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Return to local-theatre stage snares award for arts-centre head

Flagstaff Team

Day job… Grae Burton in his Lake House Arts office

A local arts centre manager has won an award for his performance in last year’s Shakespeare in the Park in Takapuna – his first foray into community theatre in decades. Grae Burton’s performance as Antony in Antony and Cleopatra at the PumpHouse outdoor amphitheatre earned him the best actor award at the recent Auckland Community Theatre Awards. Burton, who is the manager at Lake House Arts in Fred Thomas Dr, said he was shocked to be given the award. “I was really surprised that I got nominated. Number one, I didn’t even know there were awards.“I was thrilled, I was not expecting to win.”The play was Burton’s first return to community theatre since 1998, aside from a one-man-show fundraiser he staged at the Rose Centre several years ago. He said he wanted to do the Shakespeare season because he still had an itch for acting.The Nelson native’s first job in the entertainment industry was as a test actor for Peter Jackson’s The Frighteners in 1995, when Jackson was working out how to use motion-control before his cast arrived. In the 2000s, Burton started a theatre and arts centre in Nelson called The Independent. “We did classics, we did avant garde theatre – everything that could possibly lose money, we did it.” The company was liquidated in 2009, but the relative success of a Stephen Papps show it put on at the PumpHouse, in its final year, prompted Burton to move to Auckland. After losing money “hand over fist” touring the show, a season at the PumpHouse covered costs despite lacklustre ticket sales.

Grae Burton on stage during his award-winning performance in Antony and Cleopatra

Burton worked as videographer, then as tour manager for the Ugly Shakespeare Company for six months. He went on to be a freelance actor, director, producer, visual artist and playwright in Auckland until becoming the manager at Lake House Arts in 2017. He had numerous plays produced and was cast as an actor in TV shows such as Underbelly: Land of the Long Green Cloud, Shortland Street, The Brokenwood Mysteries and the web series AFK. Back in 1998 Burton was in an episode of Young Hercules alongside Ryan Gosling, who he found easygoing, and attitude-free. “He just wanted to be friends and know people and be a part of the community.” Burton recently directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream for this year’s Shakespeare in the Park. He’s planning on being involved in next year’s season, too, but isn’t sure in what capacity.

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