Another perspective of a favourite meeting place at the eastern end of Courtenay Place. Downstage Theatre is in the background. ... for previous post and some history go to the Celluloid Embassy
Downstage began as an alternative theatre in 1964. When it proved impossible for national touring companies to stay solvent, theatre practitioners who had worked with the New Zealand Players and enjoyed a reasonable continuity of radio drama, needed a professional theatre. Something that began small and grew out of its own community was the answer.
Another group of Wellingtonians – academics, lawyers and business people – desperate for a richer, cultural nightlife, coalesced with the theatre people to make it happen. In form and content, Downstage was very much a product of the 1960s social revolution.
Over its first forty years, Downstage has ‘parented' a range of related activities and been a central support system for other theatres. It has reinvented itself at least a dozen times, in line with the visions of new artistic directors and in response to prevailing economic imperatives, and has come through at least two near death experiences. Mistakes have been made and learned from and its continued survival is a testament to professionalism, good governance and the determination of its community to keep revitalising this nucleus of Wellington cultural activity.
Downstage Upfront explores the evolution of Downstage, characterises its changing stages of life, investigates the means by which it has managed to survive let alone succeed, and celebrates its achievements and continued existence. In the process the book also touches on the wider context of professional theatre practice in New Zealand and throws a special spotlight on Downstage's role in producing New Zealand plays.
The purpose of theatre in any society, and role of state-subsidised theatres in New Zealand especially, are always matters of debate. In enquiring into the past forty years of professional practice, Downstage Upfront answers some questions and raises more that will spark further debate. But that's theatre.
thanks to John Smythe for this historical note