From gig booker to restoration boss

ABBIE NAPIER
Last updated 05:00 06/06/2014
neil cox
JOSEPH JOHNSON/Fairfax NZ
BIG JOB: Isaac Theatre Royal chief executive Neil Cox.

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Neil Cox has gone from booking gigs for a city theatre to directing one of Christchurch's biggest heritage restoration projects. The Isaac Theatre Royal will be his legacy.

Cox had spent much of his professional life working with record labels, managing marketing and hobnobbing with big names. After jumping around the world for a while, he eventually settled in New Zealand.

A stint working for Vbase events for the Town Hall and the CBS Arena tossed up a unique opportunity in 2008, when Cox began consulting for the newly refurbished Isaac Theatre Royal.

It was a production of Priscilla Queen of the Desert that drew him in and, although the show was eventually nabbed by Auckland, Cox was hooked. A six-month consult ended with a fulltime job as general manager.

"I really did think long and hard about it," he said.

"I wasn't sure I wanted to end up a theatre manager - some old bloke in a big theatre."

His contacts in the industry were valuable and 2009 and 2010 were good years for the theatre, Cox said.

Despite a recent refurbishment, the theatre still needed work. It survived the September 2010 quake, but February 2011 dealt a bigger blow.

At first, it seemed reopening would not be too far off, but December 2011's quake changed the game. In January 2012, the decision was made to rebuild rather than just repair.

The recently announced reopening date of November 17 is due in no small part to Cox.

"It's quite possibly the biggest thing I have done in my life," he said.

"In the end, it will be fantastic to get back to what the theatre actually does, but we can bask in the glory for a few months. That's a definite opening date and we will make it. It's a guarantee."

The theatre's rebuild has been a huge part of Cox's life for more than three years.

There is still the 2014 season to plan, an opening gala and variety show in 2015, and making sure the theatre lives up to expectation.

Almost by default because of tour dates, Russian dance show Kostroma will be the first event in November, followed by the New Zealand Ballet.

But before that, Cox has promised there will be some public open days, allowing a glimpse inside the theatre.

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- The Press

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