In a time of crisis when the COVID-19 pandemic forced New Zealand into lockdown, Centrepoint Theatre refused to let closing their doors stop them from keeping the entertainment flowing. With creativity at their disposal, they reshaped their work to it bring to people’s homes.
Hear from talented creative and Centrepoint Theatre Associate Director, Lizzie Tollemache as she shares how the Theatre didn’t let COVID-19 stop them from doing what they do best.
It’s an unusual and challenging time, how are you coping? What are your tips for getting through lockdown?
I’ve really missed the physical energy of other people, but the initiatives we’ve been running during lockdown really helped keep my creative juices flowing and gave me purpose.
Now we are in Alert Level 3 I think it’s important we keep sight of the long-term goal for a safe Aotearoa, keep practicing physical distancing and be kind to ourselves.
What have you been watching, reading or listening to during lockdown?
I’ve been watching a lot of theatre (Centrepoint’s 24 hour challenge and National Theatre online), reading a lot of epic novels like Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie and listening to whatever makes me happy (so basically 90s hip hop and Groove Armada).
From your perspective, what has COVID-19 meant for the creative industries?
It’s impossible to know long-term, while everything’s been hit by the pause button, but a lot of artists and creative companies are in a financially terrifying position now.
You’ve responded with resilience and innovation to a rapidly changing situation, what spurs you on? Drives you?
Getting art made, artists paid, and entertainment slayed.
What advice would you give to any new graduate or actor beginning their career right now in such a unique environment?
It’s a scary time. Do what you can with the time that you have. Write. Plan. Be ok with the fact that you might need to work at something else, something non-artistic for a bit.
What are the two things we can all do to keep the arts sector alive and strong, or positioned to bounce back quickly?
Acknowledge and celebrate the art around you- be it a painting in your house, a stand-up comedy special on Netflix, music on RNZ or part of the amazing releases from The Stomach, reading a poem out loud, and watching everything that Centrepoint releases!
Tell us about Centrepoint’s latest projects and offerings for audiences to engage with.
Centrepoint’s 24 Hour Challenge
Our monologue challenge has recently been completed, which saw income provided to 20 creatives (10 actors and 10 writers at the top of their game, who are known to Centrepoint audiences). We’re really proud of that initiative, which was not just successful for audience members, but also for our education department. High school drama classes from all around the country are now using the project (and the additional schools resources we created) as a launchpad for their own monologue projects, after previously scheduled assessments, group work and productions were all cancelled due to COVID-19. The project was a full staff undertaking with casting, stage management, video editing, marketing, box office and distribution undertaken entirely in-house by the Centrepoint team and supported by the Palmerston North City Council and Legacy Performing Arts Trust Palmerston North.
Centrepoint Playwrighting Intensive
The four-week Intensive was completed on Thursday 30th April, with original one act plays created by 19 emerging New Zealand playwrights. 27 writers applied from all over the country for the opportunity to be a part of the initiative, which was fully funded by Centrepoint at no cost to the playwrights themselves. They met twice a week for two hour Zoom sessions, as well as receiving an hour of one on one feedback each week from their personal tutor. Ryan Knighton (MA in Scriptwriting) is the lead tutor, along with myself and NZ playwright, Ralph McCubbin-Howell (Trick of the Light Theatre), have been supporting the project as personal tutors. When Centrepoint’s doors re-open, these plays will all be staged in a season of rehearsed readings. The Intensive has received excellent industry response from the playwrights themselves, Playmarket and theatres across the country.
Centrepoint Youth (The Basement Company)
We are currently working on a piece of digital theatre with our company of 15 local young people, who were supposed to be in rehearsals for a production of Cloudstreet right now but are instead now devising a show from 15 homes across the Manawatu. I’m directing them via Zoom sessions to create this new work featuring lockdown diaries, apocalypse fashion montages, stage combat coached by guest tutor Mike Edward (Club Cabaret, Pop Up Globe, and Spartacus), juggling and manipulation coached by guest tutor, David Ladderman (Rollicking Entertainment Ltd) and genuine responses to an extraordinary time in history, through the eyes of young artists. This has been released online in a free to view digital premiere.
How can people keep up to date with what’s happening at Centrepoint?
Before arriving at Centrepoint as the new Associate Director, Lizzie was a sideshow stuntwoman, theatre maker, and the Creative Director of Rollicking Entertainment Ltd. With a background in theatre, she also spent six years improvising with New Zealand’s longest running comedy show, Scared Scriptless. In 2014 she formed Rollicking Entertainment Ltd to make carnie-infused theatre which tells New Zealand stories. Lizzie has created, co-written and toured nine original shows with the company to date, touring to dozens of festivals and theatres all across Aotearoa and also overseas. She plays well with others, despite what her primary school report card might have said, and delights in collaborating with other companies- directing and devising new work that is fast-paced, funny, physical and touching (sometimes literally). Lizzie is also a director and motivational speaker for UniSmart at universities across NZ, Australia, the UK and Spain.