Downstage seeking bailout of $90,000

00:42, Oct 21 2011

Cash-strapped Downstage Theatre wants Wellington ratepayers to provide a $90,000 bailout so it can continue to operate.

Wellington City Council will consider the funding request on Wednesday. If granted, it would allow New Zealand's oldest professional theatre company to remain open until January – when $298,000 funding from Creative New Zealand falls due.

The council already provides Downstage with $33,000 a year.

Mayor Celia Wade-Brown said the council must be convinced that Downstage could financially stand on its own two feet before any extra funding was approved.

"Downstage plays a critical role in the arts in Wellington... which means we have to look at this urgently," she said.

Downstage's chief executive and director, Hilary Beaton, said it was "disrespectful" to term the funding request a bailout.

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The theatre had trained generations of actors and had "greatly contributed to the cultural fabric of the city" which added weight to calls for extra council funding, she said.

"I don't see it as a bailout. I see it as an investment in the future and a recognition of the past."

Trouble started this year when theatre attendance took a triple hammering because of the Christchurch earthquake, the global financial crisis, and the Rugby World Cup, Ms Beaton said.

Four production staff were axed and the theatre programme was cancelled from the beginning of this month.

The only show now listed at Downstage is a three-day run of a dance work called Carnival Hound in November.

But the theatre was also being used for other activities such as rehearsals, workshops and dance classes, Ms Beaton said. "We need the [council] funding because we don't have audiences. Audiences are our major generator of income at the moment."

But chasing audiences with tacky populist shows was not on the agenda. "We are not suddenly going to do topless lap dancing or commercial British comedy. We are committed to our programme of presenting local crafted work."

But there would be investigations to ensure there was a financially prudent split between putting on productions at Downstage and hiring it out as a venue.

Ms Beaton said negotiations were under way with several groups wanting to use the theatre. She declined to provide details.

In February the theatre would also be used as a venue for the New Zealand International Arts Festival.

A Downstage fundraising evening with entertainment from Gareth Farr, Strike Percussion, and others, is set for November 15.

The Dominion Post