Launching Aotearoa New Zealand Theatre and Covid-19: A Timeline

Aotearoa New Zealand Theatre and Covid-19: A Timeline

Today Theatre Scenes is launching a timeline tracking the impact of Covid-19 on Aotearoa New Zealand’s theatre and performance ecology from the beginning of 2020 till today.

This is the first public feature of a two-year research project ‘Growing Aotearoa’s Theatre Ecology: Sustainability, Resilience and Opportunities in the Pandemic Environment’. This theatre ecology project seeks to understand the impact of the pandemic on contemporary theatrical activity in Aotearoa and offer proposals for the further nurturing and growth of this vital creative ecology.

The timeline was created by Dr James Wenley and Phoebe Robertson as part of Te Herenga Waka Victoria University of Wellington’s Summer Scholar programme. The timeline tells the story of Aotearoa New Zealand theatre and performance in the age of Covid-19 – from the first significant disruption and widespread performance cancellations during the country’s first lockdown from March 2020, through to the current Omicron outbreak.


Also included with the timeline is a brief analysis of the impacts of pandemic on live performance, as well as interviews conducted by Phoebe Robertson with practitioners Kelly Fornia, Eleanor Bishop, Cassandra Tse and Trick of the Light theatre company about their experiences navigating the performance industry during the pandemic.

We offer the timeline as a record of the challenges, achievements and twists and turns faced by the theatre and performance sector over the past 2+ years. With Omicron the focus of 2022 to date, it is easy to forget that it was only 25th November 2021 that scientists warned us about this new variant.  The timeline takes us back through the early days of Covid’s global arrival in 2020, the first lockdown, theatre’s ‘digital pivot’, Creative New Zealand and Government arts recovery packages, and return to live performance in 2020. Delta proved a new threat in 2021, disrupting our spring arts festivals seasons, and this year Omicron has further upended the sector during what would usually be a busy summer for events.  

It has been incredibly tough to be involved in live performance over the past two years. In the first stages of the pandemic New Zealand’s world-leading response meant we had limited Covid outbreaks compared with other countries. Nevertheless, the timeline illustrates that between 1st January 2020 through to 13 April 2022 (when New Zealand moved to the Orange traffic light setting), there has been a public heath measure in place somewhere in the country that restricts public gathering and the viability of live performance close to 50% of the time.  

This graph demonstrates how live performance in Auckland, Northland, Wellington and Christchurch has been impacted by the pandemic and public health measures – recording the number of days per when live performance in these regions was restricted over this almost 28 month period.

The impact of the pandemic and public health measures on live performance in NZ

* No performance restrictions indicate performances could go ahead with full venue capacity. It does not include other public health safety measures that might be in place such as vaccine passes or mask requirements.

Head over to the timeline for full analysis.

TOMORROW: What’s the current state of play for Aotearoa’s live performance under the Orange Traffic light setting?

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