In the build up to the première of Shirley Horrocks' film on the company... Free Theatre Flashbacks #1... Woyzeck
As announced yesterday, award-winning filmmaker Shirley Horrocks has just completed a documentary on Free Theatre. Huge congratulations to Shirley for being selected to première the film at the 2017 New Zealand International Film Festival in August (dates, times and venues to be announced soon). Shirley has had more films selected for the NZIFF than any other New Zealand filmmaker, which is an extraordinary achievement. We're honoured that she decided seven years ago that Free Theatre was a worthy subject and inspired by her dedication to seeing the film get made as part of her ongoing mission to shed light on artists and work that she believes should be better known. New Zealand is notorious for neglecting its social history, often failing to realise art's relevance to our contemporary lives. This makes champions like Shirley all the more valuable.
Often the people I've made documentaries about are out there, but perhaps they're not widely known. I wanted to get them more widely known because I think they really should be.
Shirley's company, Point of View Productions, has established a Facebook page for the film here. We thought it might also be good, in the build up to the première of the film, to share some items from our extensive archives that Shirley has been researching for the film. The Free Theatre archiving project began in 2010 with a small grant from Creative Communities and it continues today with only a fraction available on our website. The archiving project reveals the extraordinary depth, nuance and richness of Free Theatre's output, and of Peter Falkenberg's contribution to contemporary theatre in New Zealand over many years through the work he has created and the artists he has inspired. It shows the extraordinary talent, commitment and intelligence of the many artists that have contributed to the company over nearly four decades. The archives also raise a recurring question.
This latest documentary by Shirley Horrocks is the inside story of one of New Zealand's most colourful and controversial theatre companies – a hidden treasure, which has been presenting one extraordinary production after another for 37 years. The creative individuals who make up the Free Theatre group in Christchurch have their own vision of how to enlarge the boundaries of live performance, making rich use of all the arts. The group has survived censure, court cases, money problems, and earthquakes wrecking their venues. Award-winning director Shirley Horrocks has specialised in profiling creative people who deserve to be better-known, and Free Theatre is one of her most dramatic discoveries.
Given the company's remarkable longevity and consistent output of ground-breaking work over so many years, why has Free Theatre always struggled with visibility? As noted as elsewhere by our Chief Archivist, perhaps there are embedded cultural reasons for this and, paradoxically, perhaps it speaks to the company's success in remaining politically relevant that it is treated wearily in a politically conservative society. It seems of value to keep questioning this as we consider the necessary changes in the role and function of art in making engaged and engaging contemporary cities. Alongside's the company's ongoing work, perhaps documents such as Shirley's, and books like that written by Dr Marian McCurdy (more on this soon) will continue to promote the value of contemporary theatres like Free Theatre and its aims to provide unique experiences of alternative ways of thinking and living.
After forming in 1979, Free Theatre's first production in 1980 was based on Georg Büchner's Woyzeck. Presented under the name 'Workshop Theatre', the realisation another company had this name meant the company eventually changed its name to Free Theatre Christchurch, an homage to the free theatres of Europe that gave birth to modern theatre. Woyzeck was presented in a space at the Teacher's College at Dovedale Ave before the company built its own space in the Arts Centre. Many years later, after losing the space to the earthquakes, the company would return to the Teacher's College studio to develop and present I Sing the Body Electric.
Büchner's text was a forerunner to Naturalism and Expressionism. Free Theatre's production saw the emergence of a new voice in Christchurch theatre and an alternative to the Court Theatre that had been founded five years prior. Directed by Peter Falkenberg, the production featured John McClatchie, Stephanie Johnson, Mark di Somma, Nick Frost, Godfrey Sim and Karl Knaup, with Sue Donaldson as stage manager and Rodger Phillips as lighting operator.
Images from rehearsals can be found here.
“Slowly, Woyzeck, take it slowly. One thing after another one. You make me feel giddy. - What am I supposed to do with the ten minutes you save rushing that way? What use are they to me? Think about it, Woyzeck; you've got a good thirty years left. Thirty years. That makes three hundred and sizty months - and then there's days, hours, minutes! What're you going to do with such a monstrous amount of time? Eh? Space it out a bit, Woyzeck.”
We've been discussing revisiting some formative Free Theatre productions including Woyzeck and Ubu Roi, either as new performances and/or as part of Ubu Nights. Here's a Free Theatre favourite, Tom Waits, presenting a piece from Woyzeck...
One must love humanity in order to reach out into the unique essence of each individual: no one can be too low or too ugly.