December 10, 2010

What gets reviewed

David Murray     posted 11 Jan 2010, 07:03 PM / edited 11 Jan 2010, 10:20 PM


I can’t find any reviews of plays performed at the Gryphon theatre.

Am I just not looking in the right place or is there a reason for those plays being overlooked?

One comment that I’ve heard is that the amateur theatres struggle to get reviews published – and sometimes even to get reviewers to attend plays and as a result this hinders their ability to promote their productions.

Kind regards to you all,

David Murray (newly subscribed to this site)

John Smythe      posted 11 Jan 2010, 08:01 PM

If you type Gryphon into the search field, David, you will find quite a few productions presented there have been reviewed on Theatreview. But most are Fringe productions, or important NZ plays that need to be noted because professional theatres are so lax about doing them.

In principle Theatreview does not cover amateur (a.k.a. community) performing arts, not because we don’t think they are important but because they are not accountable in the same way as professional performing arts. Basically, if people want to get together to put on shows in their spare time and others want to come and see them, good luck to them – but why should they be judged by professional criteria? I believe community newspapers should prioritise reviews of community theatre and community theatres should have their own review site, where like is being critiqued alongside like.

We define ‘professionals’ as those for whom the performing arts are a vocation; who seek taxpayer or ratepayer funding and corporate sponsorship, and charge prices predicated on paying either professional fees or a cut of the gate on a co-op basis. 

All Fringe shows are eligible because the Fringe takes all comers and lots of shows are competing simultaneously in the same market, so punters are entitled.  Some NZ amateur productions of NZ plays get reviewed, for the reasons mentioned above. And last year some non-professional productions in the Compleate Workes project were reviewed because Theatreview strongly supported that initiative.

We also cover the graduation productions of fulltime professional drama and dance schools, because those practitioners are emerging into the profession. And we do major productions of musicals that are largely amateur but employ professionals in the leads because we rarely get to see such musicals live in any other form.  

With those provisos, then, Theatreview reviews the professional performing arts.  Does that answer your questions?

John Marwick    posted 11 Jan 2010, 09:46 PM

 I fully understand why Theatreview is focused on reviewing professional theatre – and I also know first hand the problems that community theatre faces because reviews are no longer published in the mainstream media (at least not in Wellington – not sure about elsewhere).

I think the standard of the reviews in Theatreview is generally very good and I also would not want to see quality diminished by reviews of community theatre being written by less competent reviewers.

However, with these provisos, I think it would be useful for all (theatre practitioners, whether professional or otherwise, as well as the theatregoing public) to be able to have access to quality reviews of all sorts of theatre.

In Wellington the local branch of the Theatre Federation has published a few reviews of community theatre productions on its website.  The problem is that a) these reviews are generally not read because no one knows they are there, b) they tend to have been published after the shows are finished, and c) there seem to be few reviewers actually writing reviews.

However, since there are some good community theatre practitioners around who do it for the love of theatre I expect there are probably a number of skilled reviewers who might be interested in writing reviews (for the price of a couple of complementary tickets on opening night).

I wonder whether Theatreview would consider having a separate section of the site devoted to community/amateur theatre on the proviso that there were reviewers prepared to write the reviews and that John (or some person/group) maintained control of quality.  Perhaps give it a go for a trial period.  I expect that community theatre groups would be prepared to make some contribution to the costs of expanding the current site to incorporate such a facility.

I think this would increase Theatreview’s audience and relevance further, help people know about community theatre, and assist to maintain New Zealand’s longstanding and vibrant theatre community. 

David Murray     posted 11 Jan 2010, 09:50 PM / edited 11 Jan 2010, 10:21 PM

> With those provisos, then, Theatreview reviews the professional performing

> arts.  Does that answer your questions?

No, not really, because I don’t see why “amateur” theatre should be judged to any lesser performance standard than theatre performed by those who just happen to be being remunerated for doing the same thing in the same way with the same focus – especially when “professional” actors are regularly appearing onstage.

By way of comparison, strictly speaking the Wellington Orpheus Choir is an amateur choir as none of the performers are remunerated for their efforts. Would you consider their highly polished and professional performances to be not worthy of review in the same way that you view all amateur theatre?

I could sympathise with what you said if the performances were poor or had a cringe factor or were being performed by people who were not professional in their focus.

If Theatreview will not review the productions of “amateur” theatre companies, can you at least advise me which organization does review them?

In any case, while I personally disagree with the reasons that you’ve stated for not giving the amateur theatre companies the same respect as remunerated theatre companies I thank you for considering my enquiry and for posting a response so quickly.


David Murray

David Murray     posted 11 Jan 2010, 09:59 PM / edited 11 Jan 2010, 10:21 PM

> I think this would increase Theatreview’s audience and relevance further, help people

> know about community theatre, and assist to maintain New Zealand’s longstanding

> and vibrant theatre community.

John, I absolutely agree with all of what you said and fully agree wtih your reasoning and with the desired outcome but you said it so much clearer and better than I could have – thank you.

Regards to you all,

David Murray

John Smythe      posted 11 Jan 2010, 10:07 PM

Let’s talk about this offline, John M. Call me tomorrow. Meanwhile I’ll check a few things out. But if anyone else has further suggestions, feel free to add them.

Maryanne Cathro             posted 12 Jan 2010, 09:53 AM

Well I have already had quite a bit to say about this issue in previous posts, and as a reviewer and more importantly a theatre goer myself, I don’t differentiate between community and professional theatre, and I don’t think many people do, or are even aware that there is a difference.

While I agree with John S that there is a difference between doing a show as a hobby and having your next meal dependent upon it, I feel that vocation is something present in both spheres. I think that non-partisan reviewing encourages quality in both areas, and it doesn’t hurt community theatre to be benchmarked with professional and vice versa.

🙂 Maryanne

John Smythe      posted 12 Jan 2010, 12:39 PM / edited 12 Jan 2010, 03:20 PM

I most certainly do differentiate between community and professional theatre. Take two recent productions of Bruce Mason’s The Pohutukawa Tree, for example. While my opinion of the play itself is constant, my criteria for judging the Stagecraft production was quite different from that of the Auckland Theatre Company one.

Note, I am not talking about getting paid as the main criterion. I say ‘vocation’ because there is a difference between those who wait tables and clean offices etc. to support a primary passion they hope to make their career, and those who have a full time job and pursue their passion for theatre as a part time hobby.


I expect professional theatres to cast far and wide for the right person. The pool of professional talent eager for roles in the major cities is large and inter-city casting often occurs. The ATC brought Rena Owen back from the USA to play Aroha in The Pohutukawa Tree.

I understand community/amateur theatres have smaller pools to draw from, and while they can afford to do larger cast plays it is rare that they are able to cast all roles ideally. But hey, this is their hobby, they squeeze it in between greater priorities, they are often extremely committed and why shouldn’t they get a go at a role that might extend them?

Thus I can forgive Stagecraft for casting a Pakeha woman as Aroha (albeit a fluent speaker of te reo) but would have led the howls of protest had the ATC done the same.

Rehearsal process:

Professionals rehearse full time, or at least rehearsing is expected to be their main priority over that period. Their training means they bring a great deal of personal responsibility, skills and strategies to the process. They drop their books early in rehearsals and that’s when the real work begins. (When did we last hear a professional need a prompt?) They may be expected to reach opening night inhabiting their roles in ways that effortlessly inspire our willing suspension of disbelief.  

For amateurs the rehearsal process is often compromised and it can be a struggle – for some – to get the books down by the dress rehearsal. Requiring prompts is not uncommon, as is lines being muffed, bits missed out, etc.  It is a major achievement for community theatre productions to be fully fluent by opening night; it is a basic expectation for professional productions to be ready.

Production values

There is a vast difference between the design budgets, skills, technology and equipment available to the different sectors.  The Stagecraft shack for The Pohutukawa Tree was pretty good; it would have been a travesty in the ATC production.

Ticket prices

You pay a lot more for most professional theatre and therefore you are entitled to have greater expectations.

This is why I see professional and community / amateur theatre as different and why I don’t want Theatreview to lump them together. 

David Murray     posted 12 Jan 2010, 09:10 PM

Hi John S.,

Thank you for your latest reasoned reply.

I have to say I cannot agree with most of what you said in your last post because it appears to be predicated on the idea that the General Public is not interested in hearing about productions put on by non-remunerated actors for no other reason than the fact that they are put on by non-remunerated actors.

Who does a Reviewer serve? Actors employed to do a job and nobody else? Or the General Public who is interested in reading about the plays currently available for them to see?

What would a Reviewer do if none of the public read their reviews?

If more people heard about and therefore were able to attend plays put on by local community based theatre companies, the production values would be ABLE to be correspondingly higher and therefore I find your comment about the quality of the set for the Pohutukawa Tree to be unfair – not least because the lack of reviews is at least in part causing that problem. Also, if a different standard of reviewing is employed then the public’s ability to assess the validity of the review is impared – unless the difference in expectation is made clear in the review.

And in any case I’ve seen more than a few “professional” plays that have had either no set at all, or extremely minimalist sets to the point where I felt I had been ripped off with an unreasonably inflated ticket price.

I’m sorry if my post may not be agreeable to you, but I personally don’t like the way professionals in theatres look down their noses at “amateurs” when we’re ALL working to achieve the same thing – communicating with people. Thank you for taking the time to present your considered response, and thank you to everyone else who contributed tot his thread. I won’t reply in this forum again unless invited to do so as It seems that I hold a somewhat higher/controversial view as to what reviews are supposed to be for than simply assisting employers to raise funds to pay employees who just happen to work on stages in front of audiences.

Kind regards to you all.

David Murray

John Smythe      posted 12 Jan 2010, 10:34 PM

David, it is frustrating that your comments do not relate to what I have said and sometimes wilfully misrepresent my position – e.g. I have never made remuneration the criterion; I have never suggested the public is not interested in reviews (quite the opposite); the examples offered re the two productions of The Pohutukawa Tree were just to illustrate certain principles … But I won’t repeat myself.

By ‘design’ I mean set, space, lighting, sound, costume, AV …

If the quality of community theatre is truly dependent on it being reviewed, it must be in trouble. Isn’t the pursuit of excellence worthwhile in and of itself?  

I have to add that when I’m accused of ‘looking down my nose’ at amateurs, etc, etc, I despair – honestly, some amateurs can be so much more precious than professionals – and frankly I just feel like saying look, Theatreview has been set up to review professional theatre and that’s all there is to it; community theatre (which has an honourable and very different role to play) deserves its own site and it’s up them to sort it out.

However, watch this space.

Editor    posted 12 Jan 2010, 10:35 PM / edited 13 Jan 2010, 10:11 AM

Moving on: 

We are investigating the possibility of cloning Theatreview to create a Community Theatreview sub-domain but this will need to be maintained / operated / edited / managed independently by volunteers and with therefore require considerable buy-in from the amateur community.

Anyone interested in getting in on the ground floor – to be part of a working group – should let me know: .

Claire Buckley    posted 19 Jan 2010, 06:11 PM

 I agree that amateur should be reviewed and there is some review facility in Auckland already.  We are actually in the process of developing a site to do the reviewing.  We have the professional reviewers willing to volunteer their time, and amateurs who want to be reviewed simply have to supply us with tickets to their shows.  The difficulty is getting enough reviewers across the country in order to maintain a high standard of review.

John Smythe      posted 19 Jan 2010, 09:38 PM / edited 19 Jan 2010, 09:40 PM

Excellent. May I suggest you post your contact details, Claire, so that anyone interested in reviewing can contact you?

Claire Buckley    posted 20 Jan 2010, 09:37 AM / edited 20 Jan 2010, 11:02 AM

Currently we are still getting the website built – as you would know John it’s a tricky process, but if there are national volunteers out there who would like to review for free – complimentary tickets – feel free to contact me on  also if there is anyone who would like to help with the website build we’d love to hear from them… on-going maintenance of the site will be tricky as everyone works and it will need to be on an entirely voluntary basis.

Phil De Fur          posted 20 Jan 2010, 10:00 AM

Perhaps another reason why Gryphon shows aren’t well represented in reviews is that hardly anyone knows about them!

I’ve produced Radio Active’s Caffeine and Aspirin show for over two years now and apart from Fringe shows (a festival which I’ve been significantly involved with for four years) not a single Gryphon show has sent a press release to C&A.

So if they’re not sending me any info, I imagine not a lot of attention is given to other important media outlets too; so no coverage, no previews and no reviews.

Shame really.

Paul McLaughlin               posted 20 Jan 2010, 05:46 PM

Whenever I have looked at advertising with RadioActive, I’ve had to pay to get shows listed, and pay even more for a C&A Interview. Perhaps shows at The Gryphon can’t afford these fees for getting listed on ‘community noticeboards’?

Rachel Forman posted 20 Jan 2010, 06:24 PM

Since when do C & A charge for an interview?

Ewen Coleman posted 22 Jan 2010, 12:01 AM / edited 22 Jan 2010, 12:05 AM

In response to Phil De Fur’s comments, while I can’t speak for other community groups using the Gryphon Theatre, Wellington Repertory certainly sends media kits of all its productions out to the media including Radio Activite, often containing complimentary tickets to opening night.  I suspect though that as we are a community group the material ends up in bin 13.

Most Wellington community theatre groups though do get their productions reviewed and published on the local Theatre Federation web site – and from this year we are going national through the NZ Theatre Federation’s web site.

One aspect of all this discussion that has been missed however is the purpose of a Review and unfortunately most community theatre groups regard a Review as a publicity tool and not what it is really intended for.  As such publication on a web site, including Theatreview, is going to do little for them in this regard, unlike a Review in the Dominion Post or NZ Herald.

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 23 Jan 2010, 10:15 AM

Kia Ora guys.

Thanx to David for introducing this topic. I haven’t been compelled to submit a response for quite sometime until now. This particular kaupapa is something that I have personally and “professionallÿ” been exploring for a couple of years. At the first Theatre Conference convened by Q Theatre in 2008 I put the following question to the gathering “Why is there a difference between the status of the so called “professional” and “community/amateur” practices of theatre? Various responses were forthcoming, many of which was around money. I think that this is a naive response. There are bigger streams of thought at play here.

I know John, having read and re-read your posts in this topic a couple of times, that your provisos have not been drawn up directly around money which is good to hear. However the criteria that you did stipulate have many incongruencies and are certainly not sufficient to explain a difference of treatment with regards to reviewing or any other perspectives around the so called “professional” or “community/amateur” practices for that matter.

casting: small pools vs international

Theatre in Education/Community Theatre exponents such as Augusto Boal, Jim Moriarty, What was Maidment Youth/Auckland Youth/Massive Theatre Co, Germaine Acogny (to name a few) have trawled the world to find participants for their works. On the other side of this, often times  the given themes of their pieces are locative and about a specific community or culture. Of course the “pool” for “casting” is determined by that given subject.

One could certainly argue (and it would be interesting to do a study on this) that the pool of casting, within the likes of ATC, Downstage, Circa, The new Massive Theatre Co, (again to name a few) could possibly be found within a very small pool (or community) of “participants’.

Rehearsal Process: Full time vs struggling to find time

I know many unpaid practioners who expend alot of time, energy even money on “community/amateur” productions. They work full time on their productions. Hobby or not the process and time values are not dissimilar between what you are stating John as the professional and community. I also know and have been privvy to WELL BUDGETED productions that have the luxury not to have to work a typical “full time” schedule. The  resources allow for writers and directors to revisit scripts, giving actors and other technicians time away, also allowance for longer rehearsal programs can have shorter working daysfor everyone. So, fulltime? What does that mean?

The rehearsal process criteria is not a congruent distinction and still has many vaguities surrounding it.

Production Values:

I think this distinction has validity. BUT herein lies an issure for me. Resources tend to be readily available if one was to state that the piece was professional as opposed to Community. I have experienced this many times first hand and find that the reason stems fromt the very fact that this division exists. Of course the production values will be different as the pro’s can access the bigger “pool” of money.

However in saying this production values may not be too dissimilar (again would be an interesting study)

What resources does it take to present a production in the Aotea Centre as opposed to a Maximum security prison? Bats theatre vs Orakei Marae? The kinds of processes that I have had to follow to have one of my projects (which I suppose would be classed as community) based on a local mountain in Auckland has been lengthy and consumed much time and money.

So the production “values” may not be too different.

Ticket Prices:

Once again a fair distinction, but again in my view, a problem.

Some “professional” prices should be much cheaper as having the “professional” status does not guarantee or determine quality.

And of course on the other hand, sometimes, given the significance and importance of some works the pieces should be more accessible (cheaper) to a wider audience.

Some “community/amateur” productions should be scaled higher in terms of ticket pricing, to honour the amount of work, resourcing and often times, quality of story/substance presented by the “community” practitioners.


My opinion is that at this time, the criteria stated does not warrant a seperation of so called “professional” and “community” theatre review areas. I hope that we don’t continue to marginalise the “community” efforts into a separate box, but include these valuable and important works into the larger “pool” of discussion and reviewing.

These are some of my thoughts. Thanx for the discussion David and John. I look forward to unravelling the distnctions here as I do in fact believe this issue has severe implications on the culture of our industry.

Kia kaha!


Ewen Coleman posted 23 Jan 2010, 11:05 AM

Kia Ora Tamati

You are mana from heaven.  Never have I heard suched reasoned arguements as yours on here, Theatreview, or any other forum.

The line in your final paragraph – the criteria stated does not warrant a seperation of so called “professional” and “community” theatre review areas – encapsulates the thoughts of many of us.

Claire Buckley    posted 23 Jan 2010, 11:22 AM

 Tamati that is a brilliantly well reasoned and clear argument.  I certainly think that you have an even more valid point now that some societies are blurring any definitive lines further with such offerings as Cats, Rent and 42nd street.  These shows have massive ticket prices and are reviewed accordingly, but I think for any audience member attending ,the way the shows are presented, would mean they would have no idea of the difference between professional and amateur.  Venue used to be an indicator, but again not so any longer.  Certainly some of the best shows I have ever seen have been amateur and some of the worse have had paid professionals in them.  I have worked in both areas and can see little difference in resourcing.   Just who gets paid.   And now, that is not even an indicator.

John Smythe      posted 23 Jan 2010, 12:01 PM

First, it seems from what Ewen Coleman says (above) that the community theatre network is getting sorted with nation-wide online reviews via the NZ Theatre Federation site. Excellent. While I agree many people still rely on print media reviews for information, more and more punters know if they Google details of a production in NZ they will find any coverage on Theatreview (including links to print reviews) and the same will presumably apply to the community theatre review site. (I trust you guys are talking to Claire Buckley, above, too.)

I don’t disagree with anything you say, Tamati, although you have twisted some of my points a little. Re casting, for example: I just mean we expect ‘professional’ theatres and groups to get it right; we understand community theatres can only do their best with what they can get. Re rehearsals: a ‘professional’ should only commit when they know they can meet the rehearsal and production requirements, and in doing so this becomes their top priority; an ‘amateur’ may commit in good faith then understandably find other priorities keep getting in the way, especially when the rehearsal period is stretched over a longer time.

Obviously there will be many specific examples that contradict those generalisations. But as I see it, the process, priorities and politics of making theatre differs significantly between those for whom doing it is a vocation and those for whom it is a hobby.

This, from recent media release for the emerging Redmond Barry Theatre Company forthcoming production of Closer at the Basement (Auckland), puts it this way:  “We are becoming increasingly conscious of the fact that there is a group of people out there like us, who are dying for work. They’re not after money, they’re after a team to practice their skills with. There is a huge group of young people who are in transition between amateur and professional levels, and they’re deciding whether to pursue their talents or give up. As long as they’re occupied, they’re not going to give up.”

Theatreview will review this production according to professional criteria and I doubt they will want to be treated any other way.

Claire Buckley    posted 23 Jan 2010, 12:18 PM

 Well said John.  To some extent I do think that the general public should be able to identify the difference and different reviewing forums helps that.  The main reason I say that, is because professionals “NEED” work in order to live and eat.  And community groups are not so dependent on work to be able to meet their personal mortgage/rent requirements.  As such audience members should be able to decide which organisations they want to support.  But at the end of the day if the show is good, amateur or professional, it helps promote the performing arts so that is always a positive!

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 23 Jan 2010, 04:20 PM

My apologies John.

My intention is not to twist anything. I merely responded to what was written at the time. Thanx for your continued support and remarks.

I think one of the next nits to pick I s’pose is your choice of the word “hobby”. Again this implies that all other work assumed by those other than your “professional” practitioners is done for pleasure. What about the work that is undertaken by Jim Moriarty? Not all of his shows are “public” performances but rather present a process for particpants. And I’m sure Jim won’t mind me saying this but often times it is not a pleasurable experience. Though the fruits of the works have cathartic value and speak to transformative and life changes the work is gruelling and not as frivollous as the term Hobby might suggest.

What about Boal, or the PETA Filipino Commuity theatre movements? They talk again of transforming lives for and with disparate “type” communities. Of course a matter of personal preference but herein lies the true power of our art form and at its heart not dissimilar to the likes of Brecht, Grotowski even Shakespeare.

But now, we are defining our art in very simplistic terms that are not just easy to “twist” but if I may be so bold, innaccurate and possibly misleading.

My thoughts…knocking the edges of our converstaion


John Smythe      posted 23 Jan 2010, 05:00 PM

Kia ora, Tamati

Jim Moriarty and Helen Pearse Otene’s work with the Te Rakau Hua o Te Wao Tapu Trust has been reviewed on Theatreview whenever they have put it out to public view – viz. Battalion and Ka Mate, Ka Ora. 

If a branch of the Augusto Boal-inspired International Theatre of the Oppressed were to set up in NZ and asked Theatreview to critique their work, we would. Likewise if the Philippine Educational Theater Association (PETA) toured – or better still if something similar evolved in NZ – Theatreview would most certainly be interested. 

As opposed to other sorts of amateur theatre the come under the ‘community theatre’ umbrella, Community Theatre that is truly connected to the wants, needs and concerns of its community certainly qualifies as ‘vocation-driven’ in my book.

And I don’t mean ‘hobby’ to be pejorative. I realise there are many people whose true passion is tied up in what they do in their spare time … But hey, we could pick the semantic nits ad infinitum. Hopefully we understand each other now. 

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 23 Jan 2010, 10:01 PM

Haha…kia ora John.

That is true.  I think we’re exploring some good distinctions. I agree about the wants and needs based theatre approaches being vocational for sure.  I do know of many groups that utilise theatrical processes to assist and guide communities in NZ. Some vocational and some not. Of course not the public notoriety as Te Rakau, Boal, or PETA but the premise and processes are aligned.

The “pro” and “am” discussion is interesting and needs a real vigorous korero, so thanx again.

Nell Williams      posted 29 Jan 2010, 11:23 AM

As long as everyone’s held against the same set of criteria, what’s the harm in reviewing non-professional theatre’? I think that by inviting a critic and confirming their attendance, a production is showing willingness to have an expert critical eye applied to their work.  Further, you’re showing an understanding of the contract between theatremaker and critic, namely  that a critical response a)might not be favourable and b) will almost certainly be made public.

A sympathetic critic may take the training of actors, the money available to the production and the reputation of a company into consideration when they review, but on the whole, I’d hope they’d just assess the work on its own merits. Straight up. Of course there are extreme examples that warrant an assessment of context (The Ian McKellan King Lear vs. an all-comers local rep production of the same play, for example). But in general, I figure these scales of difference in terms of talent pool/training/finances etc are reflected in ticket price. Simply put, you pay more, you expect….’more’.

And (just my own personal feeling here) I think there’s little satisfaction in reading a positive review about your show only to realise that it’s sprinkled with quantifiers… “a valiant effort from an inexperienced company”? Shudder. I’d rather just hear what we could have done better, thanks.

John Smythe      posted 29 Jan 2010, 05:41 PM / edited 29 Jan 2010, 05:46 PM

From my personal perspective, Nell Williams, I have no capacity to add such a load to my work, even just as editor /manager /operator. The limited funding I have at present barely covers the time I already spend in that role (at a minimum wage rate) plus Web Management and Hosting costs, and I am still paid nothing for actual reviewing (likewise for all the critics). In fact the site will only remain viable in its current state if there is a significant uptake in PAD mebership. 

I did offer to open discussion regarding setting up a Theatreview clone to be operated by someone else (see Editor posting, 12 Jan) but no-one took that up and moves appear to be afoot to handle it in other ways. 

Claire Buckley    posted 29 Jan 2010, 05:51 PM

 I agree it’s a lot of work, almost always unappreciated and not paid and the only way that we are even getting AmDramReview working is through volunteers.  I don’t think most people realise that it’s so much work.  But hopefully we are providing valuable feedback and ultimately raising the profile and standard of performing arts in NZ.

Tamati Patuwai                 posted 29 Jan 2010, 06:12 PM

Hi guys.

In my opinion (of course it’s up to the managers of this site) the criteria presented still doesn’t determine the difference between “community” works and “professional”. I have agreed that certain distinctions have been made, but that was more specifcially with regards to the “needs” based theatre processes being “vocational”. In my view, the broader community approaches and the so called professional arena hasn’t yet been defined sufficiently enough to create another site or even forum.

I understand what has been presented in the forum so far, but with respect, I’m not actually convinced yet. As I stated earlier in the forum, I’m really interested in dissecting this conversation and really appreciate the forum to have this conversation.

If there is anyone that can assist me in understanding the difference between the “pro’s” and “not-pro’s” please I am all ears (or eyes in this instance)…

Kia Oraz

Claire Buckley    posted 29 Jan 2010, 06:22 PM / edited 29 Jan 2010, 06:23 PM

 Kia Ora Tamati

The difference as defined by the rights holders comes down purely to where the money goes post production.  If it goes to an incorporated not-for-profit society such as Butterfly Creek Theatre Troupe in Eastbourne, Wellington or Dolphin Theatre in Onehunga Auckland then it is considered amateur.  If It is a limited liability company such as Auckland Theatre Company where the intention is to make money and that money will go to shareholders, then it is considered professional.  Either format can pay their actors though generally community not-for-profits don’t (though that is changing).  So really it’s about who gets the profit, ultimately the community for an incorporated society or shareholders in the situation of a company.  I imagine the definition for the purpose of any forum or review site will be self-imposed.  People will sign up to be reviewed as amateurs for our site.  So I guess that is how it will work.

Does that help?


Ewen Coleman posted 1 Feb 2010, 10:43 PM

For many of us the answer to Tamati’s question ” what is the difference between pros and non-pros” is that there isn’t a diifference and certainly nothing to do with money like Claire would have us beleive.  Unfortunately the general perception is that because amateur actors are “” hobbists”  their productions are of a lesser standard.  Having worked as a paid Reviewer of both amateur and professional theatre for the past 20 years my criteria for Reviewing has been and still is the same regardless of the production. Training of performers and money invested in a production can up the anti of a professional production but the production values don’t necessarily change.

Claire Buckley    posted 2 Feb 2010, 09:38 AM

 Ewen I think you will find the definition I offered Tamati was the definition set forth by the rights holders, such as Samuel French, MTI, and such.  NOT what most people believe.  Clearly you didn’t bother to read my definition.

Nell Williams      posted 3 Feb 2010, 01:10 PM

Hi John, sorry, just in the interests of clarification, I didn’t mean to imply that you yourself should be shouldering the responsibility of reviewing everything out there, professional/non-professional and everything in between… That would be a huge undertaking.

I just wanted to make a more generalised point that, provided that the criteria are the same, I think there’s no problem for anyone who expects an audience to come and see their work to have that work reviewed by a critic. As long as they’re prepared to ACTUALLY be held to the same standard that everyone else is.

Claire Buckley    posted 3 Feb 2010, 01:31 PM

 Fantastic Point Nell!  They definitely should be held to the same standard given the amount that some amateurs charge for tickets!

Dan Chasemore                posted 23 Apr 2010, 03:26 PM

Apologies for wading into the debate, but it was of huge interest as I am new to the NZ theatre scene from the London one – but having worked as a Director, a theatre marketeer and a theatre reviewer in London, (on both the professional and amateur circuits) I simply couldn’t resist chiming in!!

The main argument against including amateur reviews within any publication are twofold. Firstly, its a convenient line to draw for the publication, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. If AMT’s Rent qualifies, what about the one woman cabaret that is on for one night in the back room of a pub? School plays? Not everything can be reviewed, and the line has to be drawn somewhere. Rightly or wrongly, the amateur/professional line is asgood a status as any to be a predictor of quality.

The second argument revolves around the purpose of the review. Essentially the review exists for the general public to read, and make a decision about whether or not to buy a ticket. Most amateur shows run for a week or two at the maximum, which means that the effect of the review is limited. The pool of people who will be interested in the review is much smaller – in community theatre, usually limited to people who know the cast, and live in the immediate area. People who more than likely know about the production already.

On top of that – I would also sound a cautionary note from the side of the amateur theatre companies, as competing on a level playing field can be quite tough on the old ego. More than one I have had to explain to a crestfallen actress that although I thought her performance was good, her two star review was in comparison with the Royal Court production I saw the night before, and I had to point out that her accent slipped a couple of times, and her costume wasn’t very good. While in the context of amateur/community theatre a show might be excellent, the intellectually honest reviewer needs to judge everything on a level playing field. And, yes, I have had it happen to me as well… 🙂

All the criteria above (pool of talent/rehearsal time) shouldn’t come into the equasion when simply judging whether or not the theatrical experience is to be reccommended.

So I guess I could say it could be the case of ‘be careful what you wish for’….

Having said (all) that – I fully support the idea of having some facility to review amatuer shows. Perhaps on a volunteer basis to start off? And this forum right here seems to be as good a place as any to get the ball rolling?

Matthew Roderick           posted 8 Jun 2010, 12:21 AM

 Well done Tamati. Thank you stating what John Smythe is again missing …the point. John what you have said in regards to “amateur/community theatre is more than a little insulting. I beg to differ when you state that:”We define ‘professionals’ as those for whom the performing arts are a vocation; who seek taxpayer or ratepayer funding and corporate sponsorship, and charge prices predicated on paying either professional fees or a cut of the gate on a co-op basis. ” Quite a lot of the “amateur” productions I have been involved with over the years and many many more around the company fulfill some or all of these said criteria. To say that you are not talking about remuneration is a little contradictory as well. It seems it s exactly what you are talking about: “Note, I am not talking about getting paid as the main criterion. I say ‘vocation’ because there is a difference between those who wait tables and clean offices etc. to support a primary passion they hope to make their career, and those who have a full time job and pursue their passion for theatre as a part time hobby. ” Many community/non paid theatre practitioners would jump at the chance to be paid but realise that growing theatre within New Zealand is a more important goal. What people in rugby might called “grass roots”. Amateur theatre would be where a large percentage of “professionals” in New Zealand have  come from.

My father for example worked on up to seven committees during the 60 odd years he gave to amateur productions, music and performing arts in Gisborne. Thousands of people have been involved with productions he personally directed, musically directed and helped produce thousands more came and saw them,were entralled, entertained and moved by them. And he is just one example of theatre in New Zealand.

It doesn’t really matter too much about the level of theatre in some areas but more so that it happens. That the community gets involved with it. that way we all get to be a part of the suspension of disbelief. Yes some of us “amateurs” know what that means too.

You also with your comments lump all community theatre together and tar us with the same brush. None of the productions I have directed in “community” theatre have had a prompt or required one during the season. Most of the team do have “day jobs” and I would suggest that proves their love of theatre that they will work all day and then come out at night and WORK again. Sometimes for several months. Without, as you remind us, payment.

I remeber a tutor telling me, no reminding me, that the word amateur derives from amore meaning love. So amateur really means for the LOVE. We do it because we want too. Soo….

Why can’t some, maybe all, THEATRE in New Zealand can have space on the net, anywhere where the theatre community can read about what is happening around the company everywhere at all levels. Perhaps you need to expand your own viewing.

I object to you calling the work I do and my fellow practitioners as a hobby. Myself and my partner and many others I know work very hard for long hours and give alot to growing theatre in our areas around the country.So if the “professionals” weren’t getting paid they wouldn’t be doing theatre?

Matthew Roderick           posted 8 Jun 2010, 12:28 AM

 Another point re your casting comment John.

” I understand community/amateur theatres have smaller pools to draw from, and while they can afford to do larger cast plays it is rare that they are able to cast all roles ideally. But hey, this is their hobby, they squeeze it in between greater priorities, they are often extremely committed and why shouldn’t they get a go at a role that might extend them? 

Thus I can forgive Stagecraft for casting a Pakeha woman as Aroha (albeit a fluent speaker of te reo) but would have led the howls of protest had the ATC done the same.”

Why  was the Pakeha woman cast as Aroha? do you know? Are you simply implying they couldn’t get a Maori so compromised with a Pakeha who spoke fluent Te Reo. MAybe some of the reasons could be these:1) There wasn’t a Maori woman who could speak Te reo to the level required in the community  2) Maybe it was a comment from the director about the whole “one people, one nation” and that it shouldn’t matter about the colour of their skin. 3) do you know this performers genealogy so well that you  are qualified to make this comment.

John Smythe      posted 8 Jun 2010, 10:41 AM / edited 8 Jun 2010, 11:53 AM

To reply to all your points Matthew, would be to repeat myself and reiterate points made by others. The simple fact is I have to draw the line somewhere because Theatreview has no capacity to include community theatre productions.

We have just covered our 298th production this year – 7 weeks earlier than when that point was reached last year. The total for 2009 was 448 productions and in many cases we carried multiple reviews. I now work fulltime to keep the site going, with a budget covering the whole enterprise (including all operating, web hosting and web maintenance expenses) that’s equal to about half of a very modest salary.

As I have said above, the capacity to sustain Theatreview in its current form, let alone allow it to operate in a fully professional way, depends on a considerable uptake of professional NZ Performing Arts Directory memberships. The current level of PAD membership has not yet paid half the cost of setting it up (which I paid for out of my own management fee because CNZ did not include that aspect in what they funded).

I totally agree community theatre needs its own review site, especially with print media being so much less supportive than they used to be (community theatre reviews should be reviewed in community newspapers: that seems obvious to me). My offer of a clone of Theatreview (the build of which was entirely funded by me) to help get a Community Theatre Review site up and running has not been picked up, which is fine – other plans are afoot, growing from within the community theatre movement which is as it should be – but I really don’t see what else I can do.

As already said above, ‘hobby’ is not a pejorative term.

hobby n. an activity pursued for pleasure in one’s spare time.

Note: This is not to say professionals do not also derive pleasure from the activity.

Your point on casting is predicated on the principle that community theatres (by definition?) cast as best they can from within their own community, which is as it should be. Professional theatres often cast far and wide to get the right person for a role: the Auckland Theatre Company brought Rena Own back from America to play Aroha in The Pohutukawa Tree.  

Claire Buckley    posted 8 Jun 2010, 11:43 AM

 We are working as fast as we can to get the AmDramReview site going.  We have reviewers, the site design and format, but lack the web-hosting.  Our biggest issue is the lack of money.  As John points out this is an expensive and time-consuming endeavour and therefore is completely reliant on volunteers.  The professional companies around the country are incredibly lucky to have John willing to do all the work for free  (or a modest salary) as I  cannot state enough the amount of work it takes.  I think the line that has been drawn is a fair one and in the end if the two sites support each other and have many of the same reviewers (which is the case, many Theatreview reviewers have volunteered to review for AmDram) the distinction is, surely, essentially academic.

Janet Cole           posted 11 Jun 2010, 11:33 PM / edited 13 Jun 2010, 07:08 PM

Hi there,  I’d like to add another thought to this conversation. I’m on the committee for Titirangi Theatre, in Waitakere City, Auckland, and have also been frustrated by the black and white approach to deciding which theatre gets media attention.

I see community / amateur theatre as part of a continuum of performing arts, rather than in or out of some kind of ‘real’ theatre box. For example, we have many professionals involved with our theatre. In real life, professional theatre people often do not have paying gigs 52 weeks a year, and want to keep on form and explore different skills and approaches, plus share with those who are open to developing their skills. We also find many film and TV people are wanting complementary experience to their ‘day job’.

Amateur/ communuity theatre can provide an opportunity for development. We are involved with the Waitakere Going West Books and Writers Festival this year, with a strong emphasis on New Zealand writing and JK Baxter. We are showing 2 one-act Baxter plays, and one of our committee has worked Baxter’s poems for children into a scripted half-hour show.

We run drama classes in association with Drama Train, including adult performing for stage and screen, which then dovetails into opportunities for those students to audition for a show.

We also train technical people, some of whom then go on to work professionally, transferring those skills into other spheres.

We often perform New Zealand plays, and inite the writer to attend, where possible, so they can enjoy a forum with the cast and audience after the show.

I guess, in summary, we are a bridge between amateur and professional, looking to bring together the best of both. I would like to explore how we could support a community theatre web space, while also exploring a broader definition of the role of theatre and the role media in growing theatre and audiences.

Claire Buckley    posted 1 Sep 2010, 01:56 PM / edited 1 Sep 2010, 07:10 PM

 Hi All,  we are at a point now (yes I know it has taken time!) that the website for amateur review is live.  We are looking for reviewers (and people that want to be reviewed) to sign up as we start getting community theatres around the country into the idea of being reviewed.  Obviously everyone is volunteers, if only this would make us millions!  Get in touch or sign up if you are keen to get involved.

Raewyn Whyte posted 5 Sep 2010, 12:08 PM

 Just a small point — all the Theatreview reviewers are volunteers. ,

Rebecca Parker posted 10 Dec 2010, 09:37 AM / edited 10 Dec 2010, 10:17 AM

 Hi all

David Murray, who started this thread, has now developed (albeit that it is still in the testing stage) a new website for reviews of community theatre.

Now it is up to us to make sure that we keep that site alive and kicking – it’s what we ‘amateurs’ have asked for, so let’s do it!

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