Last curtain call for professional theatre founder
14 Jun 2012
One of New Zealand’s foremost theatre practitioners has taken his final bow. Renowned drama educator and director George Webby OBE, is farewelled.
Creative New Zealand bids farewell to renowned drama educator and director, George Webby OBE, and acknowledges the immense influence he had in the shaping of a professional theatre scene throughout the decades of service he gave to his artform.
Son of the late Alan and Georgina Webby, George was born in Whanganui in the 1920s. He enjoyed a happy childhood and was taken to the movies and learned the piano. Growing up in 1930s, rural New Zealand he was determined to have a career in theatre. As a young adult he began his formal training as a teacher, but always made time for amateur theatrical forays. In time he became a lecturer at Wellington Teachers College.
Eventually forging a place in the 1950s Wellington theatre scene, George became an actor, performing in and directing Unity Theatre and Downstage plays among other things. A pivotal time in Webby’s life took place in the 1960s, with the visit to New Zealand of theatre expert George Baker, who invited him back to the University in Dallas. This experience gave George confidence as a director and in the standard of local productions. Later in life, under a proposal from the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council, George was selected as a Fulbright scholar to study marketing of the arts, art promotion, the need for arts business managers, the methods of soliciting business sponsorship and taking an entrepreneurial approach.
In February 1970, the New Theatre Arts Council Interim Training School was established, based on the teaching of the esteemed Nola Millar, a woman who would become George’s friend for many years. The School went on to become the New Zealand Drama School (now Toi Whakaari). Ms Millar was the School’s founder director until her untimely death in 1974.
George Webby took on the School’s directorship in 1974. That year the School was reconstituted as the New Zealand Drama School, to offer a two-year full time certificate course. The professional training facility opened in temporary premises at the Wellington Savage Club in Kent Terrace (above BATS Theatre’s current location), and in 1975 shifted to Taranaki Street. The School was relocated and rebuilt over the 14 years George presided there. Following his retirement as Director in 1988, George continued to mentor many actors, producers and theatre practitioners.
To those who knew him George was dapper, out-going and a great lover of gossip. He will be remembered as a colourful but private, high achiever whose legacy includes the establishment of credible, sustainable, professional theatre in New Zealand.