Kate Louise Elliott calls Centrepoint Theatre home
Centrepoint Theatre has created a whole new role and it has filled it with someone who is not a stranger to its stage. Carly Thomas caught up with Kate Louise Elliott.
Kate Louise Elliott rocked up to Palmerston North's Centrepoint Theatre about 20 years ago. She was fresh out of drama school, full of beans with a ringbinder under her arm and highlighters clutched in her eager fist.
The theatre's artistic director at the time was Alison Quigan and she had given Elliott her first proper job. She was to be in the play Four Cities, directed by Ross Gumbley, and she says she had fully researched her part. "I was a total geek.
"Alison looked at Ross, looked at my stuff, then looked back at Ross and she said 'she'll learn'."
And she did. Quigan and Centrepoint fast-tracked her into her career. Elliott was firmly tucked under Quigan's wing and one play rolled onto another and another.
"I went on to do Pack of Girls, As You Like It and Shakers and then she said, 'oh, do you want to stay on and do the Christmas show?' And I said 'yes'. And then at the end of the Christmas show she said, 'hey, this is my programme for next year, do you want to do this one, this one and this one' and it just kind of kept going."
After three years she was a much-loved member of the Centrepoint family and she says "nowhere else were any of my peers getting that sort of practice".
"You get match fit. It wasn't about being lazy, but you are rehearsing during the day and you're performing at night, so you just pick up stuff".
She picked up a part on Shortland Street and her first day on set involved 17 scenes. She admits she was completely terrified.
"We were working with three cameras and I didn't really know what that meant and luckily I had a wonderful theatre director. He said 'darling, darling, this is your stage. That's the audience'."
She played dual roles as twins Avril and Bernadette and her big moment was when she was drowned in the bath. She says she and Quigan continued to cross paths through the years. Quigan worked on Shortland Street just after Elliott and then later on Quigan became the theatre manager at Mangere Arts Centre, just as Elliott did after her in 2012.
"I think we have the same work ethic and we really gelled. She is still my mentor. She took me under her wing right from the start and I'll never forget, right in the beginning at Centrepoint, when she said to me 'what do you want for your career?' She really wanted me to pinpoint that and I said to her, 'I want your job as artistic director'".
It was one of those blurting-out-the-truth moments before thinking and Elliott says she thought "oh God, she's going to kill me".
"But she looked at me and she sized me up and down and said 'right, let's make that happen'."
And it did. Albeit a bit later on after a raft of TV roles and plays. In 2008, Elliott got her dream job at Centrepoint and in her five years she directed, managed and acted in more than 30 stage productions, as well as running the summer drama school for secondary and college students.
"I programmed all New Zealand works and I tried to get different actors in every show. I believed at that point that it was all the other wonderful theatre groups in the Manawatū's job to bring the community on to the stage and it was mine to bring the rest of the country to the Manawatū time. And that worked at that time."
Elliott says the Palmerston North audience is really honest.
"They enjoy seeing themselves on stage. There is no stuffiness here and Palmerston North now is the place where I feel really solid and safe."
Elliott did five years as artistic director and then went on to the Mangere Arts Centre, in South Auckland. She taught at the Pacific Island Performing Arts Institute and was a guest director at the Unitec Performing Arts School, also both in Auckland. But she says she always wanted to "get back to Palmy".
And she did. Elliott has bought a house. She's unpacked, caught up with wonderful friends and she is getting stuck into her role. It's a brand new one – Centrepoint has never had a general manager and Elliott says she feels honoured to have been chosen as the one to lead the theatre into a new era.
"I just love this place and I think this new role is a smart move by the board. When you had an artistic director here in the past they not only had to have knowledge of the industry for programming and casting, but they had to know about budget, stakeholder engagements, sponsorship and fundraising. There are so many layers that it's really hard work to also stay current in the community. It's tough work."
So she see's herself as the person who can unload that burden and make the current artistic director Daniel Pengelly's role "a way less lonely gig".
It's a world away from when she nervously walked through those very same doors 20 years ago, but, as Elliott says, "I feel like I belong here now". Staff start to file in for a tea break after installing the next play on stage and there are hugs all round for Centrepoint's new mum.
And she looks right at home.