It is not often the All Blacks and the arts are mentioned in the same breath – but an Auckland theatre is doing just that.
The Basement Theatre is giving writers a chance to test their productions at free early morning public breakfast performances in a move it likens to an All Black pre-season warm-up game.
“Theatre is all about rhythm,” says Gabrielle Vincent, the theatre’s programming and artist development manager. “The All Blacks play warm-up games every year and that’s what this initiative is about as well.”
The theatre, which is located in Lower Greys Ave behind the Auckland Town Hall, provides a breakfast of coffee, croissants and bagels for those who turn up to watch in return for their feedback.
Vincent says the initiative is a chance to test productions - which are still in development and yet to hit the stage - for audience reaction ahead of opening night.
“It’s great for people with jobs in the city – they can roll out of bed, get given coffee and breakfast and watch a show all before work.”
The Basement and Breakfast programme is staged about eight times a year. A Facebook invitation is set up and the theatre also welcomes members of the public along for the previews - providing the free breakfasts as an enticement before they watch the show.
Those attending are asked to fill out a feedback form and a question-and-answer session is also held.
Vincent says although overseas theatre companies stage two or three weeks of preview shows, in New Zealand feedback like this is rare: “Writers and artists are quite nervous and often are not sure how an audience will receive a show because they get so close to it,” he says.
The 8am sessions are proving popular usually attracting around 30 people – although there have been up to 60 at some previews – with many also going on to watch the finished productions.
The Basement Theatre - which describes itself as Auckland’s culture-defining powerhouse - has a philosophy of show-casing works by new and emerging talent.
Vincent says since opening in 2008 well over 500 productions have been staged making it the “busiest theatre in town; we literally cram it full of content.
“With tickets at no more than $25 - and with no booking fees - we provide live art at a very accessible price.”
Basement’s Spring Season launches on September 1 with up to 25 works to be performed between then and the end of November.
A charitable trust, the theatre runs a suite of artist development programmes in addition to Basement and Breakfast including:
- Playscience - a weekend workshop giving artists a paid opportunity to develop their work alongside professionals.
- Producer-in-residence - a 12-month paid development role for a young producer to hone their skills and learn about the industry.
- Labs, Not Dogs – an initiative pairing artists from different disciplines to workshop new material over three days.
The theatre operates a risk-share box office by not charging artists an up-front venue hire fee. Instead Basement takes a percentage of takings.
It also runs a schools programme in which three shows a year are performed for six low-decile schools in the Auckland region, with one show touring the schools. The theatre is seeking funds and grants to help cover the costs of these shows which are also partly met by donations from individual and corporate supporters.