Red Mole, the New Zealand troupe that has developed its own brand of theatrics, has just crashed the most glamorous street in world entertainment. It has opened its own theatre on fabled Broadway in New York City.
The Pyramid Theatre is just a stone's throw from Time's Square in the middle of the theatre district.
Appropriately enough it is underground. It is in a basement a few steps from the milling crowds of tourists, theatre-goers, cardsharps, sidewalk entertainers and hucksters on Broadway.
The theatre's history is typical of the area. It has run the gamut from the glitter and glamour of variety theatre, to the sleaziness of striptease shows and porn movies. The last operator offered magic and variety shows before a t-shirt seller took over.
"It's the sort of area where we always feel at home immediately," said Mole Sally Rodwell. "It's full of weirdos and crazies and people that live all night and sleep all day. I like it here."
Red Mole's current lineup is Alan Brunton, Sally Rodwell, John Davis and Debbie Hunt. In New York they have added an American actress "Tricky" Tracy Trevett and three musicians.
Debbie Hunt is excited to be performing on Broadway. But she thinks the big theatres offer disappointing fare.
"They used to talk about a cast of thousands," she said. "But these days you're just as 1ikely to get some guy in a wheelchair talking about himself for your forty dollars a seat."
Not that Red Mole is competing on that level.
"We're making it quite clear that it's a political theatre," said Debbie Hunt. "It's not your tits and teeth stuff, and it's not heavy and deadly serious and your big star stuff. It's concerned political theatre."
Red Mole stages two shows a night of their unique phantasmagoric mix of singing, dancing, masks and mime. There are their usual satiric comments on social issues and man's exploitation of man. And they have added some shrewd jabs at the local and national scene in America.
Setting up the theatre took a lot of hard work, hassling and cold cash. Red Mole's manager, American Nancy Shatzkin, found the empty place by chance.
"It was a quick response to an opportunity," Nancy said. "The theatre was sitting on Broadway rotting away and the Moles were planning to come back to New York for a visit. It seemed like the perfect place for them to play in."
She pounced and secured a year's lease with an option to extend that to seven years. That's when the problems started.
Sally Rodwell said, "The difficulty in New York is that there's the most amazing collection of ordinances, red tape, people to please, people to satisfy, before you are actually allowed to do anything. About six different authorities have to receive plans and paid a little bit here and a little bit there.
"People in suits and carrying briefcases would come trooping down the stairs and they'd be from the mayor's office, or the building office, the sewage office, the Broadway Patrol, the this, the that. We were actually told at one stage that we weren't allowed to start work."
She grinned. "We did anyway of course. One thing you can't be is intimidated." A lot of work had to be done to bring the place up to the code required for public theatres. With the use of a little kiwi ingenuity and a lot of help from their New Zealand friends here, they saved a lot of time – and money. They were exhausted but they saved.
Nevertheless the initial investment, according to manager Nancy Shatzkin, will be "in the neighbourhood of $30,000."
At the moment Pyramid Theatre seats 68, but they have already filed an application to enlarge that to 150.
The Moles see the Pyramid Theatre as not just for them but as a resource that other New Zealanders can use. Naturally they are fiercely proud of their achievement.
"I think we are doing what the Arts Council should have done many years ago," says Sally Rodwell. "It's a very important city for New Zealand performers and visual artists and musicians to come to, because the very best in the world sooner or later ends up here. It's your only chance to see and hear those things and perform amongst people who are trying to do what you're trying to do."
She added, "I hope lots of people come in here and work, apart from Red Mole, before it disappears from under our nose."
If Pyramid Theatre proves to be a successful venture it could last for some years. But Red Mole is basically a touring troupe.
"Already some of us have itchy feet and want to be back on the road," Sally said.
They will stay with Pyramid for up to a year. After that they are planning a village-by-village tour of Samoa, Tonga and Nuie.