I think if you look at the Basement programme, our show sticks out like a sore thumb."

Given that you tend to see new, contemporary and home-grown plays at the Basement Theatre, actor Romy Hooper probably has a good point.

Along with nine others - some well-known; others newcomers - Hooper appears in Tennessee Retro, four rarely performed vintage works by master playwright Tennessee Williams. They might not be new, contemporary or homegrown, but consider the thinking behind the project and you'll see it fits perfectly with the Basement's aim to encourage the next generation of theatre-makers.

Led by director James Beaumont, the Black Doris Project pairs experienced performers like Miriama McDowell, Nicola Kawana and Donogh Rees with emerging talents Timmie Cameron, Jimmy Hazelwood, Paul Trimmer, Alex Walker, Christel Chapman, Hooper and Emma Deakin.


Beaumont calls it "age inclusive" theatre, rich with opportunities for mutual learning and collaborative exchange. The actors themselves say it's a chance to perform classic plays that, because they're not done often, become almost new and novel.

"You get to do the classics at drama school, but they're not done much outside of that," says McDowell, last seen in the television reboot of Terry Teo. "I really didn't get a chance to perform any Shakespeare until this year.

"I work a lot on contemporary Maori theatre and that's really exciting, but working on classic plays acknowledges the whakapapa of all the work we do."

Walker, who appeared in Auckland Theatre Company's Once on Chunuk Bair, says appearing in such well-written plays allows actors to concentrate fully on their performance rather than worrying that the text isn't sound.

"That's so right," says recent drama school graduate Cameron. "If you start with really good writing informing the performances, you can only really go up from there."

There are pay-offs for the audiences, too: a wider range of plays to see, possibly an introduction to a new aspect of Williams' writing and hopefully more polished performances. Beaumont says each play is about six to 12 pages long and they show some of the same themes and characters Williams went on to explore in The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire, Cat on a Hot Tin Roof and Sweet Bird of Youth.

"It's like a mini-festival of Tennessee Williams."

And why does Williams endure? Like all good playwrights, he writes about the universal in the specific with characters which "expose small lives in a tight fix", he says.

"There are so many themes that we can relate to today - homelessness being one of them. It makes you wonder just how much things have really moved on."

What: Tennessee Retro
Where & when: Basement Theatre, October 18 - 22.