15 Oct 2009

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New Zealand theatre mourns visionary director playwright and actor

Downstage Statement regarding the passing of Martyn Sanderson.

It is with great sorrow that the Board, Staff and Members of Downstage Theatre, received news of the passing last night of founder and former director, Martyn Sanderson.

Martyn was one of several visionary Wellingtonians who worked together in 1963 and 1964 to start Downstage, New Zealands first professional theatre, and he appeared in or directed many early productions, including starring with Peter Bland in the first production on the Cambridge Terrace site: Edward Albees Zoo Story.

Downstage Director Hilary Beaton says that Martyns positive influence has remained with the theatre throughout the 45 years of our existence: "I would like to pay tribute to Martyn for his tireless support for our work and for the principles on which we depend. He and Wanjiku were tremendously welcoming to me when I arrived at Downstage and he noted that our current programming philosophy owes a lot to the original Downstage vision of those early days."

In John Smythes book, Downstage Upfront, Martyn is quoted about those days: "... I felt arrogant enough to propose we discard the whole tradition and work it out for ourselves, starting from as close to nowhere as we possibly could, I had a sort of vision of theatre which was to reach out into the community, to be a forum for debate and the arts in whatever form they presented themselves, to break down the conventions that created sacred space, this sacrosanct invisible barrier between the public and the people who were representing them to themselves."

It is entirely appropriate that at the time of his passing Martyn was still producing theatre in that very same vein: Muntu (directed by Wakanyote Njuguna from Kenya) is produced by Martyn and Wanjiku Sandersons Africa Connection Aotearoa Trust, and will feature performances by Toi Whakaari drama students and people from the local African community. In theatre, the show must always go on and the scheduled performances of Muntu will go ahead this weekend with support from Downstage and many others.

To honour Martyns contribution to Downstage, and to theatre in New Zealand, there will be a minutes silence in the Hannah Playhouse auditorium prior to tonights performance of Biography of My Skin.