Aspiring theatre superstars have a few days left to sign up for Q Theatre's Matchbox programme – just as the latest production in the long-running scheme finally makes its way to the stage.
Inflated Rebel is just the latest show to get support through the development programme, which is designed to help artists further their development in a professional arena and reach new audiences at the Queen Street staple.
Past Matchbox shows have included sell-out sensation Burn Her, and musical Daffodils, which was adapted into a movie in 2019 starring Rose McIver.
Yet when the curtains rise at the Wednesday night premiere, it would have been two years since they were chosen as one of the successful candidates in the 2019 season. The Covid-19 pandemic saw Q shut its doors to the public from March until a proper reopening in November, delaying all commissioned productions and last year's development round and forcing the theatre to fundraise to keep staff employed.
Q general manager and programme director Sarah Graham is thrilled to be able to bring back both elements of Matchbox, as it fits into the core of what the theatre hopes to achieve.
"Matchbox is really special to us because they are always highly innovative, independent practitioners who essentially need to be given the space and they will do something innovative and new."
It's another step in the slow return to normality, which was upset earlier this year when Auckland's February lockdown interrupted the Pride and Auckland Arts festivals that should have started 2021 on a high for the independent theatre.
However, Graham said that the time the theatre spent closed last year gave it the time to properly plan for lockdowns and how to stage shows at higher alert levels, meaning Q had been able to soldier on.
"Last year was all about survival and head above water. The fact we are now here and able to do that is amazing, when last year we did not have that sustainability."
She said audiences have made it clear they are eager for live shows again.
"Audiences are really wanting to see work. People are wanting to get out of the house and have a light experience we didn't have much of last year."
For Inflated Rebel stars and co-creators Rose Philpott and Jessie McCall, 2020 meant a long period of development with little stage time. They were able to redirect some Creative NZ funding into digitally staging their show, a "cool experiment" according to McCall, but it reiterated for them how the stage was the best place for the show.
"It was an interesting, adjunct side to our research, but we knew this show needs to be birthed into a live theatre arena."
While the pandemic and the year-long gap have not drastically changed the show – which McCall describes as "rebellion and bravado and the way that manifests against gender" – the unexpectedly long time between commissioning and staging has allowed the show to change in development.
"It's lovely that we can present work that's not Covid-oriented, but the duration of time between contact of work ... it just changes. We kind of make it over and over again," Philpott said. "It's kind of forced this revisiting."
Q and theatre practitioners have managed to avoid any further Covid-generated calamities in recent months, but the rise of Delta overseas and the pause on the trans-tasman bubble bursting has driven home that they are not fully out of the woods.
"It became really tangible that there may be a lockdown and it could happen at any moment, but it is surprising how little it's been part of our chat," McCall said.
"I don't think we can let it be part of a rhetoric as otherwise it will stop you in your tracks," Philpott said.
Graham said that the extended period of closure last year gave the first real opportunity since Q opened to contemplate a long-term strategy, rather than just focusing on staging shows.
That project is taking centre stage behind the scenes at the moment, alongside Covid contingency plans that are still being factored in to all productions the theatre is commissioning. The latest Matchbox development season gives the opportunity to focus on the months ahead.
Now celebrating its ninth year, Matchbox remains one of the proudest things that Q works on, Graham said.
"There's often a pathway, whether for the artist or the actual work. That's always something we're really proud of. The shows that have come through speak for themselves, and our aim is to continue that legacy."
Inflated Rebel is on at Q Theatre from August 11 to 15. Matchbox 2022 submissions close on Friday afternoon.