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BR Poster FINAL - no textDown­stage is clos­ing. You know this. You’re in Novem­ber. I just found out because I’m in Septem­ber. That’s how print is. You’ve had time to think about this. I’m still try­ing to piece it all togeth­er. Like the best work that it presen­ted, Downstage’s clos­ure is not a simple thing.

It’s com­plic­ated, sad and inev­it­able. There are a lot of ques­tions in the air and it’s so easy to get caught in those, but, really, for me, there’s only one real ques­tion: should it be happening?

You can­not argue with the leg­acy of Down­stage. Once it was the only pro­fes­sion­al theatre in this city, pay­ing prac­ti­tion­ers a reg­u­lar wage for what they did. From the 1960s through the 1990s, Down­stage had a repu­ta­tion for vibrant, vital work, exper­i­ment­al shows that often still found audi­ences and sup­port. It was a mod­el of how theatre should go, always advoc­at­ing for loc­al pro­duc­tions of loc­al plays. Los­ing this Down­stage is a great loss.

But that Down­stage had not exis­ted for quite a while. Through the con­flu­ence of many cir­cum­stances, it began to degrade. A theatre that had once been bust­ling with life, sta­ging a per­form­ance every night and a new show every few weeks, was now starved for con­tent. The shows, when they were on, were often not loc­al, mean­ing that one of the core points of eth­os of Down­stage had died.

Down­stage presen­ted itself as the place to which suc­cess­ful prac­ti­tion­ers gradu­ated to after BATS and the Fringe. This became prov­ably untrue as less loc­al work (and, more vitally, new loc­al work) trod its boards. There is now a gen­er­a­tion of highly skilled prac­ti­tion­ers col­lect­ing at the top of BATS and the Fringe, clog­ging the way for those behind them, because they’ve had nowhere to move on to. The Down­stage com­pany that is clos­ing in 2013 is less than a shell of what it once was. This is no single person’s fault; it is everyone’s fault.

We all killed Down­stage. It died a death of a thou­sand cuts. Cre­at­ive New Zea­l­and trus­ted it too much and then over­bal­anced in the oth­er dir­ec­tion. Prac­ti­tion­ers didn’t sup­port it enough. Audi­ences cer­tainly didn’t – the best/worst part of the social media storm of Down­stage con­dol­ences in the days after the announce­ment was the sheer num­ber of them com­ing from people who hadn’t been in years. We are a city very good at say­ing that we sup­port the arts. We are a city that is less good at actu­ally sup­port­ing the arts. It is hard to fault Cre­at­ive New Zea­l­and when they say that they struggled to jus­ti­fy sup­port­ing an age­ing theatre that couldn’t bring in audi­ences, espe­cially in years where Circa and BATS con­tin­ue to go strong.

It seems simplist­ic to say that Down­stage is being put out of its misery. But it also feels apt to say that. We have to remem­ber that Down­stage is just the com­pany. The ven­ue, the Han­nah Play­house, still exists. It is sad to see Down­stage go. It is excit­ing to see what is com­ing next, what is being made space for. Both of those things can be true.

So, should it be hap­pen­ing? Prob­ably. Is that tra­gic? Def­in­itely. What do we do next? Study Downstage’s vic­tor­ies and its mis­takes. Down­stage may be gone, but let’s make sure it’s not forgotten.


Novem­ber Theatre Recommendations

The STAB sea­son is one of my favour­ite times of year. Cre­at­ive New Zea­l­and gives BATS $80,000 to fund a few shows that push our expect­a­tions of what theatre can con­tain. Even when they’re ter­rible, STAB shows are amaz­ing spec­tacles: great moun­tains of theatre prac­tice that are worth see­ing any­way. This year’s two shows are Pan­dem­ic by the 24/7 Pro­ject – the STAB vet­er­an com­pany that pro­duced the jaw-drop­ping Sniper in 2004 – and Broken River by Trick of the Light Theatre – one of my favour­ite young theatre com­pan­ies, most recently mem­or­able for crush­ing the Fringes with the recurs­ively delight­ful The Road That Wasn’t There. Check out for dates and how to book – and do book, as STAB shows tend to sell out.



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