Auckland’s Basement Theatre has reached a significant milestone. Beginning 2017, it will be accepted into Creative New Zealand’s Toi Tōtara Haemata Programme - New Zealand’s top tier of arts leadership investment. Basement Theatre will fill the key national role of ‘Theatre Development’, along with BATS Theatre in Wellington.
Basement Theatre has been a vital creative incubator for local emerging talent since it first opened its doors in 2008, following Silo Theatre’s departure from the building. With the support of Creative NZ in 2013, the venue was able to offer an unconventional hireage model to its users - taking a portion of box office sales instead of a fixed fee, and therefore greatly reducing the financial risk involved in staging a production.
Since then, Basement Theatre has added a number of artistic and professional development activities to its programme, such as residencies, mentoring and workshops for new writers, producers, designers and directors.
“We have focused on playing a very active role in the careers of artists who come through our space”, says General Manager Elise Sterback. “We want to change the perception that it’s too hard to have a viable career in the arts in this country”.
Basement Theatre hosts over 100 shows and events each year, with over 300 artists participating. Across its lifetime, Basement collected and paid out more than $600,000 in box office sales to artists using its space, saving them $100,000 under Basement’s risk-share model than would have been charged in traditional venue hire fees.
These figures are growing at a rapid rate. “The performing arts sector in Auckland has grown by 8% since 2008, theatre as an artform and Basement as a venue have both been a big part of that”, reveals Business Development Manager Sam Snedden.
Despite being tucked away on the edge of a carpark behind the Town Hall, more and more people are discovering this hidden inner-city gem. Metro has hailed it as “the most exciting venue in town” (2013) and “the beating heart of Auckland theatre” (2014).
Snedden notes, “When I came on board in 2011, we were lucky if we had 20,000 people through the space in a year, that figure is now closer to 45,000.”
Its inclusion in the Tōtara programme means Basement will receive an investment increase of $75,000 in 2017, and an additional $20,000 per year until 2019, for a total increase over three years of $225,000.
This equates to an approximate per ticket subsidy of $6 from Creative NZ, and enables Basement to cap its ticket prices at $25, keeping them accessible to audiences.
“Creative NZ admires what The Basement has achieved so far in its short life. We are confident that we have made a smart investment in an organisation that will have a regional and national impact for practitioners and audiences into the future,” says Stephen Wainwright, Creative NZ’s Chief Executive. “The Basement’s vision and leadership is amongst the best we’ve seen and represents a clear and compelling path of travel.”
With the increased investment it receives, Basement plans to continue to expand its development programmes: The Producers Development Initiative - a year long, paid residency for an emerging producer; PlayScience! - paid workshops for new plays programmed at Basement; The Besties Tour - a collaboration with BATS Theatre supporting emerging companies in Auckland and Wellington to tour their work; Te Ara Angitu - a schools programme which provides more than 1,000 free tickets annually to Basement shows, as well as transport to the venue, for students of six low decile secondary partner schools; Basement and Breakfast - early morning readings and showings of work in development with breakfast provided; as well as launching Basement Apprenticeships - a new initiative pairing up and coming lighting, sound, set and costume designers and stage managers with top industry mentors.
“It’s our goal to be a world leader in the development of artists and the support of innovative practice. We want to increase the opportunities for, and the diversity of, our artists and audiences. It’s a big ask,” says Programming and Artist Development Manager Gabrielle Vincent, “but we reckon that we are up for it”.
This is a feeling echoed by Snedden “While the money from Tōtara investment is a huge boost, it’ll only cover part of the cost. We will still be looking for other ways to support our growth and the growth of our community. It’s an exciting and challenging time, y’know business as usual!”