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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Culture and Society

It is here, in the living theatre, that one sees the biggest deadlock. Drama in New Zealand is a puzzle. The country is said to possess more amateur societies for its population than any other in the world. There are drama competitions and drama festivals but, above the level of light musicals and out-of-date farces, New Zealand is unable to support a full-scale professional theatre of any scope or stability. It is true that broadcasting and television offer a limited field to a handful of extremely able directors and a number of part-time players. It is also true that there are State bursaries that give a year or two years' training at British drama schools. If these bursars display real talent, what are their prospects if they decide to return to New Zealand? To what? There are in England at the present time several young players from this country, all of whom are in constant work in the most competitive and uncertain field that exists. The prospect of any one of them returning, as things stand at the moment, is dim indeed. Are New Zealanders, then, as a community more musically than theatrically inclined? If so, why all the amateur activity? Is there any chance of a State-subsidised theatre on the same scale as the National Orchestra? Can the costs of touring a company, staggeringly high as they undoubtedly are, be more formidable than the costs of moving a symphony orchestra, a ballet, or a grand opera about the country? Whatever the answer, the fact remains that, of all expatriates, the actor, as things stand, is the least likely to return.

Writers are in a different class. A writer is the most solitary of craftsman and the most self-contained. Whether, like James Courage, he works and publishes in England, or whether, like the best of our poets, he stays in New Zealand, his books appear and are read in both countries by people whom they are likely to please. Janet Frame lives in England and writes about New Zealand. If, like Allen Curnow and Kenneth Melvin, for instance, the author is also a lecturer in a university, or if in any other way he enriches what Americans call the “cultural stream”, then, of course, his absence would be a direct loss.

Finally, the painters, draughtsmen, and sculptors. They, perhaps more than any of the other groups discussed, do tend to remain in New Zealand. They, too, are given certain travelling grants. Those of them who win these awards seem, nowadays, to be drawn back to their country. Perhaps the most notable exception is Douglas McDiarmid who, after a brief return, has settled in Paris where his paintings have become widely known. There is no doubt that progressive bodies, such as the Auckland Gallery, have had a considerable influence in retaining many of our contemporary artists.