Making a scene for 60 years
Members of Stagecraft Theatre will be making a bit of a scene this Queen’s Birthday Weekend, when they gather at the Gryphon to celebrate their diamond anniversary.
Stagecraft was founded in 1958 by Keith M. Bennett, who was also heavily involved in the early years of the fledgling New Zealand Ballet and Opera companies in the 1950s.
Its goal was to provide a training ground in all aspects of theatre and over the years members including Terence Journet, Joe Musaphia, Pat Harcourt, and more recently Daniel Watterson, Harriet Prebble and Tabitha Arthur have all gone on to work in professional theatre and film.
“I believe Keith Bennett and his fellow pioneers would be thrilled, and surprised, to know that, 60 years after they set up in Ghuznee Street in a derelict house, Stagecraft would still exist and what’s more perform its shows in a real theatre just down the road!” says Stagecraft President, Sam Perry.
While Stagecraft has had the Grant Tilly-designed Gryphon Theatre as its home for the past 15 years its former venues were far less salubrious.
Early club nights and performances were held in Dorothy Daniel’s Dance Studio in Cuba Street, and the New Zealand Opera company’s premises in Hill Street. The company then moved to a condemned residence in Ghuznee Street in 1959-62, which was later demolished and is now the site for Glover Park.
Another condemned residence was offered by Wellington City Council, 13 Tonks Avenue, and was converted through the efforts of the members into the club’s premises. The theatre lacked running hot water, was kept warm with an open fire and had a resident ghost but became the company’s home for over 30 years until construction on the urban motorway began.
A number of temporary venues including the Poneke Rugby Club Rooms and the St John’s Ambulance building followed until, thanks to the generosity of patrons, the Savage family, a purpose built venue was created for Stagecraft.
Establishment of the Gryphon has come with new responsibilities for the group.
The late Roy Savage, and his wife Renate asked that the venue be made available to other Wellington arts groups. Sam says the Gryphon has proved extremely popular with multiple repeat bookings over the years.
“This year we have many groups booked into the space, including Fringe Festival acts, dance companies, primary schools, pantomime and children’s theatre and other professional and community theatre groups.
With craft breweries and upmarket fashion retailers opening recently on Ghuznee Street, Stagecraft is embracing the increased vibrancy of the area.
“Before we moved to the Gryphon I suspect only serious theatre followers would have known much about us. Since we moved, our audience numbers have blossomed and it is not unusual for most, sometimes all, performances of a show to be sold out,” says Sam
60 years on the group is showing no signs of fading.
“There is still this enormous energy within Stagecraft,” says Sam.
“Running the Gryphon is a huge job and it’s managed entirely through volunteer efforts. On top of that we put on five full-length Stagecraft productions each year, continuing to provide opportunities for Wellingtonians to get involved in an adventurous array of local and international shows. We also offer club activities and training for our members.”
Stagecraft will be celebrating its anniversary with a diamond-themed party and an afternoon tea for members. Sponsors and supporters will be invited to a VIP gala performance of its current production, “Brontë” by Polly Teale, on 31 May.