Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 33, No. 1 18 February 1970
Drama Society Politics
Drama Society Politics
Christmas Revue was one of the best student productions we have seen at this University in a number of years. Even more startling than the outstanding quality of the production, however, was the fact that the show even appeared at all. When we heard, a week before the first performance that relations between the Producer of Revue, Dave Smith, and the President and Committee members of the Drama Society were such that the Committee had not even made booking arrangements for the show, we asked Bill Evans, a member of the cast of Revue and a former Drama Club Committee member, to comment:
That Dave Smith, who produced the Drama Society's successful Christmas Revue last year, should have been interested in calling a Special General Meeting of the Society in an attempt to unseat the Executive Committee would be an unusual occurrence, one might think. It may not seem so extraordinary when one is familiar with the Committee.
When the Drama Society was the Drama Club, I was a Committee member for about four or five weeks. That Committee was elected to office during rehearsals for All's Well That Ends Well, the first major production last year. After the show finished, Dick Johnstone, the play's producer, told the Committee that he was dissatisfied with the kind of help it had given and that he wanted to discuss these feelings in public before a meeting of members. I was keen and pushed this idea, because his criticisms were largely just and should have been heard. There was an informal meeting at the old Downstage, and following this an SGM was called, during which a new Committee came into office and the Drama Club became the Drama Society.
Useful criticisms were made to start with and, as some old committee members were reluctant to admit them, the proponents of reform became more determined and less reasonable. Sides seemed to be drawn up, the old Committee was asked to resign (or perhaps directed, I forget now), and new elections were held. The more 'progressive' members of the meeting became the leaders, as the majority there wished. Greater activity and more efficiency were expected to result from a new system of portfolio memberships of the Committee. A member of the University staff was to be invited to join the committee, play-readings and poetry-readings were to be held, the Theatre used more often and Committee members were to be committed and responsible.
I was glad to get off the Committee, as I'd found it too time-consuming, but I didn't agree with everything the new Committee proposed but still, it was only fair to let them prove themselves. After all, by their fruits etc.
Now, it is true that few on the Committee had had previous experience, and true that the last two terms are not fruitful times for student activity, and it does indeed take a while for any group to find their feet; but this Committee had so much enthusiasm going for it and so much confidence in itself (they had declared their intention of devoting all the time necessary to accomplish things properly) that it was not unfair to expect some activity to justify this, even if on a modest scale to start with.
To my mind, the Committee has failed to justify its existence. The first play they decided to present was After The Rain. I really don't know how most aspects of the production went. The publicity for the play, however, was so bad that even the Evening Post reviewer commented on it. (He said something to the effect that the play was good enough for there not to have been an air of secrecy about the proceedings.) It's obvious that publicity is important, particularly in the case of a new play from a new author. I understand that Alick Shaw was the Committee member who should have managed the publicity, and I think his failure was largely responsible for the humiliatingly small audiences the show received—there were thirty-five people in the audience on opening night.
Elric Hooper, a New Zealander who is now a successful actor overseas, was back in New Zealand in the latter part of the year. He was invited to Victoria by the Drama Society (which was prompted by the English Department to invite him), and while here he gave lectures on World Theatre and classes in acting. You probably didn't hear about the acting classes, no matter how interested you might have been. Tim Groser, the Committee member responsible for the Members' Newsletter, wasn't able to send one out in time as he was busy working on a play for Downstage A note was sent round to Stage 1 and 2 English classes, however, and people who could attend the course put up their hands Fewer actually came to the course than those who had earlier indicated they would attend and, of those who did attend, some dropped out during it. Mr Hooper's work was of a high standard, end he deserved better treatment than this.
The Committee seems naturally to measure success in terms of money. The first Newsletter they issued was crammed with information on their losses and profits. Yet I think that the fact that they paid out $160 (after a threat of court action) merely to duplicate scripts for their production After the Rain shows that this concern with money was less the sign of an assured handling of accounts, than of an effort to seem assured.
Now I don't, and never did, think that the Drama Club Committee I was on was perfect. I do think that it was better than the present one, and would have handled the year better in every way. It was planning, and had actually held, activities for the whole membership such as discussion evenings, classes and play readings. As far as I am aware, the present Committee has never had a discussion evening, and has mounted only one play reading, involving three members of the committee. Some members of the Committee have been absorbed in activity at Downstage. Six productions there at least have been graced by the presence of committee members like Tim Groser, Felicity Day, Alick Shaw and John Banas and Society President Paul Holmes.
When Dick Johnstone worked with the Club he was discontented with the old Committee. As I understand it he often found it disorganised, inefficient, even irresponsible. When Dave Smith produced Christmas Revue at the end of last year, he found the new Committee to be disorganized, inefficient and irresponsible—and apathetic and hostile as well.
There were many irritating little things—such as the Committee's failure to arrange bookings with the DIC, leaving the Producer to find a band, and lousing up the bookings in Nelson, where the show went on tour after the Wellington performances. But before the show, Society President Paul Holmes told Dave Smith that he believed Dave was only connected with Christmas Revue "for what he could get out of it", and that he (Holmes) didn't give a damn if the show never opened. Aside from the offensiveness of Holmes' attitude, this is a ridiculously irresponsible attitude toward a show with a budget of $500-600.
The Drama Society Committee need not have made such a mess of everything. If they had co-opted a member of the University staff onto the Committee (which is what they agreed to at the SGM. and what the members directed them to do) their enthusiasm could have been channelled more constructively, they may not have been so over-confident, even arrogant. In a year when Victoria is to be the host University for Arts Festival, and considering the importance of drama at Arts Festival, the Drama Society and the student body as a whole should not wish to see an incompetent committee remain in office. Let me make it clear that I think well of most of the Committee members, some of whom have valuable contributions to make. Under a strong President and working with a University Staff member (if one can be found who is willing to do the job) the Drama Society could have a highly successful year.