Theatre laments big funding cuts
Centrepoint Theatre may not be going the way of Wellington counterpart Downstage, but its artistic director says the company is always "fighting to stay afloat".
Downstage announced this week it would close the curtain for the last time on Saturday, after Creative New Zealand pulled funding for the country's oldest running professional theatre company.
Centrepoint artistic director Jeff Kingsford-Brown said he was saddened by the news.
"It's sad to see an institution that trained so many fantastic practitioners over the years closing its doors.
"It is very hard to bring back a theatre company once it no longer exists."
Centrepoint has had its own funding issues with Creative NZ but has been growing its audience in recent years.
In 2011, it was announced funding from Creative NZ would drop from $495,000 in 2012 to $465,000 this year and to $410,000 in 2014.
Mr Kingsford-Brown said gaps had been bridged, but the reduced funding had made life difficult for the only provincial professional theatre in the country.
The theatre had been told to try to find more private sponsorship, which was good in theory but difficult in practice.
"It's a small theatre, not the America's Cup.
"Sport gets given a lot of money, while culture and arts are not seen to be as important by some people - but it is just as important.
"We're always fighting to stay afloat."
Being in a place the size of Palmerston North - where the same businesses were often asked to sponsor most causes in town - also made it difficult, he said.
Former Centrepoint Theatre artistic director Kate Louise Elliott had likely saved the theatre from a tricky spot about five years ago, he said.
"We did go through a real crisis point."
Audience numbers were low and holding onto sponsorship had become difficult, he said.
Since then, audience numbers had doubled, helping the theatre's financial position.
"We have done the major part of our growth, but we're always keen to get more people through the doors.
"I was at the stockcars a while ago . . . and there were 17,000 people there.
"On one night they get what we get through the doors in a year."
Mr Kingsford-Brown said Centrepoint would not be going the way of Downstage any time soon, and the Wellington theatre's demise had been well-forecast.
"Downstage often struggled to figure out who its audience was.
"With Centrepoint, people know what they are going to get."
The closure of Downstage was unlikely to mean more shows heading to Palmerston North, he said.
Some more experimental shows could make their way to Centrepoint offshoot The Dark Room, but Wellington was well served with Circa and Bats, he said.
"Maybe the people who travel to Wellington to see shows at Downstage might come to us a bit more often instead."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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