BATS Theatre, The Heyday Dome, 1 Kent Tce, Wellington

19/04/2016 - 23/04/2016

Production Details


Kiwimeter is on trial, the creators suing for defamation, in a case that will be heard in… BATS Theatre. 

A group of Wellington theatre makers are staging a semi-improvised show called A Trial at BATS Theatre in order to investigate the issues that TVNZ’s controversial Kiwimeter survey has raised and to put the New Zealand justice system itself under the cauterising lights of the theatre for judgement. 

The satirical court case will follow real judicial procedures and conventions (with a degree of creative licence). Each night of the season will be a different stand-alone episode in a serial that will be documented online as it unfolds over the week. 

Karin McCracken, herself a former practicing lawyer, will perform as the counsel for the defendant. “Trials always struck me as very theatrical,” says McCracken, “the wigs, the bows to the judge, the esoteric (read: inaccessible) language. I got interested in the relationship between form and content in that setting. That’s what this show explores.” 

A Trial will take place at BATS Theatre, beginning on the 19th of April until the 23rd. In the civil case being brought, TVNZ has sued a prominent commentator [name suppressed] for defamatory statements leading to loss of profit. The public are invited to attend on any night; each episode will cover a portion of the trial process, such as witnesses examination, and attempts to exploit the law in favour of one client or another. As part the innovative and topical theatre experience, audience members can put themselves forward to serve on the jury (provided they are available for all five episodes) and give their verdict on the final night.  

A Trial is a collaboration between some of Wellington’s leading independent theatre practitioners.  Along with Karin McCracken is
Joel Baxendale of Binge Culture,
Anya Tate-Manning (PSA, Puppet Fiction),
Maria Williams (queens), and
designers Meg Rollandi and Nick Zwart (Devil’s Half Acre).

Barbarian Productions’ Jo Randerson will play the judge presiding over the case. Asked about what excites her about the production she said, “I just did the Kiwi meter survey. There’s a lot of provocative questions in there. My character is a cross between the average New Zealander and Judge Judy. I think it’s going to be an interesting case.”

A Trial
at BATS Theatre,
19 – 23 April, 7.30pm
Tickets are available from bats.co.nz,
along with all the details on how to sign up for jury service.
Follow proceedings at atrialshow.weebly.com and @TrialJournoNZ on twitter.  

BETWEEN TVNZ (Plaintiff) AND UNNAMED (Defendant) 

Tuesday 19 April        Hey Jury, Don’t Make it Bad 
Wednesday 20 April    It’s Plaintiff to See 
Thursday 21 April       Can I Get a Witness? 
Friday 22 April           Stop Sitting on Defence 
Saturday 23 April       Give it to Me (the Verdict)

Justice Jody Ranzerson:  Jo Randerson 
Counsel for the Plaintiff, Mr Backensdael:  Joel Baxendale
Counsel for the Defendant, Miss Rizmackon:  Karin McCracken
Court Taker, Courtney T. Aker:  Maria Williams
Member of the press, Jacqui Strongarm:  Anya Tate-Manning

Ria Simmons
Tadhg Daly
David Farrar
Tania Sawicki-Mead
Unnamed (defendant) 

OPERATOR:  Jonathan Hobman
DESIGNED BY:  Nick Zwart and Meg Rollandi
PRODUCED BY Joel Baxendale 
DRAMATURGY:  Karin McCracken  

Theatre ,

The outcome of this civil case has implications for civilisation itself

Review by John Smythe 20th Apr 2016

In the expectation of strong public interest, the idiosyncratic Justice Jody Ranzerson has convened the New Zealand High Court’s night court (Wellington) beneath the Dome in BATS Theatre in order to hear the defamation case TVNZ has brought against an unnamed defendant. This is highly appropriate as trials can, by their very nature, be very theatrical (although TV drama tends to shrink them to a few minutes with a ‘commercial hour’ episode, and reality shows like Judge Judy cover many cases per episode).

Set down for five hours over five evenings, this case involves TVNZ’s controversial Kiwimeter survey. The Plantiff, whose counsel is Mr Beckensdael, claims the unnamed Defendant, represented by Miss Rizmackon, defamed them by claiming their survey was racist and designed to serve the Government’s agenda.  In essence, a blogger’s freedom of speech is being challenged by a corporation’s right to maintain its reputation for unimpeachable integrity. 

Although she has accepted the Defence application to suppress the name of the Defendant, in a pre-trial hearing Justice Ranzerson rejected an application for a closed hearing. Indeed she has allowed proceedings to be openly documented on the World Wide Web – http://atrialshow.weebly.com/ – as well as on honourable organs of public interest and discourse like this one.

Another innovation dedicated to transparency and accessibility was supposed to see, or rather hear, the process by which Jury’s electing of their Foreperson broadcast in Court. Unfortunately the microphone failed. Hopefully this will be rectified so that their normally secret deliberations can be shared on Saturday.

While I have no wish to bring the judicial system, and these practitioners of it, into disrepute – indeed I applaud their willingness to place themselves and Justice itself under scrutiny – I feel duty-bound to note the odd peculiarity (if that’s not a tautology) within the initial proceedings.

There is something strange about the way Justice Ranzerson relates to Miss Rizmackon. Complimenting her on her weight-loss is unusual to say the least. It is too early to tell whether this amounts to favouritism or intimidation but I suggest people remain alert to this as the trial proceeds.

Mr Beckensdael, on the other hand, has only himself to blame for the strife he got himself into. Prior to the Jury selection process, Counsels are supposed to check the list of those summonsed for service to ensure none are inappropriate for obvious reasons. Thanks to his own negligence in this matter, the Counsel for the Plaintiff suffered the indignity of having a flatmate, his partner and his own brother step up for jury selection. His dressing down in chambers could be heard by all through the partly open hatch.

Finally six men and six women were selected, comprising a good cross-section of the community: an IT professional, a Theatre Maker, a Freelance Worker, a Brewery Assistant, a Senior Lecturer, an Economist, a Researcher, a Student, a Manager, a Media Analyst, a Sociologist and a Community Support Worker. I shall leave you to judge whether it was fair that a Comedian, a Children’s Theatre Actor and a Mon Calamari (from Star Wars) were peremptorily challenged.

Having summarised the nature of the case for the Jury, Justice Ranzerson explained that their job is to hear the facts and determine whether or not the contentious words to be presented in evidence are defamatory, the honest opinion of the Defendant, fair comment and/or serve the public interest. While the Jury withdrew to choose their Foreperson in unintended silence, she judiciously utilised an inflatable neck-cushion for her own comfort and entertained us by blowing bubbles, thus proving she does have the public interest at heart.

The Court Taker, Courtenay T Taker, is also one to watch given her interest in assessing people according to their star signs, sun signs, year of birth, etc. Her odd (and I do mean odd) exclamations were indulged by the Court on this opening session.

When Counsel for the Plaintiff petitioned for the lifting of name suppression, strongly opposed by Counsel for the Defendant, Press Corps member Jacqui Strongarm was given leave to offer a PowerPoint presentation and lead us all in a rousing rendition of the National Anthem. (Ms Strongarm was also busy, afterwards, recording vox pops which may or may not appear on the aforementioned website.)

Clearly convinced the name suppression should be lifted, Justice Ranzerson quickly retracted her declared decision on seeing how upset Miss Rizmackon was. When the judge was moved to share how difficult it is for a deep-feeling person to weigh up the pros and cons and arrive at a decision, Miss Rizmackon felt compelled to tell the Jury it can be done. As it can. As it must, if society is to retain any semblance of law and order.

Justice Ranzerson has reserved her decision on the lifting of name-suppression in order to deliberate overnight. We may or may not know the identity of the Defendant tonight – when opening arguments will be heard, Counsel for the Plaintiff will open his case and a witness or two may appear.

For more information on the participants, click here and scroll down to ‘Appearances’.

Anyone who attends should feel free to add their observations in the Comments field below. The outcome of this civil case has implications for civilisation itself. 


James McKinnon April 23rd, 2016

On 22 April, the jury was back to a full complement of 12: 5 angry men, 6 women, and a small bear. Witnesses for the defense included a political scientist who challenged the credibility of Kiwimeter as "research," and the defendant himself, whose name is under suppression. The evidence presented by the witnesses supported the defense's argument that the allegedly defamatory statements at the center of the case represent an honest opinion, and are based on verifiable facts. 

This evidence also damaged the plaintiff's case by casting doubt on the legitimacy of Kiwimeter as "research." The classification of respondents into 6 pre-determined categories designated by connotatively loaded titles ("Patriot," e.g.) is a key issue, as is the use of what the defendant called "dog whistle" terms such as "special treatment," which, in the context of public discourse on right wing media outlets in NZ, is a euphemistic term carrying the connotation of "unfair privileges." The argument strongly implied by the defence is that among a certain constituent of New Zealanders, the dog whistle term transforms the ostensibly neutral Kiwimeter question "Do you think Maori should get special treatment" into something more like, "Maori want more than they deserve, don't they?" It was also pointed out that the term "Kiwimeter" could itself be taken as an indication that the survey was unreliable. Although the survey was allegedly designed to develop a picture of the range of "national identity," of New Zealanders, the term "Kiwimeter" suggests that New Zealanders might somehow be considered less than "100% Pure NZ" (so to speak) depending on how they answered the questions. In other words, the survey might serve to make respondents feel marginalized from their own nation if it told them that their views made them less than "100% Kiwi." (And the term "Kiwi" may itself be more strongly associated with and self-identified by pakeha New Zealanders than others.) 

John Smythe April 21st, 2016

A Trail – the civil suit TVNZ is bringing against a Defendant whose name remains suppressed – continued under the Dome at BATS Theatre last night. This time Justice Ranzerson was indulged in her wish to enter through a cloud of smoke although it is not yet the big puff that heralds the magical appearance of a pantomime genie.

While Court Taker Courtenay T Taker had acceded to the Judge request the put her ponytail into a bun, Defence Counsel Miss Rizmackon had put her hair up in the offending format. This discombobulated the Judge who let her off with a warning rather than charging her with contempt. As it turned out a tendency to nod off as the trial proceeded precluded the distraction issues the Judge had feared in the presence of a ponytail.

The case revolves around the assertion that the 60-question Kiwimeter Survey was racist because it asked respondents to agree or disagree, on a sliding scale, with the statement, “Māori should not receive any special treatment.” (This was followed by, “Māori culture is something that all New Zealanders can take pride in, no matter their background” – but this has yet to be mentioned in evidence.)

I was wrong to suggest, yesterday, that both counsels would open their cases. It was Counsel for the aggrieved Plaintiff (TVNZ), Mr Backensdael, who led last night with his opening address and calling of two witnesses, who Miss Rizmackon, of course, was able to cross-examine.

Mr Backensdael asserted that researchers must be entitled to conduct their scientific surveys without being subject to “the tyranny of public opinion”; that the narrative of Kiwimeter has been “clouded by the ramblings of a self-appointed opinion maker” (the un-nameable blogger/Defendant). Despite these somewhat oxymoronic views, his description of the Defendant as a figure skater trying to dance with a walrus on thin ice in the warmest summer on record earned approval from the Judge, who is partial to a good metaphor.  

Courtenay T Taker proved ill-prepared for the first witness’s desire to take the oath in te reo, swearing on a Maori Bible. Politely accomodating, Ms Mia Symons, a Public Relations Adviser with TVNZ, explained the purpose and methodology of the Kiwimeter Survey, created by Canadian political scientists with input from colleagues at New Zealand universities. While the questions were designed to elicit a reaction, she pointed out that asking whether, for example, John should paint his house yellow, did not imply that he was painting his house yellow.  

Having assured the court she’d played no part in creating the survey, although it had been timed to coincide with the Flag Referendum, Ms Symons became very upset as she revealed the emotional toll the controversy had taken on her personally. Consoling herself with confectionary, she then offered the bag of sweets to an eager Jury – and astonishingly the Defence raised no objection to what could well be construed as a blatant attempt to win their sympathy.

I trust Justice Ranzerson will make it very clear, in her summing up on Saturday, that emotion and bribes are to play no part in their determination; the case must be decided on the facts alone.

The second witness was Mr David Farrar, a political polster who has owned a market research company for 20 years, blogs on Kiwiblog, is a member of the National Party and works for them. His desire to swear a religious oath on the Torah (being Jewish) was also frustrated by the Court Taker having no Torah to hand.

Mr Farrar was very clear that “even if a question is racist it is not necessarily a bad question to ask.” It is equally valid, and not sexist, he suggested, to ask Americans, “Do you think a woman should be President?”  Under cross examination, in response to the suggestion that the statement “Māori should not receive any special treatment” implies Māori are disadvantaged, he did suggest that approach would be more useful in developing public policy than in gauging levels of public prejudice.

The importance of releasing the full data upon which survey finding are bases was stressed as a matter of professional integrity. This would help to clarify the question that has arisen concerning clearly racist respondents being awarded the label ‘Patriot’ in the result the online survey generates for each participant.

Justice Ranzerson closed proceedings with her customary whimsical observations and promised a song to see us on our way. Sadly the clerk’s laptop emitted only a thin, reedy facsimile of JLo’s ‘Love Don’t Cost Anything’. Nevertheless some in the public gallery hummed along.

The case proceeds tonight through to Saturday and as I will not be attending, I hope others will update proceedings briefly or longly over the next three days.

See also: http://atrialshow.weebly.com/name-of-defendant-leaked-on-social-media.html 

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