The problem of real estate, or: What Auckland needs & the fact we know that for what Auckland needs it will refuse to pay

A 320 m² theatre restaurant in Surrey Hills, Sydney, is up for lease. It has a theatre and a liquor license, a large commercial kitchen, fully set up,and a bar service area. The theatre looks to be a raised stage at one end of the dining area. There are some luminaires hung on lighting bars and a sound system, the speakers also hanging. Rental per anum is listed at $90,000.00.

The interior décor leaves a little to be desired but it’s just décor. And it is expensive… but then it’s in Sydney. Expressions of interest are sought to refurbish and reopen the theatre, contact me here.

Then there’s this:

…the long-deserted Mid City cinema complex at 239 Queen St… the vision is that for under $35 million, the existing concrete shell could be converted into a 550-seat home for major drama productions, a 350 or so seat substitute for the long-planned Q Theatre at the back of the Town Hall, and two or three rehearsal spaces, one of which could be a 250-seater “black box”, suitable for, among other things, dance.

Perhaps the most incredible thing about this proposal is that this once trendy venue has sat abandoned and forgotten for over five years, gutted of everything but a few light fittings …

for around $35 million Auckland could have a multi-theatre complex to match, for example, the acclaimed Seymour Theatre Centre at Sydney University. Given that the proposed 350 to 450-seat flexiform Q Theatre has been priced at $21 million on the way up, it’s not surprising funders and just about everyone in the theatre world see the merits of pursuing the Mid City alternative further.

Which ended like this:

Not happening. It was decided the venue was not suitable so it was squashed before it even began. They are building the Q theatre next to the town hall.
– from here, last entry October 18th, 2009

And the Q itself, a decade in gestation, a startlingly overcooked infant with who can guess what genetic flaws, given the fiddling with it, by Council and every interested party. It could, it would have been born years ago were it not for the Council placing a big hand on its opening, insisting it grow to the proportions of a Behemoth before being removed from the matrix of the committee, a mother who has apparently taken such delight in the pregnancy she is reluctant to let go:

– this image is called brand values and came from here; I am afraid to ask about the word “hearbeat” or what sort of theatre it is to cite these as its “brand values:” promoting mispeling, posibly, for having gotten the T from heatre.

When considering the Q we should not forget the P theatre: Auckland Theatre Company is said to be interested in this old church:

Tenders close at 4pm on December 9, 2009. Let’s hope they (whoever, but here’s a link) 1) take the interior down to the dirt before pretending it’s a theatre; 2) relieve Norman Ng of the 1927 entrance from K’Rd., thus relieving the owner of that unfortunate burgerie at the same time.

P theatre is not to be confused with B theatre, to which it is closely related, in a relation of what I think is called inversion (properly speaking, the Oliver-Hurst inversion): Shane Bosher’s newly declared “boutique” theatre now resident at a squash court, hitherto known as the Herald. To the great relief – on the subject of relieving oneself -, I would have thought, of the Edge:

THE EDGE manages three of Auckland’s landmark buildings – Aotea Centre, The Civic and Auckland Town Hall – as well as the city’s largest outdoor CBD space – Aotea Square. THE EDGE is New Zealand’s leading performing arts, commercial entertainment and convention facility, and a central feature of Auckland’s Aotea Quarter.

And it would be wrong to read anything opportunistic about the statement that follows:

Our non-commercial activities, or Public Programmes offering, is the result of a funding agreement with the Auckland City Council.

Because this aspect of the Edge’s operation is required of it by the agreement it has with Council, a civic duty, as it were:

an agreement with Auckland City to operate and manage the venues under the trading name THE EDGE. As a result the Aotea Centre Board of Management is required to report to the Auckland City Council’s Finance and Corporate Business Committee.


What a boutique theatre is Oliver Driver explains here to Lynn Freeman, who has already introduced a spoiler by moving on to the next letter of the alphabet: C, for Corporate (Theatre Corporate, that is, fl. ’80s). A boutique theatre offers longer contracts to actors and directors, six month contracts is the duration mentioned; it does boulevard theatre – perhaps this is the word to which “boutique” is a reaction? as in a sort of Freudian slip; but, and this, as they say, is the point of difference, it also aspires to producing edgier [sic], riskier work, like The Ensemble Project…!


And B theatre harks back to Inside Out’s “ground-breaking warehouse” shows, like The Holy Sinner and The Three-Penny Opera, which is a far hark, almost two decades of back-harking. But, why? Because, I would propose, these ‘epic’ shows took place in warehouses. [link] Not in a squashed court.

That dirty old man along Queen Street, St. James, remains in a state of dereliction, dropping his plaster on any who care to visit. And it makes you think: there’s the Civic; over the road is a theatre that once hosted Larry Olivier on a tour of the colonies; then there’s a church in Mercury Lane.

I don’t know what it makes you think but that when the super-city arrives there ought to be a special court established in which to try crimes against the city.

This expedient would take every council out for a good long while. A much needed rest from visionary activities, like suggesting Auckland could do with a transport infrastructure. Progressing, as they say, the idea that it might, moving forward.

No survey, not even this extemporization, of the Auckland theatre scene would be complete without, or ought to be bothered with, mentioning the Jeffrey James aka Silo aka Basement Theatre. So. There it is.

It has housed some good work but it is a crap space. Which is not to say this is how we like our theatre to be; it is in fact how we prefer it. At least on the architectural evidence.

The Maidment escapes this conclusion, so does the Sky – which, note, give us an S and an M. But the angle implicit here is a realism about what Auckland needs in terms of what it has, what its “brand values” are. (Reflected in our S & M theatres.) The Maid is Auckland University’s theatre, which the city annexes through commercial means as it suits its theatrical needs; likewise, the Sky belongs to a corporation, so the city’s theatre companies pay through the teeth to use it.

The question of ownership is paramount: if I say “the city’s theatre companies,” the obligation ought to extend both ways, to the city and from the city. Just who the city is is the question the theatre is supposed to be clarifying: that is, leave the problem of identity to our arts by insisting that the city take on the problem of ownership… of real estate.

The Victoria Theatre, Devonport, has been returned to the community; well, it is being held in trust and the board of directors say:

We are endeavouring to follow up on all enquiries we receive and look forward to presenting a varied and viable programme of events to the community.

– from here

Which doesn’t instill great hope that function will follow form in the future for this beautiful building.

There are then, and by way of following the logic of multifunctionality, the low-rent hubs, studios, artist-run spaces and multi-purpose centres. (E.g., link)

Riverhead Primary School has one, a Multi-Purpose Centre. It’s where assemblies are held and other important events in the school calendar. These are spaces that in setting out to suit every need – and as such are often run by committee, if not committees – suit none well. For example, Riverhead School’s M.P.C. has neither lighting bars, nor stage door; the acoustic is poor (since the era of the community hall, the art of building for unaided voice has left us); but the height and breadth are there for sports’ events; and there are always radio mics; and no rake, so audiences see a lot of bad hair.

The conundrum I am confronting here comes from the prospect of another multidisciplinary space, Shed 10, 90 Wellesley St, 77 Cook St. [link] Because it’s not just a question of need. It’s also a matter of telling the city what it needs in order to become… itself, a city. A mixed purpose space can answer some needs but not, I think, if it is primarily there to answer to the needs of the artists and venue-users, those cross-disciplinary collaborators, those idealists.

I called the angle of approach for this brief survey, this extemporization, realist. Let me qualify that. Not only identity, ownership and cost are at issue, but also form and function. The humility of the Surrey Hills theatre restaurant constitutes its attraction. It is viable because of the population base of Sydney, but also because of the nature of the operation. It is realistic.

In an ideal city, the form of the theatres would suit their function. But there is also the very minimum we ask, which, to my mind, is that the building remember what it is for, both in the sense of preserving resources, to reuse them, both immaterial, human, and, even more importantly, material, materials, and remember its use into the future, proleptically, from a past that has not happened. There is an institutional memory which is served by architecture and a virtual memory, also served by architecture and human organisation, or (infra)structure. Without the latter, no ground for the new in the future. Without the former, no foundation in the present.