Downstage Theatre, Wellington

12/07/2012 - 12/07/2012

Production Details

Be part of the live studio audience as we showcase the best of New Zealand’s creativity to a global audience!  

A new collaboration between Cuba Creative, Downstage and Random Films, FixTV is New Zealand’s brand new magazine-style web TV show.

Hosted by adopted Wellingtonian and multi-instrumentalist Adam Page, FixTV features interviews with creatives and innovators, performances from guest musicians and comedians and much more.

This first episode kicks off on Thursday 12 July, 7pm.

Episode One guests unveiled so far…

Tickets are on sale now.

Join us as we make New Zealand web history and showcase our city to an audience of two-and-a-half billion! 

Chat show interesting but rather unconvincing

Review by Ewen Coleman [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 16th Jul 2012

Having had little in the way of entertainment on stage recently Downstage Theatre has now curiously branched out into something new with a magazine-style web TV chat show called FixTV that they are hosting in collaboration with Cuba Creative and Random Films.

In a standard chat show format featuring interviews and music, FixTV aims to showcase the best of what’s creative in Wellington, highlighting the “cool and creative” people of Wellington, showing that Wellington is “chic with attitude”.  And although referred to as being “live” it is actually recorded, edited and sent out online a week later.

After local comedian James Nokise introduced the show and got the audience warmed up, host Adam Page, with immaculately groomed beard, introduced the guests.

Barista extraordinaire, Nick Clarke expounding the awesome world of coffee, Ben Gleisner talking about Conscious Consumers and Ben Fulton from Red Rich Pedals, and his designer pedals – audio processes for electric guitars – were all competently interviewed. 

The final interview was with writer Duncan Sarkies which gave a fascinating insight into one of NZ’s foremost scriptwriters, particularly his work with Flight of the Concords.

Local guitarist Claire Terry also gave an excellence performance as the musical interlude while James Nioske was on again with clever and funny up-to-the minute political satire. 

However, while the concept of FixTV is admirable and there was a certain fascination in watching a supposed TV chat show being recorded, the fact that it was a Downstage show being played before a paying audience does raise questions about the purpose of the venture. 

It appeared rather strange that the audience was continually being excluded from what was being recorded especially when there were numerous monitors around the stage that the audience could have been watching. 

And Nokise’s political satire was all done with his back to the audience, facing camera, while Duncan Sarkies slouched in profile in the corner of the sofa with a peaked cap pulled down over his face.

And with the main focus of the show being about creativity the presentation and layout with guests sitting on a sofa in a row seemed hackneyed and rather out-dated. There could also have been a better gender balance as everyone interviewed was male, as were the crew members. The only female visible was a young girl running around holding camera cables.

While reasonably well-received by the audience, FixTV does appear to be a retrograde step for Downstage and it can only be assumed that this is a money making venture for them to pay the bills.  


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Urgent creative re-thinking required

Review by John Smythe 13th Jul 2012

The advent of FixTV draws focus to the shameful degradation of public service television in New Zealand and of fully professional theatre in Wellington. Specifically it offers an opportunity to comment on the absurd situation Downstage finds itself in, as it attempts to recover from the much-publicised problems it faced last year (discussed in this forum).

How ironic that on the same day Downstage breaks its latest mini-drought (5½ dark weeks) with a made-for-the-web chat-show recorded before a live audience, The Wellingtonian runs a story about how excited Downstage staff were at finding four old programmes – for Hedda Gabler (1990), She Stoops to Conquer (1994), King Lear (1996) and As You Like It (2001) – left anonymously at its box-office.

All were memorable productions, brimming with theatrical excellence. But gone are the days when one might hope to see such large cast classics given fresh life at Downstage. Some extremely creative productions have been presented there since but radical funding cuts have resulted in its major preoccupation becoming the raising of alternative financial support. But for what?

Downstage’s laudable determination to retain its professional status by only staging productions where cast, crew and staff are properly paid when they are ‘in the house’ has seen the theatre either closed or staging mostly small cast shows since late last year, Live At Six the notable exception. *(See further notes on Downstage below.)  

FixTV is a Cuba Creative production in collaboration with Downstage and Random Films supported by Wellington City Council’s Digital Strategy with other sponsors including the Australian High Commission, who have supplied the show host Adam Page, the idiosyncratic musician from Adelaide who now calls Wellington home. Its aim is to “showcase the best of New Zealand’s creativity to a global audience!”

As is her wont (and I do wish she wouldn’t, especially prior to plays: the space belongs to the production from the half-hour call), Downstage CEO Hilary Beaton makes a ‘pre-curtain’ speech. She congratulates us on being “early adopters, curious, courageous” and declares, “We believe this is the theatre of tomorrow.” What? Heaven forbid!

Fair enough, the show’s celebration of the talent to be found in ‘the Creative Capital’ is congruent with Downstage’s objectives, but hosting an online chat-show in a bog-standard, low-budget, TV chat-show format is hardly cutting edge. Sure, support the initiative by providing Downstage as a venue on a Sunday (once the theatre’s only dark night) but please don’t promote it as the paying audience!

The edited show will go live next Thursday 19 July and I believe you will find a link on FixTV’s Facebook page – so go there a ‘Like’ it now to get the alert. It will fill a tiny part of the huge gap left by the loss of TVNZ7 and I sincerely hope it finds its target audience and becomes an ongoing success.

So why am I reviewing it on Theatreview? Well for a start, tickets cost $25 which is very unusual for a TV ‘studio audience’. Granted it is not going to a commercial channel and the overheads have to be covered somehow. (A Pledge Me target of $4,000 was not met; 9 pledgers offered a total of $639.) But this is not a live show that is also being recorded unobtrusively for further dissemination. Its highly intrusive preoccupation is to record material that will later be edited for Web distribution a week later.

So what’s in it for the live – and paying – audience?

Politically onto it local comedian James Nokise (Public Service Announcements) does a fine job of warming us up, mostly with housekeeping stuff (at which point I notice the exit lights are not illuminated). It’s not his fault a problem with the teleprompter then causes a major hiatus.

At last Adam Page rocks on and uses sampler pedals to generate his signature trick of creating an instant electro-funk theme song. He will repeat this pedal trick to introduce all his interview guests. And addressing the camera rather than us, he reads from hand-held cue cards which I’m thinking won’t look good on screen (unless he knows they are cutting away to other visuals).

First up – at a bar set up to one side – is Nick Clarke from award-winning Memphis Belle and Flight Coffee. He came third in this year’s NZ Barista Champs. Fair enough: didn’t Wellington embrace the “the almost award-winning fourth most popular folk duo in New Zealand” on its route to world fame? Clarke is lively, knowledgeable, articulate, and he demonstrates the making of a great cup of coffee before our very eyes …

Well, before the hand-held cameras that is, whose operators are necessarily between us and the object of fascination. And this is my major gripe: while a number of monitors grace the space – to put the FixTV and segment logos in the picture, presumably – none are ever used to feed the live audience the show’s core content. The paying audience is getting less than the free-to-screen audience will get. That’s just wrong and will have to be addressed for future shows.

The National Director of Conscious Consumers, Ben Gleisner, is also lively, knowledgeable and articulate as he chats about their ‘badges for business’ scheme and shows us some. There are nine in all; 4/9 allow you to qualify as a Conscious Consumer and Nick’s Memphis Coffee has 7/9 which earns him a bonus round of applause. 

The music break brings us folk/ muso Claire Terry – known as jeweller Madame Fancy Pants in her day job – with ‘Simple Pleasures’ (not yet available on a beautiful song which builds to a powerful guitar break. Again, the paying audience is denied access to the close-ups they’re filming. 

After interval we do get to see a Vox Pop segment in Cuba Mall where producer Mark Westerby asks people – 3 men and one woman – what they know of and think about FixTV and Wellington, with Page intruding as a ‘Cuba Mall weirdo’ to subvert the illusion that this is a ‘live cross’. I suggest a provocation with a bit more bite next time.

And we’re back to the side bar to meet our third lively, knowledgeable and articulate chap: Ben Fulton of Red Witch Analog Pedals. His garage to global success story epitomises the can-do Kiwi entrepreneurial spirit and his techno-rich revelations about – and demos of – his range of guitar effect pedals is fascinating.

For James Nokise’s topical comical interlude, the paying audience is used as his backdrop which means all we see is his back, so it’s ‘radio comedy’ for us. His astutely satirical commentary is right up-to-the-minute, and I can’t help wondering how it will play out in a week from now (and why does there have to be a week’s delay anyway: is that just for the first one or will it always be so?)

The Facebook page and Downstage website promos have promised a “BIG feature band and LEAD FEATURED guest to be revealed on the night” so I guess the latter is the final guest, Duncan Sarkies: a veteran of Wellington’s alternative theatre scene, a notable screenwriter, poet and novelist, and an entertaining raconteur.

Duncan wears a peaked cap which throws his eyes into shadow and I can’t help thinking that will not look good on screen although I can’t really tell because none of the monitors give us the picture. (When it’s a cosy chat for nearby cameras, albeit amplified so we hear it all clearly, the relative lack of engagement leaves us free to ponder such matters.)

Prompted by Page, Sarkies talks about his Dunedin childhood and how his interest in what he does now germinated. The audience is especially attentive to what he has to say about working with Flight of the Conchords, with whom he scripted some of their TV series. And the soon-to-open (20 September) feature film Two Little Boys – adapted from Duncan’s novel and directed by his brother Robert – gets a good plug too. We even get to see the YouTube trailer.

Sarkies is primed to get into some really interesting stuff, I feel, but the floor manager is giving Page the wind-up signal and I can’t help wondering why there has to be a time limit on a Web show, especially when it’s going to be edited later.

The “BIG feature band” turns out to be the boy-girl electronica duo Black City Lights and they are relegated to “playing us out” with ‘Rivers’: “so long, so deep …”  

As noted above, the final product will be available for your appraisal next Thursday. Meanwhile it has to be noted that all the interview guests were chaps, which seems a bit retrograde and unrepresentative of Wellington’s creative sector and the presumed target audience. And the question remains: what will be added to future shows (on Thursdays 30 August, 11 October and 13 December) to justify charging $25 a ticket? Some urgent creative thinking is required here.
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*Further notes on Downstage:

‘Get Curious’ says its ‘Independent Season 2012’ brochure and I do – I am! – mostly about the yawning four-month gap between the end of the return season of The Playground Collective’s The Intricate Arts of Actually Caring (prior to its Arts On Tour NZ season throughout June) and Red Leap Theatre’s Paper Sky, due to open on 1 November.

Last month Downstage did host one-off Sunday performances of Rebound Dance Company’s About Face (10 June), Paul Ubana Jones’ Roots Retrospective (17 June) plus a PechaKucha Night (Fri 29 June). And the website now advertises a one-week season of Capital E National Theatre for Children’s Magnolia Street (21-28 July), Sam Neil in conversation with Simon Morris as a Downstage fundraiser (Sunday 3 August) and a one-off return performance of Taki Rua’s Michael James Manaia (Sunday 1 September) as a fundraiser for its participation in an as-yet unnamed international arts festival.

So what’s going on? Or rather, what’s not going on? And why /why not?

As I understand it, Downstage has taken on three ‘Resident Companies’. Although they are not named on the website, they are The Playground Collective (The Intricate Arts of Actually Caring), a slightly isolated dog (Death and the Dreamlife of Elephants) and Binge Culture Collective (This Rugged Beauty). All are relatively ‘emerging’ compared with past Residents like the SEEyD Theatre Company, Taki Rua Productions and Strike Percussion. Nevertheless they are infinitely more creative and accomplished than the random talents who set up Downstage 48 years ago, they have ‘paid their dues’, earned their right to go to the next level and with astute marketing Wellington should welcome what they have to offer.

The word on the street is that works are ‘in development’ and something(s) may well appear on stage in the months ahead. But Downstage has no funds to pay them to develop anything; they have to find that themselves, which we all know is an arduous process with no guarantee of success in a vastly under-resourced funding environment. This puts all the focus and energy in the wrong place and is not conducive to a flourishing creative environment.

It is also my understanding that there is no contractual obligation either for the Resident Companies to create something presentable nor for Downstage to present what they do create – to which I can only say there is nothing like a deadline to get the creative juices flowing. Just do it! 

From the outside looking in, all this seems way too risk averse and obstructive to Downstage’s vision, which is to “showcase the very best contemporary performing arts New Zealand has to offer… distinctive, eclectic, surprising, breathtaking, challenging, proudly New Zealand.” I do realise the Board is obliged to govern with care and avoid recklessness, and the theatre’s management must likewise be responsible. But after all the effort and goodwill that has been poured into supporting and facilitating Downstage’s reinvention of itself as a vital and integral part of the ‘Creative Capital’ infrastructure, the pass they have come to is not pretty. Far from it.

Downstage needs to be properly resourced to fulfil its admirable vision, including managing the means by which its resident companies develop new work from conception to birth.

As for FixTV: it’ll be good to have in cyberspace.  But it is not, nor can it ever be,the theatre of tomorrow.” 


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