Graham Slater: Civic Award winner 2019

Published on 13 November 2019

Photo of 2020 Civic Award winner Graham Slater

Described by former Centrepoint Theatre artistic director Alison Quigan during the recent 45th birthday celebrations as “my go-to lighting guy”, Graham Slater’s involvement in theatre began completely by accident.

His wife, Gloria, can take a great deal of credit for her husband’s Civic Honours Award. 

Gloria was performing in a Palmerston North Operatic (renamed Abbey Musical Theatre) show at the Church Street Opera House (where Farmers is now). While Graham waited backstage for her, he was ‘outed’ as a recently registered electrician.

In those days, registered electricians were required to operate theatre lighting, and when the stage crew found out he was a sparkie, there was no escape. Once in though, Graham was readily hooked. Trained up as a lighting board operator, he worked on a succession of Operatic shows, as well as being called in for touring shows at the Opera House and Regent Theatre.

According to Graham, it was a hands-on, pick-things-up-as-you-go process: “I learned a helluva lot from working with all those people.”

In 1975 one of those visiting shows was Harry M Miller’s Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar starring Trevor White as Jesus and Jon English as Judas. A follow-spot operator, Graham was invited to finish the New Zealand tour with the company and accompany the production around Australia. He chucked in his job, and he and Gloria took off.

Graham remembers it as: “The best show of my life – the most amazing company to be a part of.”

On returning to Palmerston North, he had plenty of employment opportunities, including work as the house electrician for the Regent, and setting up AV (audio-visual) for the recently opened Palmerston North Convention Centre (now the Conference and Function Centre).

In 1979 he was engaged as an after-hours lighting designer and operator for Centrepoint Theatre, which had just moved from its original premises at 81 George Street to the present Church Street location.

In 1982 when the QEII Arts Council suddenly withdrew funding, the theatre – less than 10 years old, was in crisis. Graham was elected as a ‘creative’ to the board – a voluntary role he has recently relinquished after 38 years.

Centrepoint weathered the funding shortfall as its substantial membership and the people of Palmerston North rallied to preserve their playhouse, enlisting the help of other Kiwi theatre professionals to keep the doors open.

Funding was restored 12 months later, and Graham continued his board work. He was elected chairperson in 1984 – a role he held only briefly due to the pressures of his day job and Massey University studies. Graham remained on the board as a valued member and community advocate for the theatre, spending many thousands of hours under its roof.

During the 80s, Graham was employed as an AV tech at Massey, and then set up the AV department at IPC (now IPU).

He was enticed back to Massey to complete an MA, and was asked to write a couple of media studies papers, remaining at the university until his retirement in 2013.

Graham is also a member of Menzshed Manawatū – a community of retired blokes who donate their handyman talents and expertise to helping Palmerston North's not-for-profit sector. A vital member of the organisation and Menzshed secretary for quite a few years now, Graham acts as liaison for the Toy Library, collecting damaged toys and coordinating their repair and return. This has sparked investigations into how 3D printing could be utilised to replace damaged and missing toy parts.

A great believer in the value of inter-personal communication, Graham also promotes discussion of men’s health and wellbeing issues during construction sessions in the Menzshed workshop.

In 2014 Graham joined U3A (University of the Third Age) Manawatū, a volunteer-run learning environment for retirees. Formed in 2000, the local chapter now has some 330 members and offers 38 learning groups. Graham found himself on the U3A committee in 2016, and was elected Chair in 2018, while coordinating two U3A groups: Movies for Enthusiasts and NZ History. He also devotes time and thought to the purchase and maintenance of the organisation’s technical equipment.

Retired but certainly not retiring, Graham is involved in setting up an archive of the organisation’s first 20 years, and enthusiastically promotes U3A when invited as after-dinner speaker to share his knowledge and experience with a wide variety of other community groups.