Basement Theatre opens its doors (and pockets) for school kids


It’s back to Basement Theatre for students this year as the creative powerhouse opens its doors for another round of live theatre and educational workshops in its Schools Programme – all at no cost to the schools.

After finding overwhelming success each year since its pilot in 2015, Basement Theatre has again hustled the funds to run the Schools Programme for seven secondary schools across Auckland. Aiming to connect talented grassroots artists with young people and normalise the act of attending theatre, the Schools Programme provides educational arts experiences to secondary school students that may not otherwise get the opportunity.

Basement Theatre’s education coordinator Deanna Borren says the charitable trust is passionate about providing Kiwi high school students with access to local stories performed on stage and felt a responsibility to source funds for the Schools Programme.

“The programme was born out of a desire to connect more with our younger audiences. They are the future artists and audience members of New Zealand’s creative arts scene and we want to remove as many barriers as we can to allow all young adults to experience professional live theatre,” says Borren.

The Auckland-based theatre is celebrating its 10th anniversary this year, in what the close-knit arts community refers to as A Decade of Disruption. The Schools Programme covers the cost of show tickets and transport to and from its central city location, often cited as a barrier to excursions for schools. As well as specially tailored workshops, free educational resources and post-show discussions give students and teachers the tools to analyse and reflect on what they have seen.

At a total cost of $50,000, Basement Theatre encourages donations and financial support from both the public and private sectors to ensure that the initiative continues to run.

“Our programme is really gaining momentum now that we’re three years in. It would be a huge loss to the hundreds of kids we interact with if it had to stop,” says Borren.

Teachers of participating schools have waxed lyrical about the programme.

“It’s a huge privilege to be able to see live theatre and for me to bring students without any financial burden is really meaningful,” says Onehunga High School’s Head of Performing Arts, Sarah Dillaman.

“It has given them such a love for performance that I cannot thank Basement enough,” says Edgewater College Drama Teacher, Sarah Jansen.

The Schools Programme consists of a show each term and three in-school workshops. For 2018’s first term, the show staged at Basement Theatre is ‘Side B’, a dynamic series of four new short works choreographed by dance couple Perri Exeter and Joash Fahitua. A continuation of their debut show ‘MIXTAPE’, the concepts are derived from imagination, experiences and moments in time that reflect the contrasting worlds we come from and memories we create as humans.

As well as a yet-to-be-announced show for term 2, Basement Theatre gives its emerging artists the opportunity to tour a show. ‘I Ain’t Mad At Cha’, from the theatre’s 2017 Matariki Season, is a rap musical about a young Maori boy and his affinity with African American culture. The show will hit the road to be performed at the schools in term 3.

The touring show not only complements and enriches secondary school classroom learning, it gives the Basement Theatre’s emerging artists the opportunity to develop the skills required to create a workable touring package for their show. Basement Theatre’s Elise Sterback says this is a strong part of the trust’s ethos to help artists develop their skill sets, and forge sustainable careers.

“We are the place for artists to gather, rally around and inspire each other, the place where they can put on new work and take risks in a safe and supported environment,” says Sterback.

The 2018 Schools Programme’s first show hit the stage on March 1. Schools that are taking part in the programme include Edgewater College, James Cook High School, Manurewa High School, Mount Roskill Grammar School, Onehunga High School, Otahuhu College and Selwyn College.


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