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Planes, Trains and Automobiles:

                 CATHS Visits New Zealand

                    10-26 November 2005

            For Australians, New Zealand is an  ON THE ROAD
          ideal destination for a study of theatre  The journey from Christchurch took
          design and trends in film exhibition. The  a typical tourist route; driving south to
          history of the two countries and their  Invercargill, then north-west and up to
          geographic proximity also intertwined  take in the west coast as far as
          the growth of companies which would  Westport. What was less typical were
          dominate theatre and cinema exhibition.  the detours to check out any buildings
          The Fuller brothers, J. C. Williamson  with the classic stepped roof-line.
          Ltd. and Hoyts, and their architects -  At all scheduled stops and extras,
          Henry White, Cedric Ballantyne and  theatre managers, or the owners of
          Charles Hollinshed - are remembered on  now defunct theatres were
          both sides of the Tasman. With the ‘can  generous with their time and
          do’ attitude typical of the times,  information.
          technically adventurous pioneers in both  From Greymouth we travelled
          countries built projectors and sound  on the famous Trans Alpine Express
          heads which enabled smaller exhibitors  back to Christchurch. Over 15 days  The situation in Australia is similar,
          to stay in business.              CATHS members were welcomed into   with regional arts grants available to
            The visit was timed to coincide with  theatres large and small, new, old, and  retain a community resource such as a
          the NZ Film Buffs Bi-Annual Weekend.  demoted to new uses. The group  theatre. However, the source of the
          The location was Christchurch,    climbed narrow stairs to cramped bio-  government grant, which probably is
          unofficial capital of the South Island,  boxes or handsome projection suites,  gambling, is rarely acknowledged.
          and over two days, both groups renewed  sometimes fossicked in damp, back-  An additional expense in NZ theatre
          friendships or began them. Over   stage nooks and toured air-conditioned  upgrades is the requirement to
          partying, the famous Buffs auction of  dressing rooms. At other times it was  strengthen public buildings against
          memorabilia, visits to home cinemas and  noses pushed up against glass panes,  earthquakes. At the Theatre Royal,
          a formal dinner, local organizer Bryan  or a ‘drive-by’ to add another name to  Timaru and Civic, Invercargill the
          Ellis and his wife Dawn ensured that the  the tally.                 new ‘corset’ is totally disguised. On
          23 CATHS visitors were amongst locals  The final list was 25 in-depth  lesser budgets steel-work across the
          who would share their knowledge of the  inspections of working or former  auditorium is discreet but visible.
          South Island theatre scene.       theatres, and 13 external assessments,  The early prosperity of the NZ east
                                            sufficient to gain a view of the health of  coast, from Christchurch to Invercargill,
                                            the industry. Some enthusiasts found or  has parallels with southern Australia.
                                            inspected at least ten other theatres.  The wealth derived from the
                                            And if on occasion the thought of  agricultural regions of the greater
                                            another interior, another staircase or  Canterbury Plains and gold from the
                                            another history began to pall, there was  hinterland allowed for cities in the
                                            always the consolation that when back  high-Victorian style, and the best of
                                            in the bus, a magnificent forest, or lake  their theatres followed suit.
                                            or scenic train ride was around the next
                                                                                  In the north the Isaac Theatre
                                                                               Royal, Christchurch (1908) and in the
                                               In New Zealand much of the funding  south the Civic, Invercargill (1906) - in
                                            for community projects, including the  this article theatres are given their
                                            restoration of theatres is assisted by  current name - exemplify the British
                                            government taxes on gaming. In answer  style of the 1880s, with Edwardian
                                            to “Who paid for this?” the New Zealand  flourishes. Of course every generation
                                            Lottery Board was frequently mentioned.  makes changes to even the best theatres.
                                            Donations from civic-minded companies  Cedric Ballantyne made alterations to
                                            and rate-payers were the other sources.   the Isaac Theatre Royal in 1928.
                                               In smaller communities, theatre    Theatre’s debt to Shakespeare is
                                            ownership has passed to the local  acknowledged in both buildings: at the
                                            council, who have vested the       Isaac Theatre Royal the figures in the
                                            responsibility for day-to-day      dome illustrate A Midsummer Night’s
                                            management with a community group  Dream, and the Bard’s face looks out
                                            comprising paid staff and volunteers.

          6   2006 CINEMARECORD
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