Waikato's new theatre could cater for events Hamilton previously couldn't host

The people and productions that didn't use Hamilton's Founders Theatre are giving vital information to the team working ...
CHRISTEL YARDLEY/FAIRFAX NZ

The people and productions that didn't use Hamilton's Founders Theatre are giving vital information to the team working on a new venue for the Waikato region.

Everyone from Waikato dance schools to the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra is having a say on a new regional theatre.

But those who didn't – or couldn't – use Hamilton's Founders Theatre are also giving valuable feedback.

Founders Theatre was closed in February 2016 after safety concerns relating to a flying system, and was later found to be earthquake prone.

The new theatre will be a game changer if everything's done right, says Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel chair ...
DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

The new theatre will be a game changer if everything's done right, says Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel chair Julian Elder, left. He's pictured with Charcoalblue's Eric Lawrence and David Pugh from Jasmax.

The price tag for a new theatre was estimated at $55 million and Hamilton City Council was tossing up between a refurbishment and a new build.

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A Momentum Waikato proposal to share costs tipped the scales, and councillors voted in July 2016 to contribute a maximum of $30m plus GST.

Founders' closure has left a gap that needs to be filled, said Eric Lawrence of Charcoalblue, the international theatre and acoustic design consultancy chosen for the project.

"The great thing is that nobody has said to us 'We want this theatre' with a document. It's like 'We want you as experts to come and tell us what the community needs'," he said.

Lawrence is based in Melbourne but is on his second visit to Hamilton, and a London-based acoustics specialist has also been Skyping in to some sessions in the leadup to a March visit.

The people they've been talking to include local dance schools, the Hamilton Operatic Society, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Royal New Zealand Ballet, and Waikato artists and composers.

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The new theatre should also accommodate events that weren't previously possible in Hamilton, so they've also talked to those who didn't use Founders.

"All of a sudden you began to see what this [new] building could really do," Lawrence said.

One example is the symphony orchestra – Lawrence said those behind the orchestra see Hamilton as a key site but appeared to have been limited by the facilities.

Now they're brimming with suggestions of outreach opportunities for the region, instead of a fly-in, fly-out concert.

"We weren't even asking. They were saying 'we want to do this'. And that was great," Lawrence said.

The team behind the theatre effectively has a blank sheet of paper in terms of what it is and where it goes, Waikato Regional Theatre Governance Panel chair Julian Elder said.

"It's really one of those game-changing type projects if we do it all right," he said.

"[Founders] dates back to theatres of that age. We're not going to build one of those."

Architecture and design firm Jasmax is excited to play a part in the project, architect David Pugh said.

"You don't alway get projects that are transformational, they're going to change the city."

At the moment it's too early to talk about what the building could look like, because first they have to get the right brief together.

They're not going to pre-pick a shape or form before knowing the site, then plonk it on, and appearance is only one factor in terms of what the community wants.

"Obviously, we'll still come up with a really nice-looking building, don't get us wrong," Pugh said.

The team plans to take a full concept to Hamilton City Council in July and, if council approves it, the concept will go out to public consultation.

 - Stuff

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