September 11, 2006

Feast of New Theatre media launch
The Physics Room, Christchurch, 7th Sept
by Ron Kjestrup

Theatre practitioners, funders, media, and interested parties were invited to Christchurch’s Operate Trust’s launch of their Feast of New Theatre project at the Physics Room on the evening of 7th September. The thirty or so gathered represented a fair proportion of the city’s creative community all extremely enthusiastic to be part of the opening act a major episode in the city’s proud theatrical history.

The Feast of New Theatre is a project devised by Operate Trust to both develop new works and assist in establishing a more extended basis for professional work in the Christchurch. FoNT Director, Elizabeth O’Connor, says the term "Feast" is no accident as it reflects a desire to move away from a culture of deprivation to one of abundance. She says she hopes that the project will be a catalyst for building an environment that will retain professional practitioners in the city.

The FoNT process began just over a month ago with submissions of new works to a panel consisting of experienced theatre professionals. The requirements for these submissions reflect the intention of the project outlining a need for original concepts with potential for public presentation in a "Feast Week" to be held in November. The panel also looked at the submissions’ potential for involvement and employment for local theatre practitioners and eventually development of a public performance season in Christchurch.

From the sixteen submissions six were selected. Each playwright has been teamed with a mentor to work on their script. Their development process has been intentionally well resourced with funding for the mentoring process and access to a list of actors who are willing to be called on for voluntary readings and improvisations. Student technicians from MAINZ willing to explore technical aspects of the scripts are also available and there is a budget for rehearsal venues, printing and administration assistance. Each pair will also have regular meetings with O’Connor to ensure the project is progressing to everyone’s satisfaction.

At the beginning of November scripts will be handed to a paid group of actors and director for a week’s preparation toward a public work-shopped presentation.

O’Connor says the planning and detailed process were essential to ensure that participants in the project were properly resourced and her team have been very successful pulling together support from Creative NZ, Creative Communities, Canterbury Community Trust, Christchurch Community Arts Council and Enterprising Communities. She is pleased that at each stage of the project so far her team have been able to clearly report outcomes to the funders involved and she knows this comprehensive approach will result in high quality results for the theatre community in Christchurch.

At the launch Artistic Director of the Court Theatre, Ross Gumbley, (himself a member of the selection panel and one of the mentors) commented on the FoNT creative process.  He pointed out that this industry so often losses the knowledge and experience of mid-career artists and he was pleased to see an acknowledgement of the pool of experience available to new writers.

I spoke to several of the writers involved and was interested to note that most were in their late thirties and forties. The comment I heard from several participants in the project was that several of the writers are acknowledged talents in other writing forms or other areas of theatre practice and that this background contributed to the high quality of their submissions. All the writers I spoke to were very excited to have the support of their mentors – one commenting that having such an experienced eye through which to view her work was invaluable in avoiding the pitfalls that so often beset new playwrights.

The Feast Week of new works run 7-12th November at Court 2 and the Southern Ballet Theatre.

[To listen to Ron’s radio item on this topic, go to and scroll down to "Mornings", Sept 11th.]

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