Big Issue 2: To Be or Not to be? Backgrounder

Our Place, Our Future? - Long Term Plan 2018-28

This page talks about the second Big Issue that we are consulting on as part of the Long Term Plan 2018-28 - a proposed Theatre Royal redevelopment.

Throughout the LTP consultation period, we may update this page depending on the questions being raised, so please keep checking the page for more information. If you have questions, contact us on

Explore this issue interactively on our StoryMap. Scroll down, then click Theatre Royal in the top righthand corner.

See below for the sections covered on this page:

  • Where are we at?
  • What upgrading is proposed?
  • Options and Preferred Option
  • What will these Options mean?
  • Frequently Asked Questions
  • Have your say
  • Supporting Documents and Links

Where are we at?

Council has had plans and some funding allocated for upgrading work at the Theatre Royal for some time.  Initially planned for 2017/18, this was put on hold while we considered the future of all of our cultural and learning facilities.

It’s now decision-making time.

Upgrading the Theatre is needed to maintain it as a viable, safe and usable facility for the Timaru District into the future. Currently, the Theatre is restricted in its ability to hold certain shows, both those coming from outside the district and those produced locally.

The weight of stage sets and lighting has increased significantly since the current equipment was installed when the theatre was built.

Work is needed to provide the show ‘infrastructure’ and to meet Health & Safety regulations that these modern shows require. There is also potential to enhance the Theatre as a facility, through redeveloping the foyer area to benefit show patrons and provide facilities like meeting rooms so that a bigger range of events could be hosted in future at the Theatre Royal.

What upgrading is proposed?

“Behind the Scenes” - Back of House upgrading

Much of the upgrading needed is “behind the scenes” – so if you went to see a show you might not notice a lot of physical differences. But if you were a performer you would! This upgrading will mean that the Theatre is likely to attract quality shows that previously have been unable to come here.

This “behind the scenes“ work includes:

  1. An upgraded Stage House and new Theatrical Flying system (the mechanisms that support stage props) to meet modern production requirements
  2. Upgraded “back of house” facilities such as dressing rooms, stair access, disabled access and more toilets and showers
  3. Better access to the back of the theatre for service vehicles
  4. Replacing the Auditorium floor and providing new seating for patrons

“Front of House” - Foyer Facilities upgrading

There is scope to extend the upgrading work into the foyer area. The floor area could be expanded by using land to the north of the Theatre, already owned by the Council.  This expanded area would allow for:

  • a reconfiguration of the food preparation and bar area
  • improved toilet facilities
  • better access for disabled patrons
  • creation of meeting rooms, that could be shared with any future adjacent heritage facility

So the key question is Should the proposed upgrade go ahead, and if so – should it be just the “Behind the Scenes” work, or include the Front of House Foyer area as well?

Options and Preferred Option

What will these Options mean?

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a flying tower? What does it do?

A theatrical flying system –or theatrical rigging system, is a system of rope lines, blocks (pulleys), counterweights and related devices within a theatre that enables a stage crew to fly (hoist) quickly, quietly and safely components such as curtains, lights, scenery, stage effects and, sometimes, people. Systems are typically designed to fly components between clear view of the audience and out of view, into the large opening, known as the fly loft, above the stage.

What sort of events can’t we host if the upgrade isn’t done?

Anything that has any weight in the stage and lighting productions. Most shows now have significant lighting, sound and stage sets that need to be hung above and behind the performers to enhance the visitors experience. These items are now too heavy to use the current systems. This includes shows that the South Canterbury Drama League are wanting to perform.

What sort of events could be hosted in any expanded and refurbished Front of House facilities?

Various events could use the multi-purpose rooms that are proposed for the northern extension. This could be pre show events, meetings and displays. The refurbishment of the front of house also includes better disabled access, increased toilets and catering spaces due to the current congestion and queuing required.

Why does this project cost so much?

The back of house is a very complex and specialised facility. The stage tower needs to have the roof lifted and the structure increased to support increased loads, along with safe stair access to the fly floors and loading galleries, replacement stage and new flying system. Significant electrical work is also required. The back of house changing rooms will also be replaced including provision of facilities for people with disabilities, increased number of dressing rooms, toilet and shower facilities. Service access will also be replaced to allow direct access for service vehicles and level access to the stage.

Why not just demolish the Theatre and start again?

The Theatre Royal is one of the District's iconic buildings, and is an important part of the cultural amenities in the Timaru District. Refurbishing the current building means we are able to retain this landmark heritage building and preserve its Victorian era features. A refurbished Theatre Royal would contribute to the revitalisation of the south end of Timaru, and assist with the establishment of a “heritage hub” in this area. The demolition of the current theatre and rebuilding on the site would cost the ratepayers of the district more than refurbishing the current building.

Where would shows go in Timaru while the work was happening?

The Theatre Royal is the only venue suitable for a lot of shows and productions. Other facilities around the district may be able to accommodate some but realistically many would avoid Timaru over this period. When the new facility is completed, many more shows could potentially come to Timaru if supported by the local population.

Have your say

Want to have your say? Use our consultation submission form.

Supporting Documents and Links

Theatre Royal - Shand Shelton Report (Appendix A of Item 6 of Agenda)

Theatre Royal - Report to Council 14 March 2017 (Item 6 of Agenda)

Last updated: 12 Apr 2021