T-Cell & I @ PACE: day 6 – SWOT, O!?


Statistics New Zealand, ten years after the Cultural Statistics Programme was established in 1993, pegged theatre attendance at approximately 27% in its 2003 report, entitled, A Measure for Culture. [http://www.stats.govt.nz/NR/exeres/39B6A2C6-4358-4806-AA60-21A9E2B70401.htm] Attendance rates were highest for women (59%), for those aged between 35 and 64 (66%) – although for 15 to 34 year-olds it rested at a quarter (25%) – and for those with a tertiary qualification (58%).

More European or Pakeha went to shows than any other ethnicity (84%). People living in the main urban centres were best represented, making up almost three-quarters of audiences throughout NZ (74%). 29% of the overall figure, however, lived in the Auckland region. A slightly higher figure, over a third, received annual incomes of less than $15 K.

Survey questions covered the 12 month period prior to the report. So the stats are going on six years old. Asked what was the greatest obstacle to their attendance, our potential audience answered cost, of tickets, transport, and associated costs. It’s interesting, then, to observe that a third of actual attendees earnt bugger all, that although cost was cited as the biggest obstacle to attendance, a third of the national audience for theatre could still afford to attend on the pittance they received from employment.

The report states that, on the basis of ‘multivariate analysis,’ the key variable in deciding who went to the theatre that year was not its cost or their gender but whether they possessed an educational qualification. The qualified outnumbered the unqualified in the audience by almost two to one. For both groups, the next most important variable was gender, with women more likely to attend. The next down the scale of importance was income.

The report adds a further interesting note as regards ethnicity: of women without tertiary qualifications, ethnicity featured, insofar as women “who were European/Pakeha, or of ‘other‘ ethnic affiliation, were more likely to attend a performance than women of Maori or Pacific peoples ethnicity [sic].” [Italics mine. loc.cit.] Of the group who attended, then, there was a notable preponderance of women who stated their ethnicity as ‘other,’ who were reluctant to identify themselves as either European or Pakeha, albeit in a survey for the Department of Statisitics, where their reluctance to divulge information of the slightest importance is understandable. There also appears to be a marked poverty of options as to what ‘other’ is other to: European, Pakeha, or Maori or Pacific peoples’ ethnicity, which is surely ethnicities. And to be pedantic, ‘ethnic affiliation’ is the preserve of sons, not daughters.

Lynn at PACE asked a question which surprised me, in view of the collapse of the community theatre network. Up until the early eighties, there existed seven professional community theatres: The Fortune, The Court, Downstage, Centrepoint, The Four Seasons, The Mercury, Theatre Corporate.

Not only has the Auckland contingent, of the old school, completely disappeared, the very idea of there being professional community theatres has in the meanwhile been anathematised. Or, to be clear, to be sure, the idea dropped from favour with our noble Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, God save us, before the institutions were lost. Lynn’s question: Was there a general colonial feeling, a sympathy, in those days, which sustained theatrical institutions, and which, given our much touted ‘growing up,’ suddenly meant that support for theatre was withdrawn? Was theatre a colonial institution? And, by implication, is theatre a colonial institution?

The rebranding, I began, of QEII, as costly a publicity exercise as it was (which is the point), to CNZ, occurred after the real damage had been done to Real Existing Theatres – and, you might say, to Real Existing Socialism in the soft form it took in NZ. I look at CNZ as less a move towards a postcolonial understanding of NZ’s, sorry, Aotearoa’s, place in the world, sorry, the blood-eyed West, than as a facet of the 1984 Rogernomical ‘revolution’ of the Fourth Labour Government. However it’s dressed up as politically correct or as a coming-out from under the skirts of Empire, that’s all dress-ups and a drag.

QE II suffered, along with the idea and the ideal – and in certain cases the fact – of there being professional community theatre (there is, after all, some small justice), from the complete overthrow of a political and socio-cultural reality by an economic ideology. The theatres went first, being more economically, financially vulnerable, institutions.

CNZ is no longer even a government funding body: were there professional community theatres, it would not fund them; it is “this country’s leading arts development organisation.” [http://www.creativenz.govt.nz/cnz/index.html] It follows that an artistic institution, a theatre, for example, constitutes a developed form, one which may be construed as too developed to warrant further and future development by NZ’s leading organisation in the field of arts development. The latter must mean in this context, development unto not requiring such services as CNZ had erstwhile been put there, by an erstwhile colonial government, to provide, funding, for example.

Our current understanding of the arts, of the place of the arts in our place, at our place, is not postcolonial. The process of postcolonisation or the adaptation of cultural institutions to a postcolonial dispensation was shortcircuited: our present understanding of the arts and theatre – which I contend is barely holding on to its integrity as a form of the arts – is neoliberal. And, insofar as we are yet undergoing recolonisation processes and procedures of an economic nature, we are neocolonials.

There exists an opportunity for a theatre to take up these problems, because there exists an educated audience whose right to consider them, to problematise them, as a cultural undertaking, as a part of civic life, has been largely abrogated, or obscured by the answers of biculturalism, political correction, postcolonialism, economic realism.

– Milton Friedman (1912-2006): “the most influential economist of the second half of the 20th century … possibly of all of it.” [The Economist]