Home / Urban  / Basement Theatre: Auckland’s living icon for arts and culture

Basement Theatre: Auckland’s living icon for arts and culture

As an epicentre for theatre, dance, visual art, poetry, music and comedy, Auckland’s Basement Theatre is on a mission to make it easier for the arts and culture community to prosper and thrive. We sit down with Director Cat Ruka, to chat about how this small theatre is making a big impact.

Located in the heart of Auckland city, a hotspot for arts and culture, Basement Theatre is well-placed to support this thriving industry.

With the pandemic hitting the sector hard, Cat Ruka, Director of Basement Theatre made sure that coming out of Covid-19, the theatre was a place to uplift and support arts and culture.

“We fiercely platform work by independent artists, so artists who are making work on their own without being attached to a bigger company,” explains Ruka.

“That is our core driver, to uplift and support these independent artists often when they’re first coming out of graduation from the tertiary training, and it can be really difficult thing to break into our sector.”

Ruka says she hopes that Basement Theatre is a gateway into the sector and creating a positive experience for those staging their first work.

With a mission to support the little guys in the industry, Ruka says Basement Theatre is home to 45-55 shows a year, with the theatre open every week.

Through this support, Basement Theatre created an important space for the community which allows artists to platform themselves.

Interest from artists to use the space for their projects is overwhelming, says Ruka who collects applications seasonally and selects what makes it onto the stage.

“We would stage everything if we could, but we also are really committed to supporting artists that come from communities that have been marginalised, so at the moment we focus and prioritise indigenous artists, people of colour (POC) artists, disabled artists, immigrant communities and artists from our rainbow communities,” says Ruka.

Read more: Sunny Bates on the economic power of arts and culture

“And that for us is really important work because theatre hasn’t always been accessible to everybody, and so it is our duty and an honour to do what we can to remove the barriers so that those communities can be prioritised.”

Cat Ruka.

To ensure communities gather and engage with the shows at the Basement Theatre has introduced a “Choose What You Pay” ticketing strategy to remove the financial barrier that prevents people from attending shows.

“We know through research that we’ve done, and research that a lot of our funders have done, that ticket prices are a preventative for a lot of people,” she adds.

“It’s a really interesting business model study, this ticketing strategy, because the audience becomes this kind of collective economy where audiences that can afford to spend more are supporting other audience members to be there who can’t afford that much.”

The idea came following the pandemic, alongside the theatres “Hire-For-Nothing” model, which was founded on the idea that venues should support and shoulder the financial risk along with the artists “because if we don’t then all of the financial burden falls on them”.

Ruka adds that in every city, people are the most important asset and in order to recover from events such as the pandemic, floods, cyclones and more, arts and culture is an opportunity to recover mentally and spiritually.

“It’s our arts and culture infrastructure that enables that recovery and helps with that because all of our events provide such a vital reprieve for our people,” she says.

“So, it’s just really important for people to, at this time, participate in the arts.”

Supporting the smaller artists has put Basement Theatre in an important position to serve the arts and culture community.

“As we move into the next year or two, I can see Basement Theatre taking even more of a prominent role in sector advocacy.”

Bernadette is a content writer across SCG Business titles. To get in touch with her, email [email protected]

Review overview