New Zealand theatre is to be "celebrated and elevated" with a month-long event.

Playwright Roger Hall, one of the country's most prolific and successful theatre writers, yesterday announced plans for a NZ Theatre Month next September.

Speaking at Theatre NZ's TheatreFest finals, a competition for community and school groups, Hall said he wants professional and community stage outfits to perform plays by local writers to show the depth, breadth and quality of NZ work.

He cites figures from Playmarket showing it gave permission for 300 productions of NZ work in 2016 while 30 more locally written plays were performed overseas.


"They brought in $4.3 million of ticket sales and this represents only works licensed by Playmarket," says Hall (pictured).

In addition, sport and entertainment research specialists the Gemba Group say theatre attendance is higher than for any sport except rugby.

Gemba NZ general manager Richard Howarth says the number of adults going to the theatre has increased by 13 per cent since 2015.

"We put that down to it meeting people's desire for both a social occasion and a fun, enjoyable evening out, as they are two of the key motivating factors we track for event attendance," says Howarth.

"That wasn't a surprise result to us, as we know there are more people who consider themselves to be passionate about theatre than popular traditional Kiwi sports like cricket and netball, or playing electronic or computer games."

With theatre at venues ranging from The Civic to Garnet Station cafe; in bars, basements and buses, purpose-built theatres, community centres and school halls from Northland to Invercargill, Hall says it's time to celebrate.

"Thousands of people go and thousands take part but why isn't there a dedicated day, week or month to celebrate it?"

He also points to a long tradition of local playwriting starting with our first home-grown play, Marcelina by James Marriott, in 1848. By 1862, there were two theatres in Dunedin and in 1898, The Land of the Moa toured the country.


"The history of New Zealand theatre is long, rich and storied; there are literally hundreds of productions that go on around the country every year, of all kinds: plays, musicals, devised work, physical theatre. The month is not only about celebrating those but honouring the long history of theatre in this country that dates all the way back to 1848.

"Talk to many young people in theatre and they know very little of what's gone before. But is that their fault? Why don't they know? Because we don't tell them; we don't seem to be proud of our history or even of our present. We don't have a national voice so it's time we did."

Hall has already confirmed professional companies including Auckland Theatre Company, Circa Theatre in Wellington, Palmerston North's Centrepoint, The Court in Christchurch and Dunedin's Fortune will take part.

ATC will stage Stuart Hoar's new play, Rendered. The company says it is a "taut, tight, torn-from-the-headlines thriller where domestic events play out on a world stage".

Community theatres are also scheduled to take part, with many already committing to perform NZ works during the month but Hall says even if they haven't scheduled such a play, they can take part with talks, debates and displays promoting the sector.

New Zealand Theatre Month - Celebrating and Elevating New Zealand Theatre, September 1-30, 2018; Roger Hall's most recent play, Last Legs, is at the ASB Waterfront Theatre until Saturday, September 30.