Resilient contemporary playwrights
Several playwrights still actively producing new work in 2014 began their careers at the beginning of the 1990s:
- Ken Duncum, with Blue sky boys (1990)
- Michelanne Forster, with Daughters of heaven (1991)
- David Geary, with Lovelock’s dream run (1993)
- Vivienne Plumb, with Love knots (1993)
- Duncan Sarkies, with Lovepuke (1993). Sarkies has since moved into stand-up comedy, fiction and film.
Gary Henderson won an award for The big blue planet earth show at the Adelaide Fringe Festival in 1992, and his Skin tight (1994) won a Fringe First at Edinburgh in 1998. Henderson and Duncum, like Simon O’Connor and Stuart Hoar, have taught playwriting in tertiary institutions – drama and theatre as subjects had become widespread in the education system by the end of the 1990s.
Jacob Rajan’s masked play Krishnan’s dairy (1997) won a Fringe First at Edinburgh in 1999. Rajan founded Indian Ink Theatre Company with Justin Lewis and together they have co-authored further masked dramas. The candlestickmaker (2000), The pickle king (2002) and The guru of chai (2010) have been variously performed in Australia, Singapore, the US, Britain and Europe.
Other playwrights producing interesting work in the 2000s included Dave Armstrong, Phillip Braithwaite, Eli Kent, Jamie McCaskill, Arthur Meek, Carl Nixon, Paul Rothwell, Pip Hall, Paolo Rotondo and Rob Mokaraka, Thomas Sainsbury and Kirk Torrance.
Campbell Smith won first prize in a 1986 national playwriting competition for his drama, Take me over the sea. It was inspired by letters from First World War veteran Bert Hart, troubled at the execution by firing squad of a friend charged with desertion. In such circumstances, the death sentence was mandatory, with no appeal on grounds of shell shock or temporary mental illness. Renamed Soldier’s song, Smith’s play was performed in Parliament’s Legislative Chamber in 2000, during the final reading of a bill granting posthumous pardon in such cases.
As well as works by individual playwrights, companies have continued to make collective productions in New Zealand in the 2000s. Tim Spite’s SEEyD Theatre Company was named after its first production, SEEyD (2000), which explored the issue of genetic engineering. Stephen Bain has worked in an auteur director role, notably in his 2008 creation Kafka’s The trial (with script by Dean Parker). The Christchurch Free Theatre, connected to Canterbury University through director Peter Falkenberg, in October 2011 produced Earthquake in Chile, in collaboration with Richard Gough, Director of the Centre for Performance Research in Wales.
Circus and puppetry
A trinity of companies have brought the skills of circus and puppetry to theatrical playmaking. Kate Parker and Julie Nolan’s Red Leap Theatre staged a 2009 production of The arrival (based on Shaun Tan’s graphic novel), which took out six prizes at the 2010 Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards. Beth Kayes’s Co Theatre Physical’s 2009 show Oh baby staged childbirth as circus. Eve Gordon’s The Dust Palace company did the same for sex in Venus is (2011). This wealth of creations and creativity goes to prove that the arts of playwriting and playmaking are alive and flourishing in New Zealand.