Barlow: Theatres make Hamilton a home

PAUL BARLOW
Last updated 15:25 07/01/2014
Riverlea Theatre, Hamilton
Fairfax NZ

SUCCESS: Riverlea's recent production of ARTS Social Climbers is an example of good theatre done well.

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Looking at the news lately it feels like someone at Hamilton City Council is already taking aim at the arts and preparing to find ways to make the public feel we need to cull the performance venues in Hamilton. It's as though they want to sell off assets that are core of to the culture of Hamilton and the cultural impact our home has on New Zealand.

To bring into question the sustainability of three theatres the City owns would make sense if that were actually the case. But with the One Meteor Trust having taken over The Meteor right before the election, it essentially gives us two theatres we need to sustain - Clarence Street and Founders - both of which have unique properties that make them great assets to Hamilton.

The trick is finding that economies of scale that makes them viable and desirable. At the moment they're not. That doesn't mean they're ripe to be sold off but it does give Hamilton City Council the perfect chance to show that it can see the arts as more than just a drain of funds away from "core" services and can work towards a vibrant theatre culture that adds cultural and economic value to Hamilton.

The odd thing is, this isn't news - it's exactly they argument that the One Meteor Trust put forward  last year - that finding that right balance will help ensure the venues ongoing success in drawing both crowds and performances. It's exactly what the Theatre Review found in January 2013.

And it's exactly how Riverlea Theatre works  and seems to be the opposite of how Hamilton Operatics works.

Looking at Riverlea as a model, we have a theatre crewed by people passionate about their second home. John Drummond, Riverlea Theatre Manager, says the ability to keep putting on shows and building audiences comes from staying within budgets. Everything is carefully planned and productions seldom go over cost. And the budgets aren't massive - the most expensive at Riverlea is in the area of $30,000 while Hamilton Operatic once almost broke even on a $400,000 production of The Rocky Horror Show.

Hamilton Operatic now needs to re-think how it does things. Can we sustain an operatic society that's spending $30,0000 per show for what the 2013 Theatre review suggested was "...the same patrons often coming to multiple events other than  for those blockbuster style mainstream shows which have broad family market or school market appeal". In other words, there's no new audience coming to see the shows.

It's  important to create a model that allows local theatre producers and  passing productions a chance to shake us up. Look at the numbers attending the theatre works at the Hamilton Gardens Summer Festival and you'll see that if Hamiltonians are given a choice, and given  something new and different that they're willing to try it.

So now is the time to look at ways to bring in acts that use our theatre spaces in ways that excite the city, that get them off their seats behind  computers and in the lunge and brings them out to see the passion filled works put on in our city.

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Of course it doesn't matter how much I plead that saving the theatres, that it's more than possible to bring the theatres into the black, someone, like Cr Garry Mallet, will argue that this isn't core Council business - missing the point completely.

To think of a city as a well-oiled robot without a heart is dangerous because that heart is what takes our city and makes it our home.

Without that heart, without that emotional, creative core that celebrates who we are as a city, as a people - won't come here.

What's the point of living somewhere deprived of creativity by the very people who are meant to be in charge of the well being of the city?

It may not be water supply or rubbish collection but looking after the theatres, being able to share our stories and share stories  with us, is one of the core tasks HCC has that make us a community - not just a place people live.

- Waikato

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