Tairawhiti Polytech (now EIT) but managed to squeeze in three shows in that year. He enrolled in a small business course then landed a job at the Warehouse where he worked for 20 years. He became a solo dad in that time but still managed to pursue his passion for theatre. On leaving the Warehouse he trained as a teacher and is now a literacy tutor with Matapuna Training Centre. His ideal is to work as a drama teacher. At the moment he fulfils that need four hours a week at Lytton High School.

He plans to take a sabbatical from the stage next year. A trip to New York is planned. Then he heard a production of his favourite movie, Tootsie, will be staged in the Big Apple while he’s there.

“I’ll go overseas, refresh, come back and do it again,” he says.



He’s here, he’s there, he’s everywhere in Gisborne’s community theatre scene but just who is James Packman? Mark Peters investigates . . .

The story of a difficult actor whose reputation led to him adopting a new identity as a woman to land a job inspired James Packman to take to the stage.

That was 35 years ago. James has been involved with theatre ever since. The epiphany occurred when the then 11-year-old James went with his parents to the movies to see Tootsie. He says he fell in love with the character played by Dustin Hoffman.

“That’s why I like doing drag characters. I like to make people uncomfortable. If you can get people to laugh or feel uncomfortable, you’ve got a reaction.”

Hoffman is also James’s favourite actor. The Hollywood actor’s role as blustering, tragic Willy Loman in the movie version of Arthur Miller’s play Death of a Salesman was another inspiration for James. Cast as Loman in a Unity Theatre production of the play, James had landed his dream role. Hoffman’s influence was clear in his performance but James made the character, a hugely challenging role (plus 80 pages of dialogue), his own.

But he’s a man of mystery, a reserved sort of chap, hardly the type you’d expect to see on a stage with a packed auditorium staring back. You expect actors to be larger than life but James is not the outgoing sort — until he hits the boards.

“I like spending time with myself, and time with my girlfriend. I don’t like going out and doing things unless I’m doing a show. I don’t go to parties generally,” he says.
“When I’m doing a show I throw myself into it and forget my ‘character’. You’re playing a role. You want people to believe the character you’re playing.”

His first performance came while he was a student at Gisborne Intermediate. He and Martin Gibson (a Gisborne Herald reporter in later years) played country singers Kenny Rogers and Dolly Parton. James was Dolly. The duo performed Islands in the Stream except they changed the title to Pikelets and Cream.

Every few months, each class was required to perform an item. The Gibson/Packman duo “got quite political”.
“We did a song about David Lange to the tune of Wham’s Wake Me Up Before You Go-Go. I think we were trying to be McPhail and Gadsby. After that, I did a show every year at high school.”

James did apply for a place at drama school but his heart wasn’t truly into it. He likes it better here.
“Here I can work and do theatre in my spare time. It’s more than a hobby. It’s a lifestyle.”

In August, he played a terminally ill, cerebral, gay character in Unity Theatre’s production of The Shadow Box. In the same month he staged the hugely popular ‘80s Night then in September co-produced with Walter “the Wiz” Walsh the local talent showcase Stars in Their Eyes. They donated $4000 raised from the show to St John Ambulance. While Stars was in production James held auditions for his next show, Kings of the Gym, a Kiwi comedy by Dave Armstrong. He has also joined a gym, not to get inside the play but to get fit for auditions for Musical Theatre Gisborne’s production of Mamma Mia.

“I always have a show on. I can’t rest — unless the cricket’s on,” he says.

“I’m pleased my partner understands. She calls herself the theatre widow.”

James’s first brush with performance was possibly earlier than the Tootsie experience. He was born in Gisborne but the family lived at the time in Tokomaru Bay. Prince Tui Teka was their neighbour.

The family eventually moved to Gisborne. Then came the day they took young James to the movies and inadvertently sparked a love of theatre and boundary pushing. (“Dad was a bit dubious when I played Julian Clary in a Stars in Your Eyes show.”) But it was James’s aunt, the late Dianne Packman, who encouraged him to pursue his interest in acting.

“I’m grateful she gave me that advice and supported me right through until her passing,” says James.

Along with regular appearances in shows at school he was involved with oratory and one year was awarded a cup for speech-making. He left school in 1989 and got into community theatre the following year.

His first community theatre production was a number of walk-on parts in rock-musical-comedy-horror show, Little Shop of Horrors. In the same year he took on the complex role of Billy Bibbit in One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.
“I’d love to do that role again,” says James.

He has also performed in a stage production of the rom-com musical, Grease. His dream roles are the “sweet transvestite from Transylvania”, Frank-N-furter in the musical The Rocky Horror Picture Show, a part in the drama Torch Song Trilogy in a drama, to direct Rock of Ages, and act in, or direct, a stage version of the English sitcom Are You Being Served?

There’s the day job, though, of course. When he left school, he studied media at Tairawhiti Polytech (now EIT) but managed to squeeze in three shows in that year. He enrolled in a small business course then landed a job at the Warehouse where he worked for 20 years. He became a solo dad in that time but still managed to pursue his passion for theatre. On leaving the Warehouse he trained as a teacher and is now a literacy tutor with Matapuna Training Centre. His ideal is to work as a drama teacher. At the moment he fulfils that need four hours a week at Lytton High School.

He plans to take a sabbatical from the stage next year. A trip to New York is planned. Then he heard a production of his favourite movie, Tootsie, will be staged in the Big Apple while he’s there.

“I’ll go overseas, refresh, come back and do it again,” he says.

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