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Theatre under the stars

Summer Shakespeare in The PumpHouse Amphitheatre

Hidden away behind The French Rendezvous Café at The PumpHouse is The PumpHouse Amphitheatre, a semi-circular outdoor performance space where annually, Milford-based Shoreside Theatre produces Shakespeare in the Park.

The tradition of dedicated outdoor amphitheatres dates back to 5th century BC and Ancient Greece. Some of the surviving amphitheatres from both Ancient Greece and Rome are still in use today and offer outdoor audiences a chance to sit where the ancients sat, enjoying a very similar experience with perfect, mathematically-calculated acoustics designed over two millennia ago.

The Theatre of Dionysus Eleuthereus in Athens is one of the earliest preserved ancient amphitheatres of that time and was the venue for festivals to honour Dionysis, the God of the grape harvest, winemaking and wine, of ritual madness and ecstasy in Greek mythology. From this type of pagan festival and performances of a religious nature evolved the beginnings of Western theatre and the classic themes of comedy and tragedy that have remained staple plot devices in performance art for over 2500 years.

Over the centuries performances outdoors were the norm; covered performance spaces were rare and usually found in grand private residences, palaces or churches. The outdoor theatre experience was for the general public and served to educate and inform static or remote communities in times of mass illiteracy. In medieval times when work and food sources were stable people stayed close to their home town and looked forward to feast days and other types of festivals where travelling minstrels, bards and players would come to fairs in hamlets and villages to perform the latest ballads and morality plays. The stage usually took the form of what was known as a pageant wagon which moved from one location to another. In some larger towns a semi permanent stage structure would be erected for the performers with the audience standing below. Travelling players were usually sponsored by the clergy, nobility or the reigning monarch therefore the storylines of performances were often shaped by whatever message the sponsor wished to convey.

From the biblical ‘mystery’ or ‘miracle’ plays of the 10th -14th centuries grew performing artworks of a secular theme paving the way for Renaissance playwrights such as Christopher Marlowe and William Shakespeare to tell dramatic stories inspired by real life and well-known historic events, some of which occurred within the living memory of the audience.

The most famous amphitheatre of Shakespeare’s day is arguably The Globe Theatre at Southwark in London. It was built in 1599 by The Lord Chamberlain’s Men, the company of players for whom Shakespeare wrote.

In 1613 the Globe caught fire during a performance of Henry VIII set off by a misfired theatrical cannon. Luckily the only injury was man whose pants caught fire; said fire was swiftly put out with a bottle of ale but sadly the theatre burned to the ground. It was rebuilt the following year but closed down by the fun police, The Puritans, in 1642. Within a couple of years it had been demolished under dubious, possibly illegal circumstances. In 1997 The Globe was rebuilt to the specifications of the original 16th century theatre and is a key outdoor performance space in Europe.

Hamlet was staged in the first decade of the 17th century at the original Globe Theatre but there is no surviving record of The Merchant of Venice ever being performed there although a performance was held at the court of King James in 1605.

In January and February 2013, Shoreside Theatre brings both Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice to The PumpHouse Amphitheatre, a smaller and more humble outdoor theatre standing on the shoulders of those giants of western theatre tradition, the Ancient Greeks and Romans and of course William Shakespeare. We can’t guarantee Dionysian ritual madness and ecstasy or flambeed buttocks but the bar will be well-stocked with wine and ale!

He’s baaaack.........

The Santa Claus Show returns to The PumpHouse in December. Tim Bray’s original play tells the story of Kelly and Alana, two little girls, best friends who decide to write to Santa Claus. But Kelly sends the longest list of things that a child wants for Christmas that Santa has ever seen.

Santa flies Kelly to the North Pole where she learns for herself the true meaning of Christmas. It seems the idea of Santa and presents never loses its magic for children of all ages and children are encouraged to dress up in a Christmas theme when they come to the show.

Dark Mondays - the last play reading for 2012

The new script ‘Auckland Shakes’ by Sam Brooks will be read on December 10th and will also be the last Dark Mondays event of the year. Play readings are held in The PumpHouse Coal Bunker Studio. In this intimate atmosphere the audience is encouraged to be involved with origination of new theatre works by giving feedback to actors, directors and writers after the reading.

What's on @The Pumphouse

December 3rd to 21st
Theatre for children in the December school holidays
Tim Bray Productions Presents
The Santa Claus Show 2012
By Tim Bray
Two shows per day 1.30am and 1pm
No shows Sundays
All tickets $22
Family rate 4+ $19.50
Group rate 10+ $18.50

Monday December 10 @ 6pm
Dark Mondays play reading in The PumpHouse Coal Bunker Studio
Auckland Shakes
by Sam Brooks
Bar opens 6pm. Reading starts at 7pm
Entry by Koha
All Welcome

January 19 – February 16 2013
Shoreside Theatre Presents Shakespeare in the Park
Hamlet and The Merchant of Venice
Performed true to text and era on alternating nights outdoors in The PumpHouse Amphitheatre
All sessions at 8pm
Adult $25
Senior/Student $20
Child $16
Groups 7+ $19
Groups 20+ $16


by Channel Editorial