We mutter at openings, conferences and awards nights. We founder on rocky questions. Is it a building? Where? Is there an artistic director? Who? But it costs too much and takes too long and we’re all too stuck in our regional biases and the free drinks have run out and we turn to simpler pleasures like belting out some R Kelly at a k-bar.
I think there’s a different way. A way that costs as little as nothing. A way that asks no one to change what they’re doing or where. A way that amplifies what’s already going on. It weighs as much as a stamp. It’s a stamp.
My idea for a national theatre isn’t nicked from England. It’s nicked from the ‘Buy New Zealand Made’ organisation. If you want to get that tag on your product, you have to do is tick some boxes. It’s designed to give customers and retailers confidence. They know where the product is from and what that means.
To do something similar for theatre, we come together like an online (but ideally physical) version of the US founding fathers and nut out what constitutes a piece of New Zealand theatre. If your company or production meets this clear criteria, you can apply for accreditation and you’re guaranteed to be approved.
You get to use the logo on everything related to your show and its marketing. Your production is welcomed into an online platform that creates a sense of community for the makers and offers curious audiences a way to discover the best of NZ theatre everywhere it’s happening. A sense of national cohesion is created through a media aggregator and dedicated podcasts, previews, interviews and reviews. And of course, there’s a big awards extravaganza at the end of the year, integrated into the growing trend of fantastic regional awards.
And what does it all cost? Technically, nothing. With a bit of goodwill from designers, administrators and users, this could all be free and sustainable. But if we wanted to do it really well, it wouldn’t take much. Small annual subscriptions for companies and audiences would help. So could a $1 per ticket levy on NT productions. In a perfect world we might start to get $1+ a ticket from overseas shows – that way Mary Poppins at Court could entertain hundreds of people a night while raising thousands of dollars for the articulation of New Zealand’s national theatre. With a bit of cashflow there would be the possibility of show development, marketing and production support for NT shows, and publication, education and after-school programmes to get NZ theatre embedded in the minds of kiwi kids. There could also be money to support the creation of podcasts, reviews and awards and NT shows could benefit from bulk advertising deals with phantom, facebook and newspapers. But none of this means anything unless the shows are good.
How can we guarantee that? Well, we’re not changing anything. So let’s look at what’s on right now. To get a sense of what our programme could have looked like this month, I’ve lazily copied and pasted from the Playmarket newsletter: In Auckland we have Silo’s Hudson & Halls Live, Nga Puke at Te Pou, and Stephen Lovatt and Roger Hall’s delightful Christmas Day gathering on Takapuna beach for a scene from End of the Golden Weather. In Palmerston North Centrepoint is presenting Boys at the Beach. In Dunedin, Flagons and Foxtrots is on at The Fortune. In Wellington Robin Hood plays at Circa and Mrs Merry's Christmas Concert is at Nextstage. I’d also entertain applications from Jesus Christ Part II at the Basement and Christ Almighty in Melbourne. There might be more.
So not a bad month for the national theatre – 8 plays throughout NZ and Australia all playing to good crowds and strong reviews. A mix of strong new work and return seasons of proven kiwi classics. The Circa pantomime and The End of the Golden Weather are now long-standing annual traditions. Over the course of a year, I reckon our National Theatre would produce more than 60 productions and numerous readings, workshops and conferences. It would be a constant advocate for the theatre to educational institutions and the media.
With a bit of will this could get off the ground pretty quickly. I feel like the biggest sticking point won’t be the who or the how. It’ll be the name. What do we call it? I don’t want to start another flag debate, but my preference is that it wouldn’t be called the National Theatre of New Zealand.
 “It’s a city of justice, a city of love/ It’s a city of peace for every one of us/ And we all need it/ Can’t live without it/ Gotham City/ Oh yeah" (repeat)
 And pay some cash. But that’s not useful to my argument at this point.
 Kip Chapman with Todd Emerson and Sophie Roberts,
 By John Broughton
 By Bruce Mason
 By Alison Quigan & Ross Gumbley
 By Alison Quigan & Ross Gumbley
 by Roger Hall. Lyrics by Paul Jenden, Music by Michael Nicholas Williams
 by Geraldine Brophy
 devised by Thomas Sainsbury, Gareth Williams, Jason Smith, Lara Fischel-Chisholm and Oliver Driver
 by Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove
PROFIT & DELIGHT
What I'm thinking about what I'm doing. This blog aspires to a more profound definition of 'profit' and the bog-standard sense of 'delight'.