Dramatic group continues to thrive
The Matamata Dramatic Society encourages its members to be creative in ways they could not be in their day job.
This is especially true for the group’s treasurer Richard Prevett.
The accountant has been involved in the amateur group for 30 years as an actor and director.
‘‘ Well, if you do creative accounting you go to jail, ‘‘ he laughed while sitting in the foyer the Matamata Theatre with the group’s president Irena Leadbeater.
The group was started when Prevett was 4 years old, by Matamata College senior mistress Viola Bell, whose lover didn’t return from World War II.
‘‘She was great for the college and the town,’’ Prevett said. She also established Centennial Drive.
Initially the group performed English playwrights but now perform more New Zealand plays, including Prevett’s work.
‘‘I’ve been very lucky that the drama society has put them on. Normally someone like me stuck out on the edge of the world in Matamata writing plays would write them and put them in the bottom drawer of the dressing table.’’
Former society member Simon Coleman, who became a professional actor and director, has also taken Prevett’s plays to Hamilton.
The society encourages local people to write plays through events like the recent Short and Sweet Festival, which gives people a chance to write 10-minute plays which are then performed.
Some of the short plays have been extended to full length.
Prevett said it was a source of satisfaction that in a small town the group could put on a play without bringing in professionals.
‘‘ We have written the play, directed it, acted in it, done all the techs, all the special effects, lighting, sound, sometimes quite complex things, we have done the whole thing without any outside help and that has astonished me as you don’t have many towns smaller than this.’’
The group has sometimes worked with the Matamata Musical Theatre on productions.
Leadbeater is proud the two groups have survived when other small towns’ groups haven’t.
The society usually puts on two plays a year.
Comedies are the bums- onseats money-makers. The theatre also puts on a drama to indulge the actors.
Over the years membership fees have waned in importance. ‘‘Because we have been so successful we have been able to put on shows and make five grand so that subscription side is not so important.’’
As the group has moved away from English playwrights, the plays have reflected a more liberal New Zealand. Prevett remembers the outrage when the Musical Theatre put on Jesus Christ Superstar, with Rob Guest.
Letters to the Matamata Chronicle said churchgoers should not go to the performance.
He also remembers performing a play that had one ‘‘f’’ word in the 1970s. Now the group can put on plays with as many swear words as they like and ‘‘a couple under a blanket humping up and down’’.
One of the ‘‘little bit naughty’’ plays was called Sextet, which was based in a boat and produced a ‘‘hell of laugh’’ for Prevett and the crew. One of the female characters sunbathed topless in a scene, but the audience just saw her bare back.
At the ‘‘undress rehearsal’’ an actor was supposed to climb a ladder and see the female character’s breasts but he wouldn’t go up the ladder. The actor was an ‘‘English chap’’ who was self- conscious and ‘‘he just flushed red’’.
Prevett said the group had also had many talented actresses like Faye Sharpe. The former ballroom dancer had a photographic memory. By the second rehearsal she wouldn’t need a script.
The drama society has also been slightly affected by other societal changes. In the 1970s, when Prevett joined, women didn’t work so the group had a ‘‘wonderful resource of middle-aged women who could come down here and work four days a week getting a play prepared’’.
Now the working women and men fit the play preparation around their schedules.
The society still benefits from both the students and staff from the college, but could always do with more because most 18-yearolds leave the area and only come back in their late 20s early 30s to raise families, Prevett said.
CREATIVE CURTAIN: Matamata Dramatic Society treasurer Richard Prevett and president Irena Leadbeater with the stage curtain her mum and other members made.