Circa One, Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki St, Waterfront, Wellington

26/06/2010 - 24/07/2010

Production Details

Stamps, Suspense, Skulduggery.
“It’s been quite a while since a play has actually silenced the audience, leaving it clutching its candy wrappers instead of unwrapping them. Theresa Rebeck’s Mauritius rivets our attention with a satisfying, edgy, quiet-before-the-storm feeling. The audience collectively inhales, waiting for what happens next. Rebeck knows what she’s doing.”
So wrote the Houston Press when Mauritius played at the Alley Theater last year.
The New Zealand premiere of Theresa Rebeck’s MAURITIUS
opens in Circa One on Saturday 26th June at 8pm,
and runs until 24 July.
A gripping blend of sharp comedy and heart-pounding drama Mauritius makes for a fantastic night at the theatre that crackles with constant surprise.
The stakes are high when half-sisters inherit a book of rare stamps that may include the "crown jewel" of stamp collecting – the Post Office Mauritius. These two tiny slips of paper, the One and Two Penny “Post Office” stamps issued in 1847 from the island of Mauritius, are exceedingly valuable. It’s the printing flaws that ratchet up the worth and make them "interesting," as one of the characters explains, "just like the flaws in people."
However, the battle for possession takes a dangerous turn when three shady rival collectors enter the sisters’ world, willing to go to any lengths to stake their claim on the find.
With a high-suspense con game of cross and double-cross, all five characters end up in a desperate and funny battle of wits to secure the fabled prize. Mauritius gives a thrilling new perspective on the seemingly benign sport of stamp collecting!
Mauritius is one of the first of Theresa Rebeck’s plays to be performed in New Zealand, and Circa is delighted to be introducing its theatre audiences to such a talented playwright.
“Theresa Rebeck is a slick playwright; in fact, she’s so slick that Gucci wears her shoes,” wrote John Lahr in the New York Times. “Her scenes have a crisp shape, her dialogue pops, her characters swagger through an array of emotion, and she knows how to give a plot a cunning twist.”
And from Variety: "One of Rebeck’s strengths is her skill at stitching tension into every exchange – unsurprisingly for a writer with extensive experience in TV dramas like NYPD Blue and Law & Order: Criminal Intent!”
Mauritius marked Theresa Rebeck’s Broadway debut, and it has gone on to be produced throughout the States, gathering great reviews as it goes …
 “A real treasure … has ‘winner’ stamped all over it” – Houston Chronicle
“Razor-sharp .. a delicious dose of cunning … terrrific twists –
every second crackles and pops” – Sun Times, Chicago
Theresa Rebeck on …
… her inspiration for Mauritius
“I found pictures of those stamps from Mauritius when I was casually trolling online and I landed on a page of stamps from a 19th century Spanish lord’s collection. They were going on auction. There were a lot of very beautiful stamps and then I noticed you could click on these two stamps from Mauritius and the price showed up, and I thought, “Can that be true?” The catalogue price listed them as being worth something like $1.5 million a piece. I didn’t have very much information, but I was electrified by the idea that a stamp could be worth that much.
I started buying books and going to the library and trying to talk to people who were serious stamp collectors. I did a lot of research into the history of precious stamps, into philately. The lore that surrounds them was very moving to me; they become almost mythic. I found myself falling under their spell—they’re physically beautiful, and they’re so frail, and they have this mysterious and haunting history. I was particularly moved by the fact that it’s the errors or flawflaws in the stamps that make them valuable. So, the play actually started with my fascination with those stamps.
Then I became curious about what people’s hunger in life is for, how collectors place their hunger onto the collectible and further, the different versions of that. The hunger and disquiet of the self is different in different people, and I began to see the stamps as something that all different kinds of hunger could swirl around.”
….. the importance of comedy in Mauritius
I’m someone who becomes extremely impatient if there’s not a good laugh right around the corner. So I was working out the story, for Mauritius, and the stakes kept getting higher, and then I spent a lot of time thinking about Molière and how very funny and painful those plays can be at the same time. That was in my mind, that union of opposites. And that was where, for me, the delight of the play started to come in. Everybody’s hungry and scrabbling and desperate and crazy for those stamps, and then at some point it’s, you know, “Maybe we should have a margarita!”
….. giving her audiences a great time
“I believe, in short, in plays that move, that grab audience interest.

I like that audiences seem invigorated by my plays. That’s how it should be for people going to the theater. It’s a lesson in empathy. I want people to know you can come to a play and have a fantastic time — that it’s not a chore, that it’s a way fun thing to do! I know there are plays that are like a plateful of spinach, and I get impatient with those, too. I realize the importance, but I think, ‘Can’t you throw in a few jokes?’ Attending theater should be like reading Dickens — something that is profound and also a ripper of a good time. I hope I make theater that is meaningful but also fun. One does not preclude the other."


Kindly supported by the Museum Hotel  
26th June – 24th July
Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
$20 SPECIALS –     Sunday 27th June – 4pm; Tuesday 29th June – 6.30pm
AFTER SHOW FORUM – Tuesday 29th June

Performance times:
Tuesday & Wednesday – 6.30pm

Thursday, Friday, Saturday – 8pm
Sunday – 4pm
Ticket Prices:
Adults – $38; Concessions – $30;
Friends of Circa – $28
Under 25s – $20; Groups 6+ – $32


Circa Theatre, 1 Taranaki Street, Wellington
Phone 801 7992  

Lighting Design:  ULLI BRIESE
Stage Manager: Eric Gardiner
Technical Operator: Brian Fairbrother
Sound: Jeremy Cullen, Ross Jolly
Costumes: Boone Becconsall
Dialect Coach: D’Arcy Smith
Fight Arrangement: Allan Henry
Publicity: Claire Treloar
Graphic Design: Rose Miller, Parlour
Photography: Stephen A’Court
House Manager: Branwen Millar, Annesley Kingston
Box Office Manager: Linda Wilson

Gripping and unsettling

Review by Lynn Freeman 07th Jul 2010

A death in the family brings out the best or worst in people, and Theresa Rebeck takes the latter tack in her comedy/suspense.

Here two half-sisters, one sent away who then chose to stay away, the other stuck at home in what sounds like an unsavoury situation, clash over the one potentially valuable inheritance from their recently deceased mother.

It’s gripping stuff, unsettling and violent in places. What Rebeck does is force her audiences to shift their thinking on which is the most deserving sister, who was most wronged and who most deserves the stamp collection at the heart of the increasingly bitter dispute.

The younger girl, Jackie (Danielle Mason), tests your sympathy many a time. You can see the point of view of the older daughter, Mary (Lyndee-Jayne Rutherford) estranged from her flakey mother and with a seemingly stronger claim to the collection.

What is particularly clever, is that the playwright doesn’t feed you all the information, crucial details are left unrevealed but tantalisingly hinted at.

The seemingly downtrodden stamp dealer, Phillip (Aaron Alexander). Stirling, the vicious buyer, is disappointingly one dimensional as played by Jeffrey Thomas in the first half, he gets more charismatic in the second.

Mason shows us both the vulnerable and ruthless sides of Jackie without losing our concern for her, while the lovable Rutherford, in a clever piece of casting by Ross Jolly, is convincing as the steely, bitter Mary.

The questionable opportunist Dennis (Andrew Foster) becomes endearing as he goes from con man, to con man with a conscience, and Alexander’s bumbling, sarcastic Phillip is well judged.

Jolly loves directing this kind of clever script and he and his cast keep us twisting and turning with the plot. John Hodgkins’ revolving set makes sure little time is lost in set changes as the suspense mounts. Ulli Briese lights the set, with its overhead bulbs and dusty stamp cabinets, to perfection
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


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Human foibles explored in thriller format

Review by John Smythe 27th Jun 2010

Who was it reckoned ‘philately will get you nowhere’? If Mauritius is anything to go by, it can answer all your dreams or get you into a whole lot of trouble. Not that Theresa Rebeck’s gripping comical thriller – astutely cast and adeptly played with Ross Jolly directing – is really about the study, collecting and trading of stamps.

The massively valuable and sought-after One and Two Penny “Post Office” Mauritius stamps – issued in 1847 with “Post Office” instead of “Post Paid” printed down the side – are the catalyst for exposing what’s missing in two women’s lives, the hunger they have to fill the void, and the all-too-human failings that stop them achieving a win-win outcome.

The men in the story are the wheelers and dealers: the expert, the buyer and deal-maker. What they each hunger for is different but is no less a driving force in their lives.  

All five, being human, would like to have respect, power and some kind of love.  Or maybe it just boils down to having unconstrained choices – e.g. the freedom to take off on a whim to some exotic beach and order a Marguerita.  

Jackie (Danielle Mason) has never seen the ocean, or owned anything of value. She hungers to escape. Her half-sister Mary (Lyndee-Jane Rutherford) hungers to belong. She has never really had a family, apart from her paternal grandfather, whose stamp collection is now at stake.

But the stamps had been left with their mutual mother, who has recently died. In the absence of a will, Jackie believes their mother wanted her (Jackie) to have them, while Mary argues the collection was created by her grandfather (not Jackie’s) and are her inheritance.

Then there is the question of whether such a valuable collection should be privately owned and sold to the highest bidder, or sold – donated, even? – to a museum for all the world to enjoy …

Philip (Aaron Alexander) owns the Philatelic Emporium, in which the play opens, and is the long-suffering expert, beleaguered by ignoramuses who bring in mouldy stamp collections they’ve inherited, having no idea about them and expecting him to assess and value them on the spot for nothing. His expert knowledge is crucial to the outcome.

Hanging about for the main chance, a sort of ‘stamp-spotter’ for his client, is dodgy Dennis (Andrew Foster). He needs to position himself to be the indispensible deal-maker.

The client, Sterling (Jeffrey Thomas), is the man mysteriously able to produce a case chock-full of the cash Jackie drools over. He also has a “tricky” disposition. “When he wants something, that’s both good and bad,” is how Denis explains it to Jackie. And so it proves …

Thomas plays Sterling as a suited cowboy, complete with bootlace neckwear, riding boots and a rich rumbling drawl. While his surly power is undermined at times by random strolling where a firm stance would be more effective, his violent anger, when it erupts, is blistering.

Both Foster and Mason compel empathy by playing enigma as their strong suits. With each radical shift of the ground beneath Dennis and Jackie, and the horizon before them, they each keep us guessing as to how much they really know, what they are really thinking and how they might be feeling towards each other.

In counterpoint, Philip and Mary are much more grounded; more certain of their values and rights, although they too can resort to devious conspiracy where needed. Alexander and Rutherford (can this really be the same actress who just vamped as Monroe in The Nero Show?) embody the outcasts to great effect, each compelling the compassion wrought by recognition, even in their meanest moments.

In building the tensions as each character stalks their prey and either awaits their moment to strike or leaps at a sudden opportunity, Rebeck doesn’t fuss with back-story details. She makes it clear the half-sisters (neither of whom seem to have a job) have been estranged because of their late mother (their respective fathers barely get a mention), and there is an unresolved “silly little matter” between Philip and Sterling, concerning a problem in Philip’s marriage. It’s up to us to fill the caps and invent the causal specifics – or not, as we choose – which is fair enough, as long as we still believe in the present effects.

On the other hand, having thoroughly researched philately and imbued her text with much intriguing detail, Rebeck skips lightly over the issue of provenance; the registration and records that are crucial to giving rare stamps value in the legitimate world. We understand that, as in the art world, there are different markets for such artefacts but, although it’s clear he is deeply moved to find himself in the presence of these particular stamps, it’s not clear whether Sterling is the end collector or a dodgy trader seeking a quick profit.

Allan Henry has ‘arranged’ (as the parlance goes) some excellent fights but on opening night the delivery of punches was less than convincing, largely because we heard no impact. Also, given the largest US bank note is $100, I didn’t believe the $10k bundle contained 100 of them. Hopefully both issues will be quickly resolved.

The excellent set, by John Hodgkins, puts the Emporium and Mary’s family home back-to-back on a revolve and cleverly repositions the emporium counter for the brief coffee bar scene. Ulli Briese’s lighting design adds great value, not least by evoking space beyond the rooms and illuminating cabinets in the emporium.  

While Mauritius cannot be said to capture the large themes of life, it does offer entertaining insights into human foibles in a very well structured thriller format.  
For more production details, click on the title above. Go to Home page to see other Reviews, recent Comments and Forum postings (under Chat Back), and News. 


Michael Smythe July 10th, 2010

Holy moley, Dane ... the New Zealand community, through the Sate, is prepared to put its hand in its pocket and write very large cheques to support theatre in this country ... for no financial reward ... time and time again ... and your response is to SAY IT SUX??? 

But seriously, this is a good opportunity to find out what Chris Finlayson's often foreshadowed plan to encourage more philanthropic funding of the arts will look like. Am I right in thinking the government has removed the limit on tax deductability for donations to charities? They then set up the Charities Commission to ensure that only worthy causes benefit - an issue that has been in the media recently. So, what criteria will arts funders have to meet to benefit from whatever incentives the State puts in place? Does anyone know?

Sorry Dane, it looks like the dreaded State (ie: all of us) will have some say in the matter whichever way it's done.

Dane Giraud July 10th, 2010

I read this and I think... Man state funding sux. We need an army of Chris Findlaysons don't we, all given real incentive by the government to give, give, give, and let us do the rest. If you don't fancy dancing to a particualr 'rich mans tune' (An embrassing statement, and I am embrassed that I am now forced to repeat it), you move on to the next one until you get a fit. Some would want to fund only NZ works and good for them, it's their money. A much more productive system I feel... It would certainly give John what he wants, and for those more concerned with artistic value, we would be served too.

martyn roberts July 7th, 2010

 In politics, as we all know, conflicts of interest are always a cause for concern and many times such conflicts have called into question the integrity of the individual/s caught in it. I put this here really to remind us all to keep a cool head.

That Chris Findlayson is a minister for the Crown, paid by taxpayers to be a minister in his portfolios appears to me to be the core reason why he must now back away from being a direct sponsor within the field he is minister of. How would the picture look if any other minster in their field was to be found sponsoring core activity in their folio? If it was Gerry Brownlee and a mining company we would down his throat like Harry Reems. Clearly the Minister for the Arts has chosen to relinquish such a conflict.

That the debate above has become what it has is a choice of the players concerned. As infantile as it has become I would say it is a co-incidence. 

D. Corum July 7th, 2010

Drama is all very well in its time and place - on stage of an evening - but in real life ...?

John Smythe July 6th, 2010

That was inevitable, Gavin. I characterised this as an “only in New Zealand” story at the start because where else in the world would an arts minister bestow personal privilege, albeit with his own private money, on one particular group of artists when his official role is rigorously ‘arms length’, focused on policy only and kept well away from making the decisions that arise from its implementation. He, his officials and/or his party have doubtless seen such activity as politically untenable at present.

The attempt to blame me is strangely flattering but honestly, Chris Finlayson is not a man to be intimidated by a bit of robust discussion. He relishes a good debate and is a formidable adversary. But his other portfolios have, I am sure, been keeping him a great deal more exercised of late.

If anyone can produce clear proof, however – e.g. an affidavit signed by Mr Finlayson – that I was the direct cause, I shall present myself to be locked in stocks on the Circa forecourt so the Wellington theatre can throw whatever they wish at me.

Gavin Rutherford July 6th, 2010

I found out today that Chris Findlayson (within the last few days) said he will not be sponsoring any plays, locally written or otherwise, at Circa in the foreseeable future. Whether this discussion played a part in that decision is not known BUT IT CAN’T HAVE HELPED! I’m sure I can say on behalf of those who are trying to earn a living at Circa - thanks John, we owe you one.


Michael Smythe July 5th, 2010

I propose that Chris Finlayson delegate the task to his Associate Arts Minister Georgina te Heuheu who as Minister for Disarmament and Arms Control could take the opportunity to subtly retro-educate the French about peace in the Pacific.

Whereas Charlotte Corday whipped the Marquis with her hair in Marat Sade, Georgina could astutely apply eye lashes accompanied by a Fat Freddie's Drop of Wandering Eye-ata cutting to an agonised solo from John directed at the eye-rate Guy Incognito and his eye-rolling chorus when it comes to the verse:

when will this cease?
ever gonna end?
Lost my family, I lost my friends
faces familiar, far from the same
come a little closer, let me know your name ...

Simon Taylor July 5th, 2010


John Smythe July 5th, 2010

That’s a shame. I’ve been trying to think of a suitable track (Kiwi, of course) to which one may cut a YouTube clip of judiciously edited lashing and eye-rolling. Any suggestions?

Guy Incognito July 5th, 2010

 No thanks, John. I'm not sure what you'd enjoy more...the chance to do street theater or the S&M.

Simon Taylor July 5th, 2010

And of course, Dane. Not your real nationality, I hope. And Gay Cogito. Not the real one, clearly, but what a wonderful sobriquet!

Simon Taylor July 5th, 2010

Corus could come. It could be quite Greek!  And you ought to invite the rest of the family.

Simon Taylor July 5th, 2010

John, your first two points are well taken. Your third seems to drift from this piece of silliness:

"‘Originals’ have much more value than ‘covers’ at every level, from local inception to international perception."

One might say the elision is felicitous. I don't object to this as an opinion, I object to it both because it assumes something of common sense, that something is common sense, and doesn't require justification - the original has more value, whatever that is - and because of the way it is expressed. For example, to take up the latter, would the NZSO hold that originals have more value than covers? Would a music critic write this of the NZSO's programme?

In dealing with this point, you have not reflected on what an original might be, the obfuscation remains, and you have slid into a new topic, ingratiatingly? whether actors prefer doing new plays. This asks for a different set of assumptions to be made from the 'common-sensical' position that for actors this is

"the most rewarding sort of work to do."

I suppose you are trying to frame an answer to the charge that in criticising private philanthropy you might be hitting actors where it hurts, in the wallet.

I would have thought the 'mooted' issue had been a broader one: to ask what sort of example is being set for government by government when someone like Hon Chris Finlayson is seen to give private sponsorship exclusively to non-NZ plays.

John from my reading of what he wrote did not ask this question or put this question up for discussion and comment. He made a theatrical gesture of revealing the 'hard data' then editorialised in superior fashion:

"Not a good look, I’d say, for the man now charged with fiscally fostering Kiwi creativity on behalf of the tax payer"

If he'd left it there perhaps the ensuing discussion would have stuck to the issue. It came unstuck with the statement already cited, proposing that 'covers' have less value than 'originals.'

In your fourth point, John, tied up in qualifications as it is - 'given the argument that,' 'theoretically' - you ask whether it is feasible for philanthropists to 'tag' their sponsorship to the production of homegrown works - of theatre, I assume. Why would it not be? Feasible, that is. It should be possible for philanthropists to 'tag' their sponsorship to any kind of theatre production. In principle.

Circa, you say, gave the Hon member no other option. Fine. It's very easy to step in here and start moralising, which you have done, John. However, isn't this a question of a Member of Parliament leading by example? He is not a private individual with a thing for theatre; he is the elected representative who happens to hold the portfolio for arts, culture and heritage. In actual.

Anyway, as Nik has said, any potential for discussion has now been squandered, not, however, as he believes on antagonism, but because the 'mooted' issue was poorly expressed, the question already had John waxing puritannical over it, prejudicially, scuttling discussion before it started with sillinesses, with a compulsion to repeat, like a trauma victim, BUT THE PLAY'S THE THING!

Additionally, the Goethe Institut may sponsor only German plays but not as a form of philanthropy, rather as cultural promotion; after all, it is acting as the cultural arm of the German embassy. Perhaps this is where John's confusion comes from: its proximity to government echoes the MP, Chris Finlayson's. To extrapolate from this inchoate mess: are you trying to squeeze out, John, the idea that government has certain responsibilities qua the arts, particularly artforms that are endogenous to the nation they govern? That these responsibilites carry over into the actions of elected representatives?

As for your little jokette in your fifth point, do you think you could tour? It might be an opportunity for the sort of gain, cultural, social, economic, not to mention spiritual, that Michael was talking about a moment ago: it could go international!

John Smythe July 4th, 2010

Let me clear up a couple of points (well, five).

First, I mean no disrespect to Messrs Finlayson and Biggs in raising this question, and having asked the question of Mr Finlayson directly and received a civil answer (that it was not he who chose which play his sponsorship went to), I have no thought that this bit of discourse represents any threat to their continued support for professional theatre.

Second, while I choose to advocate on behalf of NZ playwrights, I hold no official mandate to do so, so nothing I say or do should reflect negatively on the wider professional community.

Third, I do not use ‘recreation’ as a pejorative term. It is, after all, a simile for ‘play’ and plays are what were are talking about here. I simply note there is a particular value, or range of values, to be found in creating original work and that in any culturally healthy society playwrights hold up the proverbial mirror to reflect the world as they see it. While I understand actors are keen to be cast in whatever work is going, I am also aware that many regard the opportunity to create a role for the first time ever in history, and/or to draw on their personal experience and observation of life in developing their characters, to be the most rewarding sort of work to do.

Fourth, given the argument that there is greater risk (equal and opposite to the potential rewards) in producing New Zealand plays, it seems reasonable to raise the question of whether it is theoretically feasible for philanthropists to tag their sponsorship to the production of homegrown works. (The Goethe Institute, for example, quite reasonably restricts its support to work with a German connection, so I see no great moral dilemma attached to this proposition.)  

Fifth, if Guy Incognito would care to nominate the time, I will present myself in the courtyard of Circa Theatre for him to personally and publicly flog me – in the presence of the “eye-rolling Wellington theatre community” – for my insolence and attempted (if unwitting) sabotage of his profession. He will, of course, have to wear a hood or mask …   

Simon Taylor July 4th, 2010

Unfortunate? Evangelically, self-determinedly, self-propellingly, egoistically, most famillialy, even genealogically & deliberately, paving-our-way-to-hell, unfortunate.

Dane Giraud July 4th, 2010

Another unfortunate post...

nik smythe July 4th, 2010

When the subject of looking at ways to effectively create and support more original local theatre through some form of proposed mandate is raised, there's a clear implication from some that even broaching the subject is a waste of time.  Until such a concept is actually put into action there's no way to corroborate that.  And as has repeatedly been mentioned, all evidence statistical and otherwise suggests that it's what audiences want from us, both home and abroad. 

To me it's a no-brainer.  I also concur that any investor worth their salt will take an interest in what their beneficiaries are passionate about.  It may well be that's exactly what's happened, and perhaps it's Circa who seems to miss the relevance and astounding positive potential of thinking global, and acting local?

On the other hand, if John's most salient point is regarded as a threat to the security of said investor's funding, then who's the fascist?

Guy Incognito July 4th, 2010

Let me keep it simple for you.

I 'played the man, not the ball' because the man, i.e. John, is the problem. He is having a go at a someone for giving money to people to put on plays.

Because of a nationalist agenda so transparent it is eyes-rolling joke throughout the Wellington theatre community John feels justified in threatening this source of funding.

This is not OK.

This is Bad For Theatre.

Add to that the fact that as far as I can tell John neither feeds, clothes or houses himself with monies earned in the creation or production of theatre, his actions are all the more inappropriate because he threatens the livelihoods of many who do. He seems to think that by attacking people for the kinds of production they choose to sponsor he will cause them to have a revelation:

"Oh my god, John, you're so right...what have I been thinking...please point me in the direction of a play you've deemed it ok for me to give thousands to so I can secure your valuable approval."

The ONLY change John's post could possibly achieve is to cause Mr Finlayson (and the others he and Peter Biggs are actively encouraging to consider arts philanthropy) to consider the whole thing not worth the effort and put their money into a few paintings. And we will have John to thank for making survival just that little bit harder in this marginal business. 

Simon Taylor July 4th, 2010

Nik, can you explain this please:

"Once we reach more equilibrium the detractors will then have some hard data on which to base their tall-poppy notions that it would be a waste of time."

Michael, are you talking about theatre here?

"Prospective philanthropists may like to consider the extra value they can add to New Zealand's cultural assets by rewarding those who create original work that enriches our cultural and social growth - and our economic growth if it becomes exportable."

I have to admit that I don't really understand: how does philanthropy add value? Is not the cultural asset the theatre itself? And the exportable original work that not only enriches us culturally, and promotes social growth [yuk], but also has the potential to create economic growth: do you envisage this being a NZ production of a NZ play? Touring somewhere and earning NZ lots of money? Or playing for years with hoards of tourists coming to see it? Or maybe an annual event: this year's Passion Play from the Passionless People? Is it like a Mau production? Or a play making a contribution to economic growth through rights and royalties? What does original mean? The point of origin of cultural, social and economic gain? Or something else entirely?

Michael Smythe July 4th, 2010

Big ups to all philanthropists who choose to contribute to the arts. The generous Chris Finlayson has been leading by example. Now that he is advocating that other philanthropists support the arts he cannot be accused of not putting his money where his mouth has been. But will any who discuss the mecahnics of the process stand accused of looking the gift-horse in said mouth? Maybe not if the focus is on how the positive effects can be maximised.

In the case of theatre, it can be argued that it does not matter which production a donation supports because it makes other funds available to invest in others - including local work. But is that the case? Where a production is cooperative enterpise it may simply mean that productions enjoying extra funding support deliver a larger profit for distrubution to those involved in that production alone.

Prospective philanthropists may like to consider the extra value they can add to New Zealand's cultural assets by rewarding those who create original work that enriches our cultural and social growth - and our economic growth if it becomes exportable.

nik smythe July 4th, 2010

I feel I must qualify I'm not referring to everyone who's posted on this thread - just those who play the man and not the ball.  A bit of animated debate's all well and good, healthy even, but not when personalities become more prominent than the discussion in hand.  That's all I have to say to those people.

Back on topic: predictibally enough I am always in favour of producing local, original work.  It flummoxes me how each time someones puts forth an argument to champion this cause how rapidly and vitriolically the notion is counter-attacked, usually with little or no apparent actual reason to oppose the idea that (a) Kiwi theatre is under-represented in the industry and (b) if we work together we could devise systems to address this.  Once we reach more equilibrium the detractors will then have some hard data on which to base their tall-poppy notions that it would be a waste of time.

I do note John's 'not a good look' remark is a touch provocational, but hardly unfounded invective.  The person I'm curious as to whether it offends is of course Mr Finlayson?  As a man of means upstanding in the world of Wellington theatre I would expect he can take this opinion like a professional, to consider and conclude as he sees fit.

John Smythe July 4th, 2010

It’s tempting at times, and I know as editor and publisher I have a right, but ‘manage’ too easily becomes a metaphor for ‘censor’. The message on the Forum page explains the policy:

"The aim of the Forum is to generate constructive communication within the performing arts community …

"Remember: Communication is Conversation as Contribution.

"Please stick to the given topic and do as you would be done by. Being fundamentally opposed to censorship, we'd rather not moderate these forums. The site therefore takes no responsibility for opinions posted. If you disagree with one, add your own comment." 

Simon Taylor July 4th, 2010

I agree with this fulla. The tone ought not to be raised or lowered but 'managed.'

Corus July 4th, 2010

 Nik, looking back at the contributors that John has encouraged, discouraged, dignified with responses where perhaps common sense should have told him to let well alone, etc.  - I can't help but suspect that he has brought this situation upon himself.  Presumably it is within John's powers to remove time-wasting comments, and manage the tone of the site? 

Simon Taylor July 4th, 2010

I agree, dude. It ought not to be a matter for antagonism. But so much of what John says is so silly, it hardly amounts to having an opinion, or even an idea. Without opinions or ideas, what is left? Style?

nik smythe July 3rd, 2010

Ooh I know I ought not encourage the scrappers but Jeez you fullas make me laugh!  John's done exactly what a reviewer/critic's brief commands: put light on a question and put it forward.  I gather the unapologetic delivery has apparently been read as some kind of spiteful invective against Mr Finlayson.  Read what he wrote!  It's straightforward, and fully clarified.  And - oh my god! - it's his opinion.  That's what makes me laugh: critics being repeatedly chastised (by the same dudes) for having an opinion!

And now it's another ridiculous squabble about how we are meant to express ourselves, meanwhile any serious and in-depth debate on the issue mooted at first is essentially lost in the fog of war.  There is no addressing our comments at face value is there?  We have to be repeatedly accused of some kind of I don't know - mercenary? doubt it harry - agenda and subjected to your hateful censure.  This isn't an argument, it's just contradiction!  

It's surely obvious to anyone reading this thread who is discussing their ideas and who's try-harding to lord it over the rest of us with their self-important antagonism.  This is likely to be the last response I ever bother to make in this arena to you belligerent trolls, unless any of you ever say something that sounds as though it was formulated in the brain part of your anatomy.

Simon Taylor July 3rd, 2010

I object to John's "I am advocating on behalf of an industry that aspires to be creative rather than recreative." That's all I really wanted to say. Apart from, Should what is recreation aspire to be creative? Sex, for example, that industry? Which is not to give John the benefit of doubting that how he expresses himself has a bearing on what he means. If he wanted to say, Advocating for creation is advocating for the NZ play before the NZ production, then I object. I would suggest he take up book-reviewing where there is no chance of a 'recreative' intercession, like the entire apparatus of theatre, actors, director, designer, etc., between audience and author, writer and reader. If he wants to serve the NZ play and, in his terms, act on behalf of an industry that aspires to be creative, I suggest that his comments are counterproductive both for the playwright, who will not benefit from a criticism from his or her quarter, and for theatre, the creativity of which he would seem to want to avoid: I would suggest the playwright were better served by him taking up needlepoint.

Dane Giraud July 3rd, 2010

A very unfortunate post, John.

John Smythe July 3rd, 2010

I agree with the scenario E.V. suggests. I have no reason to believe that either Mr Finlayson or Mr Biggs has imposed programming decisions on Circa although it does seem reasonable to me that they may have got to choose what to support from what Circa had decided to produce. (As for what effect their largesse has on the distribution of TACT funding and box office receipts among the co-op formed for that given show, that is a complete mystery to me.)

But here’s what interests me. Suppose I was a rich benefactor (please suspend your disbelief here) and said to Circa – or any professional theatre company in NZ – I’d like to sponsor a production of a New Zealand play. You choose it; it can be brand new or something you believe deserves a revival, but I am only interested in offering financial support to a New Zealand play.

What would Circa – or any professional theatre company in NZ – say to that?

E.V July 3rd, 2010

Well Corin I'm pretty sure/almost certain in the case of Circa's investors such as Chris Finlayson there is no requirement that the creative team or the actors "dance to the tune" of said investor.You might have a drink with them on opening night but other than that...I think it's understandable that an investor be offered options of shows for the coming year, not all investors may want to "blindly" invest (though I'm sure some do) and then hopefully you have an investor who is keen to talk about the show which in turn is great for the cast and crew financially if it get's bums on seats!

Realistically not all shows get public funding and some of us want to get paid for what we do (sometimes doing it for the buzz just doesn't quite do it. Not that they're is anything wrong with doing it for the joy but you know) and if some generous person wants to help us put on a great show then I'm pleased. (No matter where it's from).

Obviously I can't talk for other theatres in this country but as we're talking about Circa, that's what I'll use as a point of reference.

Corin Havers July 3rd, 2010

 It is humiliating to be poor, and dependent upon the whims of others for your livelihood;  but  for myself, I would rather rely on the whims of public funding bodies than those of rich individuals.  If I rely on the former I am obliged to represent the needs and concerns of all taxpayers, a mission which has some dignity.  If I rely on the latter, my obligation is to please a rich man and dance to his tune. Some of the world's best plays concern themselves with the ugliness of this latter scenario.

John Smythe July 2nd, 2010

As a past president of the New Zealand Writers Guild, a playwright, screenwriter, actor and sometime director and producer, I have plenty at stake. But I am not pushing a personal barrow. I am advocating on behalf of an industry that aspires to be creative rather than recreative.

And I put my name to my point of view. Why don’t you, 'Guy incognito'?

In a brief conversation with Mr Finlayson on this matter, in the run-up to the last election, I got the impression it was Circa who offered the shows for him to pick from.  In discussions with Circa people I’ve been told the sponsors can influence what gets produced.

If nothing else it would be good if this discussion threw some light on how it works.

By the way, I mean it when I say “He is clearly a wonderfully committed supporter of the performing arts.” Likewise Peter Biggs who also sponsors Circa productions of international plays and who is a past chair of Creative New Zealand. 

Put it this way: if those who have been – and are – at the forefront of fostering the creative arts in NZ do not support original work, what hope have we got of achieving true distinction? I put that out as something important to think about (because that is part of my job).

Gavin Rutherford July 2nd, 2010

As someone who has directly benefited from Chris Finlayson’s philanthropy over the last few years, I too ask you to back the truck up, John.

Thank you very very much Chris for your continued support of the arts. New Zealand written plays are fantastic but I don’t care if you fancy sponsoring a play written on Mars about Martians! If it is done by kiwi’s and you want to help us, then please...don’t be put off by John and his talkback host like soapboxing. 

Guy Incognito July 2nd, 2010

 :facepalm: Holy moley, John... a man is prepared to put his hand in his pocket and write very large cheques to support theatre in this country... his own money... for no financial reward... time and time again... and your response is to NAME AND SHAME THE GUY??? Why? Because he doesn't spend thousands of his dollars bankrolling the kind of production you think he should bankroll. Way to discourage philanthropy with your soapbox agenda. How about you ask Circa for their mailing list so you can personally express your disapproval to their loyal audience for spending their money on plays not written buy New Zealanders? Pour scorn on them for seeking entertainment without considering their nationalist duty!  

Chris Finlayson (the private individual Chris, as distinct from the Minister) is helping pay actors rent/mortgages, put food on directors tables and nappies on technicians babies, and you see fit to sit in your commentator's chair and sneer at where he choses to gift his money. If Chris Finlayson chooses never to sponsor a play in New Zealand again, we'll know who to thank. 

It's increasingly clear to many of us down here deriving our living from the business of theatre that your perspective is of a totally detached enthusiast - equivalent to an overweight armchair All Black's coach criticising Neemia Tialata's scrum technique with a mouthful of chips.

You're welcome to play at professional audience member and write your reviews, John, but when you actually have something at stake in the game, maybe your pontifications on the politics of our industry might carry a bit more authority.  

John Smythe July 2nd, 2010

It is intriguing to note the ‘only in New Zealand’ aspect of this production’s funding: it marks the sixth year of personal sponsorship of a Circa show by the man who was recently chair of Creative New Zealand’s Arts Board is now our Minister of Arts Culture and Heritage.

Proud Sponsor Chris Finlayson” the programme cover reads. He is clearly a wonderfully committed supporter of the performing arts. But …

The full list is Mauritius (2010), God of Carnage (2009), Wait Until Dark (2008), Uncle Vanya (2007), Master Class (2006), Democracy (2005). Notice anything? Not one NZ play in the line up.

Not a good look, I’d say, for the man now charged with fiscally fostering Kiwi creativity on behalf of the tax payer. ‘Originals’ have much more value than ‘covers’ at every level, from local inception to international perception.  

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