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New theatre would put Hamilton and Waikato back on the touring circuit 7 September, 2017
We're $15m closer to having one of the best theatres in the country.
A proposed Waikato Regional Theatre could put Hamilton back on the touring circuit and be the envy of other cities, according to heavyweights in the performing arts area.
Now philanthropic organisation Trust Waikato has also thrown its weight behind the project with a $15m grant.
The proposal is for a 1100-seat theatre in a complex overlooking the Waikato River from the site of the former Hamilton Hotel building.
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An art gallery and boutique hotel could be part of it but are not included in the estimated $73 million pricetag.
Concepts for the new theatre look amazing, Royal NZ Ballet technical director Andrew Lees said.
"You won't have to go to Auckland to see the entire show," he said.
Before the ballet's sets and shows got too big for Founders Theatre, they were already tweaking them to fit, he said.
The new theatre would take the biggest shows of the next 10 to 15 years with room to spare.
"Other big cities, I wish would have similar kinds of facilities," Lees said.
"I'll be jealous. I'll want one in Wellington now."
In a statement, the ballet's executive director Frances Turner said it could put Hamilton back on the touring circuit.
"Going by the plans it could be one of the best theatres in the country and well and truly fit for our purposes."
Plans also delighted NZ Symphony Orchestra, chief executive Christopher Blake said.
"I'm really pleased and surprised at how skillful it has all been," he said.
Founders Theatre was too narrow for the orchestra to be in full symphony mode and, since it shut, players have squeezed into Clarence Street Theatre or performed in makeshift concert halls at other venues.
"The upshot for us is that we're hoping to be able to eventually increase our activities in Hamilton and do that by being able to bring any programme that we have got to Hamilton, rather than having to pick those ones that will actually fit in the city."
He's expecting the acoustics to be on par with top venues such as Auckland Town Hall and the Michael Fowler Centre.
Both the ballet and the orchestra were pleased with plans for spaces that could be used for education, sponsor, or backstage functions.
COMMUNITY COMES ON BOARD
Trust Waikato foresees wide-ranging and positive benefits and has given $15m towards the theatre development.
"The new theatre will add to the cultural, economic and creative opportunities across the region for many years to come," a statement from Trust Waikato chair Niwa Nuri said.
And Hamilton Operatic Society chair Fiona Bradley is excited about doing a show on the new stage.
"[The exterior] is gorgeous. It's going to be an iconic building in its own right, a place that people want to be, to come to."
The experts had listened to feedback, she said - for example by meeting Hamilton Operatic's wishes for seating capacity.
International theatre design consultancy Charcoalblue was appointed to help with the theatre design process, and Melbourne studio principal Eric Lawrence presented progress so far to council.
The new auditorium was intended to be a "flexible, lyric theatre with great acoustics for un-amplified musical instruments", he said.
It should attract national and international touring performers but also be a destination in its own right and have other uses.
The proposed auditorium shape - parallel side walls and two balconies - was preferred acoustically but had another advantage, Charcoalblue partner Byron Harrison said in the presentation.
"By not selling the upper balcony or rear parterre, the seating capacity may be reduced to between 650 and 800 seats without causing the room to feel empty."
The stage itself could vary from 12m to 20m in width, Harrison said, so box seats on either side would be "moveable architectural towers".
The theatre would have a full-height fly tower and motorised lifts in the forestage area would allow for an orchestra pit, stage extension, or extra rows of seating.
The theatre building would be an iconic structure beside the iconic Waikato River, Jasmax architect David Pugh said.
The screen around the building would reflect the tranquility of the river and the building's towers could be backlit to resemble the dappled light of the trees surrounding them.
Momentum Waikato chair Leonard Gardner said the new theatre would probably need ongoing community support to break even, especially in the first few years.
Some generous Waikato families were supporting the project and Hamilton City Council's ongoing risk would be limited to agreed annual funding.
The Waikato has been without a key performing arts venue since Founders Theatre shut in March 2016.
Development of a new one is being led by philanthropic organisation Momentum Waikato, and the plans so far were revealed at a Hamilton City Council's August meeting.
A selection of features of the proposed Waikato Regional Theatre
* flexible lyric theatre
* auditorium seats around 1100
* auditorium has parallel walls and two balconies
* acoustics suitable for unamplified instruments
* stage width can vary from 12m to 20m
* other moveable parts: eg proscenium, forestage lifts, box seats
* $73m budget
* full facility would be 6432sqm
* informal performance sites in foyer and courtyard
* possibility of adjoining arts development (hotel and gallery)
Story from Stuff.co.nz
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