An article I wrote on the proposed Performing Arts Precinct (PAP) in Christchurch recently appeared in the Playmarket Annual Journal. The article considers the PAP in the context of NZ theatre, arguing that theatre is not taken seriously here as art.
I've been asked to write for Playmarket before, principally to write an "alternative view" to the usual regional round-up for theatre that is featured each year. I've always declined because I feel these brief write-ups cannot represent, and actually misrepresent, what is going on in a city with regards to theatre - they only add to a sense of paucity when it comes to discussions around contemporary theatre in this country. I realise also that as a working theatre-maker my 'review' would be written-off as unfairly biased. I also say that while I sometimes used to attend the free dress rehearsals at the Court Theatre, I rarely see anything there now unless there is a friend involved or the makers aim to do something different from the usual.
I did offer though, a year ago, to write an article that rather than simply cataloging what has taken place over the year would be a future perspective of theatre in the context of an extraordinary city like Christchurch - what might a city that takes every opportunity to declare itself a 21st-century-city-in-the-making, tell us in regards to the arts and theatre in particular in the making of such a city of the future?
The editor was keen for this and so I wrote an outline. It was initially accepted but the Playmarket director asked that I consider some of the plays represented by his organisation that had played at the Court Theatre over the year. I did so by reviewing the reviewer's comments of the plays on the list. That article is featured here (and on our 'writings' page along with the other articles mentioned in this post). It was turned down as a "review" that year but I was asked to write an article for the next year.
Meanwhile, playwright Victor Rodger suggested I should find another place to publish this original. He felt it tied in with a debate that had been simmering around the country and had blown up with a Press reviewer's comments on The White Guitar during the 2015 Christchurch Arts Festival. Rodger had written an article for E-Tangata on diversity in NZ arts and had been sent my article by a mutual friend, Tanya Muagututi'a of Pacific Underground.
As we were discussing this, a "vision document" was released in February 2016 for the proposed Performing Arts Precinct (PAP), a key anchor project for the government's rebuild of the city. I wrote something in response that showed what could have been with the Arts Circus and its demise within the bureaucratic, neo-liberal swamp of post-quake Chch.
Having been involved in theatre-making in the city since the 90s and having taken an especially proactive approach to city-planning and community engagement since the earthquakes, I've oscillated between hope and depression as new ideas have seemed possible like never before and yet old-school, conservative Christchurch thinking has eventually bludgeoned it's way to supremacy. In this way - the worst possible way - the arts reflect the politics of the city over the last five years. The perfect example of this is the proposed Performing Arts Precinct, how it came to be and it's continued sucking up of oxygen at the expense, it nows seems, of the Arts Centre. An article on this, taken from the document mentioned above, featured in The Press.
I always hold out hope for change - and work towards that end by making theatre - making art - with people who believe the same. Why else would you be stupid enough to work in avant-garde theatre in Christchurch, New Zealand? I truly have believed that Christchurch could be different, could be an alternative city. I still do. But it's harder to see it...