Plans pitched for new performing arts centre

File photo: Getty Images
File photo: Getty Images
Detailed plans for a new performing arts building in Dunedin have been pitched as a recipe for enabling professional theatre, community productions and school shows to thrive.

Such a building could seat 330 people in the main auditorium and feature flexible performance spaces, a dance studio, foyer, rehearsal space and a large area for dressing rooms, the Dunedin City Council was told yesterday.

The pitch came from professional theatre advocacy group Stage South, which provided an estimated costing of just over $28 million.

Suitable land would also need to be found.

"We see the centre as the core — the heart of performing arts in the city," Stage South Charitable Trust Board member Karen Elliot said.

Ms Elliot was part of a trio of theatre practitioners who in May last year promoted the idea of a new venue based on a two-theatre facility in Kāpiti that opened in 2020 and cost $12m to build.

The concept has been refined since then.

"As well as productions of all types, we envisage readings, informal performances, workshops, seminars and classes in many arts disciplines, Ms Elliot said yesterday.

"All should feel welcome — amateurs and professionals, Māori and Pacific people’s groups, disabled performers and audience members, dance, opera and touring companies, musicians, schools, children’s and musical theatre.

"Two dedicated performance spaces maximises return, and a new build ensures that 21st century technology is incorporated, right from the start."

The trust wanted its indicative concept to be considered for the council’s 2024-35 long-term plan.

Stage South was set up in 2018 to foster and promote the sustainability of professional theatre in Otago and Southland after Dunedin’s professional Fortune Theatre closed that year.

The council has yet to decide what approach it might take for development of theatre space.

It included $17.1m in the 2021-31 long-term plan for development of a mid-sized theatre but no consensus has emerged about precisely what should be delivered and where.

Upgrading three theatres in the city is the most prominent alternative idea to a new build.

This was put forward by the Dunedin Theatre Network and it would involve staged redevelopment of the Playhouse, Athenaeum and Mayfair theatres.

It was envisaged the city council would be a cornerstone investor in the collaborative venture.

"Without investment, our heritage buildings continue to deteriorate and building costs continue to rise, while — [since] the Fortune Theatre’s closure — Ōtepoti Dunedin continues to lack fit-for-purpose performing arts venues," the network said in a 2022 concept document."

The network has since refined its concept and explored how it might help rejuvenate professional theatre in the city.

The council last year gave the network $100,000 to help it explore options and costs for the three heritage venues.