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Without help, all these costumes could be gone. (Photos: First Scene, Image Design: Archi Banal)
Without help, all these costumes could be gone. (Photos: First Scene, Image Design: Archi Banal)

BusinessMarch 2, 2022

Don’t stop the party: First Scene calls for help

Without help, all these costumes could be gone. (Photos: First Scene, Image Design: Archi Banal)
Without help, all these costumes could be gone. (Photos: First Scene, Image Design: Archi Banal)

Costume and props hire stalwart First Scene has been around for 40 years, but Covid-19 has dealt it a critical blow. Its owner tells Sam Brooks how people can help keep the business afloat.

“Go to First Scene” is the response to many a dilemma in Auckland. Need an outfit for a last-minute costume party? Go to First Scene. Need a piece of furniture that you couldn’t possibly afford to buy for a single event? Go to First Scene. Want a kid’s party to go off with a bang? Go to First Scene. 

For 40 years, the huge costume and props hire business, now located in Avondale, has been a delightful solution to stressful problems. Unfortunately, like every business, First Scene has been hit – hard – by Covid-19. The phrase “Go to First Scene” could soon be replaced by “I wish we could go to First Scene”. The business needs support, fast.

“We’re talking months, not years”, says Jo Pilkington, First Scene’s owner. She estimates that the business has lost $1 million in the past two years due to the pandemic. “We have a very short amount of time to try and get through this.” 

It can be easy to underestimate the scope and scale of First Scene if you’ve only required them for one thing – say, a costume for a party or a piece of furniture for a set. First Scene does that, of course, but it also does much more.

“We do every international film that comes to New Zealand. We did Power of the Dog, Lord of the Rings, the Hobbits, literally hundreds of films,” Pilkington says. “We also do a lot of corporate events, and events for members of the public. If you were having a birthday party or having some kind of personal celebration, we would be looking after that for you. Community groups, churches, school productions – all of them come to First Scene.

“We are an institution. We’re incredibly unique and if our collection was lost it would be disastrous for every [arts] industry.”

Dan Williams, an award-winning set and costume designer who has worked on countless events and productions, sees First Scene as an old friend to rely on. “It’s helped me pull off many events over the years. It’s large and diverse range never disappoints, and you can generally find the unfindable,” he says. Calling it a “vital resource”, he says it would be impossible for him to do his job effectively if First Scene were to disappear.

“They are a necessary pillar in our entertainment and arts sector. Without them there would be a huge gap.”

In a normal February, First Scene would be run off its feet with production work from movies and theatre, both international and local. They would also be working with the big arts and music festivals – nearly all of which have this year cancelled, postponed or pivoted in a way that drastically reduces their output, and need for costumes and props.

Bronwynn Bakker, an experienced producer of shows including Funny Girls and Creamerie, believes First Scene is one of the most underrated but essential elements of the New Zealand TV industry. “Back in the days of Jono and Ben, there was seemingly always a production person on their way to or on their way back from First Scene,” she remembers. Most recently, when working on Taskmaster NZ, she relied on the First Scene team to turn around an obscure costume or prop request in a matter of minutes.

“Where else can you pick up a steampunk diver’s costume and a life-sized cow from the same place?” 

The current Covid wave has had ripple effects beyond the big budget productions. First Scene would’ve also catered to a lot of Christmas postponements that come in through the summer. Now, with omicron, those have gone too. 

As with most businesses, First Scene has pivoted in response to the pandemic. They’ve always run the site as a venue, but now they’re running tours for community groups, hosting kids’ birthdays, and have even sold off some product. They’ve also made painful but necessary cuts: some staff have been made redundant, operating hours have been shortened, and some of the services it’s traditionally offered have been cut back.

But that may not be enough. “If we don’t survive this, if this collection goes, it won’t come back,” says Pilkington. “It’s not replaceable. It’s 400,000 items collected over 40 years. Every industry, particularly film, theatre, TV, but also every events company, everyone else, they’ll have nowhere to go.”

So what can people do to help them through? Pilkington points to First Scene’s website – purchase a gift voucher, make a donation, book a small party. In short: Spend money with First Scene, and do it now. “If you know you’ve got something happening in two or three months, book and pay for it now and that will help us get to two or three months. We’re in the crap. We’re not going to survive. Help us out with some funds to get us through when you really need us. That’s kind of the bottom line, actually.

“And call Peter Jackson! Call Peter Jackson and ask him to support us.”

You can support First Scene at its website right here.

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