Life of a storyteller: Shadon Meredith’s acting journey, hardest lessons and most rewarding role


Photographer: Abhi Chinniah

The New Zealand Samoan actor credits his high school teachers for allowing him to see acting was more than just a hobby 

Shadon Meredith steps into a Shakespearean role for the second time in his 16-year career for Auckland Theatre Company’s King Lear. He is the cruel, violent and domineering Duke of Cornwall, King Lear’s least favourite son-in-law.

Teenage years

Coming from a large, happy, matriarchal Samoan clan, I wanted to make the family proud by becoming something academic like a vet. I followed my friends into the school drama club at St Patrick’s in Kilbirnie, Wellington, and we did well in competitions. Drama teacher Andrew Brennan and music teacher Roger Powdrell helped me see that performing arts might be more than a hobby. Despite that, I signed up for an electrical apprenticeship based on playing it “safe”.

2005: Drama training

At the back of my mind was this idea of pursuing drama, and after a year, I enrolled at the Whitireia performing arts college for a diploma in stage and screen. I met Jess Smith, a New Zealand actor, who encouraged me to audition with her for Toi Whakaari (NZ Drama School). Of 200 applicants, 20 are chosen, and I was one. My nana, always supportive of me and encouraging my passion, accepted my career change.

I learnt all my storytelling and acting skills through the relationships in my matriarchal and female-driven family, knowing when to listen and when to intervene with a joke or two.

In 2006, I made my professional debut (His Mother’s Son, Bats Theatre, Wellington), and that cemented acting as a real career. The validation of getting into Toi Whakaari wasn’t enough to keep me on the straight and narrow, however, as I got put on probation. I was just a young chap learning to navigate the world of paying rent, relationships and getting to class. Toi Whakaari acting tutors Teina Moetara and Jade Eriksen believed in me, but I had to turn things around to graduate with my Bachelor of Performing Arts. I did this by believing in my unique identity and started flying after that.

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2010: The roles start rolling in

I met my wife, Amelia Reid, at drama school. Like most actors in Aotearoa, she is an actor and director, having to be a jack-of-all-trades to work. I love the variety of work from stage to screen, as each demands different aspects of the discipline. In live theatre, the audience will tell you quickly and emphatically whether you are doing well. And you can respond. But on screen, you are held in space by the director and without audience feedback.

I am loving the screen work, and I think my appearance in Rūrangi (season two) — the Emmy Award-winning television drama — is a career highlight to date. My role in the online version of Auckland Theatre Company’s The Seagull was pivotal for me during the pandemic. I thought my acting career had stopped, but this show set me up for more opportunities, especially during the pandemic. I am looking forward to appearing in Auckland Theatre Company’s bold production of King Lear and the chance to play a fully-rounded Shakespearean character as The Duke of Cornwall. He is vile but why? Come and see.

Fatherhood: My greatest role by far

Amelia and I welcomed our first son Arlo eight years ago, and last year decided that our second child would be a home birth. Amelia’s high pain threshold meant the midwife thought the baby was some way off. Well, Rudi wasn’t a way off. He arrived before the midwife, and during that time, every ounce of my acting ability was called upon to hold it together for Amelia. It was surreal and empowering; the greatest thing I have ever done.

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LIFE LESSONS

Embrace everything. Learn even from the hardships. Grief too is helpful; not to dwell on it or walk around with the dead, but to understand it as a space of vulnerability.

Believe in yourself. The greatest lesson from Toi Whakaari was that I had all I needed within me and could go from there without having to invent who I was.

Welcome diversity and appreciate the range of unique roads others might be travelling.

Power and Privilege: An ageing King Lear (Michael Hurst, above) is about to abdicate his crown and empire but to which child? Competing to declare their love thrusts civilisation to the edge of chaos. King Lear by Auckland Theatre Company 13 June – 1 July ASB Waterfront Theatre. Book online. 

NZ Life and Leisure This article first appeared in NZ Life & Leisure Magazine.
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