8 Dec 2022

Howard Morrison Theatre: official opening date announced

by Jenny Barrett

Out of action since being declared seismically unsafe in 2017, the Howard Morrison Centre is set to open its doors to Rotorua and the wider Bay of Plenty community on 16th to 18th February 2023.

The findings of the seismic assessment in November 2017 were greeted as an opportunity. For some time, there had been a feeling that the then Performing Arts Centre was not fit for purpose, lacked a community connection, and failed to meet the needs of todays’ touring companies.

The Rotorua Lakes Council and a number of external partners came together to fund the restoration project. The freshly strengthened, restored and renovated 84-year-old performing arts venue, which sits majestically in the heart of Rotorua city, is built on land gifted to the city by Ngāti Whakaue. A cultural partnership between mana whenua, the Morrison whānau and Te Arawa underpins all elements of the renovation project. Working with architects Shand Shelton, Ngāti Pikiao and Henriata Nicholas – Ngāti Whakaue artist and designer, the team were committed to integrating the cultural heritage of the local iwi.

Kirsty Wilson, Marketing Advisor, is part of the team who have been busy curating an eclectic line up of shows for 2023 and into 2024, “Unfortunately I can’t reveal too much at the moment, but I can tell you that we have a wonderful programme of events to celebrate New Zealand Music Month and Matariki.”

To foster the community connection the Howard Morrison Centre will host a regular evening featuring local musicians, “We want to give local talent a platform to showcase their music. We see this as an important role for the Howard Morrison Centre going forward.”

This ethos has been thoroughly embedded into the official opening celebrations. Taking place on 16 and 17 February, the venue will be opened to the public with a huge line-up of performers and musicians, both mana whenua and from across the motu, lifting the roof of the new venue in a dazzling multi-disciplinary show.

The line-up announced so far includes Aotearoa soul legend Whirimako Black, powerhouse musicians Ria Hall and Anika Moa, Sir Howard’s son Howie Morrison Junior, Te Mauri Kapa Haka, opera singer Christian Thurston, reggae band Origin Roots, Okareka Dance Company, circus sensations The Dust Palace, Thoroughly Modern Māori’s Rutene Spooner, Rotorua Musical Theatre, John Paul College choir, local performers Nikau Grace, Jasmine Hulton, Ellis Carrington and Krissy Knapp, Taiko Drumming, and Rotorua Girls’ High School and Western Heights High School Hip Hop crews.

Rotorua-born celebrated choreographer and artistic director Taiaroa Royal (Te Arawa, Kai Tahu, Ngāti Raukawa) will direct the gala event and also choreograph a special dance work for the show which will be performed by young local artists.

Sir Howard Morrison Centre’s Performing Arts Director Janelle Bish says, “With the gala opening, we wanted to celebrate our immense local talent and present a spectacular showcase of arts and performance with guest artists visiting from across the North Island, all of whom have connections to the Morrison whānau and the Te Arawa region. This opening will demonstrate the multi-genre, collaborative community environment we hope to foster moving forward.”

Following on, on Saturday 18 February, the venue will host a free to the public Rā a Whānau (family open day). All are welcome to enjoy relaxed performances, workshops, live music, and behind-the-scenes tours of this exciting new creative hub.

A few events have provided a sneak preview of what to expect, with the Lockwood New Zealand ARIA Finals Night showcasing talented singers from across Australasia in the Sir Owen Glenn Theatre (formerly the Civic). Local Mayor Tania Tapsell opened the event with the words, “In this building it looks like Rotorua, it feels like Rotorua, and we look forward to hearing the Rotorua talent.”

With a dawn karakia led by Mataia Keepa of Te Arawa and blessing by Ngāti Whakaue Tohunga, Anaha Hiini and Ranginui Rikirangi Thomas of Ngāti Pikiao, taking place a few days prior, all eyes are now turned to the Grand Opening.

For more information on the Howard Morrison Open Days follow their Facebook and Instagram pages.


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