Passion for theatre sparks arts teacher’s career move to Gore

Blue Mountain College’s new head of arts has big shoes to fill, but his decision to take the job and move to Gore was ‘‘a no-brainer’’.

Caleb Bell starts his new role next week, taking over from Vicki Crawford who stepped down last year after teaching fulltime at the school for 17 years.

Leaving Invercargill where he was assistant head of technology at Verdon College, Mr Bell said it was tough saying goodbye to his pupils, but he was excited about his new role and becoming part of the Gore community.

‘‘I’ve lived in many places in my life and I’ve learned that the smaller a community you live in, the more you’re connected to it.’’

Gore was also central to a lot of different theatre societies which he was keen to get involved with, he said.

It was his passion for theatre that first brought Mr Bell to Gore after the 2020 lockdown.

All the shows in Invercargill had been cancelled, he said.

‘‘When we got let out, the next available show in the community — the only one — was Gore’s theatre restaurant Back to the ’90s.

‘‘I thought, ‘I just need to do something’, so up I went.’’

He instantly felt a connection to Gore and was welcomed by the community.

He had since become more involved in Gore’s theatre scene, most recently as the director of Gore Musical Theatre’s production of Seussical Jr last year.

‘‘Best three months of my life. It was just the coolest project.

‘‘I had the best kids, the best people around me to make that show the success it ended up being.’’

However, it was only quite recently that he had discovered his passion for theatre and by pure coincidence.

‘‘Verdon did it to me. They did their school production in my first year [2018] and needed someone to fill in with a dance.

‘‘They found out that I used to do ballroom Latin dancing.’’

Mr Bell reluctantly agreed to fill in, after which he was approached by the president of Invercargill Musical Theatre, who encouraged him to audition for Grease.

‘‘Once you do your first show you catch the bug,’’ Mr Bell said.

Since then he had been involved in 25 shows and did not want to stop.

‘‘I knew if I was going to grow as a performing director, I need to be closer to where I think the hub of all that stuff’s going to be.’’

When he saw Blue Mountain College was looking for a new head of arts, he jumped at the opportunity.

‘‘I have been to the school.

‘‘I was fortunate enough to work alongside Vicki to do some professional development, so I was able to go to the school on a school day.’’

The school had the right vibe, he said.

‘‘I remember leaving that day thinking ‘man, it’d be nice to work here’.’’

Being offered the role by principal Lindy Cavanagh-Monaghan was a ‘‘big moment’’, he said.

‘‘It felt right.’’

He would be sharing the role with Marne Hendriks, who would take on junior pupils while Mr Bell would take on the seniors.

They were fortunate Mrs Crawford had left the arts department in such a good place, he said.

‘‘It’s going to be fun jumping into that space she leaves and do something new.’’