or: How to be cool and get cultured
You need to go to the theatre. You really need to. I am talking need here, not just want. Because of course you want to. I know times are hard and wallets are empty. I know TV is free, movies are often cheaper and the internet won’t read itself. I know that you’ll get round to it. That seeing more theatre this year is on your to-do list, just under read Proust and just after Do Something With Your Life. I know you hate Twilight and that the saddest news you’ve heard recently is Sigur Rós breaking up. I know you’re a smart person. You think you’re cultured. But you’re not. Because you don’t go to the theatre.
Now, I’m not saying that theatrical attendance is the only box that needs to be ticked to be cultured. Far from it. But you already fulfill the rest. You read a couple of books a year, at least one of them not by a white man. You will watch films with subtitles, just not when drunk. You know the lyrics to at least one Smiths song. You’re almost there. Now, just get to the theatre.
Don’t try giving me that it’s just people shouting in the distance crap. You know it’s wrong and if you repeat I’ll tear all your Robert Smith posters down and burn them in front your eyes using your ironic Lynx deodorant as an accelerant. And no, it’s not just boring middle-class people in boring middle-class kitchens having boring middle-class problems.
One of Wellington’s greatest strengths is that there is just so much going on. There will be more choice of genre or tone or style in Wellington’s theatres than there ever will be in some anonymous cinemadrome chocked to the balls with manly men and busty women blowing things up or crying or farting. There will be heartfelt biography, delirious comedy, subtle documentary (yes, it can be done in a theatre), amazing dance, razor-sharp satire and disturbed deconstructionism, all behind the doors of one of Wellington’s theatres.
Wellington is spoiled for choice when it comes to theatres. Sitting soundly next to Te Papa is Circa. More traditional than its rivals, it has gained, somewhat unfairly, a reputation for stuffy safeness. There are many bright sparks shining within their doors. Circa’s shows may sometimes be safe and shaded a little too grey, but there is no better place to see the classics, the latest Stoppard or LaBute. They’re doing The Great Gatsby this year, which will be too awesome to miss. Prices are a little too high for comfort, but they will do student deals occasionally and they’re always worth your time. It’s the place to take your parents when they’re paying.
Down the far end of Courtenay Place is Downstage, which is very much the place to go for the edgier end of the mainstream. It has recently been in a bit of financial trouble but is pulling itself admirably out of that hole. It is doing that by filling its bills with unashamedly populist, but still rather outre works. Often with a surprisingly radical political bent. It’s the place to take your parents when you’re paying.
Opposite Downstage is BATS. It’s going to be where you’ll spend most of your theatre time in Wellington. Its schedule is packed with co-op theatre companies putting on rough, ready and wonderfully alive theatre. It can be hit and miss, but with ticket prices being the same as seeing a film, that becomes part of the fun. It will usually have at least two shows on a night, so there will always be something to see. It also has the super sweet Pit Bar.
Don’t take your parents.
There is a large number of smaller performance spaces in Wellington. Places like The Fringe Bar or The Gryphon. The best way to see them is to grab a Fringe Festival programme and pick a show at random.
The Fringe Festival is going on RIGHT NOW. AS YOU READ THESE WORDS. It has 81 different shows on, so you have no excuse for having nothing to see. Unless you’ve just been in a horrific car accident and are now in a full body cast. Even then, there will be a few companies doing street theatre who I’m sure would give your hospital ward a show if you asked them nicely enough.
Theatre is everywhere in Wellington. Like a swamp full of beret-wearing venus flytraps. You have no choice but to submit. Which you should. Because I’m only half joking when I tell you that going to the theatre will make you a better person.