Auckland's amateur theatre scene
New Zealand has a rich history of amateur performance that gathered strength after the gradual collapse of vaudeville entertainment and waning interest in professional theatre companies during the 1920s. With the advent of talkies and the Depression, theatre companies struggled to compete against cinema and radio even after they moved towards showing West-End, Broadway Musicals, whodunits and lighter comedies. Drama enthusiasts turned toward amateur performances to satisfy their taste for the theatre and, for these societies, the twentieth century was one of growth and progress. Between 1930-1960 amateur performances were virtually an unrivalled form of theatre.
During the early period covered by the Musgrove papers there were attempts in New Zealand to form professional theatre companies that could tour nationally, however this was not always a unanimous aspiration among interested parties. An example of this is the attempt by Richard and Sarah Campion with New Zealand Players, which lasted from 1953-1960. Once government funding was made available to dramatic societies in the 1960s through the establishment of the Arts Advisory Council, it was possible for more permanent professional companies to be established including Auckland's Mercury Theatre in 1968 and Downstage in Wellington. This did not detract from the amateur scene so much as legitimise it and further raise the standards of amateur performance.
Lack of competition from professional companies meant that amateur societies in Auckland often produced plays to a high standard and this is reflected in the items displayed here. These items demonstrate attempts to achieve a professional aesthetic in design and performance in spite of the conditions posed by the use of interim theatres and monetary struggles. Items from the Old Vic Theatre Company's 1948 tour of New Zealand demonstrate an aesthetic and performance standard that amateur societies attempted to match.References