The origins of the Covert Theatre…
Wade Jackson started doing improv as University student in 1994. The only other improv group in town wouldn’t let him play with them so he created The Improv Bandits with a couple of friends in 1997. The word “Bandits” was specifically chosen as this was the first time in NZ there was non-Theatresports improv and they were seen as the young renegades of comedy. The Improv Bandits were based at the SiLO Theatre (now Basement Theatre) and would perform at 10pm on a Friday night. They proved to be popular and Wade was approached to run community workshops for others – the Art of Improvisation workshop course was born in 1998.
In 2000 Wade toured to three cities that culminated in the creation of the Covert Theatre. He first performed with The Improv Bandits at Annoyance Theater in the Chicago Improv Festival. He got to see what it was like to have your own creative space. Later that year he did the Loose Moose Summer School with Keith Johnstone and got to see how a volunteer theatre operated. Then in October he performed in New York at two theatres; Bank Street Theater and Gotham City Improv, where he saw how a small out of the way venue could be perhaps affordable. He was sitting on the New York subway after watching a show at the Upright Citizen’s Brigade theatre holding their October 2000 promotional postcard with all their shows on it and he knew in that moment that he must create a space like that in Auckland upon his return.
As a fulltime actor (ie: on the unemployment benefit) he had no money so he started approaching people who did while setting up the Improv Society Incorporated. He and fellow Improv Bandit Mark Scott went to walk around Auckland City looking for appropriate venues. They parked the car, took 14 steps and found what was to be the first Covert Theatre at 84 Karangahape Road. Six weeks from returning from New York Wade has secured a 4-year lease and $44,000 to start the theatre fitout.
At this time in 2000, the people doing the workshops wanted to perform so Wade got the Maestro licence from the International Theatresports Institute and they performed at the SiLO Theatre. Now they had a venue and a bunch of keen improvisers.
The first Covert Theatre opened on 26 April 2001 as part of the NZ International Comedy Festival. Wade produced 11 shows at the venue and won the Most Courageous Producer Award. It turned out that $44k isn’t enough to fitout the theatre but after many sleepless nights and a lot of effort by a lot of good people, the Covert survived. At the end of the 4-year lease, Wade was moving into the corporate teaching space more and more and had begun researching his first book JOLT Challenge. An opportunity came up to sell the renewal rights of the lease, which is what he did.
The Covert moved to the Classic Studio on Queen Street for its performances and then made its home at the Maidment Theatre for many years. The Maidment Theatre was eventually declared unsafe and knocked down by the University of Auckland. The Covert without a home, then booked theatres and workshops spaces all over Auckland. Wade had promised himself he’d return and create another home when he was financially able to do so. Wade also realised he couldn’t have the theatre based just around him and his efforts so in 2016 he co-created The Yes And Trust. He donated the Covert Theatre brand and affiliated IP to the Trust. They started looking for potential venues again and were unsuccessful… until 2019.
On the 1st September 2019, the Yes And Trust took the lease at 51 Mackelvie Street in Ponsonby. They raised the funds to do the fitout and opened its doors again on 1 February 2020. This venue is now NZ’s spiritual home of improvised comedy. It is a breeding ground for comedic talent with the mandate to offer a community to improv actors, comedians, writers, directors and producers. The rest, as we prefer to say, is we’ll be making history!