NZ

13 Apr 2022

Theatre Upgrades Around The Country

by Jenny Barrett

Theatres around the country have been running the COVID gauntlet not only from a live performance perspective, but also on the reconstruction and renovation side of things. This month we catch up on Waikato Regional Theatre and a couple of other PGF beneficiaries; next month an update from Wellington City Council on St James Theatre Wellington, followed by a look inside what is happening at the Howard Morrison Theatre, Rotorua.

Waikato Regional Theatre, Hamilton

Waikato Regional Theatre was borne of the closure of Founders Theatre in March 2016. The cost of repairing Founders Theatre, with no significant modernisation, was estimated at $25 million, at the limit of what the Hamilton City Council could afford. The Momentum Waikato Community Foundation, an independently established community foundation that links philanthropists to worthy causes, proposed to lead the development of a new Waikato Regional Theatre. Their proposal was accepted, with the Council putting up a cornerstone deposit equivalent to the cost of repairing Founders, and Momentum fundraising the balance from public, community and private sources. In October 2019, the government announced a $12 million contribution from the Provincial Growth Fund (PGF), three billion dollars allocated to the regions to accelerate economic development, increase regional productivity, and contribute to more and better-paying jobs.

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After significant debate on the optimum location from twenty-five potential choices, the historical Hamilton Hotel site was chosen. This riverside block is close to the Waikato Museum, the ArtsPost gallery and the smaller Meteor theatre, at the heart of the city’s ‘creative precinct’. Waikato Tainui and mana whenua hapu representatives Te Haa o Te Whenua o Kirikiriroa (THaWK) are project partners and are engaged in the planning for the cultural decoration and treatment of the theatre and its surrounds.

Work began on the estimated $80M theatre in October 2021 and demolition work is now underway, including the careful removal of heritage items from the old Hamilton Hotel. This is due to continue through the first quarter of 2022, ahead of the erection of the structural support for the Hotel’s facade and the start of excavation for the foundations.

Its 1300-seat auditorium sits between Hamilton’s current theatre and stadium offerings with the Meteor Theatre at 200 seats, Clarence Street Theatre ranging from 300 to 550, and at the other end of the spectrum, Claudelands Arena at 6000 and FMG Stadium Waikato up to 25,800.

The theatre’s acoustic features and a wide stage will enable orchestral concerts, rock gigs and performances such as kapa haka. A drop-in proscenium arch will then allow for plays and other more intimate, small-scale performance such as stand-up comedy. A variable orchestra pit will be used for musicals. The vision for the theatre includes support for technical training programmes.

“The Waikato Regional Theatre, on track to be completed in mid-2024, will be a fantastic new venue for the Waikato to call its own, a place where ‘we will meet again’ and enjoy the best performance our community and the world has to offer,” says Momentum Waikato Communications Manager Mark Servian.

The audience-building and fundraising website for the project is sharethestage.co.nz.

Regent Theatre, Greymouth

Another PGF recipient, The Regent Theatre Greymouth received a complete interior overhaul. Local building company B A Fahey Builders installed a new veranda complete with new lighting which has given the building a new lease on life. Local painting company Hay Brothers has completed internal painting. This is the first internal paint job since the 1988 Greymouth floods where the Regent had 1 ½ metres of water come through it, so it’s more than just a makeover!

Otaki Civic Theatre

Ōtaki Council was awarded $500,000 towards the refurbishment of its Ōtaki Civic Theatre, also from the PGF fund. The refurbishment works included replacing the roof, upgraded toilets, partially rebuilding the stage, replacing damaged seating and flooring, and repairing the exterior of the building and gutters. Completed in June 2021, the project has helped restore it to its former art deco glory. Post-COVID they are now looking forward to getting back to business, hosting the Ōtaki Players Society, the Māoriland Film Festival, concerts and school productions.

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