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Roar of the amateurs

Roar of the amateurs
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There’s no pro business in show business

source: statistics nz

Jason Smith

[Creative Metrics]

Curtain up. Light the lights. A new trend has song-and-danced its way across the stages of the big theatres in New Zealand: the spotlight is increasingly on amateur theatre groups who are putting on big, bright, Broadway shows that professional production companies can’t afford to do in these straitened times.

Amateur theatre groups in the major centres are taking on increasingly ambitious productions. The line is blurring between who gets paid in shiny stuff and who just wants the chance to shine. The difference may be less about talent and more about the simple fact New Zealand can’t sustain long runs of expensive shows with paid casts and crews.

In the economic equation here, the main benefit for audiences is that there are more big shows on the boards. More entertainment choices mean a more vibrant cultural life. Productionwise, these shows are as technically advanced as touring Broadway shows—the recent 42nd Street show in Auckland actually used a world-touring spangly set and all those sequinned costumes. In 2011 expect Miss Saigon and other big shows to continue the rise of the amateurs, barely discernable from professional productions.

The numbers of performing arts operations (for example, the Michael Fowler Centre or The Edge each count as one) reached a peak in 2008, when the curtain came down on nine arts-friendly Clark years. Between 2000 and 2010 the number of artist enterprises arced up, but the number of employees remained static—in other words, there were many more individual creatives, writers or actors. Cue employment legislation to delineate contractor from employee. Perfectly scripted creatures.

Note that all these trends have peaked and are now in decline. There really is no business like show business. Exeunt stage left.

Jason Smith graduated in late 2010 from AUT University with a doctorate on New Zealand’s creative economy. He lives on the shores of the Kaipara Harbour, waiting in the wings