Theatre company moving into CBD

CHARLIE GATES
Last updated 07:32 02/06/2014

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An experimental theatre company is moving into the former Academy Cinema building in the Christchurch Arts Centre.

Free Theatre Christchurch has signed a two-year lease for the gymnasium building in the historic complex, making it one of the first theatre companies to return to the Christchurch city centre since the earthquakes.

Theatre manager George Parker said the tenancy was a sign of how Christchurch has changed since the earthquakes.

"I think it is significant that the Arts Centre would work with the Free Theatre straight off the bat to come into this space and it is a significant sign of the new Christchurch," he said.

"It is wonderful. It shows that Christchurch has this attitude that is very young and interesting and experimental and looking at new ways to live in the city."

Free Theatre's first major production in the gymnasium building will be Kafka's Amerika in October. They also plan to host Ubu Nights, evenings of entertainment in collaboration with artists and other creative disciplines.

One early idea is for an evening themed around the movies and music of film-maker David Lynch.

The theatre has secured Christchurch City Council funding to support lease payments for the first year. It is also in talks with Creative New Zealand and the Canterbury Community Trust for further funding.

Arts Centre director Andre Lovatt said he was "thrilled and really excited" by the new lease.

"This is massive for us. The ideas these guys are bringing and what they are going to do will knock people's socks off.

"It is fantastic for what we are trying to achieve for the Arts Centre."

The gymnasium building has been restored and quake strengthened, revealing the skylight, original wooden gymnasium floor and neo-gothic windows.

Free Theatre Christchurch was formed in 1979 and adopted its name in 1980. A four-page manifesto written in 1982 called for an "experimental and alternative theatre" and outlined an opening season including "anti-conventional Dada pieces".

More recently, the company won praise for its experimental production of I Sing the Body Electric in 2012.

Free Theatre has taken on the lease in partnership with Arts Circus, an arts sector alliance that will programme the gymnasium space for local festivals, events and community groups.

The space in the Arts Centre will be flexible to allow for many different seating and stage configurations for different events and performances.

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