For the love of theatre

It is not possible to imagine the development of New Zealand Theatre without considering the impact of The New Zealand Players. Led by Dick and Edith Campion, The Players are renowned as New Zealand’s first professional theatre company. The Players’ influence on New Zealand is profound and celebrated as a key ingredient in the development of our nation.

When The Players wound up, a small trust was formed to manage the remaining financial assets for the benefit of New Zealand. In 2017, these assets were transferred to the Arts Foundation and an advisory committee was established to manage the proceeds from the fund. The advisory committee’s role includes establishing policy for the distribution of funds, selection of projects to support and guidance regarding the ongoing celebration of The New Zealand Players.

Grants from The Players’ fund are small, often no more than $1,000. The fund does not accept applications. Using non-application selection processes such as the appointment of consultants and advisers, the trust makes grants to projects with those recipients having no prior knowledge they are under consideration. Selection policy for grants from  The New Zealand Players’ Trust is available here.

 

Clockwise from left: Jane, Edith, Richard and Anna Campion

The New Zealand Players was a dream that became a reality

1953, Richard and Edith Campion, after three years working at the Old Vic in London, returned to New Zealand fired with enthusiasm to create a new, high quality professional theatre. It was a bold idea.

Richard Campion, in a programme note for their first production ,The Young Elizabeth, states. “We were told of the difficulties – transport, theatres, royalties and so on... but wherever we went we found enthusiasts who demanded good theatre. We had no option but to begin..‘

The new company had three aims: to provide varied and high-class theatre; to encourage the development of playwriting, acting and theatre-going in New Zealand; and to perform from Whangarei to Invercargill.

The social historian Peter Harcourt noted in A Dramatic Appearance, “The New Zealand Players aimed to attract as wide an audience as possible with plays that, while not just commercial  ‘potboilers’, might have popular appeal; to engage with the interests of young people; and to create an opportunity for New Zealanders who wished to make a career in theatre.”

One of their ideals was to establish both a drama school and a small second company which would perform in school rooms or community centres.

Sadly, despite enthusiasm, early successes and general goodwill this bold undertaking soon began to have difficulties. By 1960 the problems had escalated and the theatre was forced to close while performing Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge in Napier. But all was not lost…

In 1956 the Drama Quartet had been formed using mainly young actors. The intention was to tour schools, and take drama to the young. Even after The Players ceased, the Drama Quartet continued to perform with success.

In the 1970s The New Zealand Players Trust Board was established to manage the remaining finances. It was the Trust Board’s responsibility to carry forward the basic vision of The New Zealand Players, which was, and remains, to create drama for all. The Trust Board continues to this day and supports a wide range of theatre-related projects.

Phillip Mann. July 3rd 2017