The theatre company with no theatre

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 11:51 09/05/2014
Mel Camp
JOSEPH JOHNSON
HOMELESS THEATRE: Court Theatre associate director Mel Camp says theatre company, The Forge, is responding to its homelessness with creativity and experimentation.

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What does a theatre company do when it doesn't have a theatre? Court Theatre associate director Mel Camp talks to Charlie Gates about how The Forge has responded to their homeless state by experimenting and getting creative.

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In the darkness of the badly damaged Arts Centre, the set for a play that was performed only twice has been standing untended for more than three years.

The play, Midnight in Moscow, was the last to be performed on the Court Theatre's main stage in the Arts Centre.

The show was interrupted after just two nights by the February 2011 earthquake and the theatre has never returned to the building.

The Court was soon open again in its new Shed building in Addington, but the earthquake left the theatre's edgier partner company, The Forge, without a home.

The Forge was relaunched after a two-year absence in March last year, but it still does not have a dedicated space for its shows.

Instead, The Forge has responded to their homeless state with a burst of creativity and experimentation.

Since its relaunch, the theatre has run a season of about three shows a year, compared to six before the earthquake, performed on either The Court Theatre's main stage at The Shed or the smaller Pub Charity studio space. They have also populated other parts of The Shed, putting on plays and creative nights in the building's generous foyer space.

The 2014 season includes three plays, two by Kiwi playwrights, two Court Jester seasons and experimental events such as "Scratch Nights", where people can perform works in progress for an audience, and Creative Feeder, where artists and musicians presents music and ideas on a Sunday afternoon. There is also a planned Pecha Kucha night themed around the performing nights.

Court Theatre associate director Mel Camp, who oversees The Forge theatre and was an intern on Midnight in Moscow, says the 2014 season is a "big experiment".

"Let's try these things and see if they work. Let's see if this is what audiences want," she says.

"It has been wonderful because it means we have to think outside the square. Adversity feeds creativity. We had to get creative."

Camp says the Forge's new direction has been driven by that lack of a formal home.

"Everything for The Forge at the moment comes down to space. A lot of people in Christchurch understand that we have a lack of it. For the Court it is definitely at a premium."

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"We don't have our own space so we have to fit The Forge in where we can. It has been a big priority for the Court Theatre to make sure we are still a presence. It is even more important now because the transitional nature of the city means people are more open to seeing new things and are used to going to strange little spaces to see strange things."

The Court Theatre's plan for a new city facility include a new space for The Forge. Camp wants the new space to be an intimate space with flexible seating that can hold about 120 people. The plan for a new Court home in the performing arts precinct is mired in politics, but there is still hope.

"In the mean time, we just have to be creative like everybody else in the city and find places to perform."

She says it is strange being a theatre company with no theatre.

"It is weird. One of the hardest things is the struggle to make people understand that. A lot of people think a theatre is a space. We are a theatre but we don't have a space. The Forge is a concept or an idea rather than a space."

"We are getting our head around that and our audiences are getting their head around that too. It is a bit of a challenge."

So, for the moment, The Forge is a theatre of the mind, keeping alive the idea that saw it founded in 2006.

"We want to put some things on that challenge people a little bit and that appeal to people that like to be challenged and see something different and be a bit surprised."

"We are for people who want to be challenged a little and are open to new experiences. We want to open people's eyes to different and challenging ideas of what theatre can be."

The set of The Court's final play in the Arts Centre may be trapped in suspended animation, but the theatre itself is still very much alive.

And what happened to Midnight in Moscow? After its shortened run in Christchurch, the show was to get a season at the Maidment Theatre in Auckland last year. A week before the opening, the Maidment was damaged in a major fire and the show had to move to another venue.

- The Press

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