Jeff Clark blogs about The Court’s fortieth birthday and the space between damage and recovery in Christchurch. He says it's like 'the anticipation at the end of an interval'.
"Please return to your seats. The performance will resume shortly."
* * *
Theatres and churches can be said to have a lot in common. They rely on audiences to thrive, for one thing. The layout is often similar: a prominent area where the performance (or sermon, bible reading or Nativity play) can be seen; a place for the audience (some of whom will inevitably complain about the seating) and a place for people to gather for a shared experience.
The Artistic Director of The Court Theatre, Ross Gumbley, describes theatre as “something that happens in the space between the actors and the audience”. Religion (or faith) takes place in that same space – intangible, personal and universal all at the same time. Being part of an audience or congregation is a uniquely collaborative experience that creates something greater than the sum of its parts. There is a palpable feeling at the start of a show or sermon as the lights dim, or the priest prepares to read, when a collection of individuals become a collective.
I don’t want to go too much into the topic of religion here (I am, at best, an optimistic agnostic who has read far too much to be certain of anything), but I felt it appropriate to start with this thought given The Court turned forty on April 21, Maundy Thursday. On this day, instead of a theatrical performance, actors from The Court presented readings from the Passion to a small congregation. It was a very different celebration than we had planned, but a celebration nonetheless.
Easter is a commemoration of death and resurrection; loss and rebirth (pagan origins and chocolate-themed present aside). It seems apt to mention for the thematic resonance it holds for The Court and for Christchurch.
The Space Between
Christchurch is still in the space between damage and recovery. The state of emergency has been lifted but, at last count, 362 buildings will either be demolished, partially demolished or require some kind of engineering work to make them safe.
I went back to Christchurch just after Easter weekend. It was only for a day, but the various meetings I had to go to were on opposite sides of the city, necessitating some navigation of (or at least around) the CBD. The fleeting glimpses I have seen paint a surreal picture: blocks completely devoid of buildings or, more sadly, with only one building remaining among a pile of rubble. This state of affairs will continue for some time – demolition must be completed before restoration can begin, after all. There is a sense of a city holding its breath – a tension before release.
The Court, too, is holding its breath in many ways. We are painfully close to securing a new facility but cannot yet go public with the location or plans we have for the space. But it is tantalisingly close to a time when we can show the fruits of many weeks of hard work, negotiations and effort; when we can invite people to join us in our journey to build a new home for theatre in Christchurch and when we can share a new vision to restore a part of the city’s heart.
There are some breaths of fresh air in the city, however. CPIT has offered office space to a group of arts organisations, including the Christchurch Arts Festival, Symphony Orchestra and others in what is being called the “Creative Hub”. A spirit of collaboration and cooperation has, for the time being, replaced the competitive aspect of the performing arts. More importantly it means that the arts can have a more united voice as rebuilding begins.
Around the city various groups are still putting on theatre. A good friend of mine, Dan Bain, created a children’s show Play With Pictures to run during the school holiday break. The community/amateur groups such as the Elmwood Players have staged productions as well. The Repertory Theatre will continue with their production of Hamlet despite the physical loss of their theatre and deep personal losses. The spirit of the creative community in Christchurch is far from broken and may well have been strengthened by this shared event.
I now have just under two weeks in Dunedin before I return to Christchurch. On April 29 the Fortune Theatre (inside a converted church, funnily enough) opened their season of God Of Carnage; going through the more familiar process of promoting a show and getting bums on seats has made for an enjoyable time here. In a week’s time the Fortune will begin rehearsing Five Women Wearing The Same Dress – which will, after its season in Dunedin, travel up to Christchurch to be the first official show staged by The Court Theatre (albeit in the interim venue of the Aurora Centre). Originally the collaboration was to have worked the other way around, with the production staged in Christchurch before travelling south; that it continues is a huge boost for both companies.
I am, much like The Court, in a state of transition: still working at the Fortune while preparing to go back to Christchurch. The work to be done will be layered for the marketing team of The Court: we will not only have a new series of shows to promote; we will also have a new venue and fundraising efforts. We do not shy away from these challenges – if The Court were a company that balked at challenges it would never have created The Forge specifically to put on challenging contemporary theatre. It would never have looked at improvisational theatre and started Scared Scriptless over twenty years ago. If The Court had not been founded and fuelled by individuals dedicated to produce world-class theatre in the city of Christchurch despite adversity, the company would not have survived its first decade, let alone four.
The Court is in the space between having a company and having a place for them to perform, but we retain that same state of energy, engagement and anticipation that exists at the start of a show. Or perhaps a more appropriate analogy is the anticipation that exists at the end of interval.
Please return to your seats. The performance will resume shortly.