3 Jul 2018

Court Theatre wins big in Performing Arts precinct

From Checkpoint, 5:46 pm on 3 July 2018

A Christchurch theatre producer says a decision to prioritise one theatre company in the city's new performing arts precinct is a big mistake.

After months of delays, the Court Theatre has been named as the priority development for the city's new performing arts precinct.

Its artistic director Ross Gumbley said today could not come soon enough.

"They've got to start somewhere, and we are so excited, and delighted, for Canterbury audiences that they are prioritising a new home for the court," he said.

The Court Theatre relocated to Addington in the wake of the Canterbury earthquakes where it had been based in an old grain shed.

Mr Gumbley said they had made the space work, but it has problems with leaks and asbestos.

And he said it was a win for both the company and Christchurch if it moved into the CBD.

"We have a Canterbury institution, we were the first arts group to restore ourselves after the quake," Mr Gumbley said.

"We have 150,000 people attending shows and classes a year, so this is a future for the Court Theatre and a future for Christchurch audiences."

But today's announcement was not music to everyone's ears.

The Christchurch City Council has set aside $30 million for its performing arts precinct, and other theatre proposals have been vying for that money.

Michael Bell had been working for years on an alternative $19m multi-purpose performance facility known as the Andromeda.

The proposal included space for a new Court Theatre.

Mr Bell said he had the backing of much of Christchurch's arts scene, and said he was gutted the council's favouring the Court.

"We've been fighting for a more equitable arts scene, one where the money and the attention is shared between all of our arts groups, said Mr Bell.

"I'm actually gutted for the Christchurch performing arts industry, I think we got as close as we have ever been to some extraordinary change."

Mr Bell said the council should have spread the money equally across the sector.

"I don't think that the money should be going into one organisation who will be calling the shots ... we have a whole lot of different types of people doing a whole lot of different theatre for a whole lot of different audiences."

Christchurch City Council development project manager Kim Scott said it was not the end of the line for other projects for the performing arts precinct - it was just a question of resources.

"This has always been a stage-by-stage process, this is not the door shut on Andromeda and other proposals, we are still very keen to explore those," she said.

"It's just unfortunate that our resources don't permit us to do that at this stage."

A working group will be set up over the next few weeks to develop a business case and designs for the new Court Theatre - which had a proposed budget of $45m - and an adjacent carpark.