Peter Pan and the NBR Rich List philanthropists

This Friday and Saturday, a cast of about 220 young people aged seven to 21 will take to the stage at Auckland’s Aotea Centre to perform what’s being billed as a “dazzling musical theatre re-imagining of Peter Pan.”

The latest production from the National Youth Theatre Company charitable trust (NYTC), it’s something of a departure for the organisation – although it is based on J M Barrie’s century-old-plus children’s classic, it’s the first entirely original show it has staged in its 12-year history.

The ability to pull off such a feat is partly a product of the experience of the show’s creators – Jonathan Alver’s career has included directing on London’s West End and leading New Zealand Opera before becoming the trust’s artistic director, while general manager James Doy's resume includes directing the music for the 2015 ICC Cricket World Cup’s NZ opening ceremony and being named New Zealand Musician of the Year in 2014.

Equally important, however, is the sound financial footing the trust now enjoys, thanks to the recent involvement of a group of benefactors organised by NBR Rich Listers Guy and Sue Haddleton.

“It gives us is the flexibility to take risks on things, which wasn’t something we had before,” Mr Doy says.

This obviously includes creating an original work, providing the young performers with the “unique experience” of being “the first people in the world to perform this material, which is quite an exciting new development.”

But although the show itself will assuredly be of a remarkably high standard – “We went expecting to see a high school production and we found a professional production,” Mr Haddleton says of the first NYTC the couple attended – the play’s actually not the thing.

The real purpose of the trust is to cultivate confidence and life-skills in young people through the four-month performing arts training programme it provides.

And the involvement of the Haddletons and the other benefactors – who include at least two other Rich Listers, NBR understands – means the trust “can extend the opportunity to communities that wouldn’t otherwise be able to participate,” Mr Doy says.

“So next year we’re going to have one scholarship for each four paid participants, which is huge for us.”

It will also mean the trust can build up its outreach efforts, which involve it both working with schools to identify those struggling students who would most benefit from participating in the trust’s programme and funding schools to bring their students to see the trust’s productions.

As Mr Haddleton notes, “This is not elitist, this is across Auckland.”

Ensuring the show does indeed go on
Mr Doy was one of the founders of NYTC in 2005 and became general manager six years ago when the organisation’s original benefactor decided it was time to step away.

As such, his initial mandate was to ensure the sustainability of the trust.

This was achieved, Mr Doy says, “by reaching out to various gaming trusts and Creative New Zealand and doing a lot of cost-cutting.”

It also involved establishing and maintaining relationships with a large number of suppliers who provide goods and services for a fraction of the going rate – or for free – as a form of corporate sponsorship.

“For example, The Warehouse has been very good to us in terms of providing costume elements and props, and we just got a quote through from Monstavision, which suppliers of the enormous screens we use. It was for $86,000, along with an $81,000 sponsorship,” he says with a laugh of delight.

Council facilities operator Auckland Live is another sponsor, knocking $50,000 off the $90,000 cost of renting the ASB Theatre for a week "because we fit with their aim of bringing theatre to children in Auckland."

Left to right: Artistic director Jonathan Alver, operations manager Elin Esther, general manager and musical director James Doy, choreographer Hamish Mouat, and assistant director Seamus Ford.

“It was only once we’d managed to beat it into a self-sufficient entity that I felt comfortable reaching out to benefactors like Guy and Sue,” Mr Doy says.

“I really didn’t want to be going out to people until we’d proven that it was actually able to stand on its own legs.”

Cultivating crucial confidence
For their part, the Haddletons were immediately impressed by how the trust’s programme unlocks the often untapped potential of the young participants.

“The big outcome is the confidence that those can take it into their lives later on,” says Mr Haddleston.

“That transfers into interviewing for a job, for example, or travelling overseas with confidence,” Mrs Haddleton agrees.

“Many of the children who start in these productions are so shy and nervous, they can’t say ‘boo’ to anybody. But one performance later – they’re often very different children.

“It’s about finding their voice,” she says.

“Not just their singing voice or their acting voice but finding their voice. Often children can’t express themselves that well in life and that’s what it’s about; finding your voice.”

One of the reasons the Haddletons responded so strongly to the trust’s work is how it echoed with their own experiences of early opportunities that armed them for later success.

For Mr Haddleton, it was Outward Bound.

“That was transformational for me,” he says.

“Up to that stage I didn’t know who I was – I had a great school education but I wasn’t confident in myself, I didn’t know where I was going to fit in the world, I had no idea what I was going to do.

“From Outward Bound, I went into the military, I got into the SAS, spent a few years there and really learnt about what it takes to be a leader, and from there we started our entrepreneurial career.”

For Mrs Haddleton it was being part of a singing group called the Belmont Singers, from the age of 12, which segued into an operatic career before she “went into sales and marketing and ended up co-founding two software companies.”

“We feel very humble and very grateful to the beginnings that we got – and we want to give back,” she says.

Naming sponsor sought
With a group of energetic and engaged individual benefactors behind it – not to mention its other supplier-sponsors – NYTC is now developing a corporate sponsorship programme, including looking for a major naming corporate sponsor.

“That’s what we’ve identified as our next step,” says Mr Doy. “Now we’re getting quite a high profile, we’re looking for someone who will recognise the benefit of that and the benefits we can give back to them.”

For Mrs Haddleton, the pitch is a self-evident one.

“It’s supporting and developing children throughout the community, to give them a chance in life that they wouldn’t normally have,” she says.

“I think that’s a strong philanthropic goal for any organisation.”

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