40 Years of Treading the Boards

Forty years is an accomplishment for any business, and for Centrepoint Theatre this accomplishment has become a reality. Artistic Director Jeff Kingsford- Brown and Box Office Manager Vanessa Barnes reflect on Centrepoint’s history and what it is that makes this theatre so special.

First opened in 1974, Centrepoint remains the only professional theatre outside the four major New Zealand centres. It continues to offer quality entertainment to the
hundreds of people who come through its doors.

CentrePoint at nightThe theatre’s Artistic Director, Jeff Kingsford-Brown, has made an effort to remain in touch with Centrepoint’s origins and happily tells the story of how it began. “At that time there was a feeling that people wanted to see themselves on the stage, and they wanted to express their culture. There were these little theatres popping up around the country and Palmerston North and Centrepoint was part of that movement, not just in theatre, but in art and culture generally.”

“It was a very different scene in many ways, it was just faltering steps. They didn’t receive any funding from central government, it was all local money, so it was tough. They were doing it professionally, even though there was no training ground. They were doing it the best

This passion is what sustained an early Centrepoint, and it remains the lifeblood of this now thriving theatre. Vanessa Barnes, Centrepoint’s Box Office Manager, is a perfect representative of this. Vanessa is a longstanding Centrepoint fixture, having been “roped into helping out” when she was in high school and now, years later, has never left and works full time with the theatre.

My job is to make sure that those people’s one shot is the best experience possible.

One of the keys to Centrepoint’s success, in Vanessa’s mind, is its focus on telling the stories of New Zealand’s multicultural community. “We do Pasifika plays and we have more focus on the Kiwi playwrights. Last year we did Two Fish and a Scoop, which was about a Chinese New Zealander and a British New Zealander, so that’s not your average story. We are trying to reflect all the different people within the community and then trying to draw those people to the theatre.”

However, audience attendance is not limited to performing good stories, and cultivating the right attitude is also vital in Jeff’s and Vanessa’s minds. “The thing that Centrepoint prides itself on is that we are quite welcoming, we’ve got quite a… it sounds really cheesy but a family vibe,” laughs Vanessa.

Jeff and Vanessa

“We don’t want to be intimidating and we don’t want people to think that you have to be posh, or that it’s for your grandparents. Really our target audiences is everybody. We want everyone to come and see Kiwi theatre.”

“It is something we have worked consciously on creating, breaking down that barrier of ‘theatre is something you have to dress up for’, that you have to have a lot of money for. We want everyone to give it a go, especially young people.”

Theatre for a younger audience was also the inspiration for Centrepoint’s secondary theatre, The Dark Room, which was started in 2007. “At the time there was a group of people working here at Centrepoint who were younger and very much focused on wanting to have theatre that they would go and see.” The first Dark Room was “set up in the back of the theatre, in what is actually our rehearsal room”, but in its current form it is located across the road in a space provided by Te Manawa. The Dark Room has developed into something “slightly more risky and alternative”, and now regularly hosts new emerging artists and various performance groups.

Great effort goes into ensuring that the experience of these artists is an enjoyable one, as Centrepoint is “often giving them their first chance at a proper professional gig”. “Part of our brief is to use emerging artists in a meaningful way – actors, designers, directors occasionally,” explains Jeff.

Actors often comment that, when joining Centrepoint, they feel like they have been welcomed into a living room

“It is up to us, it’s our responsibility to make sure they have as good a time as they can, quite apart from the work,” adds Vanessa. “Actors often comment that, when joining Centrepoint, they feel like they have been welcomed into a living room, they like hanging out here.”

However, running a business that is entirely reliant on its talent does lend itself to some nerve-racking close calls. “Last year we had a group scheduled who suddenly pulled out, they were heading to Edinburgh or Toronto. Then you have holes in your programme suddenly,” says Jeff.

“It’s just the nature of theatre, it happens with actors as well,” says Vanessa. “You can have an actor all lined up and then they get offered another job, or get really sick, and then you have to get someone in at the very last minute. But the show always happens. It’s never not happened, in my time at least. Touch wood!”

Exit stage left

While it is challenging, Vanessa is eager to point out the enjoyable aspects of their work, which she summarises as “ample opportunities to explore the theatre in all its weird glory”.

“I have to remind myself that we get to see both sides, and that we are quite privileged to get to see the magic happen. People who come to see it get one shot to see the play, and that’s it. That’s their night out, that’s their magical experience.

They don’t get the privilege to just pop their head into the rehearsal room. My job is to make sure that those people’s one shot is the best experience possible.”

Pencil Art

Builder’s Pencil Turned Artwork

Collecting old builders’ pencils isn’t something you would expect from a diesel mechanic, but for Dave Ashburn his hobby is paying off.

His other interests include hunting and fishing, but creating intricate art from pencils “leaves everybody quite surprised”. Dave carefully carves the lead of each pencil he collects into a single letter. These letters are then put together to create quotes and unique sayings that mean something to him.

Finished masterpieceHis latest piece depicts the quote ‘Friendship isn’t a big thing; it is a million little things’.

The idea, Dave says, is something that he simply stumbled upon. “I was looking at photos of a similar thing done online with a conventional pencil for my sister-in-law’s wedding gift, and I thought I would use a builder’s pencil instead because it is bigger and easier to use and it worked. Everyone loved it
because it was not something to be expected from me.”

Now on to his fourth piece, he still doesn’t consider what he does as art. “Although my family are quite arty I really have no artistic background.”

The process is long but worth it in Dave’s eyes. He begins by outlining a quote that he likes the look of. Using a vet’s hypodermic needle with a sharp edge he carefully crafts the holes of the lettering on each pencil. A craft knife is then manipulated to create a rounded finish.

“Each pencil takes about 40 minutes to complete and you’d be surprised at how rough you can be with them. It is a balancing act though, between the different thicknesses of graphite in an older and a newer pencil.”

One of Dave’s bigger challenges when crafting is working with graphite. “Graphite is such a bizarre material. It goes everywhere but is so easy to wash off.”

There are some letters that Dave tries to avoid. “I like curving the S and the O but I hate the N and M. I’m a perfectionist, so if one doesn’t look good I have to start again.”

While working on his second piece, his wife, Megan, thought Dave’s work deserved more credit. She took it into Palmerston North gallery Taylor-Jensen Fine Arts, who were simply “blown away”.

Stuart Schwartz, Managing Director of the gallery, has Dave’s work framed and on display for sale.

For a local man like Dave, having Stuart on board means a great deal. “The attention I have received through my work would not have been possible without someone like Stu.”

Craftsman at work“I don’t care whether what I do sells or not, I enjoy doing them because it is a break in the cycle. I can’t carve a bird or a face or anything, so it really is quite a foreign and unusual experience for me. Quite frankly I will be glad if someone liked my artwork enough to buy it,” he says.

Dave has some big ideas planned for the future. “I would love to make an entire village out of the pencils. I want to begin with buildings and houses through a square design and see where it goes from there.”

Although it may appear that the art and detail are appreciated up close, Dave enjoys looking at what he does from a distance. “When hung up on a wall, they look really good.”

Dave encourages anyone who has a spare builder’s pencil lying around to contact him because, unfortunately, he doesn’t have an endless supply. “I have resorted to buying new pencils and trying to make them look old and chewed but it just isn’t the same.”

Ben Vanderkolk

The Business of Doing Justice

When questioned about the theoretical glass of half full, or half empty, water, Ben Vanderkolk’s answer is that, “half is never going to be good enough”. As the Crown Solicitor for Palmerston North, head of his own legal practice and a vital part of numerous community groups, Ben’s life is a testament to striving for more.

Office doorDespite his meteoric success, Ben remains a down-to-earth person, as “you can take the boy off the farm but you can’t take the farm out of the boy”. What fuels his driven nature are a true passion for and enjoyment of what he does. “Work’s a bit of a hobby for me. I find simple things amuse me.”

“What I like about the job is the strength of the victims. They’re offended against, they probably live in disadvantaged situations, a lot have very poor schooling, they don’t have any confidence to be articulate, or to truly resist being abused, and then you expect them to be articulate and polished and be in command of the situation in a courtroom. When they manage to pull it off it’s just the most rewarding thing.”

We’re not in the business of results, we’re in the business of doing justice

For some the life of a criminal prosecutor would be challenging, but Ben is “quite cheerful about it”. “I’m very good at compartmentalising, I don’t dwell on the bad things really. You feel your losses but only for a very short time, if you don’t have a good result. But then we’re not in the business of results, we’re in the business of doing justice.”

Outside work there is also much to be done, and Ben is regularly involved in a number of additional groups and organisations, including the Massey University and UCOL councils and, previously, the Netherlands Foundation. Ben is particularly active in his role as the Trust Chairman for Manfeild Park. As someone who raced classic cars in his younger years, working with an events centre that comes complete with a race track circuit is a pleasant pastime, but for Ben his purpose goes much deeper.

Ben“My involvement with Manfeild Park, when I was asked to participate, just struck me as an opportunity to grow something in the region. It’s been a pretty hard road and there have been some battles, but overall I’m still persuaded about its contribution. We’ve created a community asset.”

The role has not always been smooth sailing, but Ben remains positive about the experience. “I’ve learnt a lot about the community and local body politics, so I’m grateful for that because it influences the way you think and do things. I like to think I’ve improved my attitude towards them. I’m pretty determined and driven about these sorts of things, which doesn’t always fit well with the community.”

One of Ben’s most significant personal projects has been his efforts to bring some of the best up-and-coming lawyers to the region, something he continues to focus on. Over the last 30 years he has brought more than 25 lawyers to Palmerston North, all of whom have been “handpicked by the law schools”. “The essence of Manawatu, I think, is that I’ve been able to create really good attraction and retention employment practices, which means I always get first-class people,” he says.

Everywhere you go it feels like people are doing something creative and successful

“What I say to them, when they come here, is that they’ll be well ahead of their peers… The experience to be gained in Manawatu, as far as my lawyers are concerned, is ahead of their peers for the rest of the country. They choose to be here.”

Ben also believes that Manawatu has a lot to offer in the wider sense, as “everywhere you go it feels like people are doing something creative and successful”. For his incoming lawyers a big part of its attraction is not just the work opportunities, but the opportunities for families.

Ben and his team“What captures them immediately is that all the schools here are really high quality, and that’s really important to young people who are about to be parents. That’s the most important concern for families I think, at least it was in my experience. All my children have gone through school here.”

Having just seen his newest protégés, Nicola Wynne and Michael Blaschke, admitted to the bar, Ben is now looking towards the future and new challenges, and will no doubt be keeping in mind a piece of advice he once gave to Manfeild. “Do whatever it takes to keep everything in place, the commitment, the vision, the energy, and start looking for the next opportunity.”

Stephen and Mary Barr

To your family, from ours

At a glance this family farm is no different from any other dairy farm, but Stephen and Mary Barr are making a name for Arran Farm thanks to their quirky new on-site milk shop.

The cows coming home to here are unique, and are a key part of the shop’s success. Most dairy farming cows carry the standard A1 gene, producing the ordinary A1 milk that is sold in stores. However, Arran Farm breeds rare A2 cattle, which produce milk that contains the purest form of milk protein and is found by some to assist in resolving or limiting allergic reactions such as eczema. This milk is then sold through their milk shop, as Stephen Barr says, “ready to drink the way nature intended”.

Fresh MilkStephen and Mary started out in Taranaki and farmed there for more than 15 years before they bought a Manawatu farm in 1998. Taking advantage of the opportunities found here, Arran Farm has grow from 150 acres to 1200 acres and the new milk shop is heralding a new era, with the farm becoming a centre of community activity.

The farm has become a community centre, with the onfarm milk shop’s self-service milk vending machine enabling consumers to fill up their milk bottles as they wish. The Barrs summarise the store’s creation as, “We saw a vending machine in a magazine a few months ago and just went for it”.

However, it was not easy putting the shop in place. A range of challenges arose to ensure they complied with legislation.

Arran Farm operates as a sole trader; Stephen and Mary had to be really careful in their planning, as they were not protected by a company structure. Although this was testing, the Barrs knew they were on to something. “We believe in the milk, we enjoy it and there is a market for it.”

We believe in the milk, we enjoy it and there is a market for it

Having now opened their doors, the Barrs are thrilled with their success. “When we were making the plans for the shop, we didn’t factor in that it is a fun place to come to, because people are actually choosing to come here for the experience,” Mary shares with a smile.

“Our customers refer to it as the village well and there is a whole community that is building around the shop. People of all ages come here: the elderly, families, young people and even concerned mothers who buy milk for their flatting children. It’s a very positive place that seems to make people happy.”

The community support is prevalent, with a wide range of customers frequenting the shop, with people travelling from Palmerston North, Foxton and Levin and even Wellington.

Vending MachineAs the milk cannot be legally transported without pasteurising it, the Barrs are unable to sell the milk away from the farm gate. However, being grounded has been nothing less than beneficial for the community and the farther reaches of the country. A gem has been created in this spot on Taonui Road, near Feilding.

The community cherishes the milk shop and it continues to motivate this family to bring their raw, non-homogenised milk to the people who have grown to love it. “People in the market are always asking, ‘Are you selling enough milk?’ ‘Are you getting enough people?’ They are willing to bring their friends and family to the shop to help ensure the business is sustainable.”

Stephen foresees the shop growing “to be an even bigger part of the farm once we get more customers.” For now, the Barrs are just focused on doing what they do best and to keep offering good milk from their family to yours.

Smart Exchange

Fish to Fashion

It was a fish and chip shop for 38 years, but since setting up shop 18 months ago Smart Exchange, preloved designer boutique, has replaced fish with the best of fashion for its visitors.

Louise ChilmanOwner Louise Chilman had seen how popular preloved designer fashion was back in her home country of England, so when she saw a shop free in her Hokowhitu neighbourhood she knew just what would work there. “It just made sense. I knew a lot of women like me who had beautiful clothing in their wardrobes.”

“Sustainability really appeals to me; I’m a great recycler, right down to my worm farm,” laughs Louise. “I thought it was ridiculous how much wastage there is in this world, and what happens to these clothes”.

“You can pick up a beautifully designed quality item for a third or a quarter of the original price in here. You’d pay those prices in the chain stores for something ordinary.”

Beautiful goods to be boughtWith everything from Trelise Cooper to Gucci and casualwear to ball gowns, the store prides itself on having something for everyone. All clothes are sold on behalf of the previous owners, and Louise sees time and time again the emotions and memories that are often connected with them.

“Every garment means something to them… and for everybody who I sell these articles to, hopefully it will mean something to them too.”


Ross hard at work

An Eye for Detail

To those who know it, the name Ross Hyde instantly brings to mind the word ‘jeweller’. Ross is indeed a second-generation jeweller, but less well known is his formidable talent as a photographer, a passion that has seen him explore some of the most unique and remote places of the world.

Hyde Jewellers cemented its spot on The Square in Palmerston North back in 1964, when Ross’s father first established what would become an iconic jewellery store. Ross soon became his apprentice, primarily because he thought he “had to do it”.

Rally Action“I left school and didn’t know what I was going to do. I have a strong disciplinary family so it was either this choice or no choice. So instead I went overseas for two years with a friend.”

In those two years Ross bounced around a few places and learned a lot about who he was and what he wanted to do in life. A job as a brick layer in Brisbane demonstrated to him that he “really didn’t have any idea”. His journey took him overseas to Europe, where he travelled with a caravan, but was unfortunately cut short when he received a phone call from his dad back in New Zealand. “My father rang up saying he wanted to retire, so I came back.”

It was like handing over a baby never to be seen again

“In spite of my father’s determination for me to be a watch maker, which wasn’t necessarily the best choice for me, he had a lot of other things he did for me. One of those was travel and amateur photography… He took us on some pretty good holidays. When I was 16 he took us to Alice Springs and he gave me one of his old cameras. That’s really when it started.”

In addition to his passion for photography, Ross has had a love of motorsport for most of his life. When he bought his first camera he combined the two to create some truly stunning photography, and others thought so too. “It was a matter of getting a camera and going out. Manfeild hadn’t long been established, so I was going and taking pictures. I started sending pictures off and getting them published, got a little bit of commercial work. You never made any money off it but you did it for fun, and the fact that you got pictures published was in itself, for me, quite a big part. It still is.”

Night photoAs time passed, Ross worked for a motorsport magazine and did some public relations writing for Suzuki, but photographing motorsport events was where his heart lay. “If you are doing a rally there’s a whole lot of preparation you have to do beforehand, pretty much driving the whole route, finding locations and making a plan of how you’re going to do it. The basic brief is to capture the essence of a rally – the action, the speed, the servicing, the personnel, and also the essence of the country where it’s run.”

In spite of my father’s determination for me to be a watch maker, which wasn’t necessarily the best choice for me

“It’s almost an anti-climax when the rally starts because you’ve sometimes done three or four days’ work. When we used to go to Kenya we’d do almost a week and a half’s work, then a four-day rally. You have to get the shot, you’ve done all this work and there is no excuse not to get it.”

In the first few years Ross struggled and would feel a sense of loss when a rally or race ended. “The film would go straight back to Japan and I wouldn’t see what I’d done until some months later, either when I was going through Japan and saw the edit of my work or in a magazine. It was like handing over a baby never to be seen again.”

Shipwreck, AustraliaThe entrance of digital photography onto the scene has made this far more manageable, and it’s something that Ross feels very positively about. “So much stuff has changed since then, from wanting something as soon as the next day to wanting it within the next half an hour. It’s made taking a photo so much more accessible to people, and it also teaches people to use a camera quicker because the feedback is almost immediate.”

“It has had a lot of detrimental effects as well though, pushing down prices of jobs and things like that. I think the digital realm has opened up a lot of opportunities but has also removed of a lot of possibilities, a lot of opportunities are gone or have been diluted by it. Once you have your digital image you also move into the realm of Photoshop, which is either a huge, big, fantastic opportunity or a can of worms.”

PortraitWhen he looks back on his experiences, Ross’s favourite motorsport event is one that is held in Monte Carlo. “It is the most ridiculous place to host a motorsport event, but you can get so wound up with the emotion of the place because the cars can pass so close to you, at 170 miles per hour. It is very exciting when you capture that excitement.”

Nowadays Ross has found a new avenue of interest in landscape photography, which he “gets a huge amount of enjoyment out of”. Some of his favourite photographed locations are Colorado Plateau in America, The Wave in Arizona and the Wahweap Hoodoos in Utah. “You have to do a bit of homework and hiking to get there, but I like finding little interesting locations.”

Whatever he is shooting though, Ross says that photography has to be about “trying to capture the moment of what you’re experiencing”.