July 27, 2014

The Bacchanals are taking Dean Parker’s ONCE WE BUILT A TOWER to the South Island


The Bacchanals are a multi-award winning company based in Wellington, dedicated to exploring text-based theatre, redefining classic works, and ensuring that theatre remains a place for social, spiritual, political and psychological debate. 

The Bacchanals believe that theatre should be accessible to all – economically, intellectually and geographically – and that audiences should be able to access theatre outside of the main centres. 

Since our formation in 2000 we have staged 28 productions ranging from the ancient Greeks to Shakespeare to the NZ premieres of major British playwrights and the premieres of new NZ works. We have performed in car parks, warehouses, apartments, community halls and professional theatres. We have performed to audiences as small as 2 and as large as 400 and worked with budgets as small as $271 and as large as $95,000. 

In March 2014 we premiered Dean Parker’s new play Once We Built a Tower: The Construction of the Waitaki Dam & The Welfare State, 1928-39 in a sell-out season at BATS Theatre. 

Once We Built A Tower tells the story of how the 1935 Labour Government adopted the medical insurance scheme, used by the workers who built the Waitaki hydro-electric dam, as the basis for the creating a welfare state. In its day, this scheme was the envy of the rest of the world.

Narrated by Ethel McMillan, Once We Built A Tower explores the plight of working class New Zealanders almost 100 years ago, and the lengths to which her husband Gervan McMillan and his friend Arnold Nordmeyer fought for every New Zealander to receive free medical care and an old-age pension by right.


In August/September 2014, The Bacchanals are taking Once We Built A Tower to the South Island to perform in many areas featured in the play, including Kurow – home of the Waitaki hydro-electric dam.

In order to make the show genuinely accessible, we want to a) take it to some relatively remote areas with small populations and b) not charge admission. Not being able to rely on box office receipts means we have to raise the $26,000 needed to mount the South Island tour entirely through sponsorship, funding and donations. 

This tour can happen thanks to the support of Interislander, Emerging Artists Trust and Coffee Supreme. But we’ve still got a way to go before we can cover vehicle and trailer hire, petrol, accommodation, venue hire, advertising, two weeks’ wages for 11 company members and writers’ royalties for Dean Parker. We would also like to eat while we’re on the road! 

We are very keen to get this play to the South Island, and will be extremely grateful for any donation. Boost by 15 August. Thank you! 



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