Shortland Street has long felt like an unkillable beast. No matter what controversies or periods of low ratings it suffers through, it soldiers on – and has done for more than 25 years.

By rights, the same golden touch should have extended to Shortland Street: The Musical, which debuted in Auckland last month on what was meant to be the first stop of a national tour.

Early reviews were effusive with praise and the opening performance earned a rare - and lengthy - standing ovation. However, this week it was announced that tour has been cancelled as ticket sales were so low they could no longer justify taking the show on the road.

So why did it fail? The ASB Waterfront Theatre can normally seat a couple of hundred, but word of mouth suggests that most nights were half empty. A staff member reportedly told Newstalk ZB's Andrew Dickens that people were simply unwilling to admit they were fans of Shortland Street in public.


The online reaction seems to support that idea. People seemed almost gleeful to hear that the show had failed. Facebook was awash with laughing emojis, and the most common comment saw people calling for the soap itself to be cancelled as well.

It's disappointing to see people revel so openly in the demise of a local production. If it was a report on any other industry suffering such a loss, the comments would hardly be this cruelly mocking.

Yet when it comes to our arts, people seem to revel in our failures. You only need to look back a few months to the announcement that Jono and Ben had been cancelled to see this isn't rare.

Why is this the case? It's hard to say if it's another case of tall poppy syndrome, our collective unwillingness to let anyone get too big for their boots. You could argue that people just don't like theatre, but every time a big touring production comes to Auckland, whether it be Wicked, Chicago or the upcoming Aladdin, people flock out in ways they clearly weren't willing to for Shortland Street.

The lack of support is not limited to theatre. Next year, TVNZ and Three will be stepping up their output of original productions, after several stagnant years with limited local, scripted works.

It's an exciting time, but will the audience be there for them? Will people be willing to tear their eyes away from Netflix for a few minutes to give these shows the chance they deserve, or will this long held view that 'all local content is trash' prevail?

Hopefully, for once, people will get behind our local creations the same way they do for international shows and arts, in the way they didn't for Shorty: The Musical. Most people I spoke to who saw the production loved it, including one colleague who had never seen an episode of the show before in her life.

If more Aucklanders had seen it, they would have known it was well worth the price of admission, and it would have meant more of the country could have had a taste of some home grown Kiwiana magic.


This cynicism around Shortland Street is nothing new, but we need to stop letting it blemish the rest of our cultural output. If you didn't want to see Shorty: The Musical at all, that's completely fine.

But if we have to rely on imported scripts to get people excited for theatre, then we'll lose the ability to tell our own stories on our biggest stages, and no one's going to be laughing then.