20 October 2014

The Pitmen Painters: rave reviews, rare chances and radical royalties!

The amazing, true story of The Pitmen Painters is receiving rave reviews ...

“Excellent production of a great play …. A most satisfying evening of theatre” – DomPost

“The Pitmen Painters is serious and funny, insightful and entertaining. A wonderful real life journey which we can all relate to and learn from in our own pursuit of expression … enthralling” – Wotzon.com

The Pitmen Painters at Circa Theatre. Photos by Stephen A'Court.
But it was only a mere chance that led award-winning playwright, Lee Hall, best known for the smash hit Billy Elliot, to discover the story in a second-hand bookstore.

Watch Lee Hall discuss how he came to write the play in this video that was made when The Pitmen Painters was playing in New York. (the interview starts 58 sec in)

The remarkable success of The Pitmen Painters around the world has not only renewed interest in this group of ordinary men who achieved extraordinary things, but the royalties from the use of images of the paintings on stage has enabled the Woodhorn Museum in Ashington, Northumberland, where the original paintings are held, to redevelop the pitmen painters' gallery so that the works can be displayed in all their glory. How fitting!

Don’t miss this marvellous play. It is something special.

The Pitmen Painters at Circa Theatre. Photos by Stephen A'Court.
“A great night’s entertainment”  - DomPost

“This is a production one could see again and again.” – Wanganui Midweek

To book, visit www.circa.co.nz or call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992.

13 October 2014

Isaac's Eye: It's intense, it's beautiful, it's weird and it is funny.

This week on drama on the waterfront, Isaac's Eye actor (he plays Isaac Newton!) and Circa newcomer Andrew Paterson tells us all about his experiences so far working at Circa in this exciting new Lucas Hnath play.

Isaac's Eye cast: (background, left to right) Alex Greig, Todd Rippon, Neenah Dekkers-Reihana, (foreground) Andrew Paterson. Photo by Paul McLaughlin.
Yay, my first job at Circa and my god is it exciting.

I first watched a Circa show when I came down to Wellington for the Sheilah Winn Shakespeare Competition finals when I was 17. My teacher took us all out to Circa one night, the show that was on was Uncle Vanya. I knew nothing about Chekhov, it sounded a bit boring to my 17-year-old self.

But after watching it I was a Chekov convert. It was all that my theatre geek classmates and me would talk about for the rest of the trip. The beautiful story, the impressive staging (swing included) and the exciting acting.

Now seven years later I am so eager to be playing on the same stage. And I love that my first show at this long-standing theatre is such an exciting piece as Isaac’s Eye. And on top of that I get to play the great man himself, Isaac Newton.

Andrew Paterson. Photo by Paul McLaughlin.
Through doing research for the show I have found some fun facts about the great Isaac Newton:

1) The apple falling on his head didn’t actually happen. Apparently he was just looking out a window and happened to see an apple fall off a tree, which started him thinking about gravity.

2) He wasn’t expected to survive as a baby. He was born prematurely on Christmas day, and was so small his mother said that he could fit into a quart mug.

3) He tried his hand at alchemy, trying to turn lead into gold and maybe find the elixir of life.

4) He predicted the end of the world would be 2060. He predicted this through his own interpretation of the bible. "This I mention not to assert when the time of the end shall but to put a stop to the rash conjectures of fanciful men who are frequently predicting the time of the end, and by doing so bring the sacred prophesies into discredit as often as their predictions fail."

5) He was a member of parliament but only spoke once to tell someone to close a window.

6) Apparently his dog once set his laboratory on fire destroying 20 years of research.

This has been a wonderful experience working on this piece, and with such lovely and talented group of people. I can't wait for opening night, and the chance to share this awesome story with the Circa audience. It's intense, it's beautiful, it's weird and it is funny.

Come along!

Isaac's Eye opens in Circa Two on 18 October with a $25 Preview on Friday, 17 October and a $25 Matinee on Sunday, 19 October. To book, visit www.circa.co.nz or call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992.

06 October 2014

Improv for Kids: Introducing Your Child to the Arts

This week on drama on the waterfront, find out about the benefits of introducing children to theatre from a young age (and then bring them along to Improv for Kids so they can enjoy those benefits!).

Dramatic Play for Children

Children of all ages love to pretend. As toddlers, they mimic things they see in everyday life. In preschool, they recreate familiar roles and events. By elementary school age, they act out stories, creating original plots, adapting fairy tales or children’s books. As children leave early childhood, they enter a new stage of drama that is a more formal type of play-acting—going on stage to present prepared scripts.

For young children, the theatre arts are best thought of as informal endeavors that extend the natural habits of play and learning. In prekindergarten and elementary classes, children learn the basics of structuring their “pretending” for presentation to an audience. More advanced skills—acting, directing, scene and costume design, playwriting, and stage management—come after elementary school.

In addition to creating theatre in its many forms, children benefit from seeing it. Theatre for young audiences, also known as children’s theatre, is dramatic theatre performed by professionals specifically for an audience of children.

As young children take part in drama, they gain many benefits:
  • Knowledge of and skill in theater arts.
  • Improved literacy skills—reading, writing, and speaking.
  • Development of imagination and aesthetic awareness.
  • Independent and critical thinking and increased ability to solve problems.
  • Social growth and the ability to work with others.
  • A healthy release of emotion.
  • Fun and recreation.
Educational theatre offers parents benefits as well:
  • Time spent with their child in creative moments.
  • Insights into the observations, impressions, interests, fears, and humor that their child reveals.
  • Opportunities to witness their child’s developmental growth.
  • The chance to help their child understand some of life’s dilemmas.

CREDIT: National Endowment for the Arts and http://www.education.com/


For the last school holidays of the year come along to Circa for a show that lets kids get involved in live theatre in a way that only an Improvisor show can. Their suggestions, sound effects, even props and costumes = their show!

Every show is unique – crafted for children who are there, so whether your child is in to fairy pirates or break dancing unicorns; we can make it happen.

This is a show where you can have a giggle alongside your kids, with loads of opportunities to shout out, dance, wriggle and move and be part of the action this is pure, school holiday fun.

AGES: perfect for 4 – 12 years old  / RUNNING TIME: 45 - 55 mins

“Genuine Family Entertainment” - Capital Times

29 Sept – 11 Oct, 11AM
Circa Theatre
BOOKINGS: 04 801 7992 / www.circa.co.nz
TICKETS: $10 (each) / Groups 20+ $8 (each)

29 September 2014

The Pitmen Painters: A Class of Their Own

 From a WEA class to a major influence on the art world - the story of the incredible Ashington Group of Pitmen Painters is in a class of its own.

Something very unusual happened in the Northumberland colliery village of Ashington, when, in 1943, a newly erected hut was proudly emblazoned with the name Ashington Art Group. The group's first hut had been rented, but this one was paid for with the money its members had earned from selling their paintings.
It wasn't what you might think: the group weren't painting pictures to make money. There were strict rules. Members rarely sold a painting for more than £1, and the funds acquired were used to buy painting materials for the club. Nevertheless, nine years after their formation, they had sold so much work that they could afford their own hut.
The efflorescence of art created in Ashington by a group of two dozen men, mainly miners, was unprecedented, and nothing like it has happened anywhere else in the world.
The Ashington Group began life as a WEA class. The Workers’ Educational Association was founded in 1903 to encourage working men to gain education at evening classes, and it organised and paid for their visiting lecturers. In 1934, Ashington had just done Evolution, and decided to give Art a go. The expert the WEA sent them was Robert Lyon, a proficient muralist and portrait painter, Rome scholar and master of painting at Armstrong College in Newcastle. After his second lecture, he realised that black-and-white slides of Renaissance altarpieces meant little to these men. He was stumped.
Rainy Day, Ashington Co-op by Oliver Kilbourn, painted 1951, collection: Woodhorn Museum & Northumberland Archives. Image from: bbc.co.uk
Then it occurred to him that since they were workers, they might begin to appreciate art if they saw how it was made. He brought along some materials to his next class, and encouraged the men to draw and paint what they saw around them. They met every Tuesday night, bringing in what they had done at home, criticising each other's work, painting together, smoking, chatting and drinking mugs of tea, while Lyon told them about art, from cave painting to Picasso.
The intriguing thing was that all this activity continued to be art appreciation: these weren't art classes in the conventional sense. The men weren't being taught how to paint, nor were they trying to become professional painters in order to lift themselves out of the pit. They were miners, and they went on being miners, as Oliver Kilbourn, one of their leading members, reflected: "I wouldn't say I had a driving ambition to get down the pit. I just stayed there 50 years — a working life. After a lot of groaning and grumbling, you took pride in your job, you know. It's very skilful." Art was something these men did as part of their lives, as a way to a richer existence, understanding things more, getting to know each other better. "When you're looking at a man's painting, you have plenty to say to him," was one member's comment. Painting broke the ice.

The atmosphere in the hut must have been a combination of freedom of expression and concentrated attention. "You can make a mess of things and still be accepted as a reasonable person," Harry Wilson acknowledged. "When I paint as we do in our group, I have a feeling of freedom; here, I find an outlet for other things than earning my living; there is a feeling of being my own boss for a change, and with it comes a sense of freedom." Discovering these "other things", in the free space they carved out for themselves from their tough and often dangerous daily routine, they sensed the tenor of their existence. "A funny thing," said Kilbourn. "Once you've painted a picture, you feel it's part of your life, you know." His advice to people who wanted to paint was blindingly straightforward. "Try and paint a picture of your very own, the picture that nobody has painted before, copied off nobody — something you feel strongly about. That's what I'd say: start painting. It's as simple as that."
Dawn, Ashington Colliery, Northumberland by Oliver Kilbourn, painted 1949, collection: woodhorn Museum & Northumberland Archives. Image from: bbc.co.uk
Right from the start, they "tried to spread the paint about and keep clear from the academic rules". Brown, who made some of the group's few sculptures, observed: "A miner who uses his eyes doesn't need any life class or lessons in anatomy to tell him where the stress comes on a man's back and thighs when he's carrying a 4st weight on his shoulder." They painted what they saw and knew: men feeding pigeons, or holding their whippets at the start of a race, women making rugs out of rags — people doing things. Most of all, they painted themselves down the pit: lying on their backs, sideways, working a 2ft seam, sharing a sandwich with a pit pony in a break, coming up exhausted after a shift. A whole way of life now lost breathes again in these paintings.
The Ashington Group's work is quintessentially working-class art, but it has a profound message: it reminds us that the genuine art of our times is not to be found in the establishment art world, in art schools, or modern-art museums, still less in contemporary-art venues. You find art in life and not where you expect it. Even more important, the Ashington Group says: you can make art, too.
The Ashington Group's paintings can be seen at Woodhorn Museum, Queen Elizabeth II Country Park, Ashington, Northumberland

From: A Potted History of the Pitmen, Julian Spalding

The Dominion Post Season of The Pitmen Painters opens in Circa One on 4 October, with a $25 Preview performance on 3 October (the $25 matinee on Sunday, 5 October is sold out!). To book, call the Circa Box Office on 801-7992 or visit www.circa.co.nz.