Ali Harper: Life on board

Cruising on the high seas, singing up a storm, marketing, and being a mum are all in a day’s work for Christchurch entertainer Ali Harper. Lynda Papesch chats with Ali about life at sea, on the road, at home, and anywhere in between.

A  sea day provides Ali Harper time in her busy schedule to answer a few questions.  Performing on a cruise ship at the time of the interview, this award-winning entertainer is as busy as ever, writing, travelling, planning, and enchanting audiences with her exuberance.

Her next project in Christchurch is a beautiful boutique musical called Fairystories, followed in August by a new show The Supper Club. Add in an Australian tour, more cruise ship entertaining, and a guest spot singing at the Lincoln Centre in New York in October, and you soon realise how busy she is.

Ali is no stranger to Christchurch audiences, having been entertaining in some form or other for 30 years. Initially training at Toi Whakaari: The New Zealand Drama School in Wellington, Ali is known locally for playing numerous glorious leading ladies at The Court Theatre in the Arts Centre, MCing, working in breakfast radio in Wellington, touring, producing, writing, and so much more.

“It has been, and continues to be, a very colourful life,” she laughs. “There have been moments where I have wondered if it’s time to pause and slow down. Then I have found a new energy, a responsibility to create and perform that reminds my audiences that anything is possible, and which provides a positive outlet that ignites nostalgia and hope.”

Hopping on a cruise ship is one way Ali gets to “have a breather”. “Living like a passenger, and performing for only one night is rather a lovely gig. I treat my cabin, or the deck chair, as a mini office where I am working from my laptop writing my next show, or learning my lines. “No dishwasher to empty, no dinner to make, the only hard part is returning to all that when I get home!” she elaborates.

On the road, touring can be challenging, especially with venues back to back. “I have to be super organised with my vitamins, ear plugs, shakti mat, and try and have vocal rest where I can.

“There is nothing worse than vocal fatigue kicking in and you have a matinée and an evening show to do, but as long as I have my tools with me, like simply placing my head over a bowl of hot water and breathing in the steam, then I’ll be okay. It’s not brain surgery after all.”

To keep up her energy, Ali balances work with yoga and intermittent fasting. Chilling out is a part of her life, although Ali is “an active relaxer”. “Being in nature, and walking at Waimairi Beach with my dog Dusty is my happy place,” she says. “I visit a lot of beaches in the world, and this [Waimairi Beach] is by far one of my favourites.”

On a personal level, Ali is inspired by joy, and tries to find it in everything. “The people I meet, the places I visit, the opportunities that show up for me in my life,” she says. “We have so much uncertainty in our lives that I try not to take anything for granted.”

Surrounding herself with people who bring her joy is an important part of her life, part, whether it’s the musicians she works alongside, the women she meets up with at the beach early on a Saturday for the New Brighton Sunrise Dippers morning swim, or the students in my yoga classes. Joy also just happens to be her middle name.

Lately Ali has been away from home a lot, having just finished a four-week season of The Supper Club at Circa Theatre in Wellington, and spending 18 days at sea prior to that. She is full of praise for husband Iain Cave for keeping the home fires burning. “I have an amazing husband who keeps the home running smoothly, and gets my boys Thomas and Archie off to school and their swimming, which happens to be seven times a week,” says Ali.

She is planning to be at home more this winter, as the cruise  ships are seasonal, and her Australian tour, A Judy Garland Story, doesn’t kick in until September.

Home is Christchurch, where Ali loves being a mum, kicking back, and walks at the beach. “Being home and doing all those mum things feels a luxury these days. “I am so happy when I am home, and able to go a school event, and not have that mother guilt that I missed another one. I love teaching yoga at the Flow Wellbeing Centre and provide weekly online yoga videos for Work-it Women’s Wellness. I find that yoga and meditation are a fantastic way to balance out my busy schedule,” she adds.

Ali’s advice to those wanting to follow in her footsteps, or down a similar path, is simple: “Dream big! Break down that glass ceiling. Play! Create! Don’t limit yourself! What’s the worst that can happen?” she laughs. One final piece of advice: “Have another skill  to support you when times are lean, whether it is as a barista, or a house painter.  I remember the wonderful Elric Hooper saying: ‘Every actor needs to own a bike shop!’


Image: Ali and dog – photo credit Emma Brittenden
Image: Ali Harper glamour pic – photo credit Darin Young

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