Waldheim at Seven Oaks, 35 Hassals Lane, Waltham, Christchurch

30/01/2019 - 02/02/2019

Production Details

An avant-garde theatrical music fair in the woods  

Surrounded by trees and orchards in the heart of Waltham, Free Theatre hopes audiences will join them for their first theatrical adventure in Waldheim (the Germanic version of Waltham which translates literally to “home in the woods”), and is grateful for the support of LiVS (Life in Vacant Spaces) and ARA Institute of Canterbury for making this unique space for Ars Acustica possible.

Ars Acustica builds on Free Theatre’s earlier successful collaboration The Mauricio Kagel Project (2015), which was presented in the Christchurch Arts Festival. Featuring works by Argentinian composer Mauricio Kagel including “Exotica” and “Ballet for Non-Dancers”, Ars Acustica will now also delve into Kagel’s major influence, the pioneer of avant-garde music – John Cage.

NZSO conductor Hamish McKeich is looking forward to returning to Christchurch for the project:

“We performed Cage’s 4’33” during one of Free Theatre’s Ubu Nights when I was down for the project in 2015, these guys really get Cage and his works still have the power to shake up our expectations, to really engage an audience”.

Director Peter Falkenberg explains, “Both John Cage and Kagel were influenced by the Dada cabarets where they created and developed a new music-theatre genre where music-making was theatrical, absurd and playful. Our beautiful new site will give this music event a completely different dimension”.

“No one believes in God anymore, but everyone believes in Bach” – Mauricio Kagel

“I can’t understand why people are frightened of new ideas. I’m frightened of the old ones” – John Cage 

Ars Acustica
Waldheim at Seven Oaks, 35 Hassals Lane, Waltham, Christchurch
Wed 30 January – Sat 2 February 2019
Ubu’s Bar open from 7.30pm
Tickets: Full Wage $40. Concession $25. Group Discounts available.
Online Bookings Essential
Event and Booking Website:

Presented with the support of Creative New Zealand, Pub Charity Ltd., LiVS and Ara Institute of Canterbury

Facebook Event:

Public “Instrumental Theatre” workshops and a Symposium are offered as part of the project. The participants will create their own Instrumental Theatre performances and this may also provide an opportunity for them or their creations to become part of the project themselves. 

Instrumental Theatre Workshop Adult
Saturday 19th Jan 1-4pm, Waldheim
Koha, booking essential
021 025 61384

Instrumental Theatre Workshop 7-12 years
Monday 21st Jan 9-3pm, Waldheim
$40, booking essential
021 025 61384

Instrumental Theatre Workshop 13-16 years
Tuesday 22nd Jan 9-3pm, Waldheim
$40, booking essential
021 025 61384

Ars Acustica Symposium
Saturday 2nd Feb, 1-2pm, TSB Space, Tūranga Central Library
An opportunity to join in a discussion with the collaborators and hear about their experience creating Ars Acustica.

To follow the development of Free Theatre’s new work, regular updates will be provided on their website and social media pages including:
Facebook: and

Theatre , Music , Multi-discipline ,

A theatrical adventure in the woods

Review by Tony Ryan 31st Jan 2019

As we walk through a picket gate in an overgrown hidden corner of Christchurch suburbia, it’s as if we are suddenly transported to another, unfamiliar world.

We are immediately confronted by elements of Mauricio Kagel’s Repertoire as Free Theatre’s “non-dancers” introduce us to their universe. Over on the lawn, John Cage’s strange little piano piece ‘In a Landscape’ emanates from a weather-beaten piano as the ticket collector issues name tags containing the first name of one or another of tonight’s two main composers. Throughout the evening most of the performances are either works by Cage and Kagel or works and ideas inspired by them. [More]


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A clear artistic victory that might be too much of a good thing

Review by Erin Harrington 31st Jan 2019

It’s half past eight, golden hour, on the evening of one of the hottest days of summer, and we’re being led along paths beaten through scruffy fields by masked performers, pinching tart blackberries and scrumping apples from overladen trees, listening to some of the best musicians in Christchurch rattle kitchen implements, make bird calls, and do their best not to play their instruments in the way they were designed.

It’s a stunning way to spend an evening and an unusual but perfectly apt setting for Ars Acustica, a playful, thoughtful multi-disciplinary celebration of the theatrical music of composers John Cage and Mauricio Kagel.

The performance, directed by Peter Falkenberg, features outdoor installations, well-considered light and costumes, and puppets and masks, combining to form a hybrid, organic celebration of movement, music and the natural environment.

For two hours performers from Free Theatre’s core company work alongside students from the University of Canterbury’s School of Music and members of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, who are conducted at times by the NZ Symphony Orchestra’s Hamish McKeitch. The two dozen or so works range from the conventional to the avant-garde, and throughout the performances are presented with intelligence and wit.

The presentation is beautifully musically directed by composer, virtuoso violinist and UC’s Head of Performance Mark Menzies, whose works ‘Koromiko’and ‘Kea’serve as high points in an evening full of treasures.

The performance is held at sites around Free Theatre’s new home, the pastoral setting of Waldheim: a hidden space on the fringe of the inner city that used to house an alternative primary school and, before that, a horticultural training centre. The orchards, gardens and ramshackle, overgrown greenhouses that we are drawn through act as environment and sanctuary; this is the first Free Theatre show I’ve been to that could be described, at first, as ‘gentle’.

The evening’s performances start outdoors and we head into repurposed buildings as the light begins to fade, finishing up in a greenhouse that has been reconfigured as a makeshift concert hall, with room for a small orchestra and the performance of an unconventional ballet.

This bucolic space in turn softens and recontextualises many of the musical works, the most unconventional and angular of which often ask audience and performers to confront what it is we mean by music, or noise, or sound, or even performance itself. This is particularly the case in the evening’s final segment, which includes a performance of John Cage’s (most infamous?) work, ‘4:33’, a three-movement piece in which the performers are instructed not to play their instruments.

Within a traditional performance space we might reflect upon the act of listening and the magnitude of noise within the dark and intentional ‘silence’. In this space, environmental sounds, which include wind, far-off sirens and the distant revving of cars and motorcycles, are augmented by the comforting smell of straw and the damp of the vegetation surrounding and creeping in to the ‘concert hall’. It’s a special experience.

The evening is rich and densely packed, with enough to appeal to a variety of tastes – and the knowledge that if you don’t like this, something else is on its way. This is somewhat to its detriment. The show runs well over its advertised time, and there is a growing sense of restlessness in the performance’s final half hour. This has little to do with the performers themselves but rather a sense of overstimulation and a desire for a good edit. This is really noticeable as we head into the performance’s final section, during which we are seated along the walls of a greenhouse, for we become a more traditional stationary audience that is less able to move around, or chat, or engage on our own terms.

There might be too much of a good thing, but it’s clearly an artistic victory for Free Theatre, who have been forced to get creative about their ongoing sustainability given the loss last year of their former home. Do be warned about the site’s abundance of biting insects, though, and it’s worth wearing sturdy shoes. You may also want to bring a good-sized purse if you plan on pinching some apples.


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