October 20, 2006

When is a premiere a premiere?

John Humphries                posted 7 Sep 2006, 12:15 AM

Quoting advertising for Otago Festival of the Arts: “My Heart is Bathed in Blood – The Fortune Theatre presents the première of Michelanne Forster’s new play, My Heart is Bathed in Blood…” I have also seen advertising heralding this production as the world premiere. The point I wish to make is that I saw a production of this play in November 2004 when it was performed by third year actors from Unitec School of Performing & Screen Arts as their graduation show. Not only did Unitec present a fully-staged strongly-directed public production of professional standard (Direction – Michele Hine, Design – John Verryt) but this cast also helped create what is about to be ‘premiered’ at the Otago Festival – having taken the play through an extensive workshopping process. Acquaintances of mine, now professional actors, were part of that original cast and are dismayed that this marketing angle neither acknowledges nor honours their contribution to this play. Granted, it was then titled ‘My Heart Swims In Blood’ and was performed in the confines of a drama school, but undoubtedly was the premiere. To end, a question which potentially weakens my diatribe: Does promoting a production as a premiere (world or otherwise) really incite more interest and attendance than, say, a well-marketed and -staged ‘old’ production?

John Smythe      posted 7 Sep 2006, 01:37 PM

Thanks for raising this, John.

First, how fantastic that Unitec gave its graduating actors the experience of taking a brand new play through further development and into production: an essential skill for those who aim to make an honest living in the front line of theatre, film and television.

As to whether is was part of a development process (for them as well as the script) and/or its premiere production, or whether its being a student production significantly differentiates it from a fully professional one …

My view is that if the script to be produced at the Fortune is the only version Michelanne would call her “final draft”, then it is clearly the premiere. If it is substantially the same script, its first outing in a professional theatre remains a significant event.

Either way I trust Michelanne and/or the Fortune will give Unitec and the individuals involved due credit in their programme and media releases.

And to answer your final question, I’d love to think our theatregoers are especially attracted to the opportunity of seeing new work, not least because such an attitude would help greatly in offsetting the inherent risks of producing an untried play.

nik smythe          posted 13 Oct 2006, 12:53 AM / edited 13 Oct 2006, 11:41 PM

It seems clear to me that a work done by a student body in a school arena is by definition a work in progress.  Even if all they changed was the title, it’s legitimately a premiere event when produced by industry professionals.  If the work the school produced was of such quality that it defined the resulting work, that is to it’s credit and certainly worthy of credit, as John hopes they would have in the production notes.  I don’t feel it has to be taken as a slap in the face and the legend is certainly fueled by this question being raised.

Actually, the reason I’m adding to this month-old thread is that my interest was piqued in the production itself, so I went looking for a review and there doesn’t appear to be one?  >>UPDATE: when searching for the word ‘blood’ it came up (reviewed Oct 09 06)  though I swear when I typed in the full title it didn’t find it.  And a succinct and glowing review it is!

Regarding last point:  there is more risk producing something new, but at least there’s no grand precedents to match or outdo.  And for an audience member, you might be disappointed with a show you see, whether it’s a proven classic or a premiere production, but for the latter it’s worth the gamble for possibly being present in a moment of history.

michelanne forster          posted 19 Oct 2006, 08:30 PM

I didn’t even know this site existed but now I do and I think it is a great idea. 

 I was asked by the Fortune Theatre if they could bill my play, “My Heart is Bathed in Blood” as a world first professional production- I assume because it helped with publicity. As the play had been done by students, I agreed to the billing.  I consider this Otago Arts Festival production as the first production by a professional theatre company, even though I absolutely acknowledge that the students cast received professional direction, lighting and costume design and were, in every way dedicated to their craft.

I did rewrite large chunks of the play for the Fortune Theatre production, so the script used in Dunedin is not entirely the script produced at Unitec.  However, I don’t think this is the crux of the debate as many new scripts change over the first few productions, in my experience.

I would like to make clear that the experience of working at Unitec was fabulous and I enjoyed every minute of it. Michele Hine (the director) and her marvellous final year students made huge contributions towards “My Heart is Bathed in Blood” and I will always think of that cast as the first people who created the characters on stage.

So, to sum up, Dunedin, under the  very able and intelligent direction of Hilary Norris, has premiered  the first professional  production of my play but the story behind that statement is  the fact that the student production at Unitec is the place where “My Heart” was born. Without Unitec, Murray Hutchinson (who offered me the commission) and Michele Hine as midwife I very much doubt there would have been a play at all!

Everyone who is part of the production of a new play, whether they are professional actors or students or amateurs, puts their stamp on it.  I know who you all are and how you have helped me and, believe me, I am grateful.

Hilary Norris       posted 20 Oct 2006, 02:59 PM

As the director of “My heart is bathed in Blood “at the Fortune theatre I would like to point out that the final draft had been through several rewrites after the Unitec production and a Playmarket workshop and Michelanne spent the whole first week of rehearsal with us honing the script. The input of Unitec was acknowledged both in the programme and by Michelanne in interviews. This is a stunning piece of NZ theatre and everyone who has been part of it can feel extremely lucky, I hope that other theatres pick it up!

John Smythe      posted 20 Oct 2006, 03:52 PM

Thank you Hilary and Michelanne for clarifying this – and thank you John H for raising the question so it could be answered. It is from such exchanges that the historical record may achieve a reasonable degree of accuracy.

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