So now I am back in the States after a full year in New Zealand finishing up my masters. Having been able to observe the Wellington theatre scene as well as staying in touch with the American theatre scene, I’m not too surprised that theatres in both countries are now facing some of the same challenges.

 Regional theatre is facing a dwindling audience base and getting people to buy season tickets is affecting their yearly budget. Bad business models and having non-creatives driving the season choices has taken its toll on regional theatre everywhere.

The question in both places is what can we do to make theatre more relevant to the audience today? How do we reach a modern audience who are diverse, and are looking for different things from their theatre experience?

What then do we commit to as theatre makers, and how do we connect to the people we are making theatre for?

I have had the chance to see this working on a smaller scale with a very different and diverse demographic in Wellington. The big question for these makers is whom are we making for? If it’s just for other theatre makers, what’s the point? 
Barbarian Productions under the artistic guidance of Joe Randerson, is a great representation of where we can go, here is their mission statement. 
We Are Barbarian.

We write, perform and make media that is fierce, funny and counter-cultural. We make work inside and outside of theatres, with groups and individuals, amateurs and professionals.

Our shows use clown, mask, music, dance, wigs and puppets – forms which we bastardise and fuse together with stand-up comedy and lecture. We often work with community groups and untrained actors – we like working with people who want their voice to be heard. We respond to new venues and forms. Our work ranges from large-scale theatre works (Yo Future, White Elephant) to smaller, interactive street experiments with an online component (Brides, Help Us Change, Wig Wam Jam).

We strive for a new economics in performance which allow a broader audience to participate in our work. We love strong and unusual voices, diversity and change. Art making is the most efficient way we have found to ask complex questions and express radical politics, while maintaining our status as naive fools. 


Their definition of theatre is large and inclusive. I went to an event that they organized titled Political Cuts. You went in got a coffee and had your hair cut for free as long as you openly and calmly discussed your politics and what you were looking for in an MP. This was just before the election. Coming from America it was a breath of fresh air the crew didn’t judge or contradict, but gave you a forum in which you could be heard and hear others. You could also get your haircut to match your favorite politician. 
Great you say but is this theatre?
We must broaden our definition of what theatre is. We have large buildings that house 300, 400, 1000 people how can we connect and keep these places viable? 

I don’t operate on this scale although I have worked for what we would call conventional theatre venues at this level, and feel they keep the audience at arms length. This is the model we seem to be locked into but is this model serving our work, and are these spaces serving the audiences who come to take part in a theatre experience? How do we explore and re -imagine the spaces we have or the spaces we work in?
The work of A Slightly Isolated Dog has taken a classic story and devised around it to build this work
Don Juan explodes with the energy of a music gig or a club. It’s a cabaret. It’s chaos. It’s a furious adrenalized romp through the games of attraction and sexuality. It’s the BEST… PARTY… EVER.

Five mad performers use a variety of theatrical forms and styles to bring an adaptation of Moliere’s classic play to life. Loaded with pop songs and flirting, this imaginative work will continually intrigue, delight and surprise.

While the bar keeps serving drinks. All night long.

Created by A Slightly Isolated Dog, one of Wellington’s most innovative and exciting companies. Critically acclaimed and award-winning shows include: Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants (2009, 2011), Perfectly Wasted (2012 – in partnership with Long Cloud Youth Theatre) and Settling (2007).

Warning: Contains Course Language and Adult Themes.
This work will be performed in what Circa refers to as their black box theatre, but the company wanted to perform it in the lounge. I believe they will start in the lounge and bring the audience into the theatre.
Their Mission statement

A Slightly Isolated Dog Ltd. in creating theatre that connects to and collaborates with the community in new and innovative ways.

It consists of a series public events – both live and online – that take the form of conversations around provocative issues and questions. These conversations, involving both professional experts and members of the community, are part of the creative process for two new theatrical works.
So here are two companies trying to engage with their audience in a very interactive way. They are taking issues we face daily and trying to build work around them so that the artists and the audience can look at them through a different lens. In both companies what the audience wants to see and how they interact with the work is a crucial part of how they perform.
Not every one wants this or is capable of building this. So my thoughts, be passionate about what you are building! Do not put something up or in your season that you think will raise revenue, the people will smell it a mile away. Own what you do and promote what you do. Be connected to your work.

As to the large houses, how can you get your audience more involved, how could you bring them in, instead of holding them just out of reach?
I have worked in a small immersive  “found” theatre space for the last 7-10 years. Those of you who saw us at Cue Live got to see us learning to use an intimate space to its full potential. For me this format suits my work. Larger venues require a different set of skills; ones that I feel don’t connect with the work I want to continue to make. So look to see us in more non-conventional spaces where the work surrounds and encompasses you to make you a part of the work you are there to experience.


1 Response to “Questions ”

  1. 1 mollmac
    May 3, 2015 at 10:56 pm

    This is all very much in alignment with Ragged Wing’s philosophy, which is why they are my other favourite local theatre company.

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