Story: Theatres, cinemas and halls

Page 4. Theatre rises, cinema declines

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New theatre experiences

From the 1960s smaller theatres made a comeback as venues for a developing local amateur and professional theatre sector and for introducing new performance ideas. Among the most novel was Dunedin’s Globe Theatre. It was built in the house of Patric and Rosalie Carey, who extended their living room to create a 30-seat auditorium in 1961. It expressed a growing desire for more intimate performance venues.

Wellington’s Downstage Theatre performed in the Walkabout Coffee Bar in Courtenay Place, where patrons could eat before watching a play. In 1973 it erected a new theatre on the same site.

Most other professional companies took over existing theatres or converted buildings into theatres:

  • Auckland’s Mercury Theatre was housed in the Mercury Theatre from 1968 to 1992, when it closed.
  • Christchurch’s Court Theatre used a variety of venues from 1971, before shifting to the Arts Centre in 1976. After the 2011 earthquake it moved to an Addington warehouse.
  • Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre began in 1973 and took over the former Trinity Methodist church in 1977.
  • Palmerston North’s Centrepoint Theatre has been housed in a renovated factory since 1974.
  • Wellington’s Circa Theatre used a renovated warehouse from 1976 before moving to its own purpose-built theatre in 1994.

University theatres

Student demand for modern performance venues saw the construction of new university theatres. Victoria University of Wellington led the way, opening the Memorial Theatre in 1961. It was joined by:

  • Ngaio Marsh Theatre, University of Canterbury (1967)
  • Maidment Theatre, University of Auckland (1976)
  • Allen Hall, University of Otago (1974)
  • Gallagher Academy of Performing Arts, University of Waikato (2001).

Other venues

From the 1970s new venues for amateur theatre and other events were built throughout the country, including Howick’s Little Theatre (1974), Rotorua’s Casa Blanca Theatre (1981) and Cromwell’s Fine Thyme Playhouse (2004). The period also saw an increased use of pubs as rock band venues. These included the Gluepot on Auckland’s Ponsonby Road and Dunedin’s James Cook Tavern – dubbed ‘the Cook’.

Pukekohe apartheid

During the 1950s Māori were not permitted to sit in the dress circle of Pukekohe’s Strand Cinema. The theatre’s proprietor, Mr B. Blennerhasser, defended the measure, claiming that most Māori patrons were ‘substandard’ in terms of cleanliness and behaviour. He therefore confined them to the front stalls. Māori were also banned from the lounge bar at the local pub and from several barbers in the town.

Cinema-going decline

During the 1950s cinema admissions continued to increase, reaching a peak in 1961 with 40.6 million admissions. A steep decline followed as New Zealanders forwent cinema-going for television watching. The introduction of the later 10pm bar closing time in 1967 was a further diversion, with admissions falling to 14.3 million by 1969. This dramatic decline led to the closure of many cinemas in the 1970s and 1980s.

How to cite this page:

Ben Schrader, 'Theatres, cinemas and halls - Theatre rises, cinema declines', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/en/theatres-cinemas-and-halls/page-4 (accessed 26 March 2017)

Story by Ben Schrader, published 22 Oct 2014