A conversation with Ian Morton

Posted on December 6, 2016 by Basement

Our blogger Jonty had a great conversation with Ian Morton, Auckland’s longtime most prolific theatre-goer.

What were your earliest theatre experiences?

“I am a pirate I am I am a pirate I am With my sword and trusty dagger Can’t you tell me by my swagger I am a pirate I am”

My first words onstage as a stagestruck five-year-old!

It began in early childhood in Masterton, about 75 years ago when there were no performing arts schools in the country, and most theatrical productions came from overseas or were enthusiastic examples of community theatre. As a precocious child I was drawn to these productions and constructed my own model theatre, mirroring what I had seen, and was soon designing and performing in little amateur plays and musicals.

On leaving school I went to university in Wellington and was soon heavily involved with Wellington Repertory Theatre, the local Operatic Society and Unity Theatre (which you could say is a forerunner of BATS), as well as Victoria’s own theatre club. NZ theatre was enhanced by the introduction of the New Zealand Players, a professional company which began touring the country with several productions a year and which introduced a theatre school in the capital.

In light of the distinctly precarious opportunities offered by a career in the theatre I chose instead to work in the programme department of the NZBS, the government’s public radio network (later to become NZBC and later still included NZ’s first TV channel and well before private radio came to be). This gave me enough free time to work with Nola Millar’s NEW THEATRE company. They toured several North Island schools with shorter versions of Shakespeare’s plays, as well as entertaining cabaret audiences as an acrobatic dancer and contortionist (true!).

What has been your involvement with theatre?

In 1964 I moved to Auckland and began working instead in television (then called TVNZ) with the same government department as a floor manager on all sorts of productions including over 100 TV dramas. I remained until retirement after my 75th birthday, working in the last few years also for TV3.

In Auckland, but because of the increasing time demands of television my contribution to theatre has been mainly behind the scenes, although for a while I was often performing on TV in front of the cameras in children’s and musical productions.

How many shows a year do you normally see?

Up until my retirement I was not able to see no more than a hundred shows a year both in NZ and overseas, but since then much of my life has been centred round my theatre-going and the number of shows I’ve seen has risen to two hundred and is still climbing. The end of 2016 will eventually bring my total to almost three hundred, all in Auckland. Maybe I should get a life!

What are your favourite venues?

Of course I’m very fond of the Basement and the unpredictability of what I will see there but Q Theatre is a close second followed by Unitec. And I have wonderful memories of those almost forgotten temples of entertainment His Majesty’s and St James both of which have seen me doing my thing either backstage or sitting in the audience.

There is a lot of new theatre and experimental production now which helps to invigorate the arts. This is exciting and I applaud it but I still have plenty of room in my heart for traditional old-style theatre. It is refreshing once in a while to see a show without TV-style lighting and performances – one in which the curtain actually comes down at the end. Don’t get me wrong though, I love to be surprised and made to think and evaluate what is put before me.

What in your view makes a great show?

I’ve always loved musicals but my eyes are in no way closed to just about every other form of theatre. Whatever form it takes, it has to be sincere, impassioned and meaningful.

What have been your favourite shows of 2016?

With so many shows under my belt this is almost impossible to answer but I’ll try my best.

Starting with musicals there are three real standouts – Auckland Theatre Company’s Billy Elliot (in their brand new theatre), Dido and Aeneas Recomposed (actually an opera, at The Basement!) and Auckland Music Theatre’s recent production of the Sondheim musical A Little Night Music in their own clubrooms.

Some of my favourite plays must include Thomus, SHAM, TENNESSEE retro, Vernon God LittleThe Book of Everything (at Q), Cellfish (at Te Oro) and The Lower Depths (at Unitec). I enjoyed much of the 2016 Auckland Arts Festival too.

More of Jonty’s writing can be found on his blog.