Why are we passionate about this place? A little bit of history…
Northland has been without the kind of large theatre that most communities in New Zealand take for granted. Successive generations have missed out on the larger scale performances and shows that audiences elsewhere in the country can access readily.
Let us take you on a bit of an historic tour of performance spaces in Whangarei to show you why we are so passionate about updating Forum North. Prior to Forum North and the Capitaine Bougainville theatre, performances were held in the Old Town Hall behind the building that is now commonly referred to by the same name. Despite Whangarei’s population of only 35,000 of that time, audiences for both local and touring performances alike were regularly approximately 800 – a number which was proportionately high per capita at that time and certainly far beyond what has been seen in the decades to follow.
In the late 1970’s concerns for its structural stability meant that the Old Town Hall had to be demolished, so the Whangarei City Council approved the building of Forum North, a cultural centre that amongst many other facilities, included plans for 2 theatres – one approx. 350 seats (Capitaine Bougainville) and another larger theatre of approximately 1000 seats – which was never built.
Close to the beginning of Capitaine Bougainville’s construction, some technical aspects of the theatre were reduced and since then have considerably impacted on the technical ability of the stage house – mainly the fly tower above the stage and the width and depth of the side and back stage areas. As a result of these reductions to the stage house, the majority of larger scale local and touring productions have been unable to physically or financially perform in Whangarei.
Despite this, when Forum North was built in 1982, (with a significant sum via community donation), it was a thriving hub of activity. It was well managed by a charitable trust that employed a creative director and technical staff to manage programming, provide educational opportunities and to cater for many artistic and cultural groups inclusion. It also regularly hosted large community events and was well catered for with a top-class restaurant and bar within the foyer. It was a place for our community to connect and thrive.
Approximately 10 years later this changed, when the council of the day took over all aspects of the governance, management and operation of Forum North. The subsequent 25 years have seen no proactive creative programming and no community or educational focus for a large proportion of our district. Forum North has become an under-used, tired and lifeless building that is solely a venue for hire and with a pricing schedule that excludes almost any community involvement.
Over the years, successive councils have commissioned various reports, notably the Shand Shelton Report of 2012/2013 and various feasibility studies all recommend to proceed with the addition of a large purpose-built performance theatre and to return to a charitable trust model of management for the benefit of the public.
Forum North Trust 2013 has maintained a vision for returning the vibrant creative life to the facility that existed a number of years ago. We see huge potential and opportunity to work with the creative communities of the region to develop a Performing Arts Precinct in Forum North when WDC moves to its new Civic Centre.