31 May 2010

Theatresports – a view from inside the creative chaos!

By: The Improvisors

We’re now six weeks into what is shaping up to be a classic season of Theatresports in Circa Two. Wellington’s finest Improvisors are duking it out for the Wellington Heavyweight Improv Belt – it’s just like pro wrestling, but with less likelihood of bruising, marginally less grunting, and a great deal more hyperbole. Also, Theatresports is funnier than pro wrestling, even though nobody is wearing spandex.

As it stands, Ian Harcourt, Kenny King and Anna Kennedy are in pole position on the league table, testament to their consistent hilariousness and superior improv chops. They’re strong contenders to enter the Final, where the season’s top performers have the chance to claim the Belt for their own.

Theatresports 2010

Nevertheless, the season has been characterised by a punishing return to physical comedy. Specialists like Pete Doile, who, with Buster Keaton-like acuity, is able to turn his lithe-yet-hulking body into a stick insect or a meerkat with equal facility have excelled; the gauntlet has been thrown down to players to get out there and look silly on the stage.

Also making his mark on the season is rising Improvisors star, Ralph Howell. His style takes something from Improvisors veterans like Nic Gorman and Tim Jones, and adds a refreshing spritzer. Also, because he is younger, he is better to look at.

Of note have been guest appearances by Improvisors alumni such as comedian Steve Wrigley, and WIT’s Simon Smith.

If you’ve haven’t come down yet, don’t miss out on one of Wellington’s funniest nights out. If you’ve already been, drop by again – because the show is entirely improvised, it’s never the same twice!

The 2010 season of Theatresports is on Sundays at 7:30 pm in Circa Two until 27 June.

24 May 2010

Need to Know Nero

Actor/singer Jason Chasland, currently starring as the infamous Roman Emperor Nero in The Nero Show, talks to drama on the waterfront about his experiences in the latest Paul Jenden/Gareth Farr creation and the ‘freaky talented’ cast he gets to work with. The Nero Show is on at Circa until 19 June.

Q. What can you tell us about your character in The Nero Show?

A. Without giving away too much, he is a rare and wonderful "piece of work" He is charming, self-indulgent, popular and cunning...

Jason Chasland as Nero.

Q. How do you think the world of Nero in Rome 54 AD compares to that of JFK in 1963 Washington, D.C.?

A. The parallels are freaky, I think even now it's all very relevant and shows the world of politics is not that much different: lies, affairs, mistresses, scandal and smiles for the audience (I mean public, ha ha).

Q. This is your first time in a Jenden/Farr musical – what can you tell us about the experience so far?

A. It has been full on from day one! The material we were given is so creatively exciting and challenging! Along with the supportive creative team and cast, it is a challenge we all were willing to step up and take on; in short, I am absolutely humbled to be a part of a rare and wonderful original piece of theatre.

Q. What has been your favourite part of the experience? The most stand out moment, either during the rehearsal period or since opening?

A. That is a tough one, the cast are so hilarious both on and off stage we constantly laugh till we cry. It's insane, they have all been so generous, supportive and insanely talented, so for me that has been the best. Also, I have to say performing my last solo [at the end of the show] is the most incredible gift. The combination of Paul's haunting lyrics and Gareth’s dark and beautiful music, gets me every night!

Q. What can you tell us about the rest of the cast?

A. They are a bunch of freaky talented people, whom I cannot wait to come to work every day to see. We usually all come super early and have copious amounts of tea, coffee and laughs before the show. It's also surreal to be working with actors who have been my role models in N.Z. theatre, television and film.

The cast of The Nero Show: (left to right) Louis Solino, Lyndee-Jane Rutherford, Joanne Hodgson, Jason Chasland, Paul Harrop, Christina Cusiel

Q. What do you think potential audience members should know about The Nero Show?

A. It’s an epic ride of hilarity, genius, music and jokes one after the other, but most of all it’s insane fun! If you don't laugh out loud once you should see a doctor immediately. The costumes, set, cast, music and lyrics are all amongst the best in the business ...so what are you waiting for, book now! ha ha

Q. What will you be working on next?

A. I will be going for a break and then doing some solo concerts in Australia and the South Island. After that, I am waiting to confirm a few contracts, so fingers crossed! I hope to be back at Circa some time very soon, the staff have been warm, welcoming and so supportive.

17 May 2010

Wharfside Restaurant

Wharfside and Circa offer an exciting taste of what Wellington’s food and theatre scene can offer under one roof. Wharfside Restaurant, previously known as Circa Bistro & Bar, has provided a restaurant service at Circa Theatre for over 15 years. Set in the conservatory-like area of Circa Theatre overlooking the waterfront, Wharfside Restaurant has picturesque views of the harbour.


Dee Ryan and Martin Halliday

Q. What is your background?

A. I have been in the industry for almost 25 years now. I received the base of my experience at high quality establishments such as the Park Royal, and management of operations such as Arena Night Club. I have worked in many areas of hospitality including setting up of restaurants and bars for enterprises such as Hatters “the Diner”, and Arizona Bar. I have also owned my own hospitality based business, “The Function Co-ordinators” which supplied front-of-house operations and hireage equipment for events, corporate functions and weddings.

Q. Tell us about your involvement with Circa Theatre.

A. I have been with Circa since 1995, just after they moved to Taranaki Street, when I made the decision to set up a restaurant for their theatre patrons. I started with a very basic bistro style operation and have built it up over the years to be, I believe, a fine quality restaurant. I have had the added complication of having to run the restaurant in a way that not only provides a great dining experience but also takes into account the fact that a good percentage of our clientele are attending the theatre and therefore I needed to find the balance between the patrons feeling like they have had a relaxed and enjoyable dining experience and the efficiency needed to get them to the show on time.

Q. What are some of your most poignant memories from your time at Wharfside Restaurant?

A. I have had a lot of fun over the years, with some great after parties for the Chapman Tripp Awards. I’ve worked with some great people and it has been wonderful to watch them mature and move into other careers, a lot of them related to theatre. I’ve also enjoyed the relationship built with many of our regular clients and corporate sponsors over the years and the many varied and interesting functions we have had. My time as Father Christmas at a recent function was rather amusing.

Father Christmas at Circa

Q. Do you have a favourite Circa show?

A. I’ve enjoyed all the shows I’ve seen at Circa. I’m not really a thespian, but I find all the productions top notch and very professional. Some that have stood out for me are Grant Tilly’s one man show, C’mon Black, the Beat Girls stage show and Paul Jenden’s Fairy Stories. I have had a great time taking the kids to the Christmas Pantos, which are always vibrant and an interactive experience for the kids.

Q. What is your background?

A. I have only been involved in the hospitality industry for the last three years. Before that I worked for approximately 15 years for a Lower Hutt Law firm after which the opportunity arose for me to change my career path and I took a position as a Diversional Therapist in a local elderly care centre. This work was exceptionally rewarding but due to the fact that I relocated, I could not continue in this position because of the required travel. Martin needed someone to help manage the administration side of the restaurant and so I decided to get involved in the business at that stage.

Q. What is your role at Wharfside?

A. As I said, I became involved in what was then Circa Bistro and Bar about 3 years ago now. I was largely involved in the rebranding of Circa Bistro & Bar to Wharfside Restaurant including new brand logo, menus, signage, advertising and marketing. I am also involved in the day-to-day administration of the business. You may catch me helping out at the odd corporate function but most of my work is behind the scenes.

Q. What are some of your most poignant memories from your time at Wharfside Restaurant?

A. A great memory for me is when I dressed up as Snow White for a kids Christmas function for the pantomime. You can’t beat the feeling that the innocence and adoration of children gives you. They really believed I was Snow White and you could see their faces light up when they saw me and asked if they could have a photo or a hug.

Snow White and Cinderella at Circa

We ran the Breeze Radio Station Chardonnay Club at Wharfside for about 18 months which was a lot of fun for me and my friends. I was a member of the Chardonnay Club before it moved to Wharfside and felt extremely proud hearing the great comments from my friends and other Breeze members who really enjoyed the experience of having their club held at Wharfside.

Q. Do you have a favourite Circa Show?

A. Some of the shows I have seen at Circa have been exceptional and all are very professionally done. I especially enjoyed The 39 Steps, which was an amazingly funny and high energy production. It is a hard task to make an audience laugh nowadays but this show certainly had everyone in stitches. Another show I really enjoyed, was Who Wants to be 100? This really struck a chord for me after having worked in the elderly care sector. The actors were absolutely brilliant and performed flawlessly, the behaviours and mannerisms of elderly rest home patients.


Circa and Wharfside have been involved in planning and managing a variety of gatherings, including: Hairy MacLary book launch, corporate seminars and cocktail evenings, Breeze Chardonnay Club, Youth Group Evenings, and a kids-themed Christmas party with Cinderella and Snow White.

Corporate Event

Chardonnay Club


In a future blog, our chef will reveal one of his favourite recipes so you can have a go at preparing it home.


Wharfside offers a relaxed environment with first rate dining, excellent service and have an exclusively NZ wine list. We invite you to check out the Circa website under “Restaurant” to view all aspects of our operation including our menu, packages, corporate entertainment, tips, information on our Manager and Chef, and how to go about making a booking. We hope to see you there soon.

Book your next dinner or pre-theatre event at Wharfside Restaurant by calling 801-7996.

10 May 2010

The Nero Show

Deeply immersed in the rehearsal period, the creators of The Nero Show – as well as members of the cast and crew – take some time to share their thoughts on this brand new musical spectacle. The Nero Show opens at Circa on 15 May and runs until 19 June.

PAUL JENDEN, Writer and Director
“Nero is a figure famous for his excess and cruelty, as well as for fiddling while Rome burned. While I was researching ROME I was interested to discover that some of this might not be true. I was particularly struck by the fact that for years people would bring flowers to his tomb and that Nero’s popularity with the general population survived long after his death.

This curious tension between fact and fiction started me thinking about political figures of our own times. Wondering about how Nero would have survived in our modern world led me to other iconic figures, particularly John F. Kennedy.

I am old enough to remember the death of JFK and how the shock was felt even in Wellington. I think Kirkcaldies even put up a memorial window display. And I realised that I was remembering another world, before we all became so used to tabloids, TV and political spin.

In the light of later revelations and discoveries, it is clear that things were not necessarily as innocent as we believed, and that the JFK legacy is as much a mix of myth and fact as Nero’s.

So I decided to set Nero’s story in 1963 and to give the characters some striking similarities to people that we might recognise.

As I was researching Kennedy I discovered that his election coincided with the new use of hand held movie cameras. The historical footage was not unlike modern tabloid TV and led to the idea of the show being based on a live TV broadcast, like Edward R. Murrow’s famous “Person to Person” show, on which the Kennedys actually appeared.

To add a further bit of fictitious spice to the mix, I wondered what might have happened had Nero come face to face with his contemporary, Boudicca, the Celtic warrior queen. And of course, in 1963 she would have been the Queen of England...

This mixture of fact and fiction is the perfect script to send to Gareth Farr to set to music. Having three hit shows under our belts, we decided to set out into new territory and to embrace the world of 1963, but with an equal mix of historical fact and silly invention. So this is 1963 of Jenden and Farr, and anything can happen..."
Jason Chasland as Nero and Christine Cusiel as Agrippina.

"Having developed three musicals together, Paul and I have developed a fairly streamlined process for creating vocal music - and when we embarked on The Nero Show we thought we would try something a little different. Instead of a chronological approach to writing the music - i.e. write each song one by one, in order of their appearance in the show - we decided to look at the whole show at once, and put down a basic rhythmic skeleton of it all in one big workshop session. It was fascinating for me - in the previous three shows, I have tended to experience it as an audience member would - a slowly developing plot as I work my way through the songs. This time I felt as if I could see it from Paul's point of view from the word go - and had an insight into rhythmic ideas that he had built into the lyrics, which I could either use verbatim, or work against to create new rhythms. After this rhythmic stage was completed, the more solitary process of putting melodies and chord structures on top felt somehow more unified and organic, and I feel the result is possibly our most tightly woven work yet."

MICHAEL VINTEN, Musical Director
“Why did I say ‘yes’ to working with this crazy bunch of performers!? Again!? Because I secretly love it, not that I'd tell them that. I also wouldn't tell them it's because I think they're all incredibly talented, funny and just a little bit mad. What a life! We get paid for doing this?”

Lyndee-Jane Rutherford as Poppea.

“The cast amazes me every day with their wit and talents. I believe with this show especially, it takes a lot of research, discipline and intelligence to pull off the particular comedy and dramatic turn of the piece. Paul and the cast have created a wonderfully supportive rehearsal atmosphere, so I think as a cast we all feel safe and excited to try new things, going to extremes in order to create this unique show. There's a fine line between making a fool of yourself and brilliance. Hopefully in the end it's the latter! Ha ha!”

PAUL HARROP, Britannicus
“I am loving working on this production. To work seriously on a musical is a rare opportunity for an actor these days and you couldn't ask for a better or more challenging playground than the one provided by Paul Jenden and Gareth Farr.”

“To be in this Farr/Jenden production is truly amazing; the rehearsals are supportive, challenging and hilarious.

Every day Paul's script and vision is realised as life is breathed into the rehearsal space with props, set pieces and characters showing their faces more and more.

After just 3 weeks we did a run through with Gareth there for the first time. I was so nervous but it was wonderful hearing him laugh, clap and even shed a few tears as he heard for the first time the actual sounds of what he had imagined while composing for our voices.”

Jason Chasland as Nero and Emma Kinane as Boudicca

“I am in my fourth Jenden/Farr musical and they still blow my mind with their genius. Every song is amazing, beautiful, exquisite and then on top of that is the story: funny, moving and sometimes challenging. I feel privileged to be involved again.”

03 May 2010

Q & A with actor Gavin Rutherford, Dead Man’s Cell Phone.

Gavin Rutherford is a familiar face for Circa audiences, having recently played the role of Sir William Davison in Mary Stuart, before taking on his character in Sarah Ruhl’s Dead Man’s Cell Phone (on at Circa until 8 May). While getting ready to head into the last week of the production, Gavin takes some time to tell drama on the waterfront about his experiences as the discomfited Dwight.

DOTW: Tell us a little about Dead Man’s Cell Phone. What was it that drew you to this play?

GR: Sarah Ruhl is a fantastic new writer. It was her humour and strangeness that drew me to her and to this play. She has a wonderful knack for making oddness occur and writing plays that make me laugh and want to talk about things. The characters and the story excited me and fitted right alongside my sense of humour.

DOTW: How would you describe your character, Dwight? Do you relate to him in any way?

GR: Dwight is tight and contained. He is repressed but longing for social and intimate contact. Dwight’s childhood was not fun for him although it provided hours of light entertainment for the wonderful Mrs. Gottlieb. This play is all about people looking for connection and love. Aren’t we all doing a little bit of that?

Mel Dodge as Jean and Gavin Rutherford as Dwight in Dead Man's Cell Phone.

DOTW: Were there any particular challenges with this play?

GR: The amazing input from Ulli Briese, John Hodgkins, Thomas Press and Paul Jenden provided a challenge in production week, as all these fantastic offers had to be brought together in the theatre. Long hours and some frustration but very fulfilling to be able to bring it all together for the Circa audience. It has been a great team for making offers and collaboration which is what we all look for in the process of creating a piece of theatre. I’d like to make a point in mentioning Isaac Heron, our technical operator for his calmness, humour and skills during the production week. He’s pretty cool even though he is from Wainuiomata.

DOTW: In the first issue of drama on the waterfront, Susan Wilson talked about how one of the best things about working on this production is the fact that everyone involved loves the play so much. Do you agree? How does that affect the creative process?

GR: The team has been a treat to work with. I have worked with everyone before so it has been great to work with old friends. We have had many laughs in the rehearsal room and that is always good when you are working on a comedy. It makes everything easier if everyone feels free to share ideas, have a laugh and the occasional wine after a Friday rehearsal.

DOTW: One of the things that is instantly recognizable about this production of Dead Man’s Cell Phone is that it is so well cast – tell us your thoughts about your co-stars and their characters.

GR: I think the casting is excellent and as someone once said, 90% of direction is in the casting. I’d like to thank Susan Wilson for giving me an opportunity to be a part of this production. I’m sure no one will admit it, but there are a lot of similarities between ourselves and the characters in which we have been cast!

DOTW: Finally, it is such a funny play – I can imagine it’s been a very fun production in which to be involved. What has been one of the most hilarious things to happen during the production, either in rehearsal or since it’s opened?

GR: One that springs to mind, in what has been a very fun production, is a night in our second week during which we had a very responsive audience. In particular, a gentleman who decided he would like to sing along with the second half reprise of ‘Never Walk Alone’. He serenaded Mrs. Gottlieb up the pipeline (yes that is what I said), and continued on as Jean and Dwight declared their love in the epilogue. Very amusing for us but I was unsure whether the audience thought it was part of the show or not? Nothing would have surprised them by that stage. Such is the nature of Sarah Ruhl’s play!