In the last issue, I questioned the ability of American theatre-makers to make a significant impact on their culture. The US operates on such a large scale that amplification has become the most basic ingredient for creating a national conversation, and theatre has always struggled to broadcast beyond a few dozen rows at a time.
I footnoted my way out of tarring kiwi theatre with the same brush, and here’s why. In our environment, the national conversation is more easily had face-to-face, and that makes theatre the ideal medium for us to talk to and about ourselves.
Screen is expensive and competitive. When we make shows and movies, we have to place them shoulder to shoulder with the latest and greatest from around the world, and it’s priced exactly the same. This makes things tough for everyone. It’s difficult enough for makers to get their ideas onscreen in the first place, and that’s before you try to leap the biggest hurdle of all: encouraging audiences to choose the local option. A story told to an empty cinema begs the same question as the unheard tree keeling over in the forest.
Our geographical isolation makes us about as appealing to foreign theatre companies as we are to foreign boat people. This makes theatre a monopoly industry. What other product can enjoy such luck? The audience gets a choice of company and venue, but whichever way the cookie crumbles they are most likely to see local content or local assembly of foreign material. Every couple of years two of our major cities host international arts festivals, and a few overseas acts are included in regional festivals, but imported content is still the exception rather than the rule. This means that theatre has a much wider scope to talk to New Zealand audiences in general, and in particular audiences that are a bit more specific than the broad stroke 18-49 demographic necessary to get advertisers and producers excited.
This all works out even better if you, like me, believe that wider broadcast of our in-house conversations ain't such a great idea.
Most of the things we want and need to talk about as a nation aren’t appropriate for overseas ears. Few begrudge an opportunity ‘to put New Zealand on the map,’ but only in a nice way. We want people to think we’re clean, and green and a lovely place to raise cows. In fact, everything we want the world to know or think about New Zealand can and does fit on an advertising billboard. The last thing we want to start talking about with overseas people is our growing inequality, rocky race relations, the disproportionate rates of the violent and unmentionable, or even the things we like to do for fun. But we kind of do need to talk about it. Like the cow runoff that plagues our water table, it may be best to keep this shit on the down low till we’ve come up with an answer that's compatible with the national PR. The best place to get that shit together may be the theatre.
 As it is anywhere.
 They just don’t get the fun stuff either. c.f bullrush.
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'.
The tower beside my bed that I seriously intend to demolish. (Feb 2016)
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by Greg McGee
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