For decades, Whangārei has been without the kind of large theatre that most regional centres 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. 

The table below indicates how disadvantaged Whangārei is, in comparison to other regional towns and cities with smaller current and projected populations. 

The table above indicates how Whangārei’s theatre, Capitaine Bougainville at Forum North compares with theatre in other regional towns and cities. This slide has been included in several presentations to WDC since 2019. 

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.  

Whangārei’s population at that time was approx. 35,000. Despite this, audience participation regularly reached 800, highlighting that audience participation in Whangārei was proportionately high per capita and certainly far beyond the decades that have followed. 

The Old Municipal Hall, built in 1903 – commonly known as “The Old Town Hall” 

 

In the late 1970’s the Old Town Hall had to be demolished, so the Whangārei City Council approved the building of Forum North, a cultural centre that amongst many other community facilities, included 2 theatres – one approx. 350 seats (Capitaine Bougainville) and another larger theatre of approx. 1000 seats which was never built. 

During construction, decisions were made to reduce/omitt some of Capitaine Bougainville’s technical staging area and dimensions. This considerably limited the technical ability of the theatre above, below, around and behind the stage.  

With WorkSafe safety requirements now severely limiting technical productions, all large scale local and touring productions are unable to physically or financially perform in Whangārei.  

Whangārei’s population has grown from 35,000 in 1982 and by 2030 is forecast to be approx. 140,000. 

If a new theatre is not re-prioritised in the next WDC Annual Plan it is highly unlikely that a new theatre will be realised for the next 15 years.   

Earlier this year, despite unprecedented demand, the planned production of Les Miserables in 2022 had to be cancelled because of technical and seating capacity limitations. 

Economic Impact 

Given the number of national organisations (New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, Royal New Zealand Ballet, Opera NZ, G & T Productions) that have indicated they would return to Whangārei if the city had a “fit for purpose theatre” that has economic seating capacity, we have modelled the financial impact on the District. 

We have used the same modelling as used by ATEED (Auckland Tourism and Economic Development). 

We have assumed (an underestimate) that on at least 40 days a year the theatre will hold a significant event that will attract an audience of 800+. This would include local and touring productions, e.g. Les Misérables, Jersey Boys, Te Manu Tioriori Trust, NZSO, RNZB Opera NZ etc as well as large local productions, e.g. Opera North, Whangārei Theatre Company, Youth Music, Sistema etc. 

Findings 

  • Unique attendees from outside the district = 11,700 
  • Visitation caused by events = 9,200 
  • Overnight visitation = 7,400 
  • Day visitation = 1,800 
  • Spend by visitors (inc GST) = $1,700,000 
  • Change to regional GDP = $1,600,000 

A regional comparison between Whangārei and Blenheim 

We have undertaken research of other regional cities to use as comparisons and chose the ASB Theatre in Blenheim an example of a centre with geographic and population similarities. 

 Whangārei and Blenheim have both recently produced the same two productions – Phantom of the Opera and Mamma Mia. 

“Phantom of the Opera” – comparative data: Blenheim / Whangārei 

 

“Mamma Mia” – comparative data: Blenheim / Whangārei 

The following slide compares audience participation and corresponding revenue from ticket sales alone. The data compares the same two productions, “Phantom of the Opera” and “Mamma Mia.” 

Clearly, Whangārei is not well served for facilities and is not able to maximise it’s potential financially, or culturally. This has a huge impact on the health and wellbeing of Whangārei’s population. 

Over the years, successive councils have commissioned various reports, notably the Shand Shelton Report of 2012/2013 [link?] and the JazzMax report of 2020 [link?].  

Various feasibility studies all recommend proceeding with the addition of a large purpose-built lyric theatre at Forum North and to return to a charitable trust model of management for the benefit of the public.