December 17, 2013
FOUNDERS OF PLAYMARKET AWARDED
An actress, a playwright, an administrator, and an Arts Council advisor sat on a bed together… No, it’s not the beginning of a dirty joke but the genesis of an organisation.
It was 1973. Four people had the foresight to set up a script advisory organisation and an agency for New Zealand playwrights. They were playwright Robert Lord who had recently been inspired by development conferences he had attended overseas; Nonnita Rees, Judy Russell, and Ian Fraser, who at age 24 was the Arts Council’s Executive Officer for the Performing Arts.
At the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards on Sunday 15 December, the founders of Playmarket were awarded the Mayor’s Award for Significant Contribution to the Theatre.
Nonnita Rees came up with the name Playmarket and was the initial administrator of the office housed in the former public toilets known as the Taj Mahal in Courtenay Place. These were the offices of Downstage Theatre, which weekly funded 6 paid hours.
This initiative happened at a critical time in the growth of New Zealand drama. At the beginning of 1973 there were four professional theatre companies and another six were soon to open their doors. Government investment in the arts was substantial.
The first performance licence issued by Playmarket was for Balance of Payments by Robert Lord. It was issued to Hawera Repertory Society. By the time of the first AGM twenty-five scripts had been licensed, including Brian McNeill’s play about Katherine Mansfield called The Two Tigers, which was the first New Zealand play to be staged by all of the professional theatres around the country.
By mid 1975 there were 59 scripts submitted for assessment, which was undertaken by Jean Betts for which she was paid a fee of $2 per script.
Playmarket now receives over 500 scripts a year, circulates scripts, runs development clinics, competitions, and masterclasses, runs a bookshop, publishes plays and a magazine, employs four full-time staff, and issues more than 400 performance licences annually.
More than 50% of the work currently programmed by our professional theatres has been written by New Zealand playwrights. Playmarket collects royalties each year that represent over five and a half million dollars spent at the box office for tickets to New Zealand plays.
This is all possible because of what Geoff Murphy called earlier this week – a vision of a sense of nationhood. Those four visionaries were convinced New Zealanders would want to see their own stories on stage. They were the late Robert Lord; and Ian Fraser, Judy Russell, and Nonnita Rees.