Dominion Rd at Balmoral - with its Warehouse, old cinema and no-nonsense Asian eateries - is a little bit shabby and lots of fun. It's like a reprobate auntie, played by Yvette Parsons, hiding her gin with her mah jong tiles.
Until last weekend, Auntie was only dimly aware that a Very Important Pakeha gentleman - the Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) - had set up beside her at the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall two years ago. But, noblesse oblige, this national Creative New Zealand Arts Leader condescended to know his neighbours, far away from the bright lights of the city. He wanted Auntie to benefit from his wealth of knowledge and talent. And so, last weekend, ATC's community outreach "Participate" programme put on the AUT Dominion Road Stories mini-festival.
On show was a fascinating mix of what ATC does superbly, and what its associate director Lynne Cardy wisely and freely acknowledges it still has to learn. When it comes to producing small local theatre, ATC has both capability and desire - organising hundreds of volunteers alone is no mean feat - but a few of the gentleman's Establishment attitudes have to change. Dominion Road Stories was a hidden minnow in the Auckland Arts Festival when it could easily have been a highlight of the Fringe.
I personally - with the press releases, free tickets and other fol-de-rols of an annoyingly spoiled arts hack - had a whale of a time. I climbed the stairs to the Balmoral Bowling Clubrooms to see Bowled Over, Kathryn Burnett's hilarious crime caper involving lots of naughty words said by old people, aka ATC's well-named "Marvellous Group" of amateur pensioners (overpriced at $25). I helped our young 'un create her own cardboard car to drive down the "luge" at artist John Radford's exciting Dominionator Cardboard Collision at the local hall (appropriately $10). I had a quick look around Auckland Libraries' Dominion Rd stories and photos (free) before donning headphones for more oral history, fortune cookies and hip-hop ninjas around the Balmoral restaurants, in the fascinating if slightly audience-patronising Walk Eat Drink guided tour ($25).
Most amusingly, I saw (and ate) the fantastically light and fluffy Pav on Dom, which deserves a rerun at the Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra's rehearsal room with exceptional comic talents Laurel Devinie and Adam Gardiner, inspired by the time Pavarotti himself came to sing there (best fest value at $25). I also stopped in on the free family picnic.
So the content was fun and often impressive, but the publicity was "let them eat cake" - a lot of luxury without completely covering the basics of local advertising and prices. A noticeboard in Potters Park, a mention in the Central Leader's "What's On" column and some cross-marketing on the day would have been worth more than the whiz-bang website.
The upshot was empty seats: ATC only got half the audience it expected. Auntie is privileged to have such a generous patrician neighbour, but she still has a trick or two to teach ATC about how to get down with the plebs.