Ever since I took over this column in early 2012, I feel like everything I have written has come with the subtext of coming change. Much as we love it, Wellington’s theatre scene has been on shaky ground, mired in shifting sands for quite a while now. There always seemed to be a shadow just around the corner, the harbinger of another coming shake-up.
And they did come: the halted transformation of Taki Rua into a multimedia empire; BATS moving out of old-old BATS into old-new BATS, before finally returning to the brand-spanking-new-old BATS; and, of course, most obviously when Creative New Zealand Old Yeller’d the walking dead that was Downstage.
New companies have risen to new heights — Trick of the Light, Binge Culture and others — while some have faded or left the city — Playground Collective, Three Spoon, Theatre Militia. It felt like it was always going to be this way, that theatre was always going to be just about to change in this city.
But now there’s something different in the air. Things seem more… I don’t want to say certain… but stable. The spectre of sudden change doesn’t seem to be scratching at the door anymore.
The Fringe is stable, BATS is home, Circa seems to have found its new balance. There is work out in the world, and that work seems to be reaching people. Wellington theatre can breathe again. But it must be careful.
It must be careful because certainty can turn to laziness or flabbiness. What the fear of the last few years gave people was a desperation. Nothing was working, so everything needed to be tried. Fear makes fearless work. While this did mean that quality-wise the consistency of the work was all over the place, it still made the highs much higher than they had been in recent memory.
Wellington theatre has put out the fire but needs to keep the heat, and the best way to do that is for us, the audience, to demand it from them. We need to make sure that now they’ve settled they don’t start to get mouldy. We have to insist on good work, new work, surprising work — the work they gave us when they had no other option. We must vote with our dollars, and that vote should be for keeping Wellington’s theatre-makers on their toes, where (although they’d never admit to it), they probably feel the most comfortable anyway.