A tale of two cities and their festivals

By Cathrin Schaer

Aucklanders, it seems, are brash, superficial beasts with expensive mobile phones, while Wellingtonians are highly cultured creatures with a strong sense of civic spirit. We know this because the pattern of bookings for theatre and other artistic and cultural events differs in both cities.

In Wellington, pre-sales of tickets are always strong. But notoriously fickle Aucklanders leave it until the last minute.

Arne Hermann, marketing manager for the New Zealand International Arts Festival, agrees. Hermann has been based in Wellington for the past three weeks but worked for the Auckland Philharmonia for almost three years.

As a result he is well placed to narrate this tale of two cities' audiences. He explains that when looking at ticket sales he splits the time before the event into three periods.

"There are about, say, 20-odd weeks from the time when you first launch your programme to when you have your first gig," he explains.

Looking at his progress reports he notes that in Wellington between 30 and 45 per cent of all tickets to events such as the Arts Festival are sold in the first four to six weeks. Sales slacken in the middle third, and the remaining 40 per cent of sales is made shortly before the event begins.

In Auckland, sales for the first block of time are usually lower, hovering somewhere between 20 and 30 per cent. The rest of the tickets are sold just before the event.

Other organisers agree. "There's a history of pre-booking in Wellington that you don't see in Auckland," says SiLo Theatre director Shane Bosher, who was involved with theatre in Wellington for seven years.

"For instance, we have A Clockwork Orange opening this week and although ticket bookings are on track, in Wellington I think they might be sold out by now. It seems quite weird to me, especially if you compare the geography.

"In Wellington, a lot of people live within walking distance of the city so you'd think they'd just come down on the night. In Auckland, you're more likely to live quite a way away from the theatre so you'd think you would want to book in advance, to make sure you could get in, before you left the house."

While ticket sales for AK05, Auckland's second bi-annual arts festival, are apparently now "good", organisers were earlier privately complaining about poor sales.

An Auckland-based, freelance theatre publicist said: "Aucklanders won't book in advance, they'll wait for their friends to tell them a show is great. Then they go in droves, the show sells out and might even have to extend. All the money comes in at the end of a season, which can cause a big panic for everyone involved."

So what is wrong with Aucklanders - are they just apathetic, or are Wellingtonians just a bunch of uptight civil servants and dreadlocked hippies with nothing better to do than hang around in theatres and galleries?

It seems the truth lies somewhere between. One of the reasons most promoters give is simply that Wellingtonians have less to do. Those in the capital may rant about their thriving arts scene and how they have tons of theatres and galleries but there is not as much competition for leisure time and dollars.

"In Auckland you might see the Crusty Demons one night, Norah Jones on the next and then maybe a play on the third," says Hermann. "People in Auckland have more choice, with local options and international events brought in by overseas promoters."

Another possible reason is the sense of community in Wellington. One culturally aware, inner-city resident says: "It's a bit of a village down here, really, which means there is a sense of community. If there's something on, it always feels like everyone is going, which means you end up going, too."

Aucklanders tend to identify themselves by their suburbs. As in, you're from Ponsonby and she's clearly (look at that handbag! those shoes!) from Remuera.

"And yep, we all hate each other," jokes one dance-party organiser. "We're all competing." End result: more cynicism and less sense of community.

Beside geographic differences, cultural and ethnic differences are at work in the bigger city. More than 10 per cent of Aucklanders are Asian, and the metropolis is also home to a large Pacific Island population. Neither group traditionally supports the arts or goes to theatre.

And finally, perhaps slightly oddly, the climate has an effect. "Germany has a huge awareness of arts and culture but that's probably also because the weather is often so bad," Hermann says.

"We don't have the option of going to the beach or having a barbecue. We meet in the city, go to a jazz bar or a theatre performance. But in Auckland, who wants to go to the theatre on a beautiful day when it's stinking hot?

"You wait until six o'clock before you decide whether you're going to have some friends around for a barbecue or go into town."

* To make an advance booking for AK05, which starts on February 25, and prove the Wellingtonians wrong, go to the AK05 website.

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