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Morality tales to musicals - theatre without stars by Drama Christi

With works that range from the Bible, to Shakespeare, to Dr Seuss the actors and actresses of Drama Christi have entertained, informed, and challenged Wellington Methodists and members of wider community for more than half a century.

A co-operative theatre group, Drama Christi is based at Wesley Church, Taranaki Street in downtown Wellington, as it has been since it began in 1947.

In its early years Drama Christi produced only religious plays, many of them incorporated into the services at Wesley Wellington. Now, in addition to the religious works it presents mainly at Christmas and Easter, the group performs modern plays, classics, dance, mime, comedies, and musicals.

Recent offerings include a play about euthanasia called ‘Whose Life is It Anyway’, ‘Arsenic and Old Lace’, and ‘Twas the Night Before Christmas’.

In 1970 Drama Christi took over the Old Bookroom at the back of Wesley Wellington and transformed it into a 50-seat theatre. It has since been up-graded with new seats and new lighting.

Arthur Olsson is Drama Christi’s treasurer and he was one of its founding members. He says members of the group originally came from the Wesley congregation, now many don’t have church backgrounds.

Anyone is welcome to join Drama Christi as long as they accept its principles and follow its guidelines. These include that the group maintains its links with Wesley Wellington, that everyone is equal and there are no ‘stars’, that everyone is consulted about all matters that affect them, and that the plays it performs are about ideas and ideals.

26 year old Andrew Bartle is a second generation member of Drama Christi and has directed several of its recent productions. Andrew says it is a great way for young people to be come involved in theatre and build up confidence in a friendly atmosphere.

“Drama Christi is not intimidating. There are no auditions and most people become involved gradually. They start out working on the props or in crowd scenes and then work up to bigger parts.

“Working with Drama Christi is all about having fun though it can be a challenge to work cooperatively to produce a play. Sometimes it is not easy to work with a group of people who have a range of experiences and commitment levels. Professional directors would probably be frustrated,” Andrew says.

Because it has large numbers of participants Drama Christi faces an obstacle other drama groups don’t – the need to come up with plays that have a large cast or crowd scenes.

In keeping with its principle of accessibility tickets to Drama Christi performances are kept as low as possible, generally $6 to $10. Along with ticket sales the group gets some revenue by leasing its theatre for rehearsals and/or performances.

No one gets paid to work with Drama Christi. Revenues go toward costumes (some of which date back decades) and hiring plays.

As part of its efforts to improve the theatre Drama Christi received a $5000 grant from the Wellington City Council to put in new lighting. Next on its to-do list is to upgrade the sound system.

In its early years Drama Christi travelled to perform at other venues in the greater Wellington area and as far a field as Palmerston North and Hastings. In recent years they have performed in Raumati, Lower Hutt and at Wellington rest homes.