Janet McAllister on the arts
Janet McAllister looks at the world of the arts and literature.

Janet McAllister: Nurturing new treasures in the Basement

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Basement's general manager Charlie McDermott. Photo / Kellie Blizard
Basement's general manager Charlie McDermott. Photo / Kellie Blizard

I asked my flatmate - usually pretty clued-up for someone who wears roman sandals - how many shows he thought The Basement put on this year. "Uh, 30?" he guessed. Wrong by 300 per cent! By their annual December fundraising show (MegaChristmas in homage to Megaupload), the little-theatre-that-could will have hosted 94 low-cost, experimental shows in their downstairs auditorium and smaller upstairs studio. That's damn good going for an artistic oasis still stuck in a Greys Ave carpark (it should be a green park by now).

But we ain't seen nothing yet. Exuberant and irrepressible general manager (and actor) Charlie McDermott estimates that next year, there'll be 158 shows on offer, including the Comedy Festival slate and three mad weeks of Fringe Festival.

It's not all about quantity, however. What's really got McDermott excited is something called "risk sharing". Thanks to Creative NZ funding, and the Supercity landlord giving The Basement free rent, theatre producers will no longer have to pay up to $300 plus GST per night, whether or not they've sold any tickets; instead they'll pay 20 per cent of every ticket sold.

The benefits of the model - the same as Wellington's celebrated Bats Theatre - are enormous. No big bills encourages artistic development and experimentation, and hopefully more set designs.

"Up until now it's only been those who can afford the space who've put on work. They are not necessarily the best shows because artists are starving!" says McDermott jokingly.

The Basement's programme manager (and actor) Sophie Henderson isn't worried about being inundated by proposals from people wanting to take advantage of the scheme. "I hope to have a billion submissions," she says. Pro tip for would-be practitioners: the kaupapa is to favour new New Zealand work.

And more than one TV actor has got a wee break at The Basement; apparently the Shortland Street casting director "comes to everything: she's got a lot of slots to fill," says venue manager (and actor) Sam Snedden. They're making it easy for us to follow her: ticket prices will be capped at $25 for downstairs shows, $15 for upstairs.

The Basement, which is also crowdfunding for a more welcoming foyer, has been increasingly upgraded and organised since it started in 2008, after the last incarnation of the space - the Silo - spun off to become Auckland's second major mainstream professional company. The current lot aren't in a hurry to move - they see their mission as fostering emerging artists and more established artists wanting to try something new. And in spite of last year's toilets upgrade and installation of showers for the actors, Snedden declares: "We're not going legit - I don't want it out there that we're legit. We're street." Street behind a garage door in a carpark and proud of it.


- NZ Herald

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