ITR Earthquake Update June 2014


The earthquake recovery in Christchurch’s CBD is continually gaining momentum, but a major anchor project for the rejuvenation of the arts community in Canterbury will be achieved when the most iconic and historic entertainment venue in the city, the 106-year old Isaac Theatre Royal, reopens her doors for performances on 17th November this year. The ‘Grand Old Lady’ of New Zealand theatre has been a ‘shining light’ in the recovery process of the city gaining recognition and support across the globe. The rebuild of the ITR has been affectionately entrenched in the emotional mind set of Cantabrians and has been a regular good news story across national media in the recovery of the city and region as a whole.

After nearly 4 years of closure, during which a $40 million rebuild and restoration has been undertaken following the 2011 earthquakes, the central city’s most famous heritage theatre will once again stage the type of large scale theatrical productions she has been famous for since first opening in 1908. The ‘ITR’ is the preferred venue for major local and touring productions in the city hosting musicals, ballet, plays, opera, film, concerts, comedy, recitals, community events, children’s theatre and even ice shows. The theatre has staged the best in the world and the best of our own world-class talent during its illustrious 106-year history. The Isaac Theatre Royal is being restored once again to her superb original Edwardian-style, and will be celebrated once again as the South Island’s premier venue for the performing arts.

The Grade-A heritage listed Theatre Royal was the only surviving Edwardian style theatre in the country. The building was saved from demolition in the early 1980’s, refurbished and upgraded to World Class theatrical production standards in 2004 and renamed “ISAAC THEATRE ROYAL” after re-opening mid 2005. After surviving the devastating seismic events of 2011, the theatre has once again underlined her intent and commitment to be one of the finest heritage stages for all performing arts in Christchurch for the next 100 years at least!

The 2014 Reopening Season at the Isaac Theatre Royal will include performances from Royal New Zealand Ballet, the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Kostroma Russian Dance Company, Southern Ballet, a touring play and a concert from one of Britain’s iconic folk/rock bands of the 1970’s which be announced very soon and on sale Monday 16th June, amongst various local community events.

The Vodafone Royal New Zealand Ballet season of “A Christmas Carol” will be going on sale almost immediately for the opening week in November. Their season will also engage the services of the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, who then in turn will stage their first performance on stage at the ITR for many years with “A Cantabrian Christmas” on Saturday 20th December, featuring Benjamin Northey as conductor, soprano Madeleine Pierard and Consortia, the University of Canterbury Chamber Choir.

The rebuild and restoration has many individuals and funding organisations to acknowledge. After insurance to the value of $23 million funded approximately 60% of the project, the Theatre Royal Charitable Foundation has fundraised or been granted an additional $13 million to the overall $40 million cost with the largest contributions being from NZ Lottery Commission who collectively between their Significant Projects and Environment and Heritage Funds have funded just over $8 million to the theatre’s recovery. The Christchurch Earthquake Appeal Trust contributed $3 million, the Canterbury Earthquake Heritage Buildings Fund a further $500,000 and the Canterbury Community Trust granted $300,000. Additionally the Christchurch City Council funded $300,000 from the Mayoral Earthquake Fund and have also loaned the theatre a further $2 million towards the project. The current shortfall of approximately $4 million can be partially underwritten by commercial loan facilities but the Foundation continues to actively investigate fundraising initiatives to minimise any loan requirements.

However, the contributions that created global news were from some very esteemed international stars of stage and screen. In May & June of 2012, Sir Ian McKellen toured his one-man show “Shakespeare, Tolkien and You” around New Zealand performing 15 sold out shows single-handedly raising over $350,000 for the ITR. The tour culminated at a packed Opera House in Wellington attended by the key cast members of “The Hobbit” trilogy who ‘shook buckets’ at the exits collecting over $11,000 between them. Sir Ian commented at the launch of the tour, “Theatres are places of gathering, happiness, celebration and experiences; places for sharing of stories, laughs, smiles, community spirit and human friendship…” Sir Ian signed autographs and smiled for photographs for well over an hour after every performance on the tour and returned to visit the progress of the rebuild in June 2013. He remains a true friend of the theatre and a global ambassador of the rebuild project.

Rocky Horror Show creator Richard O’Brien also took on a starring fundraising role performing a special concert in Christchurch last November and contributing $100,000 to the rebuild costs, and Flight Of The Conchords generously donated $125,000 as well from proceeds of their Christchurch CBS Arena concert in late June 2012. The cast of funding stars also include Sir Peter Jackson, Dame Malvina Major, Hayley Westenra, Miriam Margolyes as well as local Christchurch performers Amelia Guild, Emma Newborn & Mel Parsons, who all personally performed or donated to the Isaac Theatre Royal rebuild.

The theatre’s famous 1908 hand painted canvas ceiling dome has been painstakingly restored to its original glory and has been a key focal point of the restoration for many of the theatre’s supporters. Italian restorer, Carolina Izzo and her team have cleaned the canvas panels individually for over 100 years of dust, grime and nicotine revealing the true beauty of the painting for the first time in over a century. The painting inspired by scenes from Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is now considered to be the largest of its type still existing in Australasia and will be a major attraction itself in the rebuilt theatre. The original façade of the theatre has also been stripped of six coats of paint and will be restored to its 1908 appearance of red brick with white Oamaru stone columns and capitals. It will be the first time in many generations that the Theatre Royal will have its original ‘face’ once again, one of very few original heritage facades still existing in the Christchurch city centre.

Many other key heritage features have also been retained and restored including the marble staircase between stalls and dress circle levels as well as original leadlight windows and royal boxes.

Outside of a massive upgrade to structural strengthening meeting 100% of new seismic building codes, the rebuild also includes some significant enhancements to the pre-quake theatre’s functionality.

The installation of a much desired elevator facility to all levels of the Theatre, opening up the top 2 levels of the historic venue to all members of Canterbury community for ease of accessibility.

The installation of an hydraulic stage lift platform has allowed for the front of the stage to be extended a further 2.5 metres into the auditorium in front of the proscenium arch providing significant improvement for orchestral & choral performance at the venue. When not in use, the platform can be situated at auditorium floor level allowing for an additional two rows of seating at the front of the stalls level.

The top level of the theatre previously known as “the Gallery” has been renamed “The Grand Circle”, with its own brand new foyer space and plush bar facilities. All theatre patrons can now gain access to the beautiful first floor Dress Circle foyer and the new foyer and function space on The Grand Circle top level.

In conjunction with the NZ Film Festival Trust, a separate fundraising initiative has ensured that the Isaac Theatre Royal will be cinema compatible once again, with new digital projector, film screen and surround sound capabilities to become annual Christchurch home of the NZ International Film Festival from 2015.

As with any heritage theatre venue though the most spectacular level is the Dress Circle and probably the most significant enhancement is the addition of a brand new 175 square metre separate multi-functional flat sprung floor performance space adjacent to the theatre’s existing Dress Circle foyer providing. The space can be opened up completely to effectively double the Dress Circle foyer space. This new space will have excellent acoustics, easy accessibility through the existing Dress Circle foyer, and varying seating capacity for 70-120 as a flat floor venue for small theatre productions, rehearsals, concerts, expos, seminars, meetings, weddings and banquets, presentations, small conferences, exhibitions, catwalk events, social functions, recitals, etc. This new space can be used in varying configurations suitable for a wide variety of events and will be focused on providing a cost-effective and professional intimate space for the many community arts groups in the city.

The ITR is the chosen home for Royal NZ Ballet, NZ Opera, Showbiz Christchurch, Christchurch Arts Festival, Southern Ballet Trust, The Russian Ballet, NZ Comedy Festival and numerous international touring productions. The new technical enhancements included in the rebuild will now allow the ITR to provide added performance capability for the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, NZ Chamber Music, the NZ Symphony Orchestra and the NZ International Film Festival, amongst others.


“It has been a massive project of love and belief to get this beautiful old venue back on its feet again”, says Chief Executive Neil Cox, “the whole team involved in the theatre rebuild would like to draw on Sir Ian McKellen’s comments and ensure that the reopening of the Isaac Theatre Royal will make Christchurch smile again every time the public of our recovering city experience the splendour and joy of our rebuilt Grand Old Lady. We’ll see you back at the ITR very soon!”