Fortune raises the bar

Lara Macgregor
Lara Macgregor
The Fortune Theatre's 2013 programme is an exciting and ambitious line-up, pushing artistic and organisational boundaries, reports Charmian Smith.

A national tour of a world premiere, a New Zealand premiere of a New York musical, a gritty play to challenge the audience, a play with a rotating cast, a joint production with Taki Rua, the national Maori Theatre company, and a children's mime show, as well as a new Roger Hall play and a Christmas farce are in the Fortune Theatre's 2013 line-up.

For her third season, artistic director Lara Macgregor is pushing the company to extend itself artistically and organisationally within the boundaries of its resources, she says.

''We've had a very successful year as far as support from our patrons and our sponsors. They seem excited and confident with our company. We've developed some really good support networks throughout the city, so our job is primarily to contribute to the spiritual wellbeing of the community, and in doing that we have to remain exciting - a dynamic place for people to come, a fun place for people to come.

''In order to do that, we have to retain those kinds of people within our organisation too, so all of us need to keep raising our artistic bar and excite ourselves as artists and push ourselves as artists in order for it to be exciting on stage.''

The season opens with Michael James Manaia, by John Broughton of Dunedin, a joint production with Taki Rua. The play, which burst on to the New Zealand theatre scene about 20 years ago, has had a lot of recognition in festivals in the past couple of years, she says.

''It's the story of Michael James Manaia, who has recently returned from the Vietnam War and is basically at odds with his own culture, his history and his memories. Things have shifted through his experiences during the war. In a nutshell, it's a journey through his childhood, family, love, grief, violence, conflict and passion. It's a dynamic piece of theatre.'' Macgregor says.

To coincide with iD fashion week in March, the Fortune is staging the New Zealand premiere of Love, Loss and What I Wore by the late Nora Ephron and her sister Delia Ephron. It's a long-running off-Broadway production about the memories clothing and accessories trigger throughout women's lives. B

esides Claire Dougan and Rima Te Wiata, who will anchor the three-week season, each week they will be joined by three new cast members drawn from the country's finest actresses, including Dame Kate Harcourt, Jennifer Ward-Leyland and Alison Quigan, with others to be confirmed, Macgregor says.

''I really wanted to keep putting our bar up as far as the quality of our performers. Naturally, they are very busy and can't always come to Dunedin for two months to do a full-blown production, so this is an ideal opportunity to have them grace our stage and give audiences something different each week.''

The play is to be aligned with the Dress for Success global charity, to which business women give their business clothes to assist women to get back into the workforce.

Roger Hall's latest play, You can always hand them back, will be staged in April and May. It's funny, touching and one of his best, according to Macgregor. A play with music, it's about new grandparents Maurice and Cath who are attempting to luxuriate in their newly found retirement but find themselves doing a lot of babysitting, dealing with dirty nappies and suffering from sleep deprivation. Music and lyrics are by Peter Skellern.

Macgregor is excited about the introduction of a new ''True Grit'' series next year. It will be part of the main bill but will be staged in the studio because it will feature a contemporary, edgy work that may be a bit too much as far as subject matter and language go, she says.

''It will be interesting to see how it goes down there - you will be right up next to the action and you won't be able to get away from it even if you want to. It will be gripping.

''I found in my reading for the programme that there were so many really great plays that were about subject matter you just couldn't put on the main stage because it's too challenging for our regular audience, but some of our audience like to be challenged so why not give them a taste.''

Next year's ''True Grit'' play is a ''blistering domestic drama'', Tribes by Nina Raine which premiered at the Royal Court in London in 2010 and received an Olivier award for best new play as well as a couple of awards in New York this year.

''It's about a fiercely intelligent, idiosyncratic academic family who have a deaf son, Billy, and it's the story of how he fits into that family and how he gains attention through this very bombastic-natured family. He has a girlfriend called Sylvia who is going deaf herself, and she becomes a catalyst of sorts for him to communicate with his family,'' she says.

''They are so busy in their own lives, they are such an energetic, in-your-face kind of family and busy making so much of their own noise that this deaf character has difficulty communicating his own needs and they don't even notice. It's not that they don't care - they love him to pieces. It's just he's there and he's Billy and he's doing his thing. It's about a young boy's attempt to connect through a disability to be heard even in his own environment.''

It has roles for four young actors in their late teens or early 20s, which also excites her as there's a plethora of talented actors in this age group in Dunedin who need more opportunity.

Following the success of Avenue Q last year, the Fortune is staging another musical, the New Zealand premiere of Altar Boyz, an award-winning show which has been running off-Broadway for several years.

''This is going to be so much fun. It's about a group of five small-town boys who try to save the world one screaming fan at a time. They are a struggling Christian boy band, so it's a tongue-in-cheek look at religion as well, without being too offensive,'' she says.

''There's loads of music, lots of dance, five very good-looking men - the characters are Matthew, Mark, Luke, Juan and Abraham. They are on the last night of their `Raise the Praise' US tour and they are determined to get to the Big Apple.''

A national tour is a new venture for the Fortune, but Macgregor wants to raise its profile in the New Zealand arts sector, so has chosen its world premiere production of Gifted, based on the novel by Patrick Evans. The play is set in 1955 in Frank Sargeson's garden when Janet Frame comes to stay and changes his world and that of his partner Harry Doyle.

It will open in the Christchurch arts festival and then tour to the Taranaki, Tauranga and Nelson festivals before opening at the Fortune on September 14. After the Dunedin season, it will tour Otago and Southland. Circa Theatre in Wellington is keen to have it to open its 2014 season, she says.

The tour will extend the company, as some of its staff will travel with the show leaving the rest to manage the musical and the Christmas show on either side.

The Christmas show is a 1960s farce, Boeing Boeing that won a Tony award four years ago for its Broadway revival.

''It's silly Christmas fun about an American architect living in Paris who juggles three fiancees, all airline hostesses but from different countries. His best friend comes to visit and everything falls apart,'' she says.

Besides the seven major productions, Dan Bain, who staged A Paintbox of Clowns last year, brings the children's show Why are my parents so boring? during the July school holidays. There is no dialogue, but physical comedy unfolds in the style of a silent movie about a girl who can't get her parents to play with her in the holidays so she runs away.

And there will be a fortnightly late-night comedy show by Improsaurs and two late-night Fringe Festival shows in March, the young playwrights' initiative in December and a visiting show, Bombshells by Joanna Murray-Smith, in November.

''We really want this company to be the best in the country. We want people to come to Dunedin because there's good theatre, great theatre here. We want it to be on their radar as part of the tourist attraction in and around serving the immediate community,'' Macgregor says.

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