For an awful, cold, and torrential Wellington evening, the inauguration event for New Zealand Theatre Month was warm celebration of New Zealand’s great theatre history, what New Zealand theatre is doing now, and what New Zealand theatre could become in the future. We were welcomed by Tanemahutu Gray, who invites us to partake in a waiata after an impassioned opening address, setting the evening’s communal and engaging tone. Lyn Freeman, the event’s MC, introduced us to the group of artists who would be performing readings from New Zealand plays throughout the ages: Nancy Brunning, Gavin Rutherford, Jamie McCaskill, Vanessa Kumar, Heather O’Carroll, and James Cain. All of the evening’s performers were fabulous and engaging.
What followed was a humorous and heartwarming display of the power, poignancy, and passion behind New Zealand theatre. It’s rather inspirational to see the variance in what is New Zealand, a display that shows the diversity of not only the theatre community but of our nation as well. In order of performance, the play readings were: Glide Time (1976) by Roger Hall, Rushing Dolls (2010) by Courtney Sina Meredith, End of the Golden Weather (1959) by Bruce Mason, Wednesday to Come (1984) by Renee, Eli Kent’s The Intricate Art of Actually Caring (2009), Jacob Rylan and Justin Lewis’ Krishnan's Dairy (1997), Violet Targuse’s Rabbits (1930), Greg McGee’s Foreskin's Lament (1980), Makarita Urale’s Frangipani Perfume (1997), Waiora by Hone Kouka (1996), and rounding out with George Leitch’s Land of the Moa (1895).
Hon. Grant Robertson spoke to the guests about theatre’s place in New Zealand’s cultural landscape. He stressed how he believes New Zealand theatre has a “rich history”, and its tremendous power to bring joy, break barriers, and move audiences sets up a “positive future” for New Zealand theatre, one only to be amplified by ventures such as New Zealand Theatre Month. Robertson acknowledged the severe underfunding of the Arts and theatre in New Zealand and expressed his commitment and desire, as Associate Minister of Arts, Cultures, and Heritage, to increase the “intrinsic and commercial value of the Arts”. He believes New Zealand Theatre Month is a step in doing so.
Roger Hall continued as the next guest speaker, a prolific and well-renowned New Zealand playwright and practitioner, one of the many to help shape and change New Zealand theatre. Hall questioned the lack of celebration of NZ theatre history, remarking that while our theatre and cultural archives have made valiant efforts to preserve our craft and theatre history, there’s a lack of theatre installations and exhibitions in our museums. He communicated his desires for New Zealand Theatre Month, primarily to celebrate moments of great New Zealand theatre, both old and new. Their website lists 125 events and 625 around the country for the inaugural month, and it will only expand in future years as awareness arises.
Claire O’Loughlin, an independent theatre marker well-known for her working with the Binge Culture Collective, heralded a speech for the up-and-comers, to look into the future of New Zealand theatre and how today’s practitioners continue to help shape and change New Zealand theatre. She detailed how she feels there’s much more to our theatre landscape that what we’ve already done, and how part of our theatre future is seeking new and innovative ways to engage audiences. As she said, “theatre is a conversation”, and so as what we talk about evolves, theatre does to match as it responds to what we feel is important. We should celebrate and embrace how our theatre is developing, and where it will take us next, no matter how ‘experimental’ or different it may be.
The night’s speeches were rounded off with announcing the winners and finalists of a poster competition run (or at least presented) by Ewan Coleman and Peter Briggs, who also selected the finalists. The submissions were separated into two categories: Professional, which catered to established artists, and Community, which catered to emerging artists and ‘amateur’ theatre. The winners of each category were awarded $1,000 while all other finalists received $100. Cell Fish, designed by Alt Design for Silo Theatre Auckland (written by Miriama McDowell, Rob Mokaraka, and Jason Te Kare), won Best Poster Design for a Professional Production, while Finding Murdoch, designed by Keith Scott and Paul Sides for The Globe Theatre Dunedin (written by Margot McRae), won Best Poster Design for a Community Production.
Vision and Values
New Zealand Theatre Month is dead-set on raising public awareness and appreciation for NZ theatre. It seeks to achieve these by the four key values its defined as: non-curatorial, eclectic and inclusive, diverse, and non-judgemental. Effectively, New Zealand Theatre Month wants to be a non-selective and non-critical entity, one that embraces all facets of theatre work and those that appreciate and generate it, while being as varied and inclusive as possible.
Since the Trust Board of New Zealand Theatre Month measures their accomplishments and effectiveness based on volume of productions, readings, exhibitions, and events during the month and are hungry for feedback, it’s important that we, as members of the theatre community especially, pay close attention and offer whatever feedback we have for making this venture successful. If, while reading this, you have any suggestions, ideas, or questions, I’m sure the Board would love to hear them. You can contact them through their website.
New Zealand Theatre Month is an incredibly promising venture. It seeks to celebrate the work we’ve done, the work we’re making, and the work we’re going to make next. It’s a month to bathe in the wonderful theatre landscape all of New Zealand has to offer, and while some regions seem underrepresented, this should only expand as awareness grows and more Septembers pass. The poster competition is also something I’d like to see more well-known -- the earnings and attention from it would be a great boon to both established and emerging artists. For the former, it kick-starts their next project, and for the latter, it gives them something to work with, especially considering Fringe registrations open in September.
So spread the word and keep your eyes and ears open for more about New Zealand Theatre Month. Remember the theatre you’ve done and seen, contemplate the theatre you’re currently creating and seeing, and dream about the theatre you’ll do and see in the future.