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Basement has plan

JESS LEE
Last updated 05:00 28/11/2012
The BAsement
JASON OXENHAM

SCENE SETTING: The Basement’s general manager Charlie McDermott and Shortland Street’s Beth Allen are preparing for the theatre’s annual end-of-year festive show Mega Christmas.

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A new funding initiative is breathing fresh life into The Basement theatre.

This plan revolves around a new era and has finally reached "point zero" thanks to a new "risk sharing" model, Creative NZ funding and no longer having to pay rent, general manager Charlie McDermott says.

Artists won't pay up to $300 per night to hire the venue from February next year, whether or not they sell any tickets.

Instead they will just pay for 20 per cent of each ticket sold.

The Mt Albert actor and producer says the proven model, the same as Wellington's renowned Bats Theatre, will allow the team to become more hands-on with mentoring artists and co-producing work while still continuing to provide a platform for emerging artists.

"I heard a quote once that innovation is hurtling yourself at failure and missing - I like that. You've got to try something," Mr McDermott says.

Ticket prices for patrons will be capped at $15 for upstairs shows and $25 for downstairs.

"Bang for your buck is something that The Basement subtext has always been about.

"We've always done a lot on very little, so now we've got a little we can do a lot," he says.

"We can feel so isolated in New Zealand.

"We're small, we should be streamlined, we should be innovative, we should be looking outside of the box at ways to work, and at The Basement we've always been forced to do that."

Mr McDermott estimates that next year the theatre will be offering 158 shows compared with the 90-something shows put on in 2011.

It's a big leap but one The Basement is more than capable of taking on, he says.

"It's massive, it really is and it's testament to the fact that there's a lot of demand out there and there's a lot of good stuff going on."

The Basement's old brick council building tucked away in a Lower Grey's Ave car park has been extensively developed since the theatre appeared on the independent scene in 2008.

But the latest upgrades, including an overhaul of the bar and plans for an art gallery, won't change its underground feel, programme manager Sophie Henderson says.

"It will always be about emerging artists," Ms Henderson says.

"It's exciting not just for The Basement but for the whole theatre community because from next year more starving artists will be able to show their work."

The world is their oyster, Mr McDermott says.

"In five years' time that area will be a real hub of alternative and underground arts. It will be respected as a venue as the place to be - Australasia's place for emerging talent. And that's an achievable goal."

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