22 Sep 2016

Curtain goes up at Auckland's newest theatre

8:39 am on 22 September 2016

Can a new venue at Auckland's Wynyard Quarter bring theatre to a new audience?

That's one of the aims of the new $36 million ASB Waterfront Theatre, which officially opens this morning.

Lester McGrath and Gordon Moller on the stage at the new ASB Waterfront Theatre

Lester McGrath and Gordon Moller on the stage at the new ASB Waterfront Theatre Photo: RNZ / Joanna MacKenzie

The theatre is situated around the corner from the Auckland Fish market and across the street from a huge building site for a new hotel.

Despite all the construction outside, inside the theatre it is clear that the building is ready to get on with the business of shows.

Auckland Theatre Company (ATC) productions will be performed at the new venue, and general manager Lester McGrath could not be happier.

"It's really exciting, it's great to see. The really exciting thing is people coming in and discovering the building for the first time when people go into the auditorium for the first time, or see the stage.

"It's a very special space, how people respond to the space. It's unbelievably exciting," he said.

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Photo: Supplied

Mr McGrath described it as the opposite of a traditional theatre and he hoped it would encourage people who would not normally enter a theatre to visit.

"With all our public spaces what we wanted to do was create a really opening, welcoming experience, so everything connects to the public streets, the public realm. Everything is accessible, it's all very light and airy.

"We wanted people to feel very conformable about coming in and hanging out and getting to know the building and exploring it."

Up a striking red, spiral staircase to the first floor, ATC chairman Gordon Moller explained how the theatre will fit into the city.

"We want to bring theatre to the people a lot more than we have. Presently we play to 80,000 a year with our seven main bill shows. I think over the next five years we'll double that, because people will be able to see the theatre. It's on the waterfront, it's very visible."

Mr Moller - who was also the theatre's lead architect - said it was "very much part of the city".

In the main area, the huge stage was almost as big as the auditorium.

The chorus dressing room at the new ASB Waterfront Theatre.

The chorus dressing room at the new ASB Waterfront Theatre. Photo: RNZ / Joanna MacKenzie

It had multiple trap doors - 24 in total - and a complicated fly system to allow elaborate sets to be changed in the blink of eye.

Ben Shieff, 14, was one of the actors who played Billy Elliot in the theatre's opening production, and the size of the stage was definitely something he had been thinking about.

"So much bigger than the thing we're practising on at the moment. It's enormous. It's quite daunting, something so enormous but I think that as we practice on it, I'll slowly adjust to and I think it will really awesome performing on it."

The Waterfront Theatre was the first new venue to be built since Q Theatre on Queen Street opened five years ago.

Mr McGrath was optimistic that this new venue would herald in an era of exciting new New Zealand theatre.

"I think we have the ability here to create some new New Zealand classics. And so I'm really excited about seeing some of the new writing coming through and seeing our writers and artists be ambitious for their work and ambitious for their audiences," he said.

The theatre will open for a public open-day on Saturday, and Billy Elliot begins on 7 October.