James Hay Theatre resizing unlikely

Council is 'not listening to the arts community'

Last updated 15:01 29/11/2013
James Hay Theatre
Dean Kozanic

NOT DOWNSIZING: The James hay Theatre in the Christchurch Town hall is unlikely to be resized.

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The James Hay Theatre is unlikely to be re-sized despite calls from the performing arts community for a smaller venue.

The council this week unveiled a repair strategy and new designs for the $127.5 million restoration of the earthquake-damaged Town Hall.

Council officials told the briefing it was unlikely the 1000-seat James Hay Theatre would be reduced in capacity, but more feedback would be sought.

It was expected a smaller theatre, with about 500 seats, would be built in the performing arts precinct.

About $30m has been earmarked for the precinct - on land purchased by the Government as part of the central city blueprint - to build the auditorium and homes for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Court Theatre.

Musical director and composer Luke Di Somma said before the vote to restore the Town Hall in August that the James Hay Theatre was too large and difficult to work in.

Other Christchurch theatre and musical groups backed his views.

Di Somma said the city's venues must complement each other and at 1000 seats, the James Hay was instead competing with the 1200-seat Isaac Theatre Royal.

Christchurch needed a 600 to 700-seat theatre for smaller theatre productions, smaller operas and smaller dance performances, he said.

The James Hay was ''too often'' used for performances it was not designed to host.

''We need to clarify what the purpose of these buildings is. It's ludicrous to rebuild something that didn't work.''

If decisions about capacity had been made, the council were "not listening to the arts community'', he said.

''The council needs to enlist the help of professional theatre designers and consultants were needed to ensure venues were build for a specific purpose and fitted out appropriately, Di Somma said.

''There was legitimate disagreement in the performing arts community about the Town Hall, but there is very little disagreement about the James Hay - it's a dog. It didn't work.

''A decision should not be made until plans for the remaining arts precinct are known, he said.

''We're dealing with the jewel in the crown - being the Town Hall - without knowing what other gems exist.''

Council major facilities rebuild unit manager Mike Hannaway said work on a Town Hall refurbishment plan had been started before the quake and there was ''no reason to not put it back as it was''.

Theatre consultants and user groups had been involved in the plan, he said.

The design was ''ongoing'' and more feedback would be sought, including from professionals, Hannaway said.

''Yes, we're going to be talking to and consulting with the community. No question about it.''

The council estimated new buildings in the performing arts precinct would be completed in 2016, but budgets and timelines were still being finalised as part of a feasibility study.

Agreements have been reached for 61 per cent of the land area subject to Crown purchase.

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