Smackbang is the hottest young thing in Auckland theatre right now. It’s a new theatre collective that aims to keep actors acting, directors directing and writers writing – with an emphasis on growing the local theatre scene. RENEE LIANG interviewed Smackbang’s Charlie Unwin.

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RL: How did the idea for Smackbang start?

CU: SmackBang had been going for a few years under Jared Turner with the PlayRight competition. PlayRight is a 30 minute playwright’s competition that SmackBang holds every year, with the winners being professionally produced and put on in November as part of The Edge’s Stamp programme – this will be its fourth year.

However Jared has young children and wanted to spend some more time with them, so he asked for help. Tainui (Tukiwaho) and I had talked about this space on K’Rd and what we could do with it, so we came on board.

RL: Can you describe the brains behind the Smackbang outfit?

CU: Well, there’s four of us. Jared Turner, the creator of SmackBang (an actor/producer), Tainui Tukiwaho (an actor and Unitec grad), Gabrielle Rhodes (a third year directing student at Unitec), and myself (Charlie Unwin) – I’m an actor/director grad from Unitec.

RL: So now you’ve started the K’Rd theatre... How does the partnership with Te Karanga Trust work?

CU: They give us the space to use once a week, and we share takings. Ours goes to financing new shows, play rights and other expenses, and Te Karanga’s goes to helping youth groups and rising artists.

We have a good relationship, because we have similar philosophies. Especially with Kfm(the volunteer radio station).

RL: It sounds like a win-win situation all round... but $10 per ticket doesn’t sound like much to do all that. Do actors/directors/playwrights get paid?

CU: They will. We will be paying talent at the end of the financial period. If we paid out of the door takings, we wouldn’t be able to pay them much. So it makes sense for us to get the company going well, be eligible for funding, sponsorship, etc and then pay the actors a decent wage for the work that they did in the past.

We only charge $10 at the door to make theatre accessible, make it comparable with the movies, a DVD, etc.

RL: What do you see as the benefits of getting involved?

CU: Experience is the main thing. All artists need to practice their instruments. A guitarist can sit and practice on their own, however an actor needs an audience. We are giving actors the opportunity to practice and hone their crafts in a professional environment.

Actors need to be seen, and some never get the opportunity to work in theatre for various reasons. We are giving them the chance to be seen by different theatre companies, and a chance to shine.

But we’re not just about actors... We want to do the same for playwrights, directors and producers.

RL: I know you are keen to put on “new New Zealand work” What kind of assessment process will scripts go through and what type of script are you looking for?

CU: As far as NZ scripts go, our main criteria is time. i.e, not too long, not too short. With quality, we have many very experienced theatre practitioners and dramaturges available to assist any new works. We also don’t want to overlap with PlayRight, so no 30 minute plays.

We want to do as many NZ scripts as possible, at the least 50%.

RL: That’s great!

You’re planning to put on a new play every week, for one night only. That’s crazy!! How long do you think it can be sustained? Do you think the Auckland industry has enough artists to do this?

CU: To answer the first question; we don’t have an end date. We don’t have seasons so to speak, we would like to see this being perpetual. Auckland definitely does have enough artists, because people don’t just work with us once. We envisage people maybe doing a few performances a year for us.

RL: I’ve seen two Smackbang plays so far, and each one was well staged and well rehearsed (albeit with minimal props and no scenery). How much time do the actors and directors have to rehearse new work?

CU: That depends on each director, it’s their play, etc. But on average about three weeks so far. It would also depend on the length of the play.

RL: The K’Rd theatre has only been going for a month or so... Have you run into any problems yet?

CU: No problems at all. It’s been a dream... life is.

RL: I notice you’ve got a great little community going already, after only three performances... people staying for drinks and chatting.

CU: That is one of the goals of SmackBang, to create a community. One of the great things is that after each show so far, people have stayed and pitched us ideas for future shows.

RL: So... where do you see this project going? any limit...?

CU: Ideally we would like to be doing six days a week, with one day off to pack in/pack out etc. But K’Rd is only one part of SmackBang’s future.

We would like to move plays after doing a run with us, to either another theatre or on a tour. We also want to produce plays with larger runs in “proper” theatres.

RL: Do you have a working relationship with some of the other theatres around NZ?

CU: We have friendships/relationships with most Auckland based theatre companies and a few non-Auckland.

We like to think that none of us are in competition with each other. How can we be when we all have the same goal, the betterment of the Auckland theatre scene?

RL: Hurrah for that!! I totally agree. Thanks for taking the time to talk to Lumičre, Charlie!

CU: Thanks!