Steven Smith (centre) conducts the band for Spring Awakening: The Musical at The Meteor.
A stalwart of Hamilton’s vibrant musical theatre scene has targeted his donation for the Waikato Regional Theatre towards its music stands, because he is expecting to see them used by some of the world’s top musicians.
Steven Smith has been involved in over 100 local productions since his debut in the early 1980s, working with Hamilton Operatic, Musicmakers and many Waikato schools.
Excited at the news of the theatre planned for the south end of Hamilton’s main street, he wanted to support a detail that would enable musicians to make the very best use of the new venue, so funded its music stands so they can concentrate on their playing.
“Wherever I perform, the music stands are an important piece of equipment, and they can certainly be shoddy and unreliable, so it is good to have good ones.
“I am looking forward to seeing great musicians from around the world using the stands I’ve funded. It is one of those things that will ensure their experience of the theatre is entirely positive.”
“The auditorium will need a lot of them and professional-standard ones can cost $200 each. The NZSO [New Zealand Symphony Orchestra] has 60 musicians, and operas can have 80, and happily the ‘orchestra pit’ in the new theatre can accommodate that many.”
The Waikato Regional Theatre will be a multi-purpose performing arts centre, able to be set up to host everything from plays and ballet, to kapa haka and rock gigs. Steven is looking forward to it.
“What I really like is that it will be a flexible space without compromise. No matter what configuration it is in, it will deliver good acoustics and sight lines. It will suit whatever art form, it is a very clever design.
“Founders was always a compromise, and I say that having played there a lot. When we put on Miss Saigon in 2010, we handled the helicopter landing scene by getting a forklift to bring in the full-scale chopper model, which was a challenge.
“That sort of big, exciting stage work will be so much easier in the new theatre. I know the logistics involved in big productions well, and it will certainly be able to cope with those giant props and sets.”
He also has no fears about access for trucks in and out of the central city site.
“If Charcoal Blue can design a theatre in Stratford-on-Avon, with its heritage concerns and narrow streets, they can certainly design one for here!”
Despite his decades of involvement in local shows, Steven describes himself as possibly “the most unknown musician in Hamilton”, due to the orchestras in musical theatre often being hidden.
“In the recent production of Les Misérables at Clarence St Theatre, we were out of sight behind the stage. One night, after two-and-a-half hours of hard playing, I encountered some of the audience in the carpark discussing whether the music was recorded or not!”
Steven’s low profile belies the fact that he has worked on dozens of local shows, from Aloha for Operatic in 1981, through to Chitty Chitty Bang Bang coming up in September at Southwell School. Usually he is simply one of the musicians, but he has also taken on a range of behind-the-scenes roles, from musical director to lighting operator. His own ‘Three Wines Theatre Company’ most recently co-produced Spring Awakening: The Musical at The Meteor in 2016 (pictured below).
His entire family have long been active in musical theatre, orchestras, brass bands and choruses, with both his parents, Colin and the late Barbara Smith, receiving QSMs for their service to music.
“What I like about musical theatre is that it is a big illusion, a willing suspension of disbelief. I get asked to be involved a lot, but it is a big commitment – Miss Saigon took 18 months. I have to be passionate about the show to have the energy to do it, it is rewarding but demanding.”
Steven sees hundreds of youngsters involved in music shows and competitions and there are many other performance genres outside his sphere. Even if they don’t land up in performance careers, the skills and experience gained on the stage benefit many aspects of their lives.
“I am supporting the new Waikato Regional Theatre so those kids can see international-standard shows in the same space where they themselves can perform. We will all benefit from them having a place to realise their potential.”