Artists strive to take Basement to the top

By Dionne Christian

Clockwise from front left: Chye-Ling Huang, Virginia Frankovich, Sam Snedden, Robin Kelly and Lydia Zanetti. Photo / Julie Zhu
Clockwise from front left: Chye-Ling Huang, Virginia Frankovich, Sam Snedden, Robin Kelly and Lydia Zanetti. Photo / Julie Zhu

From now until at least 2018, The Basement wants to offer more artistic development schemes, improve access to its two theatres, find alternative spaces to increase what it can offer, diversify the shows it features and make sure audiences continue to be "engaged and inspired".

One priority is to become "a premier development space in Australasia ... ultimately being known internationally for artist development in the emerging performing arts".

They're lofty goals but the Basement management team has put its mission - along with values, goals and priorities - in writing in its strategic plan for 2016-18 and declared: "We believe arts are vital to life! Between bangin' art and bangin' profit, we'll choose art every time."

But, they're well aware that a creative career in New Zealand - especially in an expensive city like Auckland - can be difficult, leading to less work being produced, which means fewer choices for audiences, and less people working in the arts.

Talk to the emerging theatre-makers, performers and producers who have worked at the Basement and you'll find they're fully aware of the financial stresses of their chosen careers - and the myriad other choices offered to them - as well as the constraints on making visual and performing arts in a country with a small, but growing, audience base.

Sam Snedden, 37, the Basement's co-general manager, says the issues they face aren't unique to Auckland or to those with careers in the arts, it's best to see challenges as opportunities and to work together to overcome these. As Snedden talks about a supportive community, theatre-maker Virginia Frankovich, 29, nods.

"What makes this all the more achievable is being part of a community of people who can help you; people who are interested enough in what you're doing to volunteer their time," she says. "There's a great deal of goodwill out there and I couldn't do what I do in a place where I didn't have a network of people to help."

Robin Kelly, 27, trained to be a molecular biologist and, for a time, worked in a laboratory developing prostate cancer treatments. Also an accomplished musician, he quit to start a theatre company and work as a musical director for hire.

"We're not a bunch of 'Ivory tower artists' who don't care about social inequality or the other things - health and education and transport and housing - that need funding, but working in the arts seemed, for me, the best way I could bring awareness to these issues and work for marginalised groups. It's the most fulsome way for me to make a contribution to the world."

Lydia Zanetti, 26, and a producer at Auckland Live, says venues like the Basement become integral to providing places where artists can meet, discuss ideas and try things out in a supportive environment. Thanks to funding from Creative New Zealand, the Basement takes 20 per cent of a show's box office takings instead of a venue hire charge.

Last year, it staged 111 shows - 62 in its regular programme, 23 in the Fringe, 26 in the NZ Comedy Festival and more than 100 "other" events. It clocked up its largest audience numbers, 32,000. World premieres and New Zealand work, new artists and work, and experienced practitioners trying new things rate most highly on the wish list of the Basement team.

Snedden reckons the venue is gaining in popularity because it's offering shows and stories that are unique to New Zealand.

"The more we develop our own voices, as New Zealand artists, the more successful we will be, because there is a hunger for stories unique to us, that can't be seen or told elsewhere."

But ensuring a fuller range of stories is told is vital, says writer and actor Chye-Ling Huang, 26.

"Until I see a more accurate range of New Zealanders on stage, I'm not going to stop."

- Weekend magazine

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production bpcf04 at 25 Feb 2017 15:55:51 Processing Time: 605ms