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Speech

Theatre Artists' Charitable Trust

Issue date: 
Monday, 20 October 1997
Speaker: 
The Rt Hon Sir Michael Hardie Boys, GNZM, GCMG, QSO

Michael Hirschfeld, (Chairman of the Theatre Artists' Charitable Trust); Judge Carolyn Henwood and her fellow Trustees; Neville Carson, Circa Theatre Co-ordinator; Neil Gray, Senior Partner, Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young; representatives of the Trust's other benefactors through the years - BNZ Finance, BP New Zealand, Fay Richwhite, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Sovereign Assurance and Creative New Zealand; ladies and gentlemen:

It's a great pleasure for Mary and me to be here this evening to share in celebrating the first 10 years of the Theatre Artists Charitable Trust. The Trust as you know was launched by Sir Paul and Lady Reeves at Government House, and one measure of its success is that ten years on, we can have this celebration in Circa's own splendid premises, in this focal area of the city : a showcase next to a showpiece, so to speak.

Of course the Trust didn't build the new theatre in any direct way, but it did it indirectly; because it has enabled Circa to grow in stature and to become the integral part of Wellington's cultural life that it now is. And it has done that by fostering the talents of the actors, the skills of the design and production teams, so that people from far and near can come and see the very best of theatre, old and new, performed to the highest professional standards. And how fortunate we have been in the variety and the quality of what we have been able to see performed on the boards of Circa.

Years ago, Bruce Mason described the theatre in New Zealand as "a damnably chancy business." Arguably, with the passage of time, the climate has improved. Perhaps you could say the once "damnably chancy" has become merely risky. For although the arts - be they performing or graphic, fine or literary - have 'moved up' in our national consciousness, they are still very far from the top of the list of our national priorities. And, I must say, unless some very strong feelings are made known very forcibly, there is a continuing risk of them slipping further back. We are surely entitled to insist that it is not just physical achievement that is of value to the nation, but that of equal significance are the expression and the achievements of mind and spirit.

Something else that Bruce Mason said emphasises this. Drama, he said is not just a common entertainment, it is a noble art. Theatre is necessary, he argued, if you want to live in a society that is truly civilised. And so people in the theatre, whether writers or performers, have to aim to "provide themes that stir the roots of their audiences. it is the playwright's and the actor's [job] to hold [the] audience's attention, to entertain them. ... But to use the word 'entertaining' as being synonymous with amusing, cheerful at all costs, is simply a misuse. Is life trivial? Is comedy? Tragedy? It is the dramatist's first duty to entertain; his second, third and last to show us what we are and, if so persuaded, what we may be."

Circa is a company that believes in and practises Bruce Mason's prescription. But of course this can be risky for actors and backstage people, the whole company, the whole enterprise.

Riskiness can of course come for an actor in many ways. I heard recently about a performance of Faust, where something got stuck. A trapdoor on the stage was designed to be the entry to the fiery furnace, but when Mephistopholes went to open it to hurl the unfortunate Faust down to bottomless perdition, the trapdoor would not budge. He struggled and struggled, to no avail. Then there came a voice from the audience : "Praise be! Hell's full!"

All theatre people know about that sort of risk, but the financial riskiness is equally ever-present, as the fate of far too many theatre companies in New Zealand has proved all too sadly. And working in the theatre always seems to have been this way. Shakespeare, for instance, saw some of his plays do well, but others not. And while eventually he was able to retire to Stratford as a gentleman - buying a big house, a coat of arms and a quiet life, (an early lifestyler?) - he nevertheless needed considerable financial help early in his career. And of course he was not alone in that.

Patronage of one sort or another, from one type of benefactor or another, is as important to the theatre today - indeed to all the arts - as it has ever been. These days however - the supply of rich courtiers being somewhat less than it used to be - corporates (companies we used to call them in my younger days) are increasingly, and necessarily, being looked to as the successors of the wealthy patrons of old. And for a patron of the theatre, there can be no finer patronage than to help launch and then keep afloat theatrical careers. The Theatre Artists' Charitable Trust has been the vehicle to encourage just that kind of patronage.

At its best, a theatre is a place where plays "happen" to people; when for the duration of the performance, the play's words turn into real life. Pygmalion's statue begins to breathe. The people in the audience are taken out of themselves; they even, temporarily, become other people. It is this transformation, even if it is only ever a brief one, that gives the theatre its enormous value. It is also why there can never be a wholly-effective substitute for live dramatic performance.

The Theatre Artists' Charitable Trust has, for a decade now, made sure that skilled practitioners of this truly great art are supported in fulfilling their potential. And the corporates that sponsor the Trust demonstrate that they recognise that all citizens, whether individual or corporate, have a role to play, a responsibility in fact, in making New Zealand a more civilised, and less damnably chancy, place to live.

After Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young became the first corporate contributor to the Trust ten years ago (there was a time when Chapman Tripp was just a partnership, but now it qualifies as a corporate, if not in a legal sense, then at least in patronage terms. I'm delighted about that, because whatever the popular image of our profession, lawyers have always been great supporters of the arts); after Chapman Tripp lead the way, other sponsors - BNZ Finance, BP New Zealand, Fay Richwhite - also came forward. Currently, Deloitte Touche Tohmatsu, Sovereign Assurance, Creative New Zealand of course, and, still, Chapman Tripp, stand behind the Trust, in support of Circa Theatre's production teams.

Tonight, in recognition of their special contribution to the Trust, both as a Founding Sponsor, and a supporter to this day, I have been asked to make a presentation to Chapman Tripp Sheffield Young, represented here by Mr Neil Gray. I think I can assure other sponsors, indeed Chapman Tripp too, that it has not come out of their money.

Last updated: 
Friday, 9 January 2009

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