March 04, 2014

The Arts: Wellington Often Gets it Right, but Sometimes...

...not so much.

A Tempest off Matiu-Somes Island

Summer is the height of sport and culture in Wellington.  In early February, the (rugby) Sevens comes to town for two days, showcasing teams from all over the world while Wellingtonians dress up and party.  Then the arts scene takes over!

For two or three weeks every February/March, artists (primarily) from Wellington put on plays, dance fancy dances, sing a few tunes and generally produce weird and wonderful art as part of the Fringe Festival.  There are several performances a day, and most of them very reasonably priced.  All of the playhouses in town get involved, as well as some natural and/or unusual venues.  I wrote about one particular play way back in 2007 that was - to this day - the best play we have ever seen in Wellington.

Even better, every other year, the International Arts Festival takes over Wellington for a month.  Top acts from all over the world come to our little town masquerading as a city to entertain us.  I was certain I had mentioned this festival a time or two, but looking through the archives, it appears that I have not!  A shame, as we have seen some incredible plays and musical acts in past festivals...the Irish fiddler who played gorgeous tunes in the Frank Kitts park temporary venue while a sudden rainstorm provided the perfect background, and the circus-y show that split the audience between the main stage and backstage, and...ooh!  The macabre "Dancing on Your Grave" - such an amazing performance!  We have high hopes for the Festival offerings each year, and try to get to at least 3 or 4 of the shows (the tickets are much more expensive than Fringe shows!)

A couple of weeks ago, we went to what may now be an annual play called "A Tempest off Matiu-Somes Island".  I was surprised to find that it was not offered as part of Fringe or the International Arts Festival!  We had missed out seeing it in 2012, so I booked tickets as soon as I heard it was coming back. And the play did not disappoint - each actor was incredible in his/her role, and the few who were on the ferry were in character the entire time!  The plays that are set in Wellington's natural beauty are so much more enjoyable than ones set in a theatre (no matter how old and/or beautiful the theatre...ok, except Mary Poppins. Best musical production I have ever seen ever EVER).  The city and landscape add so many things that just can't be recreated on a stage.  And in this case, we were on an actual remote island, with the clouds coming in, winds kicking up - incredible.

Keeping our love of Wellington's natural beauty in mind, I booked one of the first nights of "Power Plant", a visual and auditory art installation in the gorgeous Botanic Gardens in the heart of the city.  We didn't know quite what to expect, as it was only the 2nd night of 'shows'.  Round-trip Cable Car tickets were offered at the time I purchased the show tickets, but we weren't sure where we be coming from or how the show worked (does it begin AND end at the top of the Gardens?), so I opted out.

In the end, we decided to have dinner in the city and then use the Cable Car to get to where the show began.  There was a huge queue for the Cable Car, but for once in our lives, we were early!  We discovered that we could use our Snappers (i.e. stored value public transportation cards) for a one-way trip and by-passed a significant portion of the queue.  There was a little light-show in one of the tunnels as we headed up the hill that was...trippy.

When we got to the top?  Complete and utter madness.  Our entry time was 9:40pm, and it was just about 9:25pm.  They were just letting in the 9:10pm grouping - not a good impression so far.  In our spare time, we noticed that the Cable Car was to close at 10pm (!!).  Our entry time wasn't even close to being the final time of the evening - why would they sell roundtrip tickets..?  We tried to confirm that the Cable Car was staying open later to accommodate the show, but the three - THREE - people working there had no idea.

The "queue" turned out to be just a massive crowd of people milling about.  There was one guy with a flashlight/orange cone thing trying to herd people into time groupings.  He was largely unsuccessful.  Once he did get some separation, he then tried to get the groups to queue up.  The queue looked like a giant triangle - with no one willing to move behind anyone else.  In addition, the area was not well-lit.  It was reminiscent of the Southwest Airlines queues before they put up the letter and number signs.

When we finally passed through and showed our tickets, we were further herded into groups of 15 to talk to a 'guide' about safety etc.  He told us to be careful of tree roots and loose rocks, and then gave us three rules:

  1. No smoking
  2. No photographs (at all!)
  3. The path is one-way --> do not double back on the path.
Simple enough, right?  Well, within 5 minutes, all three rules were broken - in full view of the volunteers "working" the show.  We were basically in line throughout the Gardens as we walked down the path.  Some people decided to cross over barricades and climb up hills to get a better look at some of the installations.  No one stopped them.  I had to yell at the smoker until he stopped smoking.  

We felt trapped and increasingly claustrophobic.  Fortunately, most of our group dawdled long enough for us to pass them.  Some of the sights and sounds were pretty cool, but not enough to deal with the hoards of people.  Wellington is a small place, and we are just not used to feeling crowded anymore - especially not in a gigantic park!  We practically ran through the pathways until we got to the concert lawn at the bottom, where we slipped out of the exhibition and literally ran down the street.  Both of us (oddly) felt that if someone knew we were leaving instead of heading back up the hill, that they would drag us back to the show.  We were determined to get as far away as possible!

As we were waiting for a bus to cross town, we saw several people who had been in our group walk by.  Interesting that so many chose to leave the show half-way through...

In theory, the installation is getting rave reviews.  I clearly do not understand...maybe their times were less crowded?  If you do go, I would only recommend that you go at a much later time, or perhaps during the week.  Wear good walking shoes and avoid bringing any bags.  Oh, and try to get discounted tickets, if possible, just in case you want to escape at the mid-way point!

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